Make a Difference Monday and Austin Pets Alive

sweet dog in need of rescue

I fell in love with this sweet girl, who wiggled everything she had when someone petted her!

Before I move here, one of the things I was told about Austin was that they love their dogs and welcome them into all kinds of places around town. And above all, they love their rescues.

And I was thrilled to discover it’s true. Maya the Wonder Puppy, our half Boxer, half Rhodesian mix (a rescue, of course!) has been welcomed all over Austin. Maya dogAnd when she’s home, she and our kitty are spoiled with an abundance of love and attention. But not all dogs and cats are as fortunate as Maya, Sanura and Bast. And not everyone in Austin, sadly, is good to their pets. And that’s where Austin Pets Alive comes in.

Pets Alive is a rescue group…and thankfully one of many in the Austin area. But their mission is unique. Unlike the other groups that might help find homes for a certain breed or category of dogs, Pets Alive gathers up the dogs and cats no one else is rescuing from the shelters.  But they say it better than I could…

We are currently focused on helping the healthy and treatable pets who are at risk of being killed in a shelter, by rescuing the pets who are at the greatest risk and helping owners who are having problems so great that they need to surrender their pet(s) to a shelter.

In our rescue program, to not duplicate work of other agencies, we focus solely on the pets who have already been passed over by other groups and the shelters’ adoption programs and only take the healthy and treatable pets who are about to be killed and have no other options.

So at Pets Alive, you won’t find that perfect, adorable Maltese, or that gorgeous Collie you can’t imagine anyone surrendering. But you will find loving animals with beautiful hearts who just want a special person or family to love.  They want someone who will love them even if they’re a bit scruffy looking, or are so terrified of being hurt again it takes half an hour to coax them out of their kennel.

And another thing you’ll find at Pets Alive is a committed corp of volunteers who spend their days, or evenings, or weekends walking, feeding, training, cleaning and of course, loving these sweet pets-in-search-of-a-forever-home.

We’ve spent several wonderful Saturday evenings walking the dogs, playing with them in the play yard, and just reminding them that they are lovable and wonderful and cared about.  It’s a great family night activity for families with teens — or even a date night activity where you can spend time together and make a difference at the same time.

If time isn’t something you can spare right now, a donation of anything on their wish list (from food and blankets to bleach and peanut butter) would make a difference for a dog or cat in need of food, warmth and love.

So Austin, are you ready to step up to you dog and cat loving reputation?

Jo’s is so much more than just coffee

Jo's Coffee House Austin TexasYou know you’ve found one of Jo’s two Austin locations when you spot the iconic red balloon sign.  But what you might not know is that even a non-coffee drinker like me can find at least a dozen delicious reasons to make a stop every time the sign comes into view.

Let’s start with Jo’s on West 2nd Street.  We found this place when we were hungry and tired after checking out all the booths at Barkitecture.  The menus at most of the restaurants in the area were kind of pricy for a family, or didn’t offer much for vegetarians. And then there was the matter of our dog.  So we wandered until we saw Jo’s and checked out their menu.

Sure, there were pastries…and of course, coffee.  But it was more.  It was burgers and hot dogs with all the fixings and then some…and vegetarian versions of both. Ditto for the bar-b-que — meat and vegetarian versions to suit every taste.  Griddled 3-cheese sandwiches and equally griddled eggplant sandwiches — and yes, that is spelled correctly. This was real food, delicious food even — at a coffee house!  We feasted!  And the dog-friendly outdoor dining meant our pup did, too.

Later, we found the second location on South Congress. Smaller menu by a bit, but equally tasty options. Another dog-friendly patio, but this one with live music on Sunday mornings and some evenings, too.  And right there amid the fun of SoCo.

The Russians are coming…no, wait, they’re here!

Russian House Austin TexasA new restaurant has opened in downtown Austin, bringing with it the tastes, and the look and feel of Russia.  And the result is delicious!

We found Russian House thanks to a Goggle+ event, and were kind of embarrassed we hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week. It was directly across the street from Ecopocalypse (on 5th Street and Trinity) we reviewed only a few days ago!  So much for being observant!

But once we found it, we were very glad the event had pointed it out! Russian food is something we love, but hadn’t found in Austin — thankfully that gap is now covered.

Our group sampled a number of items from the menu, including a wonderful baked wild mushroom dish, several lamb dishes, several kinds of smoked meats and a mushroom cap filled with cheeses, salted cucumber and fresh onion. That last one had me wanting to lick the plate…the taste combination was so unexpected and so delicious. Some members of the group ordered from the vodka tasting menu, and pronounced the offerings “amazing!”

The restaurant is decorated to represent different eras in Russian history.  We dined in the Soviet room, a space furnished with benches and tables, and open to the air on 5th Street. If it’s a chilly evening, you may want to take advantage of the rack of Soviet-era jackets and hats near the entrance to the restaurant — they’re not only fun, they’ll keep you cozy when the not-quite-Siberian winter winds in Austin begin to blow.

There’s also a large dining room decorated like a Russian grandmother’s home, right down to the matryoshka dolls and samovars in the sideboard and to the lace table cloths and old-fashioned dishes on the tables. Another smaller version is placed towards the back of the restaurant — a perfect space for a family gathering or friends night out.

A more intimate space features a low table and piles of pillows to site on for a small group dinner or special date night.

The main area of the restaurant includes a well-stocked bar, featuring, of course, many varieties of vodka. There’s live Russian music and plenty of room for dancing, too.

The owners, Varda and Konstantin, had initially intended to open a Russian restaurant in New York.  But a visit to Austin last year had them changing their plans.  “We fell in love with Austin,” said Varda.  “So we went home, packed everything up, and came here.”

And may I say, I am very glad they did!

Walk into Post-Apocolyptic Austin at Ecopocalypse


Photo courtesy of Ecopocalypse

There are only a couple of day until Halloween, so pay attention Austin!  You need to make some time tomorrow night or Wednesday night to bravely walk into the Austin of the future. But be prepared!  Ecopocalypse is not about shiny flying cars or date nights in space.

It’s about survival.  And it’s scary!

Food? It’s scarce — the shelves of HEB and Whole Foods empty. Clean water? No Texas Rainwater or Evian to be found. Medicine? Good luck finding that…Seton and St David’s are distant memories. Family pets?  Hide them!

This terrifying glimpse into the “Austin that could be” is the newest addition to how-to-get-scared on-Halloween here in town — if you’re brave enough, it’s the one you won’t want to miss.

Unlike the typical “walk through and watch” haunted house, the creators of Ecopocalypse pull you into the action. You enter in small groups of 5 or 6, and wander through the entire experience at your own pace, choosing where to turn (or when to turn back, if it gets too scary!)  You aren’t just a visitor…you become a part of the story, whether you want to or not!

Who should go:

This is a great choice for adults and teens, but the full immersion experience might be too terrifying for kids. I wouldn’t bring anyone under 10 or so, and even then it depends on how they handle near-complete darkness, scary realistic people interacting directly with them, and some pretty realistic scenes of gore.

Loving Gloria’s for the food…and the patio

Glorias Restaurant in Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comEvery time we went to the Domain, I would see the sign for Gloria’s restaurant and say “We have to try that place sometime.”  Well sometime finally came, and now the only thing we’re wondering is why we didn’t make time to try it sooner!

We were seated on their large patio, our choice for what was a perfect night of soft breezes, Then we opened our menus…the dinner menu for Lance, and the special vegetarian menu for me (yes, they have a complete vegetarian menu!  I was delighted!) As we browsed, we snaked on warm tortilla chips and a salsa with a definite (and much welcome) kick to it.

A little bit about Gloria’s history

In a city filled to the brim with Tex-Mex, the delicate Salvadoran touch at Gloria’s was very welcome. Owners Gloria and Jose Fuentes come by their cuisine naturally.  The two emigrated from El Salvador in 1978. After some difficult years in Houston, they moved to Dallas and soon were working with Gloria’s sister in her Salvadoran restaurant. A year later, they took over the restaurant, which they renamed Gloria’s.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Gloria’s has gone from one small location to 14 locations around Texas.  The business remains very much a family concern — according to our waiter, Gloria herself tries to visit each location once a week!

And then there’s the food!

Our daughter had the vegetarian combination, (which included Papusas (much like an Arepa), Plantano Frito and in-house made black bean soup), I selected the vegetarian fajitas, and Lance chose a beef and chicken combo (for the meat-eater among us),

Unlike many local restaurants where the food arrives smothered in a blanket of cheese, each item on the Gloria’s plates was allowed to shine without over-saucing or burying it. The veggies for the fajita were crisp and fresh…nothing greasy or soggy here.  The cheese was a tasty queso fresco, and the white corn tortillas were thin and warm and fresh. Lance loved the seasoning on the meats, and enjoyed the spicy chili con queso (a dish he usually refuses as it’s often too salty or greasy.)

Service was impeccable, even when I made a special request for something to be changed in my fajita.

This restaurant is a definite must-go-again, especially when the breeze is mild and we’re planning a date night.

There IS great Italian food in Austin!

Reale Pizza and Cafe on www.Ais4Austin.comWhen we moved to Austin, we were told there were a few things we would have to give up. One was the beach, and the other was really good Italian food.

While the beach is still no where to be found, we have proven the other half of that pronouncement wrong. It started with a gift card to Reale’s Pizza and Cafe I received for doing some online work for the Austin Family History Center.

We looked up the address, and discovered that it was only a few miles away, so we headed out for lunch.  The plan was to get a pizza.  But when we walked in and the smell of real Italian cooking reached us, that plan was scraped. In a place that smelled this good, pizza would have to wait for another day.

And oh what a great choice that was!  From the spinach lasagna stuffed with a delicious blend of cheeses and fresh spinach, all topped with a lick-your-plate-its-so-good marinara sauce, to Lance’s chicken cacciatore rich with peppers, mushrooms and onions, it was hands down one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had. And that’s saying a lot for someone who has eaten in great Italian places in New York, Boston, Baltimore and Miami.

Owner Bob Reale was on hand, and stopped by to chat with us while we ate, making us feel more like guests in an Italian home than customers in a restaurant.

No, this place is not fancy. The location is in a strip mall just off 183 in northwest Austin. But fancy won’t get me to eat every bite of a lasagna (I usually eat far less!).  And fancy won’t have the three of diving into our dessert canolli, and declaring it “just right”.

In just one lunch, Reale’s quickly went from a way to use a gift card, to a place we plan to return to again and again. And maybe next time, we’ll even try the pizza.

South Congress is great even after hours

South Congress Shops when they're closedSouth Congress is one of the coolest places in Austin. The combination of shops like Uncommon Objects and Tesoros make shopping a lot more fun, while Guero Mexican, Home Slice Pizza and the food trucks are perfect for lunch, dinner or a snack.

Sadly, most of the shops close way too early for late evening shopping (by 8 pm on weekends, almost everything is shut down.) I’m not sure what’s up with that, but we still have fun.  How?

Even after the shops have closed, a wander down South Congress after a late dinner has become one of our favorite ways to end the evening. We stop at look in the Windows at Lucy in Disguise and check out the latest costume offerings.  We peer into the thrift stores and consignment shops to see what the hipsters will be sporting next. We look at the antiques and collectibles in Uncommon Objects and the other “junque” shops. There’s usually at least a few “mystery objects” that we spend some time trying to identify.

We look in the art gallery windows and critique the paintings, and in the bookstore window and try to count the books on display that we DON’T have on our own bookshelves (faster than counting the ones we do! Yes, I am a  proud biblioholic!)

And towards the end of the walk, there is often one lone shop open…the Big Top Candy shop with its “Open Until We Close” hours offers an after-walk treat of licorice or chocolate before we head back to the car.

No, it’s not as exciting as 6th Street, but it’s a good choice for a low-key, low-cost date night or a family stroll or a walk with the dogs. And for us, that’s good enough to keep us going back, even after the shops shut down.

Irish pub food and a punk band? Why not? It’s Austin!

Fado Irish Pub Austin TexasWe’re starting to explore some of the downtown restaurants (getting out of our North Austin world!), and the other night that meant a light dinner at Fado Irish Pub on 4th Street.

As we walked nearby, we heard the band…The Video Stars, a punk rock-clad group performing an excellent rendition of “Sweet Child of Mine”. Then we looked at the menu which promised traditional pub fare in their courtyard.

For me, the fact that they offered “boxty“, a tasty potato concoction I seldom see on menus, and the song the band was playing were enough. For Lance, the promise of a corned beef sandwich was enough to draw him in.

And we were not disappointed by any of it. The boxty I chose were crisp and hot, and were accompanied by a red pepper humus dip. Lance’s sandwich came stuffed high with corned beef, with a big pile of chips on the side (that’s fries, not potato chips.) We’ll have to return again to try a full dinner sometime soon…our light meal was a good introduction to their offerings!

The band played a variety of music, although the punk/KISS look was kind of funny when they launched into a Lady Gaga set! The courtyard was breezy, the crowd was a perfect mix of ages, and the service was excellent.

Although we don’t drink, we did see that Fado has an extensive selection of beers, ales, wines, whiskeys and single-malt Scotches, which makes it a good place to head for a few drinks, too.

Fado also has inside dining, although the music is outdoors only. The courtyard/patio is pet friendly, so our pup will probably join us the next time around.

Date Night Idea: The Texas religion called High School Football

High school football pictures Austin Texas on A is 4 AustinAs newcomers to Texas, one of the stories we had heard was that high school football was the true religion of the Lone Star State.

Now, we’re from Florida where high school football is pretty major stuff. And during my own high school days, I never missed a game. I thought I had a pretty good feel for the experience.

We had heard from neighbors that even adults who don’t have kids at the schools go to the games, (but we do have a Freshman, so we were okay), so we decided to make it a date night and try it out and see for ourselves. So tickets in hand, and jackets ready, we dressed in school colors and headed out to a local high school football game.

The bleachers were full. And not just with kids and the huge-ginormous band. There were hundreds and hundreds of parents. And almost all of them were decked out from head to toe in school colors AND school emblems. Even their seat cushions featured the team logo!

We had a great time on our date. We cheered, we stood, we sat. We asked nearby parents what the picture buttons some of them wore meant. (The answer? Parents of team members, band members and the cheer squad wear them to honor their kids. Kinda cool!) We were delighted that no one seemed to boo when the opposing team scored or a penalty was called on our side…loved that!

We were lost during the songs everyone seemed to know, and baffled by hand symbols the parents and kids alike did during certain refrains.

But the fact is, we had a great time. And for just under $10 a ticket at the gate and snacks averaging $2, it was a wonderfully inexpensive date night, too. And something we plan to do again (with seat cushions this time…those benches are cold!)

A high school game would also be a great night out with younger kids. Best of all, the tickets and snacks are cheap enough to make it a guilt-free option to leave if they get tired or bored.

If you’re from Texas, going to a high school game might not seem like much of a date night or a family night out. But for those of us who are new to the state, it was a fun evening under the lights.

Check the schedules in your area (they’re online if you don’t have a student in the school) and head out for date night under the lights. And who knows…you could become a real fan of a whole new team.

A walk can turn into art in Austin

signs near university of texas on Guadalupe

One of the things I’m enjoying here in Austin is the walk-ability.  And all the great shapes, colors, designs and fonts I find to look at and photograph along the way.

The images in this post came from a walk along Guadalupe across from the University of Texas campus.  Typical snapshots are of buildings or statues…but finding and photographing the small details of signs, fences, walls and sidewalks can turn an ordinary walk into an art experience.  Best of all, kids of all ages can get in on the experience.  Big kids like us have as much fun as little ones, and the little ones will love taking their own pictures.

And if you’re looking for a unique date night activity….two cameras, a connector and a tablet or laptop to look at your finds together over dinner or dessert.  Perfect!  Or head out by yourself for some quiet time really seeing your city, maybe for the first time.  It’s amazing how different things look when you’re looking for the details!

I know this isn’t the typical “A is For Austin” post, but once in awhile it’s nice to talk about something that’s free and fun and simple and easy to do no matter where in Austin you might be.