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

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sun is Up!

Wow, another work week begins. I really enjoyed waking up to a sunny room. It made me want to immediately get out of bed rather than snuggle under the covers. I'm starting off the day right with a smoothie (1/2 frozen banana, handful of frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup of apple juice, and a few heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt).

This weekend was pretty low key. Brendan worked on his paper, and I accomplished some household tasks and did some relaxing between paper grading rounds (The next batch starts coming in on Friday). We did do a couple of fun things: One, my friend Kristen hosted a Day of the Dead party on Friday night, which was a blast, and two, we watched the movie In Bruges. The film was written/directed by Martin McDonagh, whose plays we've had the pleasure of seeing at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, Texas. The film was a very dark comedy, but we both enjoyed it (though I did close my eyes at some parts).

I know this next week will be crazy because we're flying to San Antonio on Wednesday night. I'm excited, but also know there's a lot I need to get situated before I go.

Another thing I'm excited about: our wedding is exactly 8 months from today :) That still seems like a long time, but when I think that when we started this process it was 13 and 1/2 months away, I really do feel like time is going fast.

In addition to the tasks mentioned here, here, and here, we've picked bridesmaid dresses (and all bridesmaids have placed their orders), the suits are starting to come in and be picked up by groomsmen, we've booked most all of our honeymoon (more details to come), hair and make-up is booked for me, bridesmaids, and mothers, we've booked a videographer (something I wasn't sure about, but decided to go for because my grandmother may not be able to actually be at our wedding, as it is hard for her to travel). We've also taken care of some little tasks, like ordering some personalized items for the reception and return address labels.

There is a still much to do, but I feel like we're at a good point. Some people have asked why I don't blog more about the wedding. Honestly, besides updates every now and then or areas where I really feel I can give advice (recent topics include engagement photos, registries, and wedding dress shopping), there isn't a whole lot to say. I'm very excited (believe me, I know the daily countdown), but I don't want to make the wedding the focus of my life (until the month before, ha). Right now, I'm focusing on everything that's in front of me: my career, the upcoming holidays, and just enjoying the present and staying active in it (easier said than done). However, I'm always open to taking specific topic suggestions via email.

Anyway, time to get working! Good thing I have miss Zoe curled up next to me.
Here's to your week!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Pumpkin Seed Roasting Kinda Day

Happy extra hour day! I love daylight savings time for two reasons: 1.) I won't have to drive to work on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the pitch black darkness anymore and 2.) I get an extra hour on my weekend. Everyone always craves an extra hour and this is the one time we actually get it.

So, how did I use my extra hour? I tackled a project I've felt like I never "have time" for.

I had Brendan cut open our two pumpkins, so I could roast us some delicious pumpkin seeds. He seemed happy enough for an excuse to take a break from working on his paper. I made the oven a little too hot, and so some of the seeds were crispier than I wanted, but overall, not bad for a novice. I seasoned with: olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, and onion powder.

In a little bit, I'm going to brave a trip alone out to the grocery store. I have big plans for tonight's dinner. My other plans include laundry and napping; Ahhh, it's nice to be at home on the weekend!

Brendan and I donated to the American Red Cross yesterday. These images from the storm are very jarring. We hope that others will donate if they can. We've had many inquiries about the safety of Brendan's family: thankfully, all are fine (there were power outages and damaged possessions, but everyone is safe). My many friends in New York are all physically fine as well.

Stay safe everyone & enjoy your extra hour!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Books I Read in October

It feels good to write books plural this month! My selections were pretty easy to get through. The first book I read was:

 The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin 

I bought this book in the airport on the way home from Lauren's wedding, and read most of it on my three flights. The book was easy reading and kept me entertained. I won't lie, it is easy to both like and dislike this book. On the one hand, the book inspired me to think about my own life and little changes I could make in the name of self-improvement, on the other hand, the problem with Rubin's book is that it is very personal to herself and her situation, making it not as useful as it could be for readers, and as Brendan argued, some of her ideas are nonsensical/unhelpful (I think Brendan sees the entire book as self important and unnecessary, but he hasn't actually read feelings on that debate are too complex to go into). I personally enjoyed the chapters on boosting energy (1), lightening up (4), buying some happiness (7), and pursuing passions (9)...the other eight chapters, I didn't find as interesting or helpful. I sometimes became bored with Rubin's examples, and from the description on the back of the book, I thought she was going to test more age old theories about the ways in which "happiness" (such an abstract concept) works. However, I'm still glad I read this book because it did inspire me to find more time for the things that were truly important to me (writing, working out)...I also thought the book had some nice little tips about how to be better to your partner and family. Maybe, the best part about it is that reading about someone that is evaluating her life and making changes causes one to evaluate his or her life actively, something I think everyone could use more of. Overall, my advice is check out the happiness project blog. It has a lot of the same ideas, only you don't have to pay $14.99 for them (but if you're in an airport bookstore in Syracuse with limited options and 11 hours of travel time ahead of you, then go for it).

The next book I read was:

Feed by M.T. Anderson 

Okay, so my friend Rather had recommended this book to me years ago (I am a sci-fi and young adult novel lover, so it totally fits in with my interests), however, I totally forgot about the recommendation. Enter my 26th birthday present from Brendan: A beautiful sushi set and two YA novels (this is the other one).  I quickly devoured Feed, a sci-fi dystopia (honestly, Atwood's "speculative fiction" label seems fitting here) about a world in which most people have feeds installed in their brains, which serve all modern day purposes of Internet & television, but also help regulate or "enhance" normal functions of the human brain. The book's central character is Titus, a teenage boy who is a typical representation of his obviously obnoxious and hopeless generation. When Titus and his friends take a spring break trip to the moon (yes, I know, I loved that too), they cross paths with a young woman named Violet and a feed hacker, and Titus's life is forever changed. Feed is honestly the most disturbing book I have read since Room. I mean, seriously, I was FLOORED by the ending of this novel. It was just so horrific to read about this awful society where humans are literally only valued as consumers and where one's life, essentially, depends on his or her ability to buy, buy, buy. The line by line writing is nothing fancy here, but the plot is wholly interesting, however, some may be literally too disgusted by the main character's personality (a total product of his environment) to proceed. However, I am a big fan of this book...I had more empathy for Titus than revulsion.

In Other News:

Much of my family is gathered in La Marque, Texas this weekend to celebrate my Mimi's 95th birthday (which is on Wednesday). After skyping with them, I felt totally sad I'm not there. However, cooking this delicious dish and serving it with leftovers from last night (bow tie pasta with pesto, tomato, and green peas) cheered me up. I also treated myself to a mani/pedi earlier today, which felt great after the crazy busy month that was October. Plus, it helps to know I'll see my family (well, some of them anyways) in just 2 and 1/2 short weeks for Thanksgiving. Brendan has been working on his conference paper all day. We're looking forward to going to San Antonio on Wednesday for the SCMLA (South Central Modern Language Association) conference (but both a little nervous about how chairing our panels and giving our presentations will go).

We hope you enjoy October's book selections and wish you happy reading! We're settling in for a quiet night of reading and writing.

<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Reflections on Things That Make Me Happy :)

October has come and gone...and what a great month it was. We started a savings account, I was a bridesmaid in my friend Lauren's wedding, Brendan and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary of dating, and we got into the halloween holiday spirit.

Dressed up for Halloween party last weekend: Skeleton and a Rabbit 
I also graded 175 midterm papers in the past two weeks. WOW! It felt like a huge accomplishment, as I have never had that many papers to grade in one "round," and I'm proud to say that no student waited more than two weeks to find out his or her grade :) Just call me super Professor!

In other professional accomplishments, Brendan and I gave a reading at Midland College this past Tuesday. Brendan read poetry, and I read a short story. We had a turn out of about 70 faculty, staff, and students, and we were very happy and honored to be asked to read. There was food and refreshments provided and a jazz band that played before the readings. We extend much thanks to Dr. Diane Allen for planning the event and to all that attended (and also to the jazz band under the direction of Mr. Raybon Bwley).

I wrote a new short story for this event, and that was a great feeling. I always feel like I can't write during the hectic schedule of the semester, but now I know it's not true. Not only did I write the story (and revise many times--a big thanks to Bren for his insightful comments), but I didn't fall behind on any of my grading or teaching. By working harder during the weeks, I was able to take off the weekends to work on my own writing. This realization has increased my happiness tenfold!

All set up for the event
Now that it is November, the months of giving thanks, I've already found much to be happy about in just this first day of the month:

  • Today was payday, and now that we've both been paid for the month, I was able to pay off credit cards, contribute to savings, and pay our rent. Doing these tasks makes me feel empowered because I know we are making responsible decisions about our spending. Also, every time I pay a bill, instead of looking at it negatively, I think about it positively and feel thankful that we can afford a place to live, etc.
  • Even though I wasn't feeling 100% yesterday or today (sinus pressure headache stuff), I still stuck with my workout schedule (which has me working out 4-5 times a week). I did my new workout schedule the entire month of October (worked out twice a week during the month of September)...I am so proud of myself and cannot wait to share the results after I finish stage one of my plan (there are 7 stages). My goal is to be fit and fabulous on our wedding day, and I feel well on my way!
  • Today, our cleaning service came. Since we both started working full time, they have been coming every other week. This has been a wonderful thing for us; they do a great job, and I notice that we have more time to spend together. The apartment also looks cleaner than we can ever seem to get it ourselves. As a final bonus, coming home to a clean place just makes me feel wonderfully happy and relaxed!
  • I read two books in the month of October, and I'm looking forward to writing reviews on them.
  • I had a department meeting with my colleagues today, and I really like working with them all and am excited about some initiatives we are taking to improve the English department. 
As you can see, overall, October was incredibly productive and my November is off to a great start. I attribute much of this to being able to adjust to the semester and my new job, and tactics that gave me more energy in general: getting plenty of sleep, eating right (and lots of protein), and taking vitamin B12 (I'm serious, I believe it has made a difference). I also think another secret to our success is that Brendan and I are productive together. We encourage each other to work, write, grade, and rest and have fun too. We take turns cooking healthy meals, and we let each other rest when needed (our schedules are quite different this semester).

What made you happy in October & what are you thankful for or looking forward to in November?
Here's to that!
<3 S, B, L&Z
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