Monday, October 29, 2012

A Pumpkin Carving Tradition

Every year for about as long as I can remember, my mom hosts a family Halloween party. It's been difficult as the "kids" have gotten older- especially being in 3 different cities. But now that my 3 year old niece is old enough to participate and enjoy it, the party is back in full swing. My family has always been pretty competitive, and pumpkin carving is no exception. We go to great lengths to make them look good!

My parent's hosted the annual party on Sunday evening, and we were able to attend and enjoy a perfect fall evening. The temperature was great, and we enjoyed being outside eating, drinking and carving. I wish I had taken pictures of the pretty buffet and table she had set-up, but I had a one track mind, and that was winning the pumpkin carving contest.

To my shock and near horror, I learned that Hank had NEVER carved a pumpkin before. I don't even know how that's possible. I didn't really believe him until his mom later confirmed- it was just something they had never done before. So Sonny gave him a quick lesson on carving out the top and scooping out the insides. He did just fine with that. But then it came time to picking out a stencil from the kit that I got at Target, and that might have been where things went a little wrong. 

I got wrapped up in the overall vision for the pumpkins in front of our house, and might have led him into picking out probably the hardest design in the bunch. And then maybe I also gave him the tool that wasn't the best one to use for punching out the design before actually cutting it. I swear it wasn't intentional, but I nearly set him up for total failure. Thankfully, we prevailed, and ended up carving (in my humble opinion) the two best pumpkins of the night. Overall we had a great time, dinner was delicious, and it was fun spending time with family (even if my brother and sis-in-law couldn't make it.)

Hard at work prepping the pumpkins.

The finished product. Ours are the front two on the right.

Out and About: Revival

My parents were the first to tell us about this place, and we finally made it over there to get some pumpkins on Saturday afternoon. Revival brands itself as Furniture. Gifts. Vintage. That's an accurate description, but the actual place is so much more. From the road it looks pretty small. But once you get inside, and then out through the back, it turns into this playground of beautiful things.

A super nice, young couple owns it, and they have big plans for expanding it into a real shopping destination. Basically, they have traveled all over and collected old "things". They refinish much of the furniture, but they also leave enough of it up to your imagination. The chandeliers and old doors were probably my favorite.

A line up of some of the old doors. The turquoise one is my favorite!

Hank checking out the really cool old doors.  I'd love to find a way to use one of these.

The building in the back of the property where much of the refinishing work takes place.

The main reason why were were there was to pick out some fun pumpkins. My parents got a great assortment, and I hadn't really seen a place that had much of a variety. Lucky for us, all pumpkins were 50% off. We ended up taking home 6 pumpkins of various shapes and sizes. I loved that their pumpkin patch was spread out throughout the property, and there were so many great decorating ideas that we were able to take away too.

Crystal chandeliers and pumpkins.

Such a fun decorating idea for next year,

More pumpkins cleverly displayed.

It's hard to see, but these are branches that were spray painted black, and have netting hung over it to look like a web. Looks so easy!

My sister saw this picture and called my outfit "granny gone wrong." Note to self, long bulky sweaters must be worn with skinny pants.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Home Improvement

I took a much needed 4 day weekend, and feel so relaxed and rested now. On Friday, I literally spent 6 hours straight in the kitchen, working on the "Tinkerbell" cake and cupcakes. On Saturday, I ran 8 miles, took my foster kitten to an adoption event (she was adopted!!), and then drove down to San Marcos with Hank for the birthday party (see previous post). So a day of rest today was well deserved. I slept in a little bit, made a quick trip to the grocery store, and then spent some quality time out in the yard with Hank making things look not so dead.

We had a hot, dry summer, so we had some cleaning up to do. Last weekend I made a soup using 3 types of squash, and decided to plant the seeds into one of our beds. They took, and have already started sprouting, so I was motivated to add a few more things. I planted broccoli and brussels sprouts, and Hank did his best to Marley-proof them with some iron fencing(the Beagle will eat just about anything).

Brussels Sprouts front left, with 3 types of squash in other rows. I know- I need new soil for the rest of the bed.

Broccoli, with rigged fencing to hopefully keep Marley out. She ate all the broccoli plants the last time I planted some.

In the front, we finally filled in an empty pot that was driving me nuts, and then added a little color to the front corner of the yard (most visible from the street). Hank also put down some new mulch. Drainage is tough in that section, so we're trying to find a way to keep things alive there. At least the mums add some color, and hopefully the asparagus ferns will grow big and fill in that space behind them. 

Before- Empty!
After- Full!

Before- sad, empty flower bed.

After- we have color, and new mulch!

Pixies and Pirates- A 3rd Birthday Party

On Saturday we celebrated my niece Georgia's 3rd birthday party with a Pinterest-worthy Tinkerbell extravaganza. She has been looking forward to this party for months, and my sister must have been planning it for months considering all the cute little details she pulled off. My one and only job was to make her a cake, and I've been stressing out about it for weeks. I had a vision in my head, but most importantly- I wanted it to be something that tasted good too. I tried out two different white cake recipes (the second one was sheer perfection), and I think the overall product got a B+. Most importantly though, Georgia absolutely loved it. So no amount of self critiquing really mattered since she was happy!

It's so hard to believe that 3 whole years have gone by. She continues to grow into this adorable, energetic little blonde curled cutie, and I'm so grateful to my sister and her husband for bringing her into our lives. But seriously, how do you get them to stop growing up so fast?!

1st Birthday
2nd Birthday
3rd Birthday

The birthday cake was a two-tiered traditional white cake with strawberry filling. I'm now pouring over videos on how to get buttercream frosting perfectly smooth (my cake- not so much). I'm a tad obsessed with it right now, and hopefully one day I'll figure it out. But the frosting was delicious (it tasted like vanilla ice cream) and I used a gum paste/fondant mix to make the flowers for the cake. I printed a silhouette of Tinkerbell, and filled it in with pink-tinted white chocolate that I then froze until minutes before I set the cake out. Her wand looked more like a sword, but overall at least you could tell who it was.

Tinkerbell cake.

Tinkerbell cupcakes.

Separate play area with dress up clothes and fairy houses to decorate.

One part of "Neverland".

Food table, complete with fruit skewers coming out of a log.

Peter Pan and Jelly and Enchanting Egg Salad Sandwiches.

Dew Drop Station.

When I took the picture below (on the right), it reminded me of a similar picture that I took last year when Georgia tried on her birthday present from me (a pink fairy outfit and a separate pair of ladybug rain boots). Both are adorable, but again illustrate how much she has grown this past year. 


Hank and I enjoying the party. This might be my favorite picture of the two of us so far. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lunch in a Box: Black Bean Wraps and Hummus

I was out most of the day yesterday (foster event, cookbook club, and seeing my parents), so I didn't have the usual time to make things for lunches for the week. I had made a meal plan earlier in the day though, and was able to churn out an amazing hummus recipe when I got home so that we would at least have something healthy to eat. Thankfully, Hank had made a rice and bean bowl for his dinner, so I was able to use his leftovers to make us wraps for today.

Lunch is pretty simple:

Black beans, rice and canned Rotel, along with fresh spinach of some roasted salsa, wrapped up in a whole-grain, 50 calorie wrap. I packed veggie sticks (carrots and green/red bell peppers) to dip into the hummus, and then a separate container with fresh strawberries and blackberries for an afternoon snack. Hank also got an avocado half to go with his wrap.

The hummus was a piece of cake. Throw everything in a food blender, and you're done. I found (and adapted slightly) the recipe on a great vegetarian blog called eat me, delicious. It's perfect with veggies, but would also make a good sandwich spread or dipped with naan.

Curried Pumpkin Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/4 cup raw almonds
2-3 T tahini (I would use 3 if you cut out the oil, but 2 would be just fine)
1/3 cup water
1 T olive oil (I really don't think it even needed this much)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp curry powder (you must love curry to love this dish)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt (I used 1 tsp)
pinch of red pepper flakes

Blend ingredients in food processor for 3-5 minutes, until smooth and creamy.

Adventures in Kitty Fostering: The Importance of Spay/Neuter

I took both kitties to the shelter on Thursday night so that they could have their spay/neuter surgeries on Friday. I've learned that small animals have a quick recovery time, but I was most concerned about them having to spend the night in a cage, surrounded by all kinds-of noise. Millie (our recent foster pup) took all of 2 hours to recover before she dashing around the house at high rates of speed. Our kitties were no different.

They were docile on the ride home, just staring at me in anger through the side of the cage. When we made it home, I put them in their playpen so that they would have access to food/water/litter box, and have the chance for what I thought would be much needed sleep. Not so much. Within 5 minutes, they were wrestling each other and trying to climb out of the pen. So much for recovery time!

That leads me to the point of WHY it's so important to have your pets spayed or neutered. Our animal populations are out of control, and it not only affects shelters and rescue organizations, but it also burdens our city finances. Food and blanket donations don't pay for the staff, medical supplies and buildings needed to provide appropriate care for our homeless animals. Money does. And that money comes directly from your taxes. We're lucky to live in a city that values the lives of animals, and they receive great care while in the charge of our city shelter. But the sheer volume that has come through this year has been an extraordinary burden.

There are options for low-cost clinics and even a free, mobile spay/neuter van that targets lower poverty areas. But there are still plenty of people who do not see it necessary to have their animal "fixed". Every animal that leaves our shelter (or associated foster home) has this surgery, and I'm glad that Bess and Bernard recovered so quickly. As cute as they are, we don't need them contributing to an already out of control cat population.

Taken 2 seconds before Bernard pounced on Bess.

In other news, I believe that Bernard (now possibly "Sawyer") has found his forever home. A co-worker came to meet him on Saturday after seeing his pictures and kitty cam. She recently had to say goodbye to her 18 year old cat, and was hesitant about adding to her household so soon. But Bernard is as cute as they come, so he went home with her that afternoon. He seems to be fitting in well so far, using his kitty box thoroughly and even climbing the kitty tower that she already had. He's made fast friends with her son's dog, and we're hoping that she can win over the other male cat that was already in the household. I'm glad that he's in a home with other pet friends, as he loves to play with other animals, and hopefully they will keep him from being lonely.

Already making himself at home on his new couch.
Playing on his new cat tower.

The last picture I took of Bernard- sharing the window sill with Katie. Happy tails sweet guy!

Unfortunately, the weekend did not have a happy ending for Bess. She handled the separation from her brother alright, and even spent the night in our room (on Marley's bed). At 11, I took her to the shelter's off-site adoption event at PetCo. Since she's the more independent one, I figured she would do just fine and would get a lot of attention because she's so darn cute. Wrong. So very, very wrong. She was traumatized by the surroundings, and was shaking in the cage I had to put her in. I lost it. I was sobbing hysterically in the store, feeling so bad for subjecting her to three days of "changes". Surgery, losing a brother, and now this. I called Hank from the back of the store in tears, wanting to take her home immediately. I waited it out for a few hours, and left her there once I saw that she had settled in.

She hid under the hammock for most of the time.

She was able to fall asleep for a bit.
We never got the call that she had been adopted (no surprise considering how terrified she looked), so Hank went to pick her back up. The lady in charge of the event asked if she was always like this- she seemed concerned. Hank was just convinced that she had sandbagged the event, because the second she got home- it was game time with Katie (the one time feral cat). She was absolutely fine once she got back to our house. I know Katie was missing her, and was more than happy to have her back. I moved Bess' favorite blanket onto the floor next to my side of the bed, where she slept comfortably until this morning. I picked her up and let her snuggle with me for a bit, and she was just unbelievably cute curled up under my arm. Such a sweet, sweet kitty! I know the right home is out there for her, but I'm just going to have to find another way to find it. I don't think I can subject either of us to that trauma again.

This and That

Life has been moving at a steady pace this past week, with plenty of fun things to keep us busy, and never enough rest. I figured it would be easier to post a smorgasbord of recent happenings rather than trying to blog each one individually.

Alabama Shakes!

Hank and I scored tickets to one of the first ALC "late" shows at Stubbs. We've been avid listeners of this band since we first saw their ACL taping, and have been so excited to see them again. Tons of other people have jumped on the bandwagon, and it's great to see this young, talented band get the recognition they deserve. We met up with my friends Erin and Katherine for some pre-show grub at Easy Tiger. Our last few visits left much to be desired, but after a friendly reminder to our server that we were ready for her to start serving, the rest of the meal was overall enjoyable.

Then we headed over to Stubb's just in time to catch the tail end of the opening act- Lee Fields & the Expressions. Good old fashioned soul music- I loved them!!! They were the perfect opening act. Then Alabama Shakes took the stage and put on a most fantastic show. It's just unfortunate that so much of the crowd felt the need to talk instead of listening. The constant loud murmur was more than annoying. Sing along, get into the show. But if you come to just socialize friends- go do that elsewhere!

It's mid-October, and STILL hot in Austin! (hence the shiny face)


I know live in a house divided. Hank grew up in Oklahoma and has been a OU fan most of his life. I grew up in Austin, always cheering for the Longhorns on Saturdays. So there's been much anticipation over this long-standing rivalry, and I really thought TX had a chance to claim the title. I thought wrong. Oh so wrong. The game was over in the first quarter, and I went to the kitchen to work on a practice cake instead of watching the slaughter. Hank was a good sport though and really didn't rub it in at all. Next year, year! I might have to surprise him with something in the yard to battle the OU flag flying on the house.

The Bake Shop

After years of struggling with a hand mixer for all of my baking, I finally went out and treated myself to a long desired KitchenAid Stand Mixer. It is a thing of beauty, and I put it to good use on Saturday. I'm making a Tinkerbell cake for my niece Georgia for her upcoming birthday and had some new elements (and cake recipe) that I wanted to try out ahead of time. Making buttercream with a hand mixer is no fun at all, so I completely enjoyed the experience of getting to do it with two free hands. I'm glad I decided to practice as there are a few tweaks that I need to make, but I think the final product will be adorable.

I had to go with classic metallic. It already has a home on our counter, and looks stunning.

Fondant flowers for bottom tier of the cake.

Tinkerbell (with a few more tweaks) will stand on the top tier of the cake.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Work of Art

A serious bedroom redecorating project is in process right now, and I cannot wait to share the before and after pictures. Hank finished painting the entire room blue (only one wall had this color before), and the bedding is mostly here. But the "piece de resistance" is ordered and on its way, and I'm just dying to see it!!! The bedroom has tall walls, so I'm hoping this 6' tall print will look brilliant against the back wall. It will be one of the first things you see when you walk in and I'm hoping that it really stands out.

Lamps are on their way as well- hopefully arriving tomorrow. The main pieces left to get are a bedskirt, king shams/blanket and an accent pillow. We're going to try and look for those this weekend so that at least the bed will be finished. After that it will be new curtains and a few accessories. It has been fun picking out all these things and making the room look more like "us".

Friday, October 5, 2012

Adventures in Kitty Fostering: Making Friends

I've been so lucky with the 3 dogs that I have fostered- they all seemed to fit in at home pretty easily and got along with my other animals. Of course, I'm very careful who I pick to foster, doing my best to identify personalities that are pretty easy going. With Bess and Bernard being my first kitty fosters, I really wasn't sure what to expect. How long should I wait to introduce them to everyone? How much freedom do I give them when out loose with the other animals? Luckily our 2 dogs and 2 cats are pretty pet tolerant, so my worries were less about them, and more about the kitties feeling comfortable and safe.

Well, I only had to worry for about 5 minutes. The initial introductions (done one at a time) resulted in a couple of hisses. Likely because it was the kitties first introduction to other animals. But once Bailey the calico came to see them, they seemed to get that there were good things about these other animals. Bailey will lick them. Katie (the other cat) will play with them, and Maddie (the peekaboo) will chase them all over. Marley could really care less, but the kitties LOVE to play with her tail that seems to be constantly wagging. When the kitties are let loose in the house (only when we're home to chaperone), al kinds of fun happens.

Bess and the cookbooks. She loves to crawl on them and paw at anyone who walks by.

Katie and Bess chilling out on the coffee table.

Kitties on the table!

Bailey and Bernard- she's less than amused by their antics, but at least willing to tolerate them.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lunch in a Box: Superfood Salad with Ginger-Miso Dressing

My love of salad seems to come in waves. Some weeks I enjoy it, and try to make them as colorful and yummy as I can. Other weeks, I can't even stomach eating greens. We usually eat a ton of vegetables at dinner, so salad for lunch doesn't always get me that excited. But this week is a good week, and the main reason is because I found the yummiest salad dressing ever!! It doesn't follow the "no oil" rule of the Engine 2 diet, but it is vegan, and it is absolutely delicious. I think even Hank gives it two thumbs up, and it's sure to make even the most boring salad taste fabulous.

I meant to roast some cauliflower to add to my salads this week, but I wasn't able to find any at the grocery store. Weird. So I kept it simple, but loaded with super healthy food- fresh spinach, cooked quinoa and roasted beets. Add a little Ginger-Miso dressing, and you're in business for lunch. Since the salad is pretty low on calories, having a little bit of oil in the dressing isn't such a terrible thing.

I saw a terrific post on the Engine 2 Blog about creating your own salad bar at home, and one of these Sundays I will attempt to do it. But in the meantime, keeping salads easy and simple is a great way to ensure that you're going to have a healthy lunch without too much fuss. To keep it easy, I have my salad ingredients all ready to go in separate containers, so the night before (or morning of), I can build my salad quickly. I even put the salad dressing in my new Easy Lunch Boxes Mini-Dipper containers so that they're ready to grab when I need them.

Spinach salad, carrots, and yogurt with fresh berries.

Ginger Miso Dressing:
1/2 cup white miso
1/3 cup agave nectar (I used less- I thought this much made it too sweet)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sesame oil (I used closer to 1/4 cup)
1/4 lemon juice
1 1/4 cup chopped ginger (This looked like a typo to me- I probably used closer to 3/4 cup)

Blend all ingredients in a Vita-Mix, food processor or blender until smooth.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bad Dog!!!

A co-worker shared the funniest site with me this morning- Dog-Shaming. It's a hilarious compilation of dogs who have been busted doing bad things. Usually, the pet parent will write a sign explaining their bad behavior that is included in the picture of the dog, and those pictures are submitted to the website. They. Are. Awesome.

Of course, we have our own picture that has now been submitted. Marley just LOVES digging in the cat box, especially when there's a fresh, tasty treat waiting for her. We busted her the other day with cat litter still stuck to her nose. How's that for shame? Go check out the site if you want a good laugh!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adventures in Kitty Fostering: The Art of Cat Naps

My older cat Bailey is no stranger to napping. In fact, she's a master at it! So it's no surprise that the kitties looked to her for guidance in how to do it properly. She has her favorite chair, and that is where most naps occur during the day. It was her chair at my apartment, and it's still her chair at the new house. She shares it with no one, until now.....

On Sunday, I was in the kitchen for most of the afternoon. The kitties were running amuck in the house and wore themselves out. Meanwhile, Bailey was keeping me company while napping in her favorite chair. I peeked over at her just in time to see this happen:

Bess decides to join Bailey in her chair.

Not one to be left out, Bernard quickly followed, and settled in next to Bailey.

She was less thrilled to have the company, and buried her head to ignore it. I could not get over how ridiculously cute the whole thing was, though. And I certainly appreciate her being willing to tolerate them for a nap. It's great socialization for the kitties, and they both seem to look to her as if she really is their mom. Of course, the fact that Bess is her doppelgänger just makes it that much cuter! Unfortunately, both kitties seemed to realize what a great nap chair it is, and decided to hog it last night. No worries though- Bailey cuddled with us on the couch and everyone stayed happy.