Wednesday, June 29, 2016

30th Birthday!

I filled the last couple of days with maximum celebrating, and I left very little time to blog. It's after 11PM here, and we have a 4AM wake up call, so I'll keep this short.

Yesterday, we went to Amanda and Matt's and played with their foster kittens Charlotte, Wilbur, and Templeton. Aren't they the sweetest?

We tried to go to Musashino sushi, but they had moved and a sushi place called "street" or "dragon street" (we're not sure) had taken its place. We stayed and still had a delightful sushi dinner with everything we love! Hybrid role was my favorite. Here was a little birthday sampler they gave the table:

Today, after a breakfast at Kerbey Lane, I got my hair done with Peyton at Bob Salon:

Peyton says this is called "balayage." I let her do whatever she wants because it always turns out great.

After my hair was beautiful, Dad took us out on the boat to mess it up! Some sacrifices are worth it.

After the lake, my parents took us to the new location of Bufalina pizza (Bufalina Due). It was an absolutely delicious dinner. Margarita Pizza, need I say more?

I got some awesome gifts from my family, including a Kindle from Brendan. Though I've always been adamant about paper books, even I must admit the convenience for traveling is unbeatable. I'll use my new Kindle and report back. I already have about nine books downloaded (most of them were free!) The only thing I recommend that Kindle should do is make this thing smell like a book.

Back at the house, we had cake and champagne with Amanda, Matt, and Elda. It was hard to have anything left to wish for. It was a great day!

I haven't forgotten "donate your birthday," so don't worry. It warrants a separate post this year when I actually have some time to write in a way that does it justice.

Thank you for the kind words and pictures shared on Facebook. I couldn't of had a better day. Tomorrow morning, Connecticut! We wake up in 4.5 hours, so we better get some rest.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Come On and Safari With Us

Greetings faithful blog readers! 

We're excited to finally fill you in on our summer plans. We've booked a three-week safari in Namibia, Africa, and we leave in nine days; it's a trip we've been dreaming about for almost three years (since September 2013), so we're really thrilled to be doing it. The planning has been pretty involved, so of course, we're a little nervous too and hoping that we don't experience any complications. We'll be taking a road trip and driving on the "wrong" side of the road as we travel every day or two to a new lodge. Just to be clear: our safari is all about observation and photography; we won't be hunting. We're looking forward to seeing new landscapes and experiencing new cultures. Brendan spent some time in South Africa in college, but neither of us has been to Namibia. I am nervous about the long flight, but Brendan claims he doesn't even remember his from more than ten years ago, so I guess it won't be that bad? 

We picked Namibia for many reasons and this blog post gives a great overview of several of them. The roads are mostly paved, which is good because we choose to rent a car. For those looking to visit Africa, we found that this was a great key to savings. Since we can drive ourselves and don't need a guide to get us from place to place, we can do a much longer trip than in a country where the roads aren't as good. We will go on guided game drives, but that will be for a few hours and not for the entire duration of the trip. On paper, the drive looks pretty short, but the distance is further than it seems. We'll have a 4x4, and Brendan has some experience driving in foreign countries now, so you know, fingers crossed.

Our parents are always a little nervous when we tell them our plans, but the truth is Namibia is politically stable and, as far as Africa goes, rather popular for tourists. We don't expect problems, but we'll be cautious, of course. We also have worked with a travel doctor for the past six months making sure we are vaccinated for all potential diseases. We ingested oral Typhoid vaccines for a week, which was really the most exotic thing we had to be covered for. Other than that, we got two rounds of Hep A vaccines, Tetanus shots, malaria medicine, and antibiotics just in case. Brendan has mapped our route extensively, downloaded Namibian maps onto our GPS, and the company we booked our trip through will provide us with maps and GPS as well as a SIM card pre-loaded with the numbers for our lodges and a spare tire. We've pre-registered our trip with the Embassy as well.

We'll definitely blog our adventures, but our access to wifi is going to be very limited. We should have wifi on the first day of the trip, once after the first two weeks, and for the last three days of the trip (again, that's IF everything goes according to plan).

In the meantime, we're in Austin seeing family & friends (and Lola and Zoe are being left at "grandma and grandpa's"); then, we'll travel to Connecticut to see Brendan's family, to Long Island, NY for my dear friend Tara's wedding, and finally to NYC to celebrate Corley's birthday before catching our flight. We've got the best house and pet-sitters known to man (shout out Jenni, Mom and Dad!), and we've somehow fit everything for six weeks (we'll be visiting Maine with Brendan's family after our trip) into a carry on and backpack each (as usual).

I get a lot of requests for packing advice, but I only really have one major tip: roll stuff and pray.
Seriously though: use the bag's built in straps to compress clothing as much as possible. Further, get used to the idea that it's okay to do laundry while traveling. Tide mades "tide to go" packets perfect for washing stuff in your sink. You really don't need as much as you think, and you've got to limit your shoes since those suckers take up way too much room.

Once packed, use one of those free bags that everyone gives out and put it over your stuff. This makes for a perfect laundry bag or day pack, but the best news is...

It prevents shoes packed on top from getting dirt all over everything! 

Also, cram every pocket and spare space available. We're talking pack socks inside of shoes and sandals inside the laptop compartment. Make use of every nook and cranny.

Well, this is an adventure in the making, so please wish us luck for safe travels. Here's to adventures (ours and yours).


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Building a Front Yard: Progress in the Desert

Greetings faithful blog readers: this marks the blog's 600th post. Thank you for being here with us in our little corner of the inter-webs: we love sharing our journey with you.

Tonight, I captured some progress in the front yard. Brendan built this cute little flowerbed two weeks ago. You can't see the Lantanas because it's a bit dark, but they're doing nicely!

The front flowerbed is progressing too: 

We even got around to planting some evergreens in the side yard. These are called Texas Sage: 

The side yard is really a project for next year, but we figured something to look at from the office/guest room windows was a nice start.

We are currently attempting to eat everything in our fridge. Our dinner tonight was BBQ tofu, squash & peppers, carrots & garlic, and beets. It was delicious. I poured a little Dr. Pepper on top of the BBQ tofu before placing it in the oven, and it made it a little sweeter than usual. We had a can leftover from a picnic in May, and I couldn't let it go to waste!

Today, I watched Faerie Tale Theatre, a show from the 1980s that I had never seen, with several girlfriends. It was pretty hilarious and nostalgic for many that grew up with it. We made plans tomorrow to see The Conjuring II, and tomorrow night is the season finale of Game of Thrones. I have a feeling I won't be sleeping restfully tomorrow; therefore, I will enjoy my beauty sleep tonight after making some progress on packing. This summer promises to be an adventure: a post on that soon!

Before we sign off: Happy birthday to Brendan's dad and my dad-in-law, Tim. All in the Egans are lucky to have this guy in our lives.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Erin Condren 2017 Lifeplanner Review + Coupon

Guys, guess what's here?

OMG, it's my 2017 life planner. Before we go any further, I want to state for the record that I purchase my own products from Erin Condren. I'm not paid or given freebies to promote the brand, but I do love it, and if you decide to order any products based on my review, I'd much appreciate the $10 referral credit, which I'll get if you use my personal link to purchase from Erin Condren. You'll also get $10 off your order, so it's a win/win! 

In my book, it's never too early to start planning, so even though 2016 is only halfway through, I still wanted to get my 2017 planner, so I could start writing important dates down. I also had some referral credit (thanks guys!) and I was able to get some fun accessories too. 

My haul included: a set of six colored pens, a set of twelve coil clips (used to snap things like paper or photos into the planner), a set of three mini bookmarks (used to help you keep your place on multiple planner pages), the new sticker-book (I truly LOVE it), and a pack of celebrate customized labels, which we use for gifts (namely, for sticking on bottles of wine or booze: our bday/housewarming/congrats gift of choice). 

Here's a sample page from the sticker book. Images and colors really do the trick for me when it comes to staying organized. I decorate my planner, and I have a visual of my week that I seem to remember whether or not I'm actually looking at the planner. These days, I take about 30 minutes on Sunday evening to plan out the week ahead. Brendan has even started asking me to write down some of his must remember appointments. 

I also ordered a package of on the go travel checklists. It just makes packing so much less stressful. 

Okay, without further adieu, here is my 2017 Lifeplanner: 

This year, making a planner was more fun than ever because you can customize several options: 
The cover: choose cover and personalization options. Most covers are removable (you can switch them out with other covers), but they now have some permanent options too. 
The coil color: new customizable option lets you pick platinum (standard) or gold, rose gold, or black (for +$10)
The inside color theme: Colorful or neutral 
The layout: Vertical, horizontal, or hourly. 
As always, you can order just 2017 or pay $5 extra for the rest of 2016 plus 2017. 
My picks: Ikat cover (removable) with personalization (after two years of photo covers, I'm digging the simplicity of this one), rose gold coil, colorful inside, vertical layout, 2017 only (I like a thinner planner). 

The colors have changed some, but the tab system is still in place. 

The biggest difference is that the pouch is no longer automatically added to the planner, but EC does provide you with a six inch coil clip, so you can easily put it in yourself. The stickers and compliment cards shown are this year's other freebies. I haven't decided if I'll clip mine in or not: I do like having the option, since my new planner is noticeably lighter than my 2016 one. 

Another difference is the dry erase board on the front and back inner covers. I have some dry erase dividers from EC, and I've used them to write down accommodations for students. It's the kind of info I need to refer to constantly during the semester, but once the term is over, I can erase it. The velum page is still covering the front page, which will prevent dry erase board smudging. 

2016/2017 calendar: 

Goal setting pages. I've personally enjoyed using these for monthly goals. Though I've learned I have to care about goals in order to meet them. I talk more about that here

Each month still begins with a lined page and quote page. I've really loved this a lot more than I thought I would. I've been using the lined page for month specific notes on topics I know I will never look at again once the month is over (think "what did I assign for extra credit recently?" or "what do I need to tell my class today?" 

My month at a glance is a huge help to me. I write all upcoming plans in the monthly view and transfer them to the weekly view each Sunday evening. If plans are made during the week, they only make it into weekly view. I also track my weight weekly and keep track of all of our bills on the sidebar, checking off when each was paid and noting how much it was. Using this system, I have never been late on a bill. 

The weekly views are as great as ever. Here's how I use mine: 
Thankful thought in the top lefthand corner (a great way to start the week), weekly to-do list down the left side of the page, and hydration counter in bottom left hand corner (I check off how many glasses of water I drink each day), meal plans or what I ate that day along the bottom if I care to track that week. Top rectangles: morning plans, middle: noon-5:00PM, bottom: after 5:00PM. The colors this year are a little more sophisticated/professional. I like it! 

The notes section still has lined, graph, and blank paper. Here's a few things I've used my note section for: I have a big list of extension numbers for everyone at work I call on a regular basis, I track semester long assignments for my students, meeting notes and scratch paper (obviously), slide numbers for my powerpoint games (I play Jeopardy with my students: they love and hate it), attendance, gift ideas, and professional development tracker. This year's notes section includes six lined, four graph, and four blank pages. Trust me, you can do all I do and more with that amount. 

This is one of my favorite additions of the year. A 2018 calendar with lines to write upcoming dates on. 

The stickers are still included. There are the common appointment stickers for things like hair appointments, doctors appointments, voting, etc. followed by a page of blank stickers, and then birthday stickers (cut in a cute shape) and a page of blank stickers in that same shape. I'm a fan of this year's color scheme. 

The folder has changed a bit. The front pocket is regular and the back pocket is shorter. I liked last year's folder better because it was laminated and there was space between the two sides to store things. However, I could easily cut out my old folder and add it using a coil clip. 

I don't always use my perpetual calendar (since I still have the one from my first planner), but I like that it has an important passwords/address page. I'll probably coil clip those in (and I don't recommend writing your real usernames and passwords on anything that could be lost, but you could always write hints that you would know and no one else would). Here's the dry erase board on the back cover (use permanent marker on these/use rubbing alcohol to clean them. Make sure it's dry before you close your planner).

Overall, I love my planner, and I'm thrilled with the difference that EC products have made in my life. 

Happy planning everyone! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Productivity, Projects, Produce, & Pretzels

When you've been blogging for over five years, it becomes hard to think of a title you haven't yet used! It was a perfect weekend, but I'm sure I've already used that title before, so I had to think specifically about what made it perfect.

First of all, I was productive. I've finally had time this summer to revise some stories, and I made time to submit work this weekend. The process, as all my writer friends know, is time consuming. It requires time to read work from each journal to decide if your work would fit there and what piece you should submit. Then, there is cover letter writing and making sure the document is formatted according to the journal's specifications. I managed to get submissions out to ten publications, and I was pleased with that progress.

On Saturday morning, we went to the farmer's market to load up on fresh produce: tons of tomatoes, cucumber, corn, peppers, beets, rainbow chard, yellow squash, and onions. The selection is still not at its peak, but it's getting better every week. After picking up breakfast at Neme's food truck down the street from our house, we went to HEB to knock out our regular shopping.

Saturday afternoon, I hosted a first book club for a group of work friends. We read The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. For reasons I won't go into (for fear of plot spoiling), this book could not have been more timely. It gave us a lot to talk about, and while not everyone in the group loved the book, I certainly thought it was worth my time. It was an interesting blend between genre (think Girl on the Train or Gone Girl) and literary fiction. The main character, Ani, is easy to hate, and her perceptions had a truly negative impact on my psyche. Still, at the end of the novel, I did have empathy for her despite her abundant flaws. This was a fast and interesting read. It will make a plane ride go by quickly. Anyone have recommendations for other books that will do that? I could use some gripping reads for the summer!

For hosting book club, I kept things simple. I made a big pitcher of Sangria using this recipe. I served fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries), nuts (cashews, peanuts, and almonds), chips & salsa, pita chips & hummus, and veggies (carrots and broccoli) with ranch dressing. I made a cheese dip to serve with crackers by covering light cream cheese with a pear sauce purchased at HEB. It was simple to set up, and everyone seemed to enjoy. 

We decided we'll continue the project and someone else will host another book club in August. 

Sunday morning, we called the dads to say Happy Father's Day, and we called my brother to wish him a happy birthday. They're the best, and we look forward to seeing both our dads soon to celebrate (unfortunately, I don't know when I'll see Graham next, but luckily my mom got to see him on his birthday since she has a work trip in California). 

I finished the latest book I've been reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. My friend Emily recommend it, and it was a great read. Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher with interesting ideas about her responsibilities in "shaping" her pupils. The book is fascinating and realism at its best. Now, I desperately want to watch the movie with Maggie Smith. 

Also on Sunday, Brendan and I put our pretzel making talents to use. Making pretzels is a project, and we enjoyed turning our kitchen into a factory. I was shaping the dough, and Brendan was dipping it in the beer bath and putting pretzels into the oven. On the stove, I was making sure to frequently whisk the homemade mustard dip. It was all worth it when we got to bring our creations to Dagan & Steph's for Game of Thrones night. Their son LOVES pretzels and has been requesting them since we first brought them to the Superbowl party in February.  

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend, and I've taken time this morning to think about the week ahead. I want to get some stuff done for work (I've taken on an extra project online), return to my workouts, start packing, and make sure to use everything in the pantry! 

Hope your week is off to a great start. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fast & Fresh Summer Dinners

Greetings faithful blog readers! I've been trying to teach my cats to scratch their scratching post if they want treats (which we used to just give them). It's not going well. You can't learn to teach an old cat new tricks on this blog, but you can get some new ideas for fast & fresh summer dinners, so hopefully, that makes up for it.

Summer crops are my favorite to eat, so I spend most of my days lately planning what to make for dinner, but like always, we appreciate fast fixings, so here's a few ideas of things you can put together in 30 minutes or less.

The current issue of Shape magazine (June 2016) has this taco recipe, which uses a can of white kidney beans and parsley and is topped with a slaw made up fennel and peaches mixed with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Brendan doesn't like peaches, so we replaced that with a melon (golden honeydew), and it was delightful. We put sriracha on them (of course) and served them with a side of "street corn" (mix cotija cheese, sour cream, lime juice, and a little light mayo and top with chili powder) and corn has never been so good! This Monday night dinner took us all of 30 minutes. It was simple but satisfying and had many of the fresh tastes of summer that I love. Plus, I got to make a smiley face on my plate (do you see it?)

Last night brought more street corn because HEB sold corn 8 for $1 this week, so obviously, we had to buy 8 ears. We paired it with purple potatoes (boiled and topped with butter and rosemary from our herb garden) and tomato/cucumber salad (cherry tomatoes halved with slices of cucumber emerged in red wine vinegar and topped with dill for our herb garden). Tip on the tomato/cucumber salad: save your leftover red wine vinegar in a jar. You can use it the next time you make a tomato/cucumber salad. Again, this dinner took no more than 30 minutes, and most of that time was spent just waiting for water to boil. 

A few hours after dinner, I made us this dessert plate to munch on while watching a movie on Netflix (we watched Hush, which was only okay). Cheese, berries, and chocolate: a good way to end any day! 

Tonight's dinner may only be easy if you have a cousin named Amanda that came to your house over Labor Day weekend, took over your food processor for a few hours, and made many batches of pesto using your garden basil for you to freeze. Luckily, I fall into that camp, so all I had to do tonight was slice some cherry tomatoes and boil pasta and make my favorite salad: spring mix, sliced strawberries, whole raspberries and blueberries, herb garden sweet mint, and goat cheese with Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette dressing (we buy it at HEB). Pesto can be purchased at the store though, so you too could make this dinner in under 30 minutes! 

I don't have a picture, but my favorite lunch lately is an avocado/tomato sandwich. I use multigrain bread from HEB, spread a little light mayo on it, slice half an avocado and most of a Roma tomato, top with salt and pepper, and enjoy my 5 minute lunch.

We hope your summer is delicious. I was planning a walk for tonight, but after a calm and incredibly hot day (we are already up to 104 here), we're having a thunder storm complete with heavy winds. I guess I'm in for the night. Happy evening everyone!


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