Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Change is Good

The past month has definitely been full of changes for Brendan and I, we've moved to a new city, started new jobs, and moved in together, all in the span of a few days. And, while I'm still adjusting to a few things (like the fact that it's pitch black dark here until I leave for work around 7:45am), I know these changes are for the best. Change can take adjusting to, but it is also such a positive force in all of our lives. Whether or not we know it, we need change to help make us happier and healthier. Did you know that people who change up their routines actually feel as if time moves slower, leading them to feel as if they had a longer life than their stick-to-the-routine-everyday counterparts? Change is something we should all embrace, and there are a million different ways to welcome it. One of my favorite ways? A trip to the salon.

Ah, the feel of freshly colored, washed, and cut hair. The two hour experience is a treat I only allow myself four times a year (every 3 months), and it's always exciting and well worth the wait. I love to change things up with my hair, it makes me feel refreshed and rejuvenated! Here are my results from a recent trip to Joe James Salon in Midland, TX, where I saw Adam. He was fabulous and super sweet, and Joe James is an Aveda salon with top notch customer service.

All smiles after my haircut
I always take a photo after getting my hair done, check out this post for evidence. Brendan looks at me kind of strangely as I stage my own photo shoot in the living room, but hey, it's hard to take your own picture!

My new do comes just in time for this weekend. Brendan and I are headed to a bed and breakfast in Fort Davis, TX (We'll also see nearby Marfa and Alpine) for a weekend of hiking, swimming, star-gazing, site-seeing, and resting. I cannot wait! Though Brendan and I have been on many trips and vacations together, it's always been with friends or family, so this will be our first weekend away just the two of us. I'll blog about it when we return.

I also look forward to telling you about all the great books I read this month, including one that I'm absolutely addicted to right now!

Oh, and before I sign out, Lola wants me to tell you to vote for her in the Modcloth cutest cat contest. You can vote once every 24 hours (which we're sure you're dying to do). Just click here!  Lola thanks you. I didn't know if I could send a picture of both cats, having two in the picture seems like cheating! Anyway, Zoe doesn't mind, she's not really into being the center of attention. But everyone should know, they're equally loved and adorable. Here's the latest proof:
Snuggling! Love these cats.
Here's to change & nice smelling shampoo :)
<3 S, L&Z

P.S.- We've had over 5,000 hits in 8 months, averaging about 640 hits a month, not bad for a rookie blogger and a pair of cats! Thanks for visiting us, and remember, if you enjoy the blog, share us with your friends.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Going Green

Hello! Have you ever noticed how colors can effect your mood? Maybe that's why I like to surround myself with the color green. It makes me feel energized and peaceful. It's also a color I associate with good luck, and who doesn't need that? I'll share with you some of my favorite green finds as of late, and hope you won't go green with envy :)

The first items are this adorable serving platter, a housewarming gift from our friend Erica, and this cute apron I picked up for way cheap at an antique store in Lubbock, TX this weekend. Erica also sent us a matching large bowl, which I use to store all my veggies that don't go in the fridge. I put the platter out on the counter as a decorative piece until it's time to have guests over. As for the apron, Brendan pointed out my mom might be shocked if she saw me wear it, but it's pretty darn cute, don't you think?

Want some more green in your kitchen? Try this green smoothie that my friend Jessica made for me this summer. Or this wonderful Mexican Salad that Brendan and I made again last night. 

The next items will make me feel truly like a lucky lady when I'm out on the town. I scored this spring green cardigan at Banana Republic's clearance sale for just $19.00. I love how soft it is, and whether I pair it with a khaki colored skirt or light gray pants for work, or jeans for an evening out, I know it will look good with everything. I scored this beaded bag with green accents at an antique store here in Midland, TX for just $15.00...I love to find vintage, reused goods, it makes wearing green good for your green and the earth :)

Another favorite item is this Peridot ring Brendan and I found while antique shopping in Lubbock. Peridot (which some people pronounce per-i-doe) is a gemstone that is supposed to bring the wearer good luck, peace, and success, as well as health, protection, and sleep. I'll take all those things please! It's also the birthstone for August, so if you're an August baby, find yourself some Peridot!

 Finally, I've had many compliments on my green comforter. It comes from Urban Outfitters, so now you know!

I hope you can add a little green to your day to help kick those Monday blues :)

<3 S, L&Z

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Month in West Texas

Well, Brendan and I have lived in Midland for exactly one month today. It's starting to feel a bit more like home, and I no longer am under the impression that our apartment is just a hotel room that happens to be furnished with all our stuff. There's no question that west Texas is different from anywhere either of us have lived! Here's a look at some of the best parts of our adventure.
Our First Place
There's no question that we all (including Lola and Zoe) love the new place. People have asked if living together for real feels any different or changes the relationship. We're enjoying it a lot, but that's a whole separate post that I'll wait to write.
Working hard!
So far we're both really enjoying our jobs at Midland College. We like all the other faculty members, enjoy teaching, and feel comfortable with the students. The flexible schedule makes me so happy I went into academia! I truly think it's the perfect place for writers to work.
"Anyone but Heather." 
I also find that people who work at Midland College have a great sense of humor. It's a fantastic work environment-everyone is friendly and respects each other, and I feel that people have gone out of their way to get to know us.
High School Football is King 
You've never experienced high school football quite this way! The stadium is bigger than the minor league baseball stadium, features a big screen for instant replay, and the money being poured into the sport is quite apparent- note giant mascots for the athletes to run through! Brendan and I were surprised that our $10.00 a piece tickets got us assigned seating in "real seats," no bleachers for these fans. We started to feel sorry for the team from Lubbock when the score was about 42 to 0, but they did eventually end up with 14 points.
Myth: It doesn't rain in the desert
Brendan and I were told it rarely rains in Midland, but since we arrived, we've had a couple of thunder storms. We're talking it rains so hard you can barely see. This surprised us, as did our first experience this weekend with a dust storm on a drive to the movies. I kept saying "oh my god, are we okay?" because we could hardly see the road for all the red dirt in the air.
Myth: there's no good sushi
We were told not to expect much in the way of restaurants in Midland, but we've been pleasantly surprised. We found a great sushi place called Bushido, and the sushi is just as good as that of my beloved "Thai Spice" in Austin.
Myth: nothing lives in the desert.

Truth: we have our very own duck pond!
That's right, to our surprise, Midland has a duck pond, which proves to be charming and the perfect place to go when you have bread that has gone stale.
Brendan feeds the ducks

Me, somewhat afraid of the ducks ("what happens when we run out of bread?")
Myth: nothing grows in the desert.
Truth-we found this tree. And there are other trees too. Okay, many trees don't last long here, but still.
Local business is still thriving here
I expected Midland to have mostly chain stores and restaurants, and there is that for sure, but there are also many local gems. This ice cream place Alfredo's makes hands down the BEST ice cream bars we've ever tasted. There's also a spectacular drive in movie theater here with 3 screens that shows new releases. We loaded Brendan's station wagon up with blankets and pillows and saw a movie on Saturday night. It was very romantic, fun, and much more cost effective than the regular theater. More on that to come.
Myth: there's nothing beautiful in the desert
Truth-There is so much beauty around us here. Check us this gorgeous sunset that we see from our balcony every night!

West Texas feels like a great place for us to be right now. We do miss our families and friends though! The month is flying by however, and we know it won't be long until we're seeing familiar faces.

Here's to our slice of desert life.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Story of Friendship and Perfect, 1-hour Vegetarian Lasagna

The story of this delicious Vegetarian Lasagna begins over two years ago with my friend Erica. It was my 23rd birthday, and Erica wanted to do something special, so as a gift, she hit the grocery store, rounded up all these ingredients, came to my house, and cooked dinner with me. It's still one of the specialist presents I've ever received, and every time I make and eat this particular lasagna, I'm taken back to that night we spent eating dinner, drinking wine, and playing Rummy. We've had a lot of great times in the kitchen together, making everything from cupcakes to potato gnocchi, and Erica helped me become more confident with creating dishes. I know my readers might be like, "come on, where is this recipe already," but hold your horses! Erica has always been there for me, whether it was performing emergency comma correction or taking me to Sonic when my childhood cat, Swirly, died, and I want to say thank you, Erica. Thanks for the ghost hunting and the long car trips for Thai food, thanks for always wanting the best for me. Your friendship makes me feel lucky. And this vegetarian lasagna makes me feel 23 again. I love you.

Perfect Vegetarian Lasagna (serves 12-great for parties, or having leftovers)
You will need:
  • several small red potatoes 
  • 1 onion 
  • 1 zucchini
  • several cloves of garlic 
  • 1 bag frozen broccoli 
  • 1 box lasagna noodles 
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 can diced tomatoes 
  • 1 jar of pace hot sauce (I used spicy, you can use medium or mild however)
  • 1 large container of ricotta cheese (I used fat free)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 bag of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Crushed red pepper, pepper, and basil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees 
  2. boil pasta according to package directions, drain, set aside.
  3. slice red potatoes and boil (note: potatoes should not be soft, but still firm-they cook more in the oven)
  4. chop onion, mince garlic, cut zucchini into half-moon slices. Saute vegetables in a large skillet or wok in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper and pepper to taste. 
  5. Add can of diced tomato, cook several minutes. 
  6. Add the jar of pasta sauce and the jar of pace hot sauce. Continue to cook.
  7. Meanwhile-microwave 1 cup of frozen broccoli and in a large bowl combine broccoli, entire large container of ricotta cheese, 1 egg, and 1/2 bag of mozzarella cheese.
  8. add basil and potatoes to red sauce mixture, cook 1 more minute. 
  9. in a large baking dish, put down 1 layer of cooked noodles in a vertical direction. Top with red sauce. Top with cheese mixture. Then add another layer of noodles in a horizontal direction. Again top this layer first with red sauce, then with cheese mixture. Finally, top with a last layer of vertical noodles. Add the other 1/2 bag of shredded mozzarella on top and 1/2 the bag of shredded Parmesan. 
  10. Cook in oven for about 30-40 minutes, cheese should be melted, lasagna should be firm, top of lasagna just starting to brown. 
  11. Eat and enjoy! 

Total prep and cook time- 1 hour. It's not super fast, but hey, for lasagna that's pretty fast!
Deliciousness factor- 5 out of 5 stars. Even Brendan, who hates giving 5 stars agrees. The spicy flavor, the heartiness, and the deliciousness of this lasagna won him over. As for me, I love that it's filling, loaded with tomato and cheese flavor, and makes enough for me to have it for lunch and dinner all week. If I'm having guests for dinner, this is one of my go to recipes because everyone enjoys it. I serve it with wine, bread, and my famous strawberry salad (recipe to come, one day).

Erica and I at my 25th birthday, 2 years after the famed Lasagna cooking incident.
Thanks Erica!
Here's to friendship and lasagna, and friendship with lasagna.
<3 S, L&Z

P.S. Remember our post of best, almost free date ideas?  One of the ideas was to make dinner together and rent a movie. Ellie Stevens, author of the blog best senior dating sites, emailed me and asked if I would include her post about 10 movies to rent for a date in one of my posts. So, check out her picks and blog, and enjoy date-night lasagna and a movie!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bath Salt Soak (DIY Gift Idea)

Ah, the joys of Epsom Salts, the day I discovered that you can buy a big bag for less than $2.00, was the day I kissed buying expensive bath beads or soaks goodbye. Brendan actually bought me my first bag because he knows how much I love to take a relaxing bath before bed if I feel stressed out. Now that I know how wonderfully soothing these nice smelling salts are, I try to always be fully stocked.

This summer, while shopping at an antique store, I found a bunch of adorable fabric swatches for $4.00, and Brendan's mom gave me a fabulous idea. She said I could put things in jars and cover the jars with the fabric and a rubber band. Now, you really can put almost anything in a jar, but I thought Epsom Salts are a great idea. Who doesn't love bath salts? This makes the perfect, inexpensive, DIY gift idea. You can even customize your fabric and pick something your recipient will love.

You need:
A cute glass jar
a small fabric swatch
a hair tie or rubber band (unless your jar has a handy pop out lid-see photos)

Fill the jar with Epsom Salt (pour carefully and over a sink to avoid a big mess)
Cover with fabric
Secure with hair tie or rubber band

Picked fabrics that match my bathroom :)

Wouldn't this duo make a sweet birthday gift? I love Philosophy body washes.

I hope you enjoyed the craft! As you can see, it doesn't require much work.

It sure is a gray day here, we had a hail storm last night, but the hail was very tiny. I think it's supposed to rain again today, and I'll have to wear pants to work, it's 60 degrees here! Life in the desert sure surprises me sometimes. Stay tuned, I am posting a vegetarian lasagna recipe later this week.

P.S.-Look at my cat
Lola in a box-love this face!   

Happy Thursday!
<3 S, L&Z

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Live With Your Parents as an Adult

I've been meaning to write on this topic for some time, but I've just now had a chance. I've heard my generation called "the boomerang" generation, because we go into the world and just keep coming back (home). I've lived at home as an adult twice now. The first time was for the 7 1/2 months between finishing college and beginning graduate school. The second time was just recently, when Brendan and I lived with my parents for 6 weeks between finishing graduate school and finding jobs. Though Brendan and I were with his family for 2 of those weeks and on the road for another week and a half, it still felt totally different calling my mom's house "home" rather than just visiting. I've decided to write some tips and tricks for how to make a possibly difficult living situation a good (or at least bearable) experience for all involved. Read on!

1. Have a Sense of Humor!

This is not only a tip for living with your parents, it's a tip for life, but let me explain. You have to see the humor in the situation to be able to deal with it. No matter what brings you home (loss of income, finishing school, tragedy or hardship), you must first acknowledge that your situation is funny (both strange and humorous). Acknowledging the nuttiness that has become your life can make the situation fun. In fact, Brendan and I felt that our set-up this summer was close to prime sitcom material. You moving in with your adult parents will definitely make for some zany scenarios, so be prepared to laugh a bit! Your father telling you to clean your room at 25 is actually more hilarious than it is annoying. Once you're in this frame of mind, you're golden.

2. Be Thankful 

When your parents open up their home to you, be gracious and thankful! My mom knew that Brendan and I hadn't found jobs yet and she opened up her home to us to give us a reprieve from the cost of living while unemployed. She even let me bring the cats, which she lovingly refers to as the "grandkittens." We made sure to not only say thank you, but to do things to show we were thankful, like making dinner for the family or picking up groceries. Ask what you can do to help! Maybe you can contribute to monthly bills, or if your parents don't want you to do that, find something you can do, cook, clean, pick up breakfast for the family, etc, to show them you appreciate the help. It may be a lesson you learn in kindergarten, but it's so true, saying "thank you" goes a long way, and even helps to soften the blow when your cats tear a giant hole in the back of the couch or destroy your brother's prized sculpture from high school art class.

3. Be House Guests, Not Hotel Guests 

It may seem crazy, but your parents actually want to spend time with you. They enjoy your company, want to be involved with your life, and overall, love you more than those re-runs of House on T.V. So, while you're a house guest, make time to spend with them. Eat dinner together, watch T.V. or movies, play games. Wake up early to go out to breakfast with them. Leaving the house? Hey, why not invite them to come along. We're adults now, and it's perfectly reasonable to bring your parents to a keg party or a bowling game! Whatever you do, extend the offer for them to join, it's common courtesy. Think of it as going to stay at a friend's house. You wouldn't exclude your friends from what you're doing, or come and go as you please without saying much to them, right? So treat your parents as friends.

4. Make Sure You Have an Adult Relationship with Your Parents

Most people do cultivate this without having to "try," but you'd be surprised how many adults still look to their parents to tell them what to do. In the last step, we discussed thinking of parents as friends, but better yet, start to view your relationship that way. Parents are no longer authoritarians in your life, but the smartest, best intentioned friends you can have. Like all friendships, nurture your relationship with your parents. They also hold a wealth of information about you: "If it gets hard, just quit" my mom said to me as Brendan and I were leaving the house for a run one night. I immediately knew why I had never excelled at athletics :). Your parents know you better than most people, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you never got to know them as an adult rather than simply a parent. Take this time living at home to learn about who your parents are. Now appreciate them! They brought you into this world and walked uphill both ways in the snow for you on a regular basis! No but seriously, your parents are cool, learn to see it! Get involved with things they enjoy, you might actually have fun and learn to see Dad's Texas hold em' obsession or Mom's weekend crusades to Stein Mart as completely rational lifestyles :)

5.) Be Considerate!

For this step, you find out what bugs your parents and then don't do those things. My dad, conserver of electricity, hates for the lights to be left on. And while it might seem to you that one light left on is no big deal, try to be considerate of your parents wishes. Hey, now I've become just like my dad, actually saying to Brendan as I left for work this morning, "be sure to turn out the lights before you leave!" Dad has a point, electricity is expensive! So whatever gets on your parents nerves, avoid it. If you're going to be coming in late, let them know, and make sure you have a key so you can let yourself in and out. Keep them updated about your whereabouts, not because they really want to know where you are at all times, but because it's considerate. A little "hey, we're out running errands, be home in a few hours" text is nice. See things from their perspective, don't block them in with your car in the driveway, don't hog the bathroom, and don't make fun of their dental hygiene habits (my dad actually owns one of these).

6.) Communicate

It's okay to tell your parents you need a little space. The idea is communicating. If something is bothering you, talk about it calmly rather than letting your irritation build. Let your parents know to do the same, and things will be peaceful relatively sane.

7.) When All Else Fails, Play Yahzee 

The older I get, the more I learn, Yahzee can solve everything. The fact that your clothes are spilling out of your bedroom door, the fact that your Dad says you flush the toilet wrong, the fact that you've gone through 5 towels this week, or that your mom hasn't cleaned the fridge since 2003, all of this can disappear at the simple roll of 5 dice. Play Yahzee. Play it frequently. Play it seriously. And yes, play all 6 rounds.

Here's to parents!
<3 S, L&Z

Dad and Brendan

 Here, Brendan demonstrates consideration by watching Fox news with my Dad. They later practiced semi-calm communication by disagreeing and pulling up statistics on their respective computers to prove they were right.
Brendan and I attend my neighborhood's 4th of July parade. When in Rome!

Being friends with mom by celebrating her birthday with her. Look how happy that cake made her!

Food we made for our parents. Want the recipe? Better check out our new section "L&Z in the Kitchen."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Books I read in August

Hello blog world! I decided to do a monthly post dedicated to the books I actually read each month, so I can share my views and recommendations (and keep myself inspired to keep those pages turning). Reading has been such an enjoyable part of my life since I was about 9 years old, and I hope to share my excitement with others. Remember, as always click on the picture of the book, and it will take you straight to Amazon where you can get great prices on books. Here we go! What I read in August:
My August books on top of my semester teaching schedule.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
 The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Recommended by: A birthday gift from the Price-Wood family

This is the story of a ritzy apartment building in Paris that a 12 year-old girl, Paloma, calls home, and a super introverted woman, Renee, knows as she building where she is a concierge. The place is a living hell for both Renee and Paloma, who are forced to share their worlds with the petty and annoyingly elitist people who live there. The book shifts between Renee's prospective and Paloma's journal entries, and this quietly plotted novel keeps readers waiting for something to happen, but the humorous insights are enjoyable on their own. Renee and Palmoa's lives both change unexpectedly with the arrival of a new tenant, in ways that are both happy and horrible. A realistic portrayal of what it means to struggle to find fulfillment, no matter what your background or circumstances.

The God of Small Things: A Novel

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Recommended by: I picked this up at Half Price books because I've always wanted to read it

This is a beautiful, breathtaking, and heartbreaking story of an Indian family dealing with political turmoil in India in the late 1960s. It is a story about forbidden love in the face of political unrest...a story about misunderstandings and the odd ways that love functions and dysfunctions. The prose is lyrical and lovely, but the story is powerful and suspenseful, as it begins and builds up to a terrible tragedy. Though this book was only written in 1997, it has become a canonical piece of literature, and I fully understand why. This is a must read.
Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Recommended by: Brendan's mother, who told me she would "eat paper" if I didn't like it. Luckily, I did enjoy it, so she won't have to hold up that end of the bargain!

This  story about a young girl in Japan who is forced to train as a Geisha during the Great Depression had me completely spellbound from page one. Granted, because of a trick of Golden's, I thought I was reading an actual translated account (like Dave Edger's What is the What), but even after I figured out the "translator's note" was fictional, I still forgave Golden and read on for the stunning story (based on true stories) of an impoverished girl who must try to live her life with dignity despite being a literal piece of property, whose time, affection, and body is auctioned off to high bidders. The book is described as "part historical fiction and part fairy tale" and this seems apt, however, it certainly is a Grimm fairy tale (pun intended). Pick up a copy of this, it's a fast, enthralling read.

1,074 pages for August, not bad! I tried to tell Brendan that I had a "multi-cultural" theme going on for August, but he wasn't buying it, citing that multi-culturalism is vague and doesn't mean anything ...still, these books take place in France, India, and Japan...don't I get some credit for globalism? The books also are set in completely different time periods too (1930s-40s, 1960s-80s, present day) so I thought that was neat as well. My favorite part of reading is feeling like I'm in different places, so these picks accomplish that! How's that for a theme?

Happy reading!
<3 S, L&Z

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Taking Care of Each Other

Moving to a new place is always stressful, but having someone to share the experience with makes it easier to deal with and even fun.  Tomorrow, it will be 2 weeks since we moved to Midland, and it still feels brand new to me, or as if I don't really "live" here unless I stop and think about it. I don't know at what point a relocation starts to feel normal, but I am starting to really enjoy it here.

The apartment definitely feels like "our place," and I love waking up here. The first week of teaching is going well so far, though it's always more work than you remember! Every other night, we take a trip to H.E.B., the huge warehouse size grocery store here, and cook dinner together. More and more, I feel like this is the place I'm supposed to be, and my homesickness (for Grad School/Lake Charles/Austin/not really sure?) is fading. We didn't pay to hook up cable, so I spend my nights preparing for teaching, reading, or writing. I love our office, and spend a lot of time in here with only the sound of the clock. We have met some new friends, and have plans with them this weekend again to go out for dinner and drinks. I am grateful for meeting new people! I have always been in school and had built in social groups, so having people we enjoy spending time with here makes the transition that much better. We both enjoy the apartment swimming pool, and love to go relax there for an hour or two. Lola and Zoe are settling in, though Lola escaped yesterday and made it to the first floor, which was super stressful. The door was left open a crack while I was getting some things to hand out to my class, and she slipped out, but luckily, I caught her and she hasn't tried that again. It's amazing how much my pets make me feel at home.

We've discovered some fun things here: good restaurants, an amazing library at Midland College, a HUGE antique mall, a vegetarian cafe, health food stores, and I even found a yoga studio. The older I get, the more I realize that it's not really where you are that matters, but who you're with. I think I can adjust to almost any place, the trick is making myself feel at home, and being with Brendan definitely makes me feel that way. We go out of our way to take care of each other. The other night, I made Brendan Vegetarian Chili while he prepared for his lit. class, and last night, when I came home from my night class, Brendan had bought me flowers and cooked an amazing couscous dish with eggs (eggs are a joke of ours-long story!)
 It was so nice to come home and see him, and I thought it was the sweetest thing. It reminded me that even though this place is still new to both of us, we're familiar to each other, and that is worth a lot.

<3 S, B, L&Z

P.S.-Here are some pictures of those cats, wouldn't you love to trade places somedays?
P.P.S- PANK has a new fan page on Facebook, please go "like" them and you will be totally up to date on my publication in October. Also, they are an awesome literary magazine, and you can read so many great poems and short stories, for free even!
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