Let's celebrate Mother Earth!

You know what excites me? Earth Day.

I just think it’s a day worthy of celebration. A necessary day, which should be celebrated everyday actually, to remind us that we often take this magnificent planet for granted.

I don’t want to blab too much about that, so I’ll just say this, do something this week to make a positive impact on our local environment. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up. If you don’t know what to do when you get out of work one day, go outside and play! If you don’t recycle, try it. And so help me God if I see you throw a cigarette butt out of your car window.

Who wouldn't want to take care of this?

Now, here at Hill Country Conservancy, we pride ourselves in giving you lots of options to help us celebrate this week. Behold ladies & gentlemen, an entire schedule of events!

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Monday : If you haven’t already, buy your tickets for our Earth Day celebration featuring Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers at ACL Live on Friday! This will be our biggest event to date and let me tell you, the food alone is worth buying a ticket (Smoked Meatloaf & Pulled Rib Sliders provided by Salt Lick is just one item to look forward to). Not to mention Kennedy’s speech will be inspiring, Hornsby hasn’t played in Austin in over a decade, and we’ve got plenty of tricks up our sleeves too, so join us! You won’t want to miss out!

Yes please.

Tuesday : The first businesses to kick off the “Give 5% to Mother Earth” Campaign are Amy’s Ice Cream and Phil’s Ice House! Go eat a burger & some ice cream at the South Lamar or Burnet Road locations on Tuesday, April 19th and say “I’m here for Earth Day” when you order! If 50 or more people do this, Amy’s & Phil’s will donate TWENTY PERCENT of sales to the campaign! We’ll be at South Lamar tomorrow for lunch – come say hi!

Wednesday : Join us at House + Earth for a happy hour honoring the planet! Local artist Judy Paul will be showcasing her prints inspired by the great outdoors – a portion of the print sales will benefit Hill Country Conservancy. Republic Tequila is providing the margaritas and it’s sure to be a great time. More info and RSVP here!

Thursday : Join us for KGSR’s Unplugged at the Grove featuring Carolyn Wonderland! Shady Grove is donating 5% of sales that night and we’ll be there with one of HCC’s biggest fans and local celeb, Andy Langer, enjoying the music and talking about Earth Day!

Friday : Eat, drink, shop, play, and more in support of “Give 5% to Mother Earth!” Nearly 100 businesses around town including Whole Earth, BookPeople, Gibson, 34th Street Café, Taco Deli, Anderson’s Coffee, Second Bar + Kitchen, Julian Gold, and many more are donating 5% of sales on Friday to Hill Country Conservancy, Texas Land Conservancy, Sierra Club, TreeFolks, Friends of Barton Springs Pool, and Clean Water Fund! Please make plans to support these businesses! There’s something for everyone, so check out the entire list here and go there on Friday! If you take pictures of your group celebrating Earth Day and you post them on our Facebook page, you get extra points!

If you need me to plan the day for you based on 5% Day businesses, you just let me know!

And then again, come to the Earth Day show at ACL Live!

Hope to see you out & about at some or all of these events! Earth is definitely the best planet, let’s celebrate her!


Girls at Chili Cookoff

We may not have had the best chili, but we certainly had the best tent!

A few weeks ago, the girls and I competed in a chili cook-off at the Spicewood Vineyards, and even though we didn’t win, it was a great way to spend a Saturday and marked the beginning of the end of winter. Now, with the coming and going of Spring Break and SXSW, and fingers crossed that our last cold front has passed through town, spring is finally here and I couldn’t be more excited!  I don’t know about you all, but when I think about spring, my mind races to things like The Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, Old Settlers Music Festival, taking a day trip to Enchanted Rock,  running down to Wimberley for a piece of pie, and of course Earth Day.

But the thing I didn’t realize until my post-SXSW recovery day on the couch this weekend, is that without meaning to, I developed quite a to-do list of things to do in the Texas Hill Country.  And sure,  I’ve made plans to take Midge to Turkey Creek this weekend, and that’s not really a trip out of town, but  the whole point is that its time to make plans in the great outdoors.

So for this week’s blog entry, I’m suggesting we try something a little different and let you do the talking.  What are your favorite springtime Texas activities?  I’ve listed a few of mine to get us started, but I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say! Some of your favorites will make it to the Hill Country Conservancy website in a special feature about this very topic, so let’s hear it!

1. Driving through the country and seeing wildflowers (saw my first bluebonnets of the year on Sunday!!)

Love wildflowers! Thanks Lady Bird!

2. Taking a day trip to The Salt Lick for lunch, Driftwood Winery for wine, and Wimberley Pie Company for dessert.

3. Weiner Dog races in Buda!  This year I think I’m going to ride my bike from south Austin… anyone want to join me? (The theme this year is Alice in Weinerland… HA!! Awesome!)

4. Finishing a book on the south side of Barton Springs Pool.

5. Swimming at Hamilton Pool.

6. The EPIC Camping Trip (Save the date, May7th)!

7. Unplugged at the Grove and Blues on the Green. (And if you hit up Unplugged at the Grove on April 21st, 5% of your purchases benefit “Give 5% to Mother Earth” and HCC!)

OK, its your turn!


This week has been an eye-opening week for me.

It seems like every year I dismiss the holidays as just another year and I try to keep my head down and just get through them. But without fail, when I least expect it, Christmas cheer jumps up and bites me in the bottom.

I overslept Monday and in the midst of throwing on my clothes and being grumpy about not having coffee in my hand, I realized one of my favorite boots is splitting from the sole. Instant bad mood.

When I got to work, we were frantically wrapping presents for the family the HCC staff adopted. We adopted a family through the Seton Fund, which means at some point this year, a person in the family has been admitted into the Seton Family of Hospitals for an extended period of time. Our family is a mom, dad, and three little girls. Needless to say, we had so much fun shopping for them and buying things that I take for granted every single day…dishes, towels, sheets, and other fun stuff.

We got everything together and loaded it up to take over to the house. When we got there, the mother welcomed us into her home and she was so excited by the load we were carrying. We set the presents under the tree and she said thank you over and over. But when she realized that we were walking back to the car to get second, third, fourth, and fifth loads of gifts, she started crying.

My cynical little heart turned to mush. I realized that this meant more to her than ANY Christmas present has ever meant to me. Even my sparkly clear plastic high heels that my dad gave me when I was four.

That moment changed my holidays. I quit being grumpy about traffic (or really tried to anyways) and started paying attention to how people are spending their money this year. This year seems different, it seems like giving has become way more important than getting.

We’ve been opening our remittance envelopes from the letter George sent out about Hill Country Conservancy recently. Not sure about you, but his letter made me cry. Another thing I take for granted every day, the hill country. It’s home to me. It’s where I regroup and relax, it’s where I have my best days, and where I go to get rid of my worst. And I forget so often that it could be gone before we know it.

Who wouldn't want to preserve this?

Our Seton family and George’s letter have made me realize that $25 means very little to me, but it means so much to so many different people and causes.

If I get my dad a gift certificate for $50 instead of $75, he’ll be equally as thankful and he’ll never know the difference.

So I’ve made myself stop stressing about Christmas this year. And I’m going to stop worrying that my gifts to people won’t be the BEST THING EVER. It’s just not important. But what is important are the bikes and games and toys and books those little girls get to open on Christmas morning. And the checks that we get every day from wonderful people who are as passionate about preserving our amazing environment that makes this city great, that’s important. I can’t tell you how much your generosity means to us this year…we really are floored every time we open the mail these days.

I realize it’s a little late, it’s December 22, but if you haven’t finished shopping, spend $50 less than you were planning and donate it to something that matters to you. See if anyone notices you didn’t spend more money on them. My bet is, they won’t notice and they won’t care. But the cause you spend $50 on will absolutely notice. And if it’s HCC, we’ll all talk about how great you are in the office when we open your check! You can also donate to HCC online if you feel inclined!

Okay, enough of the sappy stuff. Happy Holidays…we love all of you!

Back to the regularly scheduled fun content…Andrea, you’re up.

I’m writing this blog a bit sheepishly considering I was introduced as a co-blogger months ago and I have yet to even introduce myself.

I’m Harper, Director of Communications and Development at Hill Country Conservancy.  I like long walks in the Hill Country, Dwight Yoakam, nights in front of the fire place, and sushi. And many other things, but that’s beside the point.

Last March, Andrea and George asked me to come on board and I said yes immediately.  I had no idea what I was signing up for, but I loved the mission of HCC and I knew I wanted to work for George. After only a few weeks, I realized I was working with the best team on the planet. Seriously.

The team at HCC is the most cohesive, positive, productive, encouraging, hardworking, and loyal group I’ve been lucky enough to work with. Everyone in the office is here because they are absolutely in love with the Hill Country and believe that conserving it is important. Everyone is fully on board to help out, get dirty, make a difference, laugh at me being an idiot, or go on one of George’s adventures at a moments notice. It’s a wonderful mix of people and I’m positive HCC would not be what it is without them. And our leader, George Cofer, built this machine over ten years ago and he’s still here, passionate about the mission, and pushing us, encouraging us, and bringing us cookies. I think that speaks volumes about this organization.

So, after many conversations about what makes HCC successful, we realized our staff is one of our greatest assets. Why on earth are we not highlighting them every chance we get?

DJ Paco!

There are so many things you probably didn’t know about our staff.  For instance, Cheyenne’s a Master Naturalist, Frank is a DJ by night, Andrea’s an amazing cook, Emma LOVES cats, and Ann has been at HCC since the beginning! After many months of juggling 1,000 different projects, we finally got bios (I say that loosely) up on the website. You can read more about our staff members here. The more you get to know about us, the more you get to know HCC!

Cheyenne the Master Naturalist

Last night, George wished out loud that we will all be here in 25 years to celebrate the successes of HCC and make more wishes.  So, we all have plans on December 16, 2035. I hope his wish comes true, I hope we are all still here and I hope we’ve tripled in size with more dynamic, passionate, complex hippies who will make HCC even better!

And I swear on Dwight Yoakam that we’ll be better about blogging from here on out. Love!

On Friday, September 3, I got a surprisingly early text from my mother that read “Call me when you can. I have an exciting spur of the minute trip opportunity for us.” As soon as I saw the message, I knew where we were going. See, my mother has been talking for as long as I can remember about wanting to raft in the Grand Canyon. That’s the only trip I could think of that would warrant such early morning excitement.

Mother/Daughter Adventure - Day 3

The timing was less than ideal for me… With Hill Country Nights barely over a month away, and the unsettling news that most of the Hill Country documentary had to be re-shot, I felt needed at the office. And frankly I was open to excuses to keep me from going on the trip for reasons that now seem so ridiculous that I wont share them.
But after a quick conversation with George and a long trip to REI, I found myself packing for a five-day rafting and camping trip in the Grand Canyon.

The trip was arranged as follows: depart from Austin bright and early on Saturday, September 11, fly to Phoenix and bus to Flagstaff for the night. Sunday we drove about 90 miles to a place called Lee’s Ferry where we boarded rafts. For the next five days, we would average 20 miles a day on the Colorado River, (a debate for another blog!) for a grand total of 87 miles on the river and four nights in tents. On Thursday afternoon, we would arrive at Phantom Ranch, a lodge in the base of the Canyon, and spend the night in cabins, preparing for a 10 mile, nearly 7,000 feet of elevation hike to the rim.

16 Brave Women and 6 Patient Guides

But honestly, forget the schedule. I only include it to set the stage. Here’s what really happened. On Saturday night, we arrived in Flagstaff and met the 14 amazing women who would be joining us on the adventure. Women from all over the country who had been planning this trip for two years (two years!! I don’t know what I’m doing in 6 months, let alone 2 years!) These women will be role models for me for the rest of my life. They set such an example of kindness and love, and following your dreams, and chasing your sense of adventure, and that doing something for yourself occasionally doesn’t make you selfish. One woman with us was celebrating her 60th birthday (which makes her twice my age!) and she was as adventurous and dedicated as everyone else in the group. Some were wives, most were mothers, all were strong.

Throughout the five days on the river, our six river guides worked tirelessly to make everything perfect. Their selfless attitudes and generous spirits made every passenger feel protected and included all throughout the week. The guides showed me that wealth and influence can take on different forms than we are used to in downtown Austin. These men and women were rich with life experiences I can only dream about, and powerful forces against life-threatening circumstances because of their respect for the river and the canyon and the history. All of this was revealed through their passion, and it got me thinking. What do I care about with that same enthusiasm?

This pool was at the top of one of our hikes.

Before I left Austin, Butch Smith (HCC Trail Project Manager) told me I would never be the same. I didn’t have that expectation for the trip, but I appreciated the sentiment. But as I write this blog from the bus on the way back to Phoenix, I think Butch would be impressed with what I am taking with me.

A strange thing happened while I was on this adventure.  The beauty of the Canyon brought on a sense of responsibility that I haven’t felt before.  There’s no denying the magnificence that surrounded us during that five-day journey, but its easy to take  the glorious environment we live in every day for granted.  The more time that passed, the more beautiful my memories of things like Hill Country thunderstorms and the sunset from my front porch became.  And all of a sudden, I feel like the luckiest person in the world because I see/smell/hear the beauty that surrounds me in a whole new way.

The view from the top

I made friends on the trip that I expect will last a lifetime, with several of the women and the guides. I learned that feeling validated by your work comes from within, and that wanting something and having a goal can be the same thing. Strong relationships can make and keep you comfortable (even in unfamiliar settings). And even though I sometimes forget it, I have an amazing mother. Without her, none of this would have happened and I would be exactly the same person I was 8 days ago.

– Andrea

P.S. There are too many antidotes to include in the blog, but here are a few things that may help you visualize our trip a little better…

– The river is Fifty (50) degrees, so bathing was a bit of a challenge, even though the water was crystal clear.  It went something like this: Hold your breath, jump underwater, squeal as you run back to shore, soap up your body, jump back in, and frantically get as much soap residue off of your body/hair as possible in 3 seconds or less.

– I was wildly impressed with the food the guides served us.  Eggs made to order (for 22 people!), French toast, Chicken Courdon Bleu, chocolate cake (!).

Scouting a rapid

– Each day, we spent 2 to 3 hours hiking somewhere in the Canyon when we stopped for lunch.  The picture above was from one of the hikes, and I wish I had taken better notes because I can’t remember names for any of the places we went, but All of the hikes were worth doing, and there was always something breathtaking to see, so if you go yourself, don’t miss any of it.

–  The Canyon walls become so steep that towards the end of our trip, we only saw the sun for a few hours in the middle of the day.  It wasn’t dark like Alaska but the sun was just beyond the edges of the cliffs so we spent a lot of time floating in the shade.  (The same was true of the moon at night.)

– The banks of the river are surprisingly sandy.  I wasn’t expecting them to be beaches, but more dirt, grass, etc.  On a related note, there is an entirely different strategy for playing washers in wet sand than on dry dirt.  Need to practice before my next trip.

When we started Emerging Professionals in Conservation a few years ago, it was internally called the “Young Professionals Initiative” and it was nothing more than a concept.   A concept based on a staff field trip from my first day on the job at Hill Country Conservancy.

Kayaking last weekend in the Llano River

George hired me in May of 2007.  Many of you may remember how much rain we got that summer. The lakes were closed, many homes were flooding, and it seems like it rained every day.  So I was offered this exciting job at HCC, and then I get an invitation to go kayaking in Barton Creek to meet the staff.  I swear, there were white caps in Barton Creek and the water looked like the chocolate river in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I’m going to be honest with you, I was a little intimidated.  I have always been athletic, but didn’t have much experience with kayaking in general, let alone with a river in flood stage.

But an amazing thing happened on that float.  I learned that I loved the outdoors.  I know what you’re probably thinking, that I should have known that I loved the outdoors before that kayaking trip.  But the truth is that I was inspired by George and his passion for Barton Creek, and the Edwards Aquifer, and water and life.  And all of a sudden, in what can only be described as an “ah-ha” moment, I realized why this new job of mine was so important.

EPIC June Outing - Peach & Blackberry Farm

So fast forward 6 months to the creation of the “Young Professionals Initiative” and a naming contest that resulted in E.P.I.C., the acronym for Emerging Professionals in Conservation.  Since then not only have I been kayaking more frequently, I have been camping, hiking, canoeing, caving(!), cycling (and even bought 2 bikes as you know!), and I have loved every minute of it!

See, the thing about EPIC is that we only do things I would want to do.  And I’m still figuring out what all I want to do, and of course I’m open to suggestions, but this has been such a great way for me to discover my limits.  I like to challenge myself and discover new hobbies.  There are 5 months left in the EPIC program this year, and we have some big things ahead.  I could ruin the surprise, but then why would you come to the happy hour tomorrow?  I’m not going to spill the beans yet, but if I see you tomorrow night, I will.  So come join us, if for no other reason, just for the free tequila and beer.  But I promise, if you have a taste of EPIC, you’re going to be hooked.

There are so many things I love about Summertime, its hard to pick just one.  So far this week, I have participated in the following “exclusively summer” activities: eating at Shady Grove, floating in the Frio River, and wakeboarding on Lake Austin.  And today’s only Wednesday, and tonight I’m going to Blues on the Green, so the list goes on and on… but even after all this, I’m most excited about my plans for this weekend. 

Cheyenne took this picture at the Vogel Orchards

On Saturday, Emerging Professionals in Conservation is going deep into the Hill Country (or at least an hour west of Austin) to the Vogel Orchard to pick peaches and blackberries, enjoy a little barbeque from the Salt Lick and maybe even hit a swimming hole or two on the way back.     And you guys know that I love the EPIC members.  So many of them are my good friends, and we always have an amazing time together.  

But I love fresh fruit more than I love the EPIC members.  Well that’s not true, but I love them equally.  And these peaches are like the supermodels of peaches, they are perfect specimens.  They taste perfect, the look perfect, and in 3 days, they will be in my kitchen. 

Blackberry Pie... Yummy!

In 4 days, they will be in a pie.  For those of you that know me well, you may remember the perfect pie challenge that I issued to myself last summer, and after 20 or more attempts, I think I have achieved perfection.  So I’ve decided to share my “perfect pie” recipe with those of you who are interested in it, and will bring copies on the peach picking trip.  So if you’re not sure what you are doing on Saturday, consider joining us.  There is still space to sign up (for EPIC members only) so visit the website for more info.