Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Great X-Mas Gifts Under $20.00

Oh holidays, I love love love em'

My friends and family mean the world to me, and I always want to show them I care. I don't have a ton of money at this point in my life, but I'm a firm believer that you can make a little money go a LONG way with some creativity.

The first step in perfect present shopping? Make sure you know your recipients well. That way, you can pick out something a bit more personalized that they are sure to like. Secondly, it helps to know ahead of time who you're shopping for, so you can budget (listen, I watched Suze Orman as a child, budget is a favorite word).

So, why don't you make yourself a little list, now see if any of this applies:

For the Reader 

I LOVE giving books as gifts. Lola and Zoe has you covered on this front because there are so many book reviews to choose from. Let me tell you the top 9 books I read this year: 
Little Children by Tom Perrotta and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins  
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and What is the What by Dave Edgers
Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Break it Down by Lydia Davis
Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, translated by Rosamond Lehman

You cannot go wrong with these!

For the Traveler  

My friend Cole's mom made me this travel pillow years ago, and it is something I use all the time. If you know how to sew, pick a fabric your recipient would like and go for it.

For the Chef 

I love this website

Mustache cookie cutters- a big hit at the Egan Thanksgiving before we even arrived
Adorable Oven Mitt and Matching Pot Holder 
Robo Measuring Cups

This website is a treasure trove for gift ideas!

For the Girly Girl 

Philosophy body wash, yes please
Chloe perfume
Adorable make up palette 

You can also make your own bath salts and wrap em' pretty. 

The Stationary Lover/Writer 

My all time favorite place for stationary and notebooks Carrot Stick and Press (you're welcome)!

Are all of these ideas really under $20.00? You betcha!

Now, I have to take some cookies out of the oven. Happy gifting!

<3 S, L&Z

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Very Egan Thanksgiving

It was a very Egan Thanksgiving this year in Washington D.C. hosted by Brendan's uncle Doug and aunt Julie. Brendan and I had a magical time, and this is the first time my Thanksgiving involved a conga line! I had a really good time meeting Brendan's cousins and aunts and uncles that I hadn't met before, and seeing everyone I already knew too. This was the biggest Thanksgiving I've ever been at, with forty plus people. Thanksgiving dinner was amazing and we also were able to go out in Washington D.C. and enjoy it some too. Friday night was a dance party that lasted from 7:30pm to 2:00am...I felt like it was someone's wedding with all the dancing we did. We also saw the Muppet movie. We had a spectacular time. Enjoy some of the photos from our trip.
Brendan's sister Annie and brother-in-law Zeb at Thanksgiving dinner


Brendan's family + me. We finally have a photo of the 6 of us, isn't that cute?

Check out Brendan's face in this version, it is enough to make me laugh forever.

Brendan's uncle John, aunt Carol, their daughters, and the boyfriends, what a cute family!

With some neat art in front of the natural history museum.

Midland should plant these

Discovering Neanderthal history at the museum

I loved the museum! We saw dinos, marine life, and the exhibit on evolution.

Brendan's grandma doing the robot...a Thanksgiving highlight!
I'm still catching up on sleep as I try to brace for the insanity that is the end of every semester. Thanks Egan family for including me in the fun, this is the first time I've spent Thanksgiving away from my own family and you all made me feel right at home.

We hope you enjoyed your own holiday, however you spent it!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! I decided to write about all that I'm thankful for and share it just before the holiday.

Today, I am flying to Washington D.C. to spend Thanksgiving with the entire Egan family (40 plus people), some of whom I'll be meeting for the first time. I'm so excited to be going. Apparently, there is a ton of food and drink, a hot tub, and a dance party involved. I think it will be my most eventful Thanksgiving yet (probably topping the time I stayed with my Dad in Austin and he burned the Turkey and we ended up at Katz's-never-closes-deli, though that was awesome Dad).

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I enjoy being with people I love, the good food (especially pies), and I adore watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. The short work week is a bonus too :) Mostly though, Thanksgiving reminds me to stop and reflect on the good things in my life.

I'm thankful for Brendan and my family, which this year, now includes a lot more people from Brendan's family too. I define family as anyone who loves and supports you, and since I met Brendan's family in December 2010, they have been a big part of my life. I think the more people a person has to care about, the happier he or she is, and I'm so glad to have Brendan and his family added to my list of people I adore, they have helped make this past year so magical, especially our week long trip to Maine and their time in Louisiana are two of my best memories from the year. I've been able to spend a lot of time with both sides of my own family this year as well. I was there for my cousin's senior high school opera recital, my other cousin's 8th birthday, a family reunion, and I've been able to visit family in La Marque, San Angelo, and New Orleans this year. We've had exciting news in my family in 2011: two of my cousins on my mom's side welcomed baby girls to their families (Harper Leigh and Kinley Lane), and one of my cousins on my dad's side became engaged (congrats Stephen & Casey!). Anyway, I'm pretty darn proud of everyone in my family, it just keeps growing in so many ways and that's pretty cool.

Brendan & I's family (most of them).
Austin family reunion-June 2011
In New Orleans-April 2011

Oh yeah, and I'm thankful for those cats too.

I am thankful for my job situation. That I was able to find employment in the same city as Brendan is pretty darn cool, and I'm thankful that I am treated so well by all the faculty and students at Midland College. It is a good place to work, and I'm happy there. I also feel (on good days) that I am really making a difference in the lives of my students. Writing is important to me, and I enjoy teaching other people how to write more effectively, which makes working fun. 

My living situation has never been better. Brendan and I mesh on every level it seems....our lives together involve cooking dinner together most every night, watching movies, going on weekly binge cleaning sprees, and being there for each other. I usually get us up in the morning, Brendan makes the coffee, he writes at night while I'm sleeping, I write in the afternoon when he's at work. In other words, we've found our stride, and I'm thankful for that. 

I'm thankful for my friends, old friends, best friends, and new friends, especially those I've found in Midland, who make this place more like home.

I'm thankful for my health and the health of my family and friends, I've been lucky this year, and I've developed more appreciation for my body, which got me through my first and second 5Ks. I've taken up yoga again since I moved to Midland, and I'm loving it.
Free to Breathe, Lake Charles, LA, April 2011
Caleb 5K, Austin, TX, July 2011
I'm thankful to live in this country. We have our fair share of issues, especially this year, but I'm grateful for all the opportunities that I've had because of where I live, like an amazing education for one. I don't know where I'd be if it wasn't for my ability to read and write.

I'm thankful for the basic necessities: a place to live, food to eat, and a bed to sleep in, these are all things I appreciate even more as an adult providing for myself because I realize how lucky I am even to just have the basics. The older I grow, the more I feel the desire to help others. I've donated and raised money for several causes this year (click here to find out more) and given donations to organizations like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. I try to "give back" to my community by shopping locally and to the environment by buying used goods when I can. I always feel the need to do more, and I'm thankful for that motivation.

I hope my reflections and the spirit of this holiday inspired you to reflect on what you're thankful for. Happy holiday and safe travels!

Here's to giving thanks,
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, November 21, 2011

Just Call Me Blondie + I Love the 80s

Well, today, I broke my own rule of frugal living (wait 12 weeks between hair appointments) and treated myself to a color/cut with Adam. Click here to read more about Adam. I wanted something new for the holidays, so I bravely asked Adam for blond highlights and a 3 inch cut. With my teased hair, I was feeling very 1980s (a fabulous decade, might I add), so I ran to put on my new sweater, scored this weekend at the mall at American Eagle (on sale for $30.00). I love how the current style is all over-sized and off the shoulder, so I grabbed my Levis jeggings and boots and enlisted Brendan's help for a photo shoot. We decided to do the pictures on the balcony to capture the crazy fog that overtook Midland today. It looks like something right out of Wuthering Heights!

Brendan was a good sport and indulged my desire to be a model for a minute. Thanks honey!

Without further delay, here are the results. Check out my hair and the crazy fog!

Will blonds have more fun? Stay tuned.

Here's to the 1980s and everything fabulous that came out of them (Brendan and I included!)
<3 S, B, L&Z

EDIT: Please check out this clip from the Sweet Valley High TV show, and consider your life complete.

and happy birthday to Brendan's mom!

Happy birthday Sharon! I'm glad to have you in my life :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

3 months in Midland!

Today, we've lived a quarter of a year in Midland, Texas! 

As an adult, I've learned that anywhere can feel like home, as long as you find people you care about and make an effort to acclimate to your new situation. Brendan and I are lucky that we've been able to do both. We have a few friends in town and here's a few things we LOVE about our new home :)

Beauty surrounds us, a snapshot from a nature trail we love.

There is so much to discover near makes weekends exciting.

and adventurous

Sunsets are beautiful

We love our first home, the perfect combination of us.

Friends are nearby-the Shews are just two hours away + Midland has homemade ice cream bars!

High school football is a blast! Sad that the season is over.

We're here together. Best decision I ever made :)
Brendan is always reminding me to take my life one step at a time (I love to plan, you know?). So today, I can say, while we don't have everything figured out (who does), we're loving the journey. 

In case you've missed some of it, here's some links to the catch-ups:

Why we moved here
Our First digs, never thought I'd love an apartment so much!
Impressions after our first month here
A trip to Alpine, Marfa, and Fort Davis that made us fall in love (with west Texas)
Reflecting on our first year as a couple/Celebrating in Midland
An Adventure to Monahans State Park

A lot of Midland has been what I expected, but some things have surprised me. For example, the city is growing faster than anyone really can handle. There are no houses for rent, the one HEB is always PACKED, and when I was sick, I called 25 doctor offices that took my insurance and NONE of them would accept new patients (if they did, they wouldn't see me until December! Needless to say, I ended up at a minor emergency clinic). On the bright side, the oil industry here is booming, and people here definitely benefit from it. For example, Midland College has to be the nicest community college I've ever seen. Each of my students is able to have their own computer in the classroom, and trust me,  that makes teaching a composition class a lot easier. I've found a yoga studio, a hair dresser, and I've located the cities best antique shops. I still haven't set foot in the mall, I think I'll wait until we visit the Shews in Lubbock to shop! As for my one regret, I wish we had had a free weekend to go see my little cousin, Colton, play football in San Angelo...but, there's always next season!

Here's to time and how it flies!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stress Free Holiday How-Tos

I've survived my first illness (strep throat), I've had a Starbucks Peppermint Hot Chocolate, and I have a lot more grading than I wish! It can only mean one thing, the holidays are upon us all. Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa is all about giving thanks, taking a much needed rest, and spending time with family and friends, yet the holidays can be filled with all sorts of stress and mental angst. Here are my quick tips for how to stay happy in the season to be jolly:

1. Plan Ahead

It's true, we cannot control everything in life, but plan for the things you do have control over. Make a shopping list with the people you need to buy gifts for and your budget for each gift. Start early, so you have plenty of time to wrap and mail gifts to appropriate destinations. Remember: expect long lines at the post office the closer to Christmas you wait to mail those gifts and cards. Cooking a big fancy dinner for Thanksgiving? Shop ahead of time for everything that won't spoil. Folks who work at our local HEB tell me that they will run out of popular and in-demand items. Catching a flight to celebrate with family? Now is not the time to chance the security lines. Always arrive 2 hours ahead of your flight!

2. Pledge to Get Along 

Holidays bring families together and that is wonderful, but every family has arguments and conflicts. Try to avoid hot button issues that create conflict. If you do have arguments, work to resolve them fast, so you can spend your time catching up, not brooding. Remember: hosting is a difficult task, so if you'll be a house guest this holiday season, do your best to make things easy for your host. Check out this relevant post How to Live With Your Parents as an Adult for some more tips on getting along with those you love most!

3. Stick to Your Routine 

Holidays can cause us to ditch our exercise routines and eat and drink a lot more than usual. The result? You feel yucky, low on energy, and uncomfortable in your clothes. Try to stick to your exercise routine up until the day you travel.  If you have the chance to exercise while traveling, take it! It doesn't have to be boring: take a walk with family, do a group video workout, or be awesome like Brendan's family and plan a dance party for the day after Thanksgiving. Holiday food is great, and you should enjoy it. Just stop when you feel full to avoid feeling as stuffed as a Turkey. You can always come back to the dessert table when you've had a chance to digest!

4. Accept What You Can't Control 

Flight delays, a burnt turkey, lost luggage, getting lost, gifts that were lost in the mail: hopefully none of these things happen to you, but if they do, take a deep breath and don't freak out. Take it from someone who has panicked: panicking doesn't help. The best way to make the best of any situation: do your best given the circumstances and don't lay blame on anyone else for situations that are out of everyone's control. Trust me, I've yelled at my brother for forgetting the credit card at a gas station and panicked about getting lost on a car trip, but in the end overreacting only created more problems. Stay calm!

5. Give Thanks

In the end, remember what the holidays are about and be grateful to have time to share with family and friends. If you can find a volunteer opportunity or a way to give back to the community during the holiday season, do so. It always helps to keep life in perspective: there is more to the holidays than frantic shopping and cooking, as the year comes to an end, focus on thinking outside of yourself. Doing something good for others, whether it is people you know or strangers, is always beneficial, and nothing puts me in the holiday spirit more than making others happy.

Now, enjoy these beautiful Fall pictures of beautiful Atlanta, GA and get ready for holidays 2011, because whether you're ready or not, they are here!

pretty trees!

Nancy, me, and Mary bundle up in our cold weather clothes

Happy trails where ever the road takes you this holiday season!
<3 S, L&Z

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This Desert Life: Monahans State Park

We've had a lot of questions from family and friends since Brendan posted Facebook pictures of our trip to Monahan's Sandhills State Park last weekend. The Sandhills are a 45 minute drive from Midland. There are 3,840 acres of the sand dunes, which are about 70 feet in height. There are signs that humans discovered the dunes about 12,000 years ago. Spanish explorers reported on the dunes 400 years ago, and Indian tribes used the area for campgrounds until the late nineteenth century. Today, sand surfing (or sledding)is a popular activity, but when we took our friends the Shewmakers, it was just for some barefoot hiking (shoes wouldn't help you, as you sink into the sand!) Enjoy these photos I snapped on my phone camera of our fabulous day trip!
You have to climb fast to prevent sinking into the sand

The sand isn't hot, in fact, areas of it are cold!

All you can see around you is more sand.

It gets a little windy, I had on sunglasses and to prevent sand from getting in my eyes.

Footprints stay until the wind blows them over


Brendan snapping pictures with his fancy camera from Will

us :)

The sand looks like water when you step in it, but it's just an illusion


sand hop scotch

I cannot wait to go back. The sand hills were beautiful, and it was one of those days that made me so happy to be experiencing life in the desert. It was a perfect afternoon with our good friends the Shews, friends from graduate school that live in Lubbock now. We had a great weekend with them, and next time, we'll bring boogie boards!

I wanted to post this earlier, but I was battling a case of strep throat this week! Luckily, I recovered in time to present at the National Women's Studies Association conference in Atlanta, GA. My presentation went well, and I will share pictures of Georgia soon!

In the meantime....

Here's to this desert life. 
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy 94th Birthday Mimi!

Today, my beautiful, wonderful grandmother is 94 years old! She is my last living grandparent, and we have always had a close relationship. My Mimi is the mother to four children: two daughters and two sons (one of which is my father), grandmother to nine grandchildren: five grandsons and four granddaughters  (I am number five, right in the middle), and great-grandmother to four beautiful great-granddaughters. Born in 1917, she has survived the great depression, cancer, and the loss of her husband of nearly 65 years. She is, to me, the model of strength and poise, and today, I'd like to share some of the many lessons I learned from her.

I can still remember childhood summers visiting Mimi's house. I loved to listen to her stories. We saw movies, shopped, and enjoyed great food that she cooked, and there were girls my age in the neighborhood to play with. Mimi taught me the importance of listening at a young age, which I think contributed to my love of writing stories about other people. She also helped to instill manners and etiquette in me. My first thank-you notes were to my Mimi, and I try to never forget to write one today! She taught me to value the dollar, and to not spend money on things I didn't really need. If I had an argument with one of the girls down the street, my Mimi would advise me to apologize, and she taught me how to be genuine when doing so. She helped me learn how to maintain friendships, a skill I am thankful for in my adult life. Mimi taught me the importance of taking care of others. Even now that she uses a walker, she is still always trying to tend to the needs of everyone around her. I suppose it is that maternal instinct kicking in; she has always been a wonderful hostess and tries to make everyone feel at ease. She also helps people out when they need it. She sees the best in everyone and extends trust to them.
My grandmother is still sharp as a tack! She plays Bridge, does crossword puzzles, and reads books constantly. She has nurtured my love of reading and writing, and has been an example to me of the freedom and escape that a good book offers. My grandmother set aside money to help with the college education of all her grandchildren, and my attendance at NYU as an undergrad was made possible, in large part, because of the financial support her and my grandfather gave me. Education was important to them, and they wanted all of us to succeed in school. I'm proud to say that this year, my grandmother has lived to see her two youngest grandchildren, my cousins Julian and Elena, begin college, and she has seen her first seven grandchildren finish college.

Everything in my grandmother's life didn't always go the way she wanted it to. Like all of us, she has faced her share of hardships, but what she taught me, is that life truly is what you make of it. You have to accept the things that do not go your way, and you cannot let those experiences leave you bitter or heartbroken. Life isn't easy. Mimi's advice: eat healthy, do not take too many medications, sit out in the sun for a little bit each day, forgive other people, accept your body's limitations and do the best to take care of yourself, love as many people as possible, and desire the best for everyone in your life.

As an adult, I have had many visits to my grandmother's house. I always look forward to staying up late with her and talking, I never run out of questions to ask her. Mimi gives the best advice about relationships, and it brings me great peace that she has been able to meet Brendan. I think she put it best when she said to me, "it seems that everything will work out for you dear." I am happy that she knows I have found my way.

My grandmother is proud of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She loves us all, and knows us each individually, and I believe she is probably more acutely aware of our strengths and weaknesses than we are. I once asked her if she was afraid of dying. She said she had no fears, that she felt she had made the most of her life and had made the best choices that she could. She said she had no regrets. I think we should all hope to be able to say the same one day.

I love you Mimi! Happy 94th birthday!

My grandmother in her early 20s
Mimi (front), with her 2 daughters, 4 granddaughters, and 3 of 4 great-granddaughters at 90th b-day.
A part of her legacy: last Austin family reunion with children, grandchildren, great-grands, spouses & partners!
Here's to Mimi's 94th! Of course, I plan to call her tonight, right now though, she's playing bridge!

<3 S, L&Z
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