It’s only March. Spring has barely begun, but last week, I came across a Facebook post that asked, “Which summer camps do you send your kids to?” ACK! Summer planning already!
Summers are what memories are made of, and that puts a lot of pressure on vacation and camp decisions. But the excessive options for summer are beyond overwhelming! There is a camp for every possible interest in the world, especially if your budget is limitless. After reading through countless camp lists and trying out a variety of them with my first two kids, I’ve definitely learned something…
I will always say ‘yes’ to at least one VBS each summer, and that’s where my research led me after reading that FB post last week. I’m completely amazed by how much planning, time, and faith is put into vacation bible schools, and I am thrilled that my children get to experience that kind of joy. It moves me to tears every time I hear them singing the songs they learn in VBS, and I love it even more when I hear them relating what they learn in the summer to future Bible lessons throughout the year.
And what makes VBS even better? The price tag (well.. the lack of one)!
If you’re searching for a VBS to send your children to this summer, here is a list of some wonderful options in the Austin area and the Texas Hill Country that are currently open for registration:
Bethany Lutheran Church has VBS for preschool-aged children through 5th grade. Theme: Treasured. Cost: $20, includes T-shirt. Dates: June 21-25
Bannockburn Dripping Springs and South Austin for age 3 through 5th grade. Cost: FREE. Dates: June 28 – July 1. Morning and evening options available.
First Baptist of Dripping Springs will have a 2 week “High Voltage” camp. This year’s theme is “Glow” – July 6,7,8: STEM week & July 13, 14, 15: Creative Arts week. 9am-1pm. $10 registration fee. Space is limited.
Spring Break takes on many different roles as you go through life. As a child, it represents freedom from school and, hopefully, a memorable family vacation. In college, it’s a week of clandestine partying and naïve independence. As a young professional, it means less traffic on your commute and sunset happy hours on a lively patio.
However, when you become a parent of school-age kids, as the end of winter approaches, Spring Break equates PLANNING! There are just too many options. Do we play hometown tourists? Blow our budget and go skiing? Road-trip and camp in the great outdoors? Rent a house on the beach? Or do we visit family or friends? It can be pretty daunting.
BUT… the planning, pressure, and patience it takes to celebrate Spring Break is so worth it. After surviving those grueling winter months (spoken as a true Texan), Spring Break is a turning point from one season to the next. It represents the promise of less illness, sunny days, and plenty of opportunities to get out of your house. It’s a rite of passage throughout life, but it’s also the perfect pivot from too much screen time to too much sunscreen.
If you’re still stuck in a planning rut, you’re in luck because I love to plan! Read on for some amazing, last-minute options that can be perfect for day trips or short stays in the Texas Hill Country. You can even have a completely FREE staycation!
Whether your family is into history, the rustic outdoors, chilling by the water’s edge, or window-shopping, there’s something fun for all in this small town. Check it out….
McKinney Falls State Park: hiking, biking, fishing (rental equipment available), swimming, cabin and campsite rental, waterfalls, Junior Ranger program. (Book a day pass in advance.)
*Downtown Bastrop: nestled along the Colorado River, this historic downtown has art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, breweries, a museum and visitor center, live music, and theater performances at the old Opera House.
*Fisherman’s Park: riverside park with basketball court, playground, splash pad, and boat rentals – Enjoy a walk along the river trail and a yummy lunch at Neighbor’s Kitchen.
With no shortage of family activities and so much natural beauty in this part of Texas, it has become one of my family’s favorite areas to visit. Check it out….
*Historic Gruene: Visit Gruene Hall for live music, shop the boutiques, stroll along the river, and eat at the Gristmill.
Nestled between Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg, Johnson City features so much of what the Texas Hill Country is known for: rolling hills, stunning views, delicious home-cooking, rich history, and local wine! There’s something for everyone in this tiny town.
I’ve always known Hunt as the location of my childhood friends’ favorite summer camps. As you drive into Hunt, it’s easy to see why it was chosen for their location. The wide open spaces and winding Guadalupe River take you far away from home with their beauty.
Garner State Park: one of our fave state parks, offering challenging to easy hiking trails, tubing, paddle-boarding, overnight camping, evening activities, and mini golf.
*Schumaker’s Crossing: Swim, kayak, or float in the crystal clear waters just east of downtown Hunt. Paddle about 30 min to Ingram Dam to try out a natural water slide, then make your way back to relax and enjoy a picnic at the tables under the beautiful Cypress trees.
YO Ranch: Go on a private exotic wildlife tour. Book in advance for a spot.
Bridget’s Basket: Book a table in this old farmhouse and enjoy farm-to-table goodies
*Explore Kerrville: You can fill the day visiting meaningful tourist attractions, shopping in the historic downtown, floating the river, and playground-hopping.
Still one of our favorite places to visit as a family, we’re always finding new-to-us things to do there. This Road Trip Edition highlights our faves.
* FREE activities
I hope Spring Break planning goes smoothly and that your family is able to enjoy the best the Texas Hill Country has to offer!
Are you looking for the best day trips from Austin and Dripping Springs? Day tripping is our family’s favorite way to get a little change of scenery and feel the vacation vibes without blowing the travel budget. After being stuck at home for months during the longest summer ever, we’ve decided to venture out of town here and there for a little river-splashing, window shopping, beer tasting, easy hiking, playground-hopping, and a wee bit of unschooling.
If, like us, you’ve had enough of circling your block every morning or re-watching the same eight Peppa Pig episodes on repeat or warning your teen that this is the last You Tube episode she’ll watch for the rest of her liiiife, then consider a day trip in the Texas Hill Country! Pull together a few PB&J‘s, grab some bags of chips, and make sure your summer survival kit for the car is packed and ready to go. Then, hit the road!
Most day trips from Austin are less than two hours away, making them easy to pull off with kids of all ages and with limited supplies. Plus, all of the destinations recommended on this list have several free activities and fun places to go with kids, so you could spend the whole day exploring on only the cost of a tank of gas, saving your travel budget for an epic post-corona getaway.
Unfortunately, many of our beloved Texas Hill Country towns have the reputations of being more suitable for grandma’s shopping habits than for family adventures. But they all have so much more to offer than just a day of antique-hunting. Check out this list of our favorite day trips from Austin and outdoor kid-friendly activities you can do in each destination…
1. Kerrville and Ingram
From a hilltop cross to stand-up paddle boarding to playing trivia at lunch, you can definitely find a variety of activities in these neighboring small towns.
The Cross at Kerrville: Make this quick stop to take in the enormous walk-through empty cross, prayer garden, beautiful sculptures, and stunning views. *free*
Enjoy lunch, a craft beer, and table trivia at Grape Juice Restaurant or pick another locally owned fave in walkable downtown Kerrville
Louise Hays Park: This city park offers lots of parking, easy access to swim/splash in the Guadalupe River, beautiful trails, two playgrounds, dozens of shady picnic spots, a splash pad, board and boat rentals onsite, and clean public restrooms. *free*
Riverside Nature Center: Leisurely stroll through wildflower, butterfly, and demo gardens, attend a naturalist events, and educate yourself on the TX Hill Country riverscape. *free*
Stonehenge II: Stop for a few photo ops with this replica of the real deal. *free*
Ingram Dam and Schumacher Crossing: Rent a mat from the nearby Dam Store to slide down the dam into the roaring water and spend the rest of your time wading, watching waterfalls, and riding the rapids at Schumacher Crossing. *free*
Take the kids on a trip through history and sprinkle in a lot of kid-friendly activities in the home of Blue Bell ice cream.
Washington on the Brazos: Walk the trails along the Brazos River and visit the site of Texas independence. Reservations not required, but it’s recommended to call to confirm availability due to capacity restrictions. (936-878-2214) *$8/adult, $5/child over 5, includes admission to Barrington Plantation.
This adorable German town isn’t just for the retirees; there’s plenty to do for the whole family.
Marktplatz: Open green space, covered pavilion with tables, beautiful garden, public restrooms, and a large playground make this park the perfect place to spend a couple hours and picnic with the kids. *free*
Luckenbach: Live music on the weekends, great people watching, bar and grill options for outdoor dining, and an old campsite to wander and explore. *free*
Wildseed Farms: Walk the trails, shop in an outdoor space, enjoy the wildflowers, and sip on some wine or lemonade in the garden. *free admission*
Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park: This 150 acre city park has fishing access on Live Oak Creek, a playground, hiking trails, covered pavilions, sand volleyball, and basketball courts. *free*
Enchanted Rock:If you can get a reservation at this popular state park, challenge yourself to hike to the top for a spectacular hill country view. It’s not stroller-friendly, though, and it’s quite a haul both up and down with little ones. $8/adult
We visited this cute town outside of San Antonio recently and can’t wait to return when we have the full day to explore. The following spots are on our Boerne bucket list.
Cibolo Nature Center: Walk the trails among the cypress trees, splash in the Cibolo Creek, search for dinosaur tracks, and picnic in the shade. (Restrooms may not be open during Covid closures.) *free* Visit on Saturday, and you can add a stroll through the Farmer’s Market and Herff Farm.
Kinderpark: Large playground with hilltop slide and lots of climbing opportunities. *free*
Random Beer Garden: Outdoor play space for kids including a bouncing pillow, craft beer, food trucks, and live music make this spot a great place to wrap up the day for everyone in the family.
Downtown and Riverside Stroll: Visit the shops, restaurants, and walking trail along Cibolo Creek at River Road Park to watch the geese and ducks play. If you packed your fishing poles, you can fish in this creek as well. *free*
I hope you enjoy your adventures with the kids in the Texas Hill Country, and I invite you to share your photos on Instagram with the tag, #drippingwithkids. Also, please comment below if you have other towns you’d love to see featured in Part 2 of Day Trips from Austin with the Kids!
Happy New Year! Have you already made your resolutions? Planning to get skinny (errr… I mean “healthy”)? Hoping to read more? Watch less TV? Exercise daily? Go to church more often? Swear in front of the kids fewer times per day??
Those are all good ones, but so far, the single resolution I’ve been hearing the most is “to save money!” Consumerism has taken over and rendered many of us hopeless and hungover in its wake. The year 2020 is the time for change, right?!
What I’ve also been hearing is that most people aren’t sure how to save money. Where could they possibly cut back? Especially when kids are in the picture. That’s exactly where I stood several months ago when I started a deep-dive into the messes of our finances and our spending. I had previously considered myself pretty darn frugal. I only bought clothes and decor on sale. I made my kids share meals when we went out to eat. I had one fewer drink than I wanted to when out with the girls. And my husband and I took joy in repurposing or building furniture rather than buying new. So, where could I possibly cut back without leading a life of “deprivation”? I was already careful with money… so I thought.
Regardless of the doubts I had on whether it would make a difference at all, I decided to set out on a journey of budgeting and tracking our spending. It was difficult at first, and I did not take it seriously, but after listening to a few personal finance podcasts and talking to several friends, I really started to treat it like a true mission. That’s when everything changed! Just in the process of tracking what we were spending, we started saving. A lot. We started saving so much money that I looked back and didn’t understand where it had all gone before￼￼. Our lives didn’t even look different. This propelled me and motivated me in such a way that I now want to help others on the same path to changing their lives without changing their lifestyle, to start saving more money for their families and their future, and to see the benefits of frugality.
This list of 9 easy ways to save money in 2020 are just the first 9 things that came to mind when I thought about little changes that a family can make to achieve big wins. Please let me know if they’re helpful at all, and I’d also LOVE to hear your tips on frugal living and financial gains.
1. Track your spending! Pay attention to where every dollar goes. Write it down, dictate it into your phone, use an app, whatever works for you. Then, ask yourself whether that money is going toward what you consider to be most valuable in your life. (This is the hardest but the most helpful step, by the way. Skip it and come back to it if it seems too daunting.)
2. Unsubscribe to retailer emails! All those emails about upcoming sales, can’t-miss offers, and travel discounts seep into your subconscious and encourage you to spend, spend, spend because ya know, it’s a DEAL! Go a month without seeing them and determine whether you are really missing anything in your life that you HAD TO HAVE. If you are, I’m pretty sure you know how to find that retailer’s website or store location again.
3. Take on a challenge! Engage your family (or friends) in a fun money-saving challenge, such as a “spend-nothing week” or “eat everything in the pantry week” or “free-activities month” where you only partake in family fun that’s totally free. (Check out my post on the best parks in the Dripping Springs area to get started on this one.) You could also try “no eating-out month” or “book a family vacation for less than $1000”. Make saving fun, and you might see even bigger results than you expected.
4. Ask a friend! When you’re in need of something, ask a friend or offer a swap before reaching for your wallet. You can swap clothing, jewelry, kids’ puzzles/toys, books, and so on. You can swap time also: babysitting hours, carpooling/rides, and home organization hours. Doing home projects with a friend is more fun anyway. Maybe you can help clean out your friend’s fridge this week, and the two of you can tackle your shoe collection next week.
5. Call your credit card! Find out what they’re willing to offer you as a loyal customer. Ask and you will likely receive. Do you need a lower interest rate? Do you want your annual fee waived? Are you looking for opportunities to earn more travel rewards?
I no longer wanted to pay the annual fee on the credit card that we’ve had for 10 years and had been paying off every single month, so I called Chase, and after a 6 minute call, my annual fee was credited back to me.
If your ccard company doesn’t have anything to offer you, there are MANY more out there who are happy to give you bonuses and lower rates.
6. Pay attention to your TV habits! Are you watching ALL the channels? Are you regularly taking advantage of ALL the subscriptions? If not, what can you cut? Choose one and cut the cord or call the cable company and ask for a better plan.
7. Take inventory! Before you shop, be sure to know what you already have. Really take note of what you have in your pantry or in the back of your fridge. Go to your closet and count how many pairs of black yoga pants you have and the # of gray t-shirts and the collection of sneakers, etc. Intentionally taking stock of what you own might keep you from buying yet another.
8. Get the app! Do you always shop at the same grocery store? Download the app, check out the coupons, and take advantage of the featured offers. Do you often stop at your kids’ fave fast food joint? Try out the app, collect the points, and snag some freebies. Do you like getting cash back for what you already buy? Check out the Ibotta app or Rakuten.
9. Watch YouTube! I know, I know… “YouTube” is equivalent to a 4-letter word in my house due to my kids’ obsession with it, but it can truly be a useful tool when something in the house breaks and you want to save money on handyman fees. Or when you want to teach your child something new, like beginning guitar lessons. You can find a DIY video on just about anything on YouTube, so save money while simultaneously winning cool points with your kids.
Thank you for reading about the 9 easy ways to save money in 2020! I plan to blog about this journey often, and I really hope you’ll join me in the challenge to become a new FRUGAL you. I really hope we can all achieve small, and eventually big, wins together. I’m looking for a tribe who can help keep me motivated (and vice versa), who can share these wins, and who will join me for carefree vacations in my future home in the Rockies! 😉
Children and holidays are a lot alike. They can both drive us insane, but oh, how we love them so! I’m a huge fan of the holiday season, but I have to admit that every year, I feel a bit like the stressed, impatient, beloved main character in the children’s book, Llama Llama Holiday Drama.
“Is the big day coming soon? Llama Llama starts to swoon… All this waiting for one day? Time for presents right away! Too much music, too much fluff! Too much making, too much stuff! Too much EVERYTHING for Llama… Llama, Llama, HOLIDRAMA!” ¹
Not only do we have to find gifts for every human we’ve ever come in contact with, but we also have to make sure we make it to each white elephant party, see ALL the lights, and prepare for the perfect pic with Santa. Oh, and don’t forget the family traditions of holiday movie-thons, tree-decorating, caroling, searching for that dreaded elusive elf, and sending dozens of cards, all while wearing matching PJ’s! How do we squeeze everything in?
With so much going on, having a plan and finding a good balance is the only way to avoid ending up on the floor in a holidrama trance like little Llama Llama. In our house, we use the Advent calendar to maintain a game plan and limit the holiday commotion. Starting on December 1st, I write down one holiday experience to do for each of the days leading up to Christmas. These daily activities can be must-do tasks, like addressing and sending Christmas cards, or fun nights out, like meandering through a trail of lights after dinner. I love this tradition because we get to participate in all of our favorite events, activities, tasks, and traditions while waiting in joyful anticipation of celebrating the birth of Jesus. In addition to the daily activity, I also include a slip of paper with scripture that tells part of the Christmas story so that each day, a little more of the story is being recited. (Luke 1:26-35; Luke 2:1-20)
Below I’ve included a list of some of the activities I’ve hidden in our advent calendar pockets, along with our annual Holiday Bucket List, so you can find that perfect balance to fill you up with the joyful holiday spirit yet keep you sane!
TRADITIONS/FUN AT HOME –
Bake sugar cookies
Make cards/gifts for teachers
Holiday movie night
Read the story of St. Nicholas and put shoes outside your door for a little surprise (Dec 6th)
Deliver treats to neighbors
Caroling and holiday charades
Trim/Decorate the tree(s)
Make homemade paper snowflakes and tape them in the windows
Tell stories of your family’s holidays past, as well as dreams for the future (reminisce over photos, plan vacations, etc)
Make gingerbread houses
HILL COUNTRY HOLIDAY BUCKET LIST –
Reindeer Visit at the Hill Country Galleria (Bee Cave): Santa’s reindeer will be in the Central Plaza from noon – 4 pm one day only (Nov 30th)! Stay for shopping and a movie at the Hill Country Holiday Village. Santa’s arrival and the tree lighting will occur at the same location one week earlier on Nov 23rd at 6 pm. (https://www.hillcountrygalleria.com/)
Luminations at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin): Dec 5th – 8th and Dec 12th – 15th, 6 – 10 pm… Gardens will be lit with thousands of luminarias and filled with music and festive fun. Plus, there will be performances by the aerial dance group, Blue Lapis Light. $18 for non-members, free for members and children under 5. (https://www.wildflower.org/event/luminations/all)
Emily Ann Theater Trail of Lights (Wimberley): Nov 30th – Dec 28th, 6 – 9 pm… Stroll through over 100
lighted exhibits, roast marshmallows, listen to live music, and visit with Santa on select nights. FREE, donations appreciated. (http://emilyann.org/trailoflights.html)
Donuts and Photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus (S. Austin): Join and support AOC MOPS while enjoying quality time with Santa and the Mrs. There will be photos with Santa, a doughnut breakfast, festive crafts, and story time with Mrs. Claus! Plus raffle items from Kendra Scott, Rodan and Fields, a complete car detail, personal chef services and much more. Reservations just $10 per family. Follow the link to make yours. Spots are limited, and it is expected to sell out.
Johnson City Lights Spectacular: Nightly November 29th – Jan 5th… The courthouse and downtown area are aglow with thousands of lights. Local vendors set up tables inside and outside the courthouse. Parade rolls through town at 6:30 pm on November 30th, and food court will be available that night. On Dec 7th and 14th, there will be lamplight tours through LBJ’s boyhood home, crafts for children, and live music. Carriage and hay rides are available for a fee. (https://www.johnsoncitytexas.info/local-events–calendar.html
Holidays in Gruene: Weekends in December… photos with Cowboy Kringle, free afternoon shows at historic Gruene Hall, gorgeous Christmas lights and decorations throughout the town, and unique shops to complete your Christmas lists. (www.gruenetexas.com)
Crafts, Music, and Stories at your local library: Check your local library’s newsletter for FREE holiday events, including making holiday gifts, hunting for Elf on the Shelf, donating items to local shelters and senior centers, live music, and much more.
Home Depot December Kids’ DIY Workshop: On Dec 7th between 9 am and noon, create your own countdown to the holidays, and have a blast with your child while doing it. Kids develop hands-on skills with sanding, nailing and applying stickers. With help from parents and store associates, your child will make a merry memory this holiday season. All kids get to keep their craft, receive a FREE certificate of achievement, a Workshop Apron and a commemorative pin while supplies last. (https://www.homedepot.com/workshops/#store/8995)
Christmas on Mercer (Dripping Springs): This fun hometown festival on Dec 7th from 10 am to 5 pm draws a crowd to see Santa cruise in on a fire engine, to sip hot cocoa while perusing local vendor tables, and to watch local groups perform dance routines and sing Christmas carols. Come dressed to impress so you can snag a FREE picture with Santa. There will also be pony rides, a petting zoo, and a trackless train ride for the kids. (https://www.destinationdrippingsprings.com/events/2019/christmas-on-mercer-street)
Community First Village of Lights (Austin): Dec 6th & 7th and Dec 13th & 14th, 5:30 – 9 pm… With more than 200,000 lights choreographed to holiday music, the Community First! Village of Lights is one of the biggest Christmas light displays in Central Texas. Be sure to include a stop at the Advent Market to shop for unique, handcrafted gifts made by formerly homeless craftsmen and artisans who live at the Village. Your purchase of gifts and concessions during the event will help our Community First! Village neighbors earn a dignified income. (https://give.mlf.org/event/village-of-lights-2019/e255043)
Lost Pines Christmas Snow Day (Bastrop – Fisherman’s Park): Dec 14th, 12 pm – 5 pm, followed by a lighted parade through downtown at 6 pm! (www.visitbastrop.com)
A Pioneer Christmas at the Pound House (Dripping Springs): Dec 14th, 12 – 2 pm… Food, Wagon Rides, Photos with Santa, Make-and-Take Ornament Crafts, Story Readings, Live Holiday Bluegrass Music, Demonstrators, Shopping with Local Artisans, Re-Enactments, and Tours of the House decked out for the Holidays! FREE admission. (http://www.drpoundhistoricalfarmstead.org/pioneer-christmas.html)
Holidays in Fredericksburg: There are several events throughout the season that will fill even the scroogiest attendee with the holiday spirit. Check out the town lighting on Nov 29th or the Light the Night Christmas parade on Dec 6th. There are also markets, ice skating, lights tours, live music, crafting, art walks, and many more activities happening in this cute little German town throughout the month of December. (https://www.visitfredericksburgtx.com/plan/events)
Maywald Lights Display (W. Austin): Over 120,000 lights are on display at a family’s home in Austin for a good cause: the Make-a-Wish foundation! Check out their “Believe” theme this year and leave a donation. (https://maywaldchristmasdisplay.weebly.com/)
Save the Date: Snow Day at the Science Mill (Johnson City): Jan 18th, 2020, 10 am – 4 pm… 20 tons of snow will fill the museum’s backyard. Tickets are $11 for adults and $9.50 for children 3-12. (https://www.sciencemill.org/upcoming-events-1/)