Author Archives: Summer Huggins

About Summer Huggins

Summer Huggins is an amateur photographer, dog-lover, cupcake-eater and shoe-shopper in Austin, Texas. She loves to travel, cook and take in a good movie, and she volunteers with a local pet-rescue organization as a photographer and dog-walker.

Tips for Financial Happiness

How to Be Financially Happy This Year

Tips for Financial HappinessThey say money can’t buy happiness. And while this may be true, it doesn’t mean we can’t follow a few tips to be happier about our finances.

We’ve just entered 2013 and many New Year’s resolutions may still be well intact, but whether you start today or in a few months, it’s never too late to resolve to get happy about our finances. At least that’s what Money magazine would like us to do.

It’s no secret that money is a huge source of stress to individuals, couples and families alike. But according to recent research examining the connection between money and mood, there are six steps to easing some of that stress and working toward financial happiness. Take a look:

  1. Several small indulgences will make us happier than a few large ones. Money magazine encourages us to skip the big-ticket purchases and spread smaller ones out over time. One of their examples: Instead of dinner and a show each week, go out to dinner one weekend and then to the theater the next.
  2. Slowly pay off credit card debt. It can be easier to stick to a monthly budget, which includes paying toward that credit card debt, rather than focusing on the big dollar sign in front of the debt total.
  3. Save for a rainy day. I’m happy to report that my husband and I already do exactly what Money magazine suggests in this arena: We take tax return money, reimbursement checks for company trips and other small chunks of money and put them into a joint savings account.
  4. Take a vacation. You’ve earned the days at work, so use them. Plus, looking forward to time away–and coming back rested and reenergized–is good for anyone’s happiness levels.
  5. Speaking of work, is it time to find a new job? If you’re getting paid to do a job, make sure you’re doing work that is meaningful to you and that you’re doing it with people you get along with.
  6. Finally, give your money away. According to Money magazine and the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, those who donate to their favorite charities are 43 percent more likely to say they’re very happy about their lives than those who don’t.

 

 

Gift Ideas for Pet Lovers_featured

5 Gift Ideas for the Pet Lovers on Your List

Gift Ideas for Pet LoversBlogger Summer Huggins has plenty of experience giving gifts to pets and pet owners alike. For the latter, she shares five ideas perfect for the holiday season.

Don’t laugh, but each year at Christmas there are gifts under the tree for our three dogs and two cats. Not only do we get our pets gifts, we also get them for my parents’ cats and my in-laws’ dogs. It’s silly and fun, and we all love it!

Many times, those gifts are toys or treats just for the pets. But years ago, my parents got us a dog-bone cookbook, complete with about a dozen recipes and a bone-shaped cookie cutter. That was a gift we’ve all had fun with!

If you want to get gifts for the pet lovers on your list (but not necessarily for the pets themselves) I have a few ideas.

  1. Bad Dog Tumblers from Uncommon Goods. How cute is the “fetch” tumbler with the dog just laying under the ball, refusing to move?! There is also an Inconvenient Kitty set for the cat people on your list.
  2. Artwork from Jimmy Ellis Art. Jimmy can turn your photograph into custom art, or you can purchase breed-specific art that he’s already completed. I have two of these on my office walls, and they make me smile every time I see them.
  3. Wearable art. For the jewelry-wearing, animal-loving person on your list, whimsical dog and cat jewelry from Stacey Lamothe Art might be just what you’re looking for. I love the “greetings” piece!
  4. An animals and pets magazine subscription. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! From dog magazines to cat magazines to horses and even birds, those on your gift list are sure to enjoy receiving pieces of that gift all year long.
  5. Money! I don’t mean for the gift recipient, I mean for the local animal rescue group or facility that they support.

Happy shopping!

 

AustinInConcrete_featured

4 Reasons Why I Love Austin

Blogger Summer Huggins shares what she loves about Austin and the can’t-miss hot spots for music, dining and more for living like a local in the Lone Star State’s capital.

My parents and I lived in Austin for a couple of years when I was a kid, I mean a little kid, around 3 years old. I don’t remember much about life here then, but I love hearing the stories. For instance: I danced on stage with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble when I was a toddler. Stevie Ray picked me up, sang to me and danced with me in his arms. Oh, how I wish there were pictures around to show off to my friends.

Kids who live in Austin today should encourage their parents to carry cameras with them when they visit local music venues. Then such stories will have photographic evidence to back them up.

We Love Live Music

Known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin has no shortage of singers and songwriters on their way to fame. Who knows when you might waltz into the right place at the right time when you’re visiting and see such a headliner! From restaurants to outdoor venues to internationally famous stages, great music can be found around every corner.

For great music, don’t miss:

The Continental Club on South Congress Ave., open since 1957.
Stubb’s BBQ on Red River. Incredible outdoor stage, plus a smaller indoor stage for Gospel Brunch on Sunday mornings.
Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall, just about 20 minutes outside of Austin.

Get Outside and Play

Before you head out for music, why not have some fun outdoors? Austin is an active and healthy city, filled with state and national parks, beautiful lakes and lots of outdoor activities. From walking and hiking to relaxing in the cool grass and watching more than a million Mexican free-tailed bats fly overhead, there is always something to get into on the town.

With so much to choose from, it might be a hard decision to make, but if you want to head outside, don’t miss:
— Stand-up paddling on Lady Bird Lake. A great way to see the city and get some exercise at the same time.
— A bike ride on the Veloway or the Shoal Creek Bike Path.
— A cool dip in Hamilton Pool, Barton Springs Pool or Deep Eddy Pool, Austin’s favorite natural wonders.

Eat Well

Grab a bite to eat from one of Austin's 1,500 food trailers.

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to dining out in Austin, but if you come to town and eat at a national chain restaurant, you’re not trying very hard to enjoy our delicious city. Tex-Mex, pizza, burgers, bar-b-que, sushi, international cuisine, even gourmet doughnuts. If you’re craving it, Austin can serve it up. Perhaps it comes out of a trailer, it can possibly be delivered, and you might even be able to enjoy a good movie (and a beer) while you eat.

If you’re heading out for a bite, don’t miss:
The Alamo Drafthouse. With several locations around town, the “Alamo” is the only way to catch a movie. While you watch the best of blockbuster movies and independent films, enjoy a local draft beer, veggie burger, grilled cheese sandwich, specialty salad or even fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies (and, oh so much more).
— BBQ, burgers and beer. Find a hole-in-the-wall dive bar for a cold one, and chances are you’ll find good food inside too. Chicken-fried steak at the Broken Spoke? Yes, please!
— Food trailers. See that food trailer over there? There is probably something delicious and surprising cooking up inside. The last number I heard was 1,500. Fifteen hundred food trailers in town ready to feed your belly.

Austin Loves Pets

Go just about anywhere in Austin, and you’re likely to see a dog or two. Walking around downtown, shopping in pet-specific stores or lounging on patios at our favorite local restaurants, dogs (and other pets) are simply a part of life around here. Don’t be surprised when you see horses walking around town either.

If you visit Austin with your whole family — including the four-legged members — don’t miss:
— Auditorium Shores. A quick walk from downtown, Auditorium Shores is a beautiful outdoor music venue that doubles as a doggie paradise. Dogs can run and wrestle with each other off-leash, swim and retrieve tennis balls from the lake.
— Bow-Wow Chow. Yep, even the dogs have their own food trailer now.
The Canine Center for Training and Behavior offers multi-week courses for dog agility and training, but their calendar is also full of camping weekends, full-day hikes and even yoga with your dog. Doga!

Come visit Austin. Eat well, play hard, enjoy the music and bring your dog! I know you’ll want to visit again. That’s if you can ever make yourself leave in the first place…

For even more visuals or to create a travel board for your trip to Austin, check out our latest Pinterest board featuring Summer’s picks!

CuddleSack_Kitten_featured

How to Make a Cuddle Sack for Your Small Pet

Photo by Summer Huggins

Make your small pets feel special with their very own cuddle sack. Blogger and animal lover Summer Huggins gives step by step instructions for this craft project for your pet.

We adopted a new kitten Saturday. He is four pounds of adorable spunk! His name is Rusty, and he’s already telling his siblings—including a Rottie mix and a German Shepherd mix—who the boss is.

Rusty loves napping on our king-size bed, but since he tends to get lost in it, I wanted him to have his own special little place to sleep. He needed a cuddle sack to be exact, so I decided to make one for him.

A custom cuddle sack for your small pet is easy to make. Whether it’s for a kitten, a rabbit or a ferret, a cuddle sack is a crafty and fun project that comes together in just about an hour. I raided by fabric stash for some striped fleece for the lining and a sturdy canvas for the outside. Here’s all you’ll need:

— 2 pieces of material for the lining, cut square
— 2 pieces of material for the outside of the sack, cut square
— coordinating thread

Step 1. Cut your fabric squares in a size appropriate for your pet, making sure they have plenty of room to get comfortable inside. Add one inch to the length of the lining material. My fleece squares for the lining were 20×21″. The canvas for the outside of the sack was 20×20″. That extra inch in the lining will make sense as your cuddle sack comes together.

Step 2. With the right sides of your lining together, sew up the two longer sides and along the bottom, leaving one side open. Then with the rights sides of your main cuddle sack fabric together, sew along three sides, leaving one side open. If the squares of your main fabric are perfectly square, it won’t matter which three sides you sew.

Close-up of cuddle sack detail. Photo by Summer Huggins

Step 3. On the lining, clip the two corners where you’ve sewn your squares together, careful not to clip through your stitches. Do the same to the fabric for the outside of your cuddle sack, and turn that piece right side out.

Step 4. Slip the lining inside the outer fabric and line up your seams. The lining should stick out the top by that extra inch.

Step 5. Fold the lining fabric half an inch down toward the outside fabric. Then fold another half inch down to create a hem. This will capture the outside material inside the hem you just created. Sew, securing the two pieces together. I used a zig-zag stitch here just for fun. Fold the sack back a few inches to provide a welcome opening for your pet.

Rusty loves his cuddle sack! I have enough fleece and canvas left over that I’m planning to make a few more to donate to the kittens at the shelter still waiting for their forever homes. I hope your smallest family members will enjoy theirs, too.

How Smart is Your Home?

How Smart is Your Home?

Men's Journal magazine April 2012Gone are the days when robots were a distant idea. Now, there’s an automated solution for almost every home task–although we have yet to hear of a toilet-cleaning robot.

My great-grandmother had a clapper in her living room. As the sun went down each evening, she would clap once to turn the lights on. When she was ready for bed after watching the weather, she clapped twice and the lights went off for the night. Silly, yet so smart.

Home automation (home “smarts”) has come a long way since Granny’s clapper. The April issue of Men’s Journal shows us some of the latest gadgets for making our homes smarter.

Like a programmable thermostat. We have one at home that we program based on the time of day, but Men’s Journal highlights one that can be adjusted through an app on your smartphone, and it even knows when you’re not home and turns itself down to save energy. Now that’s smart!

Remember the first robot vacuums that chased the cats around the house while picking up the stray crumb here and there? They’ve come a long way, too. The newest versions are smart enough to go back over extra-dirty areas more than once if need be. There’s even a new mopping robot. I may order myself one of those before the day is up.

The feature in Men’s Journal also talks about smarter light bulbs, updated electrical wiring and locks that open at your command.

Maybe I should start with the clapper and see how I do with that first.

Whole Living magazine April 2012

Conserving Water May Be Simpler Than You Think

Whole Living magazine April 2012Whole Living magazine says the average American household uses 350 gallons of water per day. But fear not–they’re also offering up 50 simple ways to reduce that number.

My beautiful city, Austin, Texas, is in the middle of a pretty rough drought. Sure, we’ve had a couple of great (and stormy) rain showers this year but not quite enough to make up for the deficit we’re feeling. The City government has implemented a mandatory watering schedule for residents to try to conserve water, and I’ve been trying to do a few things around the house to do my part as well.

I don’t let the water run freely while I brush my teeth, and I make sure the dishwasher is totally full before I run it. And I thought I was doing well! But when my April issue of Whole Living magazine showed up in the mail with the feature “50 Ways to Save Water,” I knew immediately that I could do more. Here are three of my favorite ideas from the list of 50:

Tip No. 7: Use a water-conscious car wash. Washing your car in your own driveway can use 60 gallons of water or more in a mere five minutes. Visit washwithwatersavers.com to find a certified car wash in your area that uses 40 gallons or less per car and then pumps clean water back into the environment.

Tip No. 24: Landscape with native plants. My guess is that the plants native to the Seattle area wouldn’t stand a chance during the hot, dry summer that we’re about to face in Texas. But plants that have survived for generations in the Texas heat can probably handle it–even thrive in it–requiring less watering and maintenance along the way.

Tip No. 41. Shorten your shower. By shortening your shower time by just one minute, you’ll save 2.5 gallons of water. And those minutes add up! If you shower every day–and I hope you do–you’ll save more than 900 gallons of water over the span of a single year.