Getting ready for the unexpected in Austin

I know that this isn’t my usual post for A is For Austin, but between the storms in the Northeast and the earthquakes in Utah, it seems like being prepared is a really good idea.

Whether it’s a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or ice storm, when the unexpected hits here in Austin, will you be ready? Experts say that in a crisis, it usually takes about three days for people to either reach safety or for help to arrive. So being prepared with the things you need for those first 72 hours only makes sense.

That’s why I decided to take a step away from my usual reviews to offer some advice on putting together a 72 hour kit for you and for your kids. Sure, there are books about what to include and what to leave behind (I know…I wrote one!) But in reality you can put together a simple three-day kit without spending days researching it.

Ready?  Here’s a checklist for simple 72 hour kits for kids or adults

I know it’s kind of long.  But don’t let that throw you. The list has suggestions for kits for kids, for teens, for babies, and for adults. And just in case an emergency keeps you in your house instead of heading out, I’ve also included things you should have on hand in case weather makes it impossible to get out.

Most of the things on the list are easy to find around Austin. Some you may want to buy online. Not sure where to look?  Here are some suggestions for where to find the basics for your kits without spending a fortune.

BackpacksGoodwill and Salvation Army are great places to find good backpacks for really low prices. Expect to pay from $5 to $10 for a full-sized backpack in good condition. If possible, choose a backpack with separate zippered sections — it makes it easier to keep things organized.

Camping gear – When it comes to things like space blankets, camp stoves, emergency tube tents and high density food bars, head for your local REI , (there are several around Austin) Bass Pro (the nearest one is in San Antonio) or Cabelas (head to Buda, TX for the closest one to Austin.) Yes, you might find cheaper prices at some discount stores, but the quality might not be there. An emergency situation is not a time to cut corners.

Sleeping bags and tents – You can get a compact emergency sleeping bag at almost any outdoors store, like the ones mentioned above. But if you want to get a real sleeping bag or tent that will last, start with Academy Sports.  They have good prices, and several Austin area locations. If money is tight, head for the thrift stores to check for sleeping bags. I usually see several decent ones each time I’m at Goodwill, and they’re usually under $15.

Multitools, pen knives, scissors and more – If it’s something that might have been confiscated at the security checkpoints at the airport, odds are it’s available at the State Surplus Store in Austin.  Go here for multitools, basic tools like screwdrivers, and emergency supplies like Swiss Army knives, all at seriously low prices.

The little things – Before you pay a lot for the small things in your 72 hour kit, check out Dollar Tree. They’re a great source for kids books, coloring books, emergency candles, inflatable pillows and small sized-toiletries. There are plenty of locations around Austin, so it’s easy to find one near you.

A word of caution…avoid buying crayons or toys made in China. Yes, they’re cheap, but they may also be toxic, so skip those, even if it means paying a bit more somewhere else.

If the budget is super-tight, consider printing coloring pages from your computer and stapling them together. Saving the crayons from restaurants after your kids color is another way to stock your bags for little or no cost.

Healthy food and drink choices – If you’re facing the stress of an evacuation or a storm that makes travel impossible, the last thing you need to do is add to your stress by filling your bags with junk food. Austin is fortunate to have several wonderful places that offer healthy, compact choices in food and packaged drinks. Try Whole Foods, Central Market or Sprouts for tasty, healthy snack bars, dried fruit, juice pouches (or boxes) and ready-to-heat packaged meals with less salt than grocery store brands (important when water may be limited.)

Outdoor clothing – If the weather is cold (admittedly a rarity here in Austin, but without proper clothing, even the 50’s can feel cold), having warm clothing can be life-saving. But if cost is an issue, try some of the area’s better consignment and thrift stores.  My favorite is Buffalo Exchange, where they consistently offer incredible choices for a fraction of even the discount stores.

Water pouches and MREs – Water and food are essential for survival, but commercial packaging designed for kitchen use are often too bulky or heavy for 72 hour kits. Using water pouches instead of bottles, and adding some MREs to your pack can lighten your load and make those three days more bearable.

I haven’t found a reliable in-town source for these in Austin, so I recommend you order them from a reliable online store like Emergency Essentials.A case of 64 of them is under $20.00, so it’s an affordable choice, too.

If you do order online, sticking with a trusted source helps you avoid damaged or spoiled food — a problem with some online “survivalist” websites.

What’s in your own four walls — Odds are, a lot of what you need is already in your own house. Look around for small toys, a cuddly stuffed animal, an extra blanket or some ready-to-eat snacks. Put some extra crayons into a plastic box, and give those scuffed shoes another life as your backup pair for emergencies. You may be surprised at how much of your needed emergency supplies won’t cost you anything extra!

Tips and ideas:

  • Use plastic zipper bags to keep things together, and prevent leaks. Those vacuum storage bags are great, too, if you have them.  Just check them once in awhile for leaks to prevent one “re-inflating” in your backpack!
  • Check clothes and shoes every 3-4 months to make sure they still fit and are appropriate for the season
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a familiar toy to a child in a scary situation. Buy a extra of a favorite and keep it in the bag in case there’s no time to grab the well-loved toys
  • Twice a year, check food and drink for expiration dates, leaks, crushing or other damage. I like to have an “eat the treats” party with my kids when it’s time to update or replace the food and drinks in the bags
  • Store the bags in a area of your home where you could grab them in at a moment’s notice. Avoid high temperature storage, as that will destroy food and other items (melted crayons are no fun!)
  • Consider making a duplicate bag for your car, in case an emergency strikes when you’re not near home. Most of the items in an emergency bag are also good to have if your car gets stranded.
  • If your kids are little and go to daycare or a babysitter, consider keeping an extra kit there.

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You

Stepping away from my format for a few minutes.,..this was too good to pass up! I have always suspected that look in my cat’s eye meant she was planning my demise. On October 24th at BookPeople, I will get to find out from the expert!

BookPeople

He gets high on catnip and then looks at me like this. It can’t end well.

(Meg’s plotting cat, Cash)

For more tips on how to spot a feline with a sinister plot, be here Wednesday, October 24 at 7pm when Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) talks about his new book, How to Tell If Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

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Heat’s coming back, so we’re heading to the Caverns!

natural bridge caverns on ais4austin.com

It was great while it lasted…real autumn weather for a few days. But word is the temps are heading back up into the 90’s by Thursday (boo! hiss!). Desperate times call for desperate measures!

So this weekend (or maybe the next one), we’re heading to what promises to be one of the coolest places in the area…Natural Bridge Cavern. We haven’t been there yet, so I’m going to share their info…and a discount to boot!

Come experience one of the world’s premier caverns, Natural Bridge Caverns. Guided tours of huge subterranean rooms and passages are available daily.

The 75-minute Discovery Tour travels 180 ft below the surface and through a half-mile of the largest and most spectacular show cavern in Texas. Other attractions include the Natural Bridge Mining Company, where you can pan for gems and minerals like miners panned for gold.

The NEW Canopy Challenge is a 4 level explorer course and zip-lines. It also includes Canopy Kids, which is great for younger children. Located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, off I-35, exit 175.

For operating hours and additional information, please call us or visit our website for $2 off Adult & $1 off Child Discovery Tour Admission to Natural Bridge Caverns

I haven’t been in a cavern since I was a kid and we spent the summers in North Carolina. I don’t think my daughter has ever been in one, so this should be a great experience for all of us!

Watch for another post describing our experience…and we promise to take lots of pictures!

Hot, hot, and even hotter in Austin!

Tears of joy hot sauce shop in Austin TexasDuring the Pecan Street Festival, we stumbled on a little shop that offers one of the things I love best — spiciness! Serious, hot, mouth-burning spiciness, all neatly packaged into little bottles and jars on the shelves at Tears of Joy.

It’s all here. Local tongue and mouth burning creations, some made in their very own kitchen. And national and international concoctions designed to make everything you eat an experience in heat. And they have tasting tables, too, where you can scoop, dip, and pour to your heart’s content. I was in heaven!

This shop at 618 E. 6th Street in downtown Austin is clearly designed for hot-sauce daredevils like me, but they also have a great selection for less spice-daring souls among us, include (gasp!) mild hot sauces.

Tears of Joy is a great place to find a new hot sauce or paste for your next party or a new recipe. But it would also be a great place to find some gifts for people live far away but need a taste of Texas.

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.

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!

Inside the Texas State Capital

 

Texas State Capital Building

Whether you live in Austin, or are just visiting, do make time to visit the Texas State Capital buildings. It’s well worth the trip.

We have been to quite a few state capitals, and of course, the buildings in Washington, D.C.  In fact, I used to work in the Utah State Capital building.  So when I say that this is one of the most beautiful capitals, I have an excellent basis for comparison.

The view up into the dome alone is worth the visit.  And make sure you head upstairs to see the House and Senate chambers, too.  Not only is the architecture exceptional, but the murals and art work depicting Texas history are a great way to get to know just what went into the building of this state…er, um, Republic now known as Texas.

An online planning guide makes it easy to schedule your visit for days and times when its easy to see everything.  And parking information is also online…most days parking is free and only a few blocks from the Capital.  On-street metered parking is also an option on weekends.