Dogs enjoy freedom at Austin off-leash parks

Auditorium Shores  Dog Park in Austin TexasMoving from South Florida where dogs were either on a leash or in a fenced dog park or yard, it was surprising to discover the number of off-leash parks here in Austin.

We were hesitant at first.  Our dog is friendly, but what if others weren’t?  What if she took off?  (She did, but didn’t go far…only to Great Outdogs to get more treats!)  But finally we gave in, and headed to Auditorium Shores for a gathering of Austin Boxer Meetup…and some off-leash, unfenced playtime.

Maya seemed surprised when we took her leash off, but she quickly found some new friends to play with, and was off.  She played with other big dogs, and some adorable tiny ones, too. There were no aggressive dogs — just lots of playmates and dips in the river — and a few unfortunate rolls in the dirt (lovely when a wet dog rolls in the dust!  Next time the bath will be AFTER the dog park! Good thing we had an extra blanket to cover the car seat!)

Auditorium Shores (near the Long Center) isn’t Austin’s only off leash park.  There are also play areas for pups at Zilker Park and eight other Austin-area parks and recreation areas. Just make sure your dog is good about coming on command, and likes playing with canine companions of all sizes.  Then grab your pup, a water bottle and some toys and head on out.  Oh, and take along something to cover your car seat,,,just in case!

Have Frisbee, will travel!

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MomCom Austin brings together creativity, inspiration and innovation

MomCom Austin June 2012 on Ais4Austin

Twice a year, moms in Austin are treated to a full day of inspiring speakers, networking, a good dose of laughter and even a few tears at MomCom Austin.

Founded by PR pro Trish Morrison (who I have been lucky enough to get to know since moving here!), MomCom Austin gives local moms a chance to hear from successful business women, writers, bloggers and leaders who are also moms.  “It’s a place where it’s okay to say you went to a meeting with baby puke on your sleeve,” said one attendee. “We all understand because we’ve been there, and that feels great.”

This was my first MomCom Austin, and after hearing the speakers and talking with the other mom’s I agree with the another comment I overheard.  “You mean, it’s not just me?   I feel so much better!”  Trish has created an event where we all feel better for not being the only one. Everyone there knew what it meant to be a mom and whatever else you’re trying to be, too.

This year’s summer event at The Oasis introduced attendees to new inspiration and new food for thought.  We got to hear from Palo Alto Software CEO Sabrina Parsons about doing interviews while nursing her newborn, and Tiffany Harelik, the author of Trailer Food Diaries, about incredible loss and unexpected (but well earned) success.

The speakers made us laugh (thinking about Wendy Aarons’ letter to the creators of the mind-boggling “Have a Happy Period” Campaign still makes me giggle out loud!).  And the speakers made us cry (how do you keep going when you lose everything? One speaker knew first hand.)

Best of all, they made us all feel that almost anything was possible.

Yes, there is a registration fee for MomCom Austin.  But the modest ticket price is nothing compared to the incredible feelings we all had when the day was done.  Thank you, Trish!  I can’t wait until January! 

The best of weird Austin is for sale at Uncommon Objects

Uncommon Objects Collectibles Austin TexasEvery city has its antique stores.  And most have vintage and collectible shops, too.  But there is only one shop in one town I know of where you can buy a dozen classic Shriner’s jackets, a set of French flashcards from the 1920’s, a wall-mounted statue of Ganesh, and a box of 6 dozen microscope slides of bug legs all in one shopping trip.  And you can throw in fine vintage china, a couple of Waterfall dressers and all the 1940’s sign art you can carry while you’re at it.

If you have not been to Austin’s “Uncommon Objects” on South Congress, you might think I’m exaggerating. After all the store looks kind of small on the outside.  But with Tardis-like magic, it seems to get bigger and bigger the further you walk into it.

You might be wondering why I’m including a store on the blog.  After all, this blog is about things to do and places to eat, right? It’s not about stores.

Well, from my first visit to Uncommon Objects a week after I arrived in Austin to my visit last week, this store has definitely been something to ‘DO.”

I go in.  I wander. I imagine.  I try to picture where I could put three 5 foot high letters from an old grocery store sign, just because I love the font.  I think about buying the Shriner’s jackets and using them for some kind of party theme.  I find inspiring words in a pile of 1950’s flashcards and I lay out the 6 I will buy to create a unique piece of art on my wall. I find a book from the late 1800’s with my daughter’s nickname in the title on the book’s artistic cover, and add it to my purchases, musing over how I will display it in her room. I get lost in looking at pieces of the past, and imagining how to use them now.

This isn’t shopping.  It’s doing.  It’s the place I take visitors and newcomers who are even more fresh to Austin than I am. This, I tell them, is not just a store.  It’s weird Austin, for sale.

Silver Grill Cafe offers good food, friendly space and a playground!

Silver Grill Cafe Austin TexasThe other day we decided to attend a board games Meetup in North Austin at the Silver Grill Cafe.  Our goal was a geek-happy afternoon playing games like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. But what we found in the process was a great little cafe with low prices and delicious home-style food (including my new favorite, Migas!)

We got to chat with one of the restaurant’s two owners, Rehan Awan, while we ate.  He told us the restaurant had been open for about 2 years, and that he had been involved in the restaurant industry for years. Their goal at Silver Grill, he said, was to make sure guests got food they loved in a place they were happy to be.  He succeeded on both counts with us.  From the large servings of fresh food to the all-you-want salsa and jalapeno bar (Yeah!  A place that doesn’t charge extra for jalapenos!), we feasted until game time.

Mr. Awan said that several Meetup groups have chosen his place for their events.  The large open floor plan and affordable food certainly made it seem like a natural to me.  We had about 20-30 game players eating and playing board games in the restaurant, and it never felt crowded or noisy.

The restaurant also has a patio for al fresco dining and a large play set for younger diners to run off energy until the food is ready.

Playground trumps crayons at Freddie’s Place

Freddie's Place in Austin on Ais4Austin.comRestaurants typically offer younger diners crayons or maybe a page or two of puzzles.  But Freddie’s has a better choice…a whole play structure within the restaurant’s outdoor dining area.

And when we went, the youngest patrons were taking full advantage it while their parents relaxed at nearby tables.  But the charm of Freddie’s Place doesn’t stop with the small fry.

Pets are welcome to dine with their people in the spacious outdoor area, and big bowls of water are provided for the canines as soon as diner’s are seated.  The backyard picnic feel of the space, complete with purple picnic tables and strings of big colorful lights made me feel at home and comfortable as soon as we arrived.  And the witty sayings on signs and waitstaff shirts (one read “Freddie’s: Home of good-looking beer and ice-cold waitresses”) make it fun to look around.  Live music adds the final Austin touch to the place. There’s even an open mic night on Wednesdays, in case you’re feeling like showing off your own talent.

And then there’s the food. Did I forget to mention the food?  Frito Pie with layers of beefy chili, cheese, jalapenos and more. Hand-cut fries.  And a veggie burger made in Freddie’s kitchen from hummus.  (It was delicious!)  The menu is as casual and comforting as the setting — no fancy fixings or complex dishes.  Freddie’s keeps it simple — and from the crowd enjoying dinner on the night we went, simple is just right.

Dog-friendly Austin welcomes Great Outdogs, a mobile dog supply truck

Great Outdogs Austin Texas Mobile Dog Supply Truck

In the land of food trucks and pet-friendly businesses, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that someone decided to combine the two to create Austin’s first mobile dog supply truck.  After all, we all love Austin’s food trucks, so why should our pups be left out of the fun?

So I was happy when I discovered Great Outdogs, the brain-child of Austin entrepreneur Matt Edwards.  “I had the website for awhile,” he said, “and this was the dream, to take outdoor dog supplies to the places where dogs play.”  Then a serendipitous discovery of the perfect truck made it possible.  “I found the truck, spent a few weeks making it over, and here I am.”

We met Matt at the off-leash dog park across from the Long Center while we were waiting for the Boxer Meetup to start. The truck really is a one-stop shop for dog lovers who enjoy Austin’s outdoors with their pets.  There were leashes, collars, toys, treats, water bowls, and of course, a good selection of dog waste bags ( a must-have for all of us owned by a dog or two!)  He even had safety flotation vests in all dog sizes for people planning on taking their pups out on the river. In fact, his truck offers over 1,300 eco-friendly, pet-friendly and budget-friendly dog items.

Matt’s truck can be found most days at the Auditorium Shores off-leash park, although he said he has plans to create a schedule for visiting several dog parks in the future.

This unique truck may be destined for great things…Matt told me the Statesman had just published a story on  his business, and he had been interviewed by local Austin TV station KVUE.   That’s great for his fledgling mobile business — and for dogs like mine who are already enjoying some of his great products.

A walk can turn into art in Austin

signs near university of texas on Guadalupe

One of the things I’m enjoying here in Austin is the walk-ability.  And all the great shapes, colors, designs and fonts I find to look at and photograph along the way.

The images in this post came from a walk along Guadalupe across from the University of Texas campus.  Typical snapshots are of buildings or statues…but finding and photographing the small details of signs, fences, walls and sidewalks can turn an ordinary walk into an art experience.  Best of all, kids of all ages can get in on the experience.  Big kids like us have as much fun as little ones, and the little ones will love taking their own pictures.

And if you’re looking for a unique date night activity….two cameras, a connector and a tablet or laptop to look at your finds together over dinner or dessert.  Perfect!  Or head out by yourself for some quiet time really seeing your city, maybe for the first time.  It’s amazing how different things look when you’re looking for the details!

I know this isn’t the typical “A is For Austin” post, but once in awhile it’s nice to talk about something that’s free and fun and simple and easy to do no matter where in Austin you might be.