Unique date night ideas in Austin

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This time of year always fills me to the brim with contentment that has nothing to do with puffy vests or Ugg boots. Let’s be clear. I’ll take tamales over pumpkin-spiced lattes any day. The reason I love this season is because it was autumn in Austin when my husband and I began to knit our relationship together. It was Halloween night after all when I first met his sons – me dressed as Garth from “Wayne’s World,” no less.

We waltzed right into winter with our Austin bucket list in tow. During those magical months of courtship, we shared lots of new local experiences and we continue to seek unique ways to spend time together. Psychology tells us that couples who play together stay together. And research shows that long-term love is often cultivated in novel, engaging or even challenging activities together. Case in point: I’ve compiled 10 new date night ideas to consider in Austin.

Read the rest of this piece at Austin Mom’s Blog.

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What do we tell our children?

ces-snp-reynaAfter an election year filled with vitriol, many parents like myself were left trying to figure out how to explain the outcome to our children. I wondered what our boys were thinking and feeling. What was going through their thoughtful minds? Children are often told that grown-ups know best. They may assume that they should emulate adults, especially those in leadership roles. That includes the president of this country, however, and I most certainly don’t want my sons emulating our president-elect. So what do we tell them?

We tell them that sometimes adults get it wrong. Sometimes adults don’t know best. We tell them that we will be kind anyway. We will be brave anyway. We do not abide by bullies. We tell them that the future of our society does not depend on what happens in the White House. It depends on what happens in our house. And respect will continue to reign in mine.

8 super simple Halloween snacks

Sausage Mummies

What you need:
Your favorite fully cooked sausage links (we used turkey kielbasa)

  • Crescent roll dough
  • Small sugar eyeballs
  • Pizza cutter
  • Baking sheet

What you do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unroll crescent dough and use pizza cutter to cut lengthwise into long strips. Wrap strips of dough irregularly around each of your sausages, starting at the top and making your way to the bottom, leaving a tiny bit of space in between at least one rotation so you can tuck the eyeballs in later. Each link may require more than one strip of dough. If so, squeeze the ends together to connect dough. Place mummies a few inches apart on a baking sheet in the oven for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove, let cool and tuck two sugar eyeballs in between an open area of dough before serving.

Find 7 other easy Halloween snack ideas at Austin Mom’s Blog.

When the courage and irony of parenting becomes loud and clear.

Sometimes it’s time to suck it up and do the thing that makes you uncomfortable. For me, it was writing this guest post for author Catia Holm on the irony of parenthood and drawing courage from unexpected places. Here’s a snippet:

For crying out loud

True confession: I hate loud noises.

I hate loud noises and I have twin stepsons. Naturally, loud is part of the package. “Loud” is in their bones. “Loud” is the very definition of who they are when they’re together. But the truth is that I seriously loathe loud. God’s honest truth is that anxiety shoots right up my spine at the first sounds of those inevitable screams between young brothers running through the house.

This so-called “noise sensitivity” is part of who I am as an adult child of an alcoholic, or an ACOA, as we call ‘em. Yeah, there’s an acronym for that. When unpredictable commotion is a regular part of your environment growing up, it can create a visceral reaction in pretty normal situations as an adult. So now I’m the grown-up. And my kids are the ones, well, being kids.

So I close my eyes when the disorder takes over. I take deep breaths. I talk myself down from that loud ledge of uneasiness when the twin tornado comes roaring through the living room. When the television is deafening. When it sounds like a herd of elephants are tap dancing upstairs. Sometimes it works. But sometimes it doesn’t.

The back patio provides some relief, although I can often hear the sibling rivalry from out there. And that’s when I ask myself, “Is it them? Or is it me?” It doesn’t take long to decide it’s me. I’m the adult after all. Or at least I’m supposed to be.

And then I pray for Patience to show herself. Thankfully, Wisdom is usually nearby to tap my shoulder with a gentle reminder that although our childhood experiences influence the present, they don’t have to dictate our reactions.

On one particular occasion, I sat on that patio in a panic of self-doubt, feeling angry and unfit to parent.

Read the rest of this post (including the cringe-worthy text message that slapped me with a dose of reality) at CatiaHolm.com.

One thing I know about marriage one year in.

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A year ago, I stood patiently waiting out of sight to marry Mr. Wonderful when one of my best gals turned to me and said, “You’re the calmest bride I’ve ever seen.”

I was calm. I took a look at the people sitting there waiting for the ceremony to begin. MY people. OUR people. They’d come all the way to Mexico to celebrate the Neel Nuptials with well wishes and wine and The Wobble. I was in awe of this gesture of presence – both simple and grand at the same time. It was the kind of warmth that flooded my heart with enormous gratitude.

Even then I knew that evening’s purpose was so much bigger than a wedding. It reminded me to keep showing up for my husband. Keep showing up for my sons. For my people. For myself.

Read the rest of this post at Austin Mom’s Blog.

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Unbelievable Sainte-Chapelle

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PARIS, France – This was an incredible feast for the eyes and ears: Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ inside Sainte-Chapelle, the “holy chapel,” in all its stained-glass glory. That would be 1,113 stained glass windows to be exact, depicting the same number of scenes from the Old and New Testaments. This beauty was built in only seven years – impressive for the 13th Century – and it’s said to have been home to Christ’s crown of thorns.

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