11/30/18

Lollipop Snowman Spoon Craft

'Tis the season for snowmen! Not actual ones, as it's 60°F here in northern California. Snowman crafts. In this case, a spoon turned into a snowman.


He's hiding a lollipop. 


These make fun present toppers and they're really easy to do. There are affiliate links in materials list below; I will receive a small commission on any purchases you make, at no extra cost to you. 


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Lollipop Snowman Spoon Craft


Materials: 



Steps:


Squeeze two dots of Enamel Accents onto the spoon to make the eyes. Add five dots for the mouth, starting with the center dot to help with spacing. (If you stop at this point, you have a ghost!)


Enamel Accents is self-leveling and creates perfect little dots. It dries pretty quickly and stays on well. I don't use Enamel Accents often, but when I do I always remember right away why I love it. 

Cut a triangle of orange paper for the nose. Add a coat of Stickles for sparkle. This is optional, of course, but it makes it look so much better. Set it aside to dry. 

While the Enamel Accents and Stickles dry, make the snowman's hat. For the hat, you need a black square, a red rectangle, a black rectangle, and a tiny holly leaf. Microtip scissors come in handy. I cut two leaves and wasn't happy with the one on the right, so I just used one on the snowman. (BTW, I took a photo of all the materials, but not one of just the hat supplies. Sorry.) 


Glue the hat pieces together, then trim the brim if needed. Glue the hat and the nose to the spoon. When those are dry, twist the pipe cleaner tightly around the spoon and the lollipop, then arrange the ends to look like a scarf. Trim any excess with wire snippers. (Do not use scissors on pipe cleaners, unless you like replacing scissors frequently.)


Hurray for snowman season!

11/29/18

Austin: Family-Friendly Things to Do in ATX (Part 4)

This is the four of four posts about our family's travels to Austin, Texas. Click the links to go to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the attractions we visited throughout the trip, as well as for our hotel. Many of the attractions we toured are free to everyone, and I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend whole-heartedly. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it's because something wasn't worth mentioning.

Our last full day in Austin was Wednesday, November 21. After another yummy breakfast, we took the Suite Ride shuttle to the Austin Visitor Center.


We joined two other families (11 people total) for The Real Austin Tour by Austin Detours.


It was fantastic! Our guide kept us informed and entertained for well over the advertised two hours as he brought us all over Austin. Our first stop was at the Capitol. We'd already been there, of course, but we learned so much more on our tour. 


Our next stop was at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery. (HOPE stands for Helping Other People Everywhere.) This unique place is a "paint park," developed to allow muralists, street artists, and community groups a place to paint large-scale displays. 



It was really neat to explore.... 


... and even more fun to watch a new mural being born. 


These artists told us they expect their finished work to be on display for less than a week before it's covered by someone else's art. While it is a shame that beautiful stuff is covered so quickly, how cool to be able to visit weekly and always see something completely different. 

We learned that the HOPE Outdoor Gallery will be closing soon and that this location would become condos. Fortunately, the Outdoor Gallery will open at another location in Austin. Go see this location while you still have the chance!

Austin is famous for its murals. Many of them weren't walking distance from our hotel, so I was very glad The Real Austin Tour had a photo stop at this one (and drove by several others). 


Our guide took us along Rainey Street, Sixth Street, and the original Whole Foods Market before getting us treats from Hey Cupcake!


We had a great time with Austin Detours and highly recommend taking a tour with them. 

When our tour ended, our guide dropped us off back at the Austin Visitor Center. We walked down the street to Moonshine Grill for lunch. They serve "innovative down-home cooking in a casual atmosphere, steeped in Austin, Texas' historic Waterloo Compound." We'd been warned that the portions were huge, so we ordered two entrees for the three of us. But we hadn't expected the seasoned popcorn to snack on before our food arrived, nor the huge basket of piping hot cornbread muffins. So much food! Here you can see my portion of the pimento cheeseburger (my first - yum!), baked macaroni with bacon gratin, and a cornbread muffin. We also had chicken-fried steak and fries. Everything was absolutely delicious and we left absolutely stuffed. In fact, Trevor and I skipped dinner because we were still so full after eating at Moonshine Grill!


We took a leisurely walk north toward the Texas State Library, where we'd be starting the Urban Adventure Quest. I feel like I've talked about UAQ enough times that everyone reading this knows how awesome it is, but if not, feel free to read about the 12 Quests we've already done and loved. Anyway, if you're new to UAQ, it is a mobile phone scavenger hunt, currently in 69 locations (with more being added all the time). Every time we've done a Quest, no matter how well we thought we knew a city, we've ended up seeing things we hadn't noticed, visiting places we hadn't been, and learning things we didn't know. It's always a debate for us - do the UAQ early in the trip before we know anything about a city, knowing that it will give us a great overview, or do the UAQ late in the trip when we already have the overview and can fill in with new information. For the Austin Downtown Quest, it worked out best to do it at the end of our trip. 


From the Library, the Quest took us to the Capitol. As it was our third visit, we knew right where to go! There was no water in this fountain, which was good since we needed to sit there in order to determine what had been altered from a photograph to solve one of the challenges. 


As usual, the UAQ was great fun and also quite challenging. 




We did very well - our first perfect score in quite awhile. We waited out two short downpours, had a bathroom break, and spent way too long on what should have been an easy question to rank at the top of the Leader Board, but we're very happy to be at #6 of all-time

The UAQ ended at Lady Bird Lake, which is actually the near the starting point for the second of two Austin Quests. We'd hoped to have been able to do both, but it didn't work out for this trip, which means we'll need to return to Austin someday! We spent some time walking along the lake, then walked across the Congress Avenue Bridge. 



This bridge is famous for the million bats who roost here and fly out every night en masse to eat. Well, not EVERY night. By early November, the bats migrate south for the winter, which means we missed them. Having experienced an impressive 250.000 bat flyout here in California, I would have loved to have seen one with four times the bats, but it was not to be. The next time we're in Austin, we'll make sure it's during bat season. 



There was still so much to see and do in Austin, but our trip was nearing an end. We spent our final night at the DoubleTree, slept in, and enjoyed our final delicious breakfast at the 15th Street Cafe. We took our time packing. Because of an awesome promotion the DoubleTree was running (Save and Stay Late), check-out wasn't until 4:00 pm.

It was Thanksgiving Day, so I'd checked ahead to see what the bus schedule looked like. I was delighted to learn they were on a Sunday schedule and that our trip to the airport would be just as easy as our trip from the airport had been. Again, only $2.50 for our family of three. What a deal!

Our family had a fantastic time in Austin! I highly recommend taking a trip there to find out for yourself what an interesting and entertaining place it is.

11/28/18

Austin: Family-Friendly Things to Do in ATX (Part 3)

This is my third of four posts about our family's travels to Austin, Texas. Click the links to go to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the attractions we visited throughout the trip, as well as for our hotel. Many of the attractions we toured are free to everyone, and I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend whole-heartedly. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it's because something wasn't worth mentioning.

Tuesday, November 20 began with another delicious breakfast at the 15th Street Cafe. Then we set out to spend the entire day on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.


We took advantage of the DoubleTree's Suite Ride (their complimentary shuttle) to take us to the far end of campus, where the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library is located.


None of us had been to a presidential library before. I don't know about the rest of them, but this one is fantastic! There are three floors of exhibits that covered not only LBJ's presidency, but the rest of his life, as well as what was going on in the US and in the world at various points during his life.



Trevor has not studied the 1960's yet and thus knew very little about LBJ's presidency. He read everything with great interest and had lots of questions, particularly about the fight for civil rights. In the photo below, you can see Trevor using a rotary phone to listen to recordings of LBJ. He spent quite a while listening and learning. This is exactly why I believe so strongly in educational travel. 


Steve and I have studied the 1960's, of course, so we were familiar with a lot of the information about civil rights and Vietnam. However, neither of us knew anything about LBJ, the man. The library does a great job presenting all facets of this very interesting character. There is even an animatronic LBJ!


I'd never heard of The Johnson Treatment before. This might have been the first time I've felt a poster invading my personal space. I can only imagine how intimidating this would have been in real life. 


The reproduction of Johnson's Oval Office is very interesting. You can't see it in this photo, but there are three television sets lined up next to each other. We were guessing it was so the president could watch ABC, NBC, and CBS at the same time. Trevor had no clue what we were talking about; as far as he knows, there have always been 900+ channels playing 24/7!


There is a whole section nearby about Lady Bird Johnson, as well as information about their daughters that I really enjoyed. 

The special exhibit is about the fight for equality in American sports. It is great.


The LBJ Presidential Library is a massive building, ten stories tall. I mentioned earlier that there are three floors of exhibits. What's on the other seven floors? It's called a library for a reason! There are more than 45 million pages of documents from LBJ's time as a congressman, vice president, and president. There are more than 650,000 photos and over 5000 hours of recordings, as well as 2000 oral history interviews. It's impressive, to say the least.


Trevor was fascinated by the MANY photos of LBJ with a bunch of personalized pens. There are hundreds of pens on display as well. Trevor bought himself a pen in the gift shop as a souvenir of our visit. An inexpensive replica - not one of the actual ones LBJ used, though there are plenty of those for people who have a larger souvenir budget than Trevor.


We left the library and headed to the Student Activity Center to grab lunch at ZEN. The line was huge, but it moved very quickly. We split chicken teriyaki, seaweed salad, and chicken bao bao. The food was fresh, delicious, fast, and inexpensive. I can see why it's popular with students. Definitely eat there!

Our next destination was the Texas Memorial Museum, which was Austin's first science museum. This is the outdoor classroom. Trevor is sitting on a scaled-up model of a mosasaur vertebra.
  

Inside, we found lots of fossilized plants and animals.



My favorites were these sea stars.


The museum also has meteorites, a paleo lab, taxidermy of many Texas animals, and more. I really enjoyed the mosaic art on display. Do you recognize these famous scientists?



While we liked the Texas Memorial Museum and definitely recommend it, it ended up being our least-favorite stop of the day. Young children would enjoy seeing all the animals and dinosaurs, but we felt that some of the displays weren't that different from what we've seen at other natural history museums. 

We strolled through campus on our way to the UT Tower. I like the way these burnt orange longhorns are part of the design of the bus stop. UT definitely knows their branding. 


There's a glimpse of the UT Tower.


You can take a tour to the top of the tower on weekends for a 360° view of Austin. (There might be weekday tours in other seasons; I'm not sure.) The website states that it is a "non-historical tour," so I would feel comfortable taking a child who is not aware of the horrific incident that happened there in 1966, knowing that the guide will focus instead on the architecture and the views. 


Incidentally, we had perfect weather for our UT day. Blue skies and cool but comfortable temperatures all day. The previous day we wore our heavy jackets and the following day we had some rain, but 11/20/18 couldn't have been better weather-wise.



Next on our agenda: the Harry Ransom Center. All of the museums on campus are free to UT students, but this one is free to everyone. Woo hoo! And wow, was it cool! This is one of 21 Gutenberg Bibles in existence. It's on display in the lobby. 


We also saw the very first known photograph ever taken. The quality was terrible, as you'd imagine, but it is so neat. Other highlights from the Ransom include Edgar Allan Poe's desk, Jack Kerouac's notebook, early editions of Shakespeare, and hundreds of other treasures. 

Trevor's favorite thing at the Ransom Center was the temporary exhibit of the work of Ed Ruscha. It's hard to describe Ruscha's work. He photographs the ordinary, but in a very unexpected way. See that long skinny table in the photo below? It holds one very accordion-fold book of photographs of both sides of a street in Hollywood in the 1960's. The walls in the gallery have photos of swimming pools, gas stations, palm trees, and apartments, to name a few. One of the neatest works was a set of photographs of the same locations taken 40+ years apart. Trevor loved Ruscha's books, particularly Various Small Fires and Milk.  


After the Ransom, we had a short walk to the Blanton Museum of Art


Our family has been a lot of art museums and we've learned that you never know what you'll find. It's important to keep an open mind and to know that not every piece of art will appeal to every visitor. We tend to speed through certain galleries a lot faster than others and that's OK. That gives us more time to stop and appreciate the art that speaks to us. 

When I saw this huge portrait from a distance, I was intrigued. I couldn't figure out what medium the artist used. Can you guess?


Did you guess combs? I sure didn't! What a neat idea. I love how creative people are. 


Trevor was very interested in this piece of artwork. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it's a bunch of colored cords coming out through evenly-spaced holes in the wooden background. They're cut to different lengths and knotted. The colors are in a pattern, but your eye loses the pattern as you try to follow it. It is mesmerizing. For us, anyway. Others walked by it as quickly as I walk by paintings of Renaissance cherubs. To each their own. 


This is neat. The artist stopped randomly selected people on the UT campus and painted a square to match their skin tone. We each found the square that best matched our skin, then read about the person who shares our skin tone.


If you judge art by the amount of time spent interacting with it, this was unquestionably our favorite. 


When you pass through the cloth, you reach a copper sea of 600,000 pennies.


I've never played with a lake of pennies before, and they behaved differently than I expected. You could smooth them out to a shimmery flat surface, pile them up to make towers, or shape them into whatever you want.


I needed to wash my hands afterward. The exhibit opened with mint-condition pennies, but thousands of grubby hands have dirtied them over time. This is a good reminder about why we wash our hands after any museum visit - lots of hands touching doors, stair rails, exhibits, etc. 


More photos from the Blanton:




We had an amazing day exploring the UT campus.



But it wasn't over quite yet. We ate dinner at the 4-star Carillon Restaurant on campus. 



Everything we ate was amazing. And the plating is absolutely stunning. I didn't get great photos, but this gives you an idea. That's bacon-wrapped pork loin. 


The Carillon has an open kitchen and we were seated near it, so we watched all the dishes being prepared. Each was more gorgeous and interesting than the last. We shared a cheese board, an appetizer, a soup, this entree, and a dessert and everything was to die for. What a wonderful place for a special occasion! 

The Carillon is on the southern edge of the campus is just 0.3 miles from the DoubleTree, so we had an easy walk back to our hotel. Another fantastic day in Austin!