Category Archives: Just for Fun

20 Austin Restaurants Not to Miss

20 Austin Restaurants Not to Miss

Living in a city that’s become such a hot destination spot has many perks — one of the best being that there are now endless options for fantastic food in Austin. But how do you sort through the clutter when there’s a new “hip” and “must-try” restaurant on every corner?  Here to help you out is our iGnite team of Austin locals, sharing our favorite spots.  Go with one of these the next time you’re visiting Austin, or, if you’re a fellow local, the next time you’re looking for a great meal or place to take your out-of-town guests, and you can’t go wrong!

Dinner & Drinks

Vino Vino

Vino Vino: “Easy to get to and easy to park, this cozy eatery has the absolute KINDEST staff you will ever meet in your life. They have known you forever from the moment you walk in the door, and the food is fresh and unique, with flavors and textures that dance on your tongue. The wine choices are diverse, and my husband and I go crazy, ordering and splitting delicious things. I love this place…ask to say hi to Kelly, the manager, because he will make you happy that you have just made a new friend.”

Justine’s Brasserie

Justine’s Brasserie on east 5th: “Such a treat! It has a great inside vibe and a wonderful outside atmosphere as well. Totally delicious French experience, but with a casual Austin flare. The food is delicious and their specialty bar drinks are fantastic! For a cocktail, try the refreshingly lemony French 76. They have wonderful appetizers — I recommend the smoked salmon, then go for a classic, Steak Frites! They also have one of the best burgers in town!  Take your time and enjoy the evening 🙂 ”


Launderette: “This darling restaurant is located in an old laundromat in East Austin. It has an extensive veggie section to the menu with yummy brussell sprouts, zucchini salad, cauliflower gratin and more. It is portioned to share, so it’s perfect for date night or to go with girlfriends!”


Perla’s: “One of my favorite “fancy” spots! I love seafood, and I think Perla’s has a wonderfully varied menu. Plus, the champagne cocktail and hushpuppies are amazing!!”

Second Bar + Kitchen

Second Bar + Kitchen downtown at 2nd & Congress: “This place is great for high quality late-night dining. I’ve never been disappointed with anything I’ve gotten here. Unlike most restaurants, they serve dinner until 11:30pm Sunday-Thursday and until 1:30am Friday & Saturday! It’s the perfect fun place to grab a really great meal after doing something fun downtown when you want to stay in the thick of everything! With everything from black truffle pomme frites, to cheese boards, yummy small plates, soups, salads, incredible pizzas, steaks, seafood and a huge drink menu, you really can’t go wrong 🙂 We go here every time my in-laws are in town because they just can’t get their last meal there of their minds!”

 Zax Restaurant & Bar

Zax is definitely at the top of my list because it is centrally located, has great quality and a great variety of food, and it’s one of the few places that all 5 of my family members love! Thus it has become our Easter brunch spot (they have GREAT brunches), nice family dinner spot and great place to take out-of-town guests. I can order Zax Salad with jerk salmon, my husband can get the Sesame Crusted Tuna, my son Mitch always gets the Classic Burger, daughter Maggie goes for the Chicken Quesadillas and daughter Sarah loves the Frenched Pork Chops. Also, Zax is my favorite spot to meet a friend before going to A Christmas Affair at the Palmer Events Center….their Tortilla Soup and Salad are the perfect pre-shopping meal in November!”

Mexican & Tex-Mex

Matt’s El Rancho

“We LOVE Matt’s El Rancho. From the placemats with pictures of the 1950’s unlikely young athlete who started the restaurant, to a window into the tortilla-making room (awesome for keeping the young ones intrigued)…Matt’s is just a happy place. Every time we are there, at least three tables around us break into the happy birthday song, and (I swear, just look around), EVERYBODY is smiling. Try the fish tacos…very fresh with a delicious sauce…and the traditional basket of gigantic chips is my warm blanket. When I recently took some friends who don’t get the whole “basket of chips” thing where they live, I realized, for the first time in my life, that I probably eat at least four full tortillas before I actually get my meal at Matt’s…which is really okay…it is…it’s just what we do!

Fonda San Miguel

Fonda San Miguel is at the top of my list for best interior Mexican food, beautiful decor, always delicious, fresh and dependably good dishes and a great place for happy hour with the hubster or girl friends!  I love their margaritas, salsas, Ceviche las Brisas and redfish!”

“An oldie but a goodie! I love to go meet girlfriends here for happy hour in the lounge/bar area. Wonderful atmosphere and yummy appetizers — go early on Tuesdays for half-price apps!”


Trudy’s on 30th Street has been my go-to Mexican spot for 9 years! The food and drinks never disappoint, and it’s always fun on game days. When my husband and I can’t think of where to go on a Friday night, we walk over there!”


Hat Creek Burger Company

“Given the season of my life, my husband and I don’t find much time to go out alone and without our small children, therefore my current favorite Austin restaurant is Hat Creek Burger Company. There are many reasons why I love Hat Creek, with one being that it is totally kid-friendly. At all of their locations there are super fun and creative play areas for children, as well as an outdoor area with flatscreen t.v.’s that allows mom and dad to watch their children while sneaking some peaks at whatever sporting event they have playing. And, it’s super easy for the kids to run from the play area, grab some food, and go play some more. On top of that, the menu is simple yet delicious! They serve hamburgers, turkey burgers, veggie burgers (the Hot Dang grain burger created by my good friend Martha Pincoffs!), gluten-free nuggets, regular French fries and sweet potato French Fries (my personal favorite), salads, beer, wine and milkshakes! Does it get any better than that?! In addition, all of their meat is high quality and they are now serving breakfast. I also love Hat Creek because it’s locally owned by Austinite Drew Gressett. As a cherry on top, Hat Creek partners with Mobile Loaves & Fishes and makes 100 fresh burgers everyday and delivered free of charge to those in need in Austin. Now, that’s big time! So, for all of the reasons listed, Hat Creek Burgers is my favorite Austin restaurant 🙂 ”



FoodHeads is my all time favorite! It is located on 34th Street close to Guadalupe. Best food ever! Great salads, amazing sandwiches and even delectable desserts!! I had a big warm brownie covered in chocolate sauce with vanilla ice cream for dessert the other day and it was SOOOO good. It is an old cozy house with indoor or outdoor seating. Very casual–perfect for lunch after workouts in your sweaty gear! The only bad thing is they are not open for dinner : ( Fresh and home made — yum!”

“I love the casual cafe atmosphere and the food is AMAZING! It offers unusual combinations and variations on classic Austin breakfast/brunch/lunch fare, and wholesome, nutritious, locally-sourced ingredients.  I often go with a group of friends for brunch or lunch after a morning run or workout, but I also go with my family — my kids love it too! I usually get the squash sandwich, and they make it vegan for me by leaving off the cheese and pesto and adding avocado instead. I always ask for an extra side of their home-made pickles — so good! They’re the owner Chip’s secret recipe. I also love their breakfast tacos and again they put together wonderful vegan combinations for me; oh and their homemade salsa is Finally, what I love most about FoodHeads is the people that own and run this little slice of heaven, Chip and Candi Wendt. They are dear friends of mine and just wonderful human beings, and they put their heart and soul into their cafe — they love love love their employees, love love love their customers, and take pride in every plate of delicious food that they serve.”

Galaxy Cafe

Galaxy Cafe: “The perfect girls night restaurant! Our 6pm evening group eats at Galaxy sometimes after class for a healthy and delicious dinner. When I go to Galaxy, I always seem to stay for a long time visiting with friends and never feel like the staff is rushing me to leave!”

Mother’s Cafe

Mother’s Cafe has been at the top of my list since I discovered it back in the early 80’s when I moved to Austin. It is my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Austin! It has a cool, eclectic, granola-head vibe, and every dish is wonderful and fresh. You can’t beat the Bueno Burger and side salad with the famous Cashew Tamari dressing. I go there every Mother’s Day with my family (along with other times during the year) and love to sit in the outdoor area with all the plants and goldfish pond.”


Juliet Ristorante

“A new favorite of mine is Juliet on Barton Springs Road! Excellent pasta and pizzas and a great wine list. The gluten free pasta is very tasty too.”

Pieous Pizza

Pieous Pizza is one of my absolute faves! It’s authentic wood-fired Neopolitan pizza in its purest, simplest form- so delicious!  It’s a bit of a drive — it’s right by the Nutty Brown cafe in Dripping Springs, but worth it!  They have incredible salads too, all farm fresh ingredients, homemade dressings, good wines and a fun casual atmosphere.  Get there early though because they run out!”

Southern Home Cooking


“I love Fixe, it’s a fairly new southern cooking restaurant downtown. I love the interior and the atmosphere. The Fixe biscuits are to die for and the deviled eggs are so yummy… and the fried chicken, so if you are in the mood for Southern food and a new downtown hot spot, this is the place. Great cocktails also!”

Grab & Go


Fresa’s is healthy drive-thru on Lamar! An Austin-owned restaurant where you can get fresh local chicken, homemade corn tortillas, salads, grilled vegetables, home-made ice creams and more. Their breakfast tacos are great too!”

Royal Blue Grocery

“My husband and I love going to pick up some fun things at Royal Blue Grocery and either taking it all for a picnic or sitting outside in their patio area and eating a casual and tasty, light meal. Their shredded chicken salad is the best in town!”


Komé Sushi Kitchen

“My husband and I love sushi and enjoy the experience of trying new sushi rolls, but sushi is expensive! Our favorite new spot is Komé on Airport Blvd. It’s delicious, fairly inexpensive (for two people with wine and food, we can eat for $50 total!) and a fun atmosphere. When you walk into the restaurant, all of the sushi chefs greet you out loud with a fun phrase!”


Garage Cocktail Bar

Garage is a small, moody bar actually hidden away inside a parking garage downtown! You feel like you’ve discovered something secret when you come here. It’s a great place to grab drinks with a group!”

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10 Apps We Can’t (or don’t want to) Live Without


BitmojiBitmoji Keyboard allows you to create your own personal emoji that you can use from your phone keyboard. My nieces and nephew now do Bitmoji texts all the time, with our own personal Bitmojis — who can change outfits and lipstick color to suit our moods — and I spend more time on that than on planning my dinner!

Find my iPhone

Find my iPhoneFind my iPhone allows you to track the location of all smart phones on your mobile plan.  Great for seeing where your teenagers’ phones are hanging out!

Jesus Calling

Jesus CallingOne of my favorite Apps is the Jesus Calling Devotional.  I have the actual devotional book (which I love), but what I appreciate most about the app is its convenience. Like the book, the app provides a relevant and comforting daily devotional, but what’s so wonderful about the app is that I can access it anywhere and at anytime, which of course helps on those days when I fly out of the house and don’t make time to sit down and read the devotional book! It’s not a free app, but it’s definitely worth the small expense.

My Days

My DaysThis may be a little TMI, but I was getting sick of not having an exact answer at my annual doctor check-up to the question “When was the first day of your last cycle?”  I found My Days – Period & Ovulations originally just to track my cycles electronically — which makes it super easy to retrieve that exact info anytime a doctor asks, without any guessing or estimating.  You can also use it to track symptoms, monitor fertility and more.  I find it really helpful!


MyRadar WeatherAnother favorite app of mine is the MyRadar Weather Radar app. Being that iGnite predominately operates outdoors, I rely heavily on this app and find it more accurate and helpful than the hourly weather predictions on other apps. And because the radar images are color coded and the maps are precise and can be enlarged, it’s easy to see how heavy the rainfall is as well as exactly where it is and where it’s heading. It’s allowed iGnite to make important decisions for relocating classes, but it’s also the perfect app for anyone who enjoys simply being outdoors as much as I do.



It may be a common one, but my favorite app is Pandora Radio, because I love having music on all the time!!


PoshmarkI love the Poshmark: Buy & Sell Fashion app for this reason: it is so simple! Have any women’s clothing items you want to sell and don’t want to drive anywhere to sell them? This is the perfect app for you! Take a picture of your item, price it, sell it, receive a pre-paid shipping label, take it to the UPS store, your buyer accepts, and voila — you have money in your account or dollars towards your next Poshmark purchase! Poshmark takes 20%, and you make the rest!


VivinoVivino Wine Scanner is a wine app where you can take a picture of the label of a wine that you like and it will pull up all the info, ratings and reviews about that wine. It then stores all of your wines so you can remember the ones you love. I’m always forgetting the names of wines that I try at restaurants or at someone’s house and this is the perfect app to help you remember and learn more about the wine.


WazeWaze – GPS, Maps & Social Traffic is a traffic app, you put in your destination and you can check if there is traffic, an accident, construction, a stalled vehicle… Anything that causes traffic in the direction you are heading. It also tells you the speed the traffic is moving and when it will clear up. I hate traffic, so I love this app!
I use it all the time!

What to Expect

What to ExpectFor all the preggo ladies out there, a mommy friend of mine turned me on to the What to Expect: Pregnancy & Baby app for my pregnancy and I’m loving it!  Based off of the popular book What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you customize the app to your specific due date and it tells you each week exactly what’s going on developmentally with the baby.  It also has new interesting articles everyday related to all things related to pregnancy and getting ready for baby. Great stuff!

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7 Great Books to Read this Summer

iGnite Summer Reading List

Our leaders have come together again to create our annual iGnite Summer Reading List!  So without further ado, seven of our current favorite page-turners perfect for your summer vacation carry-on bag:

1. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat“It’s about my homeland Washington State!” –Betty

Online review: This is a stirring tale of nine Depression-era athletes beating the odds and their inner demons to compete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It is a thrilling, heart-thumping tale packed with plenty of suspense. It’s not only a great inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.

also recommended by Amy Younkman

2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

“I’m in the middle of reading this book. Beautiful and uniquely written, it’s set in Europe around WWII and is a Pulitzer Prize and national book award winner. I’m loving it!” –Sha

3. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places

“I loved her book Gone Girl, so I thought I’d give this one a try too because my sister recommended it. I (clearly) love suspenseful books that keep me on my toes, and so far because I’m only half way through, I’m finding it is a page turner. Every chapter switches from the stories leading up to ‘the event’ in 1985 to present day. We’ll see if this one is as twisted as Gone Girl!” –Molly

4. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

The Confidence Code

“This book was fantastic! It was a recommendation from Success Magazine and because I love Success, I figured it had to be great. Plus, I was very curious to learn if the ‘confidence code’ was cracked. If you are interested in the mystery behind confidence and all that goes into having it (or not), you will love this book and find it fascinating! Truly, my book is marked with notes and highlighted. I couldn’t put it down!” –Neissa

5. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Brain on Fire

Amy Younkman loaned me this book and I thanked her and put it on my bedside table, thinking ‘oh, a hard story about a sweet gal with a troubling brain, um, I’ll think about it.’ Two days later, I had read it cover to cover. This writer/afflicted woman is your sister, your neighbor, your old roommate, your brother’s girlfriend. She is any of us, and she selflessly lays bare the struggles of a family battling a frightening illness, one whose name is only revealed eventually because she was in the right place at the right time. You’ll close the book with both a smile and concern, but most of all, with more compassion for those who walk the thread between mental and physical illness…and you’ll wonder if there is even a thread between those two at all.” –Cary

Online review: A powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity. This autobiography tells the tale of a young New York Post reporter who contracts a rare brain disorder, recovers against the odds, then puts her restored mind to use investigating the disease’s underpinnings. What is most impressive is that Cahalan has little recollection of her month of insanity. Thanks partially to her talent as a journalist and to the fact that her parents kept journals, she was able to recapture her month and it makes for an intriguing and heart-warming story.

6. A Bicycle Built for Two Billion by Jamie Bianchini

A Bicycle Built for Two BillionOnline review: Over 1,000 strangers accepted Jamie Bianchini’s invitation to ride on the world’s first open-invitation, intercultural expedition around the world. His epic 8-year, 80-country journey is shared in his book “A Bicycle Built for Two Billion.”  Jamie and his best friend Garryck Hampton saved money for over two years while securing over 40 corporate sponsors to help launch their dream expedition called Peace Pedalers. The tour got off to a great start in Japan but it was not long before they ran into their fair share of adversity. “We had a bike stolen in China, a near-death crash in Malaysia and I dodged gunfire in Mauritania just to name a few,” reports Bianchini. “But what amazed me was how total strangers in every part of the world came out of nowhere to help keep us safe, fed, housed, warm and supported us in fulfilling the vision and mission of Peace Pedalers. It was this endless display of kindness and compassion demonstrated by total strangers that inspired Jamie to take the expedition to a new level. Starting by delivering hundreds of rides and gifts to orphanages throughout Asia he continued his adventures of compassion and contribution through Africa, Europe and Latin America. A one-of-a-kind, truly inspiring story of trust, faith and compassion that breaks through all barriers.

recommended by Amy Younkman 

7. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret

“I liked this book because it kept me guessing throughout the whole read. I never once guessed the answer to ‘the secret!'” –Molly


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Our Good Mood Playlist


What says spring & summer more than a fun, upbeat playlist to put you in a good mood and maybe even dancing around the house? We’ve put together a list of our favorite pick-me-up songs as of late — we hope they’ll brighten your day and get your toes tapping 🙂

  1. Fireball / Pitbull featuring John Ryan
  2. Honey, I’m Good / Andy Grammar
  3. See You Again / Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
  4. My Type / Saint Motel
  5. Uptown Funk / Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
  6. Upgrade U / Beyoncé ft. Jay Z
  7. Can’t Touch it / Ricki Lee
  8. Reflections / MisterWives
  9. 1941 / Klaypex
  10. Sugar / Maroon 5
  11. Bright / Echosmith
  12. Angel in Blue Jeans / Train
  13. Ex’s and Oh’s / Elle King
  14. Somebody to Love / Justin Bieber ft. Usher
  15. Come Get it Bae / Pharrell Williams
  16. Want to Want Me / Jason Derulo
  17. Push It / Salt N Pepa
  18. Party in the USA / Miley Cyrus- Party in the USA
  19. Bust A Move / Young MC
  20. Fancy / Iggy Azelea ft. Charli XCX
  21. Roar / Katy Perry
  22. Wobble / V.I.C.
  23. Beautiful day / U2
  24. Shut Up and Dance / Walk the Moon
  25. Girl on Fire / Alicia Keys
  26. All About that Bass / Meghan Trainor

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Fun Ideas for Gift Season

‘Tis the season of celebratory events, and whether you’re attending a wedding, shower, graduation or house warming, you’ll probably find yourself hunting for that “perfect gift” — which can be daunting!   To make the process a little easier, we’ve asked our leaders to share their go-to gifts for this event-happy time of year.  Check them out for inspiration for what to get the next time you’re on the hunt:

polarbear cooler



One of my favorite gifts for almost anyone is the Polar Bear Cooler – a personalized, soft-sided cooler that is light-weight and easy to take on road trips, picnics, to sporting events and more. It’s great to fill it with other gifts, depending on the occasion. For a wedding shower, fill it with a bottle of champagne and personalized cocktail napkins. For graduation, fill it with collegiate koozies or cups. For a baby shower, fill it with a picnic blanket and personalized bib or water bottle for the baby. You can buy them at or locally at 3 Threads.



My favorite gift to give to graduates is a small and basic tool kit. Screams boring, yes — it’s utilitarian, let’s just say it — but guys!!  Hammers come in flowers now! And whose day is not brightened by a flowered hammer, or a polka-dotted tape measure?? Toolkit: for those freshman-year days when the sun won’t shine, but your socket wrench will.




For wedding/graduation/shower gift ideas, I took my lead from iGnite member Lisa Hildebrand who works at the Silver Papery in Westbank Market. It is a super fun store to shop, and they also have personalized John Hart gifts, which make great graduation gifts. Here were her suggestions — I am going to check out the personalized cutting board for some of my upcoming wedding gifts!

  • Maple Leaf Personalized Wood Cutting Boards
  • Monogrammed styrofoam or frost flex plastic cups with their new married monogram
  • Personalized Note Pads with their new married names or monogram
  • Monogrammed guest towels for guest bath


A gift that I think is super practical is a personalized address stamp for letter writing. After all, a newlywed couple is going to be writing tons of thank you notes, so being able to conveniently stamp their address is helpful. Plus, I personally love them!
For college graduation gifts, I give a bundle of three books that helped me when I was a struggling twenty-something college graduate trying to figure out who I was and my purpose in life. The books are: The Greatest Miracle in the World by Og Mandino, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr Suess. These three books are chock-full of wisdom and for me: They gave me great direction, perspective and guidance during the “tumultuous twenties”.




I am sucker for anything monogrammed!  Waffle robes with either the letter of your first name or your full monogram make a cute and extremely comfortable piece to wear around the house. I’ve also given a colorfully designed jewelry plate with a friend’s name on it as a gift. You can find both of these gift ideas at Personally Yours. My sister gifted me a very cozy Pottery Barn blanket with my new monogram embroidered in one corner as a wedding shower gift. I use it daily and love it so much that I’ve given it to friends for their wedding!

Make up towel



My new high school grad gift will be the little black wash clothes embroidered with “make up” on them.  I plan on putting the cute wash cloth into a cute clear plastic monogrammed make-up case from Personally Yours!!  Inexpensive and very useful! For boys I always give a monogrammed Texas Flag from Personally Yours. The perfect wall decor for the dude! I have had great responses from young men loving this idea — in state or out of state.

College Grad gifts are always a gift card. They are usually setting up an apartment, so I get a gift card to Crate and Barrel, Target or Ikea. They have already received all of the monogrammed items they need from HS graduation!

Happy gift buying!

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The Wisdom Share

Living in Community, Part II


Point to Ponder:
What is the best piece of wisdom you’ve ever received?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the great wisdom that was being tossed around in class last week and I devoured every word it! I don’t know whether it was coincidence, the law of attraction, or the concept of ‘what you put out you get back,’ but I found myself in abnormal situations all week where wisdom was being shared.  For example, on Thursday (the morning of our ‘ice storm’ that closed the schools – ha!), Good Morning America featured a story about #DearMe, a YouTube campaign created to empower young women where women share wisdom with their younger selves (be sure to watch the awesome video below).

Following the story (that I found empowering for women of all ages), the GMA cast shared their wisdom for their younger selves, and it was sooo good! Here’s what they had to say:

  • Robin Roberts: Relax and enjoy the moments more. There’s no need to be in a rush. Don’t worry so much about what people think, because what people say is none of your business. You are stronger than you think you are. When fear knocks, and it will, let faith happen. Listen to your mother.
  • George Stephanopoulos: 99% of the things you worry about don’t matter. Don’t stress out, let it go, be patient and it’s worth the wait.
  • Lara Spencer: Be patient and stop worrying about tomorrow. Live in the moment and appreciate it- actually learn from the experience. Perfection is over-rated.
  • Ginger Zee: It doesn’t matter- everything will work out. And, eating is good, so eat!
  • Amy Robach: Enjoy the ride and slow down. You don’t have to do everything perfectly and quickly. You can make mistakes. Enjoy the mistakes. Mistakes are the only way you grow. Stop beating yourself up. There’s no such thing as a mistake or regrets, they’re just chances you’ve taken.

Excitingly, I received so much great wisdom last week from our members and leadership team that we’ll continue to feature the wowing tidbits in the next several journals. So please continue to send me your wisdom and pass this journal along to your friends and family! It’s all powerful and important stuff and will strengthen, connect and grow our community.

I’ll leave you with a piece of wisdom I received from iGnite member, Delaine Teeple: “Keep your home safe, silly and simple.” Delaine sent me the above picture of herself with her daughter, at home, dressed up for the Academy Awards. Through shared wisdom, Delaine has been inspired to keep her home safe, silly and simple, hence — a family Academy Awards dress-up party!  Both Delaine and her husband got dressed up too. I love that so much 🙂

Check out the video #DearMe: Advice to my younger self

Action Item:
Reflect on the pieces of wisdom shared in this week’s journal — which ones strike a chord with you and why?

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10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas

by Catherine Sanderson

Catherine Sanderson

Spring Break is just around the corner, and before we know it summer vacations will be here!  So where’s on your travel radar?  It doesn’t matter whether your future escapes are big or small, near or far, long or short.  Planning dedicated time for escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, rest, relaxation and quality time (with others or alone) works wonders for the soul.

To get your escape ideas flowing, we’re sharing some of our favorite “unexpected” vacation destinations:

Washington, D.C. with kids!

We thought it would be fun to go with the kids because we love it there, but it ended up the best family vacation ever!  Watching the kids become interested in our history and walking for miles without a complaint was so wonderful. We plan to go back soon and explore even more. Driving into D.C. at night with all of the monuments lit is one of the most beautiful sites that I have seen…maybe it is the history major in me, but it gets me every time and sharing with kids is even better!


Sedona, Arizona

…it makes my soul sing!!!!


Colmar, France at Christmas


It is where the Christmas markets actually began and the entire town is decorated from the street to the roofs. All of the crafts are handmade and lovely. You can browse the treasures while sipping mulled wine that you get in a reusable cup that you can continue to refill for only a Euro. It is so cozy and exudes the true meaning of Christmas. We dream of taking the kids back to experience this type of Christmas.


Skiing in The Canyons, Utah

FullSizeRenderFor those who love to ski and snowboard, we loved the Canyons in Park City, Utah. It is a family-friendly resort town, but also very hip and fun for the college age and young adults!
I snowboard, and loved this “snowboard-friendly” resort. Along with three terrain parks on the mountain, there are plenty of beautiful runs for the skiers.
Every afternoon you ski down to the base and find a band playing!
Even getting on to the lift in the morning you would find yourself tapping your ski boot to a local artist playing right next to the lift line, which was always pleasantly short!
Three things I loved about traveling to the Canyons, Utah:

  1. One non-stop flight from Austin to Salt Lake City, and a short 30 minute drive to the mountain! You leave Austin mid-morning and can be skiing/snowboarding the same day by 1:00 pm!! (Much quicker than Colorado!)
  2. The Canyons is a mile and a half from the fun town of Park City, which is full of great restaurants, shops and entertainment.
  3. The Canyons offers a wonderful and cozy little village where you can keep the family together if you want good quality time with them!


Group Hiking in Tuscany

You find magic when hiking through Tuscany!

Last spring, I hiked through Tuscany with 11 others, led by the travel company, Alchemy Adventures. The experience was magical. The group leaders softly and graciously opened the door for me to explore, ponder, walk quietly with myself, and surround myself with the incredible souls who walked alongside me. Each step through that beautiful countryside, each breath of mine, in and out, was medicinal. Out with the old, and in with the beautiful new.

The towns were each unique and memorable, the eating and exploring experience with the group was — there really is no adjective — it just was, and I’ll never forget it…closing my eyes and remembering always makes me smile. Always. I made dear friends for life, and am thankful that I got the chance to shed, to grow, to know that I am so, so strong — I didn’t just hike through Tuscany with a bunch of women, I happily and freely soared with those precious people.


Wine Tasting and B&Bs in Fredericksburg, Texas

Everyone loves a girls weekend or a little R&R with your significant other, right?! I took a girls trip to Fredericksburg for my friend Jessie’s bachelorette party last January, and we had a ball! There were at least 15 of us, and we stayed at the Hoffman haus. We spent Saturday afternoon touring two wineries and one whiskey distillery (we rode on a tour bus), and it was really neat! This was the perfect mix of a low-key girls weekend with wine mixed in!


Santa Monica, California

Neissa_santamonicaMy favorite “unexpected vacation” is Santa Monica. I suppose I suspected it would be wonderful when I first went many years ago, but what I didn’t expect was that I would love it so much and I would want and need to go back every year for a ‘cleansing,’ if you will. What makes this trip so easy is the cheap and direct Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to LAX, and then when I arrive I gain two hours so, which is  more time to spend walking along the beach and soaking up the ocean air. Even though I love going there with my husband, Russell, I love going alone as well. I love my quiet and long walks along the beach, the Santa Monica steps that always kick my butt, colorful flowers, non-stop sunshine, amazing food, awe-inspiring sunsets and standing under the gigantic and gorgeous palm trees and wondering just how old they are, wishing they could tell me all they’ve seen in their lifetime.


VRBO House (within driving distance) with Friends

catherine120140329__141047_1Last spring, a group of 9 (+ 2 small kids) of our friends rented a big beautiful beach-front house outside of Galveston for a long weekend.  Despite any other big and far traveling I’ve done, this was one of my favorite trips ever.  We all drove there, split the cost of house, and stocked it with food and drinks from home and the local grocery — making the trip very affordable.  There’s something amazing about having your closest friends all under one roof with the beach steps away, cooking meals together (everyone was assigned a different meal so the work was split up!), lazy walks along the beach, happy hours at the house and talking and telling stories all night out on the deck.

VRBO has a zillion amazing house options for renting, and I highly recommend everyone do this! I really hope to make it a tradition with our group of friends 🙂


Riviera Maya, Mexico

Travel agent and iGnite member Sam McClure picked THE PERFECT spot for our honeymoon — The Viceroy Resort in Riveria Maya. Both Clayton and I live fast-paced lives and are always on-the-go, so we wanted a very relaxing and quiet place to retreat for 6 days, especially after planning our wedding for 7 months!  I simply looked forward to doing nothing while we were there. This met my needs 100%!  Everything was wonderful—the spa, the food, the drinks, the beach, the staff and service, and the villas. I highly recommend the Viceroy for a romantic getaway!


Active Vacations

IMG_0382My husband Brad and I have decided that our family vacations from now on will be active ones.
Over the past 20 years of traveling with our growing kids, we have done enough sitting on the beach.  So have our kids!
This Summer we are planning to learn the sport of Kite Surfing (or Kite Boarding).
Tulum, Mexico offers this, along with Playa Del Carmen and even South Padre.
What fun to all learn together! I am sure we will get lots of laughs at the end of the day over margaritas!
*BONUS: Learning a new sport on your trip not only is fun and challenging, but builds your mental strength, too!


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Special Edition Heart Month T-Shirts Benefitting AHA

Special Edition Heart Month iGnite T-Shirts

Help us support the American Heart Association for Heart Month!

Join the effort by:

  1. Wear red on Friday, Feb. 6th for national Go Red for Women Day
  2. Buy one of our special edition Heart Month t-shirts — of which we’re donating 100% of proceeds straight to the American Heart Association to help them continue their amazing work and further the Go Red for Women awareness campaign
by Catherine Sanderson

by Catherine Sanderson

Our Favorite Holiday Traditions

“First we’ll make snow angels for two hours… then we’ll go ice-skating…
then we’ll eat a whole roll of Toll House cookie dough as fast as we can…
and then we’ll snuggle!”
– Buddy the Elf

Point to Ponder:
What holiday tradition are you most looking forward to?

by Neissa Brown Springmann

by Neissa Brown Springmann

Until my dad’s mother passed away ten years ago, we spent every Christmas Eve at her house in Liberty Hill. My dad is one of seven children, making me the youngest of twenty-two grandchildren, so by the time you throw in seven spouses and thirty-six great-grandchildren, Mamaw’s three bedroom, one bathroom house was overflowing — just as her septic tank did… every single Christmas Eve.

I have so many fond Christmas Eve memories: getting to Mamaw’s house early so we could claim our seat on the couch, my aunt Betty’s famous cheese ball, candy canes hanging from every branch of the Christmas tree, Mamaw giving each grandchild two dollars and each couple ten dollars, her consistently misspelling my name on my card, and family members walking in the house and me whispering to my sister, ‘Who’s that?’ While we saw Mamaw several times a year, we only saw the whole family on Christmas Eve, and with so many of us it was impossible to remember everyone as the families grew and spouses changed, frequently.

Needless to say, Christmas Eve has always been a special time for my family, and when Mamaw passed away we decided to keep the Christmas Eve tradition alive and host it at our house. Unfortunately, our extended family members do not join us, though my mom and her husband, my dad and step-mom, my sister’s family and any friends who don’t have family near by come over. We keep it real simple! We graze through a delicious spread of food, watch the movie Elf, spend time together, and then around 5:00 head to Riverbend Church for the annual Candlelight service.

Following the service we come back to my house where we let the kids open a few presents, pop open a bottle of wine, eat dinner, turn on A Christmas Story and get ready for the big day which always entails me staying up extra late to wrap presents and watch A Christmas Story over and over again while Russell begs me to watch a different movie. It’s my favorite (as it is for another leader below)!

While traditions come in all shapes and sizes, and even sometimes come wrapped in a big dysfunctional bow (like they time my cousin showed up at my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve claiming to be a warlock), they are all memories that add meaning and some good story-telling to our life.

As you ponder some of your favorite holiday traditions, enjoy the following favorite holiday traditions from some our leaders:

unnamed-63“My favorite tradition is waking up with my family on Christmas morning, staying in our pajamas, and slowly opening gifts around the Christmas tree while A Christmas Story plays 24/7 on TBS. We enjoy each other’s company and don’t feel the need to rush to the kitchen to prepare for our lunch. I love the simplicity of it!”

unnamed-64“Starting after Thanksgiving, before bedtime we all sit together as a family and watch a Christmas show. We like to stick to classics like, “Frosty”, Santa Claus is coming to town”, Charlie Brown….etc.”
unnamed-66 unnamed-65“Every year the week before Christmas we have a BIG birthday party to celebrate my triplets, who were born on December 17th. They turn 26 this year! Now that they are all working it has become hard to gather everyone, but it is always a fun party when we finally get them all in town. I still remember their first Christmas — WOW what a whirlwind! Love my girls!”
unnamed-67“The very word ‘tradition’ makes me a little anxious, and at my ripe age of ‘I’ll-never-tell’, I am finally okay with that. The reason that I cringe upon hearing that word — especially at this time of year — is because, well…here goes — Brandy Milk Punch. At Christmas. Every year. In the morning. When I was a kid. Now I am not saying that one shouldn’t imbibe at Christmas in the loving presence of favorite and not-so-favorite people — grab that glass and drink! I’m just saying that as an adult-in-training, my traditions instruction was a little…shaky. But I get it now, after years of toiling and trying so hard to create my own sparkly family traditions, after being blessed with two very different boys and a husband who sometimes worked holidays. My childhood training was actually very spot-on! My parents — unintentionally with the Brandy Milk Punch thing — taught me to be adaptable. To embrace the “what is” and move with it. So with that recent epiphany, I now love that our family tradition at Christmas is this — we are untraditionally together. In some form, in some fashion, we are together. Not forced or contrived, but spontaneous, real and in the moment that is ours. For a short while maybe, and maybe not on Christmas Day. Maybe the Tuesday before. Maybe throwing the football, maybe having hot chocolate. And it’s all good. We love each other, and we are lovingly together in a different way, every single year…our favorite tradition!”
unnamed-68“There is a recipe for a Buttermilk Coffee Cake that is OHHHH so tasty and has been a Younkman family favorite for three generations. We make this coffee cake throughout the year and always at Christmas. The great thing is, Steve (who doesn’t cook) is in charge of making the cakes. It has become his “trademark recipe” along with his homemade caramels that he also makes at Christmas time. Every year right after Thanksgiving Steve will ask me, “Did you get the pans for the coffee cakes yet?” He then sets aside a day where he mass produces them, along with our help. We then distribute them to neighbors and friends. For 32 years we have made coffee cakes and this year will be especially memorable as we honor Steve’s recently deceased Mom who made many a coffee cake in her day!”
unnamed-5 unnamed-4“Our family’s favorite Christmas traditions include: the kids lighting the candles of our Advent wreath and reading the verses behind the doors on their advent calendars every evening during Advent; Laney performing in Dance Discovery’s “The Nutcracker” at the Trail of Lights; Selling Christmas cards and baked goods made by my kids for donations to support Beyond Batten Disease Foundation at our church’s Alternative Gift Market; and the highlight of the Christmas season for my family is our church’s Christmas Eve candle light worship service and impromptu children’s nativity, in which all the kids, dressed as the characters from the Christmas story, act it out, while our pastor tells the story and the congregation sings Christmas hymns.”

Action Item:
Take some time this week to stop and think about what Christmas means to you and your loved ones.

12 Gifts We Love to Give


Struggling with inspiration for what to give others for the holidays? The iGnite team shares our 11 go-to’s this year…


CEmask My favorite gift to give is a facial masque. I feel like it is one area that we all neglect or wish we could do more…of course I would love to be able to hand out a facial, but I go to the masque as an affordable alternative that just makes anyone feel good. My favorite line is Eminence Organics and here is a new one that I am going to give a try, but all are great!


socksThis year I’m finding I want to give lululemon running socks! I love wearing them because they feel good on my feet, I don’t ever have to tug at them while working out, they fit perfectly in my shoes, and all the designs are cute.   amazon-gift-cardAnother one of my favorite gifts to give is an Amazon gift card. Now that everyone in my family is getting older, we each bring a $25 gift card to our Christmas celebration and play the White Elephant gift exchange only with gift cards. I love bringing the Amazon card because it is gender-neutral, and you can buy ANYTHING off Amazon!


nestholiday_classic_hi300The Nest Holiday Candle – Wonderful scent, not too much and brings on the Christmas Spirit   cd

Betty’s Rockin’ Holiday CD – I love to make a playlist of upbeat Christmas music for my friends to have in their car while they are driving kids around or running errands.


or_708A_300   I love giving this “Peace of Mind” lotion, $10 from Origins! It has a light peppermint scent, and I just dab a little behind my ears when I need a pick-me-up!


IMG_4570-2Black monogrammed hand towels/wash cloths are my new favorite gift! I use one every day after taking make-up off. You NEVER have a dirty hand towel because the mascara, etc. does not show!  I have all white towels in all of my bathrooms in my home, but have a monogrammed make-up towel on the top of them for my daughters and guests to use. “Make Up” is monogrammed on them. You ALWAYS have white towels then! These are also perfect high school and college graduation gifts if you just need a gift and don’t want to spend a fortune on them.  I am having some monogrammed for my daughters to use in their apartments and putting them in their stockings!  You can get black hand towels/wash cloths at Bed Bath and Beyond for $2 to $4 and have them monogrammed and get them back pronto!


unnamed-50Right now I am loving the Nike Sport hair bands They come in many different and fun colors and the best part, which is why I like them so much and want to give them, is they do not lose their elasticity. The other fun hair ties I have used are super cute, but I can’t run, jump or do anything active without my ponytail coming loose and my hair getting in my face, which is a total drag. Thankfully, Nike has solved my “active lifestyle ponytail dilemma” , and when wrapped around your hair you can’t see the Nike or swoosh sign. (four pack = $10 or a bit cheaper on Amazon)


jacketSomething I’m going to get everyone on my Christmas list this year are the Ultra Light down jackets from Uniqlo.  $60.00 bucks and they come with a tiny pouch that you can stuff them into & carry them everywhere. GAP may carry them too, or target etc.


quarterlyI ran across the packages from recently and love the idea of giving these this year!  You select a package personally curated and created by an artist/expert/designer/celebrity that your receiver loves, and they receive a specially curated surprise package in the mail, either one time or quarterly. So fun!


photo courtesy of Martha Stewart

photo courtesy of Martha Stewart

Every year I like to give small, homemade gifts to teachers and friends. Since there are so many decadent sweets at this time of the year, I like to give a healthy gift that teachers especially seem to appreciate. For gift giving, I wrap them in a festive holiday bag with ribbon or put them in cute holiday canisters.  For myself, I like to divide the nuts up into snack bag size servings so I don’t eat too many, and they become a convenient on-the-go snack.

I especially love this spiced nuts recipe from Martha Stewart.


judypaulartMy “go-to” and favorite gift to give is a Judy Paul “mini-print,” a 4x6in or 5x5in print mounted on wood, just the right size for a bookshelf, dresser, side-table, or special niche. Judy signs and dates each and every one of these little works of art, and they make great “personal” Christmas presents or special gifts for any occasion. You can order through her website and pick any of her images to be printed in this size. And/or you can find her at the East Side Studio Tour this weekend and next, and/or at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, and pick up your Judy Paul minis there. They are $20 each or “buy 3 get the 4th free” ($15 each).   Shop Local! 🙂