Austin on the water…on Wordfree Wednesday

A walk along the boardwalk, at sunset.Boardwalk in Austin TexasA chance to see some beautiful autumn color…

Autumn colors in Austin Texas

And watch the sunlight illuminate the buildings.

austin skyline at sundownWe couldn’t help watching these beautiful spiders spinning webs along the railings…

Spider on railing

Or trying to figure out why there were belts on the handrail along the board walk…

belt on handrail in AustinBut in the end, we kept coming back to the view…

Austin skyline with paddleboarder

If you haven’t checked out the new boardwalk, please do! It’s stroller/dog/kid friendly, and the perspective on the city is beautiful.

It’s Puppies! Austin Dog Rescue on Make a Difference Monday

Lindsay and a PuppyAustin Dog Rescue and a puppy to hug…gotta love it!

Over the past few days, Austin Dog Rescue has been offering a Puppy Kissing Booth in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s a great way to celebrate the holiday (raise your hand if your pets give you more love than most people!), and a fun way to show off the puppies looking for their forever homes in Austin.

Mimi, one of the adorable dogs at Austin Dog Rescue

But as much as I loved the cuddles (as you can see in that first shot, where she snuggled up against my neck, and fell asleep!), I really enjoyed learning more about this wonderful group.

Austin is known for its focus on animal rescue and no-kill shelters, but that’s not an easy thing to pull off. Caring for dogs until the right home is found is expensive, and requires a committed group of volunteers who will work with the pups until they’re adopted.

Pile of Valentines puppies

And when it comes to Austin Dog Rescue, that also means finding the right foster home for each and every dog accepted into the group. Unlike rescues based in shelters, which are another essential piece of the animal rescue puzzle, these puppies and adult dogs are cared for in private homes where they can spend time socializing with people and other pets.

That home-based care was the goal when the group was founded in 2006. And since that start, it has worked to help them place over 1,000 homeless pups in loving homes in and around Austin. But they’re not done. Even after all those forever homes were found, there are still so many wonderful dogs waiting for their own home. And new homeless dogs appear every day.

Austin Dog Rescue event

The pups are great, but it all comes down to the volunteers

At Sunday’s event, I loved meeting the amazing rescue volunteers almost as much as playing with the dogs. There were teens and there were seniors, and all ages in between.  Some were foster moms and dads. Others were event volunteers. But you could see that each and every one of them loved these pups.

If you’re thinking about adding a pup to your family, please celebrate one of the best aspects of Austin and head to a rescue group like Austin Dog Rescue, Austin Pets Alive, Austin Cats’ Angels instead of a breeder or a pet shop. The love — and the chance to save a life —  is there waiting for you!

Twin Lakes Park on Wordfree Wednesday

Let me be clear…I am not a desert rat. Anyone who knows me, knows I need to be around water to be truly happy. Flowing, splashing water. Which is why I was thrilled when we found Twin Lakes Park in Cedar Park….I could say more, but since this is Wordfree Wednesday,  I will let the images tell the story. 2013-09-29 18.26.33waterfall3 waterfall2 waterfall root river canyon bridge 2013-09-29 18.11.50

Hope Market offers freshest produce on “Find it in Austin Friday”

close up of okra in basket

Fresh okra….

Every Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm, Austanites can by-pass the tasteless, mealy textured produced served up by  grocery stores and experience the real thing at the Hope Farmer’s Market located at East 5th and Comal.

The Market began in October 2009, a challenge in a city known for stores selling organic and local produce. But almost four years later, it’s still going and growing, bringing Austin residents a weekly destination where they can connect with the farmers who grow the food instead of just a clerk who’s stocking it.

baskets of persimmons

Ripe persimmons….

Shoppers can find all sorts of fresh vegetable, fruits, nuts and herbs in season. Vendors also sell fresh milk and dairy products (including my favorite goat dairy products from Swede Farm), honey, syrup, eggs, meats and baked goods.

Radishes

Just picked radishes….

And while you shop you can also listen to live music, and maybe snack on some of the treats you just bought. If you go, please bring plenty of reusable bags — remember, no more plastic bags in Austin. Personally, I like using one of those old-lady folding carts, too. Hey, veggies get heavy!

Most of the stands accept EBT/SNAP and WIC benefits, making it easier for people in need of a hand to get the healthy food they really deserve. You can find out more about that at the Hope Farm Stand at the market. Most vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards, so if you’re not using one of the food assistance programs, do bring cash.

Kale

Fresh kale…

The Farmer’s Market is also a great place to take your kids shopping. Once they see all those brightly colored, tempting veggies and fruits you might have an easier time getting them to try them.

pecans in basket

Well-behaved dogs on leashes are welcome, too.

Smashburger adds a juicy twist to Austin casual dining

Smashburger signWho would have thought it…a near-lifetime vegetarian raving about a restaurant based on meat?  But it’s true. No, I did not cross over to the dark side. Let me explain.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a press preview for the newest location for Smashburger, a Colorado-based chain that’s opening its 202nd location at 9900 S. IH 35 in Austin today. Company founder and head cheerleader Tom Ryan was on hand to treat us to samples the restaurant’s signature burgers, chicken sandwiches, and (dear to my vegetarian heart!), in–house made black bean veggie burgers (yeah now you see where my enthusiasm comes from!)

veggie burger at Smashburger in Austin

Well, that and the piles of fragrant rosemary and olive oil fries, the crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices and the super-thin crispy onion rings with a truly addictive dipping sauce.

fries onion rings jalpenos at smashburger

In a world (and city) filled with fast-food burger joints, what makes Smashburger different? We found out as sample after sample came out from the kitchen.

Great big burgers topped with bar-b-que sauce, bacon and cheddar. Chicken sandwiches crispy in a chicken-friend-steak style coating. A cilantro-and-blue-corn-tortilla infused black bean burger (mine was topped with fresh slices of jalapeno and a spicy chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun — I love my spice!)  A grilled chicken sandwich topped with slices of locally-sourced goat cheese and crisp cucumber. Salads and hot dogs, too. The food kept coming, and the reviewers kept eating.

burgers and other sandwichs smashburger

“It’s too good to stop”, one food blogger said. Another added that Smashburger’s chicken sandwiches were the first chicken sandwiches he’d had that actually had flavor. And when we headed into the kitchen to watch the unique “smashing” process in action, another reviewer said the burger tasted more like steak than ordinary hamburger.  And (and this is a shocker!) in a city so well-known for its bar-b-que, several reviewers rated the Smashburger BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger the best they’d ever had.

For those who can’t image a burger without a tall frosty beer, they have you covered.

beer in mug

And for those who crave an ice-cold sweet old-fashioned shake or malt with their meal, yup, they’ve got you covered, too.

Milk shake at smashburger

As a vegetarian, I’ll admit there was a lot I didn’t taste. But as a foodie, I appreciated the incredible attention to detail in everything they do. The buns are toasted on the inside to prevent the juices from making them soggy. The menu in each of their 200+ locations is adjusted to match the tastes and food sources in the local market. The burgers are made from prime Angus beef, and the veggie burger is crafted in-house. Nothing is frozen and thawed.

Tom Ryan of Smashburger

Tom Ryan, who’s prior food masterpieces include the Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Pizza and the McDonald’s Fruit and Yogurt Parfait seems to have done it again.

Smashburger is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. They have a kids menu and a pet-friendly patio at their I-35 location. More Austin locations are planned, but for now only the Slaughter Lane and New Braunfels locations are open.

(My personal meat-eating partner couldn’t join me yesterday, so thank you to all my fellow reviewers for sharing your experiences with the meat!)

Baskets waiting for burgers

Make a Difference Monday and Austin’s Cats’ Angels

Cats Angels Image2I heard about Danielle from one of her friends. “She rescues cats”, she said. “Not just gives them a home. She really rescues them.” I wanted to know more, so I she connected me with Danielle, who is the group’s founder and current President.

“I always cared about animals”, she said. “But I was horrified when I found homeless, starving cats and kittens in my own neighborhood.”  That led her to start feeding the desperate strays she came across. And the kittens were spayed, so the next spring, there were almost none. Someone from the county called her the “Cats’ Angel” and the name stuck.

Cats Angels Image3

That was 10 years ago, and Danielle is still saving the lives of Austin’s most vulnerable feline residents. In the years since the group’s unplanned start, Cats’ Angels has become  a 501C-3 organization, and has expanded to include other foster families.

According to Danielle, the group doesn’t have a central location. All of their rescues are placed in foster homes where the often starved, injured or abused cats can get the TLC they need. Once the cats are well, up-to-date on vaccines and litter-trained, they are ready for forever families.

Cats’ Angles also doesn’t have a fancy website. Just a page on PetFinders. There you can see the cats available for adoption, read about some of her more memorable rescues, and find out more about the organization.

After talking with Danielle, I suspect their simple online presence is more about meeting priorities than making a choice to not have a regular site.  She’d rather be helping these lost animals heal and find a home than working online.

Cats Angels Image 1

Adoptions are handled via an application process, although Danielle assured me it wasn’t complex. She just wants to find a home where these cats who have often been saved from the streets won’t end up there again.

You can request an application by email.  Or you can pick up an application at one of their adoption events at PetCo on Great Hills. Contact Danielle at the adoption e-mail address to find out when the next event is scheduled.

Getting the current Cats’ Angels’ charges adopted is the group’s number one priority. “We can’t accept any more cats now. We are full up, and can only provide for a certain number of cats at a time,” said the group’s founder. “We need to get these cats into homes before we can take even a single cat more.”

If adoptions aren’t on the table right now, consider making a donation to help care for the cats waiting for their own family. Foster families are always needed, especially this time of year. Volunteers are also needed to play with the cats and kittens to help them socialize.

If time is an issue, but you still want to help. consider donating something from their modest but critical wish list.

  • Cat food (Purina cat chow, Wellness or Blue Buffalo, canned and dry)
  •  Clumping unscented cat litter
  • Gently used or new cat beds
  • Cat carriers, cat crates or cages (for showing the cats at adoption)
  • Cat toys

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?