Zilker Botanical Gardens invite you to build a Faerie House and Garden

Zilker Botanical Gardens Faerie House WorkshopCalling all lovers of imagination and whimsy! Zilker Botanical Gardens is inviting you to design and build your very own Faerie House and Garden, in Zilker Park!

That’s what I discovered when I was playing around online, looking for cool images to pin to my Secret Garden Pinterest board. So of course, we had to head over on Sunday to check this out.  Could it be?  Could we really indulge our creativity and my love of all things Faerie and magical and build an actual space in the garden for everyone to see?  (Okay, so I’m an overgrown kid…everyone who knows me already knows that!)

Yes!  It’s true!  It turns out that I had stumbled on the very First Annual Faerie Home and Garden competition in Austin. We went to the free workshop on Sunday, and learned some Faerie lore (for instance, did you know that every time a flower blooms, a Faerie is born? News to me!)  We also got a chance to talk to the people in charge of the whole series of Faerie-focused events at Zilker Botanical Garden now through May.  (The poster for the events is below, or you can download the Fairy poster PDF to print yourself.)

Anyone can enter the competition to build their very own fairy house and garden (and yes, our family is already registered!).  The fee is $25 for families and $45 for designers and architects. In return, you get a 4′ by 4′ space to construct your own vision of a fairy dwelling.

The rules are simple. You’ll be assigned a space in the garden. You have to construct the dwelling using natural materials gathered from the designated area of the garden, or from your own home or favorite natural spots. You can build a home, add furniture (made of twigs and other natural materials faeries are likely to find, or you can create an entire faerie wonderland with multiple buildings. The choice is up to you and your family!

The masterpieces go on display in March (with setup the weekend of March 9th) , and will be in the garden until May. The deadline for registering is February 9th.  Download the forms from the Zilker site, then mail or fax in your registration and fee.

I was so excited, I’ve already gone to Michael’s to buy a little fairy figure to use as the scale for our creation! And it’s not just me. My daughter started her sketches for the furnishings, and my husband has been brainstorming design ideas to keep our creation true to fairy-lore.  This is going to be fun!

Zilker Park Faerie Homes and Gardens Poster

Native American PowWow brings history, music, food to Austin

Native American Powwow Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comYesterday, it was time to discover yet another new event in Austin, so we headed out for the 21st Annual Austin Powwow.

I love powwows…we used to go to the Native American Pow-Wow every year on City Island near Harrisburg, PA. when we lived there.  And we always tried to go to gatherings in Florida and in the Rockies, too.

The music, dancing and the clothing are my favorite parts, so I was thrilled to see that Austin’s Powwow was focused around those elements. The auditorium at Sunset Valley was filled with drummers, singers and dancers in dramatic traditional apparel.  As each dance was called, the music changed, the drum beat shifted, and a new group of dancers took center stage.

Austin PowWow 2012

Unlike many “shows” which focus on providing cultural demonstrations for visitors, this was clearly a gathering for members of the local and regional tribes.  Those of us who were not identifiably Native Americans were there as guests, not spectators. And that gave the whole event a different feel than more commercial, touristy “Indian events” — and one that I appreciated.

At one point, guests were invited to join in a dance, and most seemed to really enjoy the chance to be a part of the celebration.  Kids, especially little ones, loved this!

Outside, the celebration continued, with stands selling handmade flutes, beautiful drums and herbs used in healing. Yes, there were stands offering nearly identical jewelry, but the authentic craftspeople at other stands made it worth walking around, asking questions and shopping.

Austin PowWow 2012 Flutes for saleThere were also stands offering educational information about tribal history and customs.  We spent quite a bit of time at the Chickasaw table, learning about their history, stories and their new Oklahoma Chickasaw Cultural Center. A future road trip, maybe?

The event also includes a food court, with Fry Bread dominating the menus (no complaints from me!  I love Fry Bread with honey or beans and veggies, and they had both in abundance!) Austin PowWow 2012 Arrows for sale

Admission and parking were free, which makes this a great choice for families with kids. It also leaves more cash for lunch or shopping — another big plus in my book!  Pets are not permitted at the festival.

I just want to leave you with a few more images from the Festival…not my usual format, but I can’t resist.

Austin PowWow 2012 Sage

Austin PowWow 2012 Dream Catchers

Austin PowWow 2012 Cherokee Story Tellers

Dogtoberfest comes to the Domain

Dogtober Fest Austin 2012

Dogtoberfest is one of Austin’s most popular annual canine festivals, featuring costume contests, breed rescue groups, and booths from the areas best dog care services and products.

When the Domain goes to the dogs, Halloween can’t be far behind. That’s because Dogtoberfest, one of the area’s most popular annual dog festivals is held there each October.

Sure,. the Domain is always dog-friendly.  But during Dogtoberfest, the upscale shopping and dining center is transformed into dog and dog-people heaven.

I lost count of the wonderful rescue groups there, each working to bring together people and pups (including my personal favorite, Austin Boxer Rescue (we have a rescued boxer mix, so we’re biased!)  Add to that dozens of booths offering information on training and boarding, another dozen or so more for gourmet dog treats and healthy pet food, and a bunch of places to buy really cool dog toys, collars and other accessories, and you have the perfect day for spoiling your four-footed family members.

And because Dogtoberfest is around Halloween, you even get to dress your pups up for the festivities, and compete for prizes. I saw everything from simple sweaters to elaborate team costumes complete with movable sets!  The “I Love Lucy” group won this year, but sadly my photo of that team didn’t come out

If you missed the festival this year, take heart!  There’s always next year’s festival — and now you have plenty of time to plan that perfect costume!

Yes, Austin loves its dogs…and this festival is just one more fun, silly piece of that!

 

South Congress is great even after hours

South Congress Shops when they're closedSouth Congress is one of the coolest places in Austin. The combination of shops like Uncommon Objects and Tesoros make shopping a lot more fun, while Guero Mexican, Home Slice Pizza and the food trucks are perfect for lunch, dinner or a snack.

Sadly, most of the shops close way too early for late evening shopping (by 8 pm on weekends, almost everything is shut down.) I’m not sure what’s up with that, but we still have fun.  How?

Even after the shops have closed, a wander down South Congress after a late dinner has become one of our favorite ways to end the evening. We stop at look in the Windows at Lucy in Disguise and check out the latest costume offerings.  We peer into the thrift stores and consignment shops to see what the hipsters will be sporting next. We look at the antiques and collectibles in Uncommon Objects and the other “junque” shops. There’s usually at least a few “mystery objects” that we spend some time trying to identify.

We look in the art gallery windows and critique the paintings, and in the bookstore window and try to count the books on display that we DON’T have on our own bookshelves (faster than counting the ones we do! Yes, I am a  proud biblioholic!)

And towards the end of the walk, there is often one lone shop open…the Big Top Candy shop with its “Open Until We Close” hours offers an after-walk treat of licorice or chocolate before we head back to the car.

No, it’s not as exciting as 6th Street, but it’s a good choice for a low-key, low-cost date night or a family stroll or a walk with the dogs. And for us, that’s good enough to keep us going back, even after the shops shut down.

Date Night Idea: The Texas religion called High School Football

High school football pictures Austin Texas on A is 4 AustinAs newcomers to Texas, one of the stories we had heard was that high school football was the true religion of the Lone Star State.

Now, we’re from Florida where high school football is pretty major stuff. And during my own high school days, I never missed a game. I thought I had a pretty good feel for the experience.

We had heard from neighbors that even adults who don’t have kids at the schools go to the games, (but we do have a Freshman, so we were okay), so we decided to make it a date night and try it out and see for ourselves. So tickets in hand, and jackets ready, we dressed in school colors and headed out to a local high school football game.

The bleachers were full. And not just with kids and the huge-ginormous band. There were hundreds and hundreds of parents. And almost all of them were decked out from head to toe in school colors AND school emblems. Even their seat cushions featured the team logo!

We had a great time on our date. We cheered, we stood, we sat. We asked nearby parents what the picture buttons some of them wore meant. (The answer? Parents of team members, band members and the cheer squad wear them to honor their kids. Kinda cool!) We were delighted that no one seemed to boo when the opposing team scored or a penalty was called on our side…loved that!

We were lost during the songs everyone seemed to know, and baffled by hand symbols the parents and kids alike did during certain refrains.

But the fact is, we had a great time. And for just under $10 a ticket at the gate and snacks averaging $2, it was a wonderfully inexpensive date night, too. And something we plan to do again (with seat cushions this time…those benches are cold!)

A high school game would also be a great night out with younger kids. Best of all, the tickets and snacks are cheap enough to make it a guilt-free option to leave if they get tired or bored.

If you’re from Texas, going to a high school game might not seem like much of a date night or a family night out. But for those of us who are new to the state, it was a fun evening under the lights.

Check the schedules in your area (they’re online if you don’t have a student in the school) and head out for date night under the lights. And who knows…you could become a real fan of a whole new team.

The 4th of July is hot in Round Rock

Round Rock 4th of July and Sam Bass Shoot Out

For my first 4th of July in Texas, we headed up to Round Rock for their Frontier Days celebration. Yes, there were lots of places to choose from, but only Round Rock promised a chili pepper-eating contest and a historic shoot out!

And thankfully, it was all they promised. Randall’s sponsored the chili pepper eating contest…Ghost Peppers proved to be the highlight of the event…the faces of brave tasters were priceless! (And no, we were not among them! I love spicy, but…!)

After that we headed over to the food area for a snack before the Sam Bass Shootout. It was a great chance to learn a little bit of Texas history and chill (okay, so that’s relative on a 100+ degree day!) in the shade and watch a performance complete with some beautiful horses and impressive riding.

There were kiddie rides, vendor booths, a track-can train (seriously!) and even a unicorn in the pony ride area! It’s kid and family friendly, but dogs aren’t welcome at this normally dog-friendly park on the 4th.

Later on, there was a spectacular fireworks display, followed by an outdoor film (Captain America, this year.)

It was a great day, but some lessons were learned for next year. First, bring water. LOTS of water! And maybe a parasol, too! Vegetarians will probably want to pack a picnic…the meatless offerings were slim. Also, do NOT leave the Festival in the afternoon and plan to return later in the day for the fireworks. The wonderfully easy drive in and parking we had at noon was a nightmare at 7! Bring chairs, lunch and drinks and find a spot in the shade somewhere in the park to relax between the festival and the fireworks. The stress (and gas!) it will save you will be well worth it!

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!

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.

The bats are back at Austin bridges!

Watching the bats in downtown Austin Texas at the Congress Ave Bat Bridge

When I got to Austin last year, one of the first things I wanted to see was the bat bridge.  I had heard about it, but I couldn’t imagine millions of bats flying out from under a bridge…or hundreds of people watching it every night.

I was not disappointed!  The show the bats put on is amazing! Wave after wave of bats stream out, turning the sky above dark as they head out for their nightly feast of mosquitoes and other pesky insects. People cheered, people clapped.  And cameras snapped, as people tried to capture the experience on a square of film.

But then winter came and the bats headed back to Mexico to avoid what passes for cold here in Austin.

The good news is they’re back!  While the best “shows” are mid-summer, patient (or impatient) bat-viewers can head out most evenings now and catch an impressive show. Yes, once again, we can all head down to bridges and walkways downtown to watch the nightly show of Austin’s favorite flying mammals.

Not sure when the bats making their appearance?  Call the Bat Hotline for nightly updates on the best time for bat-viewing. Their number is 512-327-9721.  Or check out the Bat Con website for more information.