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.

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 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.