A BLOG ABOUT A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spring is Beautiful!

Well, it's been a rough couple of weeks over here since we returned from spring break. Mostly, this is just a chaotic and busy time in the semester. Luckily, Easter break is around the corner, and with it, promise that I can restore my sanity just enough to make it through the end of the spring semester :). Spring is my favorite season. It is ultra beautiful! Don't you think? Here are a few ways we've enjoyed spring lately:


Sweet Brendan brought home flowers last night. I love yellow, so bright and cheerful :)


My friend, Jennifer, told me that HEB sushi was pretty darn good and they make it fresh in the store daily! Brendan and I picked up 3 types with 9 rolls each for about $20.00. We paired it with sake that we had at home and edamame. For a cute date night, we enjoyed it all on our balcony while watching a lovely sunset. Wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce included, but don't forget to ask for chop sticks, or you'll find yourself using straws like us. I sense this will turn into a spring ritual for us!

In other spring news, I got my first sunburn last weekend. Yikes, remind me NEVER to not use sunscreen again, and let me share some Sunburn Tips with you.

Use Vitimin C Creme on a burn every morning and night and it will disappear quickly!



Use Apple Cider Vinegar (add 1 cup to lukewarm bath) to take the sting out of sunburn.

Now you know!

Lastly, for the ladies, Sephora is having a spring sale! Enter code Chic and save 15% now through April 5th. Also, free shipping on $50.00 or more of goodies. And just when I had been waiting for an excuse to use my giftcard from X-mas! Reviews to come on 2 products I'm particularly excited to try. Book review for March coming soon as well!

Well, I'm off to celebrate the weekend: A birthday party, a BBQ (I'm bring my own tofu...fingers crossed?), an art show, and fun times ahead! Better wake Brendan from his siesta! It sure is quiet around here since the cats are sleeping too.

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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Living in the Present (Mostly)

No one is perfect and everyone has their own challenges. For me, my challenge is living in the present. I often imagine that the past was easier and think/stress over what the future will bring. For me, a few key things help me control my tendency to stray from the present and help make life more enjoyable in the process. I thought I would share my strategies. Of course, I'm still not perfect, but it's a start.

Track the Past 

It's normal human nature to remember only the best parts of your life, forgetting all your stresses and worries. Blogging and journaling are a great solution because they allow you to physically look back at your life and remember that no time has ever been perfect. Whenever I'm tempted to think "life used to be easier," a few clicks of my blog reminds me that this time last year, I was still stressing over finishing my thesis. Sure, I may have traded that stress for publication stress, but it doesn't mean worrying about the thesis felt any less significant at the time. There will always be a balance of positive and negative in our lives, and the sooner we realize that, the better off we are. Keeping a journal or a blog allows you to physically interact with your own past without getting consumed by it. I still read my journals from college and laugh now at the things I used to think about.


Everyday-Create Something to Look Forward to 

Whether it's watching a movie with Brendan, cooking dinner, getting a massage, attending yoga class, writing, or just taking a nice bath, I always plan something to look forward to. I think about this little thing all day long, and it really inspires me to stay focused on the day. At work, I set attainable goals and complete them, so I always feel like I've "earned" what I'm looking forward to. I am a big fan of to-do lists, as long as the list stays focused to the day at hand.

Dream


Everyone has dreams, and I used to be afraid to verbalize mine because I didn't know if they would come true. It's okay to write down or communicate what you want for the future, just don't spend much of your present thinking about the future. Writing down what we want helps us realize what we can and cannot control (a trick my friend Corley says is key). So, if you have control over some aspect of your future, take action. If you don't have control, accept that. Do what you can and leave the rest to life. Whether you believe there is some master plan or not, you aren't in charge of everything, so you'll have to learn to cope!

Feel Good Now 


What are you doing right NOW to make yourself feel good about the present? Answer that question honestly. Thanks to my friend, Jennifer, I picked up some vitamin B-12 and have been taking that everyday. I also have been focused on eating healthy-lots of veggies, water, small meals, and snacks in between. I could do even better with exercise, so I'll attend yoga tonight. I'm going to start watching my alcohol intake (2 glasses of wine can leave me useless by 9pm, not cool). I've got a good book to read, which is essential to being able to unwind (for me). I'm working on a creative project (a music bio for my friend Corley), which I'll complete by the week's end. So answer these questions for yourself, are you really doing all you can? If not, make some small changes that make the present a happier place for you.

Positive Planning

It's okay to think about the future, but only in a positive way. Stressing about the future is not worth your time because you cannot control it, but planning things to look forward to (things you can control) is worth your time. Things I'm looking forward to next month: Brendan's parents visiting us, going to Lake Charles, LA for the 30th anniversary of our M.F.A. program, and Amy Fleury (poet/MFA program director from McNeese) coming to Midland for a reading/contest judging (I think our friends the Shews might come too). When I think about these aspects of the future, I feel happy.

Things Are Good Now 


All of the above strategies are good, but this may be the most important one. Write down 5 things that are good about your present situation. Write down 5 things that are good about today. It may feel silly, but it's really helpful. My 5 things for the present would be: Living with my best friend, we have money to support ourselves, we both like where we work, we are both making progress in our careers, everyday is a little different. My 5 things for today would be: I have a light work day, I get to go to yoga tonight, I get to see my friends Heather and Kristen tonight, It's a beautiful day, and I'm healthy. When we realize what is great about the present, we're less likely to want to delve in thinking about the past or future.

What should we write about next: What is the challenge in your life?

Hope this helps!

<3 S, B, L&Z

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't Miss The Aliens at Hyde Park Theatre (Austin, TX)

Over spring break, Brendan and I were lucky enough to catch a preview of The Aliens at Hyde Park Theatre in Austin, TX. Written by Annie Baker (Brendan's former NYU classmate), directed by Ken Webster, and starring Jude Hickey, Jon Cook, and Joey Hood, this play is one you don't want to miss. Yes, I've loved everything I've seen at Hyde Park Theatre, which I consider to be a true Austin gem and easily my favorite theatre in Austin, but The Aliens was honestly one of my favorite ever productions at HPT. Even the next day, Brendan and I kept talking about what a good show it is. The script is amazing, but the splendid cast, expert direction, and the outstanding set bring this play to life.

Here is the premise: Jasper (played by Austin's own heart throb Joey Hood) and K.J. (played by Jude Hickey, who I've never seen miss a beat, and I've seen him in a lot of things!) hang out behind a coffeehouse in the employee's only area. When new guy, high school student Evan, (played by Jon Cook-the first time I've seen him in anything, and I couldn't get over him, he's so perfect in this role), discovers them there, he forms an unexpected friendship with the self proclaimed "trailer trash" and "college drop out" former band members of "The Aliens." The Aliens is both hilarious and devastating, it is unexpected and surprisingly real-you could see it all happening right now in Austin. The play is extraordinarily human, and reminds us that we're all searching for something.

I'll say no more, but you need to get yourself to the theatre. If you've never been to Hyde Park Theatre, you really cannot consider yourself an Austinite until you have. You'll love the intimate setting and the outstanding picks by Ken Webster. Hyde Park truly brings work to Austin that is new and exciting.

Here are the details: Buy tickets online by clicking here or you can call 512-479-PLAY. HPT is located at 511 W. 43rd Street. Tonight (March 22nd) is opening night and the play runs until April 21st every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 8pm. A tip: Thursday night is pay what you can! Friday and Saturday prices- $19 ($17 for students, seniors, and ACOT members). Last weekend prices-$21 ($19 for students, seniors, and ACOT members).

Happy theater going!
<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, March 19, 2012

How To Be a Bridesmaid :)

When you have a good friend or family member that is getting married, it is always an honor to be asked to be included in a bridal party. Here are a few tips for the Bridesmaid to be :)

1.) Check Your Budget 

It's a lovely thing to be asked to share someone's wedding day with them. However, a Bridesmaid to be should know that participation in a bridal party is potentially expensive. The average wedding guest will spend money on airfare, hotel, gift, and even shower gift, but for Bridesmaids, add to that the cost of a dress, extra expenses (like getting your nails done or maybe purchasing new shoes), plus potential hostessing (often shared with other members of bridal party) of a shower/bachelorette party. The first time I was asked to be a Bridesmaid, I was totally broke during graduate school, and I couldn't accept the invitation. It's really better to be honest upfront, and your friend will understand. If you have budgeting concerns, discuss them with the bride, but before you say "yes," know what you're getting into and make sure you feel okay taking on the financial aspects.

2.) Help the Bride 

Help the bride by working with the maid(s) of honor in order to plan events like a shower or bachelorette party. You may also need to attend an engagement party. If it all seems like a lot to you, you're right, but remember, all of this stuff only happens once in your friend's life, and accepting the Bridesmaid position is about signing up for it, so consider that in advance if your schedule is super crazy! 

3.) What About Gifts?

As a Bridesmaid, you should still send a shower gift (if invited or hosting) and a wedding gift. If you are invited to multiple showers, you don't need to send multiple gifts, your friend is just saying, "hey, I want so and so included in all celebrations because she is a part of my bridal party," she isn't asking for multiple shower gifts. If you're invited to an engagement party, that isn't typically a time a present is expected. You can't go wrong with a bottle of wine or champagne to share at the party, or simply a card of congratulations goes a long way. 

4.) Who Pays For...? 

The etiquete these days about who pays for what is tricky, so allow me to clear it up. Typically, you pay for your airfare (or transportation) to the site of the wedding. Sometimes (but not always) lodging is provided for the bridal party (sometimes at a hotel, sometimes at a friend/family member's house. If lodging isn't provided, room with other bridal party members to save money). Transportation from ceremony to reception for bridal party is provided. You will pay for your dress (and shoes if you are required to buy a certain pair). You'll likely end up paying for your own nails, though again sometimes that is provided. If the bride choses to use a professional for hair and make-up, she should pay for attendants. If the bride isn't willing to pay for the attendant's hair and make up, she should allow the bridal party to do their own hair and make up. Either way is fine. 

5.) Rehearsal Dinner

The night before the wedding, you'll attend a rehearsal and dinner. Be ready to walk through the ceremony (practice walking in and out) several times. Be quiet during the rehearsal and listen to the wedding planner, or whoever is trying to organize the party. It seems easy to walk, but you don't want to be the one to screw up! The rehearsal dinner is a good time for non-maid(s) of honor to give a toast if it's okay with the bride. (The maid(s) of honor will do their toast(s) at the wedding). 

6.) Day of Wedding

Your main role before the wedding is to help the bride dress, but you're also there to celebrate and help ease the pre-wedding jitters. If you can have a few "extras" on hand to make the bride's day easier, it's a good idea. Even if she doesn't end up needing the stuff, you might bring extra: lipstick, bottled water, breath mints, bobby pins, deodorant, concealer, toothbrush/paste, hand lotion, tissues, Advil...just those things that come in handy on a wedding day. Take pictures. Professional pictures can take months to get back, and the bride will enjoy seeing pictures sooner. There is often a bridesmaid luncheon the day of the wedding. Often, brides give small gifts as tokens of appreciation to their bridal party at the luncheon or rehearsal dinner. Like wedding favors, this isn't alway done. 

7.) Actual Wedding 

During the ceremony: bring tissues down the aisle with you! Smile at the photographer/videographer. You'll be introduced into the reception. It's fun! Maid(s) of honor give a toast at the reception. You'll all sit at the head table. Sometimes with your date (if you have one), sometimes without. During the actual wedding, bridesmaids just make sure everyone is having a good time, and keep the dance floor occupied, even if it means requesting the cha-cha slide or YMCA. Help keep the bride on track if she's losing track of time, but often there is a wedding planner to do this too. Make sure the bride is looking good! If you notice something in her teeth, fix it. She's going to be in about 1,000 pictures. Help get everyone ready for the bride and groom's exit. Have fun and look pretty in photos, that's pretty much it! 

I hope these tips are helpful. Now for the photos of my bridesmaid debut :) 
My beautiful up-do (Thanks Kelsey!)
The beautiful Bride, Kelsey, getting ready. Isn't she so pretty? 

Big entrance 
The ceremony. Excuse the Blur. I'm 2nd to left.

Kelsey and Amir first dance. Best part of the day: seeing how happy your friend is :) 
Cake cutting, so sweet :) 
My date and me :) Love him!

I got to keep my lovely bouquet :) 
Here's to being a part of your friend's special day :) It's a good thing I have this all down, because I'm going to be a Bridesmaid again in my college friend Lauren's wedding on October 7th this year! 
<3 S, B, L&Z (All home safe in Midland now and back to reality!) 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Eating Our Way Through Austin, TX (Best Places to Eat)

We can't stop ourselves. We came to Austin very hungry, and we're not leaving until we eat our way through it. Here are all the places we ate over spring break. I'm going to include some helpful information in each description, like what we ate, what dishes are vegetarian friendly, how easy/difficult it is to find parking, the average expense for a meal for 2 and a link to the yelp page. We hope our recommendations help make your trip to Austin enjoyable, or improve your experience in your own city if Austin is home. 

Julio's Cafe- This is my family's all time favorite brunch spot, and we eat breakfast here on Saturday or Sunday every single weekend (my parents go alone when we're not here). Huevos Rancheros are my parent's favorite dish, but Brendan, Graham, and I stick to the breakfast tacos. If you're a vegetarian, opt for the potato, egg, and cheese breakfast taco. It is so good. Parking is easy. Food is very affordable (I think our family of 5 eats for $30 with teas and coffees included). 

Chez Zee American Bistro- I've been eating at Chez Zee forever. It's a fabulous restaurant with a lovely atmosphere. It's very "ladies who lunch." The brunch is not to be missed, and I've enjoyed most dishes here with a nice mimosa. However, they also have excellent selections for lunch and dinner. I LOVE the salads here, and the pecan crusted goat cheese is my favorite, but the Blueberry salad is great as well. It's perfect for vegetarians, but meat eaters will not be disappointed, there are many wonderful selections on the menu. The parking is a bit tricky, but they do offer valet. You can usually skip valet and find something on your own, but having a small car helps. The menu is a bit pricier, with most entrees between $12 and $25. I ate here with a bachelorette party, and Chez Zee was the perfect place. I've always thought it would be great for a shower or rehearsal dinner too. 

Enchilada y Mas- I didn't eat here this break, but my parents took Brendan out, and I've been many times before. My family swears by this place. Brendan got "delicious fajitas" and says "they were awesome and spicy." For vegetarians, try cheese enchiladas. The margaritas are cheap, good, and strong, just the way I like them! The parking is easy and the food is very affordable, with most entrees being under $10. 

Alamo Draft House- (multiple locations in Austin). Every time I'm home, I must see a movie at Alamo, where you can order food while watching the latest films. Every other row is a table, and they also serve beer and wine. The most fun thing is they create "specials" to go along with some of the films. Plus, they have a no children allowed policy (outside of afternoons that are very clearly announced called baby days to give moms a day out) and are very strict about silence and no cell phones or texting during the film. I'm so thankful for a place I can watch movies in peace. There are plenty of vegetarian options, I recommend pizza, which is not only good, but easy to eat while watching a film. Parking at each location is easy. The food has gone up in price though, and it's quite sad how much. Here's my advice. Don't come here to eat "real dinner," eat lunch or a late snack: instead of ordering a small $9 appetizer, opt to share a $10 pizza, it's a lot more filling. Know that traditional movie foods are expensive (candy and popcorn are $6 each) and a glass of wine will set you back $7. If you order smart and pay attention, you can make the experience affordable. Remember, they still offer student discounts for tickets. Bring an ID. 

The Park- This was my first time eating here, and I liked it. We came for brunch, which entails a buffet and a make your own Bloody Mary bar for $5. The mimosas are a little less expensive and offered in 5 flavors. The food is delicious, and concentrates on both breakfast foods and lunch foods. It is nice to not have to wait on food, just get a plate and go. Plenty of vegetarian options here. Parking is easy. Buffet is $15 per person. Plan to spend $20 per person with alcohol. My family of 13 ate here, and it was very accommodating to large parties. 

Salvation Pizza- This place rivals with HomeSlice for my favorite Austin Pizza, but I think Salvation wins. It is New Haven style pizza vs. Homeslice's New York style. You can create your own pizza or order off the menu, and my family does both with great success. They have good beers, and you can share a pitcher with the table. Plenty of options to make a vegetarian more than happy. I like the margarita pizza. Parking is doable, but there is no lot, so you'll have to park in the neighborhood. The prices per pizza run about $15-$18, but it's reasonable, considering that 4 people could split one pizza. If you order beer to share, plan on $10 per person plus tip. 

Kerbey Lane Cafe- (Multiple locations in Austin).  Every time I'm in Austin, I must, must, must eat at Kerbey Lane. It makes a fabulous place for breakfast, but you won't be disappointed with lunch or dinner offerings. Try the pancakes. I even buy the mix to make at home. They're so good! The seasonal menu does delightful things with fresh, local ingredients. This place is super vegetarian and vegan friendly, with the menu marked to make ordering easy. They even have yummy vegan pancakes. Parking is easy at most locations (exception: the one on Kerbey Lane, where it can often be a challenge, but usually neighborhood parking can be found). The price is reasonable, with many entrees offered under the $10 range. 

Toy Joy- You can't really eat here, it's a toy store, but I do recommend stopping in for a delightful bubble tea. My favorite flavor is coconut. 

Imperia- Imperia is an amazing sushi place, and Brendan and I took advantage of a recent Groupon offer to make eating here a bit more affordable. The sushi is divine, and one of the best sushi places in Austin (I'll tell you about other places another time, keep reading, dear reader). Our rolls: BBQ Salmon skin (interesting and unique, try it), Red Devil (spicy and delightful), Bank (my favorite, cream cheese, oh yeah), and 4138 (really tasty). The wine is expensive by the glass ($10), but a nice addition to the meal. Vegetarians, there are offers here, but I always cheat when it comes to sushi, sorry. Parking is a terrible pain, bring $7 for the valet, it is so worth it. We didn't have cash and poor Brendan spent $10 and half an hour parking. With alcohol, appetizer, wine, and tip, Brendan and I spent about $90. Our Groupon took $30 off the bill. A nice splurge for a fun date out. The atmosphere here is fancy and romantic. The service exceptional. Afterwards, why don't you head down the street to...


The Ginger Man- This is a fun bar with an amazing selection of beers and ample comfortable seating. Brendan pick out my beer for me: Blanche de Bruxlles, which was so heavenly and light, I'm still dreaming about it. For those that know me: it came with a slice of lemon. Divine. Beers are about $5-$6 dollars each, and you'll have your choice of over 100 (on tap + bottles). Parking-again a total pain, this place is right near Imperia. I recommend doing both in the same evening, that way you won't get double slammed on parking. 

Avenue B Grocery- I've been coming here since high school, so this old time grocery store is chalked full of memories for me. From the moment you step in, you'll be delighted with the selection of old candies and sodas. The food (sandwiches and soups) is absolutely delicious. Vegetarians- try the apple and brie sandwich on health nut bread, you won't be sorry. Owner Ross has been here forever, trust his taste, I promise. I also like the deviled eggs. Parking, pretty easy, the neighborhood usually has plenty. Price: sandwiches are under $10. Plan to add $2 for an old time bottled drink and $1 for 2 deviled eggs. About $10/person exactly. 

Yogurtland- The first chain I've mentioned, but it is so good. I'm a Yogurtland addict.  Create your own yogurt from about 16 flavor choices (rotating) plus toppings. The fresh fruit is amazing. The parking is easy. The price is more than fair at 33 cents/ounce. They have free flavored water. Yum. 

Austin Terrier- New to my neighborhood, but we've been twice and loved it both times. Good pizza, soups, salads, and sandwiches. Amazing beer and wine selection. I love everything I've tried, and there are tons of offerings for vegetarians. Parking is simple. Price: entrees are under $10, but you'll spend more if you drink the amazing selection of alcohol (duh).  

Magnolia Cafe (multiple Austin locations). A lot like Kerbey Lane. Good breakfast (yummy pancakes), good lunch and dinner. Good beer selection. I happen to prefer Kerbey, but it's just personal, and a true Austinite always has one favorite between the two. That said, I'd still never pass up a chance to eat at Magnolia. I love it, and it's very vegetarian friendly (I had a delicious veggie stir fry this time). Parking, a bit tricker than Kerbey, but doable, unless you come at a crowded time. Price: Under $10 per entree.

Mother's Cafe and Garden- Vegetarians/Vegans rejoice, you need to eat here! Everything on the menu was made just for you. Brendan and I split the Jamaican stir fry, a favorite dish of mine, but seriously, everything here is good. If you're a smoothie fan, get the energizer, and thank me later. Parking-Usually easy. Price- Affordable, with most entrees between $10-$15. To make it more affordable, just split something. The desserts here, FYI, are amazing as well.

Blue Dahlia Bistro- Thank goodness for my bestie Corley, who introduced me to this wonderful place. Where do I start? Breakfast is amazing. Lunch is amazing. I love it all. Mimosas are $2. Everything made with local, organic, fresh ingredients. Today, I had the brie, walnut, apricot sandwich and I'm still reeling. Do yourself a favor and split, the offerings here are really big. We didn't split, but it was all we're eating for hours and hours. Parking is so/so (I believe because of SXSW), but you'll find it if you're patient. Price is incredible. HONESTLY. We each had a meal, shared a fruit salad, and I had a mimosa all for $22 (before tip). You can't beat it. GO!

One thing I just love about Austin is the food. We're thankful to my parents, who have treated us to a few of these meals. We've spent little more than our average Midland grocery bill in the week here really. Our tips? Split a meal when possible. Limit alcohol to 1 drink when eating out. Use Groupon or Living Social or Yelp deals. Know that you'll be in Austin? Ask for giftcards for your birthday or Christmas if someone requests an idea. We had one to Alamo Draft house that covered our whole date, and what a nice present that was!

Here's to eating out! Bon' Appetit!
<3 S, B, L&Z 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Wearing Glasses

My contacts have been bugging me lately, and 3 in my last box of 6 were defective, causing me to visit my eye doctor and ask for free replacements, which they have to order in. The whole process has been a pain (literally), and makes me wish I had brought my trusty glasses on my trip to Austin this week. Is it just coincidence then that this week GlassesUSA.com emailed me about letting my readers in on some discount codes? I think not!


Here is how I look in my own pair of prescription glasses:
A picture with Zoe from a while ago! 
I actually love wearing glasses on the weekends. They are comfortable and give my eyes a break from contacts. Brendan thinks they are cute too. I also like wearing them to teach in, as I think they make me look scholarly and sophisticated.


I bought my pair of eyeglasses a few years ago, so I'm in the market for a new pair soon. I like GlassesUSA because they have a 100% satisfaction guarantee policy and a 110% lowest price guarantee policy. I hate buying something and then figuring out I could have found a better deal. They also have a huge selection, including name brands like Lucky, Lacoste, and Coach. Plus, you can even search by type like "Nerdy/Vintage," pretty fun, right? 


The discounts running right now make me want to order glasses for myself today. This week, you can get 50% off any prescription glasses in the entire GlassesUSA collection by using the code Lucky50. Happy St. Patrick's day to you! Also, you can get 10% off any prescription glasses with the code Blog10.


Do you wear glasses? If you are a contacts wearer, would you try them? I have a friend who wears glasses even though she doesn't need them just because she likes the look. Want to know how you would look in glasses? Go to GlassesUSA.com and try on glasses using their virtual mirror. It is pretty fun and sometimes funny to see how all the pairs would look on you! Check it out on the blog first if you don't believe me:









Happy sightseeing! 
<3 S, B, L&Z

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How to Throw a Classy Bachelorette Party (Austin, Texas)

My friend since birth, Kelsey, will be tying the knot with her sweetheart of 11 years, Amir, this coming Saturday (my first bridesmaid gig, eek!). Last night, we started celebrating early when Kelsey's younger sister, Tracy, and I hosted a bachelorette party/lingerie shower in her honor.

We wanted a classy, intimate, and fun event for all of the girls.

We started the evening out at a favorite restaurant of Kelsey's, Chez Zee. The restaurant is a favorite of mine too, and with their beautiful decor, it's the perfect spot for a bachelorette party, shower, or rehearsal dinner.
The dining room at Chez Zee

A couple of orders of fried pickles as appetizers was a total crowd pleaser.

It was a rainy, gross day outside, but the bride was lovely in white :)
Not sure what we were joking about here!
My blueberry salad was delicious!

Up next, a trip to the Alamo Drafthouse where we saw the new Jennifer Aniston/Paul Rudd movie Wonderlust. Wonderlust is about a married couple that ends up living in a hippie commune. It was funny and entertaining, but warning, there is a ton of full frontal male nudity! The Alamo Drafthouse is a great place for a group. Their claim to fame is that you can order food and alcohol while watching the latest movies. Plus, it's adults only, and they have a strict no talking/cell phone policy, so you can enjoy movies in peace and quiet.

Up next, a stay at the Comfort Inn and Suites. We threw a little party here with champagne, wine, and a mixed cocktail called Wedding Cake. We indulged in girl talk and watched Kelsey open her lingerie presents. All I can say is that Amir is one lucky fellow ;) We chose Comfort Inn and Suites simply because it was the hotel we could book at (everything is sold out here due to SXSW). I told them to put us at the end of the hall, so we would have fewer neighbors. We only got one noise complaint and tried to whisper after that. Overall, our stay was very comfortable. The hotel was clean and the room cozy. It can comfortably sleep six (2 queen beds + sleeper sofa) and there is a good amount of space. We didn't go to sleep until around 5am (and lost an hour due to time change!) It was kind of hard when the alarm went off at 9:30am (We had 11am checkout, and I had to be home by 10:30am for a big Austin family brunch at The Park this morning, which P.S., makes a great brunch spot with $15.00/person buffet, $1 mimosas, and $5.00 Greygoose bloody mary bar). However, the girl talk was priceless and a fabulous night was had by all. If you're looking to throw a classy bachelorette party that doesn't involve needing a designated driver or having a bunch of silly paraphernalia, this is a good plan!

Fun Trivia:

Kelsey and I go wayyyy back. My grandfather coached her dad in little league when both lived in San Angelo, TX. Later, my dad and her dad both ended up working at Motorola in Austin, TX. Kelsey and I are about 4 months apart in age, so I have known her since I was born. Her younger sister, Tracy, and my younger brother, Graham, are also 4 months apart.

Kelsey and Amir met when Kelsey was 14 years old, and they have been together ever since. They have lived together since 2006. Amir proposed on their 10 year anniversary of dating.

This is the second time I have thrown a lingerie shower. It's so much fun!

Kelsey's wedding will mark my Bridesmaid debut. I was asked to be a bridesmaid for an October 2010 wedding, but it was out of state at a time when I was broke (in graduate school), so I unfortunately couldn't do it. I'm so excited for my first time in a wedding party since I was 5 years old (as a flower girl).

Kelsey and Amir planned their wedding in exactly 1 month! It's been pretty hectic because Kelsey is also in nursing school at UT-Austin, but they are making it work!

My favorite memories of Kelsey? Probably playing together at Chuck E Cheeses, a place our parents always met to catch up and let us play. It used to be called Show Biz Pizza (that's how old we are). Hey, maybe we can have the rehearsal dinner there?

Just kidding Kelsey!

Happy party planning,
<3 S

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Book I Read in February

I'm so excited to tell you about February's book

Year of the Flood
By Margaret Atwood


The Year of the Flood is the sequel to Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which I read in high school and loved. Most people know I'm a huge Margaret Atwood fan, in fact, I would cite her as my favorite author of all time (too bad I have to miss her at this year's AWP), so it isn't a huge surprise that I loved Year of the Flood. I'm thankful this is going to be a trilogy, because I can hardly wait to get back to these characters! The cool thing about these books is, you don't have to read them in any particular order. There is no reason you cannot start with Year of the Flood and then move on to Oryx and Crake (I just started my second reading of Oryx and Crake). In fact, I kind of recommend doing that because Year of the Flood reads like a prequel. The novel is speculative fiction (much like Atwood's Handmaid's Tale). It takes place in the not so distance future. The world is polluted, many animals are extinct, and the middle class has disappeared. People are either wealthy (those that work for the government) and live in secluded private compounds where everything is provided and standardized (housing, schools, etc), or people are poor and live on the streets, which are overcome with corruption, recreational drug use, and prostitution. The wealthy have access to spas that perform routine plastic surgery. No one in the upper class has to worry about dying early, because science has progressed to the point that organs suitable for human transplant can be grown inside of pigs (pigoons, they're called because they are pigs with human cells and tissues). Those who are not well off, however, have to adapt to some pretty extreme circumstances in order to survive. There are also cults of environmentalists, who attempt to live off the land secluded from everyone else. The book spans a period of 25 years, and the 25th year is, you guessed it, the year of the flood (I'm not giving anything away-it's obvious from the beginning). The flood is actually a disease that kills off the majority of the population, and those that are left must fight for their lives. The Year of the Flood is fascinating, emotional, and riveting. This is everything I've come to expect from Margaret Atwood and more. I'll have to let you know how Oryx and Crake reads in comparison, it has been too long to give a fair review, so you'll have to wait for Book I Read in March. However, I can tell you Oryx and Crake takes place after the "flood."

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Happy Reading!

<3 S, B, L&Z

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Teaching

I know I usually start the month off with the latest book I read, and we'll get to it, I promise, but I wanted to reflect a little bit on life as a teacher.

My mom is a teacher, she has her PhD. in education and teaches people how to teach. Her career in teaching and higher ed. administration at Texas State University has lasted my entire life, so I grew up surrounded by my mother, the teacher, and her teacher friends. When I was young, my favorite game to play was school. I would line up stuffed animals, give them workbooks my mom had bought on clearance at the local teacher store, and flip them all to the same page. I would teach lessons in my room using a dry erase board and even grade the students' "work." It's a game most children play at some point, and I had no idea then that I would eventually take to teaching, but it is a funny example of life's foreshadowing.

I always liked my teachers. Especially, Mrs. Reyes, my fourth grade teacher. She was the teacher that finally helped reading "click" for me, and it opened up a whole new world. I didn't feel behind my classmates anymore, and suddenly, I found myself devouring books. My friend to this day, Bailey, and I would sit in the coat closet and read everything we could get our hands on. What did I read? Boxcar Children, Babysitter's Club, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, The Giver, C.S. Lewis, Goosebumps, mysteries and horror stories (Stephen Kings that were way too, um, graphic for me), Little Women, Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Peter Pan, Sweet Valley High, The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles, A Wrinkle in Time: basically, everything I could find. It was with the help of this teacher that the world unfolded for my 9 year-old self.

The years before fourth grade instilled in me a great sense of empathy for others. All teachers need empathy; we must recognize what it is to struggle. Once, Dr. Porter, in graduate school, made all writing tutors learn to play basketball for a day. The lesson was clear: what is easy for you, is someone else's challenge. I still talk about that with students today, as I remind them of my own limitations. It is important for students to have an understanding of their teachers as human beings. Plus, it will help them understand when I write "literally" on the board but mean "literary."

By middle school, I was in honors' classes, where I loved science with Ms. Green and theater with Ms. Ferguson. AP classes at McCallum High school in Austin, TX brought me the joys of working with an amazing group of English teachers: Ms. Lardon, Ms. Morgan, and Ms. Troy. These amazing women exposed me to literature and poetry, taught me how literary devices worked, helped me explicate poems and write literary analysis and research papers that gave me an equal foundation to my NYU peers from fancy east coast private schools. I remember their reading lists quite fondly, and I am so thankful to have been exposed early to such wonderful works. Professors Mirabella, Zoref, and Pies were all female professors in college that further shaped my world and my writing (though male professors contributed greatly too).

When I finished college, I found myself unsure of what was next. I applied to 12 graduate schools for M.F.As, and had offers from 3. I choose McNeese because I felt it would be the best program, and I also loved the idea of gaining teaching experience while in school. I thought teaching might be for me, and graduate school would be a good way to find out.

In hindsight, I lucked out. It was here that I met several strong women and mentors. Rita Costello, who taught me how to teach, and Amy Fleury, who helped me navigate the waters of the academic job search. I found women who had a passion not only for what they taught, but for the act of teaching as well. When I came out of graduate school, I knew there was only one job for me: teaching.

I read a poem recently about how teachers shape us. Maybe this won't translate, but the poem was about an art student remembering a teacher's hands helping her sculpt a dog out of clay. The figure was ruined in the kiln, but what the speaker remembered was only the teacher's hands guiding her. I found the metaphor to be really apt. Teaching isn't about creating perfection and students won't retain everything they learn. Teaching is about the act of shaping. You don't merely teach a subject: you teach your students how to be students, writers, thinkers, and explorers.

It is the thinking that is the most important. Teachers help students build inner lives and grow into more aware and able people. On the worst days, teaching is frustrating, but on the best days, it brings me a joy that nothing else quite compares to. Today was one of those days. I learned so much from my students today: a student does not just overcome a fragment habit, he now has the skills to communicate with others in writing. Another student figures out the difference between summary and analysis, but he also figured out how to express his own unique insights and ideas. Another student built confidence and realized she had all of the capabilities she needed all along, but now, she trusts those capabilities. On a good day, you watch the world unfold for the people you teach. On a good day, you hold your breath a lot. You realize that the measurements of what students are learning means so much to you. You watch them tackle a new project, and you breathe, finally, when you realize they could do it, even when you stepped back.

I am a combination of every teacher I ever met. Mrs. Reyes' gentle nature, Ms. Green's frankness, Ms. Ferguson's ability to care for each student as an individual, Ms. Morgan's tough love, Ms. Troy's calm focus, and Ms. Larden's whimsical sense of humor. I have Professor Pie's patience, Professor Mirabella's high expectations, and Professor Zoref's keen sense of grammatical and careful attention to every sentence word. I hope I have Amy Fleury's passion for literature and Rita Costello's ability to get students engaged with literature. I still have days where I want to call Rita and tell her what wacky thing just happened in the classroom. A mentor is an important thing. I suppose sometimes I just want to call and say "Did I do it right?"

As a teacher, I have made mistakes. I have second guessed my answers to questions, or wondered if I was clear enough, patient enough, gave everyone enough attention. Sometimes, my own reactions surprise me. Like any human, a teacher cannot be everything to everyone, but each day, I get smiles and some laughs at my lame jokes, compliments on my shoes, and enough nods from my students that I believe most of them are with me. I believe they like me as a person, and my philosophy is, likability is the start. After all, we are all people coming together for some common purpose. This may be my job, but they make the job feel comfortable and rewarding. Without students, teachers have nothing. I get nostalgic for every class I've ever taught (or, okay, most of them). The faces become more than just familiar to you: their triumphs become your happiness, their shortcomings become your problem, but succeed or fail, you are all in that class together.

I'm a real teacher: my hand hurts a lot from grading, and I still mark too much on the papers. I eat lunch over the computer while answering emails. I have my own grading shorthand that I've given my students a decoding sheet to understand, and frankly, no one would understand what my grade book means except for me. But this whole teaching thing is a journey, and I'm still near the beginning. I'm happy about that though. It feels like there are many places to go. It's tiring, overwhelming, and sometimes, it feels impossible, but...

On a good day, the students want to do the work, and everyone who was out last class brings a doctor's note.

On a good day, you come home tired, but you can't stop talking about class or how this student or that student is doing.

On a good day, you learn more than they do.
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