20 December, 2023

The Ultimate Texas Holiday Gift Guide

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Holiday season is here. It's time to choose best gifts to our loved ones, right?  

If you are looking for gifting option for kids, check this gift guide. If you are looking for non conventional gift ideas, check these ideas. Check these ideas for Top rated gifts for $20 or less.

Isn't it a great experience to choose a local Austin / Texas gift?

Here is the Ultimate Texas Gift guide featuring some hand-picked unique local Austin / Texas gifts. 

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Organic Skin products:


Do you have a friend who loves organic and takes care of her / his skin seriously? Then, this might be a good gift option.

Jeevanadi Handmade is skin care company founded by mother & daughter duo - Padma and Chandrika. They make handmade soaps, body butters, sugar scrubs, powdered clay masks, face & body oils, and sometimes deodorants.


All their products are intentionally crafted without parabens, sulfates, phthalates, detergents, synthetic dyes, or synthetic fragrances.

Check out their Instagram page and direct message them to place orders:



Kuchipudi Dance lessons:


Any friends / family would love to join a dance class and hesitant to take the first step? Then, you can think of gifting them a free trial class.




Kala Deepika Dance Academy is founded by Mahati, who is a professional classical dancer trained for more than 15 years in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam in India. She started her dance school in USA and now, is taking classes in Leander, TX.

Reach out to her to enroll for a free trial class and gift it to your friends/ family encouraging them to take their first step.

Website: www.kaladeepika.com
YouTube channel : https://youtube.com/@Kaladeepika
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Kaladeepikadanceschool
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/kaladeepikadanceacademy

Indian Traditional and Modern Jewelry:


Who doesn't love jewelry? Either vintage/ traditional/ modern, Raas jewelry has beautiful collections for all occasions and styles.

Raas Jewelry embodies elegance and individuality, offering a beautiful range of Indian jewelry crafted to complement every style and occasion. 





From German silver to American diamond, Kundan to Polki, their pieces are not just accessories; they are reflections of style with soul, artistry, and timeless beauty. 

Raas Jewelry is designed to resonate with the essence of every woman, providing affordable luxury without compromising on quality or sophistication. 

Checkout their collection and direct message through Instagram to order: 


Texas Travel Experiences:


How about gifting a travel experience? A boat tour/ heritage / historic tour?

I suggest reaching out to Rich for Caddo lake tours. This tour is the best in spring and fall seasons. The bald cypress trees, the lotus flowers and the narrow waterways give a feeling of mystery and intrigue. Tours are 1.5 hrs in duration.

CADDO Lake Bayou tours
rich@caddolakebayoutours.com










A groupon gift for San Antonio Explorer Pass? This covers one premium attraction like Six flags / Sea world and choose to visit 2, 3, 4 or 5 other attractions like Natural Bridge Caverns, Tower of the Americas, San Antonio zoo etc.,

How about gifting a Annual National Park pass which covers a family of 4 for the whole year at $80? This is perfect for giving as they don't associate name when they ship the pass. The pass can have 2 owners as well when they sign on the back of the pass. We can also include a free personal greeting card.





Kalahari resort is an indoor waterpark in Austin and a fun place to enjoy holidays. Here are some gift card options for Kalahari. 


Kathak Dance lessons:


Any friends/ family are interested to try a new dance form? You can gift them a trial Kathak class.

Prabha Aditya is a talented Indian Classical dancer based in Austin , Texas. She began her training in India, under her teacher Guru Santha Sampath initially learning Bharatanatyam and then started learning Mohiniyattam from Smt .Valsala Sasikumar . Prabha started her journey in Kathak in 2010 with Guru Pandit Rajendra Gangani and then she continued to fine tune and refine her skills with Guru Pali Chandra and Guru Sudeshna Maulik, a direct disciple of Pt Birju Maharajji.

She continues to teach in Leander , Austin as her hometown and looks forward to establishing an Indian dance ensemble, a collective of talented dancers who are passionate to support this beautiful art form.


Reach out for a trial class:

Prabha Aditya

Rhythm Performing Arts , Austin

FB Page


Books by Texas Authors:


The best gifts are books if you want to please a book lover. Do you have book worms in your circle? Then, here are some  book recommendations.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni



It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover



Mean Streak by Sanda Brown


The Darkest Hour by Maya Banks



Unique Stays in Texas:


There are so many unique destinations in Texas which offer the best stays for a weekend. 

The Summit at BigBend




A few nestled in the forests, A few giving a best experience of glamping around mountains, A few good as a romantic gateway for couples, A few cabin stays for families including activities from Texas hill country. 

How about gifting some unique stays like these?


 
Getaway Hill country in Austin, San Antonio

Son's River Ranch at kingsbury

The Yurtopian in Wimberley


Do you have any other good suggestions of local businesses in this holiday season? Please do let me know in comments. I will try to add them to this guide if you think they should be here.

Until next time,



19 December, 2023

The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis - [Book Review]

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Book Details:


Title: The Magnolia Palace

Author: Fiona Davis

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Dutton

Print length: 368 pages



Blurb:


Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue, returns with a tantalizing novel about the secrets, betrayal, and murder within one of New York City’s most impressive Gilded Age mansions.

Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.

Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.






Purchase Link:


Amazon


My Review:


Loved the story. From author's note, I see that the story is not complete fiction.



All the art references and Frick family collection are real. The characters make this story wonderful.


It's interesting to see how Fricks family navigates through tough times and how each family member responds to the grief.


Lillian obviously is one amazing character. She adjusts to the roles and adapts quickly. She always does what's right. It's good that it ends well for her.


The book cover and title are apt.


I hated Helen's character at many points but she does good for all at the end. I would love to know about RJD and why he has to turn against Lillian.

My Rating: 5/5





About the Author:


Fiona Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of seven historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings, including The Spectacular, The Magnolia Palace, The Address, and The Lions of Fifth Avenue, which was a Good Morning America book club pick. Her novels have been chosen as “One Book, One Community” reads and her articles have appeared in publications like The Wall Street Journal and O the Oprah magazine.

She first came to New York as an actress, but fell in love with writing after getting a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages and she's based in New York City.


Until next time,


The Night she disappeared by Lisa Jewell - [Book Review]

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.


Book Details:

Title: The Night she disappeared

Author: Lisa jewell

Genre: thriller, mystery, fiction

Publisher: Atria Books

Print length: 368 pages



Blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of “gloriously twisted” (Marie Claire) psychological suspense.

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

With her signature “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Lisa Jewell has crafted a dazzling work of suspense that will keep on the edge of your seat until the final page.

Purchase Link:



My Review:


Loved this. A perfect thriller I would say. Till the last few pages, it's impossible for us to predict the storyline. 

The story narrated by different people makes it still enjoyable. How the stories of 2 other people intersect at one point is interesting -  Tellulah, a teenage girl who disappears, and Sophie, the girl friend of the new school headteacher. There are many other exciting characters with mystery around them.

My Rating: 5/5


About the Author:



LISA JEWELL was born in London in 1968.

Her first novel, Ralph's Party, was the best- selling debut novel of 1999. Since then she has written another twenty novels, most recently a number of dark psychological thrillers, including The Girls, Then She Was Gone, The Family Upstairs and The Night She Disappeared.

Lisa is a New York Times and Sunday Times number one bestselling author who has been published worldwide in over twenty-five languages. She lives in north London with her husband, two teenage daughters and the best dog in the world.

Until next time,


The Maid by Nita Prose - [Book review]

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Book Details:


Title: The Maid

Author: Nita Prose

Genre: Mystery, fiction, Contemporary

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Print length: 304 pages

Source: A copy from local library



Blurb:


Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.


Purchase Link:


My Review:


The story seems simple and straightforward at first. An innocent and honest maid is setup as a murderer and a few friends helping her to come out of that situation.

This story says one thing loud - our kindness and honesty always help in someway.

The twist at the end is mind blowing. The characters are well etched and feel real.

Loved the book like many blogger friends who referred it.
It felt little boring in the middle but everything makes sense at the end. The title and book cover are apt.

My Rating: 4.5/5


About the Author:


Nita Prose is the author of THE MAID, a #1 New York Times bestseller and a Good Morning America Book Club Pick. Nominated for an Edgar Award and winner of the Ned Kelly Award for International Crime Fiction and a Goodreads Choice Award, THE MAID has been published in more than forty countries and has sold over a million copies worldwide. 

Her next book starring Molly is THE MYSTERY GUEST. It publishes in November in the US and Canada (January in the UK).

Visit Nita at nitaprose.com, on Instagram @nitaprose or on Twitter @NitaProse.

Until next time,


15 December, 2023

Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews - [Book Review]

This post may contain affiliate links, clicking on those links may earn some commission to us without any additional cost to you.

Book Details:


Title: Bright Lights, Big Christmas

Author : Mary Kay Andrews

Genre: Holiday Fiction, Christmas, Romance

Publisher: St.Martin's Press

Print Length: 288 pages

Source: A copy borrowed from a friend





Blurb:


From Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The Homewreckers and The Santa Suit, comes a novella celebrating love and the warm, glittering charm of the holiday season.

When fall rolls around, it’s time for Kerry Tolliver to leave her family’s Christmas tree farm in the mountains of North Carolina for the wilds of New York City to help her gruff older brother & his dog, Queenie, sell the trees at the family stand on a corner in Greenwich Village. Sharing a tiny vintage camper and experiencing Manhattan for the first time, Kerry’s ready to try to carve out a new corner for herself.

In the weeks leading into Christmas, Kerry quickly becomes close with the charming neighbors who live near their stand. When an elderly neighbor goes missing, Kerry will need to combine her country know-how with her newly acquired New York knowledge to protect the new friends she’s come to think of as family,

And complicating everything is Patrick, a single dad raising his adorable, dragon-loving son Austin on this quirky block. Kerry and Patrick’s chemistry is undeniable, but what chance does this holiday romance really have?

Filled with family ties, both rekindled and new, and sparkling with Christmas magic, Bright Lights, Big Christmas delivers everything Mary Kay Andrews fans adore, all tied up in a hilarious, romantic gem of a novel.

Purchase Link:


Amazon

My Review:

Perfect book to spread the holiday cheer!

Kerry who is staying with her mom getting bored in her hometown after losing a job as a designer had to join her brother in New York selling Christmas trees. Farming and selling christmas trees every year has been an important part of their family business and since her dad is not well, she had to take his place this time.

Kerry is not so excited about staying in a trailer till Christmas without proper bathroom and shower. But, she makes a lot of friends in that quiet neighborhood where they setup the stall and the trailer.

She loves Patrick from the neighborhood, who is a divorcee and father of a kid 'Austin'. She enjoys drawing a picture book for Patrick's son Austin and making wreaths with her creativity. Atlast, she becomes successful in selling all the trees with help from her brother Murph and gains some life long friendships. 

Will she return to her home town after Christmas? or will she try her odds in New York city with Patrick? That's the remaining story.
 
I enjoyed reading the book. It brought the festive mood and holiday cheer
.

 I like the characters, emotions and especially the ending. I loved the way the author portrayed the character of Austin. Cute, kind and compassionate.

I thought the pace is little slow for my taste. I expected to read more about Patrick. 

My Rating: 4/5


About the Author:


MARY KAY ANDREWS is the New York Times bestselling author of 30 novels (including The Homewreckers, The Santa Suit, The Newcomer; Hello, Summer; Sunset Beach; The High Tide Club; The Weekenders; Beach Town; Save the Date; Ladies’ Night; Christmas Bliss; Spring Fever; Summer Rental; The Fixer Upper; Deep Dish; Blue Christmas; Savannah Breeze; Hissy Fit; Little Bitty Lies; and Savannah Blues), and one cookbook, The Beach House Cookbook.

Until next time,


12 December, 2023

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom - [Book Review]

This post may contain affiliate links, clicking on those links may earn some commission to us without any additional cost to you.


Book Details:

Title: Tuesdays with Morrie

Author: Mitch Albom

Genre: Motivational, Self help

Publisher: Crown

Print length: 192 pages

Source: A copy from the local library














Blurb :

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A special 25th anniversary edition of the beloved book that has changed millions of lives with the story of an unforgettable friendship, the timeless wisdom of older generations, and healing lessons on loss and grief—featuring a new afterword by the author

“A wonderful book, a story of the heart told by a writer with soul.”—Los Angeles Times

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it.

For Mitch Albom, that person was his college professor Morrie Schwartz.

Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?

Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class”: lessons in how to live. “The truth is, Mitch,” he said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

Tuesdays with Morrie is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.

Purchase Link:


My Review:

A book full of life lessons from a professor who is going to die due to a rare disease which cannot be cured. 

When a person is about to die, his perspective on life changes. He thinks more of what will give him satisfaction like family, love, his interests etc instead of thinking about money or career. 

Professor Morrie is a simple man who gives importance to people, love, care and the happiness in giving. The story is about conversations of Morrie with his student Mitch. There are many life lessons in Mitch's meetings with Morrie on life, family, death, community, marriage etc.

Loved this book for the way it teaches a few important concepts in life in a simple way.

It feels a bit boring in the middle and at a few places it feels repetitive. But, other than that, it's a wonderful book that everyone should read.


My Rating : 4/5


About the Author:

Mitch Albom is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, which have collectively sold more than forty million copies in forty-seven languages worldwide. 

He has written seven number-one New York Times bestsellers – including TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, the bestselling memoir of all time, which topped the list for four straight years – award-winning TV films, stage plays, screenplays, a nationally syndicated newspaper column, and a musical. 

Through his work at the Detroit Free Press, he was inducted into both the National Sports Media Association and Michigan Sports halls of fame and is the recipient of the 2010 Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement. After bestselling memoir FINDING CHIKA and “Human Touch,” the weekly serial written and published online in real-time to raise funds for pandemic relief, his latest work is a return to fiction with THE STRANGER IN THE LIFEBOAT (Harper, November 2021). 

He founded and oversees SAY Detroit, a consortium of nine different charitable operations in his hometown, including a nonprofit dessert shop and food product line to fund programs for Detroit’s most underserved citizens. He also operates an orphanage in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, which he visits monthly. He lives with his wife, Janine, in Michigan. Learn more at www.mitchalbom.com, www.saydetroit.org, and www.havefaithaiti.org.



Until next time,

04 December, 2023

Gratitude List for 2023

Showing gratitude and being mindful are the top priorities in my life recently. I realized the happiness and satisfaction of being grateful for whatever I have. Loving family members, own house, enough money for needs and satisfying career and business - I can't ask more from God. 




 

2023 just flying by and we are entering a new year. Since blogging has taken a backseat, I couldn't write any gratitude lists in 2023. So, here is one for the whole year!

Gratitude List for 2023



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Family

A supportive family is the biggest strength for anyone. Don't you agree? If you can vent out your frustrations without inhibition to other family members, that itself is a great deal. If you can be YOU, that is the ultimate happiness in a family. Iam grateful every day for that.

Dance

Our dance school grew a lot in this year. It is a productive year with many performances and watching students getting better day by day. I am grateful to see determined students who wanted to learn more and try to give their best in performances. I love watching my students practice at home everyday and getting better.

I have never experienced the beauty of being a teacher earlier and I am feeling proud. We have successfully performed on our Annual Recital in September. 

Travel

Why this has to be on top 3? You know me :-) If there is one part of life which keeps me motivated, it's travel. We could visit Utah and some of the wonderful national parks - Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef. The beauty of Utah is gorgeous and there are no words to explain. 

We visited the remote parts of Oklahoma for thanksgiving and enjoyed our boat tour around bald Cypress trees at Caddo lake state park. That travelogue would be up soon on my blog!


The beauty of Bryce Canyon National park



We are planning for a trip to theme parks by the end of the year and kids are very excited. I am excited to cross a few more states in our checklist. 

Work

This year, I learned a lot and experimented with a testing tool called 'Cypress'. Java Script is not as comforting as Java in the beginning, but I am happy to getting used to it this year. I explored a lot technically and improved my skills on creating a test framework for a web application. 

There is still a lot to learn, but overall, a very productive year in my professional life. I am grateful to my mentors and leads. 


Photo by Lukas: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-retractable-pen-574070/



Settling in New House

It's not in the top of the list, but I am happy to settle in our nest this year. A ranch style single storied home as per my wishes :-)

 I don't want to use stairs everyday and stress my knees further (doing that already with dance, anyways - no extra burden). I am grateful for our backyard view and the colors of sky that I get to see for every Sunrise and Sunset. 

There is a lot more today at home-front, but as usual it's not on my high priority list. I wanted to buy more indoor and outdoor plants and setup a cozy corner at home with our artwork. I want this cozy corner to be our place to read books or do yoga and meditate. That's for next year.

Parents Visit

I went to India and brought my parents for their first time visit. I am grateful for them as it takes a lot to travel so many hours on flight and the journey is not that comfortable to US. 

I cherish all those moments I got with them this year - Celebrating Diwali, Visiting Big bend and White Sand dunes last year, Celebrating our housewarming this year, kids' birthdays, kids' band recital, temple visits, showing them Christmas lights and Halloween decors blah blah.. Our family made wonderful memories.


Books

I have read a lot of books this year. I have set a goal of completing 20 books which is below my capacity, so I achieved it many months ahead, I think in around August itself. Cool :-)

There are many good books I got to read like these.


Photo by Lisa Fotios: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-person-flipping-book-page-1750566/



I am grateful for the suggestions of fellow book bloggers and readers whom I follow on Instagram. I am also grateful to the local library where I can get so many books for free.

I am thankful to all the authors who send me great free books to write a review and share my opinion.


Podcasts

Podcasts are my new found interest. I enjoyed listening to many podcasts while driving to and fro to office this year. I especially liked huberman labs - A science and neuroscience research podcast.

These are a few other suggestions if you want to try podcasts.



Image by Kirill from Pixabay



So, that's about my gratitude list for 2023. What are you grateful for? Please do let me know in comments.


I wish you a happy holiday season, and best wishes!


Until next time,





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