Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Weekend Apart, or Camping in Fort Davis

On Friday morning, Brendan left for South Padre, TX to attend the Great Plains Honors Council conference with the other director of the MC honor's program and two student presenters. To lesson your confusion, this is part of Brendan's position as the Co-director of the honor's program, which is separate from the English Honor Society that we co-advise together. 

Though I was invited to attend the conference, there was no possible way for me to miss teaching on Friday (way too much going on in my eight week flex course), so when my friend Kristen invited me to go camping this weekend with her Outdoors Club, I was very excited to be able to work Friday and still have my own adventure away.

Kristen picked me up shortly after 5:00pm on Friday and we headed to Fort Davis, which is about 2.5 hours away. We had an SUV packed full of stuff for our 48 hours away. What can we say? We like to be prepared (according to our friend Chelsea, we like to go "glamping," but she is over-exaggerating, though I do love my camp stove and double high airbed!) 

It was raining when we arrived, but the sunset was gorgeous: 

We enjoyed conversation with the other campers and made veggie burgers on the camp stove for dinner.  We survived incredible winds in the canyon we were camping in on both nights. I really thought that our tents were going to go flying away, but Kristen is a seasoned camper and kept assuring me that that wouldn't happen.  

Friday morning, I went on a drive with Chelsea and her boyfriend, Brandon, and we saw some pigs, horses, cows, roadrunners, and other wildlife. 

Friday afternoon, we all went rappelling off of an 80 foot canyon cliff. This involved putting on a harness, gloves, and a helmet and then being tied to a lot of ropes that my life was sincerely depending on. I felt comfortable because Richard, the former founder of the Outdoor's club was highly experienced and had an experienced helper, Tom. I also watched several people go before me and survive. Plus, back in December, my sister-in-law, Annie, took Brendan and I to her rock climbing gym, which gave me an idea of what to expect. 

So, I suited up: 

Got hooked in:

Hugged my friends goodbye and told them to establish a scholarship in my name for a reading program for children should anything happen to me: 

Then I began my descent (backwards!) off the cliff. The photos don't show how nervous I was. This took a big leap of courage for me: 

I kept my feet on the rocks until I was perpendicular to the ground and there were no rocks. Then I had to push off to find myself hanging 80 feet in the air. I continued to let out rope until I was safely down on the ground. I got an awesome view of the canyon on the way down. It was so cool! 

The rest of Friday was spent relaxing since everyone was exhausted from staying up late, the canyon climb (very step), and the rappelling down. Kristen and I made mac n'cheese for lunch and other campers made two kinds of cobbler, which we proudly ate for dinner. 

This morning, it was time for a short hike! We packed up the tents and our campsites, and I headed off with Kristen, Chelsea, and Brandon. Fun Fact: I have been friends with Kristen and Chelsea since fall of 2011, so over 3.5 years now. 

We had an amazing hike, though we all estimated it to be longer than its true distance of 1.5 miles roundtrip (I logged it on my Run Keeper app just to see). 

We even found more horses:

And because of recent rains, the creeks were not empty:

At this point, I hadn't showered in three days, but I was happy to break in my new hiking boots this weekend. I got them at Sierra Trading Post and only spent $54.00. They were very comfortable and had good traction. 

We saw a rattlesnake (scary!) 

Even after my bravery rappelling yesterday, I still appreciated a helping hand to get across the mossy rocks! 

We stopped for food in Balmorhea and made it back to town a little after 3:00pm. As for Brendan, his flight lands in about fifteen minutes, and by all accounts, their conference was a big success. Both students had never been on a plane before, and one student had never seen the ocean before, so I think it was a big weekend for them. I cannot wait to see my husband after our weekend apart. I had a great time, but now I just want to watch the Game of Thrones season premiere and cuddle (and don't worry, I did take a much needed shower as soon as I walked in the door!) 

We hope your weekend was awesome too! 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Greetings From the Backyard

Ahhh, this is SO MUCH better than writing greetings from Starbucks. Yesterday was hot, but today is a "cool" 85 degrees, and I'm really enjoying sitting outside with my computer.

How am I doing on my internet rules? Better, but not perfect! I have completely cut my usage at night and focused on reading and just having downtime. I'm working on resisting the urge to scroll through Facebook as much. I joined Twitter to see what all the fuss is about...but so far, I don't get it. I tweet but nothing happens. There's no interaction. What is going on? I've already managed to lose one "follower." Was I that bad at tweeting? Enlighten me, please.

The internet has also managed to bring Brendan some great joy. He purchased a year long subscription to the Major League Baseball channel through Apple TV, and now he can watch his Red Sox games on demand. This had made for one happy Red Sox fan! We hear we can do the same for HBO Go now. The Apple TV was a Christmas gift from my dad, and we are really liking it. We don't subscribe to cable (and haven't since we moved here in 2011), so Apple TV opens a nice entertainment option for us.

We've been on a farmer's market inspired food kick since the Midland Farmer's Market is back in action on Saturday mornings. Our finds on Saturday included: beets, radishes, cauliflower, rainbow chard, BBQ sauce, raspberry/cherry tart jam, and homemade bread. It wasn't our best haul ever, but it was pretty good for April.

We made BBQ Tofu with beets and beet greens (bottom photo) and Brendan made the barley with greens and radishes (top photo). For tonight's dinner, I have this in the crockpot...only I added some swiss chard. I love lentils, and I'm looking forward to a healthy after yoga dinner.

Speaking of healthy, I am wanting to make changes to my fitness routine. By change, I simply mean working out more than twice a week. I'm planning to add some more group classes to my life because I'm most motivated when I work out with others. Sure, I can trudge through workout sessions on my own, but it doesn't bring me the same joy. I will check back in with updates on my progress.

In crazy crazy news, there is officially ONE month of the Spring 2015 semester left. I'm trying to not let my students sense my panic at how much we have left to cover! For the most part, they are doing great, and it works to my benefit to keep them focused on only what is right in front of them. One thing at a time.

Today, my mom texted me and told me she found a creative writing principal's award that I won in 1996. I mentioned this to my class and one student said "That's the year I was born." Oh goodness. This combined with my lack of understanding of Twitter makes me feel I really may be getting old.

But you know what? I'm liking it! Happy Wednesday to all!

PS- There is an ice cream truck that frequents our street at this time. Isn't that zany?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Building a Backyard From Scratch: Edging Begins

Happy Easter! We hope everyone had a great time with family today. We were missing ours, but we stayed busy busy busy the past four days building our backyard. It has involved a lot of time and some money too, but we're slowly making progress.

Step one was a trip to the rock yard to pick out edging for our flower beds and some flagstone for a path. We picked everything out at Alldredge Garden Center with a very nice employee named Calvin. Calvin was sweet enough to deliver all of our choices for free via his trailer. By the way: If you live in Midland and are looking for lawn care, Calvin is your guy! Please contact me for his phone number. He was so knowledgeable and friendly.

Next step, the edging begins. Brendan had already dug the trenches, and then it was a matter of putting the rocks in and adding sand (we went through four bags of sand this weekend).  This took a few hours. 

The window behind our bedroom 

The window behind our living room
Poor Brendan dug a hole to bury each of the flagstones to make our little path. I lined the stones up, but he did all of the digging, and I know that was exhausting. 

Up next: a trip to Home Depot to buy garden soil and herbs. It took so much digging and work (for both of us), to get the bed ready, but, finally, my dream of an herb garden became a reality. I decided where to plant everything and dug the holes myself...let's hope I have a green thumb. 

I planted sweet mint, spearmint, peppermint, oregano, rosemary, basil, parsley, sage, thyme, lemon thyme, and dill. I hope all of my herbs thrive. I'm pretty darn excited about it! 

Tomorrow, Brendan is putting down weed guard in the backyard to keep all of the dirt from blowing around in the crazy winds we have in spring until we can get the ground covered with other things. We want to eventually put down some trees, plants, and shrubs edged with river rock and a patch of grass (eventually two). Non-landscaped areas would be covered with crushed granite over the weed guard. 

The backyard is going to take us...forever, and this is just the beginning! It feels fun to have an outdoor space that's all our own though. Do you have any tips for an herb garden? If so, please leave them in the comments.

We look forward to seeing what's to bloom in thyme (hahaha).

Friday, April 3, 2015

Reflections About Being Off the Grid (or, How to Get Internet in a New Housing Development)

Greetings from the middle of our long, long weekend. Brendan and I have today and Monday off for Easter, plus we both have Thursdays off this semester, so this made for a glorious five day break! I'll do a post about what we're getting up to this weekend later. 

For now, I am writing from my computer in our living room because this afternoon, we finally got high speed internet and joined the rest of the 21st century. It was an involved process that took over two months. I want to reflect a little about what life was like "off the grid" and also talk about how we finally got internet. 

First, How to Get Internet in a New Housing Development

When we first moved here on January 31st, we were really surprised to find that no companies offered high speed internet...all that was available was dish or satellite, which was expensive (we're talking over $100 per month), limited (they would slow down your service if you used too much data), and required a two year contract. No thanks! 

I discovered that the reason the better companies weren't out here is because they needed a big financial incentive to lay the groundwork for the internet. I began to call and call and call the company...joining in with my neighbors, we flooded the company with about twenty phone calls per day. Finally, I guess we convinced them we'd make it worth their time because they made plans to install the fiber optic cables in the neighborhood. We were told to expect service by the end of February. We were happy, but things didn't turn out as planned. Our area experienced so many freezes that it slowed down everything. I called in early March and no one at the company headquarters in a different city seemed to have any idea what was going on. There was an office here, but it had no phone number. I made plans to drive there one afternoon, and I almost got lost because it was at the edge of the city limits. It was worth the trip though! Once there, I met a construction coordinator for the project, and I made sure to get his business card. That would prove to come in handy. 

Last Thursday, a flyer was left on our door for the company, advertising that their services were now available. Relieved to no longer be taking grading trips to Starbucks, we called Friday and scheduled an install for Monday. Over the weekend, we noticed the company installing wires in our alley. We thought we were set to go, but no. On Monday, the techs were an hour late and told us we couldn't get internet because we didn't have a conduit. I asked to talk to their supervisor, called him from one of the tech's phones and explained our situation. I got his contact info and a promise he would stay on our case, which was another important step. I then left a note on the front door giving the techs permission to access the backyard, so that we would not miss them if we happened to not be home. 

I called the construction coordinator that I met two weeks prior and told him about the situation. I called him for updates on Tuesday and Wednesday. Finally, yesterday morning, we got our conduit. I rescheduled our install for this afternoon. It turned out things still weren't done. I was told we needed someone to come splice the cables. I called the supervisor from Monday who sent someone last night to splice the cables. This literally took another hour, though I have no idea why. Finally, today, we have high speed internet. The tech that came to our house told me the previous four houses were lacking conduits and could not get internet today. I know the reason we got our service before others that have been here longer is because I got contact information for people that knew what was going on and kept bothering them. 

So to reiterate: 1.) Partner with neighbors to flood the company with requests for service, 2.) Get phone numbers for local people involved in the project. 3.) Schedule (and reschedule) your install appointments for the earliest possible dates 4.) Make sure you get cables, a conduit, and splicing. 5.) Continue to call and call and call. Leave a note with permission to access your backyard for when you leave the house. 

And Now, Reflections From Off the Grid 

We went 62 days without home internet. Which meant we went to Starbucks, a lot, and we used my phone for internet all. the. time. 

Here is what we learned:

1.) Not having the internet is super inconvenient: say goodbye to working from home in your pajamas. However: 
2.) We also learned that we waste a LOT of time on the internet. Without the internet, we were forced to get work done more quickly because if we had only two hours at Starbucks, we had to grade papers then, and we couldn't goof off. This lead to us being a LOT more productive and using our time in ways we liked better. For instance, we read a lot more books. 
3.) People at Starbucks are not respectful to those trying to work. They will just start talking, and they won't stop. Bring headphones! 
4.) We missed Netflix, but we started using the discs, which we had been paying for but never using. It was nice to see some things we couldn't see streaming. It was also nice to not be addicted to any show on Netflix. Again, we had more time, and we didn't waste time choosing what to watch. 
5.) We missed the internet for googling the answers to all of our questions. We missed being able to access recipes easily. We also went over my family plan data cap on the phone. I missed not being able to chat with friends, but I also realized that I wasn't procrastinating on work. I experienced a definite withdraw period in the first week. If you think you wouldn't, try it. It's surprising. 
6.) I looked at Facebook less, and I didn't really miss it. I blogged less, which I did miss. 
7.) It was annoying to not be able to pay bills, submit forms, shop online, etc. I had to schedule time into my day to do all these things. I shopped less though, so that was good! 
8.) I often did not check work email after 2:00pm. And you know what happened? Nothing. I realized very few people even contact me after 2:00pm, and if they do, all of them can actually wait for an answer until the next day. It was really nice to not check work email so much. 
9.) We felt physically a lot better from not looking at a computer screen so much. We really liked that we weren't on the computer before bed. I watched the nightly news to feel more connected to the world, then we would get in bed and read for 20-30 minutes before turning off the lights. We love the new routine and fall asleep more easily. 
10.) This is the most surprising: In some ways, not having the internet increased our happiness. 
WHAT?! It was so inconvenient, how could we be happier? Well, before, I guess we were lacking balance. We just overused the internet. With not having internet, we were more likely to do things we liked better than sitting on the computer. We did a lot around the house, which was really fulfilling. 

So, now that we have internet, we plan to use it in the following ways: 
Working without procrastinating. We like to set a time limit and work (grade) the entire time. 
I'll go back to my old habit of checking work email at 5pm Monday-Friday and not checking it after that. I will also not check on weekends. It's good to have a break. 
Using it for activities we enjoy like blogging or reading the news.
Watching Netflix.
Essentials like bill pay.

We plan to avoid the following: 
Being on the internet just to be on it. Facebook & chatting are fun every once in a while, but they don't add much to our happiness. I like checking Facebook in the morning and leaving it at that. 
Internet shopping--it doesn't need to happen because we need to save our money! If we know something we want,  like plane tickets, that's different, but I hope my days of browsing just to see if I like something at a store are over. 
Being on the computer after 10pm...it doesn't need to happen. It's easier to go to sleep without doing that, and we like our reading routine far better. 

So, in the end, I call this 62 day experiment educational. It was kind of annoying, but, in some ways, I'm glad that we had this reality check to show us it is important to really think about our net usage. 

Do you use the internet, abuse the internet, or some of both? 

We hope this gave you something to think about. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5th 5K day and a Beautiful Weekend

Brendan and I ran our fifth 5K yesterday morning! While I didn't break my previous record and came in 1 minute 24 seconds over, I was still proud that I showed up and tried. Brendan ran the first 2 miles with me and still came in second in his age group. He points out many in his age group were running the 10k or the half. Speaking of which, I learned a valuable lesson yesterday at the energy city race...never again sign up for a race that has too many things going on. Yesterday's race featured 1, 5, 10K's, and a half marathon. We started 20 minutes late, and the organizers wouldn't post any results until everyone was done with the half. Not wanting to hang out and wait an hour for results, we left and didn't see results until late last night (and originally the half results got posted three times with no other results posted). The race raised money to help single moms, and I'm glad we did it for that alone, but next time I'm sticking to 5K only races. 

After the race, Brendan headed to starbucks to get some grading done. We are scheduled to get internet service tomorrow and officially rejoin the 21st century (fingers crossed)! While he graded, I stayed home and recuperated. Last night, we picked up my friend Kristen from the airport, and the three of us went to see It Follows, which was the best horror movie I've seen since Mama. I absolutely recommend it if you like smart and fun scary movies. It totally creeped me out! I spent the whole movie holding onto both Kristen and Brendan, and I screamed a few times. 

Today, Brendan and I saw MCT's Greater Tuna, which was hilarious. We're enjoying the 90 degree weather (don't hate us) and planning to eat dinner (crockpot stuffed peppers) on the patio. Other than that, we are planning to power through the next 3 days and then enjoy Easter break. We hope everyone had a great weekend. 

S&B and L&Z

Friday, March 27, 2015

It's the Weekend Baby!

The most needed weekend of our semester has arrived!

Though we normally have time to grade on Thursdays, I filled in for a missing tutor yesterday, and we hosted the induction ceremony for the club we advise together last night. The induction ceremony takes a lot out of us: there are invitations to send, programs to make, food to buy, supplies to order from the national office, and the list goes on. However, it is one of the most rewarding days of our semester. The 40 students involved collectively contributed 198 hours of community service to the club, campus, and city, all related to reading and writing. They tutored people of all ages, read to the blind, worked at public libraries and assisted teachers in preschool and elementary classrooms. These students are pretty awesome, and we are lucky to be a part of their lives. 

The Vice President and President attended the ceremony and volunteered some funds for the club, so that is awesome. We have a super supportive community and just today picked up 20 free tickets to take them to a local production of west side story in April. Pretty cool! 

Anyway, needless to say, I had to stay at work late today to finish grading American literature essays, but now that that's done, I'm feeling awesome...well except for the fact that I'm running a 5K tomorrow that I didn't train for. Life gets in the way of my ideas about how I will prep for races! I'm not too mad at myself because this semester has been nuts with moving, not having internet, and with the house needing several warranty covered visits for small repairs (nothing serious but just the builder being hasty and neglecting certain tasks that should have been attended to before we moved in). Luckily, we should have internet Monday (fingers crossed). 

I'm so happy about the upcoming weekend and the beautiful weather we've been having. Easter vacation makes next week super short too, so all is right in the world! 

Happy Friday night! I got a sweet potato, green beans, and sour gummy worms with my name on them! 
S&B and L&Z 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Future Plans

Brendan and I took a big step yesterday and started saving for our retirement by opening Roth IRAs. We have two other retirement accounts through work, but we decided the earlier that we get serious about saving, then the earlier retirement is possible.

We did a lot of research and also consulted with my mom's financial adviser. We found no fee for start up and transfers accounts and that was important to us. We set it up so that we automatically contribute the maximum for last tax year and this one. I like having less bills to think about paying, and it also eliminates the temptation to think of saving for retirement as an option when it really should be a top priority. 

And so is this calculator: 

I'm not an expert, but I do watch a lot of Suze Orman. We follow her advice about putting 20%-25% of take home pay towards retirement and emergency savings. Ultimately, life is chaotic and unpredictable, so even the best laid plans can never be perfect, but we hope for long lives and the means to live them comfortably. If you are young, keep in mind that saving something is better than saving nothing and feel empowered not overwhelmed. 

We've set new financial goals to work toward, as having goals is highly motivating, but for now, we're feeling good about our most recent step. Here's to the future! 
<3 S&B & L&Z 
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