Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Ends of 2016

Greetings faithful blog readers!

It has been a couple of weeks, but I'm still here and wanted to play catch up on the end of the year.

After a busy long weekend in Midland, we headed to Austin with Lola and Zoe.

The next day, I took my mom to see Ballet Austin's The Nutcracker for her Christmas gift. It was awesome to relive a childhood favorite that I hadn't seen in years and spend the afternoon with my mom.

The next day (and the day after), I got to see Cole (one of my best friends from high school). I only got a picture with his puppy, Da Vinci (a "foster" dog, but we've heard that before ;)

That evening, we hosted the annual Austin family Christmas party. We had about sixteen guests over for dinner, and Brendan made a simple version of last year's trifle.

My Family

My Cousins :) 
The following morning, it was time to celebrate "fake Christmas" 

I wore my Mimi's (mom's mom) Christmas pajama top for the sixth year. She wore it every Christmas since my grandfather gave it to her on their first Christmas together. Kenzie enjoyed his first fake Christmas, and it was a first for Erynn to be there as well.

It was a fun morning with the six of us plus Lola, Zoe, and Kenzie. As usual, Brendan and I were spoiled, and we got some gadgets for our home (Ring and The Nest) that we're looking forward to having. 

The next day was Christmas Eve, and Brendan and I were off bright and early for Connecticut. We left at 7:00AM, landed at 2:30PM, attended a Christmas Eve party at his cousin's house, and went straight to midnight mass at church. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day! Luckily, we could sleep in and enjoy a leisurely start to a perfect Christmas morning. We were literally wrapping our gifts the morning of! 

Our cute little family (cats, Princess and Max, not pictured): 

This was Dan's first time celebrating Christmas with us, and it was such a spectacular year. We opened our presents at a leisurely pace and enjoyed turnovers for breakfast. I received many wonderful gifts, including a monthly sticker subscription service that I was extremely excited about (my 2017 LifePlanner is going to be amazing). I also got my first American Girl doll. Brendan's mom found Felicity and remembered that I never had an American Girl doll, so I received one finally at age thirty! 

After unwrapping presents, Brendan and I played Ticket to Ride with Annie and Dan (Dan's Christmas gift from us). Brendan slaughtered us all, but Max showed us who was really the boss in the end. Brendan's parents made the traditional Christmas dinner, which was amazing as usual.  

We ended the evening by playing Cranium, which Brendan and I won by a landslide (we got all bookworm questions for the most part!) 

The next evening, we went out to dinner with Brendan's grandparents and aunt and uncle. 

The following day was Brendan's 35th birthday. Lucky for us, his parents treated us all to dinner at The Oyster Club (just what Brendan had been craving). I loved spending a day celebrating my favorite person. Words cannot express just how grateful I was to have him this year. We switched up Cranium teams that night and Annie and Tim won (with many star performer questions). 

We had a great rest of the week in Connecticut: we saw Annie and Dan's new place and had an excellent meal prepared by Dan and game night at their house, ate dinner with Brendan's grandparents, visited with family friend Gail, shipped ourselves some of Brendan's dad's paintings (something we always say we're going to do but never get around to), and saw the new Star Wars movie. The week couldn't of gone better, and though we were sad to say goodbye, we were so happy to have had the week together. 

Today, we took a super early flight (Thanks to Brendan's Dad for making this absurdly early airport run) and landed in Austin before noon. Lola and Zoe seem very happy to see us, and we are very tired. We spent the day doing laundry, resting, and watching TV. My parents are on a cruise, so it was a quiet day. Tonight, we have 10PM dinner reservations at our favorite Austin restaurant (can you guess where?) and will ring in 2017 the way we ring in most years: eating a fabulous meal together.

I couldn't end this post without taking some time to reflect on 2016. It's hard to talk about the year because it was such a mixed bag for us. On the one hand, it was a year of great loss: I lost my Mimi (dad's mom) in July and with her lost my last living grandparent. Due to being in Africa, we were unable to attend her funeral, which was also just really hard. I miss her everyday. 

There were other great losses too, and of course, politically, it was just a very strange year for the world at large. I feel that there is a loss in the connection we have to one another in this country; I hope to see this change in the coming year, and I'm willing to work hard for it. 

On the other hand, 2016 had so much joy and happiness and success that just cannot be overlooked. In January, we took a ski trip with friends. In February and May, we were able to see Mimi (and I'm so thankful because she died just five weeks after our last visit). In March, Brendan and I had a phenomenal spring break in Alpine, Big Bend, and Marfa. In May, Brendan was awarded his five year pin, and we took a trip to Lake Charles to enjoy an extremely special reunion weekend with our MFA friends. In June, I turned thirty(!) and a few days later, we headed northeast to visit Brendan's family, celebrate my dear friend Tara's wedding, and celebrate our own three year anniversary. In July, we took an incredible and life changing road trip in Namibia, Africa for three weeks. We saw elephants, giraffe, zebra, rhinos, ostrich, antelope, beautiful birds, wildebeest, etc. and developed a deeper appreciation for this beautiful world and all the creatures in it. In August, we spent a relaxing week in Maine with Brendan's family, and in October, we flew to Virginia to see Brendan's cousin Aaron tie the knot. We hosted my family for Thanksgiving and had an amazing Christmas in Connecticut. That is a lot of highlights despite the hardness of this year. 

Another surprise about 2016 was that I had publication successes. After 4.5 years of rejections piling up (so many rejections, seriously), I had four stories accepted for publication. In November, PANK emailed me to notify me that I was a finalist for their Prose Chap[BOOK] contest. They wrote "we were impressed by the range of your work and how cohesive this book felt throughout the stories and voices. Your writing has pace and verve, and neither of our three editors could put it down (or close Submittable's window)." The words were so uplifting to me and came at a time when I was struggling. A few weeks later, I found out that I was one of two writers that would have my Chapbook published, and I felt immensely happy. I also found out that I'll start next year as a guest editor for an issue of Driftwood Press. At the start of 2016, I had one publication to my name, and I could have never imagined how much this year would turn things around and inspire me to continue working and submitting no matter what. To say that I am grateful for these opportunities is an understatement; I feel a renewed energy, and it truly is a great gift. 

So I end 2016 feeling so humbled by all the year taught me about living after loss, coping with the unexpected, and perseverance. I have been so lucky to have Brendan and our families by my side this year. I needed their love more than ever, and it was there for me in abundance. 

May peace, love, joy, and creative energy be with you and yours in abundance in 2017, dear friends. Happy New Year. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Winter Break Upon Us

The Fall 2016 Semester is behind us! Grades were submitted last night, and so far, my only emails are "happy holidays" messages, and 85% of my developmental students passed Composition I with a C or higher, so I'm calling that a victory. 

Yesterday, we set our alarms early despite having a work from home day, and we moved our old couch to the curb. Three hours later, we had our new couch delivered, and the old one had been picked up by the city. I know it sounds silly, but it was a bit sad to say goodbye to the old couch: I do most of my writing and grading on the couch, so I've spent more hours there than I care to admit. I had that couch before I got married, and it was in no fewer than three apartments before it was in our home (that's a lot of moves!). However, the new couch is much more comfortable and also is a queen sleeper sofa, so I know we're going to enjoy it and get a lot of use out of it. 

The cats seem happy too (and more importantly, are not scratching it yet!): 

After I submitted my grades, I made dinner, did some writing work, and ended the evening by watching The Muppets A Christmas Carol before passing out. It was awesome to finally sleep in this morning and wake up to winter break. We have a friend's going away party tonight and friends coming over for dinner tomorrow night. We're looking forward to a few relaxing days at home before heading to our other homes for the holidays. 

Goodbye old couch from Craigslist. It was a good eight and a half years! 

Here's to moving on. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter is Coming

Greetings faithful blog readers!

I don't mean to be such a neglectful blogger. We're nearing the end of semester, and grading is occupying most of my time these days!

We also managed to attend Reinbeer (the beer tasting/fundraiser at the Museum of the Southwest) and THREE work holiday parties, make gifts for our co-workers (candy bags), send holiday cards, and shop for kiddos our school adopted for Christmas, so I'd say we've been getting into the holiday spirit despite the workload.

Last week, I snapped a few photos of the season's first snow:

I loved how our roses looked in the snow. So beautiful.

It's funny how winter comes and basically destroys all the hard work of spring, but I don't even mind. I love this time of year as there is something to be said for warm baths before bed, reading by the fire, and enjoying the lights and our tree.

Last weekend, we checked out a new to us restaurant in Midland: Pho Street. It was really tasty (I had the tofu spring rolls and the tofu pho bowl), but a little on the pricer side for an ordering at the counter place. Apparently there are now two pho restaurants in Midland? We'll try the other one and report back with a comparison soon.

On Saturday, Brendan was good sport of the year when he dressed up as Santa for the Museum's 5K Ugly Christmas Sweater Run. The adorable thing was some kids were quite taken with him and watching them tell him their wishes was pretty adorable and kept me warm despite the cold. Zero kids were scared of him, so I'd call it a win.

With the weekend and last week behind us, we're counting down the days (3!) until the semester ends, and we can enjoy a few weeks off. Thursday, we get our new couch that we ordered in October (finally!) and I'm excited to spend some quality time relaxing on it!

Before signing off, I want to share the best part of last week:

I'm extremely excited to say that come fall 2017, you can read my short collection published by PANK Books. The news was a wonderful surprise and a great way to end the semester.

We hope your semester (or year) is ending on a great note as well.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Greetings, faithful blog readers.

Another week has come and gone: only one more week of classes remain before finals, and we're taking an opportunity to rest up a bit this weekend before the real grading marathon begins.

Last Friday, when my parents were here, we decorated our home for the holidays so we'd have a full 3.5 weeks to enjoy our decor before traveling.

My dad and Brendan did the outside lights. It was much faster than doing a roof line, but I think it has a nice effect.

The cold fronts this week gave me plenty of excuses to start up the fireplace, light a balsam fir candle, and get cozy. 

This is the first Christmas since we lost Mimi, and it made me happy and sad to add this ornament we gave her last year to our tree. 

This time of year goes too fast. In two weeks, my classes will be over; in three weeks, it will be Christmas Eve. I'm trying to take in the magic I love about the season one cozy evening at a time. 

Happy weekend everyone! Hope it's a cuddly one and time slows down a bit for us all. 


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Oh Oh Oh, It's Thanksgiving

Greetings faithful blog readers! I hope you all are having a fabulous turkey day. 2016 has been a mixed bag of high highs and low lows, but today, I'm reflecting on all there is to be thankful for and there is so very much.

I'm thankful for my family, my students, my home, and my health.

I'm thankful for turkey.

And I'm thankful for the best chef and husband a girl could ask for.

I'm thankful for many great memories that we made this year.

I'm thankful that, no matter what happens, the love and happiness outweighs everything else. It's more than I deserve, and I try not to take it for granted.

Happy Thanksgiving All.
Love to you and yours.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Three Months of IPSY (A Review)

Greetings faithful blog readers!

For the past three months, I've enjoyed my subscription to Ipsy. Ipsy is a subscription service like Birchbox: they send you five makeup samples per month in a cute cosmetics bag for $10. Here's a look at my September, October, and November bags. If you decide to sign up for Ipsy, please use my personal referral link. I am not being paid or given freebies to promote Ipsy. Below are my honest reviews.

September 2016:

My first Ipsy arrived with Eyeko: Eye Do eyeliner in black, Rodial Hyaluronic Tonic, It Cosmetics Superhero mascara in super black, Christie Brinkley Daily Face Exfoliating Polish, and Be A Bombshell Cosmetics nail polish in Va Voom. My favorite product was the tonic: you spray it on your face to refresh your skin. I love that I can use it post workout to keep sweat from staying trapped in my pores. The face wash was nice: I used it when we traveled to Dallas, and I love getting minis of products you need while traveling. I was not impressed with the mascara (super smudgy). The eyeliner works nicely, though I rarely use eyeliner, and I haven't used the nail polish (first I'd have to get rid of my shellac manicure).

I was able to fill out reviews and give my preferences for products I liked/didn't like.

October 2016:

The October bag could not have been cuter. It arrived filled with Beaute Basics eye shadow in Satin Taupe, theBalm Cosmetics blush in Hot Mama, NUDESTIX concealer pencil in light 2, Lottie London eyeshadow brush, and pur-lisse Daily Lip Nourisher. I was most crazy about theBalm Hot Mama blush. It's a really nice color, and it can also be used as an eyeshadow too. The concealer pencil was my second favorite find: it covers blemishes and red spots nicely and stays put all day. The eyeshadow and brush were nice, but not something I really needed. The lip nourisher feels nice under lipstick, but it is not something I'd go out of my way to purchase. 

November 2016

My November bag arrived on Friday with the following: Delectable by Cake Beauty hand cream in Sweet Mint & Cream, Luxie Beauty blush brush, Two Faced "better than sex" mascara, Japonesque finishing powder, Adesse New York brightening base coat. The hand cream from Cake Beauty is absolutely amazing. It smells like a junior mint and the same was a generous full size. I also really like the mascara (which I'd used before) and the blush brush. I have yet to try the other two products. 

Overall, I feel like IPSY sends products that definitely give me my money's worth. It's fun to see what will be in the bag, and I love that they include a little cosmetics case with each month (they're perfect for travel or just throwing in your purse or gym bag). I also enjoy that I get points for reviewing products. So far, I have 280 points and can use 250 to add a reward to my next box (you get to pick from their list of samples).  I've received larger samples with IPSY than I did with Birchbox. Both subscription services have that "hit or miss" effect. Sometimes, a product is great and really a nice asset in my make-up routine, but some of the products I feel are less useful. I look forward to my bag each month, and it's a fairly inexpensive way to pamper yourself and find new products that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise. 

This would make a fun and cute gift for anyone in your life that loves makeup. 

In other news, after pantry and refrigerator organizing and grocery shopping, Brendan and I are fully prepped for Thanksgiving 2016. It doesn't seem real that it's already here. It seems like not that long ago that we were hosting his parents for our first holiday in our home. The years are getting faster! We're looking forward to having my parents this year for another Thanksgiving for four. These years are special: small groups but big love, and I'm cherishing them. 

Hope you are looking forward to the holiday as well. 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Minutes to Dinner: Gourmet Grilled Cheese

Greetings faithful blog readers!

Thanks for hanging with me. I know my blog hasn't been very active these past few months. I've had a lot going on, and I started to focus some more on my writing. Don't worry, I'm still blogging!

I'm planning to start a new series called "Minutes to Dinner." These posts are not going to be recipes, but rather things that Brendan and I do to throw together weeknight dinners that are fast and affordable. While these may not be as healthy as our average dinners (we incorporate lots of fresh veggies into our cooking), we promise they will be a healthier alternative than picking up fast food. This series is for everyone out there that is busy and budgeting but still wants tasty dinners.

My first minutes to dinner post includes two things I love: tomato basil soup and grilled cheese. We buy La Madeline's Reduced Fat Tomato Basil Soup at the grocery store (HEB), but if you can't find it, here is a link to purchase online. Note: the shipping price is the same price as the three jars of soup. Texans, check your HEB for a better deal. If you haven't had La Madeline's Tomato Basil Soup, it is simply amazing, and this reduced fat version tastes identical to the real deal (pinkie promise). I'm sure you could find another soup in the grocery store that is also tasty if this isn't an option.

To make the gourmet grilled cheeses, we simply sliced three types of cheeses that we had on hand and put them on English Muffin halves in the toaster oven. Then we chopped up toppings: peppers, jalapenos, pears, purple onion, tomatoes, and also had basil, spinach, and carrots on hand.

The result were these adorable open faced gourmet grilled cheese halves:

My favorite combo was: basil, spinach, Jalapenos, pears, and purple onion (yum!)

We each ate three muffin halves and one serving of soup (still have two servings of soup leftover). You can buy the light English muffins to make this dinner a little lighter.

Grocery List:
La Madeline Reduced Fat Tomato Basil Soup (or other soup)
(Light) English Muffins
Bell Pepper
Purple Onion
Cherry Tomatoes

Total time spent heating soup and sandwiches and chopping veggies (about 10 minutes)
You can't beat the low maintenance clean up either!

Have ideas for minutes to dinner? Email them to us at LolaAndZoeBlog at Gmail Dot Com!

Have a great weekend friends! We are planning to spend ours prepping for Thanksgiving. It basically snuck up on us this year. We're looking forward to actually having time to cook!


Saturday, November 12, 2016

SCMLA With People We Love

Greetings faithful blog readers,

It's been a tough week for me. As a teacher, I want to instill the future generation with tolerance, empathy for fellow men and women, and beliefs in our American values like equality, freedom of speech and religion, and love for fellow Americans. The country is divided, many, including myself, are heartbroken, and I'm left trying to stay strong and continue to practice what I believe in. One quote that is getting me through these hours is Martin Luther King Jr.'s: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." May Americans continue to love and shine light. I pledge to be active in doing my part to protect freedoms for all and to continue to fight for everyone's best interest: our country is a collection of people, and I hope we can find common understanding. I, too, will work to do that.

Last week, Brendan and I were participating in SCMLA, our favorite conference, with some of our favorite people. This was my seventh year presenting at the conference and Brendan's fifth year. McNeese had a HUGE group of attendees this year from multiple generations of the program, and it was amazing, to say the least, to meet new people and be among some of our best friends. This group has supported us through some of our best and worst times, and we couldn't love them more: May we all have friends that we can say that of.

Dallas was a fun city, and we especially loved hanging out in the Deep Ellum area. Here were some of the highlights:

Drinks at double wide (pictured above): this bar had indoor and outdoor seating with a trailer park theme.
Sushi at Deep Sushi: quite good and hit the spot for my craving!
Drinks at Black Swan Saloon: recommended by three friends in Midland, this place did not disappoint. The cocktails were so fancy; I don't know what exactly I drank, but it was delicious!

Dinner at the Woolworth near the eye sculpture. The food was absolutely outstanding (fancy comfort food), and my favorite of the trip. Don't miss the Mac and Cheese appetizer, the truffle fries, and the grilled cheese and tomato bisque.

The conference kept us too busy to explore Dallas too much, but I did get a chance to go shopping at Buffalo Exchange and have lunch at a nearby cafe. I picked up two pairs of jeans and two dresses for $100, so it was a shopping trip success. 

Of course, we couldn't leave Dallas without seeing our friends that have relocated to Frisco, the Lellis family. We met up in Addison at Ida Claire's for a delicious brunch (the Bloody Mary's and vegetarian frittata were the best). 

Miss these girls! 
We headed home last Saturday and had a day to catch up on work before diving into another busy week. This past week was so crazy that a relaxing weekend at home is just what I need. I cannot believe we only have one more full week of school before our shortened Thanksgiving week arrives. I feel behind, but I'll make it work. 

In the happiest news of this week, this happened. I am honored to be a finalist in PANK Magazine's Fiction Chapbook contest; it means so much coming from a publication that means so much to me. Roxane Gay published my first short story, and I'll always love and enjoy reading PANK. 

Happy weekend everyone. May we all find rest and restoration this weekend. 
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