Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Husband Traded Me for a Christmas Tree

No, I’m not married to some brute from the Dark Ages who views women as property to be traded.  My husband, Nick, is a really, really nice guy; he just happens to be fond of very small cars and is not your typical guy when it comes to keeping the car clean.  He actually drives a two-door Honda Civic, which I (not so affectionately) refer to as the half car.  It’s also always full of various odds and ends related to the fire department, more papers than any office I’ve ever worked in, and what else I don’t really want to know.

We bought our first Christmas tree together on the first Thanksgiving after we were married.  I’d never had a Christmas tree, and I was determined to get as big a one as possible and join the folks who put them up the day after Thanksgiving.  Michael’s had a sale on artificial trees that year; the store opened at 6:00 Thanksgiving evening and the pre-lit trees were 50 percent off, and we even had a coupon to take more off.  We had to go!

We spent Thanksgiving Day with some very dear friends and left straight from their house for Michael’s.  I HAD to have my tree.  The store was about 45 minutes from the house we were renting at the time.  Nick had driven to our friends’ house, since I was balancing several desserts on my lap, so we were in the half-car, which neither of us thought much about.

We arrived at Michael’s and found the perfect tree for us.  It was 7.5 feet and pre-lit with white lights.  It was beautiful and I fell in love with it.  We decided it was probably a little big for our living room, but then decided that Christmas only comes once a year, so why not get the tree we loved.

We paid for the tree and headed out to the car, with a sales associate wheeling the (exceptionally heavy) tree on a cart.  As we approached the car I began to have serious doubts about getting the tree into the car.  My husband, optimistic person that he is, was sure we could get the tree, and the two of us, into the car, along with all of the other stuff that was already in the car.

The sales associate very quickly left us to our own devices.  I can’t say that I blame him.  We spent nearly an hour trying to get the tree into the car from different angles.  The only way to get the tree into the car was to move everything else to the trunk and shove the tree in through the passenger door and kind of tip it into the backseat.  I tried scrunching down in the backseat; I was perfectly willing to have a cramped ride home for the sake of the tree, but I couldn’t scrunch up small enough to get the tree far enough in to get the door closed.

We finally came to the realization that only one person would fit in the car with the tree. Nick actually wanted to return the tree!  I quickly talked him out of that and into the idea of one of us staying behind while one of us took the tree home and then came back for the other person.

In addition to the fact that I couldn’t lift the tree on my own, we were in an area I wasn’t very familiar with.  I also have the ability to get lost in a revolving door, so driving home by myself from a place I wasn’t familiar with, with a giant Christmas tree in the car, and then trying to get back to the shopping center didn’t seem like a good idea at all.  We finally decided that Nick would take the tree home and then come back for me. 

I spent that hour and half wandering around Michael’s, which is not a bad place to be stranded, and calling to wish friends and family a happy Thanksgiving.   Nick made it home in record time, shoved the tree in the house, and then came rushing back to get me.

It made for a pretty funny story when people asked how our first Thanksgiving was.  I don’t think anyone expected the answer to begin with “Oh, Nick left me at Michaels’” or “Nick traded me in for a Christmas tree”.  It’s still fun to tell the story whenever someone comes over during the holidays and comments on our tree.  It may have gotten me left behind at the store, but we have a great tree.

Monday, November 24, 2014

There’s No Predicting Dogs

I like to think that we know Emma and Duke pretty well.  I’ve had Emma for eleven years, we spent a lot of time together when I took real estate pictures for work (she rode with me nearly everywhere I went), and I’m generally pretty tuned it to what’s going on with her.  We’ve had Duke for a little over a year now.  A lot of that time (about the first six months or so) was spent cuddling on the couch with him while he went through heart worm treatment and a leg amputation.  Again, I feel like we’re pretty tuned in to what’s going on with him.
Most of the time we’re very good at predicting how and Emma and Duke will react to situations, what they’ll like, what they won’t like, when to break out the thundershirts, etc.  But, every now and then, they like to surprise us.
We took Emma (it was about a month before Duke entered our lives) on vacation to the beach for the first time last year.  We didn’t expect Emma to go in the water.  She assures us every time it rains that she will most definitely melt if she gets wet.  She has no interest in streams or rivers whenever we take her hiking, and let’s not even talk about bath time. 
So we really didn’t expect Emma to go into the water.  At all.  But it turned out that she loved it.  She didn’t go in very deep, but she waded and had a great time running through the waves.  Surprise, surprise! 
When this year’s vacation finally rolled around last week, we just knew that Duke was going to love the ocean.  He frolics in the rain, and drags us into any stream or river he finds while hiking.  He’ll even just flop down into the water and lay there to cool off. 
We thought he’d love the ocean.  Once again, we were wrong.  Duke wanted no part of the ocean.  He didn’t like the waves coming at him.  He loved the sand, loved running on the beach, loved chasing birds and crabs, and unfortunately loved trying to eat any trash he found on the beach.  He just wasn’t having the water.  Surprise, surprise!  Again. 
I guess we can’t always predict dogs, no matter how well we may know them.  Has your dog, or any other fur kid, surprised you lately?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – The Bathroom

Isn’t that a lovely title that makes you want to read more?  Bad title aside, having an accessible, well-stocked bathroom is a very basic part of entertaining at home.  Here are some basics for a company friendly bathroom:
-          Make sure everyone knows where the bathroom is.  If there’s a second bathroom available, make sure people know that as well.
-          Consider lighting a scented candle or placing some potpourri on the counter.  A fresh smelling bathroom is much more inviting.
-          While your home certainly doesn’t have to be perfect in order to entertain spend a few minutes straightening up the bathroom. No one wants to fight their way through prescriptions, cosmetics, combs, brushes, etc to find the sink. 
-          A well-stocked bathroom makes for happy guests.  Sure, bathroom mishaps are hilarious in a romantic comedy, but no one wants to deal with that in real life.  Make sure your bathroom is well-stocked with towels and/or paper towels, toilet paper, and hand soap.  No one wants to search or ask for anything in the bathroom. 
So what are your tips and tricks for making sure the bathroom is company friendly?  Or do you care to share a misadventure in a bathroom that wasn’t company friendly? 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Let Your Slow Cooker Do the Work

Nick works a job that gives him very few weekends off.  Many of our friends also seem to have jobs that require a lot of weekend work, so entertaining on the weekend isn’t always a viable option for us.  I work Monday – Friday, so we’ve had to learn ways to juggle to make it work.
One of the ways to make it easier to invite someone to dinner during the week is to let the slow cooker do the cooking while I’m at work.  We can just put everything in it in the morning and then dinner is ready by the evening.  Honestly, I rely on the slow cooker sometimes even when we do entertain on a weekend and I just don’t want to spend my time standing over the stove.  It seems to make things easier and less stressful. 
Here are a few of my go-to slow cooker recipes for entertaining:
Even if you don’t plan to make the entire meal in a slow cooker, just making one dish in the slow cooker can really free up some of your time and make it a little easier for you to sit back and enjoy spending time with your guests. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Entertaining On A Budget

While extending hospitality doesn’t have to involve anything extravagant it can become fairly expensive in a hurry.  Sometimes the budget just doesn’t allow spending a lot of money on one meal or event.  Fortunately, entertaining at home doesn’t have to be expensive. 
Here are some of my favorite ways to keep entertaining at home budget friendly:
Serve a taco/burrito buffet.  Inexpensive ingredients like beans, rice, and vegetables can be used to stretch more expensive items like meat and dips.  It also allows everyone to customize their own meal to their liking.  This works especially well if you’re hosting a large group, or if anyone has any dietary restrictions. 
Serve soup or chili.  This works especially well during the colder months. Chili is inexpensive to make, and you can stretch it even further by serving rice and/or macaroni noodles with it.  Biscuits, bread, or cornmeal help to stretch it even further, and are just perfect with soup or chili.
Have a brunch or serve breakfast for dinner.  Breakfast foods are typically less expensive to make, and most people don’t seem to have time for a big breakfast due to work.  Take advantage of that and serve breakfast for dinner or host a weekend brunch.
Serve what’s on sale/in season.  Let the grocery store sale ad or what’s ready from the garden help determine your menu.  In season foods usually taste better anyway.
So what about you?  What are your tips and tricks for entertaining on a budget? 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Little Touches Make a Big Difference

You don’t have to go all out or do anything extravagant to make someone feel welcome in your home.  Sometimes the smallest things are enough to do it. 
One of the best examples I can think of is when Nick and I first started dating.  He has a friend, Ben, whose mom, Martha, has become sort of a second mom to Nick over the years.  At the time, Martha cooked a big family dinner once a week for everyone (and I do mean everyone) who wanted to come eat.  The first time I met their family was at one of those dinners.
It came up that I don’t eat chocolate.  I didn’t think much about it.  I know it’s weird not to eat chocolate, and I’m used to skipping dessert at a lot of functions because everyone loves chocolate.  The next week and the next dinner came around and Martha had vanilla ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. 
That made me feel so good!  It felt like she wanted me to be there, and like what I liked was important to her.  I know ice cream sandwiches aren’t a huge thing, but the thoughtfulness meant so much. 
Here are some little touches I’ve found that seem to make a big difference to guests:
-          If you’re making or buying someone’s birthday cake try to get the writing in their favorite color(s).
-          If someone has a soda or juice that you know they absolutely love try to have that on hand when they come to your home.
-          Make someone’s favorite meal, or side dish, or dessert when they’re coming to dinner.
So what about you?  What are some of the little things that you think make a big difference when it comes to hospitality? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Don’t Do It If Your Heart Isn’t In It

You may be sitting there thinking “Isn’t this supposed to be part of a series about hospitality and entertaining?  Then why is she saying ‘don’t do it’? That could have just been one post, not a two week series.” 
I’m definitely not saying “don’t do it”.  I’m saying don’t do it with the wrong attitude.  Let me explain.
When I was a child, my parents (and by extension my sister and I) belonged to a religion that didn’t have regular preachers/priests/reverends.  Once the men achieved a certain rank they were part of a rotation that delivered the Sunday sermon. Sometimes there was trading out among local congregations.  My dad got added to the rotation when I was about ten years old.  There was also a tradition of all of the families in the congregation being on a list to rotate extending hospitality to whoever delivered the Sunday sermon and their family.  It sounds kind of nice in theory, but the reality was anything but.
You see, the hospitality list was more obligatory than voluntary, and there was no choosing who you’d end up with.  Very often “hospitality” was extended grudgingly.  Sometimes the host family just didn’t care much for the person who’d delivered the sermon.  Sometimes the host family just didn’t want to entertain that weekend.  Sometimes the tension was very nearly unbearable.  I can’t even count the times I sat at someone’s dining room table silently promising myself that when I grew up and had my own house, no one who came over would feel that way. 
That’s not what hospitality is supposed to be.  Guests shouldn’t feel resented and wonder what in the world they’re even doing there.  No one wants to suffer through that sort of “hospitality”. 
It’s okay to take a break from extending hospitality.  You don’t want to be miserable, and you don’t want to make your guests miserable.  Maybe you’ve thrown a Christmas party every year for the past ten years, but you just don’t feel like doing it this year.  Don’t.  If your heart isn’t in it, you’re probably not going to enjoy it, and that’s something that your guests will very likely pick up on. 
Take a break.  Regroup.  Maybe revamp how you choose to entertain at home, or re-work your guest list.  Do whatever it is you need to do to go back to wanting to extend hospitality and entertain in your home.  You’ll enjoy it more, and your guests will feel welcome and glad to have been invited.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Starting Small

If you’ve never entertained in your home, or if it has been a long time since you’ve entertained in your home, the idea of preparing a meal for a large number of people can be terrifying daunting.  However, extending hospitality doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  You really don’t have to start off with a multi-course formal dinner. 
Here are a few ways to start small:

Invite a co-worker home with you for lunch.  Is it your usual lunchtime routine to go home and make a sandwich?  Why not invite a co-worker along?  It’s a simple thing, and there’s a time limit, but you’re still extending hospitality.
Invite a neighbor in for coffee/muffins/iced tea.  Do you have a neighbor that you’re kind of friendly with?  Consider inviting them into your home for a hot cup of coffee on a cold day, or maybe a glass of iced tea on a warm day when they’ve been out doing yard work. 
Invite friends back to your home after another event.  There are lots of events going on during this time of year: tree lightings, shopping trips with friends, going to look at Christmas lights, etc.  Extend an invitation to go to your home afterward for something simple, maybe hot cocoa or hot apple cider.
What you offer isn’t as important as the gesture.  Maybe you make the world’s best chocolate chip cookies, and you can share them with guests in your home.  That’s wonderful.  Or maybe you can’t bake to save your life, and you invite guests into your home to share Chips Ahoy cookies. That’s wonderful too. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hospitality & Entertaining – Why I Love Entertaining At Home

I’ve been asked more than once why I choose to entertain at home so often.  Many people make the argument that it can involve a lot of time, work, energy, and money. They question whether or not the return is worth the investment.  For me, it absolutely is.
I love feeding people, I love the look on someone’s face when they realize someone remembered and made their favorite dessert.  I love the feeling that friends/family are comfortable in our home and that we can sit around and chat for hours if we choose. 
If I took the time to sit down and write them out, there are probably hundreds of reasons why I love entertaining at home, but I’m not going to do that, so here are my top five:
1.        Entertaining at home is a great way to get to know someone better.  People seem to naturally be more relaxed in a home environment, so you get to know the “real” person.
2.       It’s much more budget friendly to invite someone into your home for a simple meal than it is to go out for a similar meal. Budgets don’t always allow going out to eat, but that’s no reason to miss out on the companionship of a shared meal.
3.       It makes people feel really good when you choose to invite them into your home.  Don’t you feel special when someone likes/values/cares enough about you to invite you into their home?  Chances are you can make someone feel really good by extending an invitation.
4.       You’re in control of a lot of things.  I know, this probably makes me sound really Type A, but fear of certain social situations is a really big deal for a lot of people.  At home you’re more able to work with what you’re able to do.  If big crowds/loud music/strange or new foods cause you too much stress then you can keep it small/quiet/familiar in your own home. 
5.       You get to be part of something timeless.  Hospitality and entertaining seem to go back as far as recorded history.  People seemed to want to socialize and open their homes.  My grandmother’s generation could pull a dinner party together without blinking; it was second nature for them.  There’s just something wonderful about continuing that.
So what about you?  What are your favorite reasons for entertaining at home? 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Since When Are We Best Buds?

I know that we are very, very fortunate to live in a country that allows us the right to vote, and to have such a large voice in really important issues.  I understand that not everyone has this right, and that countless men and women have died fighting for it.  And I appreciate that.  I really do.  However, I also dread election season.
Hubby and I are registered as Independents.  I’ll spare you the stories of why; let it suffice to say that we see it as a good thing.   Mostly.  The bad thing is that we seem to get a lot of attention from both of the main parties, and all of the candidates.  I guess our votes are seen as really being “up for grabs”.  Every day the mailbox is filled with letters and postcards boldly declaring why Mr. Y or Miss X can be our only choice. 
This year, though, they’ve added phone calls into the mix.  Really annoying, overly chummy phone calls.  Most of them have gone to voicemail.  They’re largely all the same: “Hi Danielle!  It’s Bob!  I’m calling to get your pledge to vote for Candidate John Doe!  He’ll solve all of North Carolina’s problems, and give everyone a puppy!”  Okay, so the puppy part is an exaggeration.  The exclamation points aren’t. 
I can’t help wondering when “Bob”, who I’ve never met, and I became best buds.  I understand that Bob is enthusiastic, and I’m kind of interested in knowing what he’s putting in his coffee that makes him so perky.  But we’re not friends.  Calling me by first name doesn’t make us friends.  It doesn’t necessarily put us on the same side of an issue.  And it definitely doesn’t put Bob in the position of asking me to “pledge” or promise something.
I don’t stand on ceremony when it comes to names.  I still look around for my husband’s grandmother on the rare occasion when someone addresses me as Mrs. Zecher.  The kids next door call us Mr. Nick and Miss Danielle – their parents’ rule, not ours.  I’d be totally fine with them just calling me Danielle. We’ve talked about pets, their piano lessons, the garden – I know them. 
I don’t know Bob.  And we’re certainly not best buds.  I can’t help thinking that it is inappropriate for politicians (or their over-caffeinated minions) to presume to act like we’re best buds.  We’re not, and trying to behave as though we are doesn’t help their cause. 
So what about you?  Have you fallen victim to the phone calls?  Does it irritate you when a stranger calls and acts like you’re best buds? 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chandler & Pansy

During the summer our semi-local no kill shelter was inundated with cats and kittens; at one point there were nearly 400 cats and kittens in their care.  They sent out a plea for temporary foster homes and we ended up bringing Chandler and Pansy home for about a month. 
They weren’t even two pounds when we brought them home.  Frankie is our baby, and he’s five now, so it had been a while since we’d had tiny little kittens in the house.  They have so much energy when they’re that little!  Everything was interesting to them, and every day was an adventure. 
We had to keep Chandler and Pansy in a separate room because Duke seems to believe that tiny furry creatures are snacks, not guests, but we spent lots of time playing and cuddling with them.  And being climbed. Apparently we both make great human jungle gyms. 
After about a month the shelter had adopted out enough cats and kittens to have a little breathing room and Chandler and Pansy were able to go back to the shelter to be put up for adoption.  We really enjoyed having them.  It was a lot of fun to watch them explore, grow, and really start to develop their personalities. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Is It Possible To Care Deeply About Everything?

If you’ve spent more than about five minutes here at Sweet Tea Reads, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a supporter of animal rescue.  I have a few other causes that are near and dear; Alzheimer’s, cancer, the American Liver Foundation, and things relating to the emergency services/first responders (if you’ve been around for a while you probably know why those are the things I really care about).  
I’m not saying that I just don’t care at all about other causes.  They just aren’t really button pushers for me.  They don’t ignite passion or anger.  I mostly find myself thinking “that’s terrible” or “I’m glad someone is working on that” and then going on with my day.  Maybe that makes me really horrible.  I like to think it all balances out because the things I care deeply about are maybe the things that make some other people think “that’s terrible” or “I’m glad someone is working on that” before going on with their day.
Nick and I have talked about this a lot over the years.  He has a few near and dear causes as well, and for the most part ours line up very well.  We choose very few causes to support financially as we’re able, he spends almost all of his volunteer time with the fire department, and I spend almost all of mine doing something related to animal rescue.  We both have a different place we want to volunteer at once we’re retired, and it’s one of the things we’re looking forward to when retirement finally comes. 
We both think that with limited time and resources it makes sense to focus on the things that really matter to us.  Now, I’m not saying that we refuse to support other causes.  I can think of only a few causes that either of us adamantly refuse to support.  We’re both on board with saying yes whenever a cashier asks if we’d like to donate to this or that cause as long as it’s not one of the few we refuse to support.  We both will usually chip in a little if a friend or co-worker is raising money with some sort of walk or run.  I think the difference is that when it’s not one of “our” causes we have to be asked, and we do/give a lot less.  I’m okay with that because I know it’s not that we’re being stingy, it’s just that we support something else instead.
I’ve had conversations with friends over the years who just don’t understand or agree with this approach.  They view caring more about one cause as not caring at all or enough about another.  Or they make the argument that anyone putting forth the effort for their cause deserves just as much consideration for that cause. 
Most recently this conversation has been with my sister.  She has recently become very involved with a cause through one of her very close friends. It’s a really good cause, and I’m proud of them for really acting like grownups and working hard at something important.  It’s a good cause. It’s just not one that really pushes my buttons or inspires a lot of passion or anger.
My sister doesn’t understand this.  She has asked me to do a few things related to this cause.  I’ve declined a few, and done a few, though apparently not with the energy and zeal she expected.  I finally tried to tell her that while I really respect what she’s doing it’s just not something I’m as passionate about.  She doesn’t understand this.  She makes the argument that caring deeply about and working hard for her cause doesn’t have to take away from any of mine.
I just don’t agree.  There are only 24 hours in a day; time spent doing one thing typically means less time spent doing something else.  Monetary donations are also limited; a donation to one cause means no donation to another cause.  Therefore I choose to donate the bulk of my time and resources to the causes I care deeply about.  I’m just one person, and I don’t seem to have the time, resources, or energy to do it all. 
What about you?  Do you think it’s wrong to be much more passionate for some causes than others?  Or do you choose carefully?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Series on Hospitality & Entertaining

I’ve written fewer blog posts this year than in either of the two prior years.  I’m not liking this pattern.  I enjoy blogging, I just seem to let it go the moment things start to get busier than usual, and then I get annoyed with myself for not blogging.  I’m trying to work on that.  I’ve read quite a few posts from other bloggers about doing some sort of series or challenge to get into a regular blogging routine, and I like that idea.  I’m not sure about sticking to one topic for an entire month, but a two week series seems very doable.
So I’ve decided to write a two week series on hospitality and entertaining, I'll run the series from November 1st - 14th, just in time for the holiday season.  We’re getting into the time of year when people are planning (or thinking about planning) holiday parties, dinners, and hosting out of town guests, so the timing seems good, and one of the best compliments I’ve ever been given was when a friend told me that I’m a good hostess, and that she couldn’t imagine ever coming to my house and not being made to feel welcome.  I can’t begin to tell you how amazing that made me feel!  I’m also hoping it means that I’ll actually have something to offer with this series.
I’ve already written a few of the posts, and I plan to address things like choosing what type of event to host and entertaining on a budget.  If there are questions you have, or specific topics you’d like to read about please let me know in the comments.  I want this to be useful, or at least interesting, so ask away. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

When “Failure” Makes You Happy

Do you remember Duke, the dog we picked up from the shelter to foster almost a year ago?  We “foster failed” during the summer.
When Duke came to us, he was heartworm positive, and had a damaged paw.  He made it through the heartworm treatment (which took almost six months before we got the negative test) and into our hearts while he was going through that.
He just fit in perfectly from the beginning.  We love him, Emma loves him, and he does well with the cats.  We had to keep him! 
Duke’s front right paw was damaged when he came to us.  It was initially thought that he’d had a broken leg that didn’t heal properly, but when they did more testing they determined that it was nerve damage (no one has any idea how it happened, and unfortunately he can’t tell us) and that the leg couldn’t be saved. 
His leg was amputated about a month after his negative heartworm test. He went in for the surgery on a Wednesday morning and came home on a Thursday afternoon.  The first few days were rough.  He was uncomfortable, he didn’t like the bandage, we had a lot of trouble keeping the bandage on, he kept messing with the IV site, and we had a terrible time dealing with that once he licked it to the point of having a sore.  But we got through it!  My friend Crystal came and stayed that weekend to help with him.  Nick is an EMT, so is really good at changing bandages, and I became fairly decent at it myself by the time it was over.
During the process of his leg amputation and recovery Duke managed to become a little bit of a local celebrity (or at least had a “15 minutes of fame” thing going on) when the shelter started a chip-in to try and raise some of the money for all of his treatment.  He was very popular at the vet’s office, I tracked his progress on Facebook, people we barely knew were asking us about Duke’s recovery, and I ended up bringing him to work to meet some people.  That grew, and he ended up visiting a few different departments.  Duke loves people and attention, so he basked in his fame. 
Things have calmed down, and we’re happily a six fur kid family.  We have noticed that Duke seems to get some extra attention whenever we take the dogs out.  There’s just something about a three-legged animal that seems to make people want to pet them and meet them.  Duke is fine with that because he loves people.  And food.  And people have food! 
So we totally “failed” as foster parents with Duke, but we couldn’t be happier to have failed.  He just fits in and completes our furry family. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Winner & An Apology

So I may be the worst blogger ever.  My deepest apologies.  All I have to say for myself is that the summer just got away from me.  I can’t believe we’re already officially a week into fall.
The winner of my June Is Adopt A Cat Month feature is PAWS.  You can read more about them at Animal Shelter Volunteer Life.  The check is finally in the mail.  I am so sorry it is so late!  Thank you to everyone who participated.
Our summer was crazy and busy; some bad stuff, some good stuff, mostly just life. 
Nick’s grandfather, who has always been incredibly healthy and active, was hospitalized, and now has a major heart problem.  I’ll try to make a long story short.  He was initially hospitalized for pneumonia, after Urgent Care sent him to the Emergency Room and the Emergency Room sent him to ICU, largely as a precaution due to his age.  Less than 12 hours later he was on a ventilator.  Things were very up and down, and he ended up being moved to a different hospital.  He’s home now, and will be going back for major heart surgery later this week.  If optimism counts for anything, he should be just fine.
This has been the summer of appliances for us.  We finally bought a small chest freezer after talking about it for years.  We planted a much bigger garden this year, and everything lived, so it was nice to be able to freeze so many things.  The CSA boxes have also been very full most weeks.  I had mixed feelings about adding a second freezer when it’s just the two of us, but I think it’s a good thing.  Using our own homegrown produce this winter instead of paying outrageous prices for it in the grocery store should help make up a lot of the cost of the freezer.  And I’ve been able to freeze things like home-made chicken broth that we just didn’t have room for before. 
Our HVAC finally gave up.  We’ve known for a while that we would be replacing it sooner rather than later.  No one is sure when our old one was put in, but everyone who ever came to work on it said you just didn’t see those anymore.  There’s a chance it was as old (or older) than we are, so it did its time.  “Sooner” became “now” in July, though it took until August to get everything together to get it done.  The new unit is great.  It doesn’t run all of the time like the old one did, and we’ve noticed a difference in the power bills.  I’m very excited about the heat working better this winter! Hopefully no more mornings of waking up to ice crystals on windows. 
I’ve often heard that things happen in threes, and that proved to be the case for buying appliances for us when the washing machine died/flooded. I was doing laundry before my sister came to visit, and when I went to move it from the washer to the dryer I walked through standing water. That’s never a good sign.  We thought we had it fixed and it flooded again. We finally determined that fixing it properly was going to cost about as much as a new washing machine, so we opted to get a new one.  I’m mildly obsessed with doing laundry, so I’m still really excited about the new one. It’s High Efficiency, and it’s huge.  It can handle a dog bed, which is a big deal in our house.
No summer would be complete without something involving pets.  We fostered two adorable little kittens for about a month.  More on them later, because that much cute has to have a separate post.  We also officially adopted Duke (we’re currently at about a 50% “fail” rate as foster parents).  More on that later as well.  Duke’s journey has been long and intense. 
The garden did better than it ever has before.  We put in two raised beds, and (mostly) maintained what we had before.  We ended up with lots and lots of squash, zucchini, peppers, basil, and tomatoes.  We shared quite a bit, and froze quite a bit to enjoy later.  I think we would have had more, but I hurt my back and the garden was left largely untended for nearly three weeks.  The cherry tomatoes are still going strong, though; last year they made it almost to the end of October.  The basil is still holding on, though it’s no longer thriving.  Now I just need to get out there and pull out all of the dead plants. 
So what about you?  How was your summer?  I’m looking forward to catching up and seeing what I missed. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Interview with Animal Shelter Volunteer Life

Today we have an interview with Meowmeowmans (a.k.a. Kevin) from Animal Shelter Volunteer Life.  It's a great blog featuring the adoptable cats at PAWS.  Be sure to check it out!  

Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with us about your work at PAWS!  And thank you for being involved in cat rescue!  Yours is the only rescue blog I’ve ever come across.  What led to the decision to write a rescue blog?

My amazing wife, Tracey, started Animal Shelter Volunteer Life to help raise awareness about the wonderful PAWS cats, and to help demonstrate the amazing human/animal bond that takes place during the time we spend at the shelter.

How did you become involved in cat rescue?

I’ve always been a huge animal lover, and while growing up in Southern California, my family had a wide range of pets, including dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, lizards and fish (though not all at the same time).  Flash forward MANY years … I first began volunteering at PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) at a time when I had just moved back to the Norwalk, Connecticut area, after a job stint in another city.  I was living in an apartment that did not allow pets (happily, my landlords later changed their minds), and figured I could get an “animal fix” by volunteering with the cats and dogs, while doing something good and productive. 

It wasn’t long at all before I was hooked.  And it was clear I was getting far more BACK from these animals and my experiences at the shelter than I could ever give.  I am still volunteering there almost 17 years later.  On a side note, PAWS is where Tracey (who has been volunteering for 11 years) and I reconnected (we used to work together a long time ago) and fell in love.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face at PAWS?

Like any no-kill shelter, it’s often a numbers game for PAWS.  There are so many stray and abandoned animals out there, and not enough space or resources.  It really highlights the need for strong spay and neuter programs, education, and Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR), etc.

Anyone involved in animal rescue knows that it can be heartbreaking at times, is there one particular rescue story or experience that helps you continue on as a cat rescuer?

There is definitely some sadness that comes with being involved with animal rescue, but it’s critical to remember that the lives of the animals that do wind up being rescued are improved on so many levels. You never forget the sad things that happen, but clinging to – and really owning – the good stuff that happens really helps keep us from being overwhelmed.

It breaks our hearts to see new arrivals that are fearful, angry or emotionally withdrawn.  And who can blame them? What an overwhelming experience to be thrust into.  But we are so often amazed and inspired to see love, kindness and patience help those very same animals learn to trust people again.  And there’s no better feeling than when that animal finds its forever home.

So many times people seem to think that what they’re able to do isn’t “enough” to help a rescue or shelter.  What are some of the small ways you’ve found that people can make a big difference in the lives of shelter cats?

There are so many opportunities to help shelter animals.  Some people might think that “only a few hours” isn’t going to make a difference.  But there is so much you can do.  A few hours spent sitting quietly with a frightened animal could very well be the thing that helps it begin to trust people.  And for those who aren’t as hands-on, the shelter is always in need of supplies, food, and donations.  Other ways to help include fundraising, helping to write pet animal bios, conducting store visits to solicit donations and distribute information, making needed building repairs, transporting animals for vet appointments, cleaning, writing thank you letters, collecting and redeeming  ​cans and bottles, fostering animals, and so on.   These things are all critical to the shelter’s survival, so it is no exaggeration to say they all make a big difference in the animals’ lives.  I would encourage everyone to just try volunteering.  The time you give will change lives – the animals’ and yours!

Is there anything major (urgent need, exciting new plans, etc.) going on with PAWS right now?

There is a really cool volunteer-initiated and implemented “catification” enrichment effort underway right now in one of the open (no cage) cat rooms.  The room is being redesigned – with spaces, furniture and interactive features – to improve the lives of the cats by creating a home-like atmosphere for these kitties as they wait for their real forever homes.

If you had one paragraph to convince someone to adopt/rescue a cat, what would you tell them?

Shelter cats are amazing, and have so much love to give.  They are not somehow “broken.”  In our experience, there’s a good home for every cat and dog … they just need a chance.  By adopting an animal, you’re actually saving TWO lives – the one of the animal you adopt, and the one of the animal for whom there is now space at the shelter.  Rescue pets KNOW you’re the one who saved them.  Your reward is the unconditional love they give to you.  And everyone wants to be loved, right?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Interview With Anna From Herding Cats & Burning Soup

Today we have an interview with Anna from Herding Cats & Burning Soup.  

First of all, thank you for being a cat rescuer.  It seems like the kitties need all of the help they can get.  How did you become involved in cat rescue?  Did you always plan to become a herder of cats?
Hey Danielle! LOL nope never really planned on being a herder of cats. I'd originally wanted to herd other peoples pets as a vet but then my mom sent me a book about Best Friend's Animal Society out in Utah. They're a huge sanctuary and do animal outreach. And that completely changed my plans and I decided once I finished school I'd open a rescue but then...I had an escapee of the feline variety from my herd.
For weeks I searched all of the animal control centers for Piedmont. There were so many kittens looking for homes and I knew since it was a county shelter most wouldn't make it long enough to find homes since they euthanize for space reasons. So after 3 1/2 weeks of searching with no luck I decided I'd probably never find Piedmont and maybe it had all been set in motion to get me to start the rescue then instead of waiting until I'd finished college. I did all my paperwork, brought home a handful of kittens and then...2 days later...Piedmont came strolling into the house and jumped up on his bookcase like he hadn't been gone for nearly a month. ::snort:: He's snuggled up at the foot of the bed as I type. lol (about 10 years later)

How many cats have come through your rescue?
 Oh goodness. Since I started 350ish plus a couple hundred pups and a few mice.

How many cats and kittens, on average, are in your care on any given day?
 It's changed over the years depending on the rescue's set up. A few years back we moved into an adoption center (from mainly using foster homes) so it went up a bit for me personally since I manage the adoption center. Right now on a daily basis I'm in charge of around 30 cats between my personal cats, fosters that live with me and the kitties that live at our adoption center.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a cat rescuer?
 Finding homes for less adopable kitties--adults, solid black cats, ones with medical issues or that are shy. It's so hard for all of them to find their forever families. They're often overlooked for kittens and younger kitties or ones that have more unique coat patterns.

So many people seem to feel that what they’re able to do or give isn’t “enough” to make a difference in rescue.  As a rescuer, what are some of the really small ways people can help to make a big difference?
 Everything can be helpful depending on the rescue's set up and really makes a huge difference. Some things from my end...
Donations! From small donations of food, toys or treats to monetary donations. With having an adoption center--cleaning supplies are always great things to received, bedding, towels, baskets the cats can snuggle in
Socializing with the animals-- Many animals come into rescues from hard situations. Some are shy, or have had little love in their lives or are just a little shell shocked from being in such a new situation. So coming in to the rescue and socializing--just sitting around and letting a herd babe climb in your lap for a while or rolling around a toy with a playful kitten is amazing! While it might not seem like much you can make a huge difference in helping them adjust and find their forever homes.
Donating your labor--If you have special skills or just a few hours on your hands and can help with things like cleaning their living areas or making repairs and such. If the rescue has an adoption center or you have a local shelter those are things that have to happen every single day of the year. Workdays, weekends, holidays. If you have the time and are willing to get a little dirty it's not glamorous but definitely helps the cause.
Helping out at adoption events. It all really helps. Even if you've just got an hour or two here or there.

Is there anything major (urgent need, exciting new plans, etc.) going on with your rescue right now?
Herm. Not really! We're in the process of turning more sanctuary than rescue. So more focus on longer term fosters that have "issues" that make them less adoptable so things are quieter around here at the moment.

If you had one paragraph to convince someone to rescue/adopt a cat what would you say?
You're saving more than one life every time you adopt a kitty. The kitty you adopted and the one a rescue can pull to take it's place which in turn gives those at county shelters just a little more time. It's an amazing thing.

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with us about your cat rescue.
Thanks so much for having me on! Love what you're doing this month spreading the word and greatly appreciate it :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June Is Adopt A Cat Month

I haven’t forgotten about or abandoned this project!  It’s just that June has also turned into something of a crazy month for me.  I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me when a month I see as license to indulge my inner crazy cat lady turns crazy.
There are a few modifications to my plan, however.  Obviously, I am not featuring a different cat and/or shelter every day as I had originally hoped. I do still have some guest posts lined up, and I’m very excited about those. It’s not too late to have a guest post.  If you’d like to share anything relevant to the world of cat rescue, just send me an email.  It’s all about the cats!
I’m still entering all of the rescues featured into a drawing for a $25.00 donation from me, and will announce that on July 1st
In closing for today, I’d just like to encourage everyone to do something nice for shelter cats this month.   We’re not all in a position to adopt another cat, and that’s perfectly understandable, but we can all do a little something to make things a little easier for shelter cats whether it’s donating to your local shelter, dropping off a bag of food or litter, changing litter boxes, or helping to socialize the cats.  After all, it is their month. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review of Grayson's Surrender and Taking Cover & Interview with Catherine Mann

Today I have my first ever author interview with Catherine Mann.  I’m very excited!  I received a copy of the 2 in 1 release of Grayson’s Surrender and Taking Cover in exchange for an honest review, and Catherine graciously agreed to an interview as part of her blog tour. 

See how it all started with the first two books in Catherine Mann’s RITA Award winning “Wingmen Warriors” series!

***This 2-in-1 is available in print only. If you wish to order the books digitally, they must be ordered individually.***

Grayson’s Surrender (Wingman Warriors #1) and Taking Cover (Wingman Warriors #2)

by Catherine Mann
Genre: Contemporary Military Romance
Age category: Adult

  GRAYSON’S SURRENDER: Flight Surgeon Grayson Clark and NGO worker Lori Rutledge shared a passionate summer full of promise and ultimately heartbreak. After his turbulent childhood, Grayson knows well he’s ill-equipped to offer Lori the security she craves. But Grayson can’t escape Lori’s allure when they’re paired on a military rescue operation to an overseas orphanage. When one heart-tugging orphan charms her way into Lori’s life and Grayson’s heart, Lori and Grayson discover a new understanding of family – and a free-falling surrender to love.

TAKING COVER: Battle lines are drawn when Flight Surgeon Kathleen O’Connell temporarily grounds Captain Tanner Bennett from flying combat. No way does Tanner plan to watch his crew from the sidelines. Not that he has a choice, thanks to by-the-rules Kathleen and his ground duty assignment to investigate a crash. When Kathleen is teamed with him in the investigation, they’re both diving for cover as they battle an attraction ready to detonate!

You can find this 2-in-1 book Grayson’s Surrender and Taking Cover here on Goodreads:

You can buy this 2-in-1 book Grayson’s Surrender and Taking Cover here:

You can also buy them separately. Grayson’s Surrender:

Taking Cover:

About the Author:
USA Today bestseller Catherine Mann and RITA Award winner, Catherine writes contemporary romance for Berkley, Harlequin, and Sourcebooks, With over two million books in print in more than twenty countries, she has also celebrated five RITA finals, three Maggie Award of Excellence finals and a Bookseller’s Best win. A former theater school director and university instructor, she holds a Master’s degree in Theater from UNC-Greensboro and a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts: Theater (with minors in both English and Education) from the College of Charleston. Catherine and her flyboy husband live on the Florida coast where they brought up their 4 children – and still have 5 four-legged, furry “children” (aka pets). Catherine is an active volunteer with her local Humane Society, serving on their Board of Directors and fostering puppies and special needs dogs (she stopped counting at a hundred). She recently checked off a major item on her “bucket list” by completing the hands-on training for the Florida State Animal Rescue Coalition. Catherine enjoys hearing from her readers and can be found online daily.  To receive an autographed bookmark, send a SASE to: P.O. Box 6065, Navarre, FL 32566

You can find and contact Catherine here:

My Reviews:

Grayson’s Surrender:  I gave this one four stars.  Grayson and Lori are a great couple who had a really good thing going, but kind of messed it up.  They shared a summer of dating and a great relationship, but then decided they had different life plans and broke up.  They’re thrown back together during a mission to rescue orphans from a warzone.

Lori has ideas about what it takes to be a real family, and those ideas frighten Grayson, who has some ideas of his own about what family involves.  They end up spending a lot of time together after the mission and the spark between them is definitely re-kindled.

I really loved this book because Grayson and Lori seem real; they have problems that are real world – different ideas about marriage and children, different career paths, differing levels of willingness to pack up and move, and some baggage from their childhoods.  Together they work through all of that and compromise and learn to give and take on the things that really mater to both of them. 

There’s also a very strong message that family can extend beyond blood ties, and I really loved that.  Grayson’s fellow crew members and their families manage to become a second family for him, and Lori has no problems claiming an adopted child as her own.  I loved that about this book, and it really leaves you with a great warm and fuzzy feeling. 

Taking Cover:  I gave this one 4.5 stars.  It is the best contemporary romance I’ve read in a long time!  There’s romance, suspense, action, and adventure.  You can’t really ask for more than that in one book. 

Tanner and Kathleen have known each other for over ten years.  They shared one amazing kiss, and then went their separate ways, each building a life that didn’t involve the other one.  They’re thrown back together, and it’s explosive.

I like Kathleen and Tanner as a couple, but I also just really liked them both as individual characters.  They both worked really hard and overcame and put up with a lot to get where they are in the beginning of the book. 

There’s a definite chemistry between the two of them. There’s a lot of sweetness, and some great banter.  Kathleen and Tanner are both carrying some major baggage; Kathleen a failed marriage and Tanner a devastating loss.  They’re both wounded, but they find comfort from one another, even though they don’t seem to want to.  You just find yourself wanting them to have a happily ever after.

I’m trying not to include any spoilers, but the mission in this book becomes very interesting, with a twist that I just did not see coming.  So many suspenseful romances seem to be a little short on the suspense factor, but this one had a great action/suspense element, and it really helped the romantic part of the story along. 

If you’re going to read one contemporary romance novel any time soon, I would definitely suggest choosing Taking Cover.  

The Interview:  

Catherine, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview!  You’re my first author interview, so I’m really excited about it.  Thank you again for the opportunity.  I loved Grayson’s Surrender and Taking Cover, and really loved the 2-1 release.  Two great books in one!  

Q: As I was reading them, I couldn’t help thinking what great movies they’d both make, so I was wondering, if they were made into movies, who would be your picks to play Grayson and Lori?  And who would be your picks to play Tanner and Kathleen?  

A: Wow, what a fun question! For GRAYSON’S SURRENDER, Colin Farrell (Grayson) and Kiera Knightly (Lori). For TAKING COVER, Charlie Hunnam with his hair buzzed (Tanner) and Amy Adams (Kathleen).

Q: Did you write the characters with those actors in mind?

A: Actually, since I wrote these books over ten years ago, the actors I chose are older than the characters now. Originally, for Grayson and Lori, I envisioned George Clooney and Paige Turco. And for Tanner and Kathleen, I envisioned a blond football player (whose name I can’t recall!) and Gillian Anderson (X-Files). It’s fun seeing the new cover up next to original covers. Some folks have commented the guy on the new cover looks like Adam Levine from Maroon 5 (yum!).

Q: Your website mentions your flyboy husband; was he the inspiration for your Wingman Warriors books?  

A: Absolutely! My husband’s Air Force career and all the military friends we made provided endless inspiration for plots.

Q: Do you have any writing rituals (certain time of day, must-have coffee mug, background noise, etc.)?  

A: I write using a laptop, rather than a desktop. So I’m fairly mobile as to the locale, but I do usually have a diet Coke by my side and the TV playing in the background.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?  Are there any authors who inspire your writing?

A: I have far too many favorite authors to list them all. I’m an avid reader. But to name a few of my auto-buy authors – Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Lisa Gardner, Teresa Medieros, Tana French, Jane Porter. And as for inspiration, Lori Foster, Suzanne Brockmann, Dianna Love and Sherilynn Kenyon have been tremendously inspiring and supportive over the years.

Q: I’m kind of a food person, so I have to ask, are there any treats you reward yourself with when you finish a tough scene, first draft, or any other milestone?

A: An Orange Dream Smoothie or a Mocha Madness Smoothie from Tropical Smoothie. They have a pick up window, so I can even pack up my dogs for a quick drive and some fresh air to clear my brain. And in colder weather I love a Starbucks skinny vanilla latte!

Q: I know Shelter Me is your next book, due out in August (which seems really far away right now); can you tell us a little more about Shelter Me?  

A: SHELTER ME launches my “Second Chance Ranch” animal rescue series. SHELTER ME features a military hero returning from war to bring an Iraqi dog to the family of his fallen commander. The book has been called reminiscent of Nicholas Sparks’ THE LUCKY ONE with a hint of MARLEY AND ME. Here’s a book trailer video:  

Q: I have a feeling I’m going to love Shelter Me.  Is the next book in the series in the works yet?

A: Thank you for asking!  Yes, the sequel – RESCUE ME – is scheduled for February 2015. I just got an advance peek at the cover and it is absolutely gorgeous! Can’t wait to share it with readers. I also have an animal rescue Harlequin Desire coming out in November 2014 – SHELTERED BY THE MILLIONAIRE.

Thanks again for the interview, and for all of your work in animal rescue.  Animal rescue is very near and dear to our hearts here in the land of Sweet Tea.  

Thank YOU for featuring my books here and giving me the chance to visit!!