Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Look At My Heirlooms!

The Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, definitely a protected creature. Every summer, though, I think of ways to kill a mockingbird, for spoiling my beautiful homegrown tomatoes. I know on big farms they calculate on losing 30% of their crops to birds. The birds in my small patch take their 30% too - they peck 1/3 of each fruit away, about 1 day before I pick it at maximum ripeness. They only eat 30%, but they will spoil 100%.

This year Anthony discovered the little pinwheels my parents gave the kids are effective bird deterents. After strategically placing them, and checking the vines twice a day, I am starting to be rewarded:

The jewel in the center is a Cherokee Purple - its streaked green and red, which gives it a chocolatey color. I guess purple sounds better than brown. The golden orbs are Earl of Edgecombe. Since they are yellow, they escape the mockingbird's gaze. I walked by them yesterday and their orangey ripeness called to me! I had not noticed them previously. The red ones are good, standard tomatoes. The two on the bottom grow on a vine that seems to set twins, identical tomatoes alternating in pairs up the vine.

Here's what we do with the bounty - Insalata Caprese:

Anna is finding her own summer projects, and found this one for making a doll in her craft book. It took her several days to sew it all by herself by hand, although she got exponentially faster toward the end. Today, she finally got to stuff it and sew the edge shut. She loves her new doll, just like I told her she would when she got discouraged by all the hard details of sewing!

New post on the food blog!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tri, Tri Again

Sunday we participated in the 1st Annual Pflugerville Triathlon. It was small - only 350 people, whereas the Danskin is 3,000 - and Co-ed. Anthony has always been a little jealous of me after the Danskin tri (women only), and he thought this would be a good event to motivate him to get in shape. He did work out some, but he is a talented procrastinator, enough that we were both a little nervous Saturday night.

I am glad to say he completed the event and even felt good at the end. The course was beautiful. First, the swim - shorter than the Danskin's, and in nice water. Well, it was murky lake water (you can't see your out-stretched hand) but our little lake is so small that motorized watercraft is not allowed. The two big gulps of lakewater I inevitably swallowed were kinda sweet, unlike the motor-oil water from Decker. That lake does supply our drinking water, after all.

Then, the 14 mile bike course was through farmland on rolling country roads. Cows watched us go by, and there was ripe corn in the fields. Plus, it was overcast and threatening rain, so it was cool with no scorching sun. Was this really the end of June in Texas?

Ah, the sun made an appearance towards the end of the race, as we jogged 5K around the same lake. Still, temperatures were mild from all the rain we've had - it's really put a damper on our usual summer inferno. The first mile was tough, but then I hit my stride and made a good finish. Our babysitter brought the kids and they met me at the finish. Anthony started much later than me, but he looked strong when we spied him coming around the lake. Both kids were thrilled to run over the finish with him.

We did it! Two tri's in two weeks for me, whew. Now we can focus on our reward - a five day vacation in Cozumel at the end of July!

PS The fat cat did end up with diabetes. Plan is to check his sugar after 2 weeks on the new diet.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Obesity Epidemic

I saw a huge cat today. Usually we weigh cats with a baby scale in the exam room, but this guy had to be carted to the back to the big scale. We first saw him at 13 lbs, then he has been gaining a pound a year. Last year he jumped up 3 more pounds, now weighing in at 25 pounds.

He eats a prescription diet food, low in fat and high in fiber, but its fed free choice. That's kind of like getting all-you-can-eat Jenny Craig. The owner knows she is partly (mostly?) to blame, but she wants to help him change. He's gotten so big he can't properly clean himself, and his activity level is way down. (She did note that he looks slimmer when he stands up).

We ran some labwork to make sure he doesn't have any other medical problems we need to address (like type II diabetes). If it comes back normal, he is going on a strict new diet, with weigh-ins every 2 weeks. I also gave her some weight-loss strategies for her cat, like hiding the food in tiny amounts around the house to simulate hunting behavior, getting new toys and rotating them to encourage physical activity, and switching to canned, high protein food instead of carb-packed kibble.

Unfortunately, like most Americans, pets are getting really fat. This cat is a statistic - it's mostly neutered indoor male cats that get huge. Neutered and spayed dogs are equally affected. We put our pets in our houses and feed them really calorie-dense food which they don't even have to work for. We get home from a long day at work and want to watch TV, so they sit around more, too. We've taken away their jobs and their external environmental stimulation -- they are BORED and turn to food for comfort.

I think getting dogs to lose weight is actually pretty easy. Go on walks, throw the ball, play tug of war, then reduce their caloric intake (with NO TREATS!) and presto, they lose weight. Cats are a little different. You can't cajole a cat into exercise like you can a dog. You can encourage it, but they still have to think it's their idea.

Also, indoor sedentary cats have an incredibly slow metabolic rate. You can calculate their daily caloric needs, feed them 3/4 of that, and I've seen them defy you and STILL gain weight. So you reduce the chow again, and everyone complains about the paltry amount being fed.

There are no easy answers to weight loss, not even in veterinary medicine, and we don't even have all the food-emotional issues that humans struggle with. I am hopeful for this cat, though. If we can just get him down to 18 pounds, he will have a much better quality, and statistically longer quantity, of life.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Houston Pictorial

It is hard to find the right words to describe how great our long-awaited visit to Houston was, so I'll let the pictures do the talking. Here, Anna FINALLY holds Baby Evelyn, while Colin gets a quick glimpse to see what the fuss is about before he goes over to check out the toys:

Walking to Nana and Grandad's house:

Then we walked Paige and Graham to school. In Houston, it is so humid that tadpoles live in the gutters.

Stephanie looks so happy and beautiful, like her daughter:

Wouldn't you smile if Nana was loving on you, too?

More great pic's at Steph's, and Bideos at my Dad's place.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Delayed Gratification

We celebrated Anthony's big 40th birthday on Wednesday. I kept looking at him and saying, "I can't believe you're 40," and he'd say, "Me, neither." I said, "I still think of you as 23!" and he'd say, "That's about how I feel."

We plan to celebrate with a trip next month, but for the actual evening I took him to the restaurant of his choice, and of course he chose Castle Hill Cafe. It did not disappoint. We told our waiter what kind of wines we liked, and he recommended one right of the bat. What about this one? we asked. He wrinkled his nose and said, "It's not that great." What about this Aussie wine? He said, "Yeah, it's good. Do you want a taste?" So we tasted it, and it was nice but more like a Pinot in style, and I knew I was ordering beef. I hedged and said, "I'm wondering about the other one..." and PDQ there was a sample. Oh, my, this wine was the bomb, yes, please leave the bottle on the table. "Always trust your waiter..." our server muttered with a grin. We followed all his suggestions from there on out, and the rest of the meal was just fabulous.

Man, this is starting to sound like my other blog! (new post there, too)

We were supposed to be in Houston right now, gazing at the newborn Evelyn, BUT Anna developed a fever yesterday afternoon/evening. I called Stephanie to tell her the bad news, and she answered, "Can you contain the excitement?!?" Well, yes, we hafta since we don't want to give your baby a virus. Everyone was disappointed, but we came up with a plan to go tomorrow afternoon and stay through Monday. SO FAR, the sickness gods seem to agree with this plan (no fever at all today - knock on wood!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tough choices

I work with a guy who has a dog who really does not like children. He doesn't have any kids, and doesn't ever intend to, so it shouldn't be a problem. But trouble keeps finding his dog.

About 2 years ago his dog bit a child that came into his yard. Now my friend definitely knew he had to keep his dog away from kids. His dog is perfectly fine around adults. Many dogs see children as a different species than humans. They do act very differently - they move faster and more erratically, they are louder and more emotional. They also are shorter, which makes them seem less dominant to dogs, but also puts them right at eye level. Kids like to stare dogs right in the eye, which is quite challenging and rude to dogs.

A few months ago a friend was staying at his house, and unannounced brought her son with her. While she was in the shower, she left her kid and the dog together unsupervised, and another bite occurred.

Two weeks ago, his girlfriend had the dog in the front yard while my friend was gone, and she went inside, leaving him in the company of another adult and child. This time a really serious bite occurred. My friend came home to EMS, cop cars, and a child with a horrible bite on the face.

I could see he was torn up inside about what to do about his dog. He truly loved him, and you would think you could keep a dog in this situation away from kids. Instead, the bites escalated with small exposures.

After the rabies quarantine was through, my friend made the excruciating decision to euthanize his dog. I agree with his choice, but I can't imagine how hard it must have been to say goodbye under these circumstances. Sometimes the right decision can be so difficult to face.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Too Much Excitement

Friday morning around 6:30 am I got a call, and immediately knew it was my sister Steph, who was very pregnant when I talked to her the night before. In the blink of an eye, the world changed - she had gone into labor at midnight, and the baby girl came at 3:30 am, before she could have an epidural and before the doctor could get there (the resident delivered).

Welcome, Evelyn Bea! You were much anticipated, and I still have to wait until next weekend to see you (rats)!

I knew this was going to happen when I heard the due date - same time as the triathlon and Anna's ballet recital. Well, I did ask the ballet studio if they could have the recital closer to the end of school, but they couldn't move it. There's no moving the triathlon, and Steph did her best to have that baby in May. Oh well.

I left work early on Friday to take Anna to her dress rehearsal. It was a crazy busy day (and every time I wrote the date I thought, "It's my niece's birthday!") and I felt pretty guilty about ditching everyone, but oh well. One of our male techs who doesn't especially like kids said to me, "How about I take Anna to ballet and you stay and work for the this afternoon?" Ha ha, ha ha, no.

The recital on Saturday went very well. Anna did look beautiful with her curls and wispies pulled back into a smooth ballet bun. She had subtle stage makeup and a tiara on. She did really well during her dance; even her dad noticed how precise she was. She was beaming from the stage. Colin enjoyed watching the show from the audience.

The triathlon was great. We've had a really mild May here in Texas, so it was especially cruel when this weekend it decided to get punishingly hot. None of us had trained in such hot weather, but here it was. Emily and I were pleased to beat our times from last year. But mostly I was psyched with how well my friends from work (Kareen and Leah) did. They both had a lot of messages in their lives that they could never do something so ambitious, and yet they decided to ignore those voices and sign up. They definitely prepared, and even though they were scared they wouldn't finish, or that they would fall, or drown, etc etc - they got in the water and they both did it. They both finished much faster than they thought they would. It was such a thrill to watch Kareen run across the finish line with her young son. When Leah finished, we all ran with her. I got chills all over again. Way to go, girls!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scarpe e Scarpe

The title refers to a wonderful shoe store I found in the suburbs of Milan, walking distance from my friend Romina's apartment. It was not some fancy Italian designer shoe store. It was a "Famous Footwear," style store - tons of shoes out on the floor, for your personal browsing and fitting. Sometimes a girl likes the service of a salesperson, running to the back for your size, and sometimes she wants to serve herself under the radar.

What I really liked about "Scarpe e Scarpe," (translation: shoes & shoes) was that everything was 100% leather (vera pela) and about $20-30.

Texas is no Italy.

I have been trying to get Anna some decent leather sandals on the sly at the places I frequent. I'm not talking Target, where all the shoes are synthetic and therefore extremely odiferous after one visit to the park, I'm talking the athletic store where I bought my triathlon outfit, Famous Footwear, Kohl's, etc etc. Sadly, not a shoe to be found not made of some horrid naugahyde guaranteed to offend your nostrils after wearing.

Yesterday, my mission was to make a special trip to buy Anna decent sandals. We trekked up to Round Rock to the specialty shoe store I've frequented before, and was shocked to find it closed. I guess everyone is buying the man-made material shoes up there, not supporting the vera pela kind. Fortunately my friend Lisa steered me to the right place in Austin, AND they were having a sale!

What a sale! I got Anna a pair of English all leather sandals, usually $60, for just twenty. Bonus: found a cute pair for Colin, too; originally $30, now just ten! Took a lot of driving, but it was cheaper than airfare to Italy.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Male Ballet Dancer on Strike

After going to the ballet studio and sitting sullenly on the floor the past 3 times, Colin has been asked not to return unless he is going to be dancing. He is very aware that he is the only boy at this school, and he is very into gender-specific activities. He always asks me before we go to a party if it is a party for boys, or boys and girls. And although he plays fantastically with his sister, he does seek out male playmates where ever we go.

So, I guess I'll be taking back the "costume" I bought him but obviously not the worn ballet slippers.

I felt quite virtuous today when I dried my clothes using solar energy (ie clothesline) but did not quite plan on the ozonated water rinse that the second load got while I was at the grocery store. It rained nearly 3 more inches. My clothes were still soaked on the sagging line after dinner tonight when I took them off and threw them in the dryer. Oh well, at least one load was dried CO2 free.

The rains filled the "pond" in my backyard (aka hole or pit), and I can hear the frogs singing their love song now. BLLLAAAAAAUUUUGGGHHHH! Their passions are loud and shameless.

We did have one of the tadpoles from Anna's classroom finally make the leap to metamorphosis yesterday. Check out this delicate little guy, with his tail remnant tucked under his bum: