The Great Chicken Escape

Until a little over two weeks ago, I had never touched a live chicken, much less a former cock-fighting rooster, so how did I end up rescuing 72 chickens from a cock-fighting ring bust? It all started at a seminar.

I went to American Pets Alive in Austin in mid-February and had the opportunity to hear one of my animal welfare heroes Kristen Auerbach speak. . . and she just happened to mention that Austin Animal Care Services had recently taken in a bunch of fighting roosters. The thing that stuck in my mind the most was Kristen saying that the roosters were very friendly, and when they took one out of his crate and into the fresh air and sunlight, he just wanted to be held and take a nap. I thought, “wow. . . how wonderful it must be for that rooster after a life of abuse and being forced to fight, now he can just enjoy the sunshine and take a nap.” I was in awe that Austin Animal Care Services took in these roosters and saved them. I toured the shelter the next day and met two of the roosters who were still available for adoption, and they seemed like mighty nice fellows.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I was the director of SPCA of Brazoria County and our animal shelter was F.U.L.L. I get a call from Angela, an ACO for Brazoria County Sheriff’s Department, and she wants to know if we can take some of their large dogs. I didn’t want to tell her “no” because I knew the dogs’ only hope at staying alive would be if I took them, but I had no place to put them. . .

I asked her, “are you completely out of space, or can you keep them a few more days?” Her answer, “well, we have all these roosters that were confiscated from a cock-fighting ring; that’s what’s taking up all our space. . . ” I said to myself, “I have a barn. I don’t have space for big dogs, but I have space for roosters. If Austin can do it, then so can I.” Then, to my horror, I said out loud, “how many roosters do you have, I can take them all.” Angela informed me that the hens confiscated had already been re-homed and some of the roosters had died, but they had approximately 70 roosters left, but they didn’t have room for them, so they needed to go somewhere today. And this would create a little more space for the dogs which would give them a little more time. Wow. I said, “I’ll be there shortly.”

So. . . long story short. . . I showed up with a transport van and a few helpers later that day and loaded up 70 roosters and 1 hen to move to my barn for safekeeping.

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I had no plan. Only the arrogant assumption that if someone else could do it, then I damn well could do it too. I called upon Mary Moritz, practice manager at Pecan Acres Pet Care, and the convo went something like this, “Hey, Mare, ummmmm. . . I just agreed to rescue about 70 roosters from a cock-fighting ring, and I need to go pick them up in Angleton right now. Can you help me?” Always quick on the draw, Mary immediately answered, “how many people do you need and where should they meet you?” She hooked me up with Jena Welch, Sara Warrick (who is afraid of birds), and Kaley McCaffrey. We grabbed a van and a truck and headed to Angleton. This is what we found:

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I never would have expected this. These roosters were each in an individual transport box, barely big enough for them to stand up, and definitely not big enough for them to turn around. The cock-fighting world is something I knew nothing about. I couldn’t believe that these birds were still alive after being in such close confines for well over a week. We decided to transport them in these travel boxes, so we quickly started loading. The barn we were moving them to didn’t have electricity, so we wanted to make sure we got them moved and transferred into larger crates before we ran out of daylight. I was only going to take as many as we could fit in the two vehicles. . . miraculously, we were able to fit every single one, but without an inch to spare.

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Now, let’s not forget, I had never touched a rooster before, so this was a bit intimidating! Jena, Sara, and Kaley had to return to work, so Vanessa Willard and Shana Burton came over to help. Shortly thereafter ACO’s Angela and Jared also showed up to help. I started setting up wire pop-up crates and the rest of the crew started moving the angry birds from the tiny transport crates into the wire pop up crates. Try to imagine the sound of 71 pissed off chickens. It was deafening!

Vanessa shows off this beautiful bird.

Vanessa quickly became a pro rooster wrangler! The birds were so much happier once we got them into larger crates with fresh air and fresh food and water. And sure enough, they were quite nice fellows. We didn’t get it all done before nightfall, so we moved a truck to the barn door and used the lights from the truck’s headlights to keep working. Vanessa and Shana had already worked a full day caring for animals at the SPCA of Brazoria County and then came over on their own time to volunteer to help me get these birds safely settled in for the night. That’s a couple of big time animal lovers for ya! They even came back the next day to help!

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We moved each rooster into his very own wire pop-up crate. Unlike the photo above, we pulled the trays out of all the crates to allow the roosters contact with the soft dirt floor. This allowed them to behave more like normal chickens and scratch around in the dirt for their food. It’s still not a whole lot of space, but it was a vast improvement over the tiny transport boxes!

IMG_1321IMG_1329These roosters finally got some fresh air!IMG_1332Rooster Transport Boxes

Now, we get down to the hard part. What do we do with all of these roosters? Susan Willard, who also works full time in animal welfare volunteered her free time to contact rescues. One rooster has been adopted by a local family. I took a rooster and the only hen to a ranch in Lampasas. Here is a video of them right after they were released from their cages. They were SO HAPPY to roll around in the dirt and act like normal chickens again!

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Susan was successful in finding a rescue that would take thirty of the birds to live out the rest of their lives on a large animal sanctuary. They would be able to range freely and enjoy being normal chickens. No more confinement or forced fighting for these guys! So Vanessa and Shana showed up again and helped me load thirty roosters into a transport van. It only took us forty minutes and then I was headed out with a full load of cock-a-doodle-do.

Four and half hours later, I thought my eardrums were beginning to bleed, but I was there! I knew this place was fantastic before I even got to the gate. Beautiful Texas Hill County terrain dotted with farm animals and exotic animals grazing peacefully. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas, is an animal-lover’s dream come true.

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I pulled up to the Animal Receiving building and went inside to introduce myself. The friendly man answering their pet information hotline got on the radio and announced, “the chicken lady is here.” Very shortly, several people showed up on utility carts. Each utility cart was loaded up with four or five birds to take them out to different locations on the property to disperse them. Once all the roosters were settled into their new homes, the crew loaded the empty crates back into the van, and I was headed back on my way. This time the ride was much quieter! I have to admit, I didn’t miss those cocks one bit!

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I had to stop and snap of photo of myself with my favorite kind of rooster–one that doesn’t crow!

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Once I got back home, I scrubbed all the crates clean, swept out the transport van, and returned everything.

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So, what’s next? If you were paying attention, I said that there were 70 roosters and 1 hen. Shortly after we moved these guys into the barn, another rooster was brought in to the shelter by animal control, so I thought, “what’s one more?” So now we have that guy too. 72 total birds: 1 was adopted, 2 went to Lampasas, and 30 went to rescue. We still have 39 roosters who need homes or rescues. Please message me at ssuazo@icloud.com if you are interested in adopting a rescued cock-fighter. They are actually super nice birds who just want a chance to be normal chickens.

And if you would like to make a donation to help with our expenses, this first rooster run cost $673.17, and we are still caring for the remaining 39 birds which will continue to incur additional expenses. If you would like to make a donation, I do not have a 501(c)(3), so you will not be able to count it as a tax-deductible charitable donation. You can send a donation me through PayPal. I will keep you all updated on the situation. . . and maybe you’ll want to go on the next rooster run with me! Honestly, I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do this. Life is a constant roller-coaster kind of adventure for me, and I wouldn’t have things any other way!

Customer Service, Fire, & Mashed Potatoes

I found myself dining alone tonight. And since I’m pretty much an introvert and since I enjoy my own company more than I enjoy anyone else’s, I was a bit pleased by the prospect. Until I started trying to figure out what to eat. . . Jason’s normally my chef, but he’s off enjoying an Iron Maiden concert with my brother. Sometimes I can turn to Claudia or Isabella to pick something up, but Claudia’s in College Station and Isabella’s at Brew & Bake with her friends. And I’m hungry NOW.

Ahhhhhh. . . Lake Jackson has Waitr now! I’m saved. I quickly checked the app and perused my options. I don’t really see that LJ has a lot of vegan options to offer, and while I’m not really vegan, my animal welfare friends have inspired me to aspire for a vegetable-forward diet, so I quickly narrowed down my search to the chicken fried steak from Asiel’s. In my defense, it comes with a side of mashed potatoes (with gravy of course) and a second side of my choice (I choose fried okra because it’s a theme). Wow. That was easy. So I light a candle because I always light candles when I dine alone, open a can of Karbach Love Street, and turn on my U-verse Stingray music to Alt. Rock Classics and listen to Pearl Jam and The Vapors while I wait for my meal to arrive. I’m really excited about the mashed potatoes. Potatoes are my favorite food. . . mashed, scalloped, baked, fried. . . I really don’t care. I love them. Jason and I were just talking about mashed potatoes last night, so my hankering for some good mashers is strong. In fact, I’m so excited that I repeatedly go to my front door to peep through the peephole to see if my Waitr driver is here yet. Even though the side windows in my living room give a clear view of all incoming traffic, I still anxiously peer through the peephole. . . chanting to myself “hurry up. hurry up. hurry up.”

Finally, he arrives. My glorious food is in a very large brown shopping bag with handles. I set the bag on the table and peer in at my meal. It’s on a black plastic tray with a clear lid, so I immediately grasp the gravity of the situation. There. Are. No. Mashed. Potatoes. In. The. Bag. None. And. That. Means. Not. Any.

Sigh. Look again. Sigh. No mashed potatoes. They’re still not there. Then, a blaze. In my distress over the lack of mashed potatoes, I set the very large brown shopping bag with handles down on top of my candle! It’s fully ablaze and the flames are almost lapping my ceiling. Good-NESS. That’s a large fire on my table. I grab the only tiny corner of the bag that’s not flaming with my bare hand and rush to the door and fling it outside. Crap. The wind is blowing. And is that a propane tank right there? Ummmmmm. Yes. It is. Fortunately, we store a crap ton of stuff on our carport (sorry neighbors who have to look at it), and there’s a metal dustpan and some BBQ tongs nearby. I grab the tongs and move the flaming bag away from the propane and begin smashing it with the metal dustpan. Chunks of flaming bag are blowing toward the neighbor’s house (I hope you’re not reading this Pinky and Kathleen, but if you are, don’t worry, I had control of the situation the whole time), so I’m chasing the flying flames around with a giant metal dustpan trying to extinguish them as they land. Thank God, after a few minutes of crazed movement, the coast is clear, the fire is extinguished, and I can go in and enjoy my chicken fried steak and fried okra sans mashed potatoes. (Insert sad face emoji here please because there are still no mashed potatoes on the plate).

I’m a little hangry now. . . and I’ve had to deal with a few situations today, so I deserved those mashed potatoes. I’m still a little miffed about a bad review someone gave us on Facebook (yeah, really, can you believe some people?!), so I’m a little sensitive to the social media blasting that some people feel inclined to do, so I consider my options:

I can eat my food that arrived and stay grouchy and never order Waitr or eat at Asiel’s again. But that mostly punishes me, right?

I can eat my food and blast Waitr and Asiel’s all over social media and give them a bad review and fester in my hate and loneliness and hangryness. But then people probably won’t like me because nobody likes a hater, right?

Or, I can call Asiel’s. . . and see if they can fix the problem, right?

So that’s the option I go for. . .and it was actually really easy. My Waitr app had the phone number right there, and I just touched it on my iPhone and the next thing I knew, a lovely young woman was on the phone with me. She didn’t have to put me on hold, she didn’t have to call a manager, she didn’t have to make excuses. . . right then andNoMashedPotatoes there she  apologized for the oversight, and then she said some wonderfully magical words, “would you like me to call Waitr and have them send the potatoes over right away?”

“uhhhhhh. . . yes. . . that would be fantastic.”

So now I gotta go, the dogs are barking and I just heard a car door slam. It’s the nice young man from Waitr here. He’s holding a smaller brown bag with handles. Inside the bag is a serving of glorious mashed potatoes and a side of cream gravy.

I’ll try not to set the bag on fire this time.

My Intentions for This Week

Ever wonder what a week in the life of an animal shelter director looks like? I start each week with a list of intentions. . . the things that need the most focus from me. I will be interrupted by nine million other things that require attention, so I set my intentions each Monday morning to help me stay focused on what is most important. These are my intentions for this week.

TMSM Intentions

  • Pack for our 27th Wedding Anniversary Weekend trip to the Ranch.
  • Catch up on and respond to email/FB/text messages (at least backwards to June 1.)
  • Straighten up the floor of my office. (Paper everywhere!)
  • Donate stuff from this weekend’s de-clutter to The Box and the shelter.
  • Work on shoulder stretches to avoid surgery. (yikes!)
  • Work on model Animal Ordinances for our local municipalities.
  • Work on launching new SPCA-BC Website.
  • Work on Shelter SOG’s.
  • Practice Gratitude.
  • Try to STAY COOL!
  • Work on new protocols for SPCA/Shelter Communications/After Hours Calls.
  • Pay bills.
  • Line up travel for apprenticeships.
  • Apply for training grants.
  • Launch SPCA Calendar GoGo Photo Contest.
  • Reserve NYE Venue/Caterer/Band/Save the Date.
  • Meet with Managers/Directors for goal-setting, event-planning, conflict resolution.
  • Attend the LJ Dog Park Public Hearings.
  • Attend the Clute Council Meeting.
  • Bid on the SPCA-BC Online Auction that ends today.
  • Be Kind.
  • Breathe.

Houses Without Walls

We grew up in houses without walls. Literally. Janna lived on the first floor of an incomplete two-story house. Her five-member family occupied the two bedroom lower level, while the unfinished upper level held the promise of space, privacy, and the hope of a grander life to come. I lived just around the corner in a three-car garage with my parents and newborn brother. Single-layer Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.23.42 PMplywood walls partitioned our tiny home into three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a kitchen with only a microwave for cooking our meals. Our promise-to-come resided next door, in a larger-than-imaginable home waiting to be built . . . a brick exoskeleton protecting a cavernous empty interior, with only studs to show what the future might hold.

We were fifth-graders with stringy hair and scabby legs and bare feet forced to become friends by virtue of proximity. These were the days before helicopter parenting was a thing, and we were expected to amuse ourselves, mostly outdoors, when we were not in school. We had long country roads bounded by deep muddy ditches and dark culverts to explore. We had pastures to cross, dotted with a variety of beasts to slay, and bicycles to take us beyond where our feet could travel. Our days were open and blessedly unscheduled.

We tired of our bicycles and started driving before we were supposed to. Our mothers worked, and we had endless hours to entertain ourselves. Daytime soap operas and prank phone calls could only occupy a small portion of a long, unplanned day. So we began sneaking Jane’s car and driving all over those long country roads. We always stopped at a grubby little foodmart on Blacksferry Road to replace the gas we used, and if we could scrounge up enough change, we would treat ourselves to some Cheetos or Sweet Tarts and a couple of cans of A&W to enjoy on the ride back home. We lived in terror of being caught, which made the adventure that much more enjoyable. I am still amazed that the clerk at the foodmart never reported two twelve-year-olds driving themselves all around the back roads of Wild Peach.

We were improbable friends. Janna enjoyed being the center of attention, the wisemouth who always had something to say about everything and everybody and thrived with large groups of admirers. I was the awkward introvert who shunned attention and who always preferred books over people and solitude over adventure. We shared a flair for drama and a penchant for exaggeration. We were both storytellers, and we created a world for ourselves where we were the heroines, the victors, the slayers of dragons and school bus drivers.

In the hot summers, we would take respite in the shade of our houses without walls. We would hide upstairs and prop open the windows, hoping for a hint of a breeze. We talked, and we talked, and we talked, and we laughed. . . that kind of wrenching painful howling pee-in-your-pants belly laugh. We imagined the future and created places for ourselves . . . places where we could be bigger than the small country towns we lived between. And in these houses without walls, two fifth-graders became teenagers and then became women. We created stories for ourselves and lived in them, and learned from each other that friendship grows from laughter, stories, and some weird kernel of acceptance of each other’s differences.

Janna’s family never finished their second story. Her parents divorced and everyone moved away, leaving a house that yet remains without walls. I lived in our completed home for just over a year before leaving for college. The house that my family built now stands empty, abandoned, no longer the hope of a future to come. We left our houses without walls and entered a world full of walls that tried to confine us and bind us and make us be “normal.” But two young girls who grew up without walls, who freely roamed the countryside with only our imaginations and our laughter to occupy us, who dreamed of boundless possibilities and grand futures, could never be contained in a world that seeks to bind us. Our acceptance of each other grew into acceptance of others and acceptance of life and all its strange happenings. Because sometimes people live in houses without walls, and it’s not normal, but being “not normal” is not a bad thing. And she and I, well we’re not normal either. And we’re still living lives without walls. And, that’s not a bad thing either.

Mother’s Day Indulgences

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I was a little worried about Mother’s Day. It arrived on Day Four of my 21 Day Transformation Challenge. Our family always celebrates any occasion with food. I marked it as an “off day” on my calendar, thinking that I would indulge on Mother’s Day and then go back to my challenge on Monday. But, as it turned out, I didn’t need an “off day.”

After my morning coffee, I had some cantaloupe to tide me over until lunch. My mom and dad were coming to my house at noon and Jason and I planned to make crepes.

Everything turned out FANTASTIC, and I didn’t have to “cheat.” (You can cheat on diets, you can’t cheat on a healthy lifestyle, right?) I indulged a little, but still stuck with my plan.

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The crepes were unbelievably delicious. This was our first time to try making crepes (what better guinea pig for a new recipe than your mother, right?) We had choices of fillings, and Jason custom made each one for us with our choice of ingredients. For the main course, the choices were scrambled eggs seasoned with herbs, roasted chicken thighs, apples, avocado, Gruyere cheese, and bacon. For a dessert course, we had a dark chocolate and cinnamon sauce, honey, and fresh raspberries. We also had chocolate covered strawberries (purchased at H.E.B.).

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Everything was so wonderful, and it was fun to gather in the kitchen, chatter, and wait expectantly while Jason created the next crepe.

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After my parents left, Jason and I had another one of our nice long walks through our neighborhood. I stopped and took some photos of the elementary school that Jason and I both attended, and then both of our girls attended almost thirty years later. Claudia’s kindergarten class was even in the same room as mine! This school will be torn down soon to make way for a newer, bigger school. I hope the new school will retain some architectural character and blend nicely with our neighborhood. I fear that it won’t. I have a lot of memories here, so I will be sad to see it go.

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Our lunch was so filling, and spanned the course of several hours, so we snacked on a simple platter of fresh fruit for dinner.

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So I learned that I don’t have to “cheat” even on special occasions. I still ate healthy foods prepared with love and shared them with the people I love the most in the world. I still got my daily dose of exercise, but also enjoyed a quiet day relaxing and visiting with my family.  It was a good day.

End of Week One: “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – John C. Maxwell

It’s been a full week since I started this 21 Day Transformation Challenge. For one full week, I have changed my daily habits to include healthier choices. So far, I have:

  1. Eaten clean. This means avoiding processed foods and embracing foods that are closer to their source: more fruits and veggies and less packaged or fast food.
  2. Exercised daily. Jason and I have gone for a long walk each evening. Most days I have been logging well over 10,000 steps. This doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but I was mostly sedentary a week ago. I have doubled my daily steps this week. Even better, we have enjoyed our walks together. . . taking time to talk while we walk without the distractions of tv and other electronics.
  3. Lost 2.2 pounds. Although I didn’t list weight loss as a specific goal, I have weighed myself daily. It’s not my ultimate goal, but certainly a huge benefit of a healthier lifestyle. I also hope that my clothes will fit better and I will feel better in them.

Most importantly, THIS ISN’T HARD. I have tried “diets” many times before. I have joined gyms, boot camps, fitness programs, and bought too many subscriptions to online programs to count. I have never stuck with it before. I know it’s only been a week, but I have changed my way of thinking. I don’t come home from work thinking, “I need a beer.”  When a co-worker offered me cake, I didn’t really want it, so it was easy to decline. And. . . I’M NOT HUNGRY. My meals have been tasty and satisfying. I eat three meals each day, and I have one or two healthy snacks if I get hungry between meals.

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One of the things that makes it easy is to keep a huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies on hand. This is what I have available to choose from right now.

Day Four

I make smoothies most mornings for breakfast. Some are really good, and some are not so great. I add truvia and vanilla to make them taste a little better. Some mornings I have a scrambled egg with roasted peppers, onions, mushrooms, and whatever other veggies I have on hand.

We have discovered some really beautiful trees on our evening walks.

We try to change our route each night to make things a little more interesting. These are some pics from our neighborhood:

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Hmmmm.
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Pecan Acres Pet Care at dusk.
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This seemed a little “Blair Witch” to me.

One night, we went to Surfside and walked on the jetties.

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I think I can handle another two weeks of this lifestyle. What do you think?

Day Three: “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”

Jason and I have gone to College Station the last three weekends in a row, so today was the first time in a very long time that I got to sleep late. . . and I took advantage of it! I didn’t get up until almost nine, and then lingered over coffee. It’s nice when Claudia’s home because all four of us tend to hang out in the kitchen and catch up. I didn’t make my breakfast smoothie until 11! This morning it was a Blueberry Sweet Potato Smoothie–baked sweet potato, blueberries, baby spinach almond butter, protein powder, and skim milk. I have to admit, I didn’t like it at all when I first tasted it. The brownish-grey color didn’t help either. I added a truvia and a dash of vanilla, and voila! it was fine (not good, but fine.) Jason thought the same about his, so we won’t be repeating this recipe!

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Not my favorite smoothie.

The girls ditched us early in the afternoon to go shopping. I wanted to walk to the nail salon, but Jason talked me out of it. He was right. Putting on tennis shoes to walk back home would ruin my pedicure, and wearing flip flops would kill my feet. So we drove.

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My favorite girls.

We tried Legend Nails for the first time. It is in the new H.E.B. shopping center. The lovely lady who did my nails was Elaine, and she was fabulous! I got the deluxe pedicure, and she took so much time massaging my legs that I almost fell asleep I was so relaxed. After she finished my manicure, she even massaged my neck and shoulders before I left. This may be my new favorite place!

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My new favorite nail salon.

Lunch was steamed green beans, some barley cooked with mushrooms and kale, and some roasted turkey breast. Although it takes a little time to prepare lunch now, it is well worth it! I feel better about myself eating good food. A week ago, I would have picked up fast food for lunch, eaten too much, and felt overfull afterward. This feels right.

I ran errands after lunch (I had such a late start to my day, lunch was actually at around 3:00 pm!) I went to Target, Walgreens, and H.E.B. By the time I was done, it was around 5:30, and I felt very hungry. When I got home I ate two boiled eggs for a snack.

I don’t think Jason ate much of anything other than the smoothie I fixed him for breakfast and some boiled eggs for a snack, so around 7:30, he was starving. I was cleaning house, so he grabbed the recipe and fixed dinner. He marinated the chicken with orange juice and red pepper flakes and started the grill. By the time the chicken was cooked, and he had finished preparing a plum and walnut relish to go with it, it was almost 9 pm. I actually wasn’t very hungry, so I had plenty left to put away for tomorrow’s lunch. The citrus marinade for the chicken was good, but I think it would have been better if we had left it to soak a little longer. The relish was wonderful, and I will make it again. I look forward to having some for lunch tomorrow.

Even though we didn’t walk to the nail salon and back, I stayed busy all day running errands and cleaning house, so I still managed to log my 10,000 steps on my fit bit.

Tomorrow is mother’s day. Part of my plan was to rest and rejuvenate on Sundays. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Day Three Dinner

A light, but satisfying, dinner.