30 Hours in Austin, Texas

When Clay’s sister and family made plans to fly out to Texas for a week-long visit, we advised them to fly into Austin rather than San Antonio because rates tend to be more reasonable and we all could spend a night or two in Austin before saying our goodbyes at the Bergstrom International Airport. We looked forward to our return getaway to the state capital (fun fact – it’s the second-most populous state capital in the nation) and after a packed-full week of San Antonio adventures, the seven of us (four adults and three kids) piled into the 4Runner and made our way to Austin, Texas.

We took the scenic route through Hill Country – stopping in Driftwood, Texas for lunch at The Salt Lick, a favorite spot of ours to take out-of-town guests. At The Salt Lick, you can experience a winery, an outdoor playground, delicious BBQ, and the quintessential hill country Texas vibe. It’s extremely kid-friendly and despite feeding thousands of people throughout the week, it is very efficient and well-run.

From The Salt Lick, it is just a quick 20-minute drive into downtown Austin. We checked into our hotel, The Embassy Suites Austin Downtown Town Lake, and let the kids run back and forth between our rooms while the adults enjoyed a cocktail. The hotel is perfectly situated between the Texas Capitol Building, University of Texas at Austin campus, 6th Street, and South Congress Avenue so we were able to walk almost everywhere, which is our favorite way to explore a city!

Violet would.not.stop.singing How Far I’ll Go from Moana.

We totally experienced 6th Street just the way it’s meant to be experienced…

…during the day with kids!

For an afternoon snack, we went to Voodoo Doughnut and found ourselves disappointed. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by artisan donuts throughout our travels but these just weren’t that good. Furthermore, the ordering process is insanely frustrating and completely inefficient and the person who took our order embodied every single stereotype of the millennial generation. If you find yourself in Austin craving donuts, skip Voodoo and head over to Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. We wish we did! Oh and in case you’re wondering what our picks for best donuts ever? Sugar Shack in Alexandria, Virginia and Condon’s Doughnuts in Wells, Maine. You’re welcome.

We walked along Lady Bird Lake back to our hotel to take advantage of the manager’s reception (free drinks!) before heading back out at dusk to see the world famous bats.

The largest urban bat colony in North America lives underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. During ‘bat season’ (April – November), the bats leave the bridge nightly, which results in quite the spectacle that can last up to 2-3 hours.

We walked to the Austin-American Statesman park and waited for about 30 minutes for the first bat to emerge. And before long, we were treated to a wave of bats.

Hard to believe but there are thousands of bats in this picture. We all commented on how awesome it would be to see the bats from the water. There were a lot of kayakers and a couple of river cruises on the water and they definitely had the best seats in the house – next time we’ll do that, for sure!

The next morning, we checked-out of the hotel after breakfast and walked down South Congress Avenue to experience the iconic Austin street scattered with shops, restaurants, and bars.

Our Lady at 1500 S Congress

I’m certainly not alone in my love for all the public art throughout Austin.

One of my favorites – Big Eye on South Congress

1720 S 1st Sreet

I mean – you can’t go to Austin and not take a picture with this mural, right? Located on the wall of Jo’s Coffee (absolutely delicious coffee!), it had been vandalized (again) since we were there last summer…the lettering is thicker this time around.

After getting our fill of South Congress Avenue, we drove to Covert Park at Mount Bonell, a famous area alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River…Texas has their own Colorado River…because that makes sense).

We then headed to the University of Texas campus for lunch. We ended up at Gabriel’s Cafe and enjoyed Texas beer and traditional lunch-fare. The building was hosting an MBA graduation ceremony so we definitely felt like we were on a college campus, complete with gowns and caps.

University of Texas at Austin is no Clemson University but we could certainly see why so many people like it! 🙂

We had just enough time to swing by the State Capitol Building before heading to the airport.

The Texas State Capitol Building is such a cool place to visit – it’s open to the public and is gorgeous inside! Surprisingly, it isn’t the tallest state capitol building in the United States (that honor belongs to Louisiana) so I guess not everything is bigger here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore all the halls and chambers like we did last summer but there is always next time.

And before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to Meredith, Harry, and Alaina. We are so thankful they chose to spend their Spring Break with us here in Texas. Who knows where the Army will send us next, but wherever it may be – we can’t wait to share it with our family and friends.

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No Longer the Diet Coke of Karen

It’s not secret that I haven’t felt like I’m operating at my best since moving to Texas last summer – still functioning but certainly not at 100%. Maybe it’s the cedar fever. Maybe it’s because we left an amazing atmosphere at our previous duty station. Or maybe I’m not just meant to live below the 30th parallel north. Whatever the reason – I had felt like the Diet Coke of Karen soon after arriving to the Lone Star state. Perhaps was isn’t even the fault of Texas and I’d been unfairly placing blame on the second-most populated state in the union. After all, many people love it here. Maybe it was me the entire time. But you know what? I think I am finally starting to emerge from the fog. It’s lifting. Could I actually be beginning to bloom here?

To call what I went through depression is a disservice to those who have been diagnosed with the often-debilitating disease. Failure to bloom isn’t in the DSM-5 and to be honest, it feels a bit icky to be writing about it when so many people are truly suffering around the world. To complain about not feeling totally like myself at a place the government paid to move my family seems unnecessary. And I’m sure I’ve rolled my eyes many times over the years in regards to someone lamenting about their struggle to adapt to a new location. I probably sighed too because I tend to be a big sigh-er. Needless to say, I’m not exactly known for my empathy. But I’m working on it, though. I promise!

No make-up, hair not brushed, and one of my happiest moments so far this year.

Something has shifted over the past few weeks. I’m walking taller. I’m 10 pounds lighter (literally and figuratively). And I’m smiling more. I’m not going to lie – it feels freakin’ amazing. Admittedly, there are a handful of external forces that have contributed to my blooming that I’ll discuss at later time but I finally feel like Karen again. Hi guys! <waves enthusiastically> It’s been awhile.

Clay’s sister and her family are in town visiting us from the east coast for their Spring Break. We’ve been having a great time showing them around the San Antonio. It really is a cool city rich in history, culture, and food. Now that I am no longer the Diet Coke of Karen, I am appreciating San Antonio quite a bit more. And you know what? That’s pretty damn cool.

What I am Listening To (At This Moment)

I’m happy to be known for my eclectic taste in music. I consider myself well-versed in a variety of genres and absolutely love to find myself lost in music and transported to an alternative reality. The following five songs are the ones that I seem to be listening to more than most over the past few days. It will likely change next week because that is how I roll. I love discovering new (or new to me) music and I really enjoy reading these type of posts and writing them as well so that seems as good of a reason as any to share what I am currently listening to at this moment.

LANCO – Greatest Love Story

Every so often, I come across a song that manages to suspend time when I hear it for the first time. Greatest Love Story is the latest song to hold this honor. It’s a simple song with simple lyrics conveying a simple message, which is what makes it an amazing song. Greatest Love Story likely resinates with me because I’m such a sucker for lyrics that promote an us vs. the world mentality when it comes to love. Life can be messy, unkind, and completely intoxicating. We can only hope we’re lucky enough to have someone by our side, their hand clasped with ours, and ready to jump into the unknown.

Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

This song never fails to put me in a good mood and it’s one of my favorite Motown songs to showcase my sweet Elaine Benes-inspired moves – whether alone in my kitchen or on the dance floor. Everybody smiles when Stevie Wonder pipes through the grocery store sound system, which is why I really think Stevie Wonder might be the key to bipartisanship in our country. If I ever run for office, I’ll be sure to get permission to use his songs at my campaign rallies. Things may get a little weird when I Just Called to Say I Love You begins to play but I have no doubt that I’ll recapture the crowd with Superstition.

The Cars – Moving in Stereo

I had the hook of this song as an ear worm last week and I couldn’t place it for the life of me. Then one night, I hummed a few bars to Clay and he instantly guessed Moving in Stereo. Likely because there was a phase during college when he was obsessed with The Cars Greatest Hits album. Seriously guys, it was always in his car CD player (remember those?) and seemed to provide the soundtrack for at least six months worth of dates. And that folks, is why we’re a perfect match. He gets me and I get him. It’s kismet. And since Moving in Stereo is forever tied to the iconic scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it’s fitting that this song reminds me of our college days. :0

Jackson Browne – Doctor My Eyes

Truth be told, I love most of the songs on Jackson Browne’s debut album – Saturate Before Using – but I seem to be listening to Doctor My Eyes the most as of late. I grew up with my parents listening to Jackson Browne (and a multitude of other magnificat singer/songwriters) and The Load Out/Stay falls easily within my Top 20 Favorite Songs Ever. Like most teenagers with little interest in alcohol-based extra-curricular activities, I discovered an appreciation for 70’s folk music during my primitive years and for that, I couldn’t be more thankful. And don’t worry, I became very interested in alcohol-based extra-curricular activities in college at a more age-appropraite time.

Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson – I Know Him So Well

Man – the 80s were a peculiar time, weren’t they? There was actually a musical produced about chess and the cold war. Not that I’m complaining because if Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from ABBA hadn’t collaborated with Tim Rice on a concept album that eventually became said musical, we wouldn’t have gems like the one above. It’s schmaltzy.  It’s not really that great. And it is so incredibly deliciously 80s.

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What are you currently listening to? I love recommendations…please share! And if I’m not a fan,  I promise that I won’t publicly shame your taste in music. At least, not too much.