Tuesday, May 14, 2019

EASY TEXAS GETAWAY | HYATT LOST PINES, BASTROP, TX

Regency Hyatt Lost Pines is one of our family favorites when it comes to spontaneous getaways. One thing that makes it so sweet is that you can feel thousands of miles away from the stressors back at home by only traveling a few hours in the car. It's literally a hop, skip and a jump for those within driving distance around Houston, San Antonio, Austin, or Dallas. For "non Texans", it's only a 30-minute drive from the Austin airport, making it an easy destination for plane travelers, too. The resort’s 400+ scenic acres are located on the banks of the Lower Colorado River, adjacent to the huge McKinney Roughs Nature Park, and it’s laid out so you never feel crowded. There are 500 guest rooms, with amenities including the Wolfdancer Golf Club, Spa Django and Renegade Trailhead equestrian facility. 


For families looking to get away, get outside, and disconnect it really can’t be beat. The resort offers non-stop activities for all ages, and during our two day stay, we were able to do some of them on our own, and some together. The perfect balance. Looking back at our family photos I can literally see my family growing up here.


Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort has animals all over the property – including these adorable “mini-mascots.” They have an actual time to meet them with a handler, but at any time, walk over to their pen and see these gentle creatures.


There is a secret walkway on the second floor over the lobby that connects the two wings of the resort – there some board games on the tables, including one called Bastropoly!


Once you get there, almost everything from the evening s’mores, to the crafts, to the animal interactions, to the water slide, bike rides, to the outdoor movie is included for resort guests so it is easy to just relax and say yes to everything that the kids want to do.

Not that we don’t all love family fun but with golf courses, a spa and restaurants, you may want to take advantage of Camp Hyatt. When it came time for us to pick up the kids after cocktails and dinner, the two of them came home with stories of new friends, games aplenty, nature walks, playground time, crafts and a movie. It seemed that we all had a great evening.

Available for all sizes and abilities, we love the collection of bikes. We went for a leisurely ride every chance we got. All the huge trees the resort has makes a wonderful shady area to ride in.


There are many other activities that we did not have a chance to try during the 3 days we were there such as birding, kayaking, rock wall & zip lining, archery, fly fishing, tennis, golf, tractor-drawn hay rides, painting your pony….the list goes on & on. There is truly something here for everyone. Most of the recreation activities are included in the resort fee ($25 per room per day). Some do have an additional fee.





Wednesday, May 8, 2019

ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT'S ME, MANDI.


Although there have been lessons worth learning along the way, there have certainly been seasons that felt much more like the wilderness than the Promised Land. I have had more questions than answers, and my hands hold more unknowns than certainties. But somewhere in the desert, somewhere in between what once was and what will be, I started to ask a familiar question in a new way.

Are you there, God?

In John 11, in the midst of her deep sadness and disappointment, frustration and confusion, Jesus comes and Mary asks, “Where were You?” In other words, Why didn’t You come sooner? Where were you in all of this? Why didn’t You change this, prevent this, fix this, heal this? Where were you 
when I needed You?

I admit, I’ve asked those things. I’ve wondered where He went and why His timeline differs so greatly from my own. I’ve walked laps around hospital hallways, I've met people who are deeply hurting, some deeply wounded by fellow Christians, I've seen hungry children, and I’ve said heartbreaking goodbyes. I recently found more cancer in my body, which I've attempted to ignore while fighting against the message He gave me to share.

Like Mary, I’ve asked why.

I’ve asked why plenty of times. Now, I’m learning instead to ask where.

When I look back over the book He’s written for me, flip through the pages and consider the chapters I’ve lived, there’s one constant running through: His presence.

When I look back on each season, I see a hundred reasons to believe that He really can work all things for good. This is my story and my song, and I’m trusting that He isn’t done working and declaring that as I’m waiting. He’s here, present and good, faithful and kind in every valley and on every mountaintop and every step in between.



Friday, April 12, 2019

WHY YOU SHOULD ATTEND THE THRIVE BLOGGER CONFERENCE



The annual Thrive blogger conference took place almost two months ago. I've wanted nothing more than to share my witness with you, but I've been focused on implementing a lot of the things I learned into my blogging practice.


We’ve seen so much change in the social media industry, and it’s now challenging to stand out in this now crowded space. While I think an online presence can be a lucrative business and a great way to let your creative juices run, I want to be upfront – real life human connections are still greater than the ones made on Instagram. And that’s why I absolutely recommend in-person networking at blogger conferences in order to meet like-minded people and advance your professional career as an influencer.

If you’re not familiar with Thrive, it’s one of the most effective social media conferences, attracting creatives all over the US. I say that because whether you’re a blogger, vlogger, podcaster, instagrammer, or the like, when you invest in this conference, you will undoubtedly gain something from it.


The majority of the speakers at the Thrive conferences are social media experts and pros who are full of insightful success tips and interesting information. And even if you’re like me, not the social butterfly type, I still recommend you push yourself a little, because even just one encounter can grow you and/or advance your career. Don’t let the networking piece alarm you!

As with any conference, everyone is there with the same goal as you: to grow their business, to meet bloggers and influencers, to pitch to brand partners etc. Each person who walks through the door invested in a ticket and took the time out of their busy schedule to attend. So, rest assured that you have that in common. Also, Thrive developers are brilliant - they will offer a series of methods to make it easier to meet people, be that games, breakout sessions, small group meetups, even dancing. I witnessed people open up and blossom by the afternoon on day 1 – it was pretty fabulous!


The same goes for the panelists and keynote speakers - they're approachable, too. And that's another aspect I value about Thrive – albeit high in quality, the intimacy of the conference allows one an opportunity to approach the speaker right after their presentation, ask questions, and possibly even snap a selfie. For example, Erin from Cotton Stem, pictured above, shared a laugh and a casual conversation with a conference attendee. Talk about cool!

Treat this as an investment in your blog and your business. After all, you want to get a great return on that investment, right? Going in with an open mind will make your time at the conference productive and, even more importantly, enjoyable.




Thursday, April 11, 2019

WHAT TO WEAR ON YOUR HAWAIIAN VACATION


Aloha! So you've bought your tickets for your trip to Hawaii and are already dreaming of days snorkeling at the beach, attending luaus, hiking in lush foliage, and eating lots of delicious Hawaiian cuisine. While it might not be the first thing on your mind when planning your trip, proper clothing is essential for enjoying all that Hawaii has to offer. As you get ready to start packing, here are some tips on what kind of clothes you should wear on your trip. 

Casual Wear 

A majority of your time in Hawaii will be spent in casual wear. This is the state where it's acceptable to find elected politicians wearing aloha shirts on a daily basis. During the day when going to the beach or heading out to get shaved ice, a lightweight t-shirt, comfortable shorts, and a pair of Pali Hawaiian shoes will work just fine and match an array of outfits. If you're headed to the beach later in the day, you can wear your swim trunks instead of shorts or wear your swimsuit under your clothes. 

Hiking Clothing

If you've included hiking on the itinerary for your trip, you will need to bring a hiking outfit. It is a good idea to bring active wear or clothing designed for hiking. And while hiking in Hawaii is beautiful, it rains frequently, so the terrain can be intense and often muddy. Instead of bringing heavy hiking shoes to Hawaii we highly recommend lightweight water shoes, as well as, a waterproof jacket.


Evening Attire 

For evening dinners at fancy restaurants or attending special events like luaus, you will want to wear something more formal than the shirt and shorts you've been wearing all day at the beach. However, there are very few occasions where formal attire is appropriate in Hawaii. Instead of grabbing a fancy dress or a tie, opt for a more semi-formal look. This is the right time to pull out a nice sundress, especially one with tropical print. For guys, slacks or nice shorts with a button-up shirt will do just fine. 

The best part about packing for the Hawaiian islands is that the weather is pretty reliable year round. Temperatures consistent year round, perfect for all travelers and sunshine can usually be found any time of year. Above everything, the two things you should bring to Hawaii are a sense of adventure and a smile!





Wednesday, March 27, 2019

KEEP GROWING & YOUR DAILY DOSE OF MOTIVATION


Maybe, for you, it's not writing. Maybe it's needling or singing or playing drums or drawing. I urge you: don't stop doing your thing because someone doesn't like it. That would be the saddest thing in the world. 

Today I'm off to work, for some huge healthcare giant. What the long-term plan for my job? Who knows. But I know this to be true: I will never stop writing. 

Regardless of what anyone says, I am confident in this: my identity isn't formed by what someone's opinion, or what I do. It's immeasurably more than that.

I hope you know this, too. I hope you never stop doing your thing either.

Offer your art today, whatever that may be. Offering your art without knowing the response you'll get? That's one of the bravest choices you can make.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

TEXAS SMALL TOWNS AND COLLEGE TOURING

When it comes to deciding which college you will attend, it can be hard to figure out the best way to go about it. Obviously one option is just to apply everywhere you’re remotely interested in and see what comes back. But this is your journey – and you should use it as a chance to learn about yourself and what you’re looking for. Narrowing down your college list can force you to decide where you could actually see yourself living, and the best way to do this is to physically visit the school and the surrounding areas. I suggest piggy-backing on the tour with a short vacation, to explore the area, amenities, cuisine and people.

Actually going to a campus will give you a feel for what it’s like to be a student there in actuality as opposed to figuratively. Before you buy a car, you take it for a test drive, and before you commit to a college, you visit. At least, you should, and that visit should be an official one, with a guided tour. Sometimes you’ll visit a campus and know instantly that it’s not for you. Sometimes you might visit a school that you hadn’t really been considering only to fall in love with the campus, city, vibe, or all three.

In fact, my daughter and I just completed our first college visit at University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, TX. The drive from Houston was approximately 2.5 hours, but if you know me, then you'll know the farm girl in me stopped numerous times to awe at the rolling hills of green pastures, sprawling oaks, and grazing furry four-legged friends.



We were received at Mary Hardin Baylor with warmth and open arms; everyone seemed so genuine and personable. I read somewhere that UMHB has been ranked one of America's top 10 prettiest campuses, and it truly is extraordinary to look at, but it's also worth mentioning their average class size is 18 students and their student body is rich in cultural diversity - both of which are important to our family. And if you're a nursing major, the privileges available are unlike anything I've ever seen - state-of-the-art facilities with a simulation center that mimics the Baylor Scott & White Hospital setting. Everything you would see in a real hospital setting, you would see in the UMHB nursing school. I was pleasantly blown away!


We always try to take a guided tour. (Most schools also offer maps for a self-guided tour, but you miss out on the wealth of information acquired on a guided one.) Student-led tours are the ideal occasion to learn about academics and student life from the students themselves. 

The atmosphere on the UMHB campus is warm and welcoming. There appear to be many different ways to get involved on campus, but still room for incoming students to put their own touch on campus life. The average classroom size is 18 students which is mind-blowing, coming from a 6A high school whose class size exceeds 25 in most instances. Lastly, I have to mention the nursing facilities, as you see in the images above - just wow! Unlike any nursing education environment I've ever seen or experienced! What a privilege it would be to have the opportunity to study here. It almost makes me want to go back to college. 

Almost.

While the town of Belton itself is filled-to-the-brim with goodness all its own, it sits between Temple and Salado -- all three pack a punch well above their weight class when it comes to dining, shopping, outdoor activities, and most importantly, charm.

Walk through a quiet downtown filled with quaint, locally owned stores, and you can smell the mom-and-pop restaurants cooking everything from burgers and fries to specialty dishes created by executive chefs. Residents walking their dogs stop to say hello and welcome you to their little slice of heaven. Even shop owners take the time to throw up a hand and issue a friendly greeting as you walk by. Many of the residents know one another, and festivals abound as an excuse to come together. And if you look hard enough, "small town" is usually a misnomer, because you'll usually find an abundance of things to do.

Eats:

In case you’re heading to central Texas in the future, I thought I’d share the restaurants where we dined, because I know when I travel I always want to know of good places to eat.  (If we didn’t like the restaurant I don't list it.)

Bird Creek Burger, Temple, TX: The Classic Burger, Avocado Toast (pictures below)

Los Mini Tacos food truck, Temple, TX: Mini Tacos, Fajita Tacos

Lively Coffee Shop, Salado, TX: Chai Latte, BLT sandwich, Chicken Salad Sandwich



 


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