Eco-friendly, experience-based gift guide for Austin moms

Let’s face it: your wife does not want a wine cover/ sock puppet, another bottle of perfume, or a new pair of slippers.

What she really wants is a “magical way to chill out and appreciate the little things” gift certificate. Maybe a “get out of a stressful situation for free” gift certificate. Or perhaps a “slow down and savor your children better” gift card.

But last I saw, these were not available at the checkout at Target (or anywhere else). Damn.


In this day of ultra-consumerism and pressure to buy something – anything for the special people in our lives, the holidays leave us all daunted and exhausted by the expectations.

And if you’re anything like me, you’re also feeling guilty about buying new stuff that your loved ones may not want, and may end up in a landfill or on the shelf at Goodwill come January.

So while I can’t grant wishes, I can offer this gentle nudge to think beyond physical goods mass-produced in China, and buy your loved one an experience that she likely wouldn’t make time for herself. In the high-pressure world of parenting+work, it’s hard to give ourselves permission to take an afternoon off to do something whimsical, decadent, or just plain fun. Unless that priceless gift is bestowed upon us.

Many of us chose to #optoutside on Black Friday, acknowledging that there are more important things in life than getting the best deal on a new Amazon Echo or Barbie Dreamhouse.


Why not keep riding that wave, ditch some of the Amazon-driven pressures this holiday season, and seize the opportunity to gift a memorable experience instead?

Here are some ideas to get you started:



The children are amazing, delightful, adorable, and changing so quickly. But 90% of the day is spent trying to get them to go play somewhere else; rushing them out the door, or explaining to them why drumming on the antique table with hammers is not acceptable.

But on those rare occasions that you’re able to detach from the daily slog and really be with them, the balance shifts to that other 10% -- when they’re sweet, connected, curious, and a joy.


A FUN, ONE-ON-ONE DATE WITH THAT TODDLER who’s a dream when not competing with older siblings (fine print: you offer a menu of options, care of the other children, and a tasty meal waiting upon their return) – my own toddler loves Altitude, the New Central Library, and the Zilker Zephyr.

A COMMITMENTS-FREE WEEKEND FOR A WHOLE-FAMILY, TECH-FREE ADVENTURE Camping is our family favorite, but this could be a day-hike, a festival, or a whole day building forts and drinking wine. (Fine print: you pick the weekend, plan the agenda, and work out the logistics. She just shows up.)


A SPA AFTERNOON WITH THE ELDEST (fine print: childcare and house chores are on you, friend!) Enough said, right? Our favorite is Viva Day Spa.

A MEMBERSHIP TO THE AUSTIN ZOO The Austin Zoo is a non-profit rescue operation – all animals residing there are enjoying a new life after being orphaned, injured, abandoned, or mistreated. It’s small, sweet, and walkable, and even has a pint-sized train to ride and a petting zoo.


A MEMBERSHIP TO THE WILDFLOWER CENTER The Family Garden at the Wildflower Center is one of our family happy places. With huge expanses for children to safely run, explore, climb, and create, it’s just what your family might need to blow off some steam and enjoy each other.

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Granted I’m biased, but personally, I can’t think of a better way to show a mother that her mothering is appreciated than through a gorgeous photo – or better yet a photo session – depicting her special, intimate relationship with the children.

A GORGEOUS FINE-ART PHOTO PRINT FOR THE WALL. It’s been my 2017 mission to replace the non-sentimental art pieces in our home with photographs of real scenes from our life. And you know what? Every time I walk by the photo of my son peeing in the parking lot at Yosemite while I drink a beer, or the photo of my children floating the Greenbelt after a big rain this summer, or my son and husband bundled up together in one hoodie, watching bulldozers build a beach, I'm flooded with warmth and nostalgia. They say life is art, and who’s to say that shouldn’t include our personal, everyday stories? Every third website these days seems to be devoted to making wall art from photos, but beware: not all are created equal. Contact me for info on my own favorite masterful fine art prints.

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A MOTHERHOOD PHOTO SESSION capturing how beautifully she mothers her children and keeps the family together. One of my favorite session types to photograph is a two-hour motherhood session, which captures mama in her element with the little one(s). These sessions commonly span two hours, spent on daily tasks at home – laundry, homework, cooking, art, reading books – and are a beautiful way to bottle up the feeling and intensity of parenting through this specific chapter of childhood – whichever one she’s at.

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A NIGHT AT THE DRISKILL with her love. I promise, a night away from the kids without having to take care of anybody, cook, or clean is a perfect gift for any mama. For those of us without close family or near-family friends in town, this one is tough. But just a single night away from reality at a beautiful, historic hotel downtown is a total dream.

A NIGHT OF BEING A BADASS (well, a different sort of badass). Take her axe-throwing at Austin's Urban Axes. No joke. What better way to work off some of that everyday tension?  

LEARN A NEW CRAFT. Research shows that people who work creatively with their hands are happier and endure stress in a healthier manner than people who don't. Austin is home to an immense and impressive artist community, with all manner of classes open to the public, from pickling to painting, ironwork to woodwork. One fun idea: a glass blowing class.

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INDOOR CLIMBING. Sure it's easy enough to go to the gym or for a run on Town Lake, but who wouldn't love to try out free climbing at Austin Bouldering Project? A ten-punch pass is plenty to get the hang of bouldering, and a nice handful of opportunities to leave real life behind.

Top of mind, this is my list. What would YOU add to YOURS?

More info on documentary family sessions and motherhood sessions.