Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Perfect Start

It's been a perfect start to another nice weekend in town.

The weather here has cooled off, so we've been able to turn off the AC (finally) and enjoy the cold (41 degrees right now). Last night, we bundled up and headed to the Midland College Art Guild "Pumpkin Carving Spectacular and Stuff." I had a blast carving my pumpkin, while Brendan did most of the hard work :)

Nearing our final product: 

We came home and had a "Midterm grading party." We put on classical music, lit a candle, made some hot chocolate, and spent the night grading and complaining about our pens (I think a trip to office depot is in our near future). I am very thankful that Brendan and I both have the same career. I think most partners would find a Friday night grading party strange and annoying, but we're very used to the cycle of our lives. We know the busy times are inevitable and worth it because we will enjoy restful, long breaks later. (By the way, my countdown to Thanksgiving has definitely commenced. 3.5 weeks!)

A few hours later, after it was decided we had reached saturation with grading, (I believe I am 140 down, 35 to go--I've been working through them since last Monday), we put on Friday the 13th. Cheesey horror movies have a special place in our hearts because we started dating in October, when there was nothing but scary movies on TV. The fall and the holiday season always bring back so many great memories for me. The cats really enjoy hanging out with us while we watch movies too. It's fun to have the whole "family" cuddled up on the couch.

This morning, Brendan let me sleep in a bit, and I woke up to the sounds of him making me breakfast. We like to surprise each other by sneaking out of bed and starting breakfast. Such a nice way for the other person to wake up. These apple pancakes (or "Apple Dutch Babys") are almost ready, and boy do they smell great.

Our plans this weekend include running some errands, a halloween get together for which we have no costumes yet (see running errands), and hopefully, doing a major overhaul revision on my story while Brendan works on a paper for a conference that takes place in a week and a half.

It sure was nice to get "A Perfect Start" on it all.

What did your "perfect start" look like this weekend?
<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Small Successes

I had a good day today, but it's not that anything so remarkable happened, it was just my attitude about the everyday normal stuff.

When my alarm went off at 6am, I managed to sleep for 20 minutes through snooze...oops, I had to shower fast and rush out the door, but I didn't feel frazzled by it. I enjoyed my 45 minute drive to work and didn't worry about anything. I sang along with the radio and watched the sun come up.

After successfully navigating 60 students through library tours (with the help of the librarian), I answered about 30 student emails and graded a few papers. Then, I drove back home to meet a friend for lunch.

Brendan and I hit the grocery store, a task I usually find annoying thanks to our overcrowded HEB, the one good grocery store in town, but today, I didn't mind it at all. I loved all the fall selection: tons of apples and big pumpkins. I felt relieved when we stocked up, and not even perturbed that we had to go to the gym so late.

When the weight room was crowded, I wasn't bothered in the slightest, and instead, took the opportunity to ask for some much needed help with my lifting.

When we got home, I was tired, but I folded laundry while Brendan prepped dinner, and then took over dinner while he showered. I even called my Dad just to check in. After dinner, we had a dishwasher to unload, and a sink full of dishes, but it all got done.

I watched a little TV and graded a few more papers. When I was burnt out, I stopped. I didn't grade enough, but it will do, and I'm not in the mood to overly push myself; after all, I've graded 115 of these and there's only so much one person can do in a day.

It was a good day. I didn't let anything damper my mood, and I didn't worry about all the to-dos. Somehow, they all got done. I only have the energy left over to write these simple sentences...but you get the idea. Celebrate the small successes, right? Your days and weeks will go by regardless, so you might as well have a good outlook on even the "to do list days," days where it's all you can do to get the basics taken care of.

From the number of typos in this post, I can tell I'm exhausted, so goodnight blog readers!

Here's to starting tomorrow with the right mind set.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Unplanned Weekend

We've had a crazy fall, and the semester is only 1/2 way over. In 8 weeks, we've had 2 different weekend visits with out of town friends (Tony & Erica), been to Philadelphia for a wedding, I flew to Austin to see my family, I was a bridesmaid in a wedding in upstate New York, and we traveled to New Mexico together to celebrate two years of dating. Up next, a trip to San Antonio for a conference (in 2.5 weeks), followed by celebrating Thanksgiving in Austin with my family (in 4.5 weeks). Those will be our last two trips before Fall semester ends, so, in the coming weeks, we're finally getting some much needed weekend downtime.

So, this weekend, we made very specific plans: we made no plans.

The result? A perfect weekend. We've graded, worked out, seen movies, read for fun, watched football, cooked tons, caught up with family, and I finally logged some very important writing hours (even staying up until after 3am last night to finish a draft--it felt good). We've been productive, and even wasted some time too. Sometimes, you just need the unplanned weekend. Make no plans, and see where it goes. If you're anything like us, you will find it truly refreshing.

Life gets too hectic. To-do lists get made and never finished, there is always someone to see and some place to be, but sometimes, you just have to give yourself permission to see where things go, instead of trying to control what happens. I feel like I was surprisingly productive, but also way more relaxed. It's getting to that "crunch point" in the semester as we head into week 9 tomorrow. Brendan and I go into pure paper grading frenzy survival mode. I'm a little frightened, but I know I'll deal with it as it comes, and luckily, there will be two more weekends following this one to refuel.

Here's to your next unplanned weekend! Up next: We might try the unplugged weekend.
<3 S, B, L&Z

Saturday, October 20, 2012

When In: Carlsbad, New Mexico

Last weekend, we took a 2 year anniversary trip to Carlsbad, NM. It made me a little sad to think this is our last time celebrating this "anniversary," but I'm also happy we'll have a wedding anniversary, and we decided since October is such a beautiful month here in west Texas, we'll just keep taking October trips anyway!

We stayed in a beautiful little hotel called The Trinity. It used to be an old bank, and now it is restored and has 9 rooms. We were more than happy with the accommodations, especially the bathroom! We also enjoyed free coffee and pastries in the mornings, which were amazing, and free wine tasting and appetizer on Saturday. I bought Brendan four bottles of the wine for his anniversary gift (he gave me a lovely pair of citrine earrings).

We had a wonderful meal on Friday night at the Trinity Hotel restaurant. We were all dressed up, but of course, I didn't get pictures, fail. However, the meal was perfect; They even gave us free dessert! It was a rainy night, so we made ourselves comfortable at the hotel.

The rest of our weekend weather was spectacular. We woke up early on Saturday and headed to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  We did a 4.2 mile hike on "Devil's Hall Trail." It was very rocky, and mostly void of other visiters. We enjoyed it a lot, but were very tired at the end.

We found some prickly pears, which Brendan could not contain himself from eating...the pricklies stayed on his tongue for 24 hours! Our hike was so beautiful and colorful. October is definitely a nice month here! 

We finally made it to Devi's Hall: 

That night, after clean up and wine tasting, we ate a great dinner at a place called YellowBrix right near our hotel. They had live music and delicious food, and we enjoyed eating outside, as it was a nice evening for it.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast, and then headed out to Carlsbad Caverns. We had no reservations (they had sold out days before when I first thought to look), but luckily, someone had canceled their tour, so we were able to buy tickets for the Kings Palace tour. It was pretty awesome!

We had a blast on our fun weekend away! New Mexico was definitely on our list of places we wanted to visit, so we're really glad we checked this out.

Here are some of our other getaways close to Midland:

Fort Davis, Marfa, Alpine, Balmorhea (TX)
Monahans, Alpine & Big Bend National Park (TX) 

Happy Trails to You!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book I Read in September

Honesty Disclosure: I started this book in JULY and finished October 5th. As my brother (who gave me the book for my birthday) said "What's with your slow reading lately?"

It's just been that kind of year lately. We were on vacation the second 1/2 of July through the first 1/2 of August, then I started the new job the day after we got home, and since then, I've had 174 students to keep track of. Needless to say, my reading time is limited from what it was.

However, this book is an absolute gem, and I'm really excited to share it.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman 

This book is for all of the Harry Potter fans who are now "grown ups." Let me reiterate that: this book is NOT appropriate (in any way) for children. This is Harry Potter with adult content and situations. The book is about a loner and somewhat social outcast, Quentin Coldwater, who is accepted to a college for real magic. After spending most of his life obsessed with a children's fantasy novel about a magical world (like Narnia), Quentin feels like Brakebills Academy has offered him the "out" he has always dreamed of. At school, Quentin does all the things a normal teenager would do: his education in magic is mixed with one in sex, drinking, and navigating relationships. However, unlike Harry Potter (which is delightfully referenced), Grossman's book offers us insight into not just the physical dangers of magic, but the practical ones as well. If everything is so easy (and here there are no rules about not using magic in the "real world,") where does life's purpose come from? After school, Quentin and his friends find themselves in New York City, where they struggle to make meaning of their existence. Unfortunately, the ultimate "purpose" they find leads them to much despair, but the Magicians is a joy ride for the reader. It is fitting that it took me nearly 3 months to read this book, because the novel takes place over a period of years and years. Parts of it are "slow," but the whole read is totally enjoyable. I might even pick up the sequel (or maybe wait for Graham to get it for me for Christmas?)

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it for any adults looking for a book that is fantastical and fun, while still maintaining much "at stake." The characters feel very real, and it's easy to both love and loathe them at different points. Graham, who has also read and enjoyed the book, definitely picked a winner for me.

Happy page turning!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Friday, October 12, 2012

So We Kissed: Two Years With My Best Friend

Two years ago, I kissed my best friend, and today we're celebrating the best two years of our lives.

It seems hard to believe that it has been a year since I wrote these words recounting the beginning of our relationship:
"So we kissed. Without knowing where it would lead, with no guarantees that things would work out. We both took that risk of trusting the other person. It isn't an easy thing to do. I was scared, but also so happy. I knew how I wanted things to work out, but I could only hope that Brendan wanted the same things."-From One Year With My Best Friend 
In Brendan, I have found unconditional love, my better half, and my partner in "so much fun, it's criminal." He truly keeps me balanced and sane, and I am so thankful for him every day. We have a perfect equality in our relationship, and a mutual respect and appreciation for one another. I look forward to all the celebrations that the rest of our lives will bring, and I can't wait to marry him in less than 9 months. We are going to become a family and join each other's families. The love and joy in my life has doubled because of Brendan, and I am so grateful for all the relationships and people he has brought to my life.

I'm not much for taking risks, but I am one to follow my intuition. I realized that I was in love with Brendan one night at a smokey bar in Lake Charles the summer before we started dating. We were out with a group, but spent the whole night talking only to each other. As I watched him walk home that night, I felt a complete and total sadness that we were not emotions, everything felt complicated; I knew what I had to do as a result of my feelings and a million other reasons, but also knew that it might be too late for us. It took me a few months to get to a place where I could be more than a friend, (and a few months for Brendan to be there too), and it felt confusing, scary, and crazy for a while there. And it was. But maybe everything great starts that way. I don't know, but I knew he was someone special, and our lives changed that day that we took our very first step towards being us.

I think in that moment of our first kiss, I knew that our lives wouldn't always be perfect, or easy, but I also hoped that in each other, we had found the person to go through it all with. For us, falling in love happened over a period of two and a half years. I loved Brendan for everything he was as a friend, long before those afternoons we spent holding hands. And I think that's what made our relationship work out...before any of it started, we had already found that we loved one another for not an idea of who we wanted each other to be, not because of infatuation, but genuinely for who the other person was. I wouldn't change anything about it. When I look at Brendan, I see someone who sees my true self...and loves me for all of the great things, and in spite of all of the flaws. I feel the same way about him, and I feel so lucky that we're going to spend our lives together.

We're off to New Mexico today for a weekend of exploring and resting. We love celebrating with an adventure...but we also packed some champagne.

Simply said, I love you, Bren. You took my hand and the whole world lit up, and every day has been brighter ever since.
<3 Stacy

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lauren and Steve's Wedding

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When it comes to my friends, "there ain't no mountain high enough." I traveled 2,000 miles this weekend to be a bridesmaid in my friend Lauren's wedding. We met as freshman in college and have been close friends ever since. Highlights of our friendship: sharing a room the size of an actual closet, Lauren letting me crash at her apartment for a summer internship, and Lauren renting a car and driving from New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana to come see me during graduate school (now that is dedication). We have many great memories together, so it was an emotional day, as I watched my friend say "I do" to Steve. Since the two met in February 2011, they have brought so much happiness to one another.

Here are some highlights from the big day:

Lauren before the first dance. All smiles and so happy :)

With my friends Cheryl and Tara, also great friends from college. Love these ladies, and loved hanging out with them all weekend. It was so fun to all be bridesmaids together.

Lauren was a stunning bride. Her and Steve cut their beautiful cake with a cake cutter that was given to Lauren by her grandmother and used in her grandmother's wedding.

Lauren loved that veil. This is a shot of the groom, Steve.

What a special day! It was totally worth all the traveling all day Friday and Monday.

Now that I'm home (as of 10:30pm last night), I dove full force into the work week. I woke up at 6am this morning to teach my 8am class. All is well in week 7 of the semester...when I got home, I went to the gym with Brendan, and now, I'm doing laundry/preparing to grade while he cooks dinner. It's just another crazy week as we prepare to leave for New Mexico on Friday (seriously!).

Lauren and Steve's wedding marks the end of our 2012 weddings: we've seen four couples tie the knot this year: Kelsey and Amir (March in Austin), Jack and Becky (July in Washington, D.C.), Julie and Dave (September in Philly), and Lauren and Steve (October in Skaneateles, NY). All of the weddings have been perfect and great fun. Goodbye wedding season 2012. Its been fun!

Here's to the wedding celebrations of 2012!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We $tarted $aving!

Remember when I mentioned exciting plans for October? Well, one of the exciting things was that I got paid for the very first time yesterday as a full time, salaried position employee (after 9 years of jobs as a part time employee, intern, graduate student, and adjunct, this meant a lot to me).

I knew immediately what priority number one was: a savings account for Brendan and I.

You see, last year, Brendan and I were able to move here without going into debt because of generous help from our families. We flourished for a year with what we called a job and a half by trying our best to live at or under our means (and also thanks to more reasonable housing costs in Midland during the 2011-2012 year).

We lived a quality life last year, but we never had much extra at the end of the month. Since we didn't want to cut out on traveling or doing the things that were fun and important to us, we lived pay period to pay period, knowing that if there were any emergencies, we'd need help from our families, or we'd need a credit card.

Thankfully, there were no such emergencies, and we did fine last year. I should point out that at this time, our joint income was still greater than the joint income in the average American household. Many people manage to live on far less, and I have total respect for them. We would never think of last year as being a "hardship," and that is definitely not the attitude that I want to convey here; however, we did not have a financial "safety net."

So today, we went to the bank. We each set aside 10% of our take home income into a joint savings account and pledged to do the same at the beginning of each month from here on out. The account will not be earning great interest (no surprise), and eventually, we'll need to find a smarter way to invest our money, but for now, the point is this: by setting aside the money and not spending it, we are creating a safety net for ourselves should we need it. We also put an engagement gift into the account (that I have been saving since July) and have promised ourselves that any money we are gifted for our wedding will also go into the savings account, as we can think of no better use for it than helping us to build a smarter financial future.

I have been looking forward to this day for months, maybe even a whole year (yes, you read this right, and yes, I know that says something about my personality), so I thought once we opened the account, we'd celebrate with frozen yogurt. However, I was absolutely dead tired. I celebrated with a mega nap instead (I've been finding that I have less energy at the beginning of the work week lately).

We're very excited though, see exhibit A:

Okay, I made him smile for this picture.

We made a positive step today, and we'll definitely celebrate by toasting with our boxed wine tonight. Because, well, going out to eat tonight would just feel counter-productive.

So there you have it, our savings plan. I highly recommend starting one, whenever one finds that that becomes a possibility. It is a good feeling. Put away whatever you can afford to, and if you can't save now, make concrete plans for when you'd like to start. Once you set a personal goal with yourself, I think it is much easier to follow through.

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