Sunday, October 30, 2011

Quick Travel Tip: Hair Conditioner Substitute

I just returned from Hot Springs, Arkansas last night, where I was participating in the SCMLA conference. I attended two readings (poetry by John Wood, and fiction by Alex Taylor and Jim Drummond), and attended conference sessions. I gave a presentation on Tim Burton's film Sweeney Todd  in the Gothic session that went well (if you haven't watched this movie, you need to!), and I also served as secretary of two sessions and participated in a mock interview and round table discussion about the quest for full time jobs.

Needless to say, I was so happy to see Brendan last night and to sleep in this morning. Conferencing is very tiring, but it was good to see some familiar faces from McNeese. Also, my mom came along with me to Arkansas, so it was a real treat to catch up with her.

Anyway, I wanted to share a quick travel tip. My hotel in Hot Springs, despite being a fancy hotel with a nice restaurant/bar, spa, and valet parking, lacked one thing: conditioner. Having long, fine, easily tangled hair, I was worried my shower would turn into my own version of a Halloween nightmare, leaving me with tangles before my interview. I improvised and used hand lotion as a hair conditioner substitute. The result? My hair felt semi easy to comb and was soft all day. It didn't work as well as conditioner, but it did the trick for this situation where I was in a bit of a pinch. For best results, comb hair before the shower and while you're still in the shower. Don't over do it, and just like regular conditioner, focus more on your ends than your roots.

And now, before I sign out, here are some pictures from beautiful Arkansas to enjoy. We lucked out and had nice (and chilly) fall weather.
my mom!
I cannot believe October is coming to an end! I won't be doing anything special for Halloween, as Brendan is teaching until 10pm. But Maybe we'll watch some Twin Peaks! I look forward to telling you about the books I read this month. Until next time...

Here's to hoping your Halloween is happy and safe!
<3 S, L&Z

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oh My, Oh My, Easy Apple Pie!

Oh fall, what a lovely time of year. The weather is lovely (though I must say, in the desert, we dress for 50 degree mornings and 88 degree afternoons), the leaves are turning (in some places), and pumpkins are aplenty. There are new sights and smells everywhere, even a simple trip to the grocery store is filled with the smell of apples and so many varieties to choose from that it's overwhelming! Brendan's parents sent us a care package full of apples they picked in Connecticut. We ate many of the apples, but I've been watching a lot of Twin Peaks lately, and the characters are always taking about eating delicious pies, which are apparently very distracting to trying to solve the murder of Laura Palmer, because it's been a whole season and I still don't know who the killer is!

Before we devoured all those apples, I had to suggest trying to make a pie of our very own. As far as the recipe goes, we looked up other recipes, but we were not fully satisfied with any of them. We added things as we saw fit, and oh my, oh my, our pie is doggone good, so we just had to share it with you.

Here's what you need:
5 cups of peeled and thinly sliced apples (Note: You should use whatever is in season, one variety we recommend is Braeburn, which we used in addition to what Brendan's parents sent. I'm not sure what those apples were, they don't come with stickers when you pick em' off the tree!)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
 2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
1 store bought refrigerated crust (Note: you need the kind that comes with two crusts-1 for the top and 1 for the bottom, we used Pillsbury brand, but warning, that one contains lard. We discovered this after the fact, so if you want a vegetarian friendly pie crust, make sure to find one without lard!)
& of course vanilla ice cream (to serve with the pie!) 

Now that you have all your supplies, this recipe is super easy.

  •  Preheat oven to 450 degrees .
  • Combine all the ingredients except the butter and egg white in a large bowl and stir the peeled and sliced apples in. Make sure every apple is covered in this delectable mixture. 
  • Coat a pie pan with butter and put the bottom crust in the pan. 
  • Pour the mixture on top of the bottom crust.
  • top with 2 tablespoons of butter.
  • Add the top crust, follow the directions to seal the crusts together (Brendan says ours looks "homely," but I think it's beautiful). 
  • Cut some slits in the top crust (see directions on the crust box).
  • Brush the top crust with a bit of butter and the egg white.
  • Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to 375 degrees, and bake for another 40 minutes. 
  • Take it out of the oven, serve hot with ice cream, and enjoy!
Oh My, Oh My, Easy Apple Pie!
Total Prep and Bake Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Deliciousness Factor: Brendan wanted to give it 9 stars, when I pointed out we use a 5 star scale, he said "I know." So 9 out of 5 stars it is! Brendan says it reminds him of the way his mom makes apple pie! He loves "that it tastes perfect." I love the texture of the apples, and how sweet the pie is. Brendan thinks this recipe is so good, he questioned whether we should keep it a secret, but I told him not to be selfish.

Enjoy this tasty treat! Bring it to your next party because it's sure to be a hit.

And click here to order Twin Peaks, the most amazing thing that happened in the 1990s.

Happy baking and mystery solving!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Art of Doing Nothing

The art of doing nothing is an important skill, and it's one I have yet to totally master. It seems that my mind is constantly running. I've taken up some hobbies and habits that help me learn to focus inward, such as yoga and meditation, or taking a hot bath before bed and actively trying to clear my mind, but it's something I still struggle with. For example, I can easily give myself over to mastering positions in a yoga class, but meditation, a portion of class that comes easily to others, often finds me lying on the floor in savasana (corpse pose) thinking about teaching, what happened today, bills, or what I need to do when I get home. Why is it so easy for me to focus on accomplishing a difficult posture, but so hard for me to give myself five minutes to just be?

I think it is because, our whole lives, we are rewarded for doing. In school, we receive grades based on assignments, and are praised from an early age for finishing tasks. At work, we are working through a checklist of instructions to complete projects. If we go to the gym, we have certain objectives to complete like finish Pilates class or burn 300 calories. Even when we grocery shop, our goal is to buy everything on our list as quickly as possible. In our professional lives, we are not encouraged to just "be," however, life is more than what job we perform during the day, and life shouldn't be an extension of the office.

I never enjoyed the grocery store until Brendan taught me how to shop without a list. Now, I look at the foods, think about what sounds good to me, or what foods are in season. I plan a menu around that. If it takes a little longer, so be it. Frantically checking off a list is not satisfying to me, and if I forget something, the store is right down the street anyways.

In high school and college, I was so busy that I literally planned out most every minute of my day. The only reflecting I really had time for was while on a bus or subway. Now, I try to check in with myself more frequently and make conscious choices. I decide what to eat instead of just reaching for a meal I planned to eat. If I'm tired, I decide to nap. And I actively try not to treat my life as a to-do list. Yes, there are things I want to have done each day, but I also try to leave myself plenty of time to discover what I want to do. This blog post, for example, was unplanned. Later, I might read, and tonight, I just decided I'll work out.

Making conscious choices and being able to go with the flow is a good first step, but what about the art of doing nothing, truly nothing? No one ever sits us down and says, "now, you will just be," and yet, this is something everyone should actively teach themselves. We don't need a T.V. show on in the background, or an i-phone app at our fingertips. It is okay to sit still and not do anything.

Last week, in one of my classes, a student finished his quiz early and started playing a game on his cell phone. I told him phones can't be out while people are still taking a quiz. He seemed utterly baffled about what he should "be doing." I told him to just stay put. Instead of taking the moment to reflect quietly on his morning, he fidgeted, went to the water fountain, etc. I wanted to say, "appreciate these little moments, it's okay to do nothing sometimes." After all, some of my best story ideas come when I'm staring into space.

We cannot truly be happy until we can be content without having a task to accomplish, or something on hand to entertain us. I think we should all take a few minutes each day to embrace stillness and nothingness.

For me, even though I have been actively doing nothing for years, doing nothing is still a challenge. I have to remind myself to stop thinking about a deadline, or something I said I would do, or a chore that I need to complete. I have to give myself permission to just sit still. Otherwise, I'm not allowing myself to be open to life or my own inner self. I'm not allowing my best ideas to come in.

October is such a beautiful month, and it's the perfect time of year to begin some inner reflection. Today, take five minutes to do nothing. Don't think about that email you need to send. Don't fidget. Don't write a to-do list or make a mental list of any kind. Just sit for five minutes. As you get better at this, you can increase the amount of time you spend each day "doing nothing." It's an important skill, not just for a writer, but for anyone who wants sanity in his or her life. Cultivating calmness will lend a sense of inner peace to your life every single day, and who couldn't use that?

Here's to nothing,
<3 S, L&Z

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Mount Bonnell" In PANK Magazine's October Issue

My short story, "Mount Bonnell," is published in this month's issue of PANK Magazine, and the best part is, you can read or listen to it for free! I am thrilled and excited and cannot wait to dig into the rest of the stories and poems in the issue.

Click here to read or listen to "Mount Bonnell."

Click here to see the October 2011 online issue in its entirety.

Special thanks goes out to McNeese M.F.A. workshop 2008-2009, especially Jason Reynolds & Max Fisher-Cohen, Neil Connelly and Alex Taylor. Thanks to Brendan Egan for the encouragement to submit and the feedback, and to all the folks at PANK for their hard work, especially Roxane Gay, editor of PANK, for her wonderful insights and suggestions.

For those of you who are not Austinites, here are a couple of pictures of Mount Bonnell.

Happy Reading and thank you for the support!
<3 S, L&Z

P.S.-Check out our new Publications tab, where you can be linked to "Mount Bonnell," plus to Brendan's work and to the websites where you can purchase the anthologies and journals that contain his work. We hope to have many updates for you there in the near future!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Celebrating One Year

All you need is love...roses, champagne, dinner, cake, cards, and a candle.
I came home from teaching my night class to these beautiful roses.
Buttercup Squash Risotto
While I was teaching, sweet Brendan made us dinner. This Buttercup Squash Risotto was so delicious, the squash tasted like pumpkin, but a little sweeter. This was also a perfect thing for Brendan to pick because we have a joke about Risotto, since we tried to make some on our first Valentine's day and it was sort of a disaster! I promise to add the recipe to the blog soon.
I picked up some champagne for us!
This label, McPherson's is special to us because we visited the winery in Lubbock.
I also picked up some red velvet cake, because let's face it, every celebration calls for cake!
We spent the night watching Twin Peaks, it was a nice way to wind down from Wednesday, which is my super busy day. I'm looking forward to this weekend! We're going to Austin tomorrow AND my publication in PANK comes out. Please stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

One Year With My Best Friend

A year ago today, I kissed my best friend. At the time, neither of us knew whether or not this was a good idea, but we've both learned that when you love someone, you are willing to take risks. Looking back, I'm so glad we did.

There were a lot of factors that made starting a relationship complicated: I had recently ended a relationship that had been harmful to me. Brendan and I were in school together and only had a few months left until graduation, after which, neither of us had any idea where we would be. We both had a thesis to finish. We both had mutual friends we cared about and didn't want to make things awkward for. Mostly, having been good friends for two years, we were both protective of ourselves and each other, and neither of us wanted to be hurt or hurt the other. All of this weighed on us, but we also knew we had real feelings for each other that had been developing for a long time. Since we had been friends for so long, we knew each other pretty intimately, not just the facts of each other's lives, but who the other person was, what each of us wanted and thought was important. We talked easily and for hours; we had fun together; obviously, we were both attracted to each other. The past months, I had been focusing on myself, and Brendan had been a great friend to me as always. One day I told my mom on the phone that I felt like I would regret it forever if I didn't tell him what he meant to me.

October 12th was a beautiful day in Lake Charles, and Brendan and I both had Tuesday's off that semester. We had taken to walking together on Tuesdays. We would go all over town, around my neighborhood, to the park where there was a playground; we jumped fences (or Brendan did, and I sort of gracefully fell on him), found places to explore, bought snacks and ate on the curb. Tuesdays had easily become my favorite day of the week. The week before, Brendan had taken my hand. A gesture of friendship, or something more, I didn't know, but it gave me courage that next week. It's funny how much it took for me to tell him how I felt, but a year later, I can honestly say, it's my favorite thing I ever did.

So we kissed. Without knowing where it would lead, with no guarantees that things would work out. We both took that risk of trusting the other person. It isn't an easy thing to do. I was scared, but also so happy. I knew how I wanted things to work out, but I could only hope that Brendan wanted the same things.

We took things slowly. We tried not to make it obvious to our friends, as we tried to figure out what our relationship meant. I kept focused on myself, school, and teaching. I knew we owed it to each other to not rush things, and even though I was crazy about him, I knew that caution was practical and healthy. I have some really good memories of that first month. Our friends, once they found out, were very supportive. My mom, who I should add had met and loved Brendan, suggested he join us for our Thanksgiving trip to Las Vegas. Brendan worried maybe it was too soon for all that, but he eventually agreed to come. I remember knowing it would be fine. I just had a feeling my family would get along great with him. I was right. The week long trip was perfect, we all had fun together, and everyone thought Brendan was as special as I did.

We had to start applying to jobs soon, so of course the conversation about the future came up. We decided we would go wherever was next together. It seemed like the most natural decision. We loved each other, and we were willing to make sacrifices to be together. Still, I think we both felt immense relief having said that out loud.

That December, I went to Connecticut to meet Brendan's family. Of course I was nervous, but they embraced me with so much love and kindness. I felt so at home and relaxed with them, that it was easy to be myself. I could see that like me, Brendan had a wonderful support system. We have a lot of things in common: we're both close to our parents and have younger siblings that we are protective of and crazy about. We both have big extended families that we stay close to. Our families are both fun and active, the dynamics feel pretty similar. In other words, both our families play Yahtzee, enough said.

This spring and summer brought major changes in our lives. We both finished our theses and graduated from McNeese. Our families came to celebrate and met for the first time, and it was so wonderful to watch them interact with each other. With Brendan's encouragement to submit my work, I nabbed my first publication, and we both went through grueling months of the job search process. We spent hours a day searching for jobs, writing cover letters, and venturing to the library to print and the post office to mail things. In June, we put all our stuff in a storage unit and moved in with my parents. Brendan joked that now I was stuck with him; we hadn't exactly labeled our boxes well, so breaking up, he said, would be impossible. All the changes in our lives were stressful, but having such a strong friendship and relationship made it all easier to deal with.

Finally, in mid July, Brendan got a job offer, and luckily, the college offered me courses to teach as well. It was a little hard turning down interviews for full time positions and adjusting my expectations about what job I'd have after grad school, but I worked through all those feelings. I knew Midland was the best two person offer we would get, and I knew I wanted to be with Brendan, that that was the most important thing to me. My family fully supported my decision to move with him, which made it easier too.

We found a place and moved in in mid-August. I love living with my best friend, and I can honestly say, I've never been so happy. Like all couples, we have to work to communicate with each other and compromise about our differences, but we love each other and hold each other up. Brendan sees the best in me, and he makes me strive to be a better person. I always consider him, and now, I know what it feels like to be considered to. We have an equality and balance in our relationship, and I realize it's the first adult relationship I've ever been in. And some things never change. I still can talk to Brendan for hours, he's still the first person I talk to if I have a problem, he's my best reader, I have the most fun with him, and I still think he is the most handsome man ever. I learn from him everyday, and I continue to admire his genuine nature, his intelligence, and his caring spirit. Even now, when we've been apart for a few hours, I am filled with happiness when I see him, and everyday, I'm thankful that we're here together.

I've learned so much in the past year about myself, Brendan, and our relationship. The most important thing I've learned is that relationships aren't easy-it takes two people, taking risks, making sacrifices, and working together everyday to make a life-but if you're with the right person, everything you put into that relationship pays you off in a way that is so incredible and worth it. Relationships take work, but loving the right person is easy. I'm thankful for our friends and family that have not only supported us through everything, but made us fundamentally who we are. And Bren, I'm thankful for you. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and you have made my life so magical. Thank you for taking my hand, for giving me courage, and for kissing me back. I love you.

Even when we were friends, it was always a challenge to get him to take a picture! Circa March 2009

Friends-on vacation in Tybee Island, GA, May 2010.

In Las Vegas with my family, a few months after we started dating. November 2010.

Our first Thanksgiving-with my brother here.

X-mas party at Will & Missy's. December 2010. 
In Connecticut, December 2010
Skiing in MA, December 2010
First wedding together, Peggy and Eric, March 2011, Chicago, IL.
At our first music festival together with Will & Missy, April 2011. 
Us with our families, (this isn't even all our family), May 2011.
Graduation, May 2011.
Beach Trip, May 2011.
Trip to Maine with Brendan's family, August 2011
Annie (Brendan's sister) and I in Maine.
Living with my parents-Summer 2011.

Moving, August 2011
Brendan in front of our new place.
hiking, October 2011.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Winning My First Fantasy Football Game

I did it. I won a football game.

Well, okay, I didn't actually put on a uniform or even touch a football, but with the careful strategy of a mouse-clicking-genius, I have kicked some stranger's internet fantasy ass.

And damn. It feels good.

I have friends who are self-proclaimed "football widows," meaning, when it's football season, their husbands or boyfriends abandon them to watching the games. Luckily, Brendan's a lot more considerate than that. Still, last fall, his eyes lit up every Saturday as he carefully made decisions about who to bench and who to start. I couldn't resist joining in. I thought of the perfect name "GoGrabMyBelt" (based on an inside joke between the friends on our team), and I couldn't have been more thrilled when I coined my team slogan "You need a smackin' baby." Sure, I let Brendan show me the ropes at first, and even let him make suggestions, but quickly, I become very possessive of my fantasy. When Brendan offered to fix my line up for me, or made a suggestion I didn't agree with, like a toddler who has just learned the word no, I would proclaim "this is MY fantasy." And what could he do?

I lost my first four games. I'll admit, I made decisions based on player's pictures, the weekly write-ups by yahoo staff (yes, people are paid and salaried solely to deal with fantasy football), and my "gut instinct" (aka-did the player's name sound familiar to me?) But I also had a hell of a match-up every weekend. I posted a lot of smack talk, but to no avail. Sunday led to much anxiety (you can LOSE points? What do you mean he's injured? Football players take a week off?). This weekend, I could hardly watch Twin Peaks on DVD, so anxious was I to update my internet browser and see my scores. I'm not sure if Brendan was looking on in horror or proud of my new found obsession, almost equal to his.

But I am sure of one thing, fantasy football is pretty freaking fun. I enjoy the competitive nature of it, and it brings me closer to friends I haven't seen in months. Mostly, I like the smack talk feature. And now, it's week 5, my opponent has a kicker still playing, but unless that sucker can score over 24 points in the last half (which is, lets face it, impossible!), this game is all mine. "Looks like you're gonna need a miracle honey," I posted in my smack talk.

Yeah, that's right, I'm the winner. I looked at the star ratings and the pictures, and I thought hard about what names sounded champion like.  Sometimes I even said them aloud. Nick Novak. OH yeah. Alright, I gotta go move the laundry.

Here's to the fantasy.
<3 S, L&Z

Friday, October 7, 2011

Perfect West Texas Bed & Breakfast Weekend

This past weekend, Brendan and I treated ourselves to a lovely weekend in West Texas and saw many of the places we were so exited about living close to. We hope you enjoy the pictures and are inspired to visit west Texas soon yourself!

The drive to Fort Davis, TX was absolutely spectacular, and I could not get over all the mountain views. I took these pictures from inside the car.

Then, we arrived at our Bed and Breakfast, the historic Veranda Inn. I cannot say enough nice things about this place and the folks who run it.
Right outside our door

Inside our charming cottage

Gardens outside our cottage

Local resident "Tipster"

The home was full of beautiful antique furniture


Our sweet little porch
Once we checked in, it was time to explore Fort Davis. I should add now, we had perfect weather all weekend. I think of the desert as being hot, but all weekend it was in the 70s/low 80s, sunny but nice and cool.
nom, nom, nom, nom, pizza

We found a pair of billy goats, and we removed the cactus from one's nose

Sleeping Lion Formation

Neat little church

love this car! 
After exploring, it was time to drive to the McDonald Observatory. 
Sunset on the drive over
The stars we saw were incredible, but unfortunately, it's impossible to photograph what we saw! I can just tell you that it was quite chilly!
um, burr.
 That night, it was time to drink some chocolate wine, a gift from Brendan's neighbor in Lake Charles.

Brendan's sophisticated
Despite our late night, we still made it to our 9am breakfast
In one word: Scrumptious!

Then, we were off for a hike at the Nature Center. Modesta Canyon, here we come!

the spring! I saw a tiger salamander in there!

After hiking, we headed to Marfa, Texas. Marfa is supposed to be really artistic and interesting, but once there, we couldn't really figure out if anything was happening. We had a drink at a neat beer garden, and we went to a bookstore and a thrift store. There wasn't much else open! We were told you need to catch Marfa on a night when something is going on, but it was a nice spot for a lazy afternoon.

That night, we splurged on an amazing dinner at Reata in Alpine, Texas. This dessert consisted of bread pudding wrapped in a tamale and served with ice cream. It was so spectacular.

That night, we opened our bottle of wine from McPherson Cellars that we bought in Lubbock, TX the weekend before on a trip to see our friends The Shews.

It was very restful and romantic in Fort Davis. It was so dark, you could see about a million stars, and it was incredibly quiet too. Really, it was just the kind of getaway we needed. I was sad to leave, but we had another wonderful breakfast and headed to Balmorhea State Park.

Balmorhea was similar to Barton Springs in Austin, TX, but a lot warmer! We had a blast swimming, diving, and even using the scary high dive! There are fish, big and small, that you can see swimming around. The best part, it's only two hours from Midland, so we can drive in for a day!

Love this photo of Brendan

Brendan's high dive

Stacy's high...jump
This was Brendan and I's first trip just with the two of us. Taking a weekend away together is something we'll definitely do again. Exploring somewhere new with each other was a perfect way to bring in October, and there's nothing like surviving a two hour hike through a canyon to make you fall in love just a little more. Thankfully Brendan was a boyscout, so I was in good hands. Happy weekend everyone, we hope you do something new and fun!

<3 S, B, L&Z
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