Our Story

Hey there!  My name is Jill.  My husband, Jared, and I own this ma-and-pa real estate company.  We are a wonderful team, and I can honestly say I LOVE working with my husband.

For years we spent countless overtime hours building Solis Realty together.  But when our son was born, we decided I would take a break from the day-to-day running of our company to spend time with him.  It was six amazing years making memories with that kid but now he is in kindergarten, and I’m ready to get back to work.

My job is marketing.  I bring in the clients; Jared takes care good of them.  The thing is, I don’t just want to “have a career” again.  I want to do something special, something MONUMENTAL.  That may mean we start flipping and designing houses that people love.  That may mean I take our local brand and make it the talk of the town.  I’m just going to feel my way through this.

I’m giving myself 365 days to do this amazing thing.  Periodically I’ll be posting updates, videos diaries and photos to share my progress.  I hope you can follow along and tell me what you think.  Really and truly, I want your thoughts.  Let’s face it, if you’re planning to do something that could accurately be described as “monumental”, you’re going to need all the help you can get!

Day 1 – My 365 Day Challenge

The video diary that started it all.  Here were my initial thoughts as I was getting back into my career …

Day 27 – Logo, Education & Flip Opportunity

Video Diary #2 is all about starting strategically, studying what the experts say and making sure our branding is the best it can be!

Day 48 – Logo First Draft

Here is our first pass at rethinking our branding.  There’s more discussion on our instagram account but after much consideration I think this is pretty close to the final product.  I plan to change it up with holidays and events such as sock hats at Christmas time and music notes during SXSW.

The bigger idea here is that we are a ma-and-pa shop and our logo is literally a ma and a pa.  So I’m thinking of using our logo to promote the general idea of supporting all Austin area ma-and-pa shops.

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Day 73 – Purging Everything

^^currently featured above^^

more to come …

Take Family Photos You’ll Love, the Easy Way

It’s that time of year when everyone is scrambling to take family photos for holiday cards.  Lots of my friends are calling their photographers to schedule a “mini”.  All this is fine and good, and the following tips will work for these people too.  However you can still have amazing photos even if you only have 15 minutes and recruited a friend to take photos of your family with an iPhone!

Let’s get started …

Photograph Outside, An Hour and Half Before Sunset

Lighting is 80% of a good photo.

Natural light is best, so get outside.  Diffused natural light is where it really is at.  Diffused light is the kind you see on an overcast day.  It illuminates without creating harsh shadows.  You can take photos anytime on an overcast day.  Otherwise it is best to wait until about an hour and a half to an hour before sunset.  Not only is the light diffused at this point of the day, it also often takes on a golden hue which is very flattering.

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Illuminate Your Faces

Even with diffused light, you should be able to see and feel the light illuminating your face.  If not, keep turning around until you can feel the light is in front of you, not behind you.  Did I mention lighting is 80% of a good photo?  This is especially true when using your phone camera.

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Smile

A real smile.

Some people prefer having a posed photo smile they use.  If that’s you, skip this tip.

Most people, however, look best with a genuine smile.  The kind that accompanies happiness and laughter.  So for this 15 minute photo session, it is important everyone have a good time and laugh as much as possible.

Get rid of the pressure and stop shooting for perfection.  Those exact sentiments may be the very reason you don’t get photos you love.  Instead, take a sip of wine, put on some rockin’ music, and get ready to have fun!

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Smile More

When I was fashion blogging, I was constantly photographing and then assessing the quality and usefulness of the images.  Time and time again, I would mutter to myself “I need to smile more!”  On the next go around, I’d smile my butt off and still I would look at the photos and conclude “I need to smile more!”  I don’t think it is possible to smile too much.  So smile, smile and smile some more.

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Photograph The In-Between Moments

Instruct your recruited friend-photographer to keep photographing in between the posed shots.  Those moments are the most real and may end up being your favorites.  And, of course, make sure you smile through it all.

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Mix It Up

Take photos in various spots (all of ours were taken on our property).  Take some standing, sitting, kneeling, and walking.  Even within one spot, make slight adjustments… kid on the shoulders, hands in your pockets, arms around each other, lean in, turn towards the center, bend your knee, straighten it again etc.  If you stick to one position and that position turns out not to be flattering, then you are stuck.  All the adjustments give you options.

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Color Palette

In regards to what to wear, I prefer sticking to a color palette instead of matching each other.  If we were all to wear the same color shirts and the same color pants then it might be difficult to see where one person starts and the other ends.  While a color palette avoids this problem and still looks coordinated.

I like to be a bit selfish on this topic and pick out my most flattering outfit first.  Then see if that color palette will work for my boys.

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Make Room for Text

If you are planning to make this photo into a holiday card, consider taking some photos off-center and perhaps with some sky or fields around.  The “white space” will give you room for the words of your message.

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No Expensive Equipment Needed

If you have a fancy camera, by all means, use it.  I did.  However, I have taken just as crisp and clear photos with my iPhone.  As long as the lighting is right, your phone’s camera should do the trick.

All the photos shown in this post where taken by a friend with zero photography experience.  We photographed for 15-20 minutes during that golden hour before sunset.  It was so nice not to make a big ordeal out of it and not to spend any money.  I hope this helps you to have fun while getting photos you love too.

If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear them!

6 Ways I Cut My Dinner-Making Time in Half

I cook dinner every night.  It’s healthier and more economical than going out, and it’s an important way I give to and connect with my family.  So naturally I’ve been on the search for methods and tricks for making a nourishing meal in less time.  Most of them are simple but surprisingly impactful.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

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Every dinnertime, I was setting the table, and it seemed awfully repetitive.  Anytime I find myself doing something over and over, I look for a way to simplify.  My solution was to put store silverware and napkins as a centerpiece on the table.  And now everyone can help themselves!

Kitchen Purge

I am a big fan of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  In case you haven’t read it, essentially, Marie questions all the reasons you keep things and by the end of the book you are ready to throw away half of your stuff (or at least that’s what I did).  My kitchen was no exception.  I scrutinized everything in my cabinets and pantry and even my fridge and freezer and kept only those things I use.  This resulted in 25% of my stuff going to friends or Good Will.

With the new found space, I wanted to be strategic about where the remaining items were organized.  I thought of my workspaces like a restaurant kitchen.  Display could come later but it needed to function extremely efficiently.   I took my veggies out of the bottom crisper drawer and put them on a shelf at eye-level since these were the quickest to go bad and therefore I need to keep them at the forefront of my mind.  My sparced-down pantry was arranged in rows so that at a glance I could see which things were running low.  I moved olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, and other such pantry items that I use almost daily to the open shelves around my kitchen sink.  These are just a few examples of personal tweaks I made to suit my needs.  The important thing is that your kitchen is equipped with what you need and all within close reach.

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At the beginning of the week I create a great big salad.  Making a large salad barely takes longer than a medium salad but it will feeds us for three days.  On the first evening, I add ground beef or buffalo or grilled chicken and make it our meal.  On the second and third evenings, it is used as a side salad to accompany soup, chili, pasta, or pizza.

For instance, here’s what we had last week:

Day 1:  Salad with Ground Beef

Day 2:  Carrot Soup (from the freezer) with a side salad

Day 3:  Zucchini Pasta with Pesto (from the freezer) and Grilled Chicken (also from the freezer) with a side salad

Most salad ingredients will stay fresh for three days however I do wait until serving to add nuts, cheese or dressing.  In order to avoid soybean oil and canola oil, we mix our own salad dress (1 part balsamic vinegar to 5 parts olive oil plus a generous helping of fresh ground pepper and a squirt of brown mustard).  This too can be mixed ahead of time in a glass bottle to last the three days.

Freezer Friendly Recipes

I know it is the oldest trick in the book but it is still a good one:  find recipes that freeze well and make double batches.  This is still a work in progress for me, however here are some freezer-friendly recipes I’m currently using:

I’m still working on my Tomato Basil soup recipe.  I will share when it is ready.

Frozen and Rotisserie Chicken

Nothing compares to marinated chicken fresh from the grill.  However, when chicken isn’t being served as the main dish, but rather mixed in with pesto or tossed on a salad, a good frozen grilled chicken breast (or rotisserie) is a life-saver.   I’m talking about the kind that are already cooked and all you are doing in the oven is essentially defrosting them.

For that matter, it is extremely helpful to have a handful of main dish options that require no defrosting for those days when it just slips your mind.  On such occassions, I usually reach for frozen grilled chicken, canned tuna, or deli meat (all natural, uncured, no nitrates, of course).  I’ve also found that bacon and salmon can defrost quickly in a bowl of warm water and ground buffalo and bison can defrost as I’m cooking it in the pan.

HEB Curbside and Amazon Pantry

For five extra dollars I can order my groceries on-line for curbside pick-up at my local HEB.  This is a serious game-changer and must for anyone with young children.  The site easily allows you to reload previous orders and make changes which makes ordering pretty quick and painless.  I’ve also used Amazon Pantry for many of our dry goods and both have saved me tons of time and gas money.

Chili in an Acorn Squash Bowl

This chili is super simple and quick to make without any sacrifice in flavor.  Though the acorn squash isn’t a must, it really adds to the depth of the dish.  I usually eat mine as an acorn squash bowl, but Jared prefers to peel off the skin, chop it up, and mix everything together.

1 pound ground beef or buffalo

1 – 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1 acorn squash for every two people you are serving

4 tbs. chili powder

1 tsp dried oregano

1/8 tsp cayenne

1 bay leaf

1/4 tsp cinnamon

I preheat the oven to 400 degrees while I cut the acorn squash in half and carve out the seeds.  Then place them cut-side down on a baking dish and bake them for 40 minutes or until the skins are blackened and the squash is tender.

Meanwhile I brown the ground beef.  Then I add the chili powder and let the oils of the beef simmer the chili flavor into the meat.  Next I add the rest of the spices and the dice tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or so.

And just like that, you are done!  As mentioned, I serve the chili in the acorn squash, sometime with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Any left over chili gets frozen for another night.

Adapted from Jenny Rosenstrach’s recipe for Turkey Chili.

 

Pesto Recipe (Without Garlic)

If I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life it would be pesto.  There’s only one problem, my stomach and garlic aren’t friends.  Below is my recipe for pesto that uses garlic-infused olive oil (widely available at grocery stores) instead of garlic.  It retains all the flavor of regular pesto with the added bonus of avoiding garlic breath!

One more note, if you’ve never made pesto before it takes A LOT of basil.  So much that you’ll want to be growing it or have a neighbor who is.  It would be exorbitantly expensive to buy from the grocery store.  Keep in mind that basil picked at the end of the day will be sweeter than basil picked in the morning.

1/2 cup nuts (usually pine nuts and walnuts but most others will work too)

5 cups basil leaves, packed

1 1/4 cups garlic-infused olive oil

1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (the good stuff, no green bottles)

1 tsp ground peppercorn

I put the nuts in my food processor and process until they are small bits.  Then add the peppercorn and basil leaves and process again.  Next I pour in the olive oil and process.  And finally the parmesan cheese and process yet again.

Honestly making pesto is more work than I would do on a week night for dinner.  I try to save it as a weekend project and make several batches since pesto freezes nicely if you simply add a thin layer of olive oil on top to seal in the beautiful green basil color.

I usually serve pesto over a bowl of zucchini noodle with grilled chicken but it is also a great dip for veggies.

Adapted from Ina Garten’s pesto recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

With only 5 ingredients, this recipe is super simple, totally healthy, and one of my all-time favorites.  Though it may seem like a fall comfort soup, I enjoy it all year long and always make enough to freeze half for dinner another night.

6 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed

4 cups of chicken broth

1/2 tsp dried marjoram, ground

1/4 tsp black pepper, ground

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, ground

I like to get the chicken broth heating in a large pot while I peel and cube the butternut squash.  Then I place the squash and all the spices in the boiling broth and cook until squash is tender and the liquid has reduced by about half.

Next I puree the squash in my food processor.  It usually all fits, and I don’t have to divide into batches.  This mixture is poured back into the pot and reheated if necessary.

I serve with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese and black peppercorn.

Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes.com

A Video Tour of What’s Growing in Our Garden

Vegetable gardens are always works in progress.  Experiments.  I’ve found it helpful to hear how other people’s experiments are going – what’s thriving and what’s not – so that I  can add those lessons learned to my own and hopefully produce more food for our table.  In an effort of sharing, here’s the current state of my garden.

Now Eating

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Summer Squash
  • Banana Peppers
  • Jalapeño Peppers
  • Strawberries (although most are going to the bugs)
  • Basil

coming soon

  • Delicata Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes (grape and cherry)
  • Bell Peppers
  • Blackberries

a ways off

  • Green Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Butternut Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Acorn Squash
  • Raspberries

Done for the season

  • Kale (thanks to a mob of caterpillars)

We were fortunate to have such luck with kale, spinach, and lettuce early this season to have salads almost every day (something that thankfully Jared and Little Guy enjoyed and didn’t get tired of).  It seems we are just around the corner from switching from salads to squash and tomatoes, and I’m feeling the need to expand my recipe repertoire of soups and sauces.

What’s growing in your vegetable garden?  Anyone have tomato or squash recipes to share?

Peacock Mating and Cougars Climbing Cages

The Austin Zoo is anything but glamorous (as discussed here).  But what it lacks in fancy exhibits, it more than makes up for in up-close-and-personal experiences.  Our trip there last week may go down as our favorite adventure this spring.  Here’s why:

1. Peacocks doing mating dances right next to our picnic table (above)

2.  A cougar climbing her cage:

3.  Lions leaning up next to the fence:

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4.  Feeding the deer, goats, and llamas:

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We also loved seeing the ostriches which were so much bigger than we imagined with their huge prehistoric-looking feet.  And couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a black bear living with chickens and ducks (clearly a well-fed bear).  Throw in a breezy train ride with friends near the end and this outing hit everything my son could have hoped for.

After such a great day at the Austin Zoo, it has us wondering about other zoos in the area.  We haven’t been to the Waco or San Antonio Zoos yet.  Anyone have opinions or recommendations?

Bubblepalooza

 

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There seemed no better way to usher in summertime than watching a field of children chasing bubbles.  So on Saturday we met our friends Bill and Jessa and their baby-o Fox downtown at the Long Events Center for our first Bubblepalooza.  There wasn’t much more to it than a bunch of kids and an abundance of bubbles but it was really a lot of fun.  Bubbles float everywhere, and it made for a lot of mingling with other families.  Little Guy seems to thrive in these types of environments and was smiles all day.  Such a great sunshiny Saturday for us all!

The Good: It was free and just plain fun.

The Not-So-Good: Parking was a zoo.

Website:  Bubblepalooza

The Cedar Rock Train in Leander

Like most little boys, our son loves trains. We have books about trains, toy trains, and his grandma even got him his own rideable motorized train. The ultimate experience though is riding a “real” train where there are other people involved and a station of some sort. So far the “real” trains we have ridden include the MetroRail train, the train at Lakeline Mall, the Zilker Park train, the Austin Zoo train, and now we are happy to add to the list the Cedar Rock train.

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The train operator wore overalls and a conductor’s hat and called “all aboard” before punching our tickets. Then the train chugged us out of the “town”, through a forest, across open plains, past playing fields and a pond, and into a tunnel full of spiders (fake ones!). The round trip was about 15 minutes and was followed by play time in the town and with a stationery train, as well as optional individual train rides (which received mixed review from the other kids in the group who got tired of peddling with their hands).

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Perhaps the biggest discovery of the afternoon, however, was driving through nearly 800 acres of the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park to get to the Cedar Rock Railroad.  We saw playing fields, picnic pavilions, hike and bike trails, a splash pad, and I’m sure there’s even more we didn’t see.  Definitely a place we will be exploring further!

The Good:  If your kid likes trains, and Leander is close by, this is a no-brainer.  Tickets were only $2.50 per person.

The Not-So-Good:  I’m drawing a blank.

Website:  http://www.cedarrockrailroad.com/

Lone Star Grille in Cedar Park

When the weather is sunny and you and your spouse want to enjoy a meal while the kids play near by, head to Lone Star Grille in Cedar Park.  Jared and I ate there for the first time last week, and we returned again just a couple days later because it is one of the few restaurants that keeps Little Guy entertained while we eat.  There is a fountain and two playsets and when we went over the weekend there was a bouncy house and live music too.  On our first visit, Jared and I had queso with fajita beef as an appetizer, and then we both ordered burgers – very tasty!  On our second visit the full-order of the Mucho Nachos did me in.  Somehow Jared managed to also fit in some Crispy Chicken Tacos which he said he would order again.  All in all a good dining experience!

Website:  http://lonestargrilletx.com/

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Creative Playscape in Georgetown

We recently visited our friends, Jessa and her little toddler Fox, who live in Georgetown and introduced us to Creative Playscape. To say it is a playground would be a vast understatement. As you can see from the photos there is a train station, a bank, and a store as fronts to a series of bridges, ladders, stairs, and slides. There are also swings for all ages and obstacle course type structures. If you are ever near downtown Georgetown with a kid, then you should definitely pay a visit.

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The Good: Free fun for children of all ages.

The Not-So-Good: None, unless you live far from San Gabriel Park.

Overall: Hours of good times.

Website:  Creative Playscape