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We’re all settled back home after six days vacationing up in NorCal and gotta say:  I’m happy to be back in Texas!  Looks like that Polar Vortex finally loosened its grip –it’s back to normal for these parts…perfectly sunny & in the 70s.  It’s been a crazy, unseasonably cold late Jan./early Feb. for Austin:  a couple snow days, icy roads, school closings, and all kinds of car wrecks.  This below-freezing/frozen sleet stuff just doesn’t really happen down here!  Anyway, we’re all happy to be back in our flip-flops and collective focus has shifted to S-P-R-I-N-G!

1.  Spring Fashion:  Who else is positively itching for the arrival of full-blown springtime?  I’ve kept warm inside during these past few late-winter weeks by daydreaming of spring…especially spring fashion!  I’ve recently partnered with my friend Meredith of Austin Beauty Guide, your guide to the best beauty in Austin for fashion-related contributions to her site.  First assignment: a sunny & sweet ‘spring trends’ post…specifically, my top 5 fashion picks for Spring ’14!   Check out my guest blog post here and catch some of my contagious excitement for donning all-things white, big sun hats, and polka dot prints!

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2. Spring Flowers:  I love how flowers bring so much energy into a room –their scent, their color, their shape– the emotional & aesthetic impact is truly something special.  Early into our marriage I actually asked my husband to allocate room in our monthly household budget for regular floral delivery…lol  –Yeah, I can get carried away at times.  Until something like that is a reality, I’ve relied on sniffing out good grocery store finds.  Well, I recently discovered the floral department at H.E.B. Central Market and am excited to have such an exceptional resource so easily accessible.  I breezed through the Westgate store earlier this month and was quite impressed by their selection and service.  I was literally asked if I needed help by three different florists.  –Maybe they could sense I was hardcore debating what to choose as part of their 3 for $10 deal?  Taking advantage of their ‘pick 3 clusters of any variety for just ten bucks’ is such a stellar value!  I guess the deal bundle is supposed to be a personalized way to design your own master bouquet but I kept ’em separate in order to spread the love throughout the house.  I ended up with 4-stem bundles of sunflower, white gerbera daisy, and magenta stock…enough to accent the dining room, master bedroom, & living room with brightly hued, fresh-cut flowers!  They were great quality as well, each cluster stayed bright & perky for about two weeks.

3.  Chocolate Fest:  My REAL motivation for stopping by Central Market earlier this month was to check out Chocolate Fest: The Great Indulgence.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the event boasted chocolates from around the world, samplings, chocolate cooking classes, etc.  Here’s my haul:Chocolates from Chocolate Fest at Central Market–Glorious, isn’t it?  Btw, who knew they made chocolate with freakin’ QUINOA in it?  Kinda funny, but it’s an interesting combo and it’s always fun to try new things…especially new chocolate concoctions!  I mean, you pretty much can’t mess up dark chocolate!  I’m going to open up the bar from Vosges tonight…intrigued about the pairing of super dark chocolate with coconut ash & banana.

4.  Stevia Soda:  Moving on from dark chocolate to other indulgences…we’re gaga over root beer in my house right now.  Not just any root beer, mind you:  root beer sweetened with stevia.  I’m always on the lookout for zero-calorie, natural drinks with some carbonation & flavor as a substitute for traditional soda pop.  I’ve written before about my love & loyalty to La Croix, for example.  Sometimes the hubs gets a mean craving for frothy root beer in a chilled mug, so I’ve been hunting for the best ‘healthy’ root beer of the bunch.  We’ve tried several brands, from Virgil’s Zero Root Beer to Zevia Zero Calorie Soda Ginger Root Beer, but our favorite is the Blue Sky Zero Creamy Root Beer.  It’s zero calorie while still tasting like the original — this one wins in our book.Blue Sky zero calorie creamy root beer sweetened with stevia

5.  Mettle:  We finally made it over to the East Side to try out local restaurant Mettle and well, it was amazing.  I was nervous because we actually took a risk by taking my well-traveled in-laws there before trying it out ourselves.  But, no need to worry because Ryan loved every bite of his beef tongue tacos & short rib stroganoff, I savored my fried cotija cheese & seared red fish…everyone enjoyed everything, basically.  From starter to main dish, I surprised myself by cleaning my plate at each course.  We were so full, but still sprung for desserts just to keep tasting what delights would continue to come out of the kitchen.  Great warm atmosphere, too, with original works by local artisan blacksmiths & lighting designers.  There are so many quality establishments on the Austin dining scene, but if you haven’t experienced Mettle it is definitely a must-do.Mettle restaurant on Austin's East Side

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