Everything Starts Over With Spring

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Spring has officially arrived in Texas, and it is especially beautiful in the region I live in, the Hill Country.

If you happened to read me before 2014, you probably know that I had decided to stop this blog. But then two things happened:

1. First I received very nice and supportive feedback on this blog from many of my readers, including a very nice post by the author of Hirondellina

2. Although time was scarce, I kept on discovering Texas, and on thinking “oh, I could have shared this on my blog!”

Now, the region where I live, central Texas, also known as the Hill Country, is well known for its gorgeous flowery springs: bluebonnets and hundreds of different wildflowers cover the sides of roads, I was told. I was very eager to see those carpets of wildflowers. Guess what? That was true. Grass-covered shoulders or center divider strips on highways and back roads have turned all kind of colors, depending on the flowers growing on them, sometimes showcasing a rainbow pattern. No, honestly, I could not not share this.

This is hence how I will go back to blogging here. The posts will be sparse, at least at the beginning. I do hope you will enjoy them though!

Here are some of the pictures I took the past two weekends, the first with flowers around. Each picture can be enlarged if you click on it.

Enjoy!

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Bluebonnets in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Wildflowers in Travis County - Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Next time, I will tell you more about bluebonnets and we will visit a wildflower farm.

And With the End of the Year Comes the End of a Journey

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Most of the time, we deal with the obstacles by persevering. Sometimes we get discouraged and turn to inspirational writing, like stuff from Vince Lombardi: “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Bad advice. Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.

Some books make an impact on you much more than many others. The Dip by Seth Godin is such a book for me. It may seem to contain quite evident truths to some. To me it made these truths clearer.

This post is to announce that I will stop this blog.

This is something I have resisted doing for some time, but have finally decided to do with 2013 coming to an end.

Before letting you know why, I want to thank all of you who regularly visited my blog, liked and/or commented on my posts. I had the opportunity to know many interesting people with many different interests, some pretty similar to mine. Indeed, it was a pleasure to share my experience and likes with people interested in listening (or should I say reading) about and discovering new territories. I am forever thankful for this, more than you can imagine, and will continue to follow some of you who have blogs, as much as time permits.

A special message to those who are as much in love with New York City as I am: thank you for being there to chat about my favorite place in the world. I wish sometimes that some of my not-so-in-love-with-NY friends could have taken just a minute to look at my vision of the city. To my NYC lovers readers: you made my world less lonely, and for this I thank you.

I will be starting a new job in January, something that I have wanted to do for a long time. This will require time and focus and I don’t want to neglect this opportunity that I have sought for quite some time. I want to give my best to this opportunity in order to get the best of it and this is only possible by updating my priorities and activities. I don’t want to give 50% of me to one passion and 50% of me for a hobby, I’ll be disappointed with both. I’d rather focus 100% on one and that means stopping this blog.

I will still take pictures and enjoy everything there is to enjoy here, in the United States and in Texas, but time is limited. Blogging in two languages (I translated each post into French myself) is a lot of work.

This blog will stay here for some months probably, in case I find time to pursue it as a hobby (which I honestly doubt I will find). I am not sure whether it will stay here forever though. I might end up deleting it. The Facebook page will be deleted next week though.

If you have read so far, thank you. I’m keeping my Instagram account, so you are free to follow me if you want to see more of Texas (the State – the cat has his own Instagram account).

I will “see you” on your blogs and to some, maybe one day in New York and in person? Who knows!

I wish everyone a very happy holiday season and a successful year to come. All the best!

Sincerely,
Carine

"Quit or be exceptional" - The Dip, by Seth Godin | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Post-Christmas Fun: Santa and Red Tape, Incandescent Light Bulbs and… Boxing Day

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We complain that we are overburdened by regulations that make our lives less easy – and that’s true. You’d imagine that someone like Santa Claus would get special privileges from the “governing” sphere though because, well, because he’s Santa, for goodness’ sake!

Well, you’d be wrong. And right.

Santa and his reindeers have to get all the permits necessary to enter the U.S. territory like everyone else, but we do think the red tape is being reduced a little for him. After all, if someone is used to red tape, that must be Santa (red, green, silver…), so you don’t want to add to it.

Hello Kitty Claus in New York | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Er, this is not Santa, this is Hello Kitty Claus (?!)

If you are still thinking: “what the hell did she drink for Christmas?!”, let me explain.

The US Department of Agriculture issued a permit to Santa so that his reindeers could enter the U.S.:

Breaking news out of Washington, D.C. as the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today issued a movement permit to Mr. S. Claus of the North Pole, a broker with Worldwide Gifts, Unlimited. The permit will allow reindeer to enter and exit the United States between the hours of 6 PM December 24, 2013 and 6 AM December 25, 2013, through or over any northern border port.

“During this season of giving, USDA wants to do everything in its power to help Santa,” said Dr. John R. Clifford, USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “We agreed to waive the normal application fees and entry inspection/overtime costs, provided he winks his eye and wishes port personnel a Merry Christmas at the time of crossing.”

APHIS also waived the normally applicable disease testing requirements, as the North Pole is recognized by APHIS as negligible risk for all livestock diseases and at a recent inspection, the reindeer were found to be healthy and able to prance and paw with each hoof.

Rudolph might avoid being frisked but he still has – per mentioned-regulation – to stick to a special diet of hay, sugar plums, and gingerbread and be microchipped.

But wait, that’s not all. The Federal Administration Aviation also made things a bit more easy for Santa:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today said Santa Claus, his elfin crew and the Santa One sleigh are GO for the annual round-the-world flight that will deliver presents to good boys and girls everywhere.

“This is my first holiday season as Secretary of Transportation, and I feel a special responsibility to make sure Santa’s flight goes off without a hitch,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

While there were no external changes to Santa One this year, FAA inspectors put in many hours ensuring that the sleigh’s systems – and especially its crew – met all applicable regulations.

(…)

“We’re helping Santa fly smarter and faster while making sure he has a safe and successful mission” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Finally, not even Santa is free of being spied on surveilled tracked. Yes, you read that right: you can track Santa’s route thanks to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). In fact, “they’ve been tracking Santa since 1955 – they’re veritable professionals at keeping tabs on the big man. From their website, Noradsanta.org, you can follow Santa as he zooms around the globe delivering presents and spreading good cheer.”

Ah!

Well, I hope that Santa stopped at your house and delivered what you expected :-) If you are unsure (!), you can always ask the NSA to check for you.

Not everything went smoothly everywhere. I went to Austin’s Capitol on Monday to take a picture of the Christmas Tree in front of the park.

Christmas Tree in front of Capitol - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Christmas Tree in front of Capitol - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Christmas Tree in front of Capitol - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Yes, this is a limo and a Cinderella-like carriage fleeing the scene on your left

No, this is not a magic tree. Obviously, there was a bug in the lightning system. I wonder if those switched-off lights were incandescent light bulbs?

Finally, finally,… have you heard of boxing day? I had not until about a year. I’ll go back to how in a moment.

Nobody knows exactly the origins of Boxing Day, but there are several theories:

The best clue to Boxing Day’s origins can be found in the song “Good King Wenceslas.” According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, who was Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door. The alms-giving tradition has always been closely associated with the Christmas season — hence the canned-food drives and Salvation Army Santas that pepper our neighborhoods during the winter — but King Wenceslas’ good deed came the day after Christmas, when the English poor received most of their charity.

King Wenceslas didn’t start Boxing Day, but the Church of England might have. During Advent, Anglican parishes displayed a box into which churchgoers put their monetary donations. On the day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and their contents distributed among the poor, thus giving rise to the term Boxing Day. Maybe.

But wait: there’s another possible story about the holiday’s origin. The day after Christmas was also the traditional day on which the aristocracy distributed presents (boxes) to servants and employees — a sort of institutionalized Christmas-bonus party. The servants returned home, opened their boxes and had a second Christmas on what became known as Boxing Day.

Boxing Day is not celebrated in the United States. Well, wait, it is actually, although it is celebrated in a particular way that is not on Wikipedia. It is how I heard of it. Boxing Day is a kitty holiday! Mais bien sûr ! And you can be sure some kitties at my home are celebrating like it’s Christmas all over again!

Napping inside the box | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Milou in a box | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Texas trying to fit in a box | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Happy Holiday Season!

To All a Merry Christmas and a Joyful Holiday Season

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Merry Christmas Y'all! | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Long break because of vet visits for one of our cats, a huge cold, and decisions to make for the New Year…. The Holiday Season is always extremely busy as far as I’m concerned. What about you?

I wanted to stop to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season though!

There are plenty of holiday events to see around Austin but I missed many of them due to busyness cited above. Texas is wonderfully decorated at Christmas time, and I want to share two things to put you in the mood just before tomorrow (just in case you need a little mood booster ;-).

The first one is a video that I had posted last year, which was filmed in Texas by my husband, 6 years ago, a couple of weeks before Christmas. The little girl singing is the daughter of really good friends. All the decorations were in front of private houses in the Dallas area.

The second one is the illumination of the Zilker Park Christmas Tree.

The “ceremony” of the illumination of the Zilker Park Christmas tree took place on December 1, before the cold front arrived. Yes, we still had days when we would be wearing t-shirts and shorts (**nostalgic sigh**).

[You can click on pictures to enlarge them]

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

The tree is not a real tree, but almost literally a tree made of lights:

The Zilker Tree stands 155 feet tall and is composed of 39 streamers, each holding 81 multicolored, 25-watt bulbs – totaling 3,309 lights. At the top of the tree, a double star measures 10 feet from point to point. The double star displays 150 frosted bulbs. This unique spiral pattern of lights was created by City of Austin electricians. At its circumference, the tree measures 380 feet. The diameter is 120 feet. The base of the tree is made up of 19 utility poles, each 14 feet tall, arranged in a circle around the Moonlight Tower.

A gorgeous sunset preceded the night and the illumination. An orchestra was there to play holiday season songs in a festive and relaxed atmosphere. Something to see next year if you are in Austin!

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Zilker Park Tree Illumination 2013 - Austin, TX | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Austin, TX at Christmas Time: Christmas Trees Galore Along Loop 360

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Austin's Loop 360 Christmas Trees | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

[Click on pictures to enlarge]

Do you know what they do for Christmas in Texas? You know how they say everything is bigger here…

Austin's Loop 360 Christmas Trees | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

In Austin, they – elves? – decorate Christmas trees on a grand scale. They may not have the Rockefeller Center giant Christmas tree that New-Yorkers enjoy, but they have Christmas trees along the roads. Let me explain.

Austin's Loop 360 Christmas Trees | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

No more than a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving (Nov. 28 this year), we started spotting a strange phenomenon on Loop 360, on our almost-daily way to Austin.

We saw one, then two, then five, then ten trees that looked like decorated (sometimes a bit weirdly – but this is Austin after all!) Christmas trees. In fact, more and more appeared everyday. It soon became evident that something was going on.

Austin's Loop 360 Christmas Trees | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Austin's Loop 360 Christmas Trees | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Indeed, cedar trees lining Loop 360 are decorated for Christmas. Some trees are decorated as traditional Christmas trees, some have themes, some seem to hold a message known only to those who decorated them. Apparently, it has been going on for several years (I read 15 years here), people from the area just come and decorate a tree if and how they wish, and it’s a very cool tradition in my opinion. That some people would take the time and get inspired to go and decorate a tree that will be visible by everyone is a testimony to the fun and joyful spirit of Christmas in Austin.

I know some of you might wonder about what happens to the decorations once the holidays are over. Do people come and clean? I wondered too. I’ll have to check that in a month or so, since this is our first Christmas here. I read different comments on the matter: some said that some decorations were left behind to become litter, while others commented that they had never seen one that had not been cleaned. I won’t decorate one tree this year, because it is a little late, but I have an idea for next year, and it seems obvious to me that I would come and clean after the holidays. So I’ll wait and see for what happens.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures of only a few of the Christmas trees we saw. I also added some links at the end of this post if you want to learn more.

Additional links:
- Holiday cedar trees line Loop 360 – KVUE ABC
- Austin: Loop 360 Christmas Trees – TripAdvisor
- Photos: Christmas Trees on Loop 360 – KVUE ABC
- Christmas Trees on Loop 360 in Austin – REATX
- An Austin holiday tradition: Loop 360 trees get mysteriously decorated – Culture Map Austin

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!

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Happy Thanksgiving 2013! | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day to be thankful for what we have, the goals we have reached and the friends and family we have around us.
As a way to celebrate, families usually gather and cook a lovely and bountiful meal that often contains turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin or pecan pie (those are some of the traditional dishes served, there are many others!).

Today is also the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

This year is a very special year, since Thanksgiving Day and the first day of Hanukkah happen on the same day. This will only happen again in… 70,000 years! Hence today has been dubbed “Thanksgivukkah” or another combination of the words Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

I don’t have any specific pictures for Thanksgiving this year because for some reason that I am having a hard time understanding, we went straight from Halloween to Christmas decorations and not much has inspired me to illustrate Thanksgiving (except for the turkey above, spotted at Walmart). Last year I had hungry squirrels and the bountifulness of the Union Square Farmers Market. (I must add that I haven’t tried any Austin Farmers Market yet, just the one closest to where we live outside Austin, and it is nothing close to what I was used to at Union Square. But again, I can’t tell for Austin.)

I feel terribly sad to have missed – twice! – the Thanksgiving Parade in New York for lack of courage to go out. Of course, now that I am not there anymore (Don’t it always seem to go… yes! And yes I know Joni Mitchell’s is the original version, but I like this one), I feel bad even more that I did not seize the occasion when I could. Lesson learned.

Sky in Pace Bend Park - Travis County, Texas | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

I wish each and every one of you a Happy Thanksgiving, or a Happy Hanukkah, or both, and a wonderful day to those celebrating neither! May you see the reasons to be thankful in your life!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected (Art in La Defense, France)

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La Défense, France | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

La Défense is a business district in the suburbs just around Paris. It is sometimes compared to the Parisian New York because of its skyscrapers. Needless to say the skyscrapers are way smaller and it barely resembles New York, but if you’ve never seen the place, it gives you an idea: this is a place where people work, so rather serious.

Since there are many open spaces at the center of the business district, there is, from time to time, one or two art exhibition(s). I still think that this one was a bit unexpected for the place though. The pictures were taken in March 2010.

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with a Banana Cream Cheese Frosting

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Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

I was trying not to throw away some very ripe bananas when I got the idea for these cupcakes. The cupcake itself is a simple vanilla and yogurt base. I added some chocolate chips because… because chocolate, that’s why :-)

The frosting is a simple cream cheese frosting to which I added one pureed banana.

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

The result is a cupcake that taste a little bit like a chocolate chips banana bread, but is moister.

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

Ingredients for the cupcakes:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- some salt
- 1 stick butter
- 1 1/4 cup yogurt
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Ingredients for the frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1 pureed banana
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
- some milk

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

The cupcakes

1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a cupcake mold or line up cupcake baking cups.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients. In a second bowl, mix the butter, yogurt and vanilla extract.

3. Use a spatula to incorporate the wet mixture to the dry one. Then add the chocolate chips and delicately incorporate.

4. Fill 2/3 of your cupcake cups with the batter. Bake for about 23 minutes.

5. Let the cupcakes cool completely before adding the frosting.

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

The frosting

1. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add the pureed banana and vanilla extract and mix again until combined.

2. Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar. Add as much as you feel like (I regularly tasted how sweet the frosting got, not to add too much sugar). If your frosting becomes too thick, you can always add a little milk… or the other way around, a little more sugar, depending of your desired final frosting.

3. Put on top of cooled cupcakes.

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks

I added some pomegranate to decorate the cupcakes, too. Enjoy!

Vanilla & Chocolate Chips Cupcakes with Banana Cream Cheese Frosting | Books, Cupcakes, and Cats Chasing Chipmunks