In an age where everything we could possibly want is a mere click away — that snazzy kitchen gadget, those funky earrings, that cutting-edge 4K flat screen — retail therapy has never been easier to come by. It feels good, and gives us both an endorphin bump and mail to look forward to.

On March 1-2, instead of dialing in those Visa digits for the next new thing, open your digital wallet and donate to a local cause that’ll make you feel really good.

For 24 hours beginning at 6 pm on Thursday, March 1, I Live Here I Give Here brings back its annual online fundraising event, Amplify Austin — and they’ve set some pretty lofty goals. In the span of one day, ILHIGH hopes to raise $10 million for local nonprofits and charities, a target they nearly hit last year when they reached over $9 million in donations.

Over the last decade, ILHIGH has fostered a community of young and emerging donors to support the causes in which they most believe. Their website aggregates 700-plus Central Texas charities into categories like “Education” and “Environment,” allowing donors to shop for the causes and organizations they want to support.

With Amplify Austin Day, ILHIGH looks to the entire region to give back to their community, urging donors to enlist family and friends to join the donation drive alongside them. The opportunities to give are many with organizations working to support an array of causes like the arts, housing, caring for our children and the elderly, parks and the environment, and more.

“We realize that raising 10 million dollars in one day is a very ambitious goal, but this community has growing needs and important opportunities ahead,” said Celeste Flores, executive director of I Live Here I Give Here, in a release. “Amplify Austin Day is looking to rally the people of Central Texas to take action and support local nonprofit organizations with critical operational dollars for life-changing programs and services, especially when this investment is needed the most.”

The impact of ILHIGH’s fundraising efforts to Central Texas are immediate and tangible. After a milestone Amplify Austin Day in 2017, there were 465 pets saved, 235 new trees planted along hike and bike trails, 1.1 million free meals donated to local families in need, 5,000 backpacks full of nutritious food for kids to avoid weekend hunger, and more than 3,800 swimming lessons for local children, to name just a few of their accomplishments.

On Amplify Austin Day, instead of indulging in a retail fix, consider how good it will feel to know you’re making a meaningful and lasting impact in your own community. Go to AmplifyATX.org to discover the local charities, nonprofits, and causes you’ll help to sustain for the benefit of every Austinite.

Photo by Tyler Schmitt

Mack, Jack, and McConaughey corral stars for legendary Austin fundraiser

Social Scene

What: Mack, Jack & McConaughey 2017

The details: Every year, local legends Mack Brown, Jack Ingram, and Matthew McConaughey combine forces for a two-day fundraising event benefiting Austin nonprofits CureDuchenne, Dell Children’s Medical Center, HeartGift, just keep livin Foundation, and The Rise School of Austin.

On April 20, guests filled ACL Live for the fifth annual gala, which included a red-carpet reception, VIP meet-and-greet, dinner, and live auction. The highlight? Intimate performances by Jack Ingram and fellow country music star Miranda Lambert.

April 21 kicked off with a golf tournament followed by a fashion show hosted by Camila Alves and featuring Jason Wu. The entire affair wrapped up back at ACL Live with a singer/songwriter showcase from Little Big Town, Kris Kristofferson, and more.

Who: Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, Mack and Sally Brown, Jack and Sally Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jason Wu, Tony Romo, Tim Love, Kris Kristofferson, Todd Snider, Butch Walker, Jessi Alexander, Keith Gattis, Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, Paul Overstreet, Jon Randall, and Liz Rose.

Mack Brown, Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, and Matthew McConaughey.

Photo by Tyler Schmitt
Mack Brown, Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram, and Matthew McConaughey.
Photo courtesy of Well Aware

Austin foundation with global impact wins CultureMap Charity Challenge 2017

Meet Our Charity Partner

The votes have been tallied, and we have a winner in our 2017 CultureMap Charity Challenge. With a sweeping victory of 34 percent of the votes, our 2017 charity partner is Well Aware.

The nonprofit was selected from eight groups making an impact in the Austin community and abroad. Nominees included Austin Film Society; College Forward; E4 Youth; I Live Here, I Give Here; Kids in a New Groove; KLRU Next; and Sims Foundation — all of whom were vying for a CultureMap advertising package valued at $10,000 and bragging rights as our 2017 charity partner, which, of course, is priceless.

Well Aware, which launched in 2010, provides innovative and sustainable solutions to water scarcity and contamination in Africa. The hard-working group funds and implements life-saving water systems to drive economic development and build self-sufficient communities.

For more information about how you can help Well Aware, visit the website.

Photo courtesy of Austin Film Society

Who will be CultureMap's charity partner for 2017? That's up to you.

Charity Challenge Returns

CultureMap's annual Charity Challenge is back, and the power is in your hands to select our nonprofit partner for 2017. Vote in our poll for your favorite of eight organizations making an impact in the Austin community.

The group with the most votes wins big: an advertising package valued at $10,000 and bragging rights as CultureMap's 2017 charity partner — which, of course, is priceless.

We'll announce the winner late January, but now it's time to vote, once a day, every day, through January 18 at 11:59 pm, for your favorite contender. First, get to know the eight participants:

Austin Film Society
Founded by filmmaker Richard Linklater in 1985, the Austin Film Society has been committed to bringing international art house cinema to Austin for over 30 years.

College Forward
College Forward coaches motivated, underserved students to achieve the benefits of higher education and a college degree.

E4 Youth
E4 Youth seeks to bridge the gap between underserved youth and the creative commercial arts. Through training, mentoring, and internships, E4 Youth promotes and cultivates the talents and career goals of participating students.

I Live Here, I Give Here
This organization strives to meet Austin's community needs by ensuring that the culture of giving back is embraced and celebrated throughout our region.

Kids in a New Groove
Kids in a New Groove provides Texas youth in foster care with a committed one-on-one mentoring relationship through weekly private music instruction, giving students the ability to build concrete strategies for life-long success.

The KLRU-TV, Austin PBS young professionals group takes an experiential look at art, music, culture, and more in the greater Austin area.

Sims Foundation
Sims Foundation provides compassionate, reliable mental health and addiction recovery services for Austin musicians, music industry professionals, and their families.

Well Aware
Well Aware provides innovative and sustainable solutions to water scarcity and contamination in Africa. They fund and implement life-saving water systems to drive economic development and build self-sufficient communities.

Austin Film Society.

Photo courtesy of Austin Film Society
Austin Film Society.
Courtesy of Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive! fetches the win in our CultureMap Charity Challenge

Charity Partner

In mid-December, we launched our first-ever CultureMap Austin Charity Challenge in order to shine a light on the city’s much-needed nonprofits. Highlighting eight local organizations and their impact on Austin, we released a series of mini-profiles to help you, our readers, decide which of them deserved to be our 2016 charity partner.

The poll has been tallied, and the organization that came out on top was Austin Pets Alive! (APA) with over 50 percent of the vote. By winning the 2016 Charity Challenge, APA will receive a CultureMap advertising package worth $10,000.

APA maintains comprehensive, innovative programs designed to save animals most at risk for euthanasia. Since 2008, APA has saved more than 30,000 pets and found them forever homes.

APA has created programs like The PASS Program (Positive Alternative to Shelter Surrender), which provides assistance to pet owners who may be unable to house their pets, significantly reducing the number of animals that enter the shelter system.

Through developing innovative programs for at-risk animals, APA has helped Austin become and maintain its status as the largest no-kill city in the country. We at CultureMap look forward to this Charity Challenge partnership and helping to further the nonprofit’s important work in our community.

For more information on Austin Pets Alive! and how you can get involved, visit the website.

Photo courtesy of Sustainable Food Center

Sustainable Food Center cultivates healthy gardeners and cooks across Austin

Charity Profile

Editor's note: CultureMap is committed to shining a light on Austin-area nonprofits and their impact on our community. So, we're launching the first-ever CultureMap Austin Charity Challenge, highlighting deserving local organizations — one of which will become our charity partner for 2016 based on readers' votes. Get to know one of our eight finalists, Sustainable Food Center.

Since 1993, Austin's Sustainable Food Center (SFC) has provided resources and education to strengthen the local food system and provide access to healthy foods for all. Evolving from its 1975 roots as Austin Community Garden, SFC envisions a healthy future where every adult and child can grow, share, and prepare foods from their own garden.

With programs like Grow Local, which supports home, school, and community gardens through education and training, and the Farm Direct program, which connects local farmers to schools and residents to enrich the economy while keeping families healthy, SFC is a pillar of the Austin food community.

SFC hosts four of the largest farmers markets in Texas, all located in Austin. These markets host more farmers than anywhere else in Austin and are open rain or shine every week, year-round. In addition to vendors offering up fresh, locally grown foods, the markets feature live music, flowers, hand-crafted goods, and more. True to its vision of an empowered, inclusive community of healthy eaters, SNAP and WIC benefits are accepted at the markets.

Donations to SFC help cultivate a community of healthy gardeners and cooks in the Austin area.

Vote now for Sustainable Food Center — or any of the other worthy local nonprofits — in the CultureMap Charity Challenge running through December 30. A winner will be announced January 5, 2016, and will receive a CultureMap advertising package worth $10,000.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center launch $31 pet adoptions for the holidays

New home for the holidays

Two Austin organizations are looking to get local pets into their "furever" homes this holiday season. In a special December promotion, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) and Austin Animal Center are working to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, by making all adoption fees a flat $31.

The promotion runs December 1-31. According to a release, APA's director of lifesaving operations, Stephanie Bilbro, sees this as a great opportunity to clear out the shelters and make a great impact heading into 2023.

“The holidays are a great time for the Austin community to come together and add to their families. We have so many precious kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs just waiting for their turn to find a family,” said Bilbro. “We hope this is a chance for any family who’s been looking to add a pet to theirs to do so right in the middle of the holiday season. We know Austin is in the upper echelon when it comes to animal welfare. We hope this promo sets us and AAC up for a successful end to 2022 and a fast start going into 2023.”

Both shelters are also seeking fosters and volunteers throughout the holiday season, for Austinites looking to help the shelters without making a long-term commitment.

APA has two locations, one at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez St., and one in Tarrytown (3118 Windsor Rd.). Both locations operate 12-6 pm daily, except Christmas Eve (12-4 pm), Christmas Day (closed), and New Year’s Eve (12-4 pm). The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop and is open every day from 11 am-7 pm for adoptions. For holiday hours, AAC will be closing at 5 pm on December 23 and will be closed December 24-26.

'Famous' rooftop igloos return to Austin hot spot for the coolest experience this winter

Stay Cool

There aren’t so many winter wonderlands in Austin during the holiday season, but things get colder at higher elevations. The Hotel Van Zandt fourth-floor rooftop may not be high enough to change the weather, but visitors throughout December are invited to hang out in its self-proclaimed "famous" all-weather igloos, snacking on bites from inside and themed cocktails after the sun goes down.

Each private, six-seat igloo at the “South Pole” contains a Christmas tree, board and card games, festive records, and other cozy holiday decorations. It’s as private as Austin dining gets without completely breaking the bank, but the poolside mini-village of transparent igloos creates a warm feeling of togetherness. And in case it actually does get cold (a Christmas miracle!), the vinyl globes are heated.

It's not just a fun gimmick — as cute as the igloos are, Geraldine's is a great foodie destination. Visitors can expect (strong) drinks like the “Dandy Andes,” a minty chocolate mix of Grey Goose vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and matcha tea. “Santa on a Beach” combines tropical flavors with cinnamon, and other drinks include unusual ingredients like Chartreuse whipped cream, pistachio, and chocolate mole bitters.

Geraldine’s menu focuses on classic Southern cuisine without getting weighed down by tradition; that means a roster of semi-adventurous gourmet comfort foods, like mole birria short ribs, smoked carrots, and salty Brussels sprouts with serranos and mint. Shareables are a good idea, since the igloos are intimate (read: not especially convenient unless you like balancing a dinner plate on the couch).

Two rounds of two-hour seating will be available every night, and reservations will go very fast. As of December 5, there are only a few dates left. Reservations ($100 upfront) entail a $200 minimum on food and beverage, plus a 20 percent service charge. Book on Eventbrite.

Acclaimed Texas chef toasts the Italian liqueur that's perfect for the holidays

The Wine Guy

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day and covers it regularly in a column for CultureMap's Houston site. Here, he talks not about wine, but the perfect after-dinner sip.

All right, team! Listen up! I’m going to give you some very important holiday information to help you get through all of the parties, family gatherings, and large festive dinners. We are not going to talk about wine today. We’re going to talk about another love of mine — the life-saving amaro.

What is amaro, you ask? It’s an Italian herbal liqueur that’s traditionally consumed post-meal as a digestif. Think of it this way: you start your meal with an aperitif — could be a martini, Campari, or Aperol spritz — to get your palate going and your body ready to eat. After dinner, amaro will help you get through the rest of your night. This elixir will magically and quickly break down everything you just consumed.

Most amari are from Italy, but fortunately new producers with similar styles are popping up all over the world. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. You just have to find the style you like. Producers don’t traditionally tell you what’s in their amaro, because most of them are made up of dozens of herbs and spices. It’s all about trial and error to find the one you love.

I drink it neat, but some people drink it on the rocks. More and more, you’re seeing amari in cocktails, too.

The amari selection at our house is awesome. My wife and I are firm believers in this beverage as a night cap, and it’s even become part of my regiment pre-dinner as a spritz. Kill two birds, you know?

Unfortunately, not a lot of restaurants carry multiple amari, so it’s up to you guys to get this trend moving. The more you ask for it, the more they’ll stock it.

Our No. 1 go to at home? Montenegro. It’s easy to find, and it’s easy drinking. It has flavors of vanilla and orange, but it’s not too sweet and not too bitter. It’s had the same recipe since 1885, and I hope they never change it.

My wife’s favorite is Braulio. This spirit is from the Italian Alps and aged in Slavonian casks. Using more medicinal herbs and fruits means it skews more bitter than Montenegro, but it has a nice sweetness at the end.

A newish player in the amari game is Amaro Nonino. The Nonino family is historically one of the best grappa producers in the world — they’ve been distilling grappa since 1897 — but they didn’t start to produce their namesake amaro until 1992. (By newish, you get what I mean.) It has lots of honey, vanilla, licorice, and orange flavors. It’s a tad less sweet than most, but I think it’s fantastic.

Pasubio is really different from other amari. If you’re a fan of blueberries, this is for you. It literally tastes like crushed blueberries.

The next two are really cool and unusual, because they're made here in the U.S. An all-time favorite is Southern Amaro from High Wire Distilling Co. in Charleston. Yaupon is one of the main characteristics, which is found all over Texas.

High Wire built its reputation on using regionally grown and foraged ingredients. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should stop into the distillery and say hi to Scott and Ann! Also, try some of their Jimmy Red Corn whiskey. Actually, everything they make is delightful.

Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is made in Minneapolis. To me, this is fantastically bitter but also tastes like roasted pineapple in a glass. One of my new favorites, for sure.

Now, here’s a helpful tidbit of info. You may have heard of fernet. That’s a general term for an amaro with very little to no sweetness. Branca is a producer that makes fernet, and it’s the most well-known. Search out others as well, because they’re all pretty cool.

Almost everything I listed can be found at most liquor stores. Don’t be afraid to try something. Yes, sometimes it tastes like taking your medicine. But I’ll bet the smell of Jägermeister penetrates your early 20s, and surprise — that’s a style of amaro as well.