Friday, December 30, 2016

Five Resolutions for 2017

There are years I cling to for all their great memories and moments. Then there are years like 2016. Bye! Time to go! Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you! Or do. I don't care. You kind of deserve it.

Moving on! Here are my top five resolutions for 2017.

1. KEEP IT VEGAN
Chad and I continue to get the hang of the whole vegan lifestyle thing each day. We are not perfect. We cheat sometimes in social or travel situations with a bit of dairy, but still keep it strictly vegetarian. My goal for 2017 is to more fully embrace the vegan lifestyle. This includes cooking more. I have eight, count them eight!, vegan and vegan-friendly cookbooks. I need to flag some of the best looking recipes to cook. I also need to be better at scoping out vegan-friendly restaurants when traveling.




2. TRAVEL
As tempting as I find staying home with my pets, books and Netflix, I acknowledge the need to keep traveling, and expanding my horizons and experiences. I booked a fun party weekend in Houston at the Four Seasons Hotel for early spring compliments of a silent auction gift certificate. Chad and I are currently researching our annual big vacation for either Acadia National Park in Maine, Michigan's Upper Peninsula or Asheville, North Carolina. (International travel isn't in the budget this year due to a cranky, unpredictable air conditioning unit.)

Travel to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, Acadia National Park in Maine or Asheville, NC.

3. WORK IT
Exercise plays an important part in my mental and physical health. I continue to work it out at small group training twice weekly with an emphasis on isometric weight bearing exercises and TRX Suspension Training. I love long walks in the moonlight. I found and joined a new gym after my old gym closed in 2016. My schedule is built around incorporating exercise in 2017.



4. TESTIFY
Writing and performing a story for Testify ATX was one of the hardest things I've ever completed. It was also one of the most rewarding things I've ever completed. I resolve to write, and hopefully be chosen to perform, an original true story in 2017.




5. WRITE MORE
My second grade teacher told me that I should be a writer when I grew up, because I wrote a story about a tiger sneaking into my yard at night and jumping on my trampoline. Mrs. Holloway thought that my story showed great creativity. I currently write one short story each year for submission to a couple of short story writing contests. (I've never had a complete story published as result of these contests, but one of my story titles was recognized for creativity and generating curiosity. The title that The Austin Chronicle liked well enough to call out was "God Drives a Texas-Tough Ram Truck".) In 2017 I resolve to write at least ten short stories with a minimum of 2500 words each. I may not have the creative juice for a novel yet, but I'll never get there if I'm not more disciplined in my writing practice. 

drawing that accompanied the story I wrote about a sneaky tiger on my trampoline


Monday, December 19, 2016

Being Basic and Loving It

Urban Dictionary: Basic

I went to visit my sister and her sweet husband and seven (yes, seven!) children last week. My sister, her husband and each of the children are unique, intelligent individuals. However, on the surface, a shallow observer might think that their lifestyle out in the far-flung suburbs is not cosmopolitan or sophisticated. The shallow observer might use the dreaded "B" word -- that's right, BASIC. That shallow observer would be a jerk, but let's roll with this assumption for a second.

Last week my thirteen year old niece, my sister and I sat in their beat-to-heck, crumb-covered, well-loved, hail-damaged mini-van in the Target parking lot while listening to Christmas music on the radio and eating three different kinds chocolate candies out of the bags. Self-consciously surveying the scene, I thought to myself, "I am being real basic right now. I'm not mad about it."

Quiet that inner voice that urges you to always be an influencer, sophisticated, ground-breaking or Instagram-worthy. Appreciate the sweetness of a simple moment of pleasure. Because constantly judging yourself or others, that's really BASIC. *gasp*


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Five Cool Things to Watch According to My Nieces & Nephews

This week I made a quick trip to visit seven of my ten nieces and nephews. They performed a recital playing guitar, piano, violin and bells. Ages three up through sixteen, each played in at least one song. My sister and her husband have instilled a wonderful love of music in these children. I'm so proud of them. The kids were eager to share their favorite musicians and their favorite television shows with me while I was there. Here are five things the cool kids are watching.

1. The Piano Guys YouTube videos: The older five children (of seven) got to see The Piano Guys live in concert recently. They loved the experience. These guys are super-talented and creative. You might easily lose a few hours watching their videos.




2. Lindsey Stirling YouTube videos: Ella, age eight, and Jane, age five, play violin. Ella is obsessed with Lindsey Stirling, a modern dancing violinist. She got to see Lindsey Stirling in concert this past year. The videos are a visual spectacle.




3. Jessie on Netflix: This show. I can't even. My nieces and nephews think that I look JUST LIKE Jessie, because I have reddish hair and wear eye makeup. Not even. Jessie is from Texas, making her way in the big apple as a nanny. I have lived in Texas most of my life. I have spent some time in New York City. That's where the comparisons end.




4. 2 Cellos YouTube videos: These guys are ridiculously talented with their classical instrument renditions of modern popular songs. I can only watch one of their videos at a time before it starts sounding screechy to my tender ears, but they are impressive.




5. The Twilight Zone on Netflix: Yes, the old show from 1959. The kids find it eery and creepy in a non-threatening way. I loved this show when I was a kid too. I enjoy The Twilight Zone as an adult, but more for the nostalgia, and less for the sci-fi twists.



Saturday, December 10, 2016

Five Christmas Songs I Don't Hate

Because I worked in retail most of my life, I heard way too many Christmas songs for way too long each year. There are actually a few Christmas songs that don't make me want to jam earplugs into my ears or run away quietly hoping no one notices my absence until the song (or the holiday season) is over.

1. "Carol of the Bells" reminds me of being in handbell choir at the giant church my family attended during my elementary school years. I loved playing handbells, wearing the white gloves and working collectively to make beautiful music. This was my favorite song I ever played in handbell choir, and continues to be my favorite Christmas song.




2. "This Christmas", but only the original sung by Donny Hathaway. Seriously.




3. "What Christmas Means to Me" as sung by Stevie Wonder makes me do a tiny happy-dance. When I worked at Old Navy, this was one of the few songs that made me feel okay to be at work during the holiday season.




4. "Feliz Navidad" by José Feliciano: Who doesn't love this song? We won't be friends if you don't like this song. But, hey, you do you.




5. "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney & Wings: Although this song was recorded in 1979, it sounds delightfully 80s and lovably twee.




Friday, December 02, 2016

Five Fave Photos of Marigold: In Memorium

On Wednesday Chad and I lied to Marigold. We told her we were taking her to a sleepover where she could have all the cigarette butts and queso she wanted. (Marigold loved smokers, gravitating to them when they visited our home to lick their fingers.  She loved to find an ashtray or a cigarette butt to lick. Charming, huh? Marigold also loved queso. She missed it terribly when Chad and I went mostly vegan.) We actually took Marigold to our faithful veterinarian, and had her euthanized. She was nineteen and a half years old. That is an exceptionally long life for a Persian cat.

Marigold's use of her back legs declined steadily over the past two years. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I found a hard, swollen mass on half of her bottom jaw. I knew at that moment it was time to make the appointment to euthanize her. She went out dramatically with sass, yowling and hissing right up until the very end. She always hated trips to the veterinarian. We thought about hiring a mobile vet to euthanize Marigold in our home, but I suspected it would be traumatic for our other resident pets to witness.

I spent Thursday scrubbing her yucky orange sneeze marks off the walls and baseboards in her favorite spots. I cried a bit. I vacuumed her long fur from her spot on the sofa, her favorite corner of the living room rug and her cubby in the bottom of the bedroom closet. Chad and I will be lint-rolling her fur off of our clothes and furniture for many years to come. Marigold's fur seemingly regenerates and multiplies, and will serve as a reminder of her long and sassy life.



Marigold's tongue was usually sticking out at all of us


Marigold after a bath


Marigold's favorite spot on the sofa


Marigold exploring the deck


Marigold tried to recruit the tiny foster kittens as her minions



Friday, November 25, 2016

Five Holiday Highlights

Call me awful, but after too many years of working retail and working as a professional petsitter/mobile veterinary technician, the holidays make me antsy and angsty. While the rest of polite American society celebrated, relaxed and reveled, I worked crazy long hours of emotional toil. I've nearly overcome the twice-weekly rude awakenings of bolting straight up in bed during the holidays wondering what day it is, or where I am supposed to be. The holidays are difficult for many people including yours truly. Be kind to service industry workers always, but especially this time of year. If you are a service industry worker, may the force be with you.

In an attempt to better enjoy the holiday season, here are five things I'm looking forward to happening.

1. The Elf movie party at Alamo Drafthouse promises to deliver some holiday cheer for all to hear. There will be scratch and sniff stickers and props to participate in the movie magic more fully. Yay!



2. One of my favorite holiday films is Love Actually. This year we're getting out of the 1952 House and viewing Love Actually at the historic Paramount Theatre.




3. A quick three-day visit to seven of my ten nieces and nephews to attend their musical recital, color in coloring books, play board games and remind them who I am should be fun.




4. The Holiday Magic Festival of Lights sounds appropriately holiday themed, bright and magical. I can't wait to see the big Asian lantern style dragon. I know dragons aren't especially Christmasy, but I like dragons. I also like string lights and lantern lights. Win, win, win!





5.  The annual Christmas ornament exchange party for my circle of lady-friends always delivers fun and mischief. Each person brings a wrapped Christmas ornament. We each draw a number, then proceed to select ornaments in numerical order. If you see an ornament you like in someone else's paws, you can steal that ornament. That person then selects a different ornament, either a wrapped mystery ornament or an enticing bauble from someone else. Each ornament can only be stolen three times until it is safe from stealing. One year it was way too polite with minimal stealing, but most years it gets rowdy, which is way more fun. Of course, it's also nice to see ladies I rarely get to visit, catch up on each other's lives a bit and remember why we like each other.

We look harmless in the photo, but the ornament stealing gets rowdy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Five Distractions, Late Edition

Here are five reasons I didn't post Five Things Friday on Friday.

1. I was busy looking through the East Austin Studio Tour Guide to thoughtfully select our stops on the tour. My favorite artists/studios included: Eli Halpin, Kelsey Kilcrease, Jodi Rae, Patrick Moran, Satch Grimley, Leona Gallery, Liliana Wilson and Fernando Muñoz.



2. I needed to hang out with our foster cat, Dottie. For her own safety and well being, she is sequestered in the dressing room (formerly the guest room, sometimes the foster pet room). Chad and I visit her several times a day to play, pet her, feed her or watch some Netflix together. She purrs when the Friends theme song plays. We thought Dottie had a spot in the Austin Humane Society's adoption program, but she was rejected. We're turning to back-up plans now to find this sweet cat a home.






3. The 1952 House resident pets get jealous of the time I spend with Dottie. They are extra needy of attention when I emerge from Dottie's room. I made them a sky-lit cardboard box fort with crinkly paper in it. This kept them busy for about an hour. Every time I think I can disassemble the fort and recycle the materials, they suddenly find it interesting again.







4. I was super distracted by all the construction ruckus that rattles our old house. I'm so ready for this pipe replacement project to be completed. We're going on the eighth week of 12-hour-a-day noise, dust and road closures. I want my street back. I want uninterrupted access to my driveway. I'm spoiled like that.



5. I was looking forward to Chad's Aunt Kay's 80th birthday party on Saturday evening. Aunt Kay is the bee's knees. She's warm, funny and smart. Her kids (who are all just the best people) planned an awesome shindig in her honor. Chef DeAndra made chili to accommodate everyone's dietary preferences. Chad and I were honored to be invited. We had a great time!



Bonus thing: I was trying to figure out what Chad and I are doing for Thanksgiving after we participate in the Turkey Trot to benefit Caritas of Austin. We like to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on fast forward and make fun of it. We're awful like that. We should probably eat some food. I loathe typical Thanksgiving food. I think we're having oven fries, steamed broccoli and Riblets. I'm not a foodie. I'm a super finicky, strictly vegetarian/mostly vegan, dining buzzkill with a peanut allergy. I'm thankful for lots of things, especially that I don't have to sit around a table full of food I hate with a giant bird corpse featured prominently while I listen to awkward conversation and try to keep a pleasant look on my face. That mess is one of my migraine triggers.

As always, click on any photo to see it larger.
Scroll over text to see links that you can click.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Five Local NonProfits

As we look forward to Thanksgiving in the United States of America, I think it's important to remember those who are in need of help. With that in mind, in no particular order, here are my five favorite nonprofit groups in Austin, Texas. Click on the listed nonprofits for links to each website.

1. Meals on Wheels 



This organization goes above and beyond delivering healthy meals to homebound senior citizens by also offering home repair services, help with pet care, rides around town and much more!


2. Austin Humane Society



This is a no-kill, limited intake shelter that provides great services to area pets. I benefited from the Feral Cat Trap, Neuter (or Spay), Return Program when I took L.B.'s mama cat to be spayed and vaccinated. Mama Kitty won't let me touch her, but she shows up for her dinner every evening at our carport. She won't be perpetuating the cycle of homeless cats with more kittens, and can have a safer, healthier life thanks to the TNR program.

Found cat, who we call Dottie

I will also benefit from placing our found cat, Dottie, into the adoption program if her owners don't claim her by November 27th. I have tried diligently to find this cat's family by posting 25 fliers around town in a three mile radius of our home, posting her to different found cat/found pet groups on Facebook and Neighbors websites, and updating Austin Animal Center and 311 with found cat posts. No luck yet. She is so sweet and affectionate. I know she will find a new loving home through the Austin Humane Society. (We can not, I repeat, NOT, have five cats in this little house!)

Dottie was rejected by the Austin Humane Society's adoption program. Despite being sweet at first during the intake process, she reacted negatively during and after a vaccination. I'm now scrambling to find a back-up plan for this sweet, abandoned cat. It's my fault for not understanding that she might be rejected by the Austin Humane Society. The Austin Humane Society said Dottie can try again on January 2 to pass the intake test, but sweet Dottie is probably not a fit for their highly selective adoption program. 


3. Central Texas Food Bank



This wonderful organization helps people access healthy foods in times of need through a variety of programs and services.


4. Emancipet (which has activated wonder twin powers with Animal Trustees of Austin!)



Emancipet's mission is to make spay/neuter services and veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners. Emancipet nips the problem of pet overpopulation in the bud, literally, with spay and neuter services, and helps pet guardians keep their pets healthy.

Our sweet dog, Janie, went to Animal Trustees of Austin which is now part of Emancipet, before we adopted her for a femoral head ostectomy, or FHO, surgery. This procedure helped repair a serious injury and allowed our sweet dog to keep all four of her legs. Over the years we have made donations to both Emancipet and Animal Trustees of Austin. I love that two of my favorite pet organizations have now joined forces to provide more comprehensive services under the Emancipet moniker, and that they have expanded beyond Austin with clinics and mobile units serving Houston, Killeen, Pflugerville and many areas in between.


5. Caritas of Austin



Caritas of Austin provides a service continuum for those experiencing poverty that begins with a safety net and links them to resources to achieve self-sufficiency. They use a housing first approach to provide stability to their clients.

What are your favorite nonprofit groups? Make a plan to help these groups by donating or through volunteering!

San Juan Island, Washington Travelogue

I'm parting from the usual way I write a travelogue for this post. Here are some general impressions and highlights of our trip to San Juan Island, Washington.

We took a bus from Seattle to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, then caught the Washington State Department of Transportation ferry to Friday Harbor at San Juan Island. This journey took about four hours total. I wish I'd planned our trip for before Labor Day when the Victoria Clipper boat travels straight from downtown Seattle to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island almost daily during the high tourist season. We would have preferred to travel this more direct and scenic way. Full disclosure: I don't love bus fumes or watching people disembark at sad casinos on the way to my destination. The bus (actually a big bus to a smaller second shuttle bus) was a bummer.

Once we boarded the ferry to San Juan Island, I anticipated the remoteness of our destination with a sense of optimism. The views from the deck of the ferry were beautiful and idyllic: mountains, hills, trees, clean water and lots of birds. There are no bridges to drive to the island. One arrives to the island via boat or small aircraft. Cars are allowed on the island. The Washington State ferry transports cars along with people to the island.

By our second day on the island, I started to sense the downside to the remoteness of this island that depends on tourism for much of its economy. We were there during the very last week of the tourist season. About half of the resident islanders we encountered seemed emotionally exhausted and/or wary of visitors. I'm sure the tourism board of San Juan Island would take issue with this opinion of mine. I've spent the vast majority of my working life in service jobs in retail, child care and pet care. I sympathize strongly with people who are weary of slapping a customer service ready smile on their tired face day after day. Had we chosen to visit San Juan Island in May or early June, nearer to the start of tourist season, I bet we would have felt more welcome. Islanders call the mainland of Washington state "America", despite being Americans and residents of Washington state.

Here's some awful context for why the residents may have felt emotionally skittish during our visit. Two tourists were part of a murder-suicide on Lopez Island (part of the San Juan Islands) just weeks before our visit. A San Juan Island resident of Friday Harbor allegedly murdered his wife in their home just days before our visit. That's an extraordinary amount of violent crime happening in a small, remote, close-knit community in a short time span. 

Chad and I still had varying degrees of upper respiratory illness during this trip. I'm sure that added to my less-than-glowing impression of our vacation destination.

There's the bad and the ugly, up front and out of the way. Let's get to the good!

We loved our lunch at Herb's Tavern, a Friday Harbor institution. Herb's Tavern has a sense of history, but you won't find any dusty corners. This very clean and appropriately, but not overly, friendly tavern is conveniently located within stumbling distance of the ferry landing in Friday Harbor. Chad had the best veggie burger ever with a small mountain of perfect fries. I had a big house salad that was fresh, delicious and just what I needed. We felt welcome here.



We liked the charming look of Friday Harbor. The waterfront is beautiful. The main part of town looks very old-school Americana and quaint. There are lovely hanging planters overflowing with blooms. The little movie theater has two screens, but no website. You have to call the theater to hear a recorded message with show times. The main day spa in town shares a wall with a really cute gas station. The Pelindaba Lavender shop sells lavender goods from the farm on the island, and wafts soothing scents for a 250 foot radius around the shop. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in the main part of town. Of course, there are plenty of t-shirt shops. The good-sized grocery store had lots of delicious apples grown in Washington state when we visited. Yum!

There was a lovely, friendly, vegan restaurant on this semi-remote island! Mike's Cafe and Wine Bar was just steps from our hotel. Located in a sweet former residential house with a lovely outdoor dining area, this is the kind of place that I'd love to have in Austin. The menu was refreshingly diverse for a plant-based restaurant. Chad loved his "crabby" cakes served with mashed cauliflower and perfectly steamed broccolini. I enjoyed a BBQ "chicken" pizza. For the less adventurous diners, a hummus platter with fresh raw veggies and pita bread was on the menu.


Hiking along one of the roads at English Camp

In 1859, the United States of America and Great Britain agreed that San Juan Island would be occupied by military from both nations until a water boundary dispute could be settled. English Camp was established on one end of the island and American Camp on the other end of the island. Chad and I spent five hours hiking all over English Camp. We had most of the trails to ourselves that day. We especially enjoyed the waterfront views from Bell Point and Westcott Bay. We encountered a giant red-headed woodpecker pecking at trees with the force of a jackhammer. We admired him for a few minutes. He fled the scene as soon as we reached for our camera phones. We also tiptoed gently past a couple of groups of baby deer and mama deer. We spotted a few giant spiders and their webs from respectful distances. The Parade Grounds and English Cemetery had informational plaques with old barracks and headstones still in place. Hiking at English Camp was our favorite activity on San Juan Island.


Totem poles in the style of Salish Native Americans at English Camp


A very close second for our favorite activity was a whale watching boat tour around the San Juan Islands. We took a four hour cruise with Crystal Seas Whale Watching on board The Odyssey. The Odyssey is a large, comfortable boat with bathrooms, enclosed viewing areas and open deck viewing areas. There were two enthusiastic and knowledgeable "naturalists" on board to help identify wildlife, talk about whale history and answer questions. We were a bit late in the season to spot any orcas, but we saw a bald eagle, harbor porpoise, seals, sea lions and a pair of minke whales fishing near each other. The minke whales were impressive! I was thrilled to see the amount of wildlife that we did, especially from such a comfortable setting. If you go to San Juan Island, I highly recommend Crystal Seas Whale Watching.

We did not have a car on the island. We enjoyed being able to walk to everything in the main part of Friday Harbor. We bought a day pass for the San Juan Transit bus to shuttle to the Pelindaba Lavender Farm, Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, the outdoor sculpture park, Lime Kiln Point Park, the above-mentioned English Camp and other island destinations. This mode of transportation was much cheaper than taking a cab everywhere or renting a car. We enjoyed the humorous, colorful and informative commentary from the shuttle driver. The shuttle adhered to the scheduled stops punctually.

On our travel day to get home, we set the alarm clock for 4:15 AM to make the cruel early hour of our departure on the 5:45 AM ferry. After arriving at the Anacortes ferry station we then had to wait two hours for a small shuttle bus which took us to a larger shuttle bus which took us to Seattle Tacoma Airport. There we stood in a ridiculously long line to check in for the four hour long Southwest Airlines flight home. I was so ready to get home to my terrible pets (each of whom I love fiercely) and my own bed.

I'm glad that we went to San Juan Island, Washington. I doubt that I'll return, because it was laborious to travel there from Austin. There are too many other wonderful places on this planet that I haven't seen yet.

*Click here for a link to the official, and very helpful, website for travel to the San Juan Islands.*


Friday, November 04, 2016

Five Fave Vacation Destinations

I am a homebody. I like hanging out with my too many pets and watching Netflix, reading a book or working a puzzle. I know it might not seem like it based on my Trip Advisor senior reviewer status, but I don't love traveling. Often I prefer watching travel shows on Travel Channel to actually traveling. I consider how welcoming (or not welcoming) a place feels to be a major factor of how much I enjoy (or don't enjoy) visiting that place. With these disclaimers, here are my five favorite places to which I've traveled, in no particular order.

1. Rome, Italy



History, great architecture, rich culture, passionate people and beauty everywhere made me love Rome. Thanks to Elsa Gramola of A Taste of Italy in Austin for being a wonderful tour planner and guide. Click *here* and *here* for my original blog posts about visiting Rome.

2. Cambridge, England



I didn't love London. Shocking! I did love our day trip to Cambridge. Cambridge felt very much like what I imagine Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books might look like. Grand castle-like buildings house class rooms, lecture halls and student residences in this charming university city. Cozy pubs, posh restaurants, magical candy shops and charming tea rooms line the cobblestone streets. The River Cam runs through this city with longboats slowly cruising up and down. It certainly helped my impression of the city that we met up with one of Chad's client-friends in the evening who kindly showed us around his hometown. *Click here for a link to my original blog post about visiting Cambridge.*

3. Seattle, Washington



I don't usually like big bustling cities, but I love Seattle. I like the waterfront, the generally welcoming people, the history, the wealth of vegetarian dining options, the proximity to alluring natural settings, the unique charm, the clouds and the lovely public spaces that encourage a sense of community in this city. Click *here* and *here* for blog posts about our recent trip to Seattle.

4. Hood River and nearby Multnomah Falls, Oregon



This sweet, small town only had one movie theater with two screens when we visited, but it has an enormity of natural beauty, a couple of breweries, a relaxed and welcoming vibe, and is near many farms and orchards. Click *here* for my short, but link-heavy blog post about our trip to Hood River, Oregon and Multnomah Falls. I would gladly visit Hood River again when I need a relaxing vacation.

5. Key West, Florida



I'm not a big drinker of alcohol. If someone asks, "Do you like to party?" my answer will be no. I like to plan beautiful events and sweat every thoughtful detail, but I do not like "to party". I enjoyed Key West not for the drinky/party reputation, but for the rich history, natural beauty and mellow vibe. I loved the beautiful snorkeling, kayaking among the Mangrove trees and the touring Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West. Click *here*, *here*, *here*, *here* and *here* for my original blog posts about visiting KeyWest. Wow, five posts for a five day trip! I guess I really did love that trip!

As I wrote this post about my five favorite travel places, I realized I still haven't written a travelogue for San Juan Island, Washington. I'm procrastinating, because while I certainly enjoyed bits of that trip, overall I did not love that destination. I will post about that trip... soon. Really.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Five Reasons I Stay in Austin

I cannot tell a lie. Between the traffic, the human hordes, the loss of too many things that gave Austin its unique (some might say weird) character, the near-constant state of construction all over Austin and the "warmer than normal" weather in a place that I've always considered to be too hot, I am antsy to leave Austin. I want to move somewhere that has real seasons, not just allergy seasons. I want a slower pace of life in a less populated city with a lower cost of living.


video



As I walked around my neighborhood yesterday, dodging the bulldozers and breathing in the dust of road construction, I pondered why I was sweating so profusely. Probably the 85 degree Fahrenheit temperature and bright sun bearing down upon me... on October 27.

Despite all of the above-mentioned mess, here are five things that keep me in Austin.

1. A few good, dependable friends. You know who you are! I would miss you too much if I moved away from Austin.

2. Austin is one of the most vegetarian and vegan friendly cities in the United States according to several polls/lists including the Huffington Post. *Click here for the link.* I don't always feel like cooking. I love that Austin has so many vegetarian and vegan restaurants! I also love that Wheatsville Co-op and local HEB grocery stores offer many clearly-labeled vegan options in their prepared foods and frozen foods cases. I don't often brave the traffic or crowds to go to Whole Foods Market lately, but it's there when I need it!

3. Austin is a pet friendly city full of no-kill shelters and pet rescue groups. Of course, this presents challenges to maintain the 90% live outcome rate for pets entering the Austin Animal Center, but I love that this city of mine tries so diligently to get pets spayed/neutered, to offer low-cost veterinary care to those who need it, to get pets into good homes and to allow neighborhood cats to be vaccinated, spayed/neutered and returned to their neighborhoods.

4. The Lower Colorado River, also known as Lake Austin and Ladybird Lake or Town Lake, this river runs through downtown with jogging paths all along the banks. Not that I jog. Eww. Okay, once I jogged on the trails by the lake for an educational video to be shown in Science Museums, but that was acting. I got paid to do that. I like to walk. I also like to kayak when the lake is not too crowded.




5. Our wonderfully kind veterinarians and vet techs at Highlands Pet Medical Clinic. When you have as many pets as we do, finding a veterinarian who likes cats and doesn't outwardly judge your menagerie of furry housemates is important.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Five Cancelled Shows I'm Watching

Here are five television series that I'm watching after they originally aired. I'm limiting this list to American television shows, because foreign television shows I like to watch is a separate list for a future post.

1. Limitless was on CBS (watching on Netflix streaming)

This television show picks up with a new character and the same premise as the movie: a wonder drug that renders users super-smart and super-resourceful. There may be hideous consequences to using the drug. Uh-oh. This show is silly, requiring suspension of disbelief about how the FBI operates. This show is also suspenseful fun. I look forward to season two, so somebody better pick up this great show after CBS cancelled it. Amazon, Netflix, Hulu... anybody?




2. Hart to Hart was on ABC (watching on DVD)

This television show from the 1980s featured a wealthy couple, their butler and their cute mutt-dog as amateur sleuths involved in increasingly ridiculous mysteries. Hart to Hart aired after my bedtime, but sometimes if my dad was out of town, as he was frequently for work, I got to stay up past bedtime to watch. I thought the Harts were the height of glamour as a kid. As an adult, this show is pure brain-candy.




3. Charlie's Angels was on ABC (watching on DVD)

I watched this television show from the 1970s in syndication as a kid in the 1980s/90s. I wasn't able to watch the episodes in order until they came out on DVD. This show was ridiculous even when I watched as a child. As an adult, watching three female detectives do all the work for their male boss, who remains elusive... seems about right. Just kidding! The show is still ridiculous, but in a fun, kitschy manner. Any reason for the characters to don a bikini, revealing evening gown or short-shorts was written into almost every script. I loathe that those awful high-waisted, flared leg pants they wore on the show are back in style. (I politely rebuff this fashion trend, but you do you.)




4. Mr. Belvedere was on ABC (watching on DVD)

Mr. Belvedere came on Friday nights when I was a young kid. I loved this reassuring show in which a posh, British butler with a storied history of regal employment took care of a suburban family in Pittsburgh. I didn't watch all the seasons as a kid. Some episodes are totally new to me now. In an increasingly frightening world, I wish Mr. Belvedere would care for my household while imparting pithy and valuable life lessons. Alas, I don't have an extra bedroom for Mr. Belvedere. I'm not sure how amenable he would be to my multitude of pets or my mostly vegan dietary preferences.




5. The Mysteries of Laura was on NBC (watching on Netflix streaming)

I'm sad this series was canceled after only two seasons. What a fun mystery series meets police procedural! This show had heart and likability. Again, there is much suspension of disbelief. How does Detective Laura Diamond solve crime in the gritty city, meet her fellow detectives for celebratory drinks and still make it home to tuck in her twin boys for bedtime? Because no real human being can accomplish all of that in one day, or even two days, especially not while driving a Volvo station wagon.




Have a great weekend! Maybe you can find time to watch something good, or fun, or fun and good.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Seattle Travelogue - One More Day

Our last full day in Seattle began much like our first full day in Seattle. It also happened to be Chad's birthday!  We tend to travel often on or around Chad's birthday. One year we visited friends in Chicago. (Hi Jenny and Rob! Thanks again!) Among other fun activities, our friends thoughtfully made reservations for brunch on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center. Wow, the view from up there! One year we celebrated Chad's birthday in London, where we rode the London Eye and went to proper sugar-overload afternoon tea. This year we celebrated in Seattle.

Since we needed to check out a few more silly tourist traps, after breakfast we hightailed it via Uber carpool to the Seattle Great Wheel.  The Seattle Great Wheel is a giant Ferris wheel with enclosed pods. This Ferris wheel rises to a height of 175 feet and extends out over the Seattle waterfront at Elliott Bay. We got four full rotations on the wheel before stopping for unloading. We visited on a clear day, and ogled downtown balconies of the wealthy, the lovely waterfront, some rooftops, hills in the distance and the Olympic Mountains. I preferred this closer view from above of Seattle to the higher view from the Space Needle. Luckily, on a not-so-busy Monday, we had the pod to ourselves. No small talk with strangers necessary! The Seattle Great Wheel delivered silly tourist fun with great views. We didn't spend long in line, less than five minutes on a not-so-busy Monday. Not waiting long and scoring a private pod definitely improved the experience.


Photo credit: Hotspots Seattle

After exiting through the gift shop and restaurant for the waterfront tourist trap area, we navigated through some dusty roadwork to the Public Market. On our past trip to Seattle together, we spent a half day perusing the Public Market, watching the fishmongers throw treasures of the sea though the air with the greatest of ease, sniffing flowers at the farmers' market stands, squeezing locally grown produce and looking at "Made in China" kitschy, plastic mess in the shop stalls. On this trip to Seattle, we made a fifteen minute perfunctory pass through the Public Market. Yes, it's all still there. Moving on...


exterior light fixtures at Seattle Public Market


We wanted to get away from the aimless hordes of tourists near the Public Market post haste. I react to large crowds in one of three ways: I get tunnel vision, going about my business with a selective view of my objective; I get all kinds of anxious and have to consciously regulate my breathing; or my fight or flight response opts for flight. We traveled uphill several blocks away from the crowds to the flagship Nordstrom department store at 500 Pine Street. This is the nicest, most luxurious Nordstrom store. Anywhere. Ever. Which is why we had to go.

Carl F. Wallin, a Seattle shoemaker, met John W. Nordstrom in Alaska and offered him a partnership in a shoe store. In 1901 they opened their first store in Seattle at Fourth and Pike. That store eventually became the largest shoe store in the country. In the mid 1920s John W. Nordstrom's three sons bought out their father's and Mr. Wallin's shares in the store. The younger Nordstrom generation added clothing for the entire family to the shoe offerings. By 1960 they opened the department store renamed "Nordstrom Best" very near the current flagship store in downtown Seattle. 

The Nordstrom flagship store in downtown Seattle reminds me of Selfridges department store in London. Both physical locations are housed in grand structures with a sense of history near bustling city centers. Both stores employ plenty of staff (mostly) eager to help in a non-pushy manner. Both stores offer examples of some of the most exclusive, expensive and creative fashion designs, which I was able to paw through and examine up close and personal. Some of the fashions are downright wacky, some are made of scratchy fabrics, but some are too lovely and wonderful for words. Of course, there are multiple shoe departments strategically placed all over the spacious department store. We didn't purchase anything, but we greatly enjoyed looking. And pawing.

Chad and I walked across a skybridge to the neighboring and moderately posh Pacific Place shopping center in search of lunch. We both wanted a fresh salad real bad. Eureka! The Il Fornaio Bakery Cafe serves choose-your-own-adventure hand-tossed salads in a casual counter service bistro setting. This super-cute bakery cafe runs daily specials. Mondays are free cookie day. Yes, please! (Readers, you may be wondering to yourselves, "I thought these dorks were vegan. What's with all the not-vegan food on this trip?" Our salads were vegan. The cookies were not. We chose to exercise our travel and/or birthday cheat options throughout much of this trip as we are still quite new to going vegan. Thanks for the eggs, chickens. I'm sorry. Thanks for the milk, cows. I'm sorry. We did keep it strictly vegetarian at least.) The salads and the perfect chocolate chip cookies were so good. 

After yummy lunch, we took an Uber back to our hotel for Chad's afternoon nap and my stare-at-my-phone and reading time. After 90 minutes, both rejuvenated, we took the elevator down to the Pineapple Bar in the lobby of the Maxwell Hotel for Chad's birthday libations. And, yes, we were both still in the throws of head colds. I hear that alcohol kills germs. (I know that's not how that works, but it was Chad's birthday.) We each had one drink heavy with pineapple juice, which packs some vitamin C punch. It was kind of like cough syrup. 

For dinner we ambled a few blocks down Roy Street from our hotel to The Masonry for amazingly good Neapolitan style pizza baked in a wood fired oven. This is not a fancy, fine dining place. The Masonry occupies a small space with humble seating. Watching and smelling the wood fired oven over the bar was a treat. The well curated craft beer offerings were a delight. All the food was excellent. We had house-pickled vegetables served in a small jar. These were great with just the right balance of spice and crunch. Upon recommendation from our server, we also had the wood fired oven roasted cauliflower with tomatoes and olives. The dish was perfect with a bit of roasted char on the well seasoned veggies. We shared a Margherita pizza that was everything we expected and more: from the chewy crust to the fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Dinner at The Masonry was my favorite meal on this trip, hands down.

Our tummies full, we walked around the Queen Anne neighborhood seeing what was what. I love this area of Seattle, because it is close to downtown without being downtown. I like that real people live in this neighborhood. It's not overrun with other tourists.

The bartender at the Pineapple Bar advised us to go for dessert at Toulouse Petit a few blocks from the hotel. She described as having "like 500 candles on the walls, so romantic" with "the most amazing desserts." The front wall of the restaurant shows influences of a French cathedral meets a cozy bar. The side walls are indeed lined with a multitude of votive candles. The light fixtures are Art Nouveau style and lovely. The tables are crafted with beautiful woodwork. The floor tiles are patterned with craftsmanship and care. This place is a feast for the eyes. We ordered a brownie sundae which arrived with expertly caramelized banana slices atop an ideal brownie. Caramel and hot fudge sauces accompanied the sundae for DIY drizzling. The brownie sundae was amazingly good. We also had the trio of small creme brulee. Sadly the tops of the creme brulee were overly torched, and the flavor suffered for it. The vanilla creme brulee was identifiable, but we couldn't tell the strawberry from the pistachio of the other two creme brulee due to the overwhelming burnt sugar taste. Overall Toulouse Petit was lovely. 


Toulouse Petit with its many candles


With a busy travel itinerary the next day, we didn't stay out too late. Chad reports that he greatly enjoyed his birthday in Seattle. I also enjoyed our limited time in Seattle. It was just the right amount of time in the bustling city, before we slowed it down on San Juan Island.

Tune in sometime in the near future for our San Juan Island, Washington travelogue. 

Currently back at home, I sprained my ankle on Wednesday night. My ankle feels almost better, but Nurse Chad has ordered me to stay off my feet for one more day. Otherwise, this blog post would have been delayed by my search for a new gym to join. Send my ankle happy, healing thoughts. Take it from me, don't walk your dog after dark in three-inch wedge heels amidst torn-up roadways.  Learn from my silly mistake. Ouch!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Five Things I'll Miss About My Gym

My gym is closing permanently today. Forever. No more of my gym. Here are five things I'll miss about my gym. 

1. I participated in a small group training class twice a week. I'll miss the encouragement of the other ladies in our small group. We cheered for each other to finish difficult exercises, or to pick up a heavier kettle bell weight. I'll miss those ladies, and talking with them every Tuesday and Thursday. 

2. My gym was for ladies only. I hardly ever had to wait for a machine or set of weights that I wanted to use. Some of the weight machines that showed diagrams of the muscles worked by the particular exercise had long hair drawn on the clearly male diagrams to make them look more feminine. The diagrams with the ladies' good hair drawn on them always made me smile. We're just ladies living in a muscle-man's world, but with a Sharpie, we can make it look like a muscle-lady diagram.

3. I was a member of this gym off and on for over twelve years. I will miss this haven of happy brain chemicals that exercise induced. If I had a bad day, or had trouble focusing, I could usually correct the situation with time on the elliptical machines or a Zumba class. After my dad died suddenly and unexpectedly ten years ago, I worked out some of my grief at this gym, sometimes quietly crying on the elliptical machine, trying to find my will to keep moving.

4. I'll miss the gym's motto: "no makeup, no problem, no men." I realize this is a sexist/genderist statement, but it sold more than a few memberships.

5. I'll miss the convenience of going to a gym that shared a shopping center with a post office, library, Snap healthy kitchen and my favorite HEB grocery store in town. It was so convenient to park once, and do every errand.

Bonus thing I'll miss: approximately seven more months on my fully paid annual membership. The group that owns the gym says refunds are being issued as funds become available, but I'm not holding my breath.

I will find another gym and/or another small group training class. It will be good to meet new people. It will be good to break out of my routine. If I keep saying these things, I will maybe start to believe it, and maybe make it happen.

Premiere Lady Fitness, you will be missed. Sorely.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Seattle Travelogue - First 36 Hours

Chad and I typically take one trip each year that does not involve visiting family members or work. (Some years our finances or work schedules don't allow for non-family-visit travel. Staycations are the worst. We've tried staycations a few times with stupid results. We did too many chores and house projects, rather than resting or having fun.) This year we visited Seattle and San Juan Island, Washington.

Chad made many work trips to Seattle over the years, but work trips are spent working, not doing fun stuff. (Overpriced, overlong client dinners are decidedly not fun. Don't believe anyone who tries to humble-brag to the contrary.) Chad and I visited Seattle together about 19 years ago when we were mere babes. Seattle changed and grew since our last visit, and so have we.

We flew Southwest Airlines to Seattle. I have a love/hate relationship with Southwest Airlines. I love how cheap the fares are if you are able to plan in advance. I love that Southwest offers direct daily flights between Seattle and Austin. I love how friendly most of the Southwest gate agents and flight attendants are. I love that the first checked bag is free on Southwest Airlines. I hate that Southwest Airlines tends to be in the armpit end of most airports they service. (RDU, I'm looking at you. That Southwest Terminal is yucky.) I hate that Southwest serves the not-as-popular airport in major cities like Chicago and Dallas. I hate that Southwest Airlines doesn't assign seats on flights, and instead gives customers a boarding group and number. Sometimes the whole unassigned seats situation leads to anxiety and bad behavior on the part of travelers. I hate that at any given airport, on any given day, Southwest Airlines has the longest flight check-in lines by far.

Other than the long check-in lines, our Southwest flights for this trip were on time, friendly and safe. Oh, and cheap.

After research on tripadvisor.com I chose the Maxwell Hotel in Seattle for our three night stay in the city. Chad and I both loved the Maxwell Hotel in Seattle! Conveniently located in the Queen Anne neighborhood near many restaurants and near Seattle Center which includes Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Space Needle, our hotel room featured a perfect view of the Space Needle!

Actual view from The Maxwell Hotel room

The Maxwell Hotel has modern, whimsical decor. There were interactive art pieces in the elevators like this rotating words piece that made sentences about regional sports teams, tourist attractions and fun activities.

Interactive elevator art at The Maxwell Hotel

The bedding was super-soft and European style, meaning we each got our own duvet. Chad and I agreed that we slept very well at the Maxwell Hotel, especially considering it was a hotel. (We both sleep in earplugs. I don't understand how anyone can sleep in a hotel without earplugs. We weren't bothered by other guests walking down the hall.) The bathroom was spacious with plenty of counter space for makeup bags, hair tools and dopp kits. Also there was a nightlight in the bathroom, which is genius. 

Our first night in Seattle after a long day of travel, we walked down Roy Street less than a block from the hotel to Bamboo Garden Vegetarian Cuisine. The fake meat balls that came with my Sesame "Chick'n" and with Chad's Sweet and Sour "Pork" dishes were delicious, but really dense. While we're always delighted to find a vegetarian restaurant when traveling, this restaurant's dishes would benefit from more vegetable and fruit ingredients to balance the density of the fake meat products. 

A bit jet-lagged and both in varying stages of a shared head-cold (thanks to Chad's germs) we retired early to our comfortable hotel room. 

Our first full day in Seattle, Chad woke up before I did. Using his super-power of getting ready really fast, he headed downstairs for breakfast. The Maxwell Hotel offers ready-made breakfast items such as breakfast sandwiches, yogurt and baked goods for purchase. Chad brought a bagel and fruit cup back to the room for me just as I finished putting on my make-up and getting dressed. Yes, I'm spoiled. (In the interest of equal partnerships, please note that I did all the research and planning for our vacation, as I do for most of our trips.) 

After my breakfast and morning cup of tea, we easily walked to the Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center. Regular readers know my love of all things Chihuly glass! These exhibits and installations are gorgeous, magnificent and breathtaking. There are many rooms, halls, soaring spaces and garden settings to explore here. Chad and I both marveled at all of it. My photos don't do it justice. If you ever have opportunity to see Chihuly exhibits or installations, you must go!

Mille Fiori installation hall at Seattle's Chihuly Glass and Garden


Garden installation with huge sweeping interior installation in background








We took advantage of a discounted bundled admission ticket to visit the Seattle Space Needle after gawping at the beautiful Chihuly art glass. During our first visit to Seattle together many years ago, one of our friends from college graciously showed us around Seattle. He forbade us from going to the Space Needle. He decided it was for tourists and silly. We tried to argue that we were tourists, but our friend still said no. On this trip to Seattle, we could see the Space Needle from our hotel room window. It beckoned. We couldn't resist. While walking up the ramp to the elevator for the observation deck, we read about the history, engineering and construction of the Space Needle for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The elevator traveled quickly to the observation deck level, reaching an altitude of 520 feet in 41 seconds. As the elevator doors opened we were walloped by the smell of a diner serving hash browns, waffles and burnt coffee. Um, no thanks. The views outside on the observation deck of rooftops and other skyscrapers were interesting, but not awe inspiring. Thanks to clear sunny skies, we saw Mount Rainier in the distance. Yep, there it was. In its day, I'm sure the Space Needle was way impressive, but with all of today's high rise buildings and air travel, not so much. The Space Needle feels kitschy and retro-futurist like an episode of The Jetsons cartoon. Maybe skip this tourist activity if you're on a limited budget. Definitely explore Seattle Center. The day we visited a Hawaiian festival featured food trucks, hula dancers and Hawaiian music. We also enjoyed watching joyful kids and an unfortunate group of boot camp exercisers run around in the big water feature area. 

We returned to the hotel for Chad's afternoon nap and my stare at my phone time. 75 minutes later, both rejuvenated, we went to a late lunch at The Rock Wood Fired Pizza Kitchen on the ground floor of Maxwell Hotel. Do you love sports? I don't, which is probably a big part of why I failed to appreciate The Rock. Giant televisions every ten feet broadcasting sports loudly. I drank lemonade at 2:00 in the afternoon, but the table tent promotions hawked beers and buckets of margaritas, yes buckets! The service was friendly and efficient. The pizza was not so good. Maybe after a bucket of margaritas that pizza tastes better? My bad for not researching the restaurant more, and for going somewhere that was not my scene. 

After lunch we hopped in an Uber carpool to head downtown so we could ogle the Seattle Public Library Main Branch. Wow! We marveled at the glass and steel beauty from the outside and from the inside. The library houses a small gift shop and coffee bar inside. There are many comfortable chairs and sofas upon which to sit and read in the abundance of natural light that the glass walls invite. An open atrium allows peeks at the stacks in the upper levels of the library. Librarians sit ready to assist with everything from periodicals to young adult literature. This library is not just an architectural marvel, but also very inviting. If I lived in Seattle, I'd spend much time here. 





Next we decided to hoof it a few blocks to The Underground Tour. Did you know that most of Seattle was destroyed by a giant fire in the early days of settlement? I had a vague notion of this based on a Scooby Doo cartoon (true tidbit), and wanted to learn more. Our tour began with a humorous and informative history lesson about Seattle's early leaders and industries. The tour group visited several underground spots learning about the great fire's effects on the culture, engineering and rebuilding of Seattle. Being in the old underground spaces felt like a little adventure, like seeing secrets behind the curtain. I was particularly interested to learn that the "seamstress" (a.k.a. negotiable affections worker) wage tax funded most of the reconstruction of Seattle after the great fire. The tour dealt with adult subject matter in a winking, semi-respectful manner. The tour may not be the history lesson that children need to hear, but as an adult, I loved it. 

After the tour we surfaced above ground to daylight and massive crowds as a Seattle Seahawks football game just ended. Thanks to the nice weather coupled with the human and automotive traffic jam, we decided to walk back to the Maxwell Hotel. We walked past the Public Market. We saw the waterfront. We met a few dogs out for their walks. Some Scientologists offered us a free lecture. Just say no! After 45 minutes of hilly walking, we had a good workout. 

At this point we were understandably tired, and just wanted to relax. We ate leftovers from the previous night's dinner at Bamboo Garden as we watched a few episodes of syndicated The Big Bang Theory on television. Neither of us wanted the leftover pizza from The Rock, because really, it was not so good.

Tune in at some point in the near future to read more travelogue from Seattle and San Juan Island.


Friday, October 07, 2016

Five Ways I'm Celebrating My Birthday Early

My birthday is Saturday, October 8. Here are five things I've done already to celebrate my birthday.

1. I renewed my driver's license. So, that was 90 minutes of smelling all the odors, and bemoaning the lack of WiFi strength there. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety:

"You must appear in a driver license office at least once every twelve (12) years for a vision test and to update your photo, signature and fingerprints."


Has it really been 12 years already? Happy Birthday to me, because I get to keep driving legally. 



2. I appreciated this cute Google doodle set for my birthday.










3. I got a manicure and pedicure at Embellish nail salon today. Love it! Last year I booked a mani-pedi at an expensive, fancy day spa, only to have that fancy place call the morning of my birthday last year and tell me that the foot spa was broken and they couldn't do my appointment. Then the fancy place, which has my birthday all over my account information there, didn't even wish me a happy birthday. Subsequently, the fancy day spa that charged twice the price for a mani-pedi lost me to Embellish as a customer. I love Embellish!



4. Chad and I ate dinner tonight at The Beer Plant, which opened just last week. The whole menu is vegan. We got to choose from the whole menu! (As opposed to hunting through the menu and asking the server too many questions to find something vegan to eat.) The setting is dark and moody in a nice way. The food is excellent. I'm so excited to have a delicious, brick and mortar (as opposed to food truck), vegan restaurant so close to my home. I'm so excited to eat the leftovers tomorrow. Seriously. Buffalo Cauliflower, Jardinero quinoa tacos and the Southern Comfort plate of vegan versions of comfort food made my taste buds so happy! Even if you're not vegan, you will like this gastropub.





5. I opened the Birthday Cake Oreos. Instant party. 


I've already done five things to celebrate, and it isn't even officially my birthday yet.  It's going to be outstanding. I feel it.