Friday, June 29, 2012

26! & Birthday Donation Time

My 25th year has officially come to an end, and today, I am giving thanks for it. 25 was very good to me. I moved to west Texas with Brendan, and it was my first year outside of being a college or graduate student. I was a full time adjunct, and the experience taught me many valuable life lessons that I will always remember. 25 is also the year I saw my first publication. It is the year I landed my first full time, salaried position. I will always remember 25 as the year I moved in with my best friend and we became engaged.

The year was not without challenges, but overall, the year was full of very positive experiences. I traveled to Connecticut, Maine, further west Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, Washington, D.C., California, Florida, Big Bend, and Louisiana (twice). The more I see of this beautiful country, the more in awe I am of it.

In my 26th year, I hope to continue to see and experience new things. I will strive to write more, to be in good health, and to be the best teacher I can be. I will work on being a great partner and a great friend. I will continue reading, learning, and looking for opportunities to do good in the world. I feel ambitious and hopeful.

To start my year off on a positive note, I began to look for a charity to donate my birthday too. I explain the concept of Donate Your Birthday here. Essentially, you give your age in dollars to an organization of your choice. I also tell others about the organization and why I picked it.

What was something that defined my 25th year? I realized it was work. For the first time, I wasn't a student anymore, and I saw the importance that having a job, something that felt meaningful, played in my life and in my identity as an individual. Our economy is in a difficult place right now, and I think all people should have the experience of being able to work. My charity of choice, Dress for Success-of Houston helps disadvantaged women find careers, provides them with a wardrobe for interviews and work, and helps provide job retention programs, financial literacy workshops, and access to book clubs and wellness programs.

Dress for Success is also a national organization that helps women around the world. Last year, the Houston chapter helped over 4,785 women. Click here to find out how you can help this charity. They have 4 out of 4 stars on Charity Navigator (always research a charity to see where the money is truly going).

Want to Donate your Birthday? It's easy just...

1. Research a charity that needs your help and is reputable.
2. Donate your age in dollars.
3. Tell your friends about why you choose your charity and invite them to join you if they so desire.

Also, read about my charity from last year as well, Doctor's Without Borders, another truly worthy cause.

Ringing in my/our 26th year (with friend, Corley, born 8 days after me):
Friends for 11 years now :)
Pondering wishes
Making said wishes

Corley testing the icing :)
Here's to birthdays, however you celebrate them. I am looking forward to another year, whatever it has to bring. This moment is life!

<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Texas Hill Country Bed and Breakfast Trip

What can I say? I love birthdays. Brendan thinks I will "grow out of it" one day and become one of those people who dreads turning another year older. Lets review the facts:

We kicked off my birthday week by driving to Wimberley, TX to stay at the Serenity Farmhouse Inn. 

We checked into the "Poet's cottage" and proceed to go for a swim.
Poet's Cottage
Heart shaped Jacuzzi Tub
Swimming pool with hill country views
Bren :)
 Exhausted from an afternoon in the sun, we headed to dinner and happy hour at the amazing Linda's Fine Foods.

Salad Plate
Seared Tuna 
Apple Cake, our second free dessert of the day
We headed to the grocery store to pick up some wine, beer, and snacks, and then headed home for reading on the porch and a nice quiet night enjoying the sounds of the frogs!

The next morning, we woke up to a knock on the door...

Breakfast was served:

 A cute farm cat finished our leftovers:

 After putting on lots of sunscreen, we headed out for another fun day.

First, hiking.

Which was very, very hot. Then, swimming at the Blue Hole, which was a perfect 68 degrees.

Ah, that's much better! There were a couple of rope swings, and I was brave and did the biggest swing TWICE.

Later, it was fine Italian food at Marcos and margaritas and Ino'z:

We then headed back "home" for more swimming, reading, and relaxing. We swam as the sun set and until we were all wrinkly. I even finished my book I started on Friday...
You could say we had a swinging good time.
 Before departing, we ate another fine breakfast:
And spent the afternoon shopping at all the little antique stores (we finally found the record holder we've been looking for!) and eating a late/light lunch at Kate's Place (I wish I had a picture of our shared beet/fennel salad and creamy carrot/ginger soup).

I returned home to a shared birthday dinner celebration with my family and friend Corley (who turns 26 only eight days after me-Pics tomorrow) and cards/package on my bed (to be opened tomorrow on my actual birthday). My life philosophy: You are going to age and become older anyway, so why not celebrate it? I prefer to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next...and since my birthday falls in the summer when I'm off, I have nothing but time to do that.

Who wants to grow out of that? Not me! (And that's a fact!)

Hope you take your own travels soon! We love you Wimberley!

<3 S, B, and L&Z (thanks to my parents for caring for them!) 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wedding Dress Shopping (My Tips)

After three days of non-stop shopping, I finally found the dress I'll wear to our wedding!

The shopping could have gone on forever, but I felt certain I had found the dress I'd been envisioning. Plus, I wanted to find the dress in Austin, so that I'd be with my mom for the whole experience. I'll talk about my experience, and then give my advice for future brides to-be.

I started out with a Friday afternoon appointment, and thought I had found the dress with the second dress I tried on. I was emotional and a little teary when they added a veil. So sure was I that this was "the one" that I brought my Aunt Lisa (who came in from San Angelo for dress shopping) and maid of honor, Corley (who is in town from NYC) back to look at it the next morning. Lisa loved it, and Corley and I both started crying. I didn't think I would get so emotional, but seeing this dress, I felt like it was exactly how I had dreamed it would be as a little girl, only now, I knew who I would be walking down the aisle to meet. I was tempted not to go anywhere else, but I'm so glad I did because that wasn't my dress!

At my second appointment on Saturday morning, I already knew the shapes that looked good on me, so my consultant pulled many gowns with that silhouette. She worked at Kleinfeld before moving to Austin, and she even appeared on Say Yes to the Dress (all of the people from that show came to her wedding this past October). I felt I was in really good hands. She put this dress on me, and we both had this "wow" moment. It was everything I wanted: Beautiful, Elegant, Simple, and most of all, I just felt like myself. I was wearing the dress; the dress wasn't wearing me. My mom and Aunt agreed: this dress topped the first, and the photos we took showed it too. When we took it off, I looked at the price tag and cringed. The dress was topping my price range, and I knew it was more than we could spend prior to alterations. The consultant talked to the manager and worked out a 15% discount, and she even gave me 2 weeks to think about it.

Still, it was on to appointment number three. My Aunt picked out a beautiful ballgown, and the three of us had so much fun taking pictures of me in it. Though I loved it, and it was so fun to have on, and send my bridal party pictures of, the more I thought about it, the more it just didn't match up with the venue, the wedding I had in mind, or my picture of myself on the wedding day. I took two nights to sleep on it, and then went back to the 1st and 2nd store today (Monday). At each store, I tried on about 15 more dresses, and I ended with the dress I really felt was "the one" from that second store. Once my mom saw it again, she said, "Yeah, you were right!" I followed my instinct, and it had led me back to that dress. One thing I loved about it so much is I knew it was EXACTLY what Brendan would pick if he could. Brendan's mom cried at the grocery store when I texted her the picture.

So, I had my measurements taken, ordered my dress, and the consultant brought out champagne for my mom and I to celebrate! I texted pictures to Brendan's mom and my bridesmaids, but promised myself I wouldn't leak it to anyone else, and I'm even deleting the pictures so that Brendan won't accidentally see them when I'm scrolling through my iphone albums to show him something else.

Hopefully, my bridal party will "burn after viewing" too.

Here are the tips I have for future brides to be about wedding dress shopping:

1.) Don't bring too many people. The more opinions you have, the harder it is to find your own vision. I think bringing 1 or 2 people is ideal. 

2.) Share the experience with people who can't be there via photos. I was able to include my future mother-in-law and my bridal party by sending them some pictures, which was really fun. 

3.) But limit your sharing. I deleted all my photos. It would be too easy for me to constantly want to show people, and then, there would be no one left at the wedding (except Brendan) that hadn't seen! I think it could be really easy to over share in the excitement of the moment and then regret it later! 

4.) Think Budget. Prior to dress shopping, calculate your budget, making sure to account for alterations, which run (average) between $400-$600. Knowing what alterations will cost, make sure to tell your consultant what you can spend on just the dress. Remember to factor in: you'll need a veil and shoes too, plus the right under garments. 

5.) Ask for a discount. It never hurts to ask for what you want. Consultants can often offer a discount. I saved 15% just for asking! Also, truck shows, bridal shows, and sample sales offer excellent opportunities to find a discount!

6.) Don't worry too much about bringing pictures. Pictures are not a huge help. All dresses look great on a model, but you really need to try dresses on your body.  The first appointment is all about finding the shape that works for you and learning some of the vocabulary related to the silhouette, fabric types, detailing, etc. Having that vocabulary will help you explain what you have in mind at future appointments.

7.) Sleep on it! The dress is a big decision, and once you order it, there is no going back! Take time to really think about what you want. I changed my mind a couple of times over the course of a couple of days. 

8.) Don't over think it though. I think the last thing anyone wants is to try on every dress in the city (unless you just love shopping that much). Once you find one that nothing else is topping, it really tells you that is "the one."

9.) Be prepared-bridal sizes are incredibly different than other clothes. My wedding dress size is much bigger than my normal" size. Also, they want you to order based on measurements, but they add a little to your measurements. Why? Because taking a dress in is easier and less expensive than adding room to a gown.

10.) Think Timing.  For some gowns, it takes up to 6 months for the gown to come in (and that estimate can be slowed down during the holidays). Then, you really need at least 2 months to do alterations. Order at least 8 months in advance, or plan to buy a sample gown "as is" to ensure you have it in time. If you are an out of town bride like me, you may want to order even further in advance because it might take you awhile to be able to schedule your alterations appointment. I have one year, 1 week, and 2 days, how's that for advanced?

11.) Bring to your appointment: A good strapless bra, and shoes that are about the height you'll wear on the day of the wedding. Do your hair the way you envision it, or at least an approximation of what your hairstylist will do for you. Wear the jewelry you see yourself wearing on the day. For me, it was my pearl necklace and matching earrings. Don't eat too much beforehand, but also, don't starve yourself because you want to feel comfortable. 

12.) Research where to shop. Read all the reviews you can. In Austin, TX, I recommend Alexia Gavela and Serendipity. In my opinion, Belle Saison, is less than ideal. Those are the only 3 places I went.

 Okay, that's my story and all my tips!

Happy dress hunting!
<3 S (and B, L&Z send love too from Austin!)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

We Stayed (Our Big Decision)

I have mentioned before on the blog that we were facing a 40% rent increase here at our apartment. Since the summer started, we have been actively looking at rent houses (the 2 or so that are on the market), craigslist, and thinking about moving to other apartments. However, moving would involve significant costs (especially if it involved lease breaking, moving before August, which is a whole other issue), and there are very few options. In addition, all of the apartments here have a waitlist, so we would lose money paying a high month-to-month rent fee while sitting on someone's waitlist. And, the issue I mentioned last year is still the same: there are very few newer apartments here, and the apartments that are 30 years older are only charging about 300 dollars a month less.

So, we considered all options, discussed it, and decided we're content with our living situation and cannot justify the cost of paying month-to-month and waiting to see if a spot somewhere else opens OR paying an outlandish fee to break the lease and paying all new deposits, etc. to move before we leave on our big trip. Plus, moving is a hassle, and we were both happy to avoid it.

So, for another year, our first place remains home. And though we're not happy about the 40% increase, we are incredibly thankful to now both be employed full time. Having two salaries makes the increase manageable.

If you're confused as to why rent would be so outlandishly high (and yes, we're now paying more than friends in NYC, Brooklyn, or Hollywood), you should educate yourself about the current oil boom in Midland, Texas. It is certainly very interesting. Even friends in nearby Lubbock, Texas are experiencing nothing similar. It truly is an anomaly.

I did try writing a letter to the new owners of our apartments (who purchased the property in November 2011), but they were unable to offer us any help. Only an explanation that they are looking out for their investors. It all comes down to money, and believe me, there are many people here who have no problem paying. The other apartments here are all doing the same thing.

So, there's our story. For now, we're focusing on all the things we like. As Brendan put it, this is our best option, and frankly, we're thankful that staying was even an option we could entertain.

Here's to focusing on the positive,
<3 S, B, L&Z

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Little Brother

Happy 23rd birthday to my younger brother and only sibling, Graham!

1990-Graham at age 1, Stacy at age 4

Graham, you have brought so much joy to my life. Once I actually learned your name (and stopped calling you "that baby") I realized how awesome it was to have a sibling, and specifically, you. 
Graham (4?) Stacy (7?)
Thanks for being my number one buddy growing up. I have so many unforgettable memories of long summer days spent swimming, turning the couch into the "Back to the Future" vehicle we secretly knew it was, and basically taking the world head on. You were very brave (thank God you had a cautious big sister, or we'd both be dead--seriously, I totally saved you from drowning once!)

5 and 8 here? On my Dad's boat
Remember that time we saw Jurassic Park by ourselves at ages 5 and 8? That was awesome. Also, thanks for loving me despite all my bad haircuts.

12 and 15 here, days before my snowmobile accident 
As we grew up, you proved to be a most loyal friend. You definitely make me braver. And though we're really different people, you're the only person that really understands where I'm coming from.

Ages 14 and 17
I have many more embarrassing photos in addition to these that I've chosen for publication, just remember that, m'kay ;)

Mother's Day 2010, ages 20 and 23 here
Now that we're grown up, and you live in California, I really miss you! Sorry that I would never buy you beer when you were underage...I was afraid of breaking the law :(

Christmas 2010, ages 24 and 21
I am very proud of you! You have finished college, started a business, and you are not afraid to live life the way you want to. You are probably one of the most well traveled 23 year olds ever.

Graham and his girlfriend, Maise, before leaving for India, Feb. 2011
 But most of all, I am proud of your kindness. You once gave all the money you were planning to use at Kinkos to make your college art portfolio to a man who had just lost his job at H.E.B. 
Thanksgiving 2010 
And when I first introduced Brendan to the family, you made him feel really welcomed. I've never seen anyone so excited about gaining a brother-in-law. 

December 2011, 25 and 22 here. 
Thanks for being everything you are :) And thanks for letting me do your hair this way. I love you! 

<3 Stacy

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Engagement Gifts

First of all, happy Father's day to all you Dads out there. Here is a piece I wrote for my Dad last year. I also have a future father-in-law this year, so happy Father's day to both Tom and Tim!

Here in the desert, we're just being lazy today. I wanted to share some pictures of the engagement gifts I gave Brendan. Did you know it is customary to give your husband-to-be an engagement present? While I didn't think I could find anything as grand as the ring he gave me, it's the thought that counts, right?

It was hard to find just the right thing. I wanted something that would be really personal and also something that Brendan would like. I found a photographer in Lubbock (while visiting my friend Em) that made friend Erica once gave me one of these with my initials, so I knew what they were. Brendan loves photography, and even better, I was able to pick each picture from a selection of 50+ photos for each letter. It was a project, but I felt like it came out really nicely. The E is reminiscent of old signs, which Brendan loves. The G is the end of a park bench, which felt so fitting because we fell in love taking walks to different parks in Lake Charles. The A and N are bits of fence post (behind the N there is a deer, but you can't see it so well in this picture) that remind me of Midland, where we live now. I had the photographer frame it in a basic black mat and frame; Brendan says he loves it. I also wrote him a sweet note about how I'm so excited that we're going to be a family.

Sorry for the ceiling fan reflection, we've already hung it in the living room. 
Some people have asked me if I'm taking his last name. This is a personal decision for every woman, but I decided I will change my name. My maiden name will become my new middle name (I believe, legally, in Texas, I can only have 3 names, so my current middle name will be legally dropped, but of course, I'll never forget it!) I'll still feel very connected to my family and my identity (plus, to me, identity is how you think of yourself, a very personal/non-tangible idea). By keeping my maiden name in the middle, I really feel I will have the best of both worlds. I haven't decided if I will continue to publish under my maiden name, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there (and hopefully, I'll get there). To me, changing my name just feels right. Brendan honestly has no preference either way, and I made the decision on my own. I don't even remember a big discussion.

I've always loved monograms, so taking his last name has definitely given me an all new excuse to have fun with personalization. I tried not to go too overboard with it on the registries. As a little addition to Brendan's engagement present, I made these wine glass charms:

E is for Egan :) 
I was quite proud of my creativeness, and Brendan liked them too. So, there you have it, his engagement gifts. Did you get your future husband an engagement pressent?

Happy day & happy Father's day!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Clouds in Our Skies

Yesterday, we headed out for a day trip to Balmorhea State Park for some swimming and sun. We packed up the car, drove over 2 hours, and just when we arrived...clouds over the entire park. We still laid out in our swimsuits, but in the middle of June, in the middle of the desert, it was...windy and cold (the irony!) We read by the pool, and after a couple of hours, gave up and headed to dinner at the one restaurant in town. Our food took over an hour and a half, and people who came in after us got their food, ate, and finished before our food even arrived. Still, all we could do really was laugh...and enjoy the drive home. We really had no place to be, and sometimes, it is so freeing to just not be in any rush.

Even though our plans didn't work out perfectly, we had the whole day just to talk, and there was something quite perfect about that. The change of scenery was still nice, and Balmorhea is a beautiful little town. We decided if we stay in Midland long term, we'd need to get a cabin or something.

We came home to even more good news: Brendan had a poem accepted to Crab Orchard Review! Check out our Publications tab for more info. I am super proud of him.

Looks like our weekend is off to a good start. Now, if only we can motivate ourselves to clean. Remember when I wrote that we had hired a cleaning lady? For some reason, she only came 3 times, and then we never heard from her again. We aren't too disappointed because we have plenty of time to clean ourselves this summer, but it was nice while it lasted.

Hope your skies are cloud free too!
<3 S, B, L&Z 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Desert Miracle

Last night, Brendan and I went to the drive in to check out Prometheus and Men in Black 3. I love the drive in. It is romantic, fun, AND a great deal (two movies for $7.00 per person). We had an extra special show because there was wind and lightening for hours last night. We were cuddled up in the back of Brendan's station wagon and it felt like we were experiencing Prometheus. Then, it rained some, and we watched through the back window for a little while. Rain is such a rarity in Midland, so it was exciting; a true desert miracle.

Prometheus was good and entertaining. It wasn't as good as the original Alien movie, but what could be? I would still recommend it. Men in Black 3 is totally cheesy, but also fun. I wouldn't pay normal evening show prices to go, but if you can catch a matinee, why not?

Unsure if you have a drive-in in your area? Check out this database. You might be surprised. Even Austin has a drive-in. 

Summer around here has been low key this week. Just the way we like it!

Hope you get some miracles of your own!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Friday, June 8, 2012

Full Time Summering

Brendan and I have been on full time summer schedule this week. So far, I'd say things are going well. We are writing, working out everyday (Mon.-Thurs. when the gym is open that is), going to the pool, reading, and cooking and eating good food. I also managed to finish the 40 hour online component of my TESOL class, so my updated 100-hour certificate is on its way, yippee! Summer so far is everything that we wanted it to be! Of course, we also must reconcile that summer is always shorter than it seems. Primarily because there are so many things we want to accomplish with the time. And, no matter how productive you manage to be, there is always the feeling that you could be doing more.

Yesterday, we went to the bookstore:

I researched and found that the best way to get the best prices on your honeymoon is to book as early as possible. We're thinking Hawaii, and though it is literally too far in advance to book hotels or airfare (we need to get to that one year ahead mark), we are doing some research to figure out which islands we most want to visit. So far, we're thinking Maui (I've been there once with family, Brendan hasn't) and The Big Island (neither of us has been). Hawaii lovers and recent travelers to the islands, your thoughts?

We think Hawaii will make for a perfect honeymoon destination. Beautiful beaches for the beach bum in me, and tons to do (hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, exploring, etc.) for the adventurous Brendan (and yes, I'll happily do adventure too, just like I know he'll do some reading by the ocean with me :). Plus, I remember visiting Hawaii at 17 with my family and thinking this is the most romantic place ever...

And now, back to reality.

I'm so excited for this weekend. I'll be having a girls' weekend with my friend Emily in Lubbock. I'm super excited to see her and just catch up. We've been planning this weekend since April, but I feel like the time has just gone by SO fast, even though a lot has happened between now and then.

Em and Me :)
Well, I'm off to pack! Happy weekend everyone.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Garden Pasta Shells & Homemade Vegetarian Ragout Sauce

This recipe is so delicious! I was THRILLED with the results and so happy that we had leftovers. I knew that we had to share it immediately.

The sauce recipe requires a food processor. For Christmas, Brendan and I got a food processor/blender, and if you do not have one, I highly recommend it as an investment in your kitchen. Take a look around, because you can find decent prices.

Vegetarian Ragout Sauce Recipe: 

In a food processor, use the low pulse setting to mince 1 onion, 1 yellow squash, 1 zucchini, and several cloves of garlic. (We have also had great success adding 3 carrots and 2 stems of celery minced to the mix).

Empty contents (you will have to do this 2 or 3 times before it is all said and done) into a large sauce pan.

Add 1 large can of diced tomatoes (drained).

Turn heat on medium/high.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta. For this recipe, we highly recommend using large shells (they work perfectly with the texture of the sauce).

Add: juice of 1/2 a lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and 4-5 teaspoons of sugar. Stir it all around. Continue cooking on medium high. I estimate cooking the sauce to take about 20 minutes TOTAL.

Be sure to watch the sauce, and if it starts to stick to the bottom, you need to add a little bit of water at a time and keep stirring. When excess water boils off quickly, you know the sauce is finished. NOTE: the sauce does NOT have a liquid like texture...remember, it's a Vegetarian Ragout Sauce!

Drain pasta and serve with sauce and Parmesan cheese if desired.

Pasta Shells and Homemade Vegetarian Ragout Sauce
Total Prep and Cook Time: 30 minutes wins this recipe a fast rating.
Deliciousness Factor: 5 out of 5 stars. This is my favorite pasta sauce ever! I am so spoiled now, I may never make the jar kind again. Making pasta sauce is actually less time consuming than one might originally believe. We both love how you can scoop up the sauce in the pasta shells. SO, SO good. Next time I make it, I will make a TON and freeze the leftovers--talk about even faster dinner prep. Also, it's vegan friendly, just leave off the cheese, or find a vegan cheese alternative.

Happy eating!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Happy 4th Birthday Lola and Zoe (The Cats!)

Last year on Lola and Zoe's birthday, I wrote an essay about how I got my cats and how they helped me adjust to adulthood.  This year, I'm pretty much still baffled about where the time has gone. All I can say, is that my cats are total troopers. At the end of June last year, they moved from Lake Charles to Austin, while we stayed with my parents temporarily. Then, in August, we moved them all the way west to Midland. They adjusted right away, fitting in happily in our new apartment. Many people gave me the advice not to get pets until my life was "settled." My advice? Life is short. If you want pets, there is never going to be this "perfect time" to do it. Now, my cats are just a part of our crazy life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Lola and Zoe-champions of lazing about! 
A few things I do recommend having on hand before taking the pet ownership plunge:

1.) Support from friends and/or family. When we have long breaks, like winter break and summer, the cats travel with us. Big thanks to my parents who are willing to keep them while we travel. Also, having friends that will check up on your cats for a week or so is really helpful.

2.) Money in the bank. In all seriousness, having some emergency funds is a good idea. An unexpected vet visit can set you back a few hundred dollars.

3.) Youth, time, or both. Ha! Really though, if you adopt a kitten or puppy, things won't "settle down" for about a year. Older animals might be a better match for someone with less energy or patience.

4.) A good camera to capture all the cuteness:

Happy 4th Birthday Lola and Zoe! You make our lives purr-fect :) 

<3 S&B

Monday, June 4, 2012

Teriyaki Tofu Stir-Fry

This is our first recipe to put up in 4 months! We feel guilty about that, so we promise more to follow. This recipe is entirely Brendan's creation. I didn't help with anything, so I asked him to email me the recipe in his own words, so I could add it to our collection. Enjoy this delicious meal! I know I did. 

To make sauce:

1/2 C. Soy Sauce
1/4 C. Sake
1/4 C. Honey
1/4 C. Orange Juice
1/4 C. Brown Sugar
1 tbsp. Ginger minced
1 tbsp. Garlic minced
Sriracha to taste (this is not a typical Teriyaki flavor, but I like it anyway)

Combine and boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally till it gets a little syrupy.

To make tofu:

1 1 lb. package of tofu
Teriyaki Sauce

Cut Tofu into 4 equal sized "steaks," press for 20-30 min
Marinade in Teriyaki overnight (this might seem excessive, but it ends up significantly less flavorful if you don't)

The next day....

Spread steaks on a non-stick baking sheet, reserve marinade.
Broil medium-hot 4-6 inches from heat until the edges just begin to blacken, turn and repeat (about 5-7 minutes per side, but keep an eye on it so the sugar doesn't burn)
Let cool and slice into bite sized pieces.

To stir fry:

1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Carrot
1/2 Head of broccoli
1 Tbsp Sesame oil
Veggie Stock/Water
Teriyaki (reserved from tofu)
Rice or rice noodles (prepared)
Broiled Tofu
Scallion (diced) and Sesame Seeds

Cut the veggies how you like them.
Heat oil in wok or huge skillet over high heat (I'm learning that stir fry really needs a scorching hot pan, very little liquid, and lots of movement).
Cook the veggies for 5 minutes (until "tender crisp"--what a lovely term) stirring constantly and splashing with a little stock or water a couple of times through out.
Pour in the Teriyaki, bring to a simmering boil.
Serve over rice/noodles, top with sliced tofu, garnish with scallion and sesame.

Teriyaki Tofu Stir-Fry 
Total Prep and Cook Time: Day 1 prep-10 minutes + Day 2 cooking-30 minutes, making this total recipe a fast 40 minutes!
Deliciousness Factor: the rare 5 out of 5 stars. Brendan says: "I love it. I just like the way the tofu turned out." And I loved it too! It is filling but also tastes healthy and fresh. And just look at those beautiful colors! 

Happy Stir-Frying! 
<3 S,B, L&Z 

(PS-For more great recipes, just click that L&Z in the Kitchen tab up top!)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sweet Treats

Brendan and I received quite the surprise in the mail a couple of days ago...

A whole shipment of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a congratulations on the engagement gift from his Aunt Carol and Uncle John. The shipment contained 6 amazing flavors, and the three we've tried so far have all been fantastic. This store is located in Columbus, Ohio and makes me really wish we lived there...

Just thought I'd share the sweet gift idea for anyone who is looking for the perfect way to make someone very happy this summer. 

Also, a big THANK YOU to all the blog readers. May was our biggest month ever with 1,715 page views! Thanks for sharing Lola and Zoe with your friends! 

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Brendan and I finally finished teaching our online courses. Now for 2.5 months of summer. It always seems to go by so fast, and it's such a weird experience to not be participating in the "normal" world. We have to find ways to make our own schedule and actually accomplish things. What did we do today? Cleaned the apartment from top to bottom. Tomorrow? More writing and finally returning to the gym. We have 2 recipes coming up soon: Teriyaki Tofu Stir-Fry, and the long-perfected (believe me, we've tried it so many times), BBQ Tofu. 

Stay tuned for an exciting month! 
<3 S, B, L&Z 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Some People Do

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time. It's a story about love, choices, and wanting the best for yourself, but also, it's a story about me.

And it's not an easy story to tell (the best ones never are, right?), but I think it's an important story to tell because there are a lot of women and men who could benefit from hearing it, who maybe do not have someone to tell them the most important three words my mother has ever said to me.

To start, I have to tell you about two summers ago, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was actually, well, two summers ago. I was on a cruise with my mom, a vacation that (looking back) I believe she had orchestrated just to have some time to really talk to me about what the hell was going on in my life. I had just turned 24 years old, and I was in an utterly failing relationship, the details of which are too cliche to even go into (you know, your typical mid-twenties relationship that everyone but you knows is headed nowhere good).

My mom has a degree in counseling, something she did after her PhD in education just to have what she calls "a retirement plan" (I swear, the woman has had more careers and accomplishments than anyone I know, but that's another story). Because of this, conversing with her is often a very therapeutic experience. She doesn't really give you advice, but she asks the right questions to make you see the total truth.

My mom was never going to say of my relationship "Run, run the other way!" even though that is what she was thinking and also felt was her parental responsibility to say, but I could sense her concern. I had started to become concerned myself. I wasn't happy, but I was also harboring delusions that things might somehow "work out," and all of these delusions involved this other person completely changing. Instead of just admitting it was a horrible fit, I had been trying to solve the problems on my own, though a real look around would have revealed a.) the problems were not solvable by me, though I was the only one trying to solve them and b.) they weren't my problems to solve.

And so, we were having this conversation on the balcony of the cruise ship. I'll never forget it. I described some of my concerns to my mother, and I asked her a question, I said, "I don't know, does anyone ever feel 100% sure on their wedding day?" It honestly seemed unrealistic to me. Wasn't that just too much to ask?

My mother didn't answer immediately. She has weathered two divorces (by the time she was 24, she had already been through divorce number one), and when it comes to her kids especially, I think she answers every question carefully.

What she finally said was, "Some people do." And then, she went inside.

I stayed on the balcony pretty much stunned. My mother's faith that some people can and do find the perfect fit, that a great relationship with no fears, hang-ups, hesitations, or "issues" was possible moved something in me. That moment made me examine myself totally. Here I was, 24 years old and already considering settling? I made a decision right then to end that relationship, and though I couldn't act on that decision immediately (while out of the country), it was made in my mind. I wanted that wonderful, great, healthy relationship. I wanted to not just be the person making all the effort, but to be the person (to someone else) that was worth making the effort for. I wanted my wedding day to be wonderful, to walk down the aisle with the confidence that I was doing a good thing for myself. With this person, I knew, I could never have that. To commit to that relationship would have been to commit to future divorce. I felt my insides screaming "RUN," and I did.

I wish I could say it was easy, but the truth is, even the decisions we feel most strongly about, most sure about, well, those are also some of the hardest. Ending that relationship also meant examining my life and myself in a way that was just SO uncomfortable. What kind of person was I, I wondered, to let myself stay with someone who was so obviously not right for me and not valuing me? I felt relieved, but also angry and lost. Restructuring my life in my last year of graduate school was confusing and difficult, but I was lucky and those times also reinforced so many great friendships and brought some wonderful, new friendships into my life.

And one of those great, true friends was Brendan. Brendan, who I loved long before I said it, and who held my hand on some of the tough days, when I wasn't at my best and still made me feel beautiful and, more importantly, valued. This is a man who could make me laugh, who could talk to me about interesting things for hours, and who made me feel brave. I felt so strongly with him that feeling of I have been searching for you all my life. I began to break all my own little self imposed "rules" (I'll never do a boyfriend's laundry, I'll never move for a boyfriend), my closest friends definitely noticed the huge transitions and gave me knowing smiles. What could I say? It turns out, I would do a lot for the right person. And why? Because he does so much for me too. 

I'll tell you what a well meaning friend, relative, or someone that just doesn't want to make you second guess yourself might not: A good relationship is an ongoing dance, but no one always leads or follows. You hold each other close, you're in stride, and you cover one another's mistakes. If you're in the good relationship, the thought of marrying that person makes you nothing but happy. There are no doubts, or things you wish were different about that person. In a good relationship, you take that partner by the hand, as is, and both of you let yourselves get swept away.

I'm so glad I didn't settle for anything but perfect. When I walk down the aisle, I'll be walking to meet my best friend, and no matter what else happens on that day, the fact that it is him standing there will be the only thing that truly matters.

But the reason it is happening is because someone in my life made me believe it was possible and because I believed that I deserved to feel that happy. And everyone deserves that.

So, there you have it, the best three words my mom ever said to me. Thank you, mom, for helping me to see...

Some people do.
<3 S
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