Aug 31, 2011

Work Out Rock Out

Every few months I find myself doing the same Google search: "work out playlist."

It usually takes a while, but I can find some suggested tunes to update my iPod with. (Ha! iPod shuffle. I am so 2006.) Tonight I found some awesome lists from Shape Magazine.

Let's cut to the chase. I work out. I need music. You work out. You probably need music too.

WANTED: Songs that will make
me look like this when I work out.
Here's the highlights from my iPod right now.

  • Are You Gonna Be My Girl
  • Black Betty
  • Crazy In Love
  • Dynamite (a current fav)
  • Fire Burning
  • Harder to Breath (Dear Abbey's version)
  • I Believe In a Thing Called Love
  • I Gotta Feeling
  • I Love Rock n Roll
  • Just What I Needed
  • More
  • Seasons of Love (gotta have Broadway represented)
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go
  • Single Ladies
  • SOS (another fav)
  • Still Haven't Found What I'm Lookin For
  • This Love
  • When I Grow Up

Fill me in with what's on your exercise playlist and may our work outs reach new musical heights.

Aug 30, 2011

On the radio, whoa oh oh, on the radio

Coming in only second to my ABC World News debut, this morning I had my radio show call-in debut.

On KASE 101 every morning they have a Daily Dilemma and listeners call in to give advice. Today's was a heavy girl (size 14) whose skinny, pretty sister told her that to be in her wedding, she needed to lose 25 pounds.

Well as you can imagine, I had quite strong feelings about that. But it gets worse! One of the DJs suggested the heavier sister lose the 25 pounds and show her sister up by being hotter (than her sister, the bride) at the wedding.

I had to call in. First, what a B&%*#! Who tells their sister that?! Second, ugh, hello Mr. DJ losing 25 pounds when you are a size 14 isn't going to make you thinner than your skinny, pretty sister. Thinner than you were 25 pounds ago but odds are, not thinner than this witch of a sister. Thus that advice is not only ridiculous but irrelevant.

So yeah, I called in. And I gave them a piece of my mind. And they aired it!

I've done radio before for work but always live so I've never been able to hear myself. I've heard my TV interviews though and I often get a little squeaky. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no squeak in this interview, though I did ramble a bit. But hey, you read my blog. You're used to it.

Anyways, back to the Daily Dilemma at hand. How do you think the woman should handle her sister's wedding weight loss mandate?

Aug 29, 2011

The Tale of Two Lowes

In our family, we like to do birthdays in groups. Rounding out August, the tale of two Lowes.

loweC_4086edit1Dad, August 27
I've been sitting here trying to figure out what awesomeness about my Dad I want to write. Maybe how he taught me baseball or that he threw me a surprise party when I was 13. Maybe that he helped me write and deliver a million Girl Scout Cookie thank you letters. Or that he makes the best shrimp dinners ever.

But then I thought the best thing Dad ever did, probably unknowingly, was teach me what I wanted in my husband. Both in a serious and in a light-hearted way.

(And even though I'm a writer by trade, I'm on my sixth or seventh rendition of what I'm want to say. It isn't coming out eloquently so to heck with it, you're getting it in semi-ugly raw form.)

My Dad is an independent, confident guy. So confident that he's always had the ability to support Mom and her independence. It never intimidated him to be married to a strong woman. I never got the impression that a husband should do anything but encourage his wife to be a rockstar. I've realized in the past few years that not all guys can do that and it really makes me appreciate that Dad modeled that type of support and built in me that expectation. And while I know in my head that not all marriages are the same, it sometimes still kinda surprises me how many are very traditional with the man wearing the pants and being the boss (not that that's wrong, different strokes for different folks...geesh, I told you it wasn't going to be eloquent). I'm so thankful that I didn't grow up with that model and being a strong woman with a supportive and equally strong husband seems entirely normal to me.

And on a lighter note, Dad's all boy. Baseball, tools, cars and grit. I needed a hubby with more baseball knowledge and handier handy-man skills than me.* Snakes, snails and puppy dog tails as the rhyme goes.

(Obviously Ross fits the bill to a tee and he and I are both very thankful that Dad molded my husband expectations to be exactly who Ross is. Quite convenient.)

Grandma, August 29
Just about 30 years before Dad was born, Grandma was born. And she is fantastic. Here's just a few of the reasons I think she's tops.
  • We did more art projects at her house than you can shake a stick at.
  • She used to take me on shopping sprees to the dollar store. I could have anything I wanted!
  • Her pineapple upsidedown cake is heavenly.
  • Not even chemo could stop her from coming to my college graduation.
  • She beat the hell out of breast cancer. You go girl.
*I may be independent but that doesn't mean I want to mow the lawn or fix the garage door. Frankly, if I wasn't married I'd employ my financial independence to deal with those things. A handy-husband who can answer my occasional baseball question though, is much more fun.

    Aug 28, 2011

    Vivamos a Firenze!

    That is my Span-talian for "let's go to Florence!"

    This morning chatting with Mom about their San Diego trip (7 weeks!) the conversation turned to EuroTrip 2012. So while Ross is soaking in the bubble bath (a nearly nightly occurrence) I'm investigating lovely things in Italy.

    And just look at the front runner for our hotel in Florence, The Rosary Garden.


    It's located in the southern part of Florence, so a little out of the hustle and bustle which I think will be nice. I expect that we'll stay in downtown Rome and probably ditto for Venice so I'd like to have one Italian stop that feels more quaint. Someplace where I can wake up and eat my way across town. Wander from breakfast pastry to delicious lunch to a mid-afternoon glass of wine to a leisurely Italian dinner. Oh yes, I think the Rosary Garden and I are going to be great friends.

    Movie Review: The Help

    Last night during the boys' fantasy football draft, Erin and I saw The Help. Having both read the book, we knew what we were in for.

    I really liked it. I think the casting was spot on, most especially with the Minnie character (played by Octavia Spencer). Emma Stone did a great job of being the brazen, sassy Skeeter and I liked her defiant attitude. Elizabeth the Junior Leaguer (played by Anha O'Reilly) really did come across as easily pushed around and totally incompetent as a mother. Spot on to the book's depiction.

    In our debrief, we discussed that for such a serious subject, there was quite a bit of humor. The audience was still laughing when some more serious scenes would start. Take that as you will, either as making light of a very serious subject or just as fun. I personally enjoyed it but I can see where it might lessen the severity of the issue.

    I think the producers did a good job of turning an ugly piece of American history into a popular mainstream movie. In between cute and funny scenes are a few that are really disturbing, in my mind, especially the arrest of one maid. For me, it was the right balance of some hard-hitting, ugly historical depiction but enough fun entertainment to end on a overall positive note.

    Verdict: Go see it. But of course, read the book first because that's always better, even in this case...though not by much.

    Aug 24, 2011

    Book Warning: Safe Haven

    I finished Safe Haven right before heading to Seattle. And I'll warn you now, I'm gonna be a spoiler. But I have to somewhat spoil it to get to the warning part.

    Safe Haven by Nicolas Sparks starts strong. It's the story of Katie, an abused wife from Dorchester who runs away from her mean, nasty, alcoholic husband. She lands in a sleepy North Carolina town where despite putting up her guard, eventually makes friends with her neighbor, Jo, and the local grocery store owner and widower with two kids, Alex. Katie and Alex hit it off and eventually begin dating. Jo is incredibly nosy about the whole situation but in a girl-talk kinda way.

    Everything is hunky-dory until Katie's husband picks up on her scent (he's a detective when he's not wife beating) and drives down to North Carolina to take her back. He almost succeeds too, burning down Alex's house where Katie is baby-sitting. Katie and the kids escape and eventually a hand-to-hand combat with Katie and Alex (who has returned) and ex-husband ensues. Katie gets his gun and it goes off in the struggle, killing the crazy drunk ex.

    Fortunately for Alex, not only are the kids and Katie fine, but his fireproof safe with birth certificates and a few tokens from his late wife, Carly, is also intact. After the fire he's more committed to Katie than ever and gives him the letter Carly wrote for "the woman [her] husband loves."

    So far so good. Some cheese of course but nothing other than what you would expect from a Nicolas Sparks book. I was actually really enjoying it. And then it did a nosedive.

    Katie sits on her front porch and glances over at Jo's cottage which looks unusually abandoned, especially since Jo had been doing work on it lately. Confused but dismissive, Katie start's to read Carly's letter which quickly says "My name is Carly but for most my life my friends called me Jo." At which point Katie goes Sixth Sense style thinking about untouched glasses of wine Jo had, etc before coming to the conclusion that know what it is. Jo was the ghost of Carly, come back to guide Katie to Alex and the kids.

    Gag me with a spoon. Are you kidding? Nic (olas Sparks) couldn't we have just ended with this nice cheesy letter and an engagement ring? Why did we have to go down the ghost of wives past route? It's like when One Life to Live started bringing people back from the dead. Just terrible.

    Verdict: If you read it, don't bother with the last two chapters.

    Aug 23, 2011

    Seattle Delta Style

    Hello blog reader!

    You may have noticed I've been MIA for a bit. That's because I skipped town and went west. Before the crack of dawn Friday I got up and flew to Seattle to see one lovely Val. The weather was perfect. None off that rainy Seattle you hear about. That said, here are all the fantastic things we did during our beautiful crystal-clear sky weekend.

    Friday: First, an early morning flight but with views like I've never seen. I actually took pictures through the airplane window they were so amazing! Once I got to Seattle and we adequately greeted each other with squealing and hugging, we explored some wonderful neighborhoods in town. Each so unique! So artsy, so fun. Actually, kind of like South Congress here in Austin. Well, one thing SoCo doesn't have, a troll under a bridge holding a VW bug. Seriously. We also ate delicious chocolate on our meandering adventure (come to think of it, I might have a piece of that tonight after dinner). Then off to the Space Needle for lunch. Dungeness crab melt and flat bread pizza with cocktails of course. Then more exploring of Seattle including Pike's Place Market and the original Starbucks. Happy hour on Puget Sound with a mountainous view and more exploring. We ended up in a quaint neighborhood that kind of reminded me of Back Bay in Boston. Finally we crashed at Val's very kind aunt and uncle's place, but not before some late night girl talk with a bottle of chardonnay.

    Saturday: Up early and off to see the UW campus where Val is a law student. Gorgeous! Almost a gothic type architecture and some of the largest evergreen trees I've ever seen. Also a lovely fountain surrounded by rose gardens. Splendid. Then up the road to a local beach. But not any beach, a beach with a mountain view. Does it really get better than that? Then we spent a relaxing afternoon a little outside of Seattle doing wine tastings. Among the deliciousness was a red with a hint of chocolate. I may not be able to identify oak flavors or citrusy things but chocolate I have down. Then out to Anacortes to grab the ferry over to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands where we greeted Justin as he wrapped up his bartending shift.

    Sunday: On the island we went into "town" to grab coffee for breakfast. I can best describe the town by saying it is like Nantucket but on the West Coast. Adorable shops, cafes and restaurants with a small local island community and lots of affluent snowbirds and vacationers in the summer. Then we drove up to the north part of the island with our fingers crossed for some whale watching. The whales did not cooperate but the views were breathtaking. Just up the road a bit to the "English camp" as in the English army which had once been stationed here and almost went into battle with the Americans over a shot pig. It ended peacefully with England receiving Victoria (now part of Canada) and the US getting the San Juan Islands. Despite reading the historical marker, I can't tell you any more than that. Next we did a hike up a hill for more outstanding views of the islands and mountains. Then a quick change out of sweaty clothes back at the cottage and out to South Beach with its black sand and rocky shoreline. Finally, an early dinner back at Justin's restaurant complete with mussels and risotto before heading back to the cottage to make s'mores around the campfire.

    Monday: Val woke up super early to get the car in line for the 8a ferry and eventually we meandered our persons down there as well. Ferry back to the mainland, a quick outlet mall trip and to the airport for my flight back to home sweet Texas.

    It was a very lovely trip. Not only did I get to see Val, Justin and Penny but Seattle and the San Juan Islands are so pretty (and not 105 degrees, thank goodness). It was great to see one of my favorite Deltas and explore a new part of the world. Enjoy the pictures!

    Verdict: The 2011 Cheryl-only trip was a success.

    Created with flickr slideshow.

    Aug 17, 2011

    Video Blitz

    I'm not a big YouTube person but every once in a while I see a video that just knocks my socks off. And today, I'm gonna share some with you.

    First, Girl Inc's Dear World. This has been my fav girl power video for several years now. Seriously, watch the video. It's phenomenal. (Although I am a little disappointed that they've disabled embedding. I think that's silly.)

    Next The Girl Effect which I just discovered this week and I think is now tied as my fav girl power video. It's different than Girl Inc, dealing with girls in more extreme circumstances. It gives me chills.

    Right before heading off to Canada I went to the Lights Camera Help Nonprofit Film Fest here in Austin. I was only able to attend one day but I saw this great little PSA from the Austin Ronald McDonald House Charities. I'm continually impressed with this organization's use of technology and new media.

    I can't forget the Breast Cancer Resource Centers and their great "How We Serve" video that was shown at the Graphic V fundraiser back in April. It's a beauty!

    And finally, because you know I have to include an ABCNews video (duh), this one on The Hunger at Home. Can you believe how many hungry kids we have in this country full of abundance? I've been excited about Junior League because I love all chick orgs and because I dig community service. But having been reminded how much hunger is a problem, even here in the US, I'm even more excited about my placement with the FIT (Food In Tummies) program.

    Ah yes, and all those videos are why I love my job. Feel inspired yet? I sure do.

    Aug 16, 2011

    How Much Should We Save, Part 2

    While the jury is still out on how much we should save, tonight I got some answers on how we, as Americans, do save. (All this fun information comes from the ABC News video clip below.)

    I have to say, as a country, we're not there yet, but we're going in the right direction. 

    First, the average American family has nearly $4700 in credit card debit which is down for the second year in a row. Now I guess that isn't all that bad. It's certainly more than Ross and I are comfortable with but we're admitted credit card-phobes.

    Next Americans are having the least amount of credit card delinquencies in 17 years. Great job everyone! Round of applause!

    OK, on to savings. Back in 2001 we were doing miserably y'all. Only saving* 1% on average. Can you believe it - that means a family making $100k was only saving $1000. Dismal! However, we're up to 5.4% now. We are definitely heading the right way but our average is no where near the suggestions of 10-30% that I stumbled upon last month.

    Now somewhere I recently heard that the average American household income is $50,000. First, wow. Does that seem low to anyone else? I mean I realize not every household is 2 parents, 2 kids and a pet but many are and I'm sure many of those fall in that $50k ballpark. I can barely imagine how the 3 of us (Ross, me and Lexi that is) would survive on that, let alone support kids. But my point here is, if you are a family of 3 or 4 and you are making at or below $50k, I sure as hell see how saving 1-5% is an achievement for you. In fact, I'd like to congratulate if you just break even; for saving, you get a gold star.

    Finally, here's what I find really uplifting in all this. 62% of Americans say even when better times are upon us, they still plan to be leaner with their personal finances. That's great! With any luck, this little boost of personal financial restraint will keep us all out of a boatload of trouble.

    So hats off to you America. We may not be straight A students yet but darn it, one way or another, we're passing that personal finance class.

    *The story doesn't define savings. If that includes money "saved" and then spent on things like vacation and Christmas, then that's a bit sadder of a story. If it includes net money saved at the end of the year, well, that's a much rosier picture.

    Aug 15, 2011

    Facebook is the new church sign

    Y'all know how I feel about Texas Monthly. Well today I got to work Texas Monthly into a blog post for work. I mean what are the odds that a software company blog could seamless incorporate a southwestern state's national magazine? (That's right a state's national magazine. I realize that this may not seem to add up but then again, you might just have to be a Texan to get it.)

    Check out my post "Facebook is the new church sign" here.

    Now like a good Texan, I must go. I need to whip up some queso and settle in for an evening of Monday Night Football starring my Houston Texans v. some other guys who are likely to get beat.

    Aug 14, 2011

    Thank you for this glorious moment

    Hehe, just look at this. It makes me giddy.

    Here's the 10 day forecast for Austin.

    And here's the 10 day forecast for Seattle.

    HAHA! On Friday when I arrive in Seattle, it will 32 degrees cooler than in Austin! 32 degrees!! Hallelujah! 

    Hehe! What will I wear? What a wonderful predicament to be in!

    I WIN.

    I emailed Val with the weather report and got this as her response.

    "I'm just glad I warned you. Fortunately, wine is like a blanket." 

    USAF Rocks

    Have you seen this video? A group from the US Air Force covered Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

    Hey Kev, get your Navy buddies together and show them what's up. You can't let those Air Force guys (and girl) rock more than you.

    Aug 13, 2011

    Science of Tex-Mex, Part 2

    A mere 8 months after landing my sweet Convio job, we finally went to Fonda San Miguel to celebrate!

    Last night we went with 3 other couples to taste this Tex-Mex haven. Here's my review.

    Chips, Salsa & Margaritas @ Fonda San Miguel
    Margaritas: I had a house on the rocks and a frozen mango margarita. Both were excellent but of course, very different. I am usually a frozen rita girl but I do know that on the rocks is a little more of an art form. It tasted very fresh, very strong and very good. The mango margarita was a little more typical but again, the mango flavor was very fresh. Yum.

    Queso: I love our friend Jon. I said "Should we get chile con queso or queso asados?" and Jon's answer was a very definitive "Both." God bless that man. So we had both. They were more of a stringy solid queso than the normal gooey dipping queso. But tasty. I like that both had peppers and onion in them. I also liked that they were served with a side of tortillas. Ross actually passed on chips and tortillas with queso, taco style.

    Camarones Adobados: This was my entree. It was 6 or 7 jumbo Gulf shrimp over corn tortillas filled with sauteed peppers and onions and smothered in a black bean sauce. It was really really really good. I'm always a little hesitant to order shrimp away from Houston - I was so spoiled with shrimp caught that morning and on my plate that night - but this meal sounded too good. And it was really some of the best, freshest tasting shrimp I've had in Austin. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was driven in on ice that morning. It really didn't taste like it had been frozen at all. Delicious.

    Other Entrees: I tasted some of Jen's (Ryan's date) sour cream enchiladas. The enchilada was good but it was the sauce that rocked my word. It was so sour creamy!! Ross shared his guacamole with me and it was great. I usually make and like really lime heavy guac but this was distinctly not limey. It was so avocado-y and delicious. I practically licked the plate to get it all. Jon and Chris both had the pulled pork tacos and said they were fantastic. I don't think there was a speck of food left on any of our plates when the meal was over.

    Atmosphere: This might be one of the best parts. It's such a colorful and surprisingly for a Mexican place, tastefully decorated restaurant. I really loved all the ornate art and furniture.

    Price: The four couples just all split the bill in half. With the exception of Patty (who is preggers) we all had at least one but mostly two drinks each. We split two orders of queso and all had entrees of course. It came out to about $60 per couple plus tip. Now we had a big enough party that they included gratuity but I really liked that both on the initial bill and on each of our credit card receipts for signing, it very clearly broke out the meal cost and gratuity. Unlike so many places, I really felt like Fonda San Miguel wanted you to realize you were already paying gratuity. They didn't try to pull a fast one on us which I appreciated.

    It isn't someplace I'd go to mid-week for quick Tex-Mex dinner with the hubs but for a group on a special night out, it was a blast. It also got a lot of hype from Texas Monthly and other review/ratings groups. Maybe a little too much hype to be honest. I do think that it made a very good case for dispelling the idea that the best Tex-Mex places are cheap holes-in-the-wall. Those are definitely good, but high end Tex-Mex, also pretty damn good.

    My final verdict is do again, with friends and plenty of time to soak in the experience.

    Aug 12, 2011

    Bills or Charity?

    This post starts out with lots of caveats. First, I'm a big fan of donations and charity. I think philanthropy, volunteerism and giving back in general are among the most important things a person can do. Only through these actions do I think we can have stable, healthy, thriving communities.

    I also know that as Americans, we have it pretty good. Sure, it isn't perfect (hello 10% unemployment), but compared to many places in the world, we have a sweet deal going.

    But. You knew there was one.

    The US almost defaulted on its bills. And yet, I just saw a news story about billions we are giving in aid to places like Somalia. (Somalia really needs some help. If you want to contribute, you can donate to Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF or a number of other organizations working to care for people there.)

    Despite how much Somalia and other countries may need help, I believe you have to take care of yourself first. It's the "put your oxygen mask on before helping those around you" concept which as you know from flying, even includes before you help your kids. You are more help to others when you are in good shape yourself.

    If we (like me and Ross) couldn't pay our bills, well, then no matter how much we love puppies or hate cancer, we wouldn't be able to donate to those causes. But admittedly this US problem is akin to not being able to pay your very fancy cable bill but still wanting to make donations. Yes, the cause you are donating to is more important than fancy cable but if you really believe that and want to live that way, the answer is not neglecting your cable bill. The answer is turning off the cable and directing those funds to a higher purpose.

    If the US wants to continue to provide international aid and help elevate all peoples, we must cut the fluff from our expenses first. Because when we run out of money, we will be of zero use to those struggling people who need our aid and in fact, may find ourselves in line for aid.

    Aug 9, 2011

    August 9

    There are two people so special, they needed their own blog entry today. None of this including them with the book reviews post nonsense. A post dedicated just to them and to August 9.

    GFD trainingRoss
    Today is Ross' one year anniversary at the Georgetown Fire Department. (See some pretty awesome pictures from a  year ago when I followed him around the house in a bathrobe while he got ready for his first day of work.) As of today, he is no longer a probational fire fighter, he is a fire fighter. He is also in the union, is a little better paid and is being rewarded for his college degree. He's practically been holding his breath, walking on pins and needles waiting anxiously for today.

    But it's finally here! The big day! Woohoo! Way to go babe!

    Today is also Mom's birthday. She is one year wiser and prettier today. Kevin and I are well aware that we hit the mom-jackpot but let me share with you a few reasons why we know this to be true.
    • She took Melissa and I to dinner once and let us eat backwards, dessert first.
    • She made my lunch just about every day all the way through high school. 
    • She went to as many baseball, cheerleading, lacrosse, dance, etc practices as we did.
    • She was my Girl Scout troop leader and by showing me the horror of latrines, taught me a deep appreciation of running water.
    • Speaking of Girl Scouts, she obliged in driving me all the way across Houston to Conroe for Girl Scout summer camp for five years, despite that there was a beautiful Girl Scout camp less than 2 miles from our house.
    • She's really just quite swell.
    Happy birthday Mom! 

    Elephants & Confessions

    Book review time!

    In my mind, a relaxing vacation means I read at least one book. And Canada was very relaxing so I read 1.5 books.

    First, on the flight there I finished Water for Elephants. The book stars Jacob, a Cornell veterinary student whose parents are suddenly killed in his last semester of school. In his grief, he drops out and runs away with the circus...unintentionally but nonetheless. It's a B rate outfit he finds himself with and they are more than happy to have an almost-vet to care for the animals. Needless to say, the circus characters are quite colorful and range from a crazed equestrian director and a lady of ill-repute to a hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside dwarf and a beautiful horse performer. Alternately told from the perspective of young Jacob living with the circus and the perspective of old 90-ish Jacob living in a nursing home, the story is sweet and charming, if somewhat predictable. But being a sucker for a corniness and love stories, I enjoyed it. Verdict: read it.

    Then I read The Confession by John Grisham. I should tell you, Grisham and I have a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, I love his suspenseful, Southern law dramas. Addicting. On the other, well they are all suspenseful, Southern law dramas. And they all have a philanderer and most have racial tension. They say to write about what you know...I know Grisham is a southern lawyer and heck, maybe marriage isn't his strong suit. Anyways I've started to have to put months, sometimes  years, between his books or they just run together. It had been easily a year though since my last one so I was ready for The Confession (and it was on my 2011 reading list).

    So The Confession: nearly 10 years ago east Texas high school cheerleader Nicole went missing and eventually was assumed dead, despite the lack of a body. A bogus tip leads the authorities to Donte, a black star football player accused of sleeping with Nicole (who is white) and ultimately murdering her. Donte is found guilty by an all white jury and sentenced to death. Fast forward to present day and Rev. Keith in Kansas is visited by an ex-con claiming a need to confess. The next thing you know, the ex-con, Travis, and Keith are racing down the interstate to Texas for a whopper of a confession and hoping to stop an execution. What Grisham does almost too well here is Travis the ex-con. The way Travis leers at Keith's wife...well I'm glad I wasn't reading it at home alone. It was enough to give you the serious creeps.

    The elements written about Donte and his family suffering through his sentence are gripping. If you are against the death penalty, this is a rally cry. If you support the death penalty, you will be forced to confront your belief head on.

    And on an odd note, right as we started flying over Texas toward Austin, I finished the book which ended in Austin. Book and reader, same destination.

    Verdict: read it but only if it's been 6 months since your last Grisham.

    Now I'm reading Safe Haven by Nicolas Sparks. He's not one of my usual authors but I like variation in my reading and I figure Sparks and Grisham are about as night and day as two contemporaries can be.

    Aug 8, 2011

    The Many Faces of Lexi

    011Lexi has multiple personalities. That's the only explanation.

    When she's off the leash, she's a little puppy angel. She greets people and other pups with licks and sniffs and love. And in addition to being sugar sweet, she sticks right by us, which of course is why she can go off leash. She's constantly underfoot, follows us around with no seeming interest in leaving ever.

    When she's on the leash, she's...something else. And it's not just her inner honey badger shining through. It is, in fact, a little embarrassing. She's more assertive to say the least. Maybe it's like keeping a short "leash" on your kids or spouse and they simply rebel. And she pulls, pulls, pulls on the leash. Like she's gonna run away for miles. Newsflash Lexi, you are way too clingy the rest of the time for me to think you actually want to run away. Run after a squirrel or cat yes, run away, no.

    People with puppies: do you have this experience too? Does your sweet, cuddley puppy become a barking, marathon running beast as soon as that leash hooks on? What's the deal?!?!

    Aug 7, 2011

    Our Canadian Education

    025Things aren't all that different in Canada but we did learn a few things about our northern neighbors on our adventure.
    1. Their highway lanes merge really fast. Really really fast.
    2. 100 kilo/hour is 62 mph.
    3. Wayne Gretsky has a vineyard.
    4. They don't really do lemonade.
    5. The exchange rate is now in their favor.
    6. Our recycling program is pathetic in comparison.
    7. Tim Horton's is king. But they also have a place in their hearts for KFC, DQ and Wendy's.

    Aug 6, 2011

    Canada Eh

    We're home! We just spent 5 very relaxing days way up north in Ontario, Canada. In summary...

    008Monday morning we caught the first flight out on Southwest into Buffalo. We rented a car (they originally said Chevy Aveo but we got a Chevy HHR which is ugly as sin but more comfortable and spacious) and drove to Toronto.

    There we rented bikes through Bixi Bike (rec of a partner at work) and explored the city a little. We mostly covered the area along Lake Ontario, most specifically this little harbor type spot. It really reminded me of Sydney, especially with the CN Tower there in the background (right behind our heads, other pics have the whole tower in it). Then back in the rental car and up Yonge Street toward the highway. On Yonge we passed through an area that reminded us of Times Square and another that reminded me of Brookline. It was like Toronto was a patchwork quilt of Sydney, New York and Boston. Loved it.

    Then up to the lakehouse with Mike for a relaxing grilled dinner. (FYI the lakehouse is owned by our good family friends and we totally just crashed the hubby, Mike's last week of his extended summer vacation. Very kind of them. Thanks y'all!) When we got there the first thing Ross and I both exclaimed was "there's water in that lake!" And I mean real, up-to-the-shore water unlike the little puddle that is Lake Travis. I guess it really is the little things huh?

    016Tuesday we slept in and then headed to Fenelon Falls to hike the Victoria Rail Trail, an old railroad trail turned into a hike-n-bike (shout out to Sally for the rec). The Victoria Rail Trail was lovely. Compared to last year's Rocky Mountain hiking it was definitely more of a walk but was lakeside and so pretty. Oh and it was a perfect 85-ish, enough that we broke a little bit of a sweat after an hour+ of walking but still very comfortable.

    019All good and sweaty from our walk, we grabbed lunch at a little spot on the canal there in town. We get to our table outside on the porch and are very surprised to realize we're right on the Fenelon Falls. Like the waterfall.

    Back to the lakehouse for an outdoors workout together...we think the neighbors thought we were doing some kind of rain dance when they walked by our arm circles but they spoke French, whatever. They'll just think Mike and Brenda have some pretty strange friends. And wrapped up the evening with happy hour, another relaxing dinner and board games with cocktails well into the evening.

    Wednesday we woke up to crap-tastic weather. Rain. (I guess here in Austin we would say we woke up to a miracle but on vacation, crap-tastic.) We had plans to go walk this crazy suspension bridge over a forest and then hit up a local beach. The rain looked like it might not extend as far away as both those so we gave it a shot. OMG we could barely see the car in front of us. We made it a little more than halfway, grabbed lunch and since it was still raining with no signs of slowing, threw in the towel. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around reading, playing cards and such. It did eventually clear up and we busted out with the telescope for some awesome star gazing.

    038Thursday Mike took us out on the boat. I can't tell you enough how beautiful the lake was! Such green foliage around the shore, such a big open, full-of-water lake to play on. It was great! We also stopped for some absolutely fantastic moose tracks ice cream on our adventure. Fantastic I tell you.

    Then we helped load the boat up and get it on shore for the winter. Next door to the neighbor's for happy hour (lovely neighbors all of them). A few nights before one of the neighbors told me he'd been to 22 US states. After my Seattle trip soon I'll have been to 23 (not counting ones I just drove through, that's hardly fair). When I told him this, he whooped me by saying he'd been to 39 countries which would be approximately 34 than me. But he is after all over 70 so I suppose it's OK.

    048We wrapped up our time at the lakehouse with dinner in Fenelon Falls at a place called The Boathouse and just check out that sunset will ya. Wow.

    Friday morning we finally got up at a decent hour, unlike every morning before. Quickly packed our bags and the HHR and hit the road. We drove the 3 hours from the lakehouse to Niagara Falls, the Canada side.

    Let me tell you, Niagara Falls is one of the most amazing sites you'll see. The sheer size! The volume of water! The power! It really blew us both away.

    We had lunch at a Falls-side restaurant, The Keg, atop the Embassy Suites (thanks to Rae and Age for the rec). Great great great views (OK food). Then even though time was tight to get across the border and to the airport, we decided to make our way down right to the falls.

    059We got soaked. :)

    But it was great! Ross even made a couple short videos of the Falls, one of which I have an awesome cameo in because I didn't realize he was making a video.

    Then we raced back to to the car and headed for the border. We gave ourselves about an hour to get across (coming in to Canada we saw crazy traffic headed into the US). It took about 10 minutes. We got to the airport with time to spare and headed home.

    (Tangent: With 60 minutes until our flight, I realized I left the Christmas ornament I bought in Niagara Falls in the rental car. That's what I collect from our trips so to not have it...well, that's just not OK. I called Alamo car rental, they found it in our rental car, and so I left Ross at the gate, sprinted out of the airport and to the Alamo desk. I got my $6 ornament and sprinted back to security. A security guard had known the scoop and told the lady at the priority line my story so they let me go straight up to the no-line security check point and get myself re-screened. I arrived back at the gate with 15 minutes to spare, a little sweaty and winded but with my ornament. Ross said I was insane.)

    It was a great vacation. We had so much fun and came home so relaxed. It was different from Austin (ample water, green vegetation, under 90 degree days) in all the ways you want an August vacation location to be. So glad we went!

    View from lunch in Niagara Falls