Monday, June 29, 2015

29 & Birthday Donation Time!

Greetings from Austin. I am 29 on the 29th today! When our bar last night was on 29th street, I got reallllyyyy excited and wanted this photo:

I haven't met a birthday that I didn't love yet, and this one is certainly no exception. Before we talk about it, let's talk about Donate Your Birthday. My mom told me about this idea, where you pick a charity each year, and you donate your new age in dollars on your birthday. I have been participating since I turned 25, and I love the concept. It's a great way to do good to celebrate the year that you have been given. This year, my charity choice came to me easily. I heard on the radio that summer is the hardest time for food banks because children who usually rely on free or reduced lunch programs for breakfast and lunch are out of school, and there is definitely a larger population to serve meals to in the summer as a result. Our local West Texas Food Bank is an AMAZING organization. They have four stars on charity navigator and manage to turn a $1.00 donation into 4 meals. I happily donated $29.00, and I encourage anyone to join me or donate to your own local food bank. When people think of hunger, they often think of third world countries, but hunger is actually a big problem in America. Looking at statistics, 49.1 million Americans are in food insecure households, and Texas is above the national average. 18% of households in our state are food insecure...that is almost one in five, so to say the need is great is an understatement. My birthday celebrations this year have included a lot of food, and I'm glad to think that members of my community have a place to go when access to food isn't readily available. I really encourage everyone to practice Donate Your Birthday. It's one of many opportunities to give back :)

Now for birthday celebration shenanigans...
On Saturday night, Brendan made pizza from scratch for a group of our Midland friends, and we had salad, cake, and ice cream as well. Our fire alarm was NOT enthused with the oven being 550 degrees for two hours. It went off several times, and we'd have to fan around it, and open doors and windows. It was quite ridiculous, but the pizza was very delicious.

Last night, as soon as we arrived in Austin, Amanda and Matt picked us up and took us out for the night. They treated us to an amazing sushi dinner at DK sushi, which was seriously outstanding. I will be back, and this place is added to my favorite all time sushi spots. Then, Matt acted as our designated driver and drove us to Spider house, where I had not one but two frozen margaritas.

Afterwards, we went to the Amy's Ice Creams on Guadalupe where I used to work. The kids there gave me a free ice cream (Birthday cake flavor) and also told me that "I don't look that old." Brendan and I used the photo booth...the results are pretty amazing.

Today, I have a massage booked thanks to a gift-card from an amazing co-worker and friend, and tonight, I will celebrate with my family & friends in Austin. What a way to ring in the last year of my twenties!

I feel super thankful for my 28th year..we traveled Europe, vacationed in Maine with Brendan's family, I was a bridesmaid in Katie and Anthony's wedding in Boston, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Austin and Christmas in Connecticut, and we took a cruise to Alaska with my family. I worked on becoming an even better teacher, and I met some wonderful students and saw them accomplish great things. We also bought and moved into our very first home. I love it, and most everyday I say "I can't believe we live here!" Making the house all our own has been so fun.

I have a feeling that 29 is going to be a special year. We are starting it off right by leaving for a Costa Rica vacation tomorrow. Plus, a week that starts with your birthday on Monday and ends with your wedding anniversary on Sunday is a darn good week!

Hope you have a darn good week of your own!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Patio Redux

Ahhhh the patio; a shady spot in our backyard that quickly became the perfect place for...

storing all our yard tools. Um, that is not how we meant to use it.

We needed a big time patio redux, but it was nothing that a trip to Target and Pier One couldn't remedy. Two sets of outdoor lights, one rug, and a few hours of sweeping, picking up trash, and moving our tools to more appropriate spots later, our patio looked like this...

Hallelujah! This looks SO MUCH better. Special thanks to Brendan for hanging the lights all the way around the patio. 

The rug is from Pier One, and I think it's so perfect to match the colors of our patio furniture. 

The lights are made by room essentials, and we got them at Target. You could use any old Christmas lights though! 

I love how the lights look at night as well. 

Happy weekend everyone. We hope it is a great one! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Building a Backyard From Scratch: Gravel, Brick, and More River Rock

Greetings and happy Thursday!

When we last left off in our building a backyard posts, we had just built some river rock beds to house our cactus plants. 

A month ago or so, we had a section of our outside brick repaired, and this resulted in having a lot of extra brick. Brendan used that to create edging for what will eventually be filled in with sod (pictures in a minute). The next step was covering the weed barrier with some gravel.

We ordered gravel and it got dumbed in the front driveway on Monday. It is pink gravel, but as you can see, it arrived filthy. Brendan filled the wheelbarrow with it and moved it to the backyard, while I used a rake to spread it out.

This photo shows the brick edging that Brendan completed last month. Where the black weed guard currently is, we will fill in with sod in the fall. 

Once we washed off the gravel, the pinkish color started to appear: 

Brendan has spent TONS of time in the yard making sure that the gravel is covering the weed barrier. He also had his work cut out for him needing to dig a trench in front of the back gate and fill it in with river rock so that the gate will not get suck (since our backyard slopes, this could become a problem if we don't correct it now). In the photo below, you can also see the starts of a new cactus river rock bed. 

Our other beds and plants are doing well.

Brendan also had to uncover the flagstone path, since the gravel load originally covered it.

So much work has gone into our backyard, but we are starting to really appreciate the overall effect. Our next goals are sod and trees, but that will probably be in the fall when it gets a little cooler! 

We have been staying busy this week with workouts, socializing, and being here to wait for home repair people. Brendan is off to work today to conduct some interviews, and I have a goal to clean up the house and my car! 

Have a great Thursday everyone! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

To My Father in Law (Happy Father's Day)

Last April, I was at a friend's house and Brendan and I were among several other couples invited for dinner. The friend and her husband had recently had their first child, but none of the other couples had children. At some point, the men went outside and the women remained in the kitchen drinking wine. My friend said solemnly, "As soon as you have kids, your husbands will constantly be on you to quit your jobs." Some of the other women nodded, as if they were already kind of expecting this. One woman said she wasn't interested in kids. When everyone turned to me, I couldn't help but laugh a little before managing "I married a feminist." The scenario of Brendan ever asking me to quit my job (for any reason) was so foreign and non-plausible that it actually made me laugh. Our partnership is equal in every way, with a 50/50 split on dishes, cooking, laundry, bill paying, cat care, and buying power. We even make equal incomes. While we have talked about how having children can never truly be 100% equal (since the woman is, of course, the one that has to grow and have the child and breast feed if she chooses to), we have also discussed how we'd do everything we could to equally share the responsibility of parenting from the start.

A year and two months after the dinner party, I was reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook). Sandberg wrote: "When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier" (115). I was definitely nodding while reading this paragraph. In both Lake Charles and Midland, so many of my non-traditional students have complained that while they are attending college full time, their husbands also expect them to take care of the children and do ALL the household work by themselves. The husband in these cases seems to assume that because he makes all the money, his only job or contribution is to work,  and his wife should take care of everything else. It is a dynamic that often makes attending college impossible, and I have seen many women forced to drop out because of spousal attitudes that don't support education ambitions.

Sandberg went on to discuss how both her father and her (now late) husband's father set this example of equality in the home. She wrote "One of the reasons Dave is a true partner is because he grew up in a home where his father set an extraordinary example" (119). She discussed how Dave's father did chores and cooked a family meal daily while also working as a law professor.

While I always knew that Brendan grew up in a household where his parents were equal partners, reading this book really made me stop and appreciate how much this example had influenced him. When I asked Brendan about growing up, he said that there was never a strict division of chores between his mom and dad, but if something needed to get done, whoever was able to just did it. So Brendan grew up seeing his father cook, grocery shop, do dishes, do laundry, vacuum, clean, and be an involved father and husband (my in laws will celebrate 38 years of marriage this October). He also saw his Dad being happy to do all these things and never thinking twice about it. And now, no surprise, as a husband, Brendan does all of those things as much as I do without even making a specific or conscious effort. Being an equal partner is just part of his personality and something that he and I both take for granted.

In May, it was widely reported that Dads who did chores raised daughters who were more ambitious in their careers, but of course, Dads who are equal partners have a great effect on their sons as well.

We are far past the 1950s, so many of my friends who read this will probably think "this is how every guy is" or "what's the big deal?" but as my conversation at the dinner party just 14 months ago and my observations in classrooms have shown, unfortunately, not all men do think and behave as equal partners. And, as a society, we have a LONG way to go. USA Today reported that in 2011, men did 10 hours of chores for every 18 hours that women did. While this is far improved from the 4 hour/32 hour split of 1965, it still isn't equal.

So today, on Father's day, I want to take a chance to tell my father in law that I appreciate everything he did for his family and the example that he created for his son and daughter. I spend all of my days being so grateful that your son is my husband. Like you, he is kind, loving, intelligent, passionate, and a great teacher. Also like you, he is a true partner, in every sense of the word.

Plus a total goofball...wonder where he gets that from?

I wouldn't want it any other way

Happy Father's day!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Home Sweet Home

Oh home, there's no place quite like it!

I keep looking around at our house this week and feeling so lucky. No, it isn't decorated perfectly, we don't have every room furnished, and we aren't able to replace some old pieces just yet. But it's our home, and I feel so relaxed and happy here. Maybe, during the go-go-go mentality of the school year, I never truly had time to stop and appreciate it just as much. This week at home and on summer vacation has been really nice. Here's what we've been up to the past week:

I am insane and picked a crazy and exhausting two week interval training plan for us to complete together (a full post on this to come). Needless to say, we have both been incredibly sore, but have powered through five of the workouts, and we are headed to the gym for number six later today. In addition, I did yoga class on both Monday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, I was the only student in class, so it turned into a private lesson. This was good, because we were able to stretch out the soreness in my arms and chest, but, of course, I had to work on my chaturanga (yoga push up), which was tiring after all the strength training! Still, it feels great to be back to working out.

Brendan and I did a HUGE grocery store run last Friday, and we already ate all the food. We got up early today and went to the farmer's market (check out our heirloom tomatoes) to increase our stock. We also scored: peppers, onion, squash, kale, lettuce, chard, basil, and cucumbers. This week we made: Simply Light Basil Lime Stir Fry, Orecchiette pasta with goat cheese, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and "beyond meat chicken free strips," baked potato and salad night (a go to for when we are tired), Perfect Vegetarian Chili, and of course, two leftover nights. I plan to use the tomatoes in a delicious dish tonight.

The pool in our subdivision opened while we were in Alaska. It's a nice option for cooling off when it gets above 90 degrees!

I've been making my way through Lean In and am almost finished. Brendan has been writing and also reading The Hedgehog and the Fox and the Magister's Pox, and I have been restructuring one of my online literature courses. Of course, Lola and Zoe have been on our laps constantly (sometimes making it hard to do any of these things!)

Yesterday, we caught a matinee of Inside Out. It was one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I cried, I laughed! You just have to go see it. We also watched Chef on Netflix (cute, but not life changing) and Hoop Dreams (a pretty darn good sports documentary). I am loving the comedian section of HBO Now and watched specials by Louis CK and Sarah Silverman last night.

Seeing Friends
We went to Dagan and Stephanie's house to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones on Sunday. All of us are so sad that it's over! Watching the show every Sunday and eating dinner is a tradition for us. On Tuesday, we went to trivia night with a big group of friends, and we also saw a lot of co-workers there. I guess trivia night is the happening place to be in Midland! Today, my friend Kristen and I went shopping. I had some birthday money from my mimi and picked up some summer clothes.

All in all, it was a great week. The only downside was that I caught a cold that showed up Wednesday morning, and then Brendan caught it too. The good news is, we already seem to be getting over it. We hope everyone has a great weekend.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Two Good Books

One of my favorite parts about summer is that I finally have some reading for fun time again. In the past couple of weeks, I read two really great books, so I wanted to recommend them here. I had specific criteria for what I wanted in recent reads: no "chick lit," but at the same time, nothing too long or overly serious. I wanted to read something meaningful, but I wanted it to feel joyful. A little bit of sadness, as always, would be okay.

The first book was Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I picked up a signed copy of at his book reading in Midland, (which I should add that my friend Kristen generously treated Brendan and I to).

The book was exactly what I was looking for: an escape into a kind of warped alternate reality meets dark fairy tale that left me longing to be in that world. I read this book on our cruise to Alaska, often while Brendan searched for whales out the window in our stateroom. It was a fast read, and I wish it had lasted longer. It was about a man who recalls a serious and disturbing but also distant memory past of his boyhood. The setting is charming; the characters act human, but can do things that aren't. This is magical realism at its finest. I was often worried for the characters, but I enjoyed spending time with them nonetheless. If you are able to put aside all of your notions about what is and isn't possible for a while, then you will enjoy this book.

The second book, A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, I picked up in Sitka, Alaska at a local bookshop. Brendan recommended it based on our friend Erica's recommendation. It also won a Pulitzer Prize, so I wasn't really taking a risk on this one.

I just finished the book this evening, and it has left me reeling with a the recognition of myself and my own longing for a meaningful existence that was found in every single character (and there are so many). This book was fun and strange: one entire chapter was a powerpoint presentation, for example. It was also gut wrenching in the best kind of way. It could have been published as a series of short stories, but all of the characters are subtly intertwined and interconnected (I often had to flip back the pages to recall just how). Typically, I think of myself as the kind of reader that wants to spend a lot of time with a single character, but this book proves that isn't true. Instead, it would appear I just like my characters incredibly well developed and relatable, and most authors just don't manage to do that in one chapter like Jennifer Egan. Having this reminder was good for me. It is a lot to manage on the pages, but Jennifer Egan pulls it off.

If you write, both of these books are great examples of writing what you want to write without regards for if people will understand it or how it will sell. If you are a person (and I hope you are), and these books don't make you want to weep with the feeling that by understanding fictional people you are actually being understood, then I think you have gone to a very dark place.

I will be reading more from Neil Gaiman and Jennifer Egan in my future; I know that is for sure!

But first, some much needed sleep.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sightseeing Seattle + A Home Update

After departing our Alaskan Cruise on Sunday morning, we took a taxi to Capitol Hill and waited in a coffee shop until our Air B&B rental in Seattle was ready.

The apartment was super cute, close to everything, and very affordable compared to hotels in the area. We rested and showered and got ready to meet my sorority sisters, Stephanie and Rita, for brunch at Skillet Diner. The brunch was incredible, but obviously my favorite part was seeing my friends. The both came to our wedding in Austin, but, after nearly two years, we really needed to catch up. I was able to meet Rita's boyfriend Hunter and hear all about Steph and Rita's jobs and Stephanie's progress towards finishing her Masters degree. It was a sunny and beautiful day, and Steph and I walked away with sunburns. Ouch!

After brunch, Stephanie showed us around Seattle. She also gave us a great recommendation for Seattle sushi, Umi!

After resting a few hours, we took an Uber to the Space Needle for a 9:30PM elevator ride up. Uber provides super cheap rides...this was my first time really using the service (besides a ride I took with a friend in NYC last summer), and I was impressed. The Space Needle views were incredible. This is one of my favorite things we did!

What a beautiful city! Getting down from the Space Needle required a long line (made longer by the fact that many people cut the line), so we just barely made our 11:00PM reservation at Umi Sake House, which was a 15 minute walk away. They do a late happy hour from 11:00pm-1:00am, so we ordered an ABSURD amount of delicious sushi. We really didn't realize how much we were actually getting! We closed down the restaurant and took another Uber home.

The next day, we took a 30 minute walk to Pike Place Market:

We allotted the entire day for exploring.

Of course, we stumbled upon the nasty gum wall:

We shared fish tacos for lunch and a crepe for dessert. 

After a long time exploring, we walked to the Chihuly Glass Museum. The admission was an expensive $25.00 per person, but the museum was joyful and the art beautiful. 

Afterwards, we walked back to Pike Place Market (the two locations are about 20 minutes apart) and enjoyed cold Ginger Beers at Rachel's Ginger Beer.

We then bought cheese at Beecher's, plus baguettes, macaroons, and fruit in the market, and headed back to our apartment to enjoy it with some wine.

Tuesday morning, we took an Uber to the airport and flew back to Austin. We arrived that night and then spent Wednesday in Austin. We met Amanda for Kerbey Lane tomato pie:

Imagine something great, now triple it. It's amazing.

My parents wanted me to clean out my childhood closet, and take my wedding dress to my own house, so our car returning to Midland on Thursday looked like this:

Good thing Lola and Zoe weren't with us! They were REALLY happy to see us though. Our petsitter kept them good company, but I think they missed us.

Thursday night, we met up with Kirsten and Alex for Jurassic World (I couldn't wait). It was fun, but not as good as the original.

Yesterday, we went grocery shopping, made an old favorite for dinner, worked in the backyard, and Brendan made us frozen margaritas. We also watched Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. I was only eight years old when Kurt Cobain took his life, so I really can't comment on the movie from the perspective of someone that was aware during the height of Nirvana mania. I found the movie interesting, but in light of the controversy that surrounds it, I'm taking it with a grain of salt (no pun intended).

Today, we have a birthday party to attend and drinks with a co-worker to celebrate her promotion. We wanted to go to the farmer's market this morning, but we ignored our alarm (oops!)

I'm loving summer, but I can't believe it has already been over a month since graduation!

Isn't that the way it always is though?

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