Friday, September 28, 2012

Adventures in Fostering: Keeping Kitties Safe

I can't believe that it will be one week tomorrow that I've had these little babies. They are gaining weight and getting strong- and boy do they like to play!! The kitty cam is gaining more viewers, and I certainly enjoy getting to watch them throughout the day. Their routine is pretty simple: sleep, eat, play, pee/poop- repeat! All. Day. Long.

A couple of viewers have commented on how long they stay in their "cage". First, I like to refer to it as their playpen. It's their safe place, and keeps them out of harm while we're away from the house. It's a lot like crate training a dog- you help them be aware of their space, teach them good potty habits, and keep them out of trouble. Little kittens- while awfully cute- can also be destructive. They haven't learned the rules of the house yet, so it's best for everyone (our other pets included) to give them their own spot to chill out in during the day.

When we're home, the kitties get the chance to run around Hank's office (where their pen is located), and they also get to explore the living room when we can keep our eye on them. They love exploring the lower window sills, and climbing on the couch. They also love it when Maddie chases them around. Luckily, all 4 of our animals have behaved themselves around the kittens, and in turn, the kitties are acclimating well to being around other pets. This will help them tremendously when it comes time for them to adapt to their forever homes.

I wish I had more pictures to share, but the truth is they are only still when they're sleeping. Hank was able to snag this picture of them the other day- "just another day at the office."

I'm going to try and get some better pictures of them this weekend- I need them to create flyers for when I take them to adoption events. That's still a few weeks away, so at least I have some time.

Both kitties are eating well, and Bess is using the litter box 100% now! That has certainly helped with how often I'm cleaning up their pen. It does take some work taking care of them, but I have loved every second of it. Their morning feeding is probably my favorite, and it's certainly when they're the most vocal. They are HUNGRY first thing in the morning and cry until I get that plate of wet food in front of them. But other than feeding them several times a day, scooping out the litter box, and making sure they're bedding is all nice and clean- the rest of the time is just playing with them and keeping them out of trouble. Anyone could do this, really!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September Birchbox

This month's box was kind-of a dud, I'm not going to lie. There was only one product that I truly loved. I do plan on ordering it, so I guess that's kind-of a success. But nothing else in there was all that exciting to me. The theme was Favorite Fall Trends, but nothing about the items seemed all that "trendy" to me.

Items in my box, in order of favorite to least favorite (or least useful):

Vasanti Brighten Up! Face Rejuvenator ($34.00)- This scrub has some serious enzymes and microderm crystals that help break down dead cells and fade the appearance of fine lines and scars. The first time I used this, it felt like I had scrubbed off half my face- in a good way! My skin felt amazing, and I will be placing my order first thing tomorrow when my paycheck is deposited. For the price, this is a quality microderm scrub!

Bvlgari Mon Jasmin Noir ($83.00)- I like this smell- the description says "sophisticated blend of florals and earthy notes". The only problem is that I now have a Spring/Summer signature fragrance, and a Fall/Winter signature fragrance. I really don't need any more right now. But the sample size is perfect for my gym bag, and smelling nice throughout the day when I shower at work.

WEI to Go Sleep Over Kit: Real Clean and Ideal Skin ($19.00): I'm totally confused by this packaging. It seems very wasteful, and wasn't that easy to use. It's a shame, because the products are actually decent. It comes with two Gelled Oil Cleansers, and one Perfect Finish pod (I got two applications out of it. I just don't think the packaging makes it any more useful for a sleepover than having a trial sized container. For the money, it's not a bargain to me.

Brush Guard Variety Pack ($5.50): If you invest in nice make-up brushes, then these are a necessity. They partner perfectly with the brush cleanser I got two boxes ago! You wash your make-up brushes, and use these to help them keep their shape while they're drying.

twistband Lace up for Fall ($22.00)- $22.00 for 12 cheap looking hair ties that don't even hold my hair in a ponytail? No thank you. I have exceptionally thin hair, so these probably work great for someone with thick hard. But I can buy a box of rubberbands for $3 and look just as fashionable.

ColorClub Custom Collection ($8.00)- The color I received was Put a Pin In It....and it looks like death on my skin. That's all I've got to say about that.

I'm not all that disappointed in my box- just wish it had been a little more exciting. I signed up for the "exclusive" goop themed box next month, and hopefully that will have some fun items in it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kitty Cam!!

The kitty cam is live! I'm trying to pilot this project to see how much web traffic and interest it brings. If it's successful, we will try to implement this for more fosters at our Animal Shelter and hopefully increase adoptions. In order for this to be a success though, I'm asking for everyone's help. I need to spread the word and drive as much traffic to the site as possible.

Not only will you be helping me (and countless homeless animals out), but you will also be entertained by my most adorable foster kittens. When they're not napping, they are so much fun to watch!! Check out the link below, share it with your friends, and do a small part to help spread the word on adoption.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Favorite Vegan Blog- Happy. Healthy. Life.

My few loyal readers might remember the ridiculous dedicated Lent pledge that we made to forgo all animal products. It was hard, I'm not going to lie. But the end result is that we eat about 90% vegetarian now, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. We do splurge plenty (my recent weight gain will speak to that), and even have a fancy steak dinner coming up this weekend. But M-F it's usually vegetarian fare in our household.

Eating vegetarian is actually pretty easy. Coming up with exciting dinners on a weekly basis is challenging though, no matter what you eat. I read plenty of food blogs, and this one has had my attention more than most lately. Not only is her title inspiring, but I think she makes food that is accessible for just about anyone. She also happens to take pictures that make her food look nothing short of mouth watering. Her ingredients are usually seasonal, fresh, and for the most part- healthy! Take a look at Healthy. Happy. Life. Below are just a few of the images from some of the lovely dishes she's created.

Baked, Stuffed Sweet Potatoes 
Green Island Fritters over rice

Frosted Blueberry Cake

On Friday night, Hank needed to carb load for an 18 mile run Saturday morning. I felt like doing something nice for him- so I picked a recipe from this site with his favorite (and my least-favorite) ingredient.....peas. I found a recipe for Cheese, Peas 'n Pasta and it seemed perfect. I had most of the ingredients, and it didn't look like it would take too long to make. Plus, it looked (almost) as decadent at macaroni and cheese, which I love! The result? Delicious!!! I was really impressed with the dish and so happy with how it turned out.

There are so many things I want to try from this blog, and I'm looking forward to a few more healthy dishes in the near future. If you need some dinner (or breakfast or lunch) inspiration, take a look at her recipes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adventures in Kitty Fostering: My First Kitties

Saturday was a big day. I had a stellar 7 mile run in my brand new pair of limited-edition Mizuno Wave Riders. Aren't they specatular?! Funny how great a new pair of shoes can feel. Thank you CORE Running Company for ordering these for me.

After running (and refueling with coffee and breakfast tacos) I went to the shelter to help with a special project- 3 hours of unboxing and organizing 100 dog crates. I was beat! But in that process, we ended up with all these additional pieces from the crates that we could not use. I thought about it, and realized that they could easily be zip-tied together to create a play pen perfect for......FOSTER KITTIES!!

I receive emails on a daily basis with single, pairs, and whole litters of kittens in need of foster, and have been able to hold off until this weekend. I got an email with the cutest pair of kitties on Friday, and couldn't stop thinking about them. Once I realized I had a FREE play pen to keep them in, I texted Hank and it was done. He is so supportive of my crazy animal addiction and I appreciate that more than he knows!! He just said as long as I was in charge of them, he was ok with it.

So I snagged Bianca (now Bess) and Bernard and headed home. They did not make a sound the whole way, even when we stopped at my parent's house and at Petsmart. They are so teeny tiny and adorable, I can barely stand it!

Tiny, hungry kitties!

Bernard. He currently weighs 1.5 pounds, and is the lover of the pair.  Also, 100% litter box trained (my hero!)

Bess. She's the runt, weighing just 1.25 pounds. But she loves to run, climb, and tackle her brother.  Not totally litter box trained yet, but we're making significant progress.

The dogs knew something was up the second I walked in the door, but I tried to keep everyone separated for at least a few hours until the kitties were settled in. I put together their play pen (set on top of a painters cloth and two layers of towels- in case of accidents) and set up the litter box and food bowls. I had read not to use clay clumping litter (in case they eat it), so I bought a special bag of Blue Diamond kitty friendly litter. Bernard went to it almost immediately, but I could not get Bess to use the box to save my life. I don't think she liked the larger sized pellets. After a little more research, I switched to a non-clay clumping litter, set her in it and played around with my fingers a little bit to show her how fun litter can be. (I can't believe I've been reduced to this.)

Of course, Bernard saw the endless possibilities of the new litter, and immediately spread half of it out of the box, and then proceeded to lay in the hole he dug up. But finally, FINALLY.... I was able to get Bess to go in it. After much praise, I'm hoping this will be the new trend.

I let the dogs and cats come in to meet them one at a time. The dogs were all over it- Maddie's tail was wiggling so much, and she would just lay outside the pen and watch them. Marley could care less, but she likes to be in the room with the kitties and keep an eye from a distance. There was a little hissing at first, but I think they are no longer afraid of the bigger animals. I was really really hoping that my calico Bailey would play surrogate mom to the kitties- who seemed to think she was their mom as soon as she walked into the room. Bailey walked up to the playpen and sniffed the kitties, who immediately started purring. But then she hissed at them, turned around and walked back out.

Bailey and her matching kitties.

They play hard, and rest hard. I love how much they enjoy cuddling together. 

After a hard play session (they love running freely around the room, chasing each other and climbing on everything) it was time for lights out. I went to bed early, but Hank went to check on the kitties one last time. I was sound asleep when he came running in the room holding one of the kittens, yelling "the kitties got out!" Not sure what was going on, I got up, went to the office and sure enough- no kitties. The little rascals had climbed right out the top. I was warned this would happen, but figured I had at least a few days before they were brave enough to do so. I thought wrong! After wrangling up the other kitty, Hank secured the top with two additional crate pieces I brought home, and we closed the office door just in case.


I'm in the process of setting up a USTREAM feed so that I can keep my eye on them during the day. I'm not happy with my otherwise fabulous MacBook Pro right now, because Apple seems to think the built-in iSight is superior enough, so it won't play nice with any webcams. I have one that has a beautiful picture, but I just need to figure out how to get the USTREAM app to recognize it. Once that's accomplished, I'll share the link in case any other crazy cat people want to be entertained as well.

So- there is our big weekend. We should have the kitties for at least 3-4 weeks until they weigh enough for their spay and neuter surgeries. Once those are done, they will start attending adoption events until they find their forever home. A friend asked how in the world I can foster animals without keeping them all. Really- it's a lot like babysitting. You get all the fun and pleasure of taking care of them for a bit, but you get to hand them off to their parents for the bulk of the work. Yes, I get attached. But I know what I'm signing up for when I bring home a foster animal, and I love the satisfaction of finding them just the right home!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Rainy, Lazy Sunday

This past Sunday was everything you dream about when needing an excuse to do nothing. It rained steadily almost all day long, and I didn't feel the least bit guilty about being lazy most of the day. We enjoyed breakfast in bed with the Sunday paper (my new favorite habit), and then prepared for an afternoon of food and football. I made it to the store in time to make the 12 o'clock kick-off of the Houston Texans game. I'm a fan, and am looking forward to what seems to be a really great season for them.

But no lazy day is complete without some good food to accompany it. And since I torture Hank with mostly vegetarian meals, I decided to treat him to a yummy roast beef sandwich. I only grabbed enough meat and cheese from the deli for two sandwiches, and made a delicious horseradish sauce with ingredients I had in the fridge. The end result was this:

Nothing makes a sandwich better than toasting it under the broiler. Just look at that cheese!!

And of course, nothing says "football snack" like a little side of chips and queso!

For the second week is a row, my fantasy football team pulled off a come-from-behind win, and I'm sitting pretty in 2nd place for now. It's shocking considering both of my running backs can't seem to produce to save their lives. There's a long season ahead, so I'm trying not to get too cocky right out of the gate.

To counter our indulgent lunch, Hank put together a yummy (vegetarian) crockpot stew with all kinds-of good fall vegetables. I made some cornmeal dumplings to put into it, and we had a nice healthy dinner to end the day. I don't know if I've ever made dumplings before, but I would do them a little differently based on how these turned out. I don't think they had enough liquid, and I don't think they take as long to cook as the recipe said. But if you're looking for an easy crockpot meal, give this Vegetable Stew with Cornmeal Dumplings a try. (And splurge for the already cut-up butternut squash- it makes life so much easier!)

It doesn't get much easier than throwing a bunch of things in the crockpot, and letting it do all the work for you!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Out and About: Hugo's Restaurant and Tequila Bar

Saturday was an eventful day, and luckily the weather cooperated so I could get all my things done. The morning started with a successful garage sale (we're working on redecorating the bedroom, so all funds are going to the many purchases associated with that). Next, hair cut and color. And then we went on to House Wine to celebrate one successful year for the Hard Luck Hounds group at the city shelter where I volunteer.

House Wine is one of my favorite "let's grab a drink" locations, as the outside patio area is cute and cozy. They have also been more than generous in hosting fundraising happy hours for this amazing volunteer-led group. Hard Luck Hounds has been instrumental in helping Austin maintain it's no-kill status, and they focus on saving the last 10%- the dogs that just need a little extra attention. There was a great turn-out, live music, and plenty of cute dogs to keep everyone entertained. So happy to see all the great things that have come from volunteers who decided to go the extra mile!

**Disclaimer- My hair stylist decided I needed a "sassier" look since I would be going out that evening. Judging from this picture, it's not my best look. Hair is back to my usual side part now!

After the event, we decided to walk over to Hugo's for dinner. Hank had a few restaurant options in mind, but we were waiting to see what the weather did before deciding to eat inside or out. Hugo's was right around the corner, and had been on our radar for awhile, so we decided to give it a try. We walked in and were slightly surprised to see that there were only about 3 tables full, and just a few people at the bar. For a Saturday, one would think it would be busier. But the UT game was on at the same time, so it's possible that had an effect on the crowd.

Speaking of the bar....that was my favorite part of the layout of the restaurant. It easily takes up almost half of the restaurant space, and looks like it would be a fun place to grab a drink before heading on to other things. They infuse tequila with a variety of ingredients, and based on the JalapeƱo Hibiscus Martini that I had, I'm sure their infusions are delicious.

On to the food- our server was delightful, first of all. She told us about the special, and then informed us that due to a menu transition, they were out of several things. Hank thinks this is a sign that the restaurant isn't doing too well. It's possible they follow the seasonal trend that so many other restaurants in Austin do, but I guess time will tell if they are able to stick it out. But the good news is that the food was delicious!! We started off with guacamole and chips/salsa. The salsa had a smoky-sweet taste to it, and I really enjoyed it. Hank ordered Shrimp and Sweet Corn and Poblano Cheese Grits and I swear I saw him use his finger to lick off every last bit from the plate (not really, but there was hardly a single grain left). The grits really were amazing!!

I wanted the veggie enchiladas special, but the filling was pre-mixed with mushrooms (which I abhor), so I ended up ordering the tostadas with seasonal veggies. All of the ingredients were fresh and very flavorful, and I cleaned my plate as well. We were too stuffed for dessert, but I would gladly go back for the food. The atmosphere isn't as "fun" as some of the other tex-mex restaurants we like, but I was really impressed with the food and drinks. The location is close enough to downtown, making it easy to grab dinner before heading to a show. I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dripping With Taste Wine and Food Festival

There seems to finally (hopefully) be a break from the hot and humid weather we've been dealt this past month or so. A small cool front blew in on Saturday morning, bringing dryer air and a slightly more comfortable temperature for being outside. And what great timing!

Hank and I had heard and seen plenty of advertising for the Dripping With Taste Wine and Food Festival, and thought it would be a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. We hopped in the car on a gorgeous sunny day, ready to imbibe on some good food and drinks. The event was held at the Hill Country Olive Company, only a 30-ish minute drive from our house. It was a nice drive out, and the scenery out there was beautiful.

Olive trees

I'll start by saying we had a lot of fun. There were some great vendors with plenty of tasty food and drink (minus the one wine vendor we tried). We ran into some friends that we hung out with for a bit, and just enjoyed getting to be outside again without sweating profusely. But....(and I hate to say that), but....there will need to be some serious improvements to their operations if we are to go back again next year.

The check-in process was a cluster, the area where the majority of the wine vendors were was way too small, and there were hardly enough places for people to sit down in the outside vendor section. The event has been going for several years, but this was the first time at this location. I believe they are trying to accommodate a growing attendance, but I'm afraid this location might be too small as well. Or, they should have not sold tickets at the door if they had already exceeded attendance numbers online.

Anywho, a few simple changes would really have enhanced the overall experience. But here are a few of my highlights:

Commemorative glasses

The Gardener's Feast Tamales- Gourmet, organic, DELICIOUS tamales. There were tons of options (including plenty of vegetarian), and they really were the most wonderful tamales I've ever had. Moist, fluffy masa with just the right amount of filling. The website did not appear to be working when I wrote this, but I'm hoping that following them on Twitter will tell me where I can find some more of those amazing tamales.

Beer!- Since we had such a difficult time getting inside to where the wine vendors were, we made due with the 4 craft beer tents in the outside section. Jester King, Twisted X, Real Ale and Independence Brewing Co. were all there, and we were happy to taste all their different brews. The guys at Independence gave the heaviest handed pours. Thank you for that- the Pale Ale and Stash IPA were awesome!

Savory Spice Shop- Two really sweet ladies had samples of Vanilla Curry Popcorn, and one of the best cupcakes I think I've ever had- Chinese Five Spice Carrot Cupcakes with Ginger Frosting. Holy goodness, they were so good. The store is in the Arboretum, right around the corner from my office, and I can't wait to go and visit. I can only imagine how great it must smell in there. 

Taking a break, doing my best to keep my face shaded. 

Gourmet Texas Pasta- I think we ended up picking out 4 different flavors of pasta to take home. This company makes gourmet, whole wheat pasta that is so tasty. They were serving samples of a Spinach, Basil and Garlic pasta tossed in a little bit of olive oil. There was so much flavor, you really wouldn't want to cover it up with much sauce. There were lots of great flavor combos, and you could buy 4 packages for $25. It's pricier than the plain old pasta we get at HEB, but I think we'll enjoy having this as a side to many of the dishes we like to cook. 

I'm looking forward to making some of the things we found from the event, and looking forward to *hopefully* going back next year and the chance to try more things. Texas isn't necessarily known for their great wine, but I'm sure we missed out on some of the different wineries there. Overall, a fun experience!

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Labored Day Weekend

Funny how quickly a 3-day weekend can go by. After our typical Saturday morning long run, breakfast tacos, laundry, and a quick nap ensued. Before we knew what happened, college football had started! We really hadn't made solid plans for the weekend, but found our way to the new house of one of Hank's friends to watch some college games. Brian and Kami had lived right across the street from us, and moved about a month ago. I know Hank misses the convenience of walking across the street, playing basketball, and just getting to hang out with Brian. We hadn't seen their new house since they moved, so it was fun getting to go over there to eat, drink and catch up. I made Cheddar Tailgating Bread for the occasion- it was a cheesy, gooey mess. It was tasty, but I don't know that I would make it again. It was like a heart attack on a plate, and I just don't know that it's worth it.

I wish I could say that I had slept in on Sunday, but that rarely seems to be the case. The cats are my fool-proof 5:30 am alarm system, and they don't seem to recognize that Sundays are my one day off! I got up to feed all the animals and read a little so that at least Hank could sleep in a bit. And then....I was treated to breakfast in bed! Homemade pumpkin pancakes, along with coffee and the Sunday paper. Talk about a perfect morning. It was just the thing I needed to raise my spirits a bit.

We had to do the necessary yard work (him) and house cleaning (me) the rest of the day, along with a few other errands. I also gave Maddie a bath- she had been chewing a pig's ear during the week, and I just couldn't take the smell on her beard any longer. Hank threw out the idea of going out somewhere fun for dinner, but I was exhausted and not in the mood to get myself all dressed. I don't even remember what we ended up doing for dinner, but it was nice to just relax!!

Maddie BEFORE (not such a happy camper)

Maddie AFTER (still pissed, but feeling very glamorous)

Monday- Labor Day- we went to our friend Jeff's house for a raucous brunch. He is notorious for being the host with the most, and never disappoints. We got to cuddle a friend's adorable newborn baby, play with dogs, and nosh on fabulous food all while being surrounded by a wonderfully entertaining assortment of people. (I made pimiento cheese deviled eggs and Bourbon Bacon Chocolate Chip cookies for the occasion.)

Towards the end of brunch, someone busted out the Cards Against Humanity game and we had to stay and play. The game is a horrendous mix of politically incorrect and often raunchy/disturbing statements, but it's so much fun!! If I had stayed a few more minutes, I might have pulled off a win. I was tied with Jeff for 6 of my cards being picked, but he pulled off 7 and I called it a game.

It was the perfect mix of fun, rest, and some quality time with Hank. Of course, it went by way too fast, but we made the most of it.

An Apple a Day

The past few weeks have been stressful. Even though I have hit my sales quota, work is still beyond crazy right now. I know I should be able to relax a little more, but demanding customers and lots of deadlines aren't really helping that situation. Also, family issues have continued, causing a level of stress and anxiety I don't think I've ever felt before.

Every day these past few weeks I could feel my body tensing up, and each day I began to feel more and more tired. Like, too exhausted to get out of bed, focus at work, and then be able to carry on a conversation by the time I got home, tired. I started noticing a recurring rash on my right elbow, and then my hair started falling out. I noticed a slight bald patch behind my left ear and had a major freakout, and then called my rheumatologist.

I was convinced that another lupus episode was fast approaching, and hoped that it wasn't too late to find a way to stop it. It's been almost 3 years since my last major relapse, and the thought of having to go back on medication was almost more than I could handle.

Fast forward to the good news. I got my blood work done, and went to visit the doc. Surprise of all numbers are the best they have ever been since I was diagnosed almost 12 years ago. That stinky little double-stranded DNA issue is still there (it always will be- that's the way Lupus works), but my kidneys, liver and all other levels of anything you could possibly test are nearly perfect.

Go figure.

So the doctor basically tells me to chill out. Take a deep breath, wash away the worry, and carry on. He said that obviously there were many good things in my life. Things that were contributing to my overall health in a positive way, and those are the things I need to focus on. He asked what had changed over the past year- the two main things I mentioned were diet (eating about 90% vegetarian), and my living situation recently. He definitely thinks that the diet has contributed to my health. Since I eat mostly fresh, whole foods- I have eliminated a lot of harmful chemicals and preservatives. And having a support person right there in the same very house? Not such a bad idea. If it makes me happy, then go with it.

So I went to work that next day, and literally took deep breaths almost every 5 minutes. I had to keep reminding myself that I can't get worked up and stressed out over things that I cannot control. I've made baby steps, and am starting to feel better. Elbow rash? Gone. Energy level? Getting closer to normal. Bald spot? Still there, but I don't feel like half my hair is falling out every time I move.

An apple a day and a focus on the positive were the doctor's orders, and I'm doing my best to follow them. That's one prescription that for once I won't argue with!