Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year of Growth

I love the New Year; it's a time to reflect and think about who we are and who we want to become.

2012, for me, was a major year of personal growth.

In work, I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. I learned from each of my students and feel thankful for every one of them. I saw myself do things I never thought were possible. I looked in the mirror and felt professional, and, momentarily (at least once every day), I felt like everything was under control. I constantly was aware of how I could change and become better; I learned how to give myself kinder constructive criticism. I learned how to "just deal with it." I moved into my first real office. I felt brave. I tried to be the teachers I've always looked up to--kind, fun, understanding but uncompromising with high expectations. I tried to instill confidence in my students--show them their strengths and how they were improving. On the best days, I saw my students become independent. I heard some reiterate points we'd discussed in class to their peers and felt proud of them. I read some papers that were amazing, honestly outstanding, and I felt fulfilled. In the fall, I started with 175 students. 173 finished...90% of them passed with a C or higher; To see them succeed makes me happy. I feel that I am succeeding too.

I wrote things I was happy with again this year. I didn't write enough things, and I didn't make enough time for it, but I did some of it. I read it to other people, and I submitted it to many places. I got a lot of rejection, and actually, rejection didn't bother me too much. I told Brendan I'll be writing for my whole life...maybe I won't publish until I'm older, but I found writing fun again. I had missed that, and I felt it again this year. It made me hopeful--I realized there are so many reasons to write...and sometimes the doing is more important than the end result of what happens with the work. And what I've learned is to push myself spend more time with the page, take a small piece of advice and run with it, be more precise with my word choice, and take time to fix all my horrible similes. Things will happen when they happen, and so much of it isn't up to me to decide; I can only find joy in the doing and then hope for the best.

I did a lot of yoga this year. 2012 was like my year on the mat. At least twice a week for one hour, nearly every week of 2012, I was in a yoga class. I credit friends Jill and Kristen for this, as well as outstanding teachers, Heather and Jessica. Yoga is the closet I've ever come to a spiritual experience. It makes me pause and reflect, take time to breathe, and stop (or attempt to stop) any annoying inner dialogue. I'm a big wimp, and I think I've improved--become a little less afraid and stopped holding myself back. Yoga never lets me have an one is ever the best at every single pose. I am humbled every day by it, knowing there will ALWAYS be something to work toward. I'm stronger because of it, physically, and I'm happier because of it too. I see yoga as the perfect metaphor for life...If I was going to explain that fully, it would take a few paragraphs, but basically, you need to stop thinking and start trying, and as soon as you get it perfect--wait 5 seconds and see what happens :)

Perfection is impossible, but in 2012, I tried to be the best friend, sister, daughter, partner, person in the world that I could be. I developed more self-control than ever before and more ability to say "okay, this isn't a big deal." I thought more of others and my world view continued to change, as I continued to see how complex and complicated this world is. I want the best for everyone--I want everyone to have chances and rights and opportunities. I want my students to still have a shot at the American dream. I want upward mobility for everyone that is willing to work for it.

I still don't have enough patience. I think it's going to happen one of these days, maybe.

This year, I filled my life with everything I wanted it to include. Travel to 15 states, good friends old and new, more cooking, more exercise, lots of family time, the man I love.

Brendan and I made a promise to each other this year to spend our lives together. I've never been happier. I finally found that person that loves me for exactly who I am (bad similes, lack of patience, and all). There was a time when I didn't think that was possible to find. The love I have for Brendan is indescribable: I look at him and know it won't always be easy, but I know we'll be there for each other. We're building our lives together. It feels all our own.

I know I'm ready to welcome 2013...I'm ready to teach 1302, to write more stories and keep submitting them, to get back to the mat and to the gym, to nurture my relationships with friends and family, to travel, to try new recipes and blog about them, to be grateful for finally marry this man I've loved for a long time, to celebrate with everyone, to go to Hawaii...but I'm also ready to discover what unknown things will happen...what new people will come into my life...what new adventures are in store...

I think 2013 will be a year of adventures. I'm ready to take them.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Wishing a peaceful and safe New Year to all! May your year be filled with happiness.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Surprise Wedding Shower

On Brendan's birthday, we thought we were headed to a holiday cocktail party before a birthday dinner, but instead, we were surprised by friends and family in the northeast with a couple's shower. Here are some pictures from the fabulous evening hosted by Brendan's mom and sister, Annie (our Matron of Honor), at the home of family friends, The Brennan's:

 These beautiful invitations were designed by Brendan's cousin, Katie, and included our wedding colors (Boston Red Sox red and blue). The banner on the invite was made out of book pages and the invite says "please join us in showering stacy & brendan with gifts for the next chapter of their love story." We both love to read and met in graduate school for creative writing, so this was so cute/fitting.

 I've always totally loved these fruit bouquets. 

Presents galore! We managed to get everything home in 4 carry-ons and 1 checked bag, plus shipping some items. We got so many beautiful presents and were overwhelmed with all the love and support. 

 Our beautiful cake looked like 2 pages from a book and included a birthday message for Brendan and our wedding colors. The same baker made the beautiful cupcakes for our engagement party.

I love a good cheese and fruit tray! 

The shower also had some of our favorite foods like sushi, egg rolls, and hummus. 

The lovely table.

Red Sox helmets made perfect candy dishes.

Me and my soon to be mother-in-law. Yeah, that's a tiara on my head.

We were so surprised with the shower and amazed at how many people came! Brendan had family and friends in from out of town, so the evening turned into an even bigger celebration than we had imagined it would be (when we thought we were doing a birthday dinner) and was a perfect way to celebrate our upcoming wedding both with people who will and will not be able to make the actual wedding. 

We spent the day after the shower (Friday) packing and relaxing and flew back to Austin yesterday. We'll be here tomorrow for New Year's Eve (we're having a romantic dinner out) and then it's off to Houston to see my grandmother. Wow, I'm tired just reading about it! 

Needless to say, a trip to Austin's most lovely stationary store is in my plans for tomorrow, because after our wonderful shower, I'm ready to start writing thank you notes. The best gift of all, however, is truly the loving, wonderful people that we have in our lives. We are so happy to share this journey with everyone by our side, and the support truly means the world to us. 

Thanks to all that were involved, 
<3 S&B (and now reunited with L&Z) 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy 31st Birthday Brendan!

Today is my wonderful fiance's 31st birthday and we're celebrating in Connecticut with family and friends. It seems like just yesterday that we were celebrating 30. 

Brendan has had a great year, and while he's not one to talk about his accomplishments, I am! I couldn't be more proud of him: he landed 3 poetry publications this year, presented at his first conference this fall, and taught creative writing this semester for the first time.

Brendan said that his 30th year was the best year yet. We got engaged in May and celebrated 2 years together in October. In his 30th year, we traveled to West Texas and Big Bend National Park, Lake Charles, LA, the Texas hill country, 10 states in the northeast (NY, NJ, CT, ME, RI, NH, VA, D.C., MA, MD), Pennslyvania, New Mexico, San Antonio, and Connecticut! In our down time from traveling and work, we've planned a large part of our July wedding. We've shared so many good times with friends and family, and I know Brendan is excited to see what's in store for next year.

And I'm excited to see all the good things that come his and our way. Happy birthday, Bren. I love you so much! Here's a look at some wacky moments from your 30th year :)

We don't need an explanation for this. 
Remember how you got so mad making these awesome veggie burgers? They wouldn't stick together! 
Remember how you finally got me a pillow pet? 
Remember taking your parents to the Antelope Lodge in Alpine Texas?? And the shower was all leaky? Yeah, that one was my idea. 
Remember this awesome ice cream? 
And how we only got pictures of the small fish you caught in Maine...but there were totally bigger ones. 
Remember how happy you were the morning we took these? 
Remember when you ate that Prickly Pear after I told you I wouldn't do that if I were you? LOL
Remember carving this with a tiny knife in the freezing cold? 
What were you again? 
So happy picking out the tree! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Make It Merry!

Greetings from cold Connecticut! I've totally adjusted to the temperature here. 40 degrees doesn't feel so bad, and I much enjoy snuggling up by the fire with some blankets.

We arrived here on Wednesday. Our flights were both delayed, but we made it. We've already fit in so much fun stuff since our arrival. Brendan's parents waited for us before decorating, so our first step was to deck the halls. We went with them and his sister, Annie, to pick out a tree from a Christmas tree farm.

Brendan looked mildly disconcerted in all 3 pictures, but I'm thrilled enough for both of us.
This was my first time going to pick out a tree. We had a lot to choose from:

I love the smell of a real tree! So wonderful. Then, it was back to the house for some decorating:

On Friday, we saw Brendan's mom's new shop Anna Pearl's Curiosities. If you live anywhere near Niantic, CT you must check it out. There are a million treasures in there: Jewelry, pins, toys, antiques. You literally have to look around at least a dozen times, and you will still not have really taken everything in.

Yesterday, Annie, Brendan's mom, and I went shopping for a wedding veil. Brendan's mom wanted to buy my veil, and I'm so glad we got to do this together while I am here. Having the veil is yet another thing that makes the wedding feel more real. We were all a little bit emotional about it. We found the perfect one that was exactly like what I had in mind at The White Dress by the Shore. Everyone at the store was nice and helpful. My beautiful veil will be shipped to Austin and will arrive there in about 2 months. I can't wait until I can try on everything together!

We finished yesterday evening with a Christmas party at the Wagner's. Brendan has 3 best friends since childhood (the 3 best men in our wedding--Justin, Billy, and Curtis), and all of them were there. Billy and his wife Megen had a baby in September, so we got to meet Lilly for the first time. Brendan's mom has many pictures from this event, so I'll try to get some to post later.

In our spare time we've been grandparent visiting, present wrapping, Star Wars and football watching, and we even managed to squeeze in a jog this morning (there are a LOT of hills here). All in all, a fabulous first few days.

And the best is yet to come...
Countdown to Christmas: 2 days!

We hope you make it Merry!
<3 S, B, and the rest of the Egan family (L&Z are safe in Austin with the Austin's)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blonde Ambitions

This morning, I found myself at Bob Salon in Austin with James for color and cut. It was out with the old and in with the new, and I found myself enjoying the 3-hour ritual I splurge on a few times a year (my highlight jobs typically last 3 months, impressive!). Thank you, James! I finally had time to get my eyebrows waxed too.

The results:

Linking up with The Paper Mama for her Self Photo Challenge! 

My New Year's Eve dress from Modcloth arrived just in time for me to try it on before we leave for Connecticut tomorrow, and it fit perfectly. We spent the rest of the day catching up with my friend Cole, and submitting manuscripts to a writing contest. 

Good luck! 
All in all, an ambitious day for the break. We're off for some Indian food with my family, and then laundry and packing for our flight to Connecticut tomorrow! 

We celebrated Christmas with my family on Sunday. This year was Maisie's (Graham's girlfriend) first Christmas with us, so that was special. We also went to the trail of lights last night. My new iphone5 has me excited to take pictures again (the camera is much improved from my 3G model). The trail of lights is back after a 2 year hiatus, and it was so fun to visit the trail, which was a yearly memory from my childhood. 

Zilker Tree 
Happy holidays, from our home to yours: 
<3 S, B, L&Z (and the Austin family too!) 

I'm off to my other home tomorrow, and I couldn't be more excited! 

Wishing for safe, non-delayed travels. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women (Stage 2 Recap)

My stage 1 Recap is here. 

Stage 2 of the program was much shorter. There were only 8 workouts, but the time each workout took was longer. In stage 1, I spent 9 hours in the gym with 18 workouts. In stage 2, I spent 8 hours in the gym with just 8 workouts.

The moves definitely got more complicated and this stage added some interval training as well. Throughout stage 2, I continued to spend 2 hours a week in yoga class. So, in total this semester, I logged 46.5 hours of exercise (either strength training or yoga class). Granted, when strength training, I must rest between each set, so not all of that time is physically active, but still, way better than what I normally average for a fall semester.

My results were normal and in line with what Meghann at Meals and Miles experienced, however, even though I feel physically different (stronger), I still don't see much difference in my appearance. Then again, I do see myself everyday, so it's hard to quantify.

Here's what the measurements said. Measurements are discouraging because they are hard to get accurate (I have Brendan help, but still). We also took pictures, but we didn't do it very precisely. If I could start over, I'd figure out a better way to quantify results, like maybe get a body fat percentage test.

                       This Stage                      Total Change
Bust                    -.50"                                 -.50"                      
Band              No change                           -.25"
Right Bicep    No change                           +.50"
Left Bicep     No change                            +.50"
Waist                    -.50"                               -.50"
Right Thigh     +.50"                                   -.50"
Left Thigh       +50"                                   -.50"
Hips               No change                            -1"
Weight           No change                            +2 lbs

So, my measurements still show that I've lost -2.25" from my body since starting this program. Not bad.
(I know the thigh measurements are confusing, basically, I lost 1" on each thigh after stage 1 and gained .50" on each thigh after stage 2--hopefully muscle, so I'm still down -.50" on each thigh from when I started). With weight, I gained 2 pounds after stage 1, and that 2 lbs has stayed, but I have not gained any more.

I guess one thing I should say about this program is that you won't see the same "miracle" results that you would with a diet. I'm trying to get results that will last over time (I don't think I could restrict calories for a long time), so it is a slower process. That can be frustrating, since I didn't really know what to expect, as this is my first time really strength training since high school.

Here are my strength results. Some of the exercises were much harder to increase with than others.

Workout A 
Front Squat Push Press: From 25 lbs to 30 lbs
Step Up: Stayed with 30 lbs this stage, but used a higher platform in this stage vs. last stage
Dumbbell 1pt Row: From 20 lbs to 30 lbs
Static Lunge with Rear Foot Elevated: Stayed with 20 lbs the whole time
Push Up: This stage required 2 sets of 10 each workout. I feel like I'm going lower/getting better at them.
Plank: From 60 sec to 65sec
Horizontal Wood Chop: From 20 lbs to 30 lbs (used 40 lbs one set, but decided form was compromised).

Workout B
Wide Grip Deadlift from Box: From 40 lbs to 50 lbs
Bulgarian Split Squat: From 4 lbs to 20 lbs
Underhand-grip Lat Pulldown: Stayed with 50 lbs this stage
Reverse Lunge from Box with Forward Reach: from 10 lbs to 20 lbs
Dumbbell Prone Cuban Snatch: from 10 lbs to 20 lbs
Swiss Ball Crunch: Stayed with 10 lbs
Reverse Crunch: BW
Lateral Flexion: BW
Prone Cobra: From 20 sec to 75 sec
Interval training: 15 min: From intervals at level 4 (setting of 4.5 on treadmill) to intervals at level 7 (setting of 6 on treadmill).

Tips for Stage 2:

  • ALWAYS have a snack in your gym bag. I've had to ask to borrow a dollar because I was too starving to make it through my 1 hour, 15 minute workout. 

  • Enjoy the 75 sec rests between each set. In workout B, it's best to just get comfortable with having some mat time. 

  • Pick an interval activity that is hard for you. (Elliptical or bike would have felt easy to me, so I opted for running, which is always a challenge). 

Well, that's all I've got. I'm supposed to take a week off now, but I have 3 weeks off, so I'm not really sure how Brendan and I will cope with being away from the gym or how much access we'll have over break. My friend is going to let me borrow some P90X videos. Anyone have experience with P90X? Tips?

Here's to getting stronger, slowly, but surely. When I think of how much I've improved in 2.5 months, I do feel like this program has helped me get much stronger.

Now, time an end of semester celebration, complete with some mimosas!

<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Halfway Through Engagement/Semester Complete!

Wow, it's hard to believe I'm already writing this post. When Brendan and I got engaged, I calculated the length of our engagement using an online duration calculator, and it was 409 days. That seemed like FOREVER away. However, today, there are only 204 days left, so we're beyond the halfway point. We've made a lot of wedding planning progress: 

In addition to the tasks mentioned hereherehere, and here, we've: gotten my dress (it arrived after being ordered at the end of June), ordered and received part of my bridesmaid's gifts, scouted out rehearsal dinner locations and after party locations, 4 of 6 bridesmaids have received their dresses (all have been ordered), and we've made our getaway plans. We have plans to take care of even more wedding related tasks over the holiday break, so I'm looking forward to that. 

The wedding has definitely started to feel more "real" as of this week, with my dress and the bridesmaid's dresses all arriving at the same time, and with 5 of my friends having already booked plane tickets from NYC to Austin to be at our wedding (I have the world's most amazing friends, but that is another post entirely), I have that "Wow, this is really happening" feeling this week. I definitely think once 2013 is here, the time will start to go SO fast, especially because I have my job to keep me busy. It is hard to be patient because I'm so excited to marry Brendan, but I know that we'll be happy we planned the wedding so far in advance so that we can be surrounded by our friends and family when we say our vows to each other. 

In other BIG news, I have officially completed the Fall 2012 semester! That's right: all of my final grades are entered and my grade books are turned in. To say it feels like a major accomplishment would be a huge understatement. I started this semester with 175 students and finished with 173. I am proud of my students and very proud of myself. This semester has instilled me with so much confidence in my teaching abilities. I was worried about having so many students, but it turns out, I am very capable of handling it. This semester was such a lesson in adaptability, as I realized that yes, I did have more students than usual, and yes, many of them were high school students, but I figured out how to design my course so that both teacher and students could be successful. I want to thank Brendan for a pep talk. He knew I could do it and always encouraged me. I also feel like my students really enjoyed my courses. I heard some very nice feedback from high school counselors, students, and parents, and those comments were nice to hear. I'm happy at my new school, and wow, it went by so fast.

I'm very ready for a break, and as of now, I'm on break until January 7th! This fact definitely has NOT sunk in yet, but I do have that "cloud 9" feeling. 

I hope you find some reasons to smile today! 
<3 S, B, L&Z 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Holiday Switch

Many of our coupled friends do the holiday split every year, in which, they share both Thanksgiving and Christmas with both of their families. As Brendan's family and mine live nearly 2,000 miles apart, we knew the holiday split would never be an option for us. So instead, we opted for the holiday switch, in which we spend Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other, and then switch which holiday we spend with which family the following year. 

Picking our schedule was simple: it was important to us to be on the same schedule as Brendan's sister, Annie, who also does the holiday switch with her husband's family as well, so last year, our holiday switch schedule began. 

Thus, on odd years, we'll do Thanksgiving with Brendan's family and Christmas with mine, and on even years, we do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. Of course, soon they'll both be "our families" ;)


So, this year will be my first Christmas in Connecticut and my first away from my own family, and I couldn't be more excited. We feel like the holiday switch is a good solution for now. Plus, our friends that do the holiday split claim it can be detracting, distracting, and exhausting having to go back and forth, whereas the holiday switch allows us to enjoy the holiday and the family we're spending it with. So how do you do the holidays? The split, the switch, or something else? 

Either way, we hope you're ready: 16 days until Christmas! 
<3 S, B, L&Z 

Friday, December 7, 2012

I Can Love You Like That

When I was a little girl, the most romantic song in the world was John Michael Montgomery's "I can love you like that." Dancing around in my room, there was no doubt in my mind that love was this magical thing, and this song reinforced all of my ideas of love as a "move heaven and earth" fairytale. Granted, love is a magical thing, and this incredibly cheesy song still can make me tear up because of my childhood memories of it, but that's not what I'm writing about right now.

Tonight, I came across this article about a wedding photographer who tracks down some of the couples he photographed years later. I won't give it away, but the article is incredibly emotional and interesting and reminds us that real life, marriage, is not the carefree fairytale photographers aim to depict in wedding photos. Even the best marriages are still bound to reality. All couples that have celebrated many anniversaries will say marriage takes work.

It's funny timing, me reading this, because just tonight, as we were folding the second load of laundry...after present wrapping, dinner making, cleaning the kitchen, working out, dropping off dry cleaning, and working most of the day (grading, grading, grading--crazy time in the semester that it is), I started to laugh. "This is life," I said. It's not always that romantic, (but there are wonderfully romantic moments, like the awesome dinner Brendan made us)...and that's okay.

This article made me appreciate our love and upcoming marriage even more, but it was a wonderful reminder that marriage is just two people--day in, day out. I know that I've found my life partner in Brendan, but the truth (one I always struggle to accept) is that no one can predict the cards that will be dealt to us. We hope they are mostly good, and I know we can weather anything together, but, this reminds me to appreciate all the time we have, which is sometimes hard with the wedding countdown in the back of my mind. As much as I cannot wait to wear the white dress and exchange wedding rings, I need to enjoy all the days Brendan and I have together.

This quote stuck out to me:

"Go to enough weddings and you realize that photographing one is like photographing the coin toss before a football game: Nothing's actually happened yet." 
This made me smile. I don't think of our two plus years together as "nothing happened," in a way it feels like everything that ever happened to me happened in these two years, but it's true that love is easy when you are young and healthy. Do only young people count down days? I don't know, but I've always been guilty of it. 210 days until the wedding. See? I just know.

Here's a thought: I think the reason we make weddings mirror fairy tales (you know: the kiss, the dancing, the toasts, the tossing things, the getaway)'s nice to have that one story book memory that fits neatly into an album, because life does not do that.

You find someone that you can share your real stories with, that will be there for you. And you hope you get lucky, stay hope that other person knows how much you love them always.

Of course, I look forward to having our beautiful day, and I want the photos to look back on...but what I want even more is to just spend everyday with this wonderful person who will fold my underwear sometimes, make me coffee in the mornings, and feed my cats. He doesn't have to be "prince charming," and I don't need to be "rescued," (see: song); I'm just happy he thinks I'm beautiful with tangled hair, and lets me watch terrible TV sometimes, and doesn't mind that I think it's fun to pay off credit cards.

I can wait for those perfect few the meantime, real life is perfect enough.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Give If You Are Able

As children, Brendan and I were both fortunate enough to have wonderful Christmas mornings filled with family, good meals, and new toys. During the holiday season, it is so easy to get wrapped up in our lives. I don't have enough time to do everything is a constant thought running through my head lately. However, as I faced the choice to either go home, or spend 15 minutes to go buy some toys for the local Town Square Cares Toy Drive, the choice was easy to make.

I had tons of fun picking out these toys and even more fun thinking about making Christmas a little better for a child.

Every child deserves to feel loved and happy on Christmas morning. Please, give if you are able. You can help out in the Midland/Odessa area by bringing a new, unwrapped toy to Midland College, Alison Fine Arts building tonight (enjoy the student art show and choir concert too-all free) or to Walmart on Friday from 6-9 (I'm assuming PM). Nationally, you can find a Toys for Tots drop off or donate money to the cause.

Up next: Donating our used but still useable coats to the Howard College coat drive.

Here's to the spirit of giving.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Welcoming December

I love new months and fresh starts. This month, especially, there is so much to look forward to. We had the perfect, restful weekend. I hosted a girl's holiday brunch party this morning (thanks to Brendan for helping me prep), and Brendan made this amazing vegetarian pot roast for dinner tonight.

Looking out at our beautiful lights, I couldn't help but feel so much joy (even though it is Monday tomorrow).

I'm ready to take on the week ahead. I know that this week is when things get serious. 12 days left of the semester, and I know we have to buckle down and get a ton accomplished. I'll try my best to take it one day at a time. As my wise mother always says "The only way out is through."

How did you welcome December this weekend? We hope it was with open arms.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Friday, November 30, 2012

Ornaments On Our Tree (2012 Edition)

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and we're ringing in the Christmas season right on time.

We've added many new ornaments to our tree this year: Here are some of my favorites:

This is my next favorite ornament: It says "Our Engaged Christmas" at the bottom, and I picked it because we'll be spending our engaged Christmas in Connecticut, and this ornament reminds me of the staircase at Brendan's parent's house, and I always want to remember where we were. The star on the tree has the year. 
Brendan's mom collects these ornaments for me. So far, I have Santa, Mrs. Claus, an angel, and a bell ringer. I love these vintage ornaments, and Brendan says his mom (who is a professional treasure hunter) collects a different collection for each member of the family. I love that tradition. 

I had to get Ms. Lola and Zoe their own Christmas kitty ornaments. Each ornament has their name and the year they were born (2008) on it.

Brendan's mom got this one for us. Our tree has kind of a bird theme: we have a bluebird, a redbird, and an owl. Seems fitting for birds to be on a tree!

Corley gave me this "S" ornament. Let me give you a hint: it doesn't stand for Santa :)

Ode to our travels across the Northeast this summer. This ornament only has the names of some of the states we hit: NYC, CT, NJ, D.C., Boston, and Maine. In case you have forgotten: Our names are Brendan and Stacy :) Kind of ridiculous how much I have personalized on this tree.

A flying elephant, or an elephant angel. We're not really sure, but we found him in San Antonio.

We also collected ornaments from Alpine, TX, Walt Disney World, and Palm Springs, CA since decorating for last Christmas. It's been quite the crazy travel year...we've been to 15 states in the year 2012...and I definitely don't always remember to get an ornament.

I love our little tree. Decorating it always puts me in the Christmas spirit...but if we get any more ornaments, we'll need a bigger tree.

Not what I had in mind, Brendan...

For more ornaments,  Check out Ornaments On Our Tree 2011.
Happy decorating! We're off to watch White Christmas and eat cookies.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Combat End of the Semester/Year Craziness

The end of the semester is upon us, which means work is crazier than ever. I started the semester with 175 students, and I'm ending with 174. You read that right: 1 student dropped this semester. Needless to say, I've had a full load on my plate. However, despite this being my most challenging semester to date, I feel pretty calm. Here are some techniques I've been employing that might help you too, whether it is the end of your semester or just the end of your year.

1.) Exercise.

I know, it sounds so obvious, and I read it in many magazines, but honestly, this is the first Fall semester that I've actually kept up my workout routine from start to finish (we usually do better in the spring). I talk about my workout plan here, but honestly, the important thing is just that you stick to your workout routine. Don't use shopping or feeling overwhelmed as an excuse to skip the gym because workouts help you feel physically better and mentally saner. Keep it up. I am exercising 4-5 times a week and instead of feeling like I have less time (which I worried about initially), I feel like I'm just using my time more productively. I promise you, the grading (or whatever you need to do) gets done. No student in my class has waited longer than 2 weeks to get a paper returned this semester.

2.) Take Time to Connect

I don't just mean with the people in your life, but with your pets too (fun fact: I am holding Lola right now as I type this). Obviously, you know the benefits of connecting with people: Brendan and I try to set aside time to just talk and catch up even on the busiest of days. When times are stressful, the last thing you want to do is neglect your friends and family or be crabby and stressed. Take time to meet up for lunch and do all the activities you normally enjoy. As for pets, keep in mind the holidays are stressful for them too. During Thanksgiving, we leave town without the cats, and for Christmas, we'll leave them with my parents (which means a road trip to Austin). I know they appreciate when I take time to cuddle and play with them. I think it helps reassure them that everything is okay, despite the change in their schedule.

3.) Deck the Halls

I've heard people say they skip Christmas decorating some years when they are busy. I think this is crazy! I am even sending out cards this year (despite the fact that we're already sending out so much wedding related mail). I am VERY much looking forward to decorating this weekend. Seeing the tree in my living room just brightens my mood. I'm also throwing a Christmas party on Sunday. No matter how busy things get, it's important to still let yourself enjoy this time of year.

4.) Shop on Line

As much as I love the joy of the holiday season, if there is one thing I can do without, it is crowds and long lines. Whenever possible, I order my gifts online. This saves you time and frustration.

5.) Countdown.

There are 15 days of the semester left, and you can bet I know it! Counting down to whatever you are looking forward to is always a wonderful thing. It keeps you feeling uplifted and encouraged.

6.) Be Giving

It uplifts your mood. Buy little presents for co-workers and friends, give a Christmas bonus to someone that works for you, or invite everyone you know to your Christmas party. The spirit of giving is what the season is about and including and remember others always makes me feel just as happy as when they include and remember me.

7.) Meditate or Do Yoga

See item 1. Yoga has SERIOUSLY improved my moods. I have an awesome teacher that pushes me to do what I never thought possible, and taking time to connect my breath to my movements and to be mindful of my thoughts and practice always leaves me feeling more calm.

8.) Make Reasonable to-do Lists

If my plan for the day involves teaching, office hours, lunch with a friend, a trip to the grocery store, and a workout (this was my actual Tuesday), I am only going to plan to grade about 6 papers that night. Don't "bite off more than you can chew." Budget your time so that all of your projects can be accomplished in the required timeframe.

9.) Sleep

Despite my crazy workload, I've never neglected sleep. Sure, there have been a few nights I only have had 6 hours, but I often get 7 or 8.

10.) Have a Silent Night

Tomorrow, Brendan and I are decorating the tree, cooking dinner together, and disconnecting from distractions. We'll put on a movie and just spend time together. I call it a "Silent Night," and this weekend, you owe yourself one.

No matter what you do, we hope these tips help bring you a peaceful end to the year!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

No big news here, just wanted to share that we arrived home safely from a perfect few days in Austin. Thanksgiving was fabulous. My brother, Graham, was the chef, and I was the chef's helper. Our Thanksgiving was small, with just 7 people (us, my parents, my brother, and my parent's friend's Bob and Lucy).

It could not have been a better holiday: I got to see friends Cole and Laura, we were able to make some progress on wedding related tasks while in town, and we saw the movie Life of Pi in 3D, which was really neat. We also ate at some great Austin restaurants. On the way home, we saw my great aunt Louise and my cousin Allie and aunt Dedra in San Angelo.

It was hard to leave, but I also know we'll be back in 20 days, so that made it easier. We returned home to Lola and Zoe, who are very happy to see us.

So tomorrow, it's back to life as we know it. 2 more weeks of the semester and then finals. It's hard to believe time is going so fast.

We hope everyone made it home safely from their holiday!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving all! I am writing from Austin, where Brendan and I are with my family today. We have the Macy's Thanksgiving parade on, I made 3 pies last night (thanks for peeling the apples, Bren!) and Graham has his turkey, which has been been brining in beer for the past 18 hours, ready to cook.

It's a good day. And what better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than by giving thanks? I have a LOT to be thankful for.

I am thankful to live in the USA. I feel hopeful about the future, our future. I love that we are a country that stand by one another, and I truly feel united to all people here. We have to work together, respect one another, and treat each other equally, and we will continue to be an amazing country.

I am thankful that I have found full time employment at Howard College. I love going to work everyday. The classroom is truly one of my favorite places to be. My students continuously make me smile with their unique personalities, the questions they ask, and the approaches they take. I am working with 160 high school students this semester; as dual credit students, they are very dedicated, and I appreciate that. I also am thankful for all of my co-workers, who are really fun, nice people and who have helped me adjust to my new workplace.

As a full time employee, I have secured my own health care. It feels very good to say I am the primary member (after 26 years of being the dependent). Tomorrow, I am going for my routine eye exam, and I feel thankful that these necessary yearly appointments are covered. I think everyone should have the option for needed care. I am thankful for my good health in general. This is something that is too easy to take for granted, and I try to constantly remind myself how lucky we are that everyone is healthy. I am thankful that I can workout and take care of myself.

I am thankful that our incomes let us contribute to causes that we feel are important. Check out the left side of the blog under "Charities and Organizations We Support" for links to more information. I am also relieved that with two full time jobs, Brendan and I are able to weather the rising cost of living in Midland. 

Speaking of Midland, I am thankful for all of my friends there. This year, I am hosting a girl's Christmas party, and I actually have a lot of friends to invite. That is a really nice feeling. I'm thankful for the lunch dates, the couple's dinners, the outings out, the parties, for yoga classes with friends...all of our friends make Midland a home. We are also grateful for all of our forever friends: the people that have stuck by us for a long time now and always will. We feel truly lucky to have so many friendships.

I am very grateful for our families in Texas and Connecticut (and other states as well). Being with my Austin family right now makes me SO happy. I have missed them a lot. Next year, Brendan and I's two families become one, and I could think of nothing that will make me happier (other than marrying Brendan). In Brendan's family, I've found so much love and support, and I definitely feel at home there. I am looking forward to my first Christmas with them next month. I also am so happy to have the opportunity to know Brendan's grandparents. I only have one grandparent left, and miss the others dearly, so it is very special to spend time with Brendan's grandparents.

I am thankful for Lola and Zoe. Those crazy cats make life way more fun and cuddly.

Finally, I am thankful for my wonderful, amazing fiance, Brendan, who is truly the love of my life. We've been engaged for 6 months today, and I can't wait to marry him in 225 days! You are my world, Bren, and simply put, I love you and am so happy that I found you in this big world.

Happy Thanksgiving all!
<3 S, B, L&Z (and the Austin Family)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Rules of Weight Lifting For Women (Stage 1 Recap)

Remember how I mentioned doing a new exercise program?

Well, here are the details, and my results from stage 1 (of 7) of The New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women. I just finished stage 1 this morning, and I'm happy and proud of myself!

I started the program on October 2nd and finished on November 21st. Total, stage 1 took 8 weeks and included 18 workouts. I did the workouts typically 2, but sometimes 3 times a week. I should add, I also did yoga twice a week (1 hour each class) during stage 1. I started twice a week yoga 5 weeks before embarking on New Rules of Weight Lifting for Women. 

A few of my gym logs, stage 1
My results so far are not drastic, but encouraging. I have logged 32.5 hours in the gym this semester (with yoga and strength training combined), and I am pretty impressed with that! Stage 1 only took a total of 9 gym hours.

Measurement changes from 10/02 to 11/20

Bust: No Change
Band: -.25"
Right Bicep: +.5"
Left Bicep: + .5"
Waist: No Change
Hips: -1"
Right Thigh: -1"
Left Thigh: -1"

Weight: +2 pounds (not surprised, I am not trying to lose weight right now, but rather, my focus is on toning up).

I looked at the before/after pictures, and I couldn't really tell much of a difference yet, but my arms especially feel stronger and firmer, as well as my butt! Brendan says he notices a difference in my legs. I know that it isn't realistic to expect my body to transform in 8 weeks, so I feel pretty happy with these results. 2.25" off my body!

Now, here are the results of how much stronger I became in my lifting capabilities:

Workout A 
Squats: From 20lbs + bar to 50lbs+bar
Push Up: From doing 7 in a row to doing 15 in a row
Row: From 35lbs to 70lbs
Step Up: From 20lbs to 30lbs
Prone Jackknife: From 8 in a row to 20 in a row

Workout B
Deadlift: From 20lbs+bar to 50lbs+bar
Dumbbell Shoulder Press: From 20lbs to 30lbs
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: From 40lbs to 60lbs
Lunges: From 20lbs to 30lbs
Swiss Ball Crunches: From 8 in a row to 25 in a row or from body weight to BW + 15lbs

I didn't follow the specific diet from the book, but just continued to eat healthy. I did focus on eating more protein, and had a protein shake on days after I lifted (usually).

Stage 1 is the longest stage of the program, and I did get a little sick of doing the same moves. The book advises to take 1 week off between stages, and I am happy to use Thanksgiving break as my off week. Trust me, it is much needed!

My Tips For Stage 1: 

  • Don't be afraid to ask strangers in the gym for help if you don't understand a move. Since I work out in a college gym, I am fortunate that there are many athletes able to tell me if I'm doing something incorrectly! I also have Brendan, and he is knowledgeable as well. Plus, I always brought my book to the gym with me, in case I needed to reference it.
  • Have an accountability buddy: Brendan knew that every Tuesday and Thursday were my lifting days. He went to the gym with me, and he was also a good motivation for the few times I was feeling lazy and didn't want to go. I usually didn't mind going. The workouts only took about 30 minutes each in this stage, so I didn't really mind. I wrote the workouts on my calendar; this was motivating, and made me stick to my plans.
  • Lift on the same days of the week every week: Consistence is key! I think it is easier to just get into a routine with how your week flows. I did M/W yoga, T/TH lifting, and sometimes F lifting. 
  • Chocolate Protein Powder, ice, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon peanut butter and 1 cup milk: awesome after workout recovery shake. 
  • Don't expect miracle changes: true change will take longer than 8 weeks to see. Don't freak out if you gain a couple of pounds and remember the old "muscle weighs more than fat" rule. (Note: It would probably be encouraging if I had taken my body fat percentage before starting, but I didn't have a way to do this). 
So, next week, I am on to stage 2, but for now, I am looking forward to relaxing and enjoying time with my family. In other news...

Wishing a very happy birthday today to my future Mother in law, Sharon! I admire her because she always goes for her dreams: whether it is opening her own business (her preschool, Growing Garden, has been in business 30 plus years, and she just started a store called Anna Pearl's Curiosities), or making time to do the things she loves (yard sales, spending time with/supporting family and friends, and entertaining are a few passions that come to mind!) she has many interests that keep her young. She had much to celebrate this year: including her 35th wedding anniversary and opening her new store. I hope her next year is just as wonderful! In my life, she is a true gift and a second mother to me; definitely, she has always welcomed me with love and open arms, and I feel lucky to have such a wonderful woman in my life.

April 2012 
Happy birthday to Sharon and safe travels to everyone on the road or in the air this holiday! This afternoon, we are Austin bound. This week felt like it took so long, but it's finally here, and we're ready to celebrate!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mini Week

This is a mini week for me. I am working tomorrow, and then off for the rest of the week. Brendan finishes Wednesday at noon, and then, we are hitting the road for sweet home (one of the many) Austin, Texas. It is about a 5.5 hour drive (325 miles...actually further than Lake Charles to Austin).

I am pretty homesick, and very much ready to see my family. Still, I've been trying to make the most of my time in Midland: Paper grading frenzy, working out everyday, and staying on top of household tasks.

My friend Corley shared this life skill with me, and I find it useful. She said, everyday, set 3 goals for yourself. I have tried this by dividing goals into something for me, something for my family, and something for work. 
Today, my goals looked like this:
Something for me: Yoga class.
Something for my family: Made Brendan this early in the day, so he could eat a proper dinner before leaving to teach his night class.
Something for work: Going to grade more tonight...the faster my students get their essays back, the better (for them).

I like this "mini objectives" exercise. Also, I like thinking of working out as "something for me." Mentally framing it that way makes it seem like a privilege, not a chore.

I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving. My brother Graham is heading up the initiative to cook the meal from scratch. Other than spending time together, we don't have any grand plans. Thanksgiving will just be the 5 of us and 2 family friends. It should be pretty quiet and relaxing. We never participate in Black Friday events. I do not enjoy crowds and feel very sorry for the employees forced to work these events. I know the point of it is that businesses what to start turning a profit, but I'm just not THAT desperate for a deal. Plus, people DIE every year at Black Friday's mania!

What about you? What does your Thanksgiving entail? Do you shop on Black Friday?

Here's to your (hopefully) mini week!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What Does This Remind You Of?

Today, Brendan and I were sitting in the coffee shop at Barnes and Noble both reading books that we purchased (despite the fact that we both have way too many books at home waiting to be read) was the middle of the day. I had to look up and say "What does this remind you of?" Immediately, Brendan said, "Books a Dozen." (Books a Dozen is what we lovingly call Books a Million...due to the small selection, actually, this phrase was coined by our program director Neil Connelly's 5 year-old son).

It was almost uncanny.

Here's why: Back in graduate school, shortly before we started dating, every Tuesday, Brendan and I would meet up at the Lake Charles Books a Million for coffee and reading time. We read workshop stories, or, at least, that's what we were supposed to be reality, we usually ended up talking, for four hours, which has been incredibly typical of us since we met in April 2008.

When the Books a Million meet ups took place, it was during the hardest period of my adult life. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that I looked forward to these Tuesdays more than anything else. Brendan brought joy and laughter to a difficult time, and it was easy to be happy around him. For those few hours, I could be living in the present. On those days, I knew what love should feel like: being uplifted and feeling secure, and giving your best to someone--seeing one another as real people, flaws and all, and staying there. We were both too busy and had too many things going on (thesis, classes we were taking, classes we were teaching), and yet, we always, always stayed.

Coffee turned into long walks later in the day. We did not tire of each other's company. And though at the time, those days were both wonderful and agonizing for me (were we friends, were we more?), I look back on them now with such fondness, and I feel close to tears just thinking about them. The place was so magical for us, and graduate school was a wonderful time in our lives. The friends we had there...I could never describe the experience and do it justice, so I'm glad Brendan lived through it with me, that we both already understand.

Lake Charles, Books a Million 
And things change...we've moved to a brand new city, we're both employed college teachers instead of struggling graduate students, and we went from being friends to being engaged. We've had to make all new friends. We traded the swamp for the desert and humidity for dryness. If we want workshop stories, we have to write them ourselves. We still have Tuesday afternoons off together though (after 1pm)...and you know, it's funny that while the world around us looks completely different from before...there are many things that have stayed the same:

Midland, Barnes and Noble 

These hours spent over coffee and books, revealing in our shared passion and companionship...they still make me fall in love with him even more. I still look forward to these times so much. I look outside and it's a different parking lot and a different shopping center, but it feels just like where we came from. Because if there is one thing about love I know, it's this: It doesn't matter where you are, where you've been, or where you're going. It only matters who you're with. 

Here's to a lifetime of coffee shops in bookstores, Brendan. May we sit at one in fifty years and say "What does this remind you of?" 
<3 S 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Take It Easy

Remember the last post when I wrote that I was going to grade a million papers a day and work out everyday this week? Not. Gonna. Happen.

I've not been feeling 100% since Sunday, and though I went to yoga Monday night, I definitely felt today that working out would actually be more harmful than helpful to my health.

It's very hard for me to take a day off. I'm very schedule oriented, but sometimes, you just have to, as life will not be dictated by what you already have written on the calendar. I really didn't get upset over not being able to do what I planned, and instead, tackled things that I did feel up to doing (work, grocery shopping, etc.) I also focused on taking care of myself (making sure I ate healthy, drank plenty of water, and rested).

My spirits were lifted when I got this package in the mail:

My friend Lauren that I was just a bridesmaid for in October sent me wedding planners and travel guides (her and Steve also honeymooned in Hawaii) and Brendan's favorite maple candy! When you don't feel your best, it's so nice to see reminders all around that you are loved, and fortunately, I've seen many today. What a sweet gesture from my wonderful friend! Thumbing through these tonight has reminded me of all there is to look forward to.

I'm a firm believer that When others are kind to us, it is easier to be kind to ourselves. I've tried to be kind to others today, which is perhaps one benefit of "taking it easy." Breaking from my schedule and normally busy routine has allowed me to slow down and do some reflecting, which is a pro in this month of being thankful. I am also thankful for Brendan (grocery carrier, house straightener upper, and leftover warmer that he is) and Lola and Zoe, who have been just now settled down for the evening. I'm thankful for friends in Midland that have checked up on me, and for my students, who honestly have put me in a good mood the past couple of days (research papers are looking good). Work may seem like a challenge sometimes, but it also provides me with such purpose.

Here's to you being kind to yourself and remembering to "take it easy" sometimes,
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, November 12, 2012

When In: San Antonio, Texas

Brendan and I returned Saturday night from a great trip to San Antonio. We stayed at the Sheraton Gunter on the River walk, and each chaired and presented in a session at SCMLA's 69th annual conference.

We spent much time on the River walk. My favorite meal was at the Iron Cactus. Yes, the river walk is overpriced and touristy, but it was still fun for a short trip. We had beautiful weather and enjoyed spending time with friends and colleagues from McNeese and Midland College.

Our presentations went well, and we enjoyed the experience. This was Brendan's first conference (my fourth), and it was really fun to have him with me; seemed to make the whole experience less stressful. We're already signed up for SCMLA 2013 in New Orleans.

River walk

Face Brendan makes when I ask for a sip of his beer

With the loved and missed Dr. Costello 

Our friends Allie and Dr. Williams 
Yesterday, I graded 20 papers, and then we picked up a pizza and went to the drive-in to see Wreck it Ralph. It was a nice end to the weekend, especially because the movie was super cute and it was really cold outside, so we got to bundle up under many blankets. The drive-in is my favorite way to see a movie.

Today, I'm feeling kind of blah. I don't feel ready for the work week to start (I need to grade 60 papers between today and Friday), and it feels like there are also a million little tasks to take care of. Plus, I know I need to workout 5 times this week in order to finish stage 1 of my plan before Thanksgiving break.  I know it will all get done...but right now it just feels overwhelming!

I'm channeling strength today and through the week.
Here's to being strong, physically, mentally, and emotionally!
<3 S, B, L&Z
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