The Qualities That Define Texas Women

Happy Texas Independence Day! It was hard to decide what to write about in honor of one of my favorite holidays of the year. At first I thought about sharing what I loved about our state–Blue Bell, blue bonnets, barbecue–but plenty of other sites are already covering these things. I thought about sharing my favorite outdoor places in Texas, but I can write that any time.

Then I thought about YOU! My readers, Texas women. What makes a person a true Texas woman? Why are we different than other women? We come in all shapes and sizes but there are qualities that underpin each one of us.

Influential First Ladies, women on the frontier, women fortune 500 CEO’s, and so many others have set the bar high. Beyonce is from Texas, after all. The woman who invented liquid white-out is from Texas. It was Texas women who saved the Alamo from being torn down years after the battle. These women and many others paved the way for us to be who we are.

1. We have an independent streak.

We love to be part of teams and we love our husbands, but if forced to cut it on our own, we can manage. My great great great great aunt Amanda Burks had to take care of her cattle ranch back in the 1800’s when her husband was off on a cattle drive, and she eventually took over the cattle drives when he passed away. Such was the story of many Texas women in that era.

Texas is just so rich with characters. Women who live alone in a little house on a thousand acres with nothing but cattle and a pickup truck. And an airplane.

— Sissy Spacek

2. We are the ultimate DIY-ers.

Ever heard of the television sensation that is Joanna Gaines? She is a Texas woman. She embodies the do it yourself Texas spirit, seeing potential in what others would call a pile of rubble. During Texas’ frontier days, ingenuity like Joanna’s was a Texas woman’s greatest asset. It is how they carved out a life on the frontier. It is also what inspired them to preserve the Alamo. When we set our minds to something, though–be warned! We can’t be stopped.

I want to urge you to make waves.
I want to urge you to rock the boat.
I want to urge you to get off your duff.
I want you to speak out at whatever cost if it comes from your heart.
You’re going to build this country in which my six grandchildren will grow up. And when you see what you have done, I hope that you are proud of it.
~ Ann Richards, former Governor of Texas

3. We love the landscapes that make up our home state.

It’s no coincidence that the two First Ladies from Texas, Lady Bird Johnson and Laura Bush, have both had a heart for the outdoors and used their position to draw attention to the need for better stewardship.

The environment after all is where we all meet; where all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.

— Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady of the United States

Even those modern Texas women who prefer air conditioning would likely agree that Texas has truly majestic places within its borders, and that we must band together for their conservation.

4. We know and help our neighbors.

When I lived in Washington, DC, my neighbors looked at me like I was from another planet every time I introduced myself. To them, it was strange, almost a violation of privacy, for us to know each other. Here in Texas we operate a little differently. I know all of my neighbors and we help each other out. We share venison and take care of each others pets. We visit in the front yard.

5. We are a friendly bunch.

I can usually pick a Texas woman out of the crowd. She is a little more outgoing, a little more confident, and a little more likely to invite you over to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner if you have nowhere to go.

6. We have 99 different pairs of boots.

Snake boots, dancing boots, work boots, dress boots, red boots, brown boots…the list goes on. My favorite thing is when someone new to our state buys boots as an initiation ritual. I usually just tell them that’s their starter pair. We love our boots!

7. We may be tough but we like to get dolled up.

Even though we can rough it, we still like to get dressed up every now and then. The stereotypes here about women usually have to do with hairdos. We have a saying,

The higher the hair, the closer to God.

Amen.

What else would you add to this list?

I love so much about our state but it’s the women I meet here and read about in history books that truly inspire me! Keep up that Texas spark, ladies.

 

 

9 Reasons to Make Truckee, CA Your Next Summer Vacation

This summer after our big backpacking excursion, my family spent a few days in Truckee, California, a cute mountain town near Lake Tahoe. After sleeping on the hard ground for days on the trail, it was a treat to sleep on a mattress and have internet! I also fell in love with this town for other reasons, which I’ll talk about here. This is the PERFECT vacation spot for a family so I hope you enjoy!

I know many of my readers are looking for places where their family can enjoy the outdoors while not having to forego all of life’s little luxuries. We want wifi, comfortable accommodations, and plenty to do, and we want it all for an affordable price. Nowadays most vacations require you to plan months if not years in advance, and once you get to your destination, it’s often crowded and full of tourists. I don’t know about you, but planning years in advance ain’t always my cup of tea.

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But this is.

Even though Truckee is near Lake Tahoe, and even though it is beautiful, it is neither crowded nor touristy. Truckee has wide roads that are free from traffic and potholes. There is plenty of parking and no lines to get in anywhere. We did not make a single plan or reservation before we got there and still were able to do what we wanted! All without bribing a sole. Oh, did I mention it’s in California? So you get that cool California weather, too.

I think Truckee must be California’s little secret.

How to Do Truckee

  • Rent a house on Tahoe Signature Properties (in Tahoe Donner location). We stayed at this one and LOVED IT: Three Pines Cabin…we will definitely be coming back.
  • Be sure to rent a house that includes Tahoe Donner recreation membership cards if you can. (It will say in the description.) This is not required to use the amenities I describe below but strongly recommended.
  • Utilize the Tahoe Donner Association recreational facilities. (See below.)
  • Fly into Reno and rent a car. It’s a 35-40 minute drive to Truckee.
  • 4+ days recommended
  • Go to the Trout Creek Recreation Center the day you get in and pick up their activity guide for the latest info on what’s going on in the area

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What You’ll Love

1. Swim, kayak, fish, sunbathe, and boat on Donner Lake

The central feature of the Truckee area is Donner Lake. While not as large as nearby Lake Tahoe, Donner is a 5 minute drive from town and much more intimate. You can rent kayaks at the Tahoe Donner Marina Beach Club, or you can walk your dog, picnic, or swim at the parks around the edge. If you get on-the-ball early enough in the day, you can commandeer one of the docks for picnicking and sunbathing, and THAT looks like the way to spend the day.

The Beach Club Marina’s guided kayaking tours are also rumored to be fun.

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Donner Lake

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Our kayaks

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A stud in a hat!

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the crew

2. Hike a nearby trail or keep up your exercise regime at Trout Creek Recreation Center

Work out by day, pizza by night, am I right? That sounds like vacation to me. Between the many trails in this area and all of the work out opportunities, you don’t have to feel too guilty about stopping at The Treat Box Bakery for doughnuts or going to Full Belly Deli for lunch.

The Trout Creek Rec Center has fitness classes as well as a full gym.

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If you want to feel the burn but also get some fresh air, the trails are ample in this area. I loved the Summit Lake Trail. Between the Tahoe Donner Land Trust and the Tahoe Donner Neighborhood Association, over 7,000 acres of the surrounding landscape has been purchased and preserved for hiking and mountain biking, keeping the views pristine and opening up miles of trails for the public.

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Summit Lake Trail

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Summit Lake Trail

3. Drop your kids off for trail rides, hikes, archery lessons, and other kids camps offered in Tahoe Donner.

Your littlest ducklings can go to Kids Camp at the Trout Creek Rec Center playroom.

The kids camps might be the only thing you need to reserve in advance. See the Tahoe Donner website closer to summertime for details. Here’s a brief overview of what is offered:

  • Equestrian Center: trail rides, horsemanship lessons, pony rides
  • Golf Course: Junior Golf School, Junior clinics, Glow Golf family parties
  • Trout Creek Recreation Center: archery clinics, kids night out, geocaching, adventure days (includes hiking, crafts, archery, and games)
  • Swimming: swim lessons
  • Beach Club Marina: water kids club, pirate treasure hunt
  • Day camps: 9-noon/9-2pm depending on age. Includes activities mentioned above.
  • Tennis center: Junior tennis program
  • Mountain biking: “Bike Like a Girl” bike camp,
  • Sailing: Junior sailing camp

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Playground at the Tennis Center

Since there are so many kid friendly activities, there are plenty of adults in the 30’s and 40’s age range. So….

4. Go to One of the Parties for Adults

Party time! Woo hoo! One of the fun perks of the Tahoe Donner facilities is the parties they throw for adults. They take place at the various facilities, and include everything from barbecues to tennis round robins. One of the most appealing to me was a bratwurst and tennis round robin party (two of my favorite things in life combined). I also saw a Cowgirls and Cocktails party that looked fun, a Pancakes and Ponies party (this one included kids obviously but hey, where’s the adult version?!), trivia night, family movie night, and a private Euer Valley dinner….just to name a few events from this summer!

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Fire ring at the equestrian center

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Tennis center

5. Don’t Miss Truckee Thursdays Downtown

The charming downtown is blocked off every Thursday night in the summer for a street festival. You can buy lobster rolls, fresh bread, jewelry, art, ever-important coffee mugs, and plenty of strange hippie dippie things if you so desire. Food trucks line up and the boutiques are open late. There’s usually a band and at the very least a street act. It’s people watching at it’s finest.

(PS. Everyone in Truckee is fit and dressed in outdoor gear. I guess that’s what happens when you mountain bike all day.)

*Park at the Trout Creek Recreation Center and take the free shuttle, as downtown is just about the only place in Truckee with limited parking.*

6. Truckee’s Gorgeous Golf Course

The best part of golfing is the courses you get to play on, am I right? This one is beautiful.

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There’s a putting green and driving range right by the Lodge restaurant, and we had a fun afternoon eating and putting. (I get more excited about golf when food is involved.)

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View of golf course from The Lodge restaurant

On that note…

7. Dinner at the Lodge is a must!

This place has a chic and romantic vibe at night. Get a patio table if the weather’s nice! We sat on the patio and gorged ourselves on the delicious food…I can’t remember what we ate, it was one big delicious blur, but I remember being incredibly happy with it.

8. The view from Donner Pass

Outside of town is Donner Pass, which can be accessed by car. The views up here are awesome and not to be missed!

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Justin, mom, and me at Donner Pass

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Donner Lake

(After my backpacking trip I was all for whatever we could see by car. 🙂 )

9. Lake Tahoe is right nextdoor

You MUST drive by Lake Tahoe on your trip! Tahoe is such an incredible sight. It’s immense, and the fact that it is naturally formed (i.e. not formed by a dam) makes it a true wonder. 900 feet deep, pure glacial blue…so lovely. I’ve heard the boat rides offered there are fun, but the place that will be on my list next time is this Scandinavian Castle built on the shore of Lake Tahoe in the 1920’s era by a woman named Lora Knight.

Other Things to Know about Truckee

  • I said it above but it deserves another mention: Full Belly Deli is where it’s AT!
  • You might want to stop in Big Truck hat shop and get a hat…it’s kind of the uniform around these parts. (Conveniently next door to Full Belly Deli.)
  • Tahoe National Forest is nearby and stunning

I hope you have the chance to see Truckee one day and enjoy it as much as I have! Who knows, it could be a family tradition in the making.

A few last parting images from our trip…

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Tahoe National Forest

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This lake has been sent to the lab for testing

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Swimming at Trout Creek Recreation center

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Equestrian center and its many offerings

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Mountain bikes for rent

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Monarch butterfly sippin’ on some pollen on Summit Lake Trail

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Mi familia…very happy

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A Summer Evening Safari

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen I was at Lake Travis in Austin this weekend. Brandon’s parents rented a house and even though we were in the middle of a subdivision, nature abounded. Deer were everywhere, guiding their little fawns around as they grazed. They had absolutely no problem with humans being nearby and went about their routines as we watched them from just a few feet away. I loved having such a willing subject matter for once! When I’m down on our ranch, the deer won’t let me come within 50 yards.

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Hey mama!

One of the fun things I enjoyed seeing were the bucks in velvet.

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In case you don’t know, in velvet means the bucks are still growing their antlers. Once finished, the velvet will shed like a skin. I think they look so cute in this phase.

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There were deer on the golf course, of course.

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Chomping on grass and enjoying the evening without a care in the world.

 

While I was taking these pictures, I noticed all of the deer look up in the same direction and start running.

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They congregated around a suburban, where someone was flinging tortillas out the window.

The deer were hanging their mouths open to catch the tortillas! It was amazing. Who knew they could beg just like dogs at a dinner table?

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They were as bad as Trooper.

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It was a tortilla frenzy.

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“Hey, you got any tortillas, woman?”

But the best part of the urban safari, by far, was the fawns.

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“Oh no! A human with a camera!”

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“Mom?”

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“It’s ok little one. Let’s listen for the sound of a tortilla wrapper.”

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This mother/child duo was grazing by the house as we pulled in right before dinner so I was able to get this close up.

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I can even see the whiskers under his chin.

Is there anything cuter than a fawn’s spots?

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A new fawn crop, a few bucks in velvet, lazy does, some tortillas, and a cool breeze off the lake — pretty standard for a summer evening in Texas! Everyone, including myself and the deer, was enjoying it.

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After the Storm

Brandon and I were at my mom’s house this weekend when a huge storm rolled in. Her house is tucked up on the side of a hill in the trees, and gusts of wind (some up to 70 mph) threw them back and forth like bullwhips. Rain and hail pelted us, and a continual boom of thunder echoed across the canyon. Lightning gave the sky an eery purple and green hue. Trooper jumped in bed with us. I thought about the little birds out there sitting in their nests, perched protectively on their eggs, rocking about with the gale force wind. I once saw a hummingbird weather a tough storm in her nest, and wondered if their small, mossy nests were melting in this deluge. I prayed we wouldn’t all wash away downstream.

We didn’t get much sleep, and I don’t imagine the wildlife outside our door did either. Eventually the storm moved on and left us with a clear day.

I drank my coffee on the porch and watched the birds set to work on rebuilding their neighborhood.

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The left wing of my nest blew away. Gotta make some repairs!

(Get it, wing?)

(This bird is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.)

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The butterflies were out drying their wings and soaking up the sun.

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A night heron was out checking on his patch of riverbank and seeing if he could scrounge up breakfast.

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The bees were out sucking down pollen..

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And even the nasty critters came out of hiding.

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The treetops were alive with bird chatter, as if they were all recounting the events of last night.

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And did you hear that crack of thunder? How are the Jones’?

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But most hilarious of all was this hawk, who was royally ticked that his perch, the edge of our roof, was now being monitored by a corgi.

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He and his fellow bird-of-prey cronies have determined the best location to watch the canyon is the pointed end of our roof. This always makes for entertaining and up-close bird encounters. As Trooper and I were sitting on the porch, watching the post-storm antics take place, the hawk zoomed in for a landing. I saw him coming and thought, “Oh no…”, knowing Trooper would blow a fuse trying to scare him off. Just as the hawk was was extending his talons to catch the edge of our roof, he looked down and saw us. Shock spread across his face, and I was close enough to see it. He let out a big “CAAWWWW!!! CAWWWW! Abort mission! Abort mission!” and nearly backflipped trying to switch directions, which immediately sent Trooper into a wave of hysterics.

The hawk didn’t stop with two caw! cries either. He flew up and down the canyon crowing about the evil little dog on his perch. Life wasn’t fair for that hawk–first he had to live through the storm, and now this? A dog had stolen his perch? What was life worth anymore?

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He didn’t stop crowing about the situation for a good five or ten minutes, resting periodically on a nearby tree before striking up his aggrevated call again.

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I see you, dog. Don’t make me come down there and show you where you stand on the food chain!

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He’s over there! He’s over there! The pathetic little thing is over there!

I couldn’t help but crack up at the animal drama. Who needs reality tv when I have these creatures to amuse me?

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Mommy? Hold me.

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There’s never a dull moment in nature when you slow down to listen to it.

Life Lately

Tuesday night I went to the Ellie Goulding concert here in Austin and was bowled over by how incredible it was. We were all on our feet dancing by the end! Ellie has the voice of an angel and her show is electrifying. And man, she rocks the upper octaves!

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I thought it was cute when she said, “I write about love, usually romantic relationships, but I realized I had never written about the love of my best friend,” so she wrote a tribute to her bestie. Add Ellie to the list of things I love about Great Britain.

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In local wildlife news, this Monarch butterfly caterpillar arrived in my backyard on a milkweed I planted over two years ago.

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This is exciting because he’s my first Monarch visitor ever and he’s decided to stick around for his cocoon phase, during which he will turn into a Monarch butterfly. His cocoon is right by my backdoor so I can watch this whole process unfold. And I can nerd out all I want! I will keep you posted on his progress.

 

In farm news, mom and I have been working on finding a countertop we love for the farmhouse. It is so hard to choose. I’m amazed by the incredible stones that are made by mother nature.

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How could I ever go with boring white when there are stones like this?

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But we’re trying not to get too fancy. It is a farm house after all.

Last time we were there, bees started coming inside the house through a crack in the wall. This had happened once before, when they took up residence in our ceiling and caused honey to drip down into our house, which then attracted ants.

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It was it’s own little ecosystem. I’m good with ecosystems, just not in my house. Sorry bees. We didn’t want it to happen again. After about half an hour of holding smoking logs near the crack in the wall, (over dry grass, mind you…and I could just hear my grandfather saying Don’t catch the field on fire!) they got the message, and headed out to find another place to light.

There’s always some puzzle to solve on a farm, that tests you in a way you’ve never been tested before. This time, it was bees. I don’t want to know what it will be next time. Please God, let it be something easy.

It has been raining a lot so the creek by our house is raging! Troop and I have been out trying to hit 10,000 steps a day. I’m pretty sure he hits about 40,000.

 

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A pooped Troop.

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Brandon and I went to Hopdoddy burger joint on our anniversary. My favorite burgers and my favorite guy, topped off with a Nutella and Pretzel Shake….yum.

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Life is so good with this crew, and I am one grateful woman!

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Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge…and Pie!

Monday of last week was a good day. I got to spend time with my nieces and sister in law at one of the 19 National Wildlife Refuges in Texas and then follow our hike with a big plate of breakfast food and a piece of pie at Blue Bonnet cafe in Marble Falls.

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The Balcones Canyonlands refuge is an enormous expanse of green rolling hills northwest of Austin, on the northern side of Lake Travis. Most people don’t even know it’s there. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful parks near Austin. There’s running water, wide open spaces, and incredible views…and in the Spring, miles of wildflowers.

Map

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I had heard of this park because, being the nerd that I am, I wrote my senior thesis paper in college about two little endangered birds that inhabit Central Texas and this refuge. They require the old ashe juniper and shin oak trees in Central Texas. (Many endangered species are Earth’s pickiest animals.) These two birds, the Black capped vireo and the Golden cheeked warbler, caused a stir because a large portion of their critical habitat happened, inconveniently, to be located on Fort Hood army base. Fort Hood was in high gear at the time testing artillery and preparing troops for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, a system was created where ranchers nearby protected the habitat on their land in exchange for Fort Hood continuing to operate, and the little birds are doing better today. ANYHOW, not to bore you with wildlife facts!

Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia), Friedrich Wilderness State Park, San Antonio, Texas

Photo credit: Flickr Commons user Vince Smith

But that is why the refuge is here.

Unlike the south side of Lake Travis, which is booming, this side of the lake is peaceful, quiet, and as untouched as you can possibly find so close to Austin. (Probably because no one knows about it.) Green hills give way to more green hills, and a little two-laned paved road winds through the 25,000 acre refuge. For perspective, Zilker park is 350 acres, the Domain is 303 acres, and UT’s main campus is 431, so 25,000 is quite a lot!

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(PS. The green space on the left side of that bend in the lake is Pace Bend park. Kind of cool to see where we had just camped from this vantage point!)

First, we popped in at the Visitor Center for some maps and a restroom break. Good news: this refuge has very clean restrooms. You never know what you’ll get at a park’s restroom, so I was pleased to walk in and smell a combination of bleach and lemon fragrance, which just screams Clean! to me, and see that everything was spotless. (Maybe I am as picky as the warbler about where I put my golden cheeks.)

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Hehe.

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At the Visitor Center, you can see a Golden cheeked warbler and Black capped vireo up close, along with other taxidermied animals. Some were a little creepy, like a possum hanging upside-down from a branch by his tail, but some were beautiful and a good representation of what was on the refuge.

There’s also a game, which appealed to my niece and talked about bird life.

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PS. My niece got glasses recently and I can’t get over how cute they are on her. Kids in glasses, how cute are they? Cute cute cute. Cute.

There are two hiking areas of the refuge: Warbler Vista and Doeskin Ranch. Warbler Vista has three trails and an awesome lookout, where you can see for miles. That’s Lake Travis in the distance.

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On the map, this lookout is called “Sunset Deck.”

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warbler vista trails 2

You can hike or drive. If driving, follow the road past the restrooms and after about a half mile, there will be a parking area on the left.

On the other end of the refuge is Doeskin Ranch. It had a good selection of trails–some went straight up the side of hills, while others stayed on flat ground and followed the creek through the valley.  We chose the Pond & Prairie and Creek Trails, which ended up being about two miles.

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doeskin ranch trials

We found a good wading spot in the creek and rested our weary bones. The sun had come out to remind us we were still in Texas, and as sweat slid down our backs, it was nice to put our feet in the cold water.

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Grace had told Stephanie that morning, “I want to wear this dress because Whitney loves animal print!”

That girl may only be four years old, but she is observant and knows the way to my heart–through leopard! 🙂

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I loved these views!

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Pond & Prairie and Creek Trail were easy, flat, or mostly flat, for the entire way. Although I do want to come back and hike some of the more challenging hillside trails in this area.

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We didn’t have any luck finding a warbler, having likely scared them off with our camp songs and chatter.

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This waterfall and the pool were awesome finds towards the end of our hike on Pond & Prairie, and I was wishing for a swimsuit. There weren’t other people for miles, so perfect conditions for wearing a swimsuit! Ha.

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The water seemed to be 3-4 feet deep here and would have been perfect for a post-hike dip.

But we couldn’t waste time, we had business to attend to at Blue Bonnet cafe.

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Stephanie and I ordered big plates of eggs and bacon and biscuits, Ann ordered a BLT, and we all ordered pie.

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My choice was banana cream.

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It was delicious, and along with the big glass of iced tea, totally hit the spot after a hot day of hiking.

A funny thing did happen at the cafe. I ordered Brandon a chocolate cream pie slice to go, and when the waitress came by I emphasized it was “for my husband.” However, when she brought the to-go box of pie to me, it had a fork sticking out of it. As if the waitress was saying, Sure, you say this is “for your husband,” but just in case you can’t wait until you get home to eat it, here’s a fork.

Pig.

I didn’t know whether to be offended or grateful! The truth I had to acknowledge was, that woman knew me and my tendencies whether I liked it or not!

By the grace of God, the pie made it home, to Brandon, without a bite missing.

Small miracle.

They say kids don’t remember their favorite day of television, and while that may only partially be true for Grace who quasi-enjoyed hiking in the heat, I think she enjoyed our day together. I had fun and loved Balcones. I will definitely come back with Brandon. Texas doesn’t have very many national refuges compared to other states, and it’s neat to have one in Austin’s backdoor. But unfortunately they don’t allow dogs, so Trooper will have to stay home, on his throne, barking at squirrels.

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Not bad for a Monday!

Plan Your Visit:

  • Blue Bonnet Cafe website: here
  • Note: Blue Bonnet Cafe only accepts cash or check
  • Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Site: here
  • Warbler Vista Map
  • Doeskin Ranch Map
  • Pro tip: Use the restroom at the visitor center because the other ones aren’t as nice.
  • Side note: You can hunt on the refuge during hunting season. Click here for more information.

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Two Years

Today is my husband and my 2nd anniversary. Woo hoo! Two whole years. I look at people who have been married 25 years or more and think we’re in Kindergarten compared to them. But yay, kindergarten is fun. Time has gone by a lot slower than I thought it would, and I am glad. We have done so much—lots of travel, camping trips, dates, and even all six Star Wars movies and seven Harry Potter books. Brandon is wonderful, and for some reason he has chosen to settle down with me. Weird, Harry Potter loving moi. I’m okay with it and am not going to question him too much….but sometimes I do ponder my luck.

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I didn’t sleep very much after our first, second, third, and possibly fourth dates. I was too excited, and felt like I had the entire North American population of butterflies in my stomach. All my friends had said, “when you know, you know” and finally, I knew what they meant.

He keeps granola bars in his car to give to the homeless, does the dishes without being asked, and brings me coffee in bed every morning. He lets us listen to Adele when he would probably rather listen to Metallica. He goes with me to get sushi even though he would rather eat just about anything else, and would give me the last bite of his Torchy’s taco if I asked. But I try not to ask. He calls me on his way home from work just to chat, even though he’s going to see me in 15 minutes anyways. And he doesn’t celebrate when he scores against me in tennis…but celebrates with me when I score against him. (I may or may not say “BOO YAH” and dance on occasion.)

He took a selfie at the altar on our wedding day…

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…to the surprise and amusement of everyone there, including me.

He sends me selfies in his waders because he knows I will like it!

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He tolerates the high rank my dog holds in this house…

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He can’t take a picture in the sun…

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He takes me to the theater…

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He surprises me with flowers…

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He has a HILARIOUS sense of humor…

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And of course, he is an awesome Instagram Husband! (<— If you haven’t seen this, you seriously need to watch it.)

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In short, he’s the best.

Happy anniversary sweetie! I love ya!

Easter

The weather this Easter was so perfect, it was just beckoning us to spend time outside.

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It was sunny, but not in the hot summer sun kind of way–more in the hammock naps and brisk morning walks kind of way.

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Like the good Texans we are, or try to be, we took my three nieces to a field of bluebonnets for photos. It’s a Texas tradition we do not miss.

I have three nieces and a fourth niece on the way. My husband’s side of the family has become inundated with girls in the last four years. Thanks to the new wives and daughters that have entered the scene, the boys are starting to be outnumbered after a very long time. Brandon is one of three boys, and his dad is one of five boys, so it’s been a while since the scales were tipped this direction.

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Speaking of tipping scales…this is my newest niece Winnie, who is one big baby. (As a former big baby myself, I can say this.) What’s not to love about a fat baby in a field of bluebonnets?

I love everything about it.

With the sun shining to bright it was hard to have all of our eyes open at once for a photo.

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After the wildflower pics, we had an Easter egg hunt for the girls, where they probably split a hundred eggs between them. I don’t remember Easter egg hunting being that lucrative or easy when I was a child!

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However, to my mom’s credit she would hide solid Dove milk chocolate eggs around the house for me to find, which wasn’t exactly a bad deal for a chocolate lover like myself.

 

 

 

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The chickens were a little confused by all of the egg collecting, not knowing whether to flee the scene or start sitting on eggs.

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The next morning was Easter proper, and it started off with a perfect sunrise. I walked down the lane with my coffee and snapped some pics.

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This chicken was out enjoying the weather too.

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“Where are all my eggs?”

And of course, it wouldn’t be Easter without church.

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(And the squinty eyes continue.)

I hope you all had a perfect Easter too. The blissful weather has continued this week in Austin and I’m currently writing from my porch…I must enjoy this while it lasts.

International Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I had the privilege to go to Dallas for an International Women’s Day celebration at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Part of the celebration included the Women’s Initiative Fellowship class graduation, which wrapped up the unforgettable year I’ve had as a mentor in the program.

The Women’s Initiative Fellowship gives select women from the Middle East and North Africa the opportunity to hone their leadership and communication skills during a month long visit to the United States, where they learn from top executives and visit the New York Stock Exchange, Google Headquarters, and other hubs of industry. Once they return home, each Fellow is charged with taking action to build civil society in her country and is paired with an American woman in their field who serves as their mentor. This year I mentored a young woman named Insaf, who was starting recycling and anti-litter campaigns in schools. She is the best!

 

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Redbuds in full bloom at the Bush Center.

As the founder of Zero Waste Tunisia, Insaf has given radio interviews, hosted a conference on Zero Waste, built a team of ambassadors, and partnered with international organizations doing similar work. Her focus is educating children, the next generation, and she has already taught in over ten schools to date. One of the women who runs this program described Insaf and the other fellows as “‘Founding Mothers’ of Tunisia,” and I could not agree more! Insaf is bursting with ideas and energy, and I’ve loved witnessing the huge impact she’s made in just one year.

The celebration for International Women’s Day and the Women’s Initiative Fellowship graduation was a two day affair, beautiful from beginning to end. On the first night, we had a reception with the other mentors and Tunisian fellows. The last time we had seen each other was in Prague, and so it was good to catch up!

Mrs. Bush dropped by for a bit. She and President Bush are very invested in the program, and even host the Fellows at their home for dinner during their time in the United States.

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Greta van Susteren, an anchor of Fox News, moderated the discussion that evening with Mrs. Bush and Razia Jan, an Afghan woman who has founded free schools for girls in her country.

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Razia spoke of young girls being killed outside schools, and widows being stoned for leaving the house alone. Laura Bush said it was important for the United States to remain engaged in Afghanistan. The ladies were seated over an Arzu rug, handwoven by Afghan women. The book they discussed, We are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, can be found online at Amazon here.

The following day was rainy. After speaking at UT Dallas, Insaf and I slipped away to the Dallas Art Museum just as the worst of the storm came. (I could have just as soon napped, but Insaf and I live by the “must do it all!” philosophy.)

The graduation ceremony was held that evening at the Dallas Arboretum, and though the weather prevented a tour of the gardens, the night was perfect. Each of the Fellows donned a cap and gown and after dinner they were presented with diplomas.

One great quote I heard that night was, “Girls compete with one another. Women empower one another.”

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Empowering other women is in itself empowering! Each one of these women is doing something to make her mark on the future of Tunisia, from creating a YouTube Channel to showcase Tunisian women, (a must see–so cute) to hosting counter-terrorism conferences. Like a chain reaction, as I watched them take on the world, I couldn’t help but feel energized and motivated towards my own goals.

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I can’t wait to see where they are in ten years. Though they may be so far down the path to success that they are mentoring me.

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Thank you so much to the Bush Center and Insaf for an unforgettable year. I learned so much and had an incredible time.

Once Upon a Time in Washington, DC

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I spent six weeks interning in Washington, DC. I was working for a Congressman from Texas, and doing “really important” work like answering phones and filing papers. That summer went beyond my wildest dreams–I was living in a dorm on GWU’s campus, making new friends, and visiting museums or towns along the Eastern seaboard every weekend. Every morning I clacked to work in my new business casual clothes and heels alongside an army of fellow interns and at night we all went out to swanky restaurants and pretended to be adults. When I got asked on a date by a man who had a full time job AND wore a suit, I thought I had really arrived. DC is a place where something major is always happening, and I loved feeling like I was in the middle of it, with my hand on the pulse of our country.

Late one afternoon, I was sitting in my chair in the front office answering telephones and rubbing my feet. I had given two Capitol tours that day and my feet were killing me. I was looking forward to going back to my dorm room, eating, and crawling into bed. An email notification popped up on my screen and interrupted my reveries.

“We should go to this,” it read. Shannon, the other intern in the office, had forwarded me an invitation to hear Ryan Gosling, Benjamin McKenzie (of the OC), and fellow celebs speak that evening. It is very common for A-listers to come to Capitol Hill promoting an issue, and usually they are swarmed by fans. The event didn’t impress me, because I was tuckered out and I figured I would have to fight through crowds to even get a glimpse of them. Even though I was the world’s #1 OC and Notebook fan at the time (and may or may not still be…) I didn’t think it would be worth the long haul over to the Senate buildings.

Eventually Shannon coaxed me into going. She’s persuasive. I trudged across the Capitol grounds to the Senate building, cursing my heels and still thinking about my plush bed at home. When we got to the building, I braced myself for an auditorium full of people.

Shannon pushed open the door and we saw, to our immense surprise, only a small handful of people. Right in front of them, only a hundred feet from where I stood, sat Ryan Gosling at the panel table and Ben McKenzie in the front row.

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Mysteriously, the pain in my feet evaporated. I was starstruck.

Mr. Gosling and his cohorts did a twenty minute panel, during which they talked about important issues facing Africa–at least, I think that’s what they talked about–but I was focused on his jawline and getting a good picture.

Just being honest.

During the panel, Shannon and I kept exchanging knowing looks that said, This is so cool right?/Yeah, I know, so cool.

After the panel wrapped, I started to head for the door.

“Um, where are you going?” Shannon asked me.

“Home?” I replied, thinking about my bed.

“But we haven’t met them yet!” She said, clearly stating the obvious.

“Oh. Right.” Of course, what was I thinking? Not waltzing straight up to Ryan Gosling and striking up a conversation?

Before I knew it, thanks to Shannon’s maneuvering, we were shoulder to shoulder with Gosling and chatting with him. His beard was so grizzly. His physique was average–nothing near the buff state he’s in nowadays. I tried to savor every moment because I knew my friends would demand details, but honestly, it was one big heart-palpitating blur. I complimented him on the panel and somehow avoided mentioning the Notebook. Thank you, brain, for not letting me tell him I’ve cried to it 99 times.

We talked about Africa–the subject of his film–and I told him I was going there soon for a study abroad. He told me it would change how I look at things and make me really grateful for the way my life is. Awww, what a down to earth guy! I thought.

He pulled me in for a picture–yes, he pulled me in, this part I remember with crystal clarity–and I did my best to be like Oh, no big deal!

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I’m sure the journalists and official big wigs there were shrugging and rolling their eyes. But you know what–they don’t appreciate him!

Shannon got a picture too, and together we left the room in a trance. Biggest heart throb of the decade…check!

I’m really glad I didn’t go home that day after work. Oh to be young and single in DC.