Austin’s sweet side lives at the Big Top Candy Shop

Big Top Candy Shop Austin Texas

My parents told me stories about candy stores when they were kids.  Bins and bins of bright colored candies waited for little hands wielding shiny scoops.  They talked about the sound of the candy as it fell into the bag, and how hard it was to wait to dig in until they arrived at the movies or some other special event.

For me, candy shopping as a kid was a wander down the aisle of the nearby convenience store.  For my kids, it’s generally been the shelves at Target or Walgreens. Aside from a sleeker candy-by-the-pound store that used to be in Hummelstown, PA when we lived nearby, I don’t think my kids ever experienced anything like the Big Top Candy Shop.

This is the kind of place my parents would have recognized. And my daughter loves.  We can’t go anywhere near this area of South Congress without her dragging my husband (the other sweet tooth in the family) in for “just a few pieces of candy.”

Big Top is a mix of old-fashioned candies like “Mary Janes” and “Squirrel Nut Zippers” mixed with today’s sour Gummy Worms.  There’s a good about of novelty candy, too, all poking fun at some of today’s culture.

Oh, and just in case all of that doesn’t fill your sugar quota, they have locally made ice cream too.  Ready, set, sugar-overload!  But oh so good while you’re eating it!

Big Top Candy Shop on Urbanspoon

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Town Lake trail offers nature in the middle of the city

Town Lake in AustinThere are very few U.S. cities that offer residents a huge green oasis in the middle of the city.  Fortunately for us, Austin is one of them.

Town Lake (also known as Lady Bird Lake, or so I am told) and the associated Town Lake Trail offers Austinites and visitors walking and biking trails from just over a mile to almost 7.25 miles.  The trails are wide, and most of the route meanders along next to the lake (which looks like a small river to me, but hey, I’m not from around here!)  Wildlife is sparse, but there are swans, blackbirds and tons of butterflies.

Most of the path is shaded, which is critical given the summer temps around here.  Parking is hit or miss at several locations, but if one area is filled you’ll only have to go a short distance to the next on-street parking or off-street lot.  Most of it is free, too…another plus.

If you want to head out onto the water, there’s a boat rental here, offering canoes, kayaks and boards, plus lessons for the uninitiated.

There are lots of restaurants within a few minutes walk of the trail, so many people finish up their taste of nature with a taste of something more er, um cooked?

Pets are welcome and pretty much equal the number of people on the Town Lake Trail, but they must be on leashes and you must pick up their poop to avoid lake contamination. (Yes, there are trash cans, but bring your own bags.)  Off-road strollers do well here, although I have seen people with regular ones, too.

Wildseed Farms brings wild beauty to home gardens

Wildseed Farm Texas

In the middle of wildflower season in Texas, it might be hard to think about planting and tending a garden.  After all, incredible blossoms are everywhere, from the center of 183 to the patch of dirt in front of the local strip mall.

But the fact is, most of the Technicolor flowers that are native to the Austin area are also a great choice for local gardens and landscapes, too.  That’s what I learned from our visit to Wildseed Farms, located near Fredricksburg.

But lest you think this is just a seed store, or even a nursery, I need to tell you about the unbelievable fields of flowers.  There were acres and acres of bright red, yellow and orange poppies.  Unfortunately, it seems that fields of poppies photograph about as well as they survive once cut — so you’ll have to see that amazing display for yourself.

There were also several smaller fields of larkspur — we picked enough of them to fill one large and several small vases at home for only $5.00.  And visitors can walk around through the growing gardens and see dozens of other wildflowers in bloom (and there are even clear tags identifying the flowers in each row…perfect for a new Texas resident like me who was worried about having to go into the store and ask for “those yellow flowers with the red bits near the center”.)

The shops at Wildseed Farms do have seeds…lots and lots and lots of them.  There are even wildflower mixes for other parts of the country, so visitors or people who want to send garden gifts can get the right kind for each region.

Add in the selection of garden decor, wind chimes, garden-themed gifts and beautiful cotton women’s clothing (yes, a surprise for me, too!) and you have a great place to stop on the way to Fredricksburg, or a relaxing destination all its own.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there was live music in an outdoor venue, with tables for enjoying the view, the sounds and something from the ice cream shop or snack bar.

Pets on leash are welcome here, even in the shops as long as they are well-behaved.

Kids parties, playgroups sparkle with Gorgeous Millie

2012-04-06 Georgeous Millie Austin Texas

As a mom of three, I’ve been to my share of kids’ play group and party venues. And they always seemed to come in two versions…decked out in enough Pepto-Bismal pink and Tidy-Bowl Blue to make any mom gag, or ablaze with crayon-bright,  reds, yellows and greens. Gorgeous Millie is all together different.

First of all, there is a wonderful lack of plastic in the decor. Walking into Gorgeous Millie’s is like stepping into a delightful mixture of a welcoming home, a vintage shop and Alice’s own wonderland.

The decor is kid and mom-pleasing red, black and white, with shelves of toys, a cozy reading area with shelves of books and an an amply-stocked dress-up area to inspire young imaginations.

Party tables occupy a cozy tented space with real table cloths and kid-sized versions of grown-up tableware. No tacky paper-plates with garish clowns for this venue — another big plus in my book!

Parties here fit all budgets, from a low cost option where the mom or dad provides the food and the Gorgeous Millie staff provides the wonderful setting and theme play, to an all out splurge where all the birthday family and friends have to do is show up and enjoy!

When Gorgeous Millie isn’t hosting parties for the pre-school to 12 year old set on weekends and off-hours, they offer Mommy & Me playgroups, complete with songs, crafts and creative play. It’s not daycare…each child must bring a parent or caregiver.  But with the onsite cameras, off-site moms and dads can check in on the fun when a babysitter or nanny is the one accompanying the little one.

I only wish my kids were still small enough to enroll them!  We would be there in a snap!