Whether hiking with tiny tots or solo with climbing gear in your bag, this is the place for you! The trail options are many, from a meandering flat surface that takes you to the (usually dry) creek bed to the rocky paths and large boulders that lead to the popular rock climbing spots.
Easy Parking and Access
Google Maps will take you directly to the entrance. You can park for free on the street nearby and walk along the sidewalk directly to the trailhead. There’s a sign at the entrance.
Hours of Nature Exploration
While there are no benches or bathrooms, there are many spots along the trails that allow for nature exploration… bouldering, climbing trees, crawling through natural tunnels, collecting rocks, and traversing rocky terrain. The creek bed is easy to get to, so once there, even little ones can explore while their parents take a rest.
After burning calories hiking, climbing, and exploring, treat yourself to burgers, beer, and ice cream, as well as more play time on the playground, at Phil’s Ice House or enjoy delicious pizza at Pinthouse Pizza | Craft Brewpub | Austin Texas. There are dozens of additional options within 5-10 minutes of Gus Fruh as well.
Gus Fruh is perfect for a quick hike or a full screen-free afternoon with your family. For other family hike recommendations in the Texas Hill Country, check out This Week’s Hike!
Follow @dripping_with_kids on Instagram or this blog so you don’t miss out on the best places to go in the Texas Hill Country! We’d love to hear about your favorites as well.
As of this school year, I’ve ventured into homeschooling my two younger children. People ask me daily how it’s going, and depending on the day (or even the time of day), they’ll likely get a different answer than I previously gave.
The highs are very high, and the lows can be quite low. I can go from feeling pure joy and bliss to doubting every parenting decision I’ve ever made. However, I’ve come to realize that these feelings occur no matter what schooling decision parents make for their children. We’re so hard on ourselves and tend to let the emotion du jour lead the way.
To counter this whiplash of emotions, I try to engage in meaningful activities with my kids that will fill their cups but also fill mine. I usually find a bit of free time for myself after fully participating in one of the options below because everybody walks away fulfilled.
Most of these incorporate time in nature and/or sensory experiences, which tend to be antidotes to boredom, crankiness, frustration, sibling rivalry, and screen daze for all of us.
I hope that these ideas might allow other parents to break away from the norm and reset those flip-flopping emotions. These 11 easy, free, and meaningful activities have worked well for us. Let me know if any stand out to you!
1. Nature Hike and Journaling
We kept our nature journals really simple and just made them out of cardstock and twine. Anytime we go on an adventure, I carry crayons and pencils. The kids either draw something they see and find interesting, then we research it on my phone to add notes … OR they’ve already drawn and researched something that we then go and try to find, such as certain types of trees.
2. Act Out a Favorite Storybook
We choose a favorite or recently-read story book and act it out in real life. We create costumes, find props, and make up character voices. The kids love this activity and often want to act out the same book more than once. We’re hoping to go all out after finishing the Little House on the Prairie series and throw a themed party.
3. Lego Challenge
There are a million and one ways to create Lego challenges for kids. You can just type the words and google for a plethora of ideas. I even found some printables for head-to-head Lego challenges. What I love the most about starting one of these challenges is the fact that the kids usually want to continue playing with legos independently for hours or days on end!
4. Create a Wall of Weird
Kids love to find the weirdest things! Whether out on a hike or rummaging through a thrift store, they find something so unique, but often too odd, to want to include it with the rest of the home decor. As a compromise, my kids and I agreed upon a Wall of Weird, which was an idea borrowed from someone much more clever than myself. So, when a little one wants to collect a fallen bird’s nest, an odd-shaped stick, or a dead bug, there has to be room on the Wall of Weird for it to come home with us. (Sometimes, interesting crafts make it on to the wall as well.)
5. Guided Drawing
If you haven’t tried the Art for Kids Hub videos on You Tube yet, you’re in for a fun afternoon! These easy-to-follow guided draw videos are our favorite way to spend a rainy day… and sometimes a sunny one. Some videos are easy enough for a pre-schooler, but many are challenging even for me. This activity may not fit the bill for reducing screen time, but it’s definitely worth the extra minutes (or hours) in our house.
6. Make Shaped Crayons
Any chance you have a few broken crayons in your home? Maybe a few hundred? If so, this activity can keep your kids busy for an entire day. Not kidding. All you needs are lots of crayons and a silicon candy mold. First, have the kids find all the crayons that are too broken to use or are nubby duplicates of newer ones. Have them sort by color. Then they peel off the paper of each one. After that, place the crayon bits into the candy mold shapes. Mix colors if desired. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees until they start to harden. Voila – “new” shaped crayons for the kids to use during guided drawing! They also make great gifts. We’ve printed coloring pages and attached several fun-shaped crayons to create gifts for friends.
With older kids or young kids, indoor or outdoor, soft and cozy or challenging and maze-like, forts are always a family favorite! To change things up a bit, we sometimes set up a huge tent in the house (along with other accessories) for indoor camping.
8. Sensory Obstacle Course
When I hear “obstacle course”, my brain tends to immediately picture a ninja gym or gymnastics floor. However, an obstacle course can be set up anywhere! Sometimes, it might look like my kids shooting water guns at a target (or each other), stepping into buckets full of goo, crawling from one end of the yard to another, and ending with a little shaving cream play. Sometimes, the kids just leap over toys, roll under a table, and hop around on different surfaces. Sometimes, they do somersaults, a certain number of jumps on the trampoline, and then dig in the sand to find toys. No matter the location or the props used, obstacle courses always seem to satisfy my kids‘ sensory cravings! They also tend to be prompts for initiating independent play, which allows me a chance to sit down and catch up on a book.
9. Simple Science Experiments
What kid doesn’t love science experiments?! Thankfully, there are hundreds options to copy from Pinterest or Google. The library is also a great resource to check out a book with dozens of ideas. I always look for experiments using ingredients we already have on hand and that can be done in under 15 minutes. What I‘be found is that my kids continue doing the experiment or a similar activity afterward. More independent play time for the win (and usually a bit of a mess to clean up afterward).
11. Surprise a Neighbor
It can be any type of gift, any time year, and for any reason whatsoever… my kids love to be secret elves. We just come up with something simple, like a baked good or a funny theme or sometimes an envelope of cash for a friend in need. The kids then work hard on the gift and get to be super sneaky when they deliver it. This usually leads to an over-exaggeration of spy or ninja behavior, but they love leaving a gift somewhere on the porch or in an interesting spot in the yard without that friend seeing them. Occasionally, I will have to send a text to let our friends know to look out for something because it was hidden so well.
Thank you for reading! I would love to hear which activities work best in your home to reset your kids’ emotions. Please share in the comments! Also, if you try any of the 11 listed above, please post on Instagram and tag @DrippingWithKids.
I love that many families practice gratitude for the entire month leading up to Thanksgiving. The tradition of a Thankful Tree is one of my family’s favorites, and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s something our children look forward to as well.
On the first of November when the sugar rush from Halloween is starting to subside, we display the hand-sewn wall hanging my mother-in-law made, and I unevenly cut leaf shapes out of six fall shades of construction paper. Each family member gets his or her own color, and at dinner throughout the month, we write something we are thankful for on our leaves. It can be big and abstract, like love or faith, or it can be something as small and simple as pencils and paper, which was displayed on one of my preschooler’s leaves last Fall. (If you’ve been wanting to start this tradition but don’t want to make one yourself, Amazon has a great option.)
After the Thanksgiving holiday, I save those little leaves of gratitude in our family time capsules to look back on in the future. In addition to the answers that make me a proud mama, such as Jesus, family, veterans, teachers, and neighbors, so many of my kids’ and husband’s answers reveal quite a bit about their current personalities and interests. A few that my mom-brain has allowed to seep into long-term memory include:
“Johnny Football” – my rebellious daughter’s answer when the Aggie quarterback was blowing up the college football scene, despite her mother’s affiliation to the Texas Longhorns
“Hot lunches” – my husband’s not-so-discrete way to show his gratitude for mid-day *alone time* with me
“Paw Patrol waffles” – just one of the specific food answers given by the toddlers in our home
“My future dog” – yet another clever opportunity for my kids to beg for a pet
I absolutely love hearing and reading what each of my family members is thankful for, and there are no rules about what to say or write, just that you have to come up with something. But more importantly, I love that we’re taking even just a couple minutes out of our day to focus on gratitude. I cherish those moments that can quickly reverse the criticism, complaining, and chaos that often manifests during our busy afternoons.
There has been quite a bit of research done across multiple disciplines about the benefits of gratitude, from the religious sectors all the way to the personal finance industry. Gratitude simply makes life better. It has been shown to improve your mental, physical, and emotional health. It opens the door to better relationships, both personal and spiritual. It enhances empathy and leads to less aggression and more acceptance. Also, grateful people sleep better, eat healthier, and build stronger careers. Grateful people even spend less money!
So, why do so many of us intentionally practice giving thanks ONLY in the month of November? This practice needs to be a year-round aspiration! When that Thankful Tree is soon replaced by another holiday tree, then Valentine’s hearts, then Easter baskets and Spring flowers, what gratitude tradition will carry on? Here are a few (maybe less-obvious) ways to sustain the benefits of Thanksgiving throughout the year…
Praise and Prayer
Hang a poster board, butcher paper, or a chalk board up with the words, “Praise” and “Prayer”, in a high traffic area in your home, such as the back door or the mud room. Encourage family members to write what they are thankful for on the Praise side and ask for prayers for themselves and others on the opposite side.
Keep a spiral notebook open on the kitchen counter and have each person jot down something they are grateful for or something they’re looking forward to in the journal each day. Bring it to the dinner table one day per week and share your family’s good news with each other.
Random Thank You Notes
I am terrible at writing out thank you notes after a birthday party. I wish I was better at it, but maybe thank you notes would be even more appreciated when they’re not considered obligatory. Keep thank you notes available in your home and practice writing notes to friends after an act of kindness or a fun night out. Encourage your kids to do the same, even to their own siblings. Gasp!
Closet and Pantry Inventory
Before going shopping for something new or for Christmas gifts, take a mental (or written) inventory of what’s in your closet or pantry. This can help you and your kids recognize how much you already own and be grateful for it. This practice will also likely prevent you from over-spending on what you don’t really need. Also, you may even find gifts for others in your home and skip the shopping trip altogether.
Pick a “No-Negativity Day”
Life is tough! Venting helps.
But maybe, just one day per week can become a sacred “No-Negativity” day. On this day, focus entirely on being positive. This would be a HUGE challenge for me and therefore, this is one tradition I’m going to strive for throughout the year! Someone please hold me accountable.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In this season of thankfulness, I am truly grateful that I have the freedom to try something fun and to venture out of my comfort zone by writing and sharing my random thoughts in this blog, but I am even more thankful for those of you who take the time to read it.
“I just CAN’T do this.” I whisper this sentence in a strained, hoarse voice to my husband after a long day. A day of watching videos from our district superintendent and texting with friends about what this school year *might* look like. A day of constantly quieting two screaming preschoolers by playing whatever it is they want. A day of breaking up sibling snack spats and wrestling a remote out of kids’ hands. A day of extricating my flip flops from a new puppy’s sharp teeth.
By the end of the day, I’m not only burned out from endless mommy-ing duties, but I’ve also had my fill of volatile debates regarding back-to-school decisions and mask-wearing. I go to bed feeling lucky and blessed that my children have a safe place to lay their heads at night and a mother who is able to stay home with them, but tomorrow, when faced with more of the same changes, I fear I just CAN’T all over again.
As much as I don’t want to admit it, this awful contraction has become such a huge part of my vocabulary and self-talk for years now. Apparently, it’s amplified during a pandemic. There just seems to be so many things I can’t do…
I can’t convince my 13 year old to give up You Tube videos as her primary source of information and entertainment.
I can’t stop multiple children from desperately needing my attention all day long.
I can’t handle one more minute of divisiveness and hatred on social media, yet I can’t put my phone down.
I can’t determine whether it’s safe to go inside the grocery store.
I can’t finish a sentence or make a decision without self-doubt immediately following…………..
Yeah, I could go on for hours.
Unfortunately, “can’t” is easier said than done. Most of the time, I have no choice but to move forward and do what I feel like I can’t.
Thankfully, just as I recognized that this phrase started entering my brain regularly again, I remembered the previous blog post I wrote with the same title. I re-read my words about the impact one of my favorite books, Love Does by Bob Goff, had on my life two years ago when I was struggling during those *easy* days of pre-pandemic parenting. Bob Goff’s positive perspective was such an awesome reminder that love does even when I feel like I can’t. In a chapter titled, Hearing Aid, Goff wrote, “…[God] doesn’t pass us messages, instead He passes us each other.”
On my most challenging days, my love for the people placed in my life is what keeps me going, and with that little change in perspective, I’ve been able to reflect on the good during these last 5 months of forced family time.
Despite the chaos, we’ve managed to discover more ways to have fun at home together. We’ve connected with friends and family in a deeper way than ever before, even if it’s just been via phone or silly videos. We’ve learned to problem solve as a family unit, recognizing the importance of each voice in the decision. And we’ve practiced talking through the anger and the disappointments of 2020 often, following that up with intentional gratitude-sharing. We’ve leaned further into our faith and recognized the power of mindset and prayer.
The bonds built between my children, as well as with those who have walked alongside us during all of this recent uncertainty, has provided a renewed hope and motivation. In scanning through the pictures, texts, and posts from the last 5 months, I rest assured that one day, when I look back on the 2020 that was, I’ll be able to say to myself:
I just CAN.
Below is a list of simple activities and outings that have made this never-ending and challenging summer one of the most memorable yet, and these represent the good I hope my family and I will take with us.
A few years ago, I was invited to write an article for the Houston Zoo website and newsletter as the Member of the Month. I’ve never been more excited to work for free. Maybe this could be considered my first blog post! Here is an excerpt from it:
My family has had a membership at the zoo for about 7 years. In the first couple years, I pushed a single stroller with my eager and curious daughter, planning each visit around her favorite animals: the elephants, sea lions, and big cats. Soon enough, I was cruising around the zoo with a double jogger, making sure that each visit included a carousel ride, a trip to the playground, many animal sightings, a crawl (or two or three or thirty) through the tunnel in the Natural Encounters house, and a stroll past the monkeeeeeys for my son. Now, we go as a family of five with two big kids leading the way and another eager and curious daughter in the single stroller. We never miss the African Forest, which houses my favorite animals, the majestic giraffes, and my husband insists on going through the bug house, despite the terrifying cockroaches, because he was one of the engineers for that exhibit. We all challenge ourselves to see if we can make it to every corner of the zoo. We don’t want to miss anything!
After submitting this article, it hit me that the zoo truly was one of our family’s happy places, and we vowed to visit zoos all over the country whenever we travel together. However, zoo admissions continue to increase, and many of them have added pricey experiences you can feel tempted to take advantage of when you book online. This is where a zoo membership can make a huge difference!
I am still a proud card-carrying member of the Houston Zoo despite moving away 3 years ago, and I’ll tell you why.
Paying for one zoo membership not only gets you in for free at that zoo for an entire year, but it also gets you in free or 50% off admission to dozens of other zoos and aquariums across the country. Check out this site to see which zoos and aquariums are included. https://www.aza.org/reciprocity
In the last two years, my family has visited the Cameron Park Zoo three times, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Houston Zoo at least three times, the Oakland Zoo, the Dallas Zoo, and the San Antonio Zoo. Because of the membership benefits, we’ve saved over $400 on zoo visits while traveling, and that amount does not include the savings we’ve been able to pass along to friends through free day passes and inviting them as our guests. I also saved precious summer cash when I used to enroll my kids in camps at the zoo.
Most zoos have special events for Halloween (Zoo Boo), the holidays (Zoo lights), and in the spring or summer (Zoobilee) to which members get free or reduced admission. Many zoos also have free yoga classes, education events for children, opportunities for overnight campouts, and toddler/infant socialization times. Additionally, most zoos offer a member morning each month that allows you to get in one hour earlier than the normal opening time and feature specific animal talks. Members also get discounts on carousel or train rides and gift shop purchases.
Animal Conservation and Taxes
100% of your zoo membership is considered a tax-deductible charitable donation going toward animal and habitat conservation. Saving money on family experiences and taxes too… win-win!
Children today may be obsessed with screens and have incredibly busy extracurricular schedules, but unstructured play time at a park really can’t be beat. Sometimes, we’ll spend summer days just hopping from one playground to the next. Often, my kids don’t even need a playground, just an open field to let their imaginations and their bodies soar. While we’re outside, worries and responsibilities drift away, which is why on the playground is where I’d like to spend most of my days. My kids often feel this way too.
If you’re looking for a great playground where your kids (and you) can safely climb, wander, jump, slide, and swing, the list below is for you. If you’re looking for tips on how to convince your child to leave these playgrounds when it’s time to go without resorting to bribery, I got nothing for ya.
Top 10 Playgrounds in and around Dripping Springs, TX
1. Founders Memorial Park: This large park is nestled between our town’s historic pioneer farmstead and the local pool. It includes the coolest swings, three playscapes, a covered pavilion with picnic tables, bathrooms, plenty of parking, a walking trail, and a football/soccer field. (480 Founders Park Road, Dripping Springs, TX 78620)
2. Dripping Springs Sports and Rec Park: Our local 40 acre sports park has a large play structure, shaded picnic areas, indoor restrooms, basketball courts, sand volleyball, walking trails, and soccer and baseball fields. (27148 Ranch Road 12, Dripping Springs, TX 78620)
3. 12 Fox Brewery: With a castle theme, including a long drawbridge and wooden ladder, this playground is very popular with my kids and their friends. There’s also a separate play area with outdoor equipment meant for younger children. Bonus: enjoy a beer, live music, and a taco or pizza while they play.
4. Saddle Tree Ranch Neighborhood Park: An old-school swingset, unique metal climbing structure, modern playscape with multiple slides, tennis courts, and a large field to run wild makes this park the perfect spot to burn off some kid energy. (401 Lariat Cir, Dripping Springs, TX 78620)
5. Caliterra Community Playscape: This fun neighborhood amenity includes a large play structure, trails along a beautiful creek, and an adorable coffee shop open to the public. (Hwy 12 @ Caliterra Parkway)
6. City of Bee Cave Central Park: While not in the city of Dripping Springs, this huge city park is worth the short drive! It sprawls 50 acres and includes two separate playgrounds with different experiences and equipment, covered pavilions with picnic tables, large hills for your inner child and your actual child to roll down until you’re too dizzy to stand up, concrete walking trails, restrooms, a dog park, multiple basketball courts, and open field space for ball play. (13676 Bee Cave Parkway, Bee Cave, TX 78738)
7. Windmill Run Park: This hidden park is tucked back in an established neighborhood, so when you arrive, you’ll be surprised by how large it is. With two large playscapes, a climbing structure, and a swingset, your family can spend hours here. There’s also a nature trail and shaded picnic tables. There are no bathrooms on site, though, so plan ahead. (8100 Kirkham Dr, Austin, TX 78736)
8. Graceland: Technically, this is an outdoor restaurant, but it makes our list because the shaded play areas can’t be beat. So, grab a beer and watch your kids run with glee between the three large structures and playhouses. You can even use the playground when the restaurant isn’t open. (8600 290 West, Austin, TX 78736)
9. Belterra Trinity Hills Park: If you’re looking for a safe neighborhood park with room to run, a playscape to scale, and nature trails to traverse, this is a great spot to spend an hour after school or before an outdoor picnic lunch. (240 Torrington Dr, Austin, TX 78737)
10. Headwaters Play Area: Instead of the typical playscape, this play area feels a bit more natural with a sand pit, grassy hills, cargo nets, hillside slide, and large rocks for bouldering. There’s also a cafe in the amenity center that’s open to the public. (708 Headwaters Blvd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620)
Whether you’re new to the area and looking for a few spots to meet other families, visiting from out of town and exploring our beautiful hill country, or a long-time resident in need of reminders on where to let your kids wander, I hope these suggestions are helpful. Get outdoors and play on!
Every morning, I play hide and seek with my favorite mug, although I’m perpetually the frustrated seeker in the game. Thankfully, I have the equivalent of a toddler nearby who impatiently reveals the other player’s hiding spot. *beep, beep* It’s my microwave, reminding me that I left my coffee in there for the 5th time already this morning. And it’s only 7 am.
Most people have a definitive and memorized answer to the title question above: “How do you take your coffee?” Maybe you take your coffee black or with a little sugar. Maybe you prefer cappuccino or a latte. Maybe you’re like one of my friends who fancies just a little bit of coffee with her cream. Or like another who doesn’t drink coffee at all but savors tea.
That essential beverage becomes our lifeline to face the busyness and stress of the morning with a bit more gusto and resolve. We each have our unique way of making and taking that steaming cup, but I’d venture to guess that most of us have one thing in common: our early morning libation is rarely a part of a relaxing or motivating ritual. We’re stealing sips between diaper changes, lunch-packing, carpool line complaints, hair-brushing and makeup application, or giving countless commands to others. Our early mornings are no longer slow or sacred. The pace of our current culture has diminished the joy that morning coffee should bring.
What if the question, “How do you take your coffee?” had a different implication? What if you took your coffee on the back porch with a devotional and some time to journal? What if you took your coffee while playing uninterrupted on the floor with your toddler? What if you took your coffee to the bathroom while your spouse was getting ready for the day and had an early-morning chat about nothing and everything all at once? How would that change the course of your day and the mood with which you tackle it?
Recently, while on a kid-free vacation with my husband, I took the time to linger with my coffee. I actually sat down. I read. I wrote. I shared plans for the day with my favorite person. It was glorious!
Then and there, I decided to take back my morning coffee. I vowed not to choke it down after reheating it a dozen times or clean up the small spills all over the house that happen as I rush from room to room with a full cup in my hand. I vowed to be intentional with that time and with that steaming cup of yummy goodness. I know this is not a new concept and that taking that extra time for yourself in the morning is preached often, but I’ve never quite figured out how to make it happen. Or maybe I’ve never been motivated enough. So, please be my accountability partners! Join me in this coffee “revolution”, allowing us to slowly savor our favorite hot drink with the intention of reflecting in gratitude yet also preparing for our busy days ahead. I would LOVE to hear from you on how you take your coffee, whether it’s amidst obligations and chaos or sitting peacefully on your porch. Spill it all on Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #takebackmycoffee, and check out how my mornings go at https://www.instagram.com/dripping_with_kids/ or on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/drippingwithkidsblog/.
If you’re still doubting that taking back your morning coffee is possible, I hope these suggestions will encourage you to try!
1. Listen to a fave podcast! I recommend “Happy Hour” by Jamie Ivey for inspiration, How to Money” with Joel and Matt for great financial advice, “Before Breakfast” by Laura Vanderkam for encouragement in making the most of your mornings, or “Straight Up with Stassi” for a good laugh.
2. Sing along to contemporary Christian music. I know there’s been a bit of a stigma around Christian music in the past, but I dare you to listen to “Grace Got You” by Mercy Me, then come back and tell me that you’re not totally pumped for the day ahead. Spoiler alert: it won’t happen. That song will get you moving!
3. Get to writing! You don’t have to commit yourself to deep thoughts in a lengthy journal post, but just brain-dumping can feel really good. Jotting down notes on the next vacation you want to take can motivate you to work that much harder. Penning a letter to a friend or even to your future self might put a smile on your face. Writing is therapeutic and so beneficial for the mind.
4. Call a sick friend or family member. Start your day off by brightening theirs. You can have coffee together even if you’re not in the same room.
5. Pour your brew into a travel mug, wake one of your kids or your spouse up early, and go for a short walk. Enjoy the cool morning air and a leisurely conversation.
6. Delay your morning coffee until everyone else has left the house and just be alone with your thoughts, meditate, or pray for a bit.
7. Bake or meal-prep as you sip. That feeling of accomplishment after doing something purposeful with your hands is a great way to stay motivated all day long.
8. Color. Have you tried one of those adult coloring books yet? They’re great for stress relief and leave you with a beautiful piece of self-made art.
9. Play with your kids. Maybe you’re happiest when you immerse yourself in their joy. Take that coffee to the floor, grab some puzzle pieces, and be a kid again with the ones you love most.
10. Read a good book or devotional uninterrupted. Wake up 30 minutes earlier, find a quiet corner in the house or a comfy chair outside, and immerse yourself in a story.
Whatever you choose to do, just do it! I’ll be fighting the battle against morning to-do’s along with you. 🧡
“Kids… sit still please. Look at mommy. Smile. Don’t throw that pumpkin! Do you want ice cream? Sit on that big, round white one. Say ‘Halloweeeeen’! Look at mommy. I’m right here. SIT DOWN!
Ah, forget it! I wonder if they have wine on this farm.”
If you have at least one mini-human living in your home or did at one time, you know exactly where I was in the heat of the afternoon last October. It’s a rite of passage for both parents and children: the Fall pumpkin patch photos. And as difficult as it can be to get those perfect pics of children in their orange and hunter-green frocks sitting among pumpkins and gourds of various shapes and sizes, I look forward to those pumpkin patch moments all year long. There’s no shame in my game: we visit as many of them as we can throughout the month of October and keep trying for that flawless photo. Those fall festivals and prize-worthy pumpkins are the quintessential representations of the best season of the year!
In my family, we FALL so hard. We anticipate the opening of the Spirit Halloween store as much as a skier anticipates the first snowfall. We covet the most creative dessert at a festival cake walk like a mama covets a hot cup of coffee after an all-nighter with a sick baby. We dream up Halloween costumes months in advance, start decorating with scarecrows and owls in late September, and fill our calendar with as many fall festivities as we can find. My kids come home daily to pumpkin-scented candles burning in the kitchen and mums strategically placed on the porches and tabletops. My husband gawks at our full agenda and questions how we can squeeze in all in, while this Mama is dancing around to “Thriller” and packing picnic dinners, ready to soak in everything my beloved season has to offer.
The endless options of awesome autumn activities, coupled with the natural beauty of the changing seasons, are the reasons why “fall” becomes a verb in our household and has led me to create an annual fall bucket list… I challenge you to FALL so hard with us.
5. Michael’s MakeBreak Classes: Halloween t-shirts, jack-o-lanterns, Christmas ornaments, holiday trees, etc… you just buy the main item, and the store will supply all the decorations as well as the instruction. https://classes.michaels.com/classes
6. Friday Night Lights: Check out our local highschool football game and possibly a homecoming parade. It’s a full night of entertainment for the whole family for less than $10/ticket.
7. Barton Hills Farm – Bastrop: corn maze, duck races, games, pumpkin patch, slides, scenic photos, farm animals, playground, live music, and more ($16/person, $12 in advance online) https://www.bartonhillfarms.com/pricing
9. Haunted House and Festival at Pioneer Town – Wimberley: This evening outdoor haunting is featuring ghouls, ghosts, and other scary creatures not often found in your normal pioneer village and is geared toward adults and older children, but on one Saturday in October, families are welcomed to a spooky fall festival featuring haunts, a creepy petting zoo, crafts for kids, pop-up vendors, live music, food, and beverages. (Daytime cost: $5 for 6+, free for under 5; Evening pass: $10 for 13+, not recommended for young children) https://wimberley.org/event/hauntedhouse-and-fall-festival-at-pioneer-town/
10. Fall Colors , Market Days, and Holidays in Gruene: “Watch as Cowboy Kringle rides into town on horseback and lights Gruene for the Holidays. We’ll be celebrating with live musical performances with festival food and wine available for purchase. Afterwards, get some holiday shopping done and cozy up to a fireplace for dinner at the Gristmill.” Go a little early for photos with Cowboy Kringle, a free show at Gruene Hall, and a stroll through town or along the river. http://gruenetexas.com/holidays.php
12. Haunted Train Rides & Zoo Boo – Austin Zoo: “Boo at the Zoo is a fun-filled evening for ghosts and goblins of any age. Come dressed in your Halloween finest (no adult masks, please) and enjoy our Zoo-wide event including the Zoo bedecked in Halloween spookiness, our nocturnal animals, an eerie train ride and unlimited passes through our mansion.” Check out the website for pricing and train ride times: https://austinzoo.org/boo-at-the-zoo/
13. Pumpkin Patch at DSYSA Sports Park (Oct 19, 9 am – 12 pm): This FREE event will entertain your kids with fall-themed and soccer-themed games, trick-or-treating, photo opps, and game-watching. Leave a donation for a pumpkin, lemonade, and/or baked goods to support the local soccer program and the youth that love to play.
14. Sweet Berry Farm – Marble Falls: This farm/pumpkin patch is FREE to enter, but you buy tickets for activities, such as flower picking, face painting, scarecrow-building, horseback-riding, and hay rides. Save a bit of money by bringing in your own picnic. https://www.sweetberryfarm.com/index.html
Brother’s scoop of ice cream is bigger than hers. Sister’s bedtime is later than his. She got a sleepover, but he didn’t. He saw the movie that she wanted to see. Her chore is more difficult. He took most of the mac n’ cheese. She got more computer time. He got to pick the TV show.
“IT’S. NOT. FAIR!”
All day long, my kids want me to pick sides and balance the sibling scales. After a long day of rivalry, my insightful 9-year-old broadcasted from the backseat in his best announcer voice: “Welcome to the Fairness Game! Hosted by everyone’s favorite celebrity: MOM. Today’s contestants are Brother and Sister.”
As much as it irritates me to hear them fight and compare and whine about why life isn’t fair, I’m honestly just happy to have them back with me for a couple weeks. Sharing my big kids with their dad back in Houston for half the summer is one of my least favorite things to talk about. Not only are they away from their siblings, step-dad, and myself, who miss them terribly, but they are also away from their friends for weeks at a time. My 12-year-old and 9-year-old long for endless summer days with their friends, going swimming, riding bikes and scooters, and staying up late at slumber parties. But my kids miss so much of that. Their friends are having that fun together… without them. And then, I am actually the one screaming in my head, “It’s just not fair!”
It’s not fair that they were put in this position of summer-splitting. It’s not fair that they are gone for long periods of time and have to miss out on birthday parties and lake trips. It’s not fair that by the time they finally transition from being at Dad’s to being back at Mom’s, they have to pack up and leave again. And the worst part of it is realizing that the referee and hostess of “The Fairness Game” (that’s me) is one of the reasons my kids are in this unfair position.
Mommy guilt is a real thing. It’s so tangible that you can feel it in your throat, choking and gagging you. It’s so overwhelming that it can move even the most stoic personality to uncontrollable weeping. It’s such a strong force that it can cause you to push chores, responsibilities, and bedtimes to the wayside, so that your time together feels the way summer should: fun, carefree, memorable, and endless.
Parenting through these emotional ups and downs has been extremely challenging, but all I can hope for is that the scale tips more toward good times than bad. My wish is that the kids will look back at their summers and remember beautiful experiences and togetherness, rather than somber hand-offs, difficult transitions, and missing out. With that hope in mind, we’ve been checking off some of our summer bucket list, and here are a few faves that we recommend.
The Lakeway Swim Center: It’s a great swim center for kids of all ages, with big and small waterslides, a basketball hoop, floating leap pads, and a zero-entry shallow area. You can bring in food and drinks, but there’s also a small café with kid-friendly options. The pool has an entry fee for 3+.
McKenna Children’s Museum (New Braunfels): This is more of an indoor play area than a museum, in my opinion, but it’s so much fun and definitely more affordable and does provide hands-on learning opportunities. The kids can grocery shop, build with large blocks, play in home centers, pretend to be NICU doctors, play in water tables, and climb on a shaded outdoor playscape. I’d choose this option over going to an inflatable place or trampoline park any day. (Check Groupon before you go; there are occasionally offers available.)
Community Pizza and Beer Garden (Wimberley): This place has yummy pizza, great craft beer selection, and a super fun play area for kids, plus it’s close to the cute Wimberley town square and down the road from Blue Hole (make reservations online to swim), so you can make a day out of it. This restaurant is small, so at peak times, you may have to wait a while for a table and for service, but you can grab a drink and kids can play in the shade. Just allow plenty of time.
McKinney Falls State Park (Austin): This one has it all… cliff diving, “cave” swimming, climbing, river access, hike and bike trails, water falls, and a discovery center (closed temporarily for renovations). Bring your floats/tubes, wear water shoes, and only let strong swimmers swim independently. This park is not really stroller-friendly, and the Upper Falls swimming hole requires some climbing and traversing to get to.
Route 12 Filling Station (Dripping Springs): A restaurant with a splash pad? Yes, please! It also has a small playground, indoor and outdoor seating, a full bar, really good food, and friendly service. It’s just down the road from Treaty Oak, so you can visit two family-friendly hot spots in one evening.
Nature and Science Center (Austin): FREE center with hands-on discovery rooms, wading in the creek, digging for dino fossils, nature trails, and small animal exhibits.
Legoland (San Antonio): My kids had never been to any Legoland property before, so we had zero expectations. And we had a BLAST! You can get a FREE child’s ticket for each adult ticket purchased at http://www.legoland.com/honestkids. (Adult tickets are $22). Be sure to factor into your budget the cost of parking. Legoland is in the Marriott River Center mall, and the parking garage is the most convenient place to park, but it’s pricey ($20 for 5 hours). All attractions are included with admission (4D theater has 3 different movies; two rides that littles over 36” are allowed on; creativity room with lessons every half hour on a building project; and all the climbing and building areas). Most attractions are all in one big room, so it can be hard to keep track of multiple kids with their own interests. There is a cafe ($8 kids meals, $11 adult meals), but we brought in food. I’m not sure if that was allowed but no one checked my bag or said anything. Kids MUST have socks for the climbing area.(If you forget, the cafe sells socks for $1). We were awestruck by the details and little surprises in the LEGO Miniland model of San Antonio, but it made us want to check out ALL of the San Antonio attractions that we admired. So, I recommend allowing a few extra hours in your visit. The Alamo and Riverwalk are close walking distance.
I hope you’re having a great summer and checking off your own list in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. As you do so and especially if you find something really fun that you think other families would love, please use the hashtag #drippingwithkids. If you want to see more of what’s going on in the area, follow me on Instagram at dripping_with_kids and/or on Facebook @drippingwithkidsblog.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question after revealing the destination of a recurring road trip for our family.
Is there an amusement park for children? Nope. Is there a nice resort to stay at? Not that I know of. Is there a beach? Definitely not. (But read on to find out how you can ride the waves in the center of Texas.) Is there anything more to do than following the Gaines family on their latest venture? Surprisingly, YES.
There’s something about the many small towns of Texas that really piques my family’s interests. Each town in this great state has such a unique history, culture, and vibe, and Waco is no exception. It has a long and intriguing history rooted in Native American culture and early American settlers. It’s also the site of one of the largest mammoth excavations in the world and the location of the first bridge over the Brazos River, which connected east and west Texas, forever changing the population and economy of the future republic. Waco has also had a negative and notorious reputation for murder, including the lynching incident deemed the Waco Horror, David Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult massacre and fire, and the biker gang shoot out in 2015. These stories made Waco less than popular among tourists, yet this town has a thriving university, multiple museums, beautiful natural landscapes, cultural diversity, and a story to tell. Chip and Joanna decided that Waco wasn’t worth giving up on, and my family tends to agree. One weekend just isn’t enough to take all of it in, but here’s our version of how to make the best of those few days and entertain the entire crew in the infamous town of Waco…
Where to Stay:
We found a great house in the nearby town of Riesel. It’s off the beaten path, and there’s no grocery store or special attractions, but it’s just a 15-20 min drive from Waco and offers a relaxing country setting, as well as opportunities to enjoy quiet quality time with family and friends. Check out this house: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22227878
If you want to stay right in town, there are plenty of options through Airbnb, but we’ve also stayed at a hotel (Springhill Suites) that had rooms big enough for our family of 6 and included a full kitchen and free breakfast. Highly recommend!
Things to Do:
Cameron Park Zoo – One of our fave zoos! The zoo has plenty of shade, a fun playground, and interactive exhibits; plus, it’s easy to walk through the whole zoo in half a day. Highlights include the slide through the otter exhibit, feeding the giraffes, bridges over animal habitats, several cute photo ops, the nocturnal animals barn, and the extensive reptile house. Tip: Feed yourself and the kiddos in advance. There are two cafes, but they are spread out. There aren’t many snack options in between the two.
Cameron Park – This Park has it all… multiple playgrounds, a splash pad, picnic areas, scenic views, and hike and bike trails. It is one of the largest municipal parks in Texas, and the Brazos River runs alongside it. Tip: Explore the website and map in advance to determine where to park your car based on trail heads or playgrounds you want to visit. https://www.waco-texas.com/cms-parksandrecreation/page.aspx?id=310
Magnolia Market at the Silos – The Gaines family ventures aren’t completely avoidable. With lawn games for the kids, shopping for Mom, and food trucks for Dad, there’s plenty to do here to keep everyone happy. (BONUS: Joanna Gaines has re-opened her original store on Bosque as a liquidation shop. If you make a purchase at Magnolia Market at the Silos, you can bring your receipt to the Bosque location and get an additional 10% off the already reduced prices.)
Mayborn Museum – It’s a history museum and children’s museum in one… win-win for the whole family! Highlights include the mini mammoth site, kinetic music hallway, outdoor pioneer village, and dozens of interactive children’s exhibits, including a toddler play area. Also, the museum is on the Baylor campus, which is really pretty to walk or drive through. Tips: Allow a lot of time for this visit. Your kids will want to stay put in specific rooms, and you will want to have plenty of time leftover to explore the outdoor village. Outside food and drinks are not allowed.
The Dr. Pepper Museum – Do you love the sweet, sugary concoction and want to know all about its history? Then, this museum is for you. There are some nostalgic components worth reminiscing over and some fun photo ops, but if you are with small children with little patience, save this museum for another visit when they’re a bit older and/or when the grandparents want to relive their early years with the soda jerk. (Sorry, Mom.)
On the bucket list for a future visit:
Waco Mammoth National Monument – This paleontological site represents the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view “in situ” fossils including female mammoths, a bull mammoth, and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago. https://www.nps.gov/waco/index.htm
Homestead Heritage – Homestead Heritage is an agrarian- and craft-based intentional Christian community. Its literature stresses simplicity, sustainability, self-sufficiency, cooperation, service and quality craftsmanship. It also strives to live in peaceful coexistence with the land, other people and other faiths. You can visit the craft village Mon-Sat. https://www.homesteadheritage.com/overview/
BSR Cable Park – This surf resort boasts the longest lazy river in Texas, plus opportunities to learn how to ride the waves and satisfy your dreams of becoming a pro surfer. This adventure is meant for older children and adults, but it offers cabins to rent and picnic spots for the whole family. https://www.bsrcablepark.com/
Texas Ranger Museum – Yes, it’s a history museum… about law enforcement. It’s probably not for everyone, but it’s still on our list for the history nerd in our family. (I’m pretty sure you’ve already guessed who that is.) https://www.texasranger.org/
Texas Sports Hall of Fame – This one’s for the guys in our household. It’s supposed to be a really cool place to visit with lots of sports photos, memorabilia, and statistics that are necessary for the male brain to memorize. http://www.tshof.org/visit/info/