Monday, July 24, 2017

A Few of Those Austin Stories

Greetings faithful blog readers! 

Does anyone remember the MTV show Austin Stories? I once missed an entire day of school in 1997 to play a bratty kid in an episode. Fun Fact, the episode was filmed in the same theater that Christiana got married in this summer. 

Thanks for indulging that digression. We've been in Austin since Tuesday night seeing my family and Lola & Zoe.

A few things worth mentioning...

On the plane ride home, I started reading Myfanwy Collins' collection I am Holding Your Hand, and I am absolutely blown away by it. 

Brendan picked up the card game 6 nimmt, and my family is absolutely addicted. We are bringing the game with us to Connecticut; get ready Egans! 

We spent a day jet skiing on Lake Travis with my dad on Friday, and it was gorgeous and fun. I'm not sure I've mentioned UV proof long sleeve swim shirts and shorts from Lands End, but they are a lifesaver. I bought them for our 17 mile kayaking trip and have worn them for other adventures like white water rafting. Hooray for no sunburn!  

In addition to seeing my parents, we also got in some cousin time. 

We tried a few new places in Austin, and I'd highly recommend Lick (gourmet ice creams similar to Salt & Straw in Portland or Jenni's in Columbus), Snooze AM (best brunch ever and worth the long wait), and The Peached Tortilla (Asian/Southern Comfort Fusion that blew me away). 

I revised my story that was workshopped at Tin House, had phone dates with friends Allie and Emily A., unpacked, did laundry, and repacked, and helped my parents with a few to-do list items. All in all, I'd say it's been a successful week, but Lola encapsulates our feelings about waking up for a super early flight tomorrow. 

We are flying to Connecticut to spend time with Brendan's family and join the annual family vacation to Maine. I can't wait to see my other family and spend quality time on the beach, fishing, antiquing, cooking farmer's market veggies, and playing games. As usual, I'll be off the grid but will return with stories of our travels. 

I am feeling so thankful to my sweet husband who is reading my revision for the third(!) time at the end of a long day. Now that's love! 

Hope everyone's week is off to a lovely start. 

Friday, July 21, 2017


Greetings faithful blog readers,

When we found out we were both attending the Tin House Summer Workshop, I was really excited for an excuse to visit Portland for the first time. Initially, I thought our early morning Saturday flight would give us "an entire day to explore Portland" (yep, that's how I worded it when explaining it to Brendan). But the morning flight was so early that all I could do on Saturday before the workshop was sleep and eat ( FYI, Nudi Noodle, Bird + Bear, C Bar, and Tom Yum Thai, and Cloud City Ice Cream were all good bets near the Reed College campus).

The next day, the workshop started in full force, so we were basically occupied for the entire week. The last night of the workshop was the following Saturday, and we spent 8:45AM to 2AM on the Reed campus. Needless to say, the priority for Sunday was sleeping in and then grabbing brunch. After that, we took an Uber to the Japanese Gardens and spent a little over an hour exploring the beautiful scenery. This time of year and on a weekend afternoon, the gardens were pretty busy (I'd recommend a morning on a weekday if possible). I'd love to be here when it was quiet and you could really meditate, but I still enjoyed it immensely.

I'm pretty sure the Bonsai tree exhibit was Brendan's favorite part. 

While the Japanese Gardens admission is $15 per adult, the Rose Garden is right next door and is free. We spent an equal amount of time perusing the gardens and smelling every type of rose.

During our entire 10 day trip, it didn't rain a drop. We lucked out with beautiful weather that wasn't too hot either. My friend Kristen is moving to Seattle, and I hope a summertime visit is in the cards one day!

This was my favorite picture of the day. 

To get to dinner, we ended up taking quite the off road hike. It wasn't perfect for leather flats, but every shoe I brought was hurting my feet in some way by that point. At first, we were dismayed to find the Thai place we'd selected on Yelp was closed because we were hungry and thought the next restaurant was a ways away, but our spirits quickly lifted when another Thai food restaurant was just block away (lots of Thai food in Portland=heaven). This one was called Thai Bloom, and on Sundays, they have an all day happy hour. We were able to get drinks, an appetizer, a salad, and two main courses for about $33 dollars total. It was definitely the deal of the trip, and the food was delicious. 

We wrapped up the evening by waiting forty five minutes in line at Salt and Straw (Ice cream). I had Meyer Lemon Blueberry and Goat Cheese Habanero, and Brendan had Fresh Cheese and Strawberries. I'd compare the ice cream to Jenni's (which we discovered thanks to Brendan's relatives living in Ohio). It was a great way to celebrate National Ice Cream Day (which I didn't even know was a thing). 

The next day, we moved to The Benson hotel. This put us close to the Pearl district where so much (bars, restaurants, shopping) was in walking distance. My mom had given me some birthday money and told me to use it to treat myself in Portland, and I was excited to do just that. After checking in, we went to the nearby food truck row (I thought Austin was big on food trucks, but this was like thirty options all next to one another) and got light bites. Next, we went to Powell's books, the largest bookstore I've ever been in. They had so many used books, it was basically heaven. 

We wandered around there before checking out some vintage shops. After picking out a few things, we checked out a paper store, and guess what I found? 

My very own friend Bailey's notebooks for sale! You can find her store, Antiquaria, online here. (For those who have been reading for awhile, Bailey was the one that put together all the vintage dish sets that we registered for. She has also been my friend since third grade). 

 After all the fun of shopping and browsing, it was time for the sushi meal we'd been craving. 

During dinner, Brendan said he was a little disappointed we hadn't made time for Oysters, and I immediately suggested that we go light on the sushi so we could save room. After dinner, we wandered to the water and sat by fountains reading our new books from Powell's. Then, we walked to Dan and Louis Oyster Bar and shared a dozen Oysters. 

Our waitress gave us a great tip about a nearby bar on the 30th floor of a building. We stopped in for a drink and enjoyed the sunset and gorgeous panoramic views. 

After so much eating, you'd think we'd be full, but while at the Oyster Bar, we'd glimpsed the line at Voodoo Donuts, and Brendan had already heard it was a pretty big deal. We walked back and got two donuts to go (Dirt and Voodoo Doll), walked to our nearby hotel, and shared the donuts in our room while watching Netflix. The donuts were pretty amazing (I say this as someone that rarely cares for donuts!) 

Overall, this was the best Monday I've had in a long time. We left Portland on Tuesday afternoon and had a direct flight to Austin. Everything was on time (thanks to our favorite airline, Southwest), and I felt so thankful for an easy travel day and a remarkable time in Portland. We hope to be back (one day), and until then, I'll just savor the wonderful memories. 

Lots of love faithful blog readers, and happy Friday! 
P.S.-We're extremely happy to be reunited with Lola and Zoe! They are doing great but maybe getting too spoiled by canned food at their "grandparents' house." 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tin House Summer Workshop 2017

Greetings faithful blog readers,

Brendan and I just returned from Portland, OR last night, and we had a fantastic trip. In this post, I'll focus on our Tin House Summer Workshop experiences and hope the information will be of help for anyone considering participating in the future.

Our friend Allie from our MFA program had a great experience at Tin House 2016, and because of her recommendation, we decided to apply. You can read Allie's fiction here.

When we applied, we decided we'd only attend if both of us were accepted. The application is $40 per person. At the conference, we found out that there were 1,300 applications for this year, so the acceptance rate was a little under 17%. We did apply early, as soon as applications opened in January, and we were both able to work with our first choice workshop leader (Aimee Bender for Brendan and Danielle Evans for me) because we were accepted in mid-March.

Preparing for the workshop is intense because your workshop is going to discuss twelve stories in six meetings. This is like fitting 40% of a fifteen week MFA workshop semester into one week. Honestly, I was glad we were not teaching at the same time as preparing. We read every story at least twice before doing a write up. Each story was about 20 pages. I would guesstimate that it took us about twenty four hours of solid prep time to get ready. We took the organizer's advice and came to the workshop with everything (manuscripts and write-ups) printed.

The tuition at Tin House is $1,200. This includes the workshop, the craft lectures, the nightly readings, and the social events. Full disclosure: our institution paid our tuition and some of our accommodations, but we both agree we would have paid for it ourselves if need be because it was just so, so valuable. As summer workshops go, Tin House is the same cost as Sewanee and about half the cost of Bread Loaf. The faculty and guests at Tin House are impressive. I think that is probably the main thing to look at before making a decision. In my opinion, it's valuable to go when you feel you are going to get the most out of it. For me, I would not recommend going during the MFA or directly after. With the MFA a few years in my past, I felt reinvigorated by the workshop experience. For those still in MFA, I would recommend using the summer to work on your thesis, but that said, there were people in my workshop currently in their MFA programs, and they seemed fine.

While Tin House offers room + board for $600 per person, we found an AirBnB a block away for $75 per night, which was more economical for us. We had an option to add $150 each for meals for the week but purchased them a la carte instead (based on a tip from Allie). We spent about $30 a day on meals (so did ultimately save money, though we ate oatmeal in our AirBnB daily rather than a big breakfast on campus, and we had less food at each meal than our friends with the meal card because they had sides included and we only purchased one entree each). Whether your room and board is included or not, the bar is still cash bar each night. We spent about $28 a night at the bar. For one person, a $30 per day food/drink budget is a reasonable expectation).

The experience truly exceeded my expectations. Going in, I knew it was going to be exhausting, and it was (we were typically on campus from 9AM to day we were there from 8:45AM to 2AM!) But what I didn't expect was just how much I would gain from the the week. My workshop leader, Danielle Evans, was extremely generous with her feedback and time. She gave so much insight to every single story. I felt that a few of my writing struggles and how to fix them became more apparent to me as her advice started to click. In my workshop, I'd say 75% of us had or were working on MFAs. Everyone had been in some sort of workshop before. The feedback I got from my classmates was really useful, and I hope to stay in touch with them too. The daily craft lectures (usually two or three per day) were really helpful and covered a large variety of topics. The nightly readings in the beautiful Reed amphitheather were a treat, and the social events that followed (Karaoke, Trivia, etc.) gave students access to faculty in a non-academic environment.

The Tin House editors at the workshop were some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. I was intimidated going into my meetings, but they ended up being extremely helpful and not nearly as scary as I thought. Brendan and I both met with agents and got the green light to send work when our projects are complete. You are allowed to bring a query letter (which we didn't do because our projects aren't complete yet), but you are not to bring a manuscript to the meeting. I would not go into this with expectations that you will sign an agent on the spot, but several of my friends with completed novels had agents agree to look at their work and get back to them. I recommend researching to try and figure out who your project would best fit with. No one is required to take any meetings--they are optional. 

Another component of the workshop is participant readings, which are also optional. Neither of us signed up (it seems better suited to poetry, since you only have a five minute reading), but it was neat that the faculty made an effort to attend. 

We brought home a huge tote bag of signed books and added a lot of contacts to my phone and our Facebook pages. Meeting writers from all over the country was one of the best parts of the week. 

If you are thinking of applying and stumble across this post in the future and think of any questions, please email me; I'll be happy to answer. 

Another post on our extra days in Portland is forthcoming, but for now, I'm cuddling with my cats (in Austin). Have a great week everyone! 


Friday, July 7, 2017

July 2017 Stitch Fix + Updates

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I know I've talked about Stitch Fix many times on the blog. I always pay for my own fixes, but I do appreciate a referral credit, so if you decide to sign up based on my reviews please use my referral link. Thanks a bunch!

My July fix was scheduled to arrive at my mom's house on my anniversary. I asked for dresses to wear out for a nice dinner, but I packed a backup outfit from home too. My stylist this time was Angel, and she only sent one dress. In her defense, I also asked for outfits for our upcoming trip to Portland, so she had a lot to accomplish with only five picks.

My fix arrived early, so I was able to try everything on July 4th as soon as we arrived to Austin (well, after greeting my parents and spending some time snuggling Lola and Zoe!) Enjoy my just got out of the car look!

First up was the Suri Dress.

My whole family was impressed with this dress, and my mom pointed out it'd be perfect for teaching; however, I really didn't like this dress much at all. Even though it was a small, it seemed oversized on me. I wasn't crazy about the color or the pattern. It was way too casual for an anniversary dinner. For me, this was an easy decision to make: Return. 

Up next was the Robinson Scoop Neck Top and the Catriona Pencil Skirt. 

When I saw this top, I thought "that's kind of boring," but I ended up liking this pink color on myself. My only complaint was that medium felt too big (see under arms), but I kept this top anyway because I didn't feel like waiting on an exchange, and the issue wasn't a deal breaker. I wanted to love this skirt (the pattern is so cute), but unfortunately, it was just too small in the hips, and Stitch Fix did not have any larger sizes for exchange, so the skirt was returned.

The Dawney Scallop Trim Blouse was next:

I'd told my stylist that I wanted to try something with a scallop cut, so I really hoped this top would fit. It was a little big in the underarms, but again, not a deal breaker, and I didn't feel like waiting on an exchange. This one was a keeper!

Last up was the Rezin Halter Blouse, which I had pinned on Pinterest.

Sadly, this top was huge on me (you can't tell because I'm basically holding it in with my hands). I liked it but not enough to ask for a new size. It was a return.

I thought Angel did a good job. There was only one thing in my fix that I didn't like (the dress), and the other items would've been wins if they'd all fit correctly. I updated my style profile, and that will hopefully lead to smaller tops and larger skirts in future fixes.

As for our anniversary, the backup outfit I'd packed was just perfect for our dinner at the restaurant where we got engaged. I was even able to wear my wedding hair clip and shoes.

We had a lovely fourth anniversary. We follow the anniversary gift list each year, and this year was Linen/Fruit or Flowers. I gave Brendan a set of linen sheets and he gave me my lifelong dream gift: a subscription to the Harry and David fruit of the month club. Seriously, I was SO HAPPY and can't wait for my delicious deliveries.

After dinner, we were able to spend time with my family celebrating various birthday's (Mine, Dad's, Graham's, Lola's, and Zoe's), Father's Day, and my and Brendan's anniversary. We just got a cake that said "Happy Everything."

Tomorrow, we leave for Portland, OR where Brendan and I will both be in the Tin House Summer Workshop for short fiction. I'll be workshopping with Danielle Evans, and Brendan will be workshopping with Aimee Bender. When we applied, we made a pact that we'd only go if we both got in. I was pretty thrilled when we were both accepted over spring break (while in San Francisco), but it also means we're missing my dear friend Cheryl's wedding tomorrow. Cheryl caught the bouquet at our wedding, and I really wish I could be in NYC for her big day. So much love to this friend I've had for thirteen(!) years now. I know she's going to make a beautiful bride tomorrow.

Also, today is my bestie's birthday:

Corley is a constant friend and encourager to me, and I love her so very much.

July 7th is also the day we lost Mimi last year. I can't believe it's been a full year of not being able to call her on a Sunday morning or look forward to my next visit at her house. I hope that Mimi is watching over us tonight because we'll be cooking with Amanda and Matt and toasting our grandmother.

I hope everyone is all set to have a great weekend. We'll be getting up for an early flight tomorrow. Updates from Portland to come! 


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Best Four Years

I have a terrible fake smile that I give when I pose for pictures. Brendan always calls me out for it because he says you can tell that I'm not really happy (usually when taking pictures, I have a "hurry up and just get it done" mentality). I feel overly conscious of my expression (Is my smile too big? Are my eyes too squinted?) My favorite thing about our wedding photos is that our photographer wasn't particularly interested in having us pose; she simply captured the day and our moment to moment happiness. I've never seen myself smile more authentically. 

When planning our wedding, Brendan had no interest in trying to choreograph anything. We didn't practice our first kiss or rehearse dancing to our song. His attitude was simply that this day was for us and that the only thing we should be thinking of was each other and the moment (not how whatever thing we were doing would look to other people or in photos). This is probably the best wedding advice I'd have for any bride and groom to be. 

I know we were surrounded by friends and family as we shared our first dance, but in my memories, it's as if we were the only people there. When our band suggested our first dance song was "much longer than usual," and asked if we wanted a cut version, Brendan said no way. He just wanted our song, and that's what we got. It went by so fast anyway because we were having a blast and taking in that we were finally married. 

It's not that nothing went wrong on our wedding day, but we acknowledged our worries and anxieties and then let them go. We were married, and that was the most important thing.

I think our married lives are a lot like that too. Brendan brings out that authentic smile in me all the time, and he's helped me to learn to try and let go of what I can't control.

Brendan reminds me to do the things that make me happy. Sometimes he makes me do those things, knowing that the joy will follow. We remind each other not to focus so much on the negative. Grudges are heavy to hold and forgiveness of others (and each other) is so much easier. We approach life with the attitude that everyone is doing his or her best to get by, and we need to cut each other more slack.

Marriage is the art of trying to be your best for someone else, falling short, and still having their love and admiration anyway. No matter what, you never give up on each other. Your faith in that other person's love for you can see you through anything. I know. 

Even though we've vowed to spend a lifetime together, our time here is still finite. We choose to find the good in one other, to take the fun adventure... 

to ride the waves (literally and figuratively). 

They say life is whatever you make of it. 

I say, life is whatever you make together. 

Happy four years, dear. There's no one I'd rather share a life with. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

Donate Your Birthday: 31

Greetings faithful blog readers,

I needed some time to get my birthday donations in order, but I'm really excited about the organizations I choose this year. If you haven't been following along, the idea behind donate your birthday is giving your age in dollars to a charity each year. Brendan and I donate to many charities throughout the year, but I love "donate your birthday" because it's workable for people in many different income brackets, and I think giving a little something back it's a great way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

About a year and a half ago, I mentioned that Midland College hosted Dr. Donna Beegle for poverty awareness training. Out of that training came many great innovations on our campus, and one of them was the Save Our Students (SOS) Fund. The idea of this fund is that sometimes students need a financial helping hand whether it be for gas, groceries, or to pay an essential bill. One thing I love about working at Midland College is that we really have the means to make sure students aren't being left behind because of financial need. Our counseling support staff is excellent and has found housing for students in emergency situations and made sure they had other essential resources. I donated $31 in honor of my birthday, but I plan to donate more throughout the year to a cause that reduces barriers to education right here in west Texas. If you are interested in donating, you can click here, select "other program" from the drop down menu, and type in "Save Our Students Fund."

After we returned from New Mexico, I received a letter in the mail from one of my past donate your birthday picks, West Texas Food Bank. They wrote that the Wayne and Jo Ann Moore Charitable Foundation had agreed to match all gifts up to $75,000 (this is running until August 31st or until $75,000 is donated). The summer is a really tough time for families in food insecure households because some children are on free/reduced breakfast/lunch, so school being out for summer can really create a strain. At West Texas Food Bank, every dollar spent creates FOUR meals for someone in need. I donated another $31 dollars to this charity (which turned into $62 thanks to donation matching or 248 meals!) If you are interested in donating to West Texas Food Bank and having your donation matched, you can do so here.

This community has given so much to us, and I'm glad that we can give a little to it in return. If you donate your birthday, leave a comment and let us know what organization you picked. I'm always in search of excellent charities and causes to support, and you can check out my favorites on the lefthand side of the blog.


*L&Z still in Austin, but we see them TOMORROW!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Taos Week Four

Greetings faithful blog readers!

Our last week in Taos flew by, and we are now home safely in Midland. We were sad to leave, but we had an amazing month.

Last Saturday, we went to our last Taos farmers market and had another lovely breakfast on the patio at Bent Street Cafe. I used all our farmer's market tomatoes, and we made a delicious pasta sauce and a refreshing summer salad for dinner.

Sunday was Brendan's dad's birthday, so we called him early in the day. After getting some work done, we ended up back at Taos Mesa Brewery for dinner. We really like sharing a pizza and sitting on the patio there. Of course, since it was my father-in-law's birthday, I insisted that we get dessert to commemorate the occasion, ha!

Monday was absolute heaven: after working during the morning and afternoon, we took a gorgeous one hour drive to Ojo Caliente. The resort itself was really nice. There were seven hot springs pools and a mud bath. We soaked for a little while together, and then I went and had spa treatments (a massage, a body scrub, and a hair mask) while Brendan read, soaked, and relaxed. Once I came out, I felt "new person" level relaxed. We'd made reservations for dinner at the resort, and we got a lovely patio table and enjoyed the sunset and a delicious meal before soaking for another hour and then heading home. There were no phones allowed at the resort, so we didn't snap any pictures (but I made sure to take some in my mind).

Tuesday was a very productive day. We were engrossed in what we were doing and only took a break for dinner where we ate at Quechua Peruvian. Everything was good, but I really loved my cucumber lemonade.

On Wednesday, we were up somewhat early for a whitewater rafting adventure. We joined Cottams for the Racecourse morning trip. This was about half the intensity of our Costa Rica trip (which was also supposedly class III rapids, and in hindsight, I would of been completely comfortable rafting the box). I had so much fun on racecourse that I immediately suggested we raft the next day or the day after, but we ultimately decided we didn't have the time. There's something about rafting that just brings me to pure joy level.

Wednesday night, we went back to Kit Carson park for the movie in the park event and watched Frozen under the stars (Guess whose idea that was?) 

Thursday was my 31st birthday, and I was so happy to get to catch up with family and friends via calls and text. I went to my afternoon yoga class at Shree Yoga (Thanks for the free bday class!) and Brendan picked me up, and we had a light lunch before shopping in the plaza. We had dinner reservations on the patio at The Love Apple, and it was (we agree) the best meal of the trip (and we ate a lot of good meals!) They brought me not one but two free desserts in honor of my birthday, and Brendan and I shared a bottle of New Mexico champagne (we immediately purchased six at a nearby grocery store to bring was that good!)

I'm still participating in Donate Your Birthday. A post on that coming soon!

Friday night, we pursued a local's dinner suggestion and ate at Common Fire. It was really exceptional (they have a wood burning oven and make all sorts of gourmet comfort foods and have an extensive beer/wine list).

My-oh-my will I miss those New Mexico views!

Writing wise, we made a lot of progress. My total trip average was seven pages a day; not the ten pages a day I'd hoped for, but I'm still really happy with the progress made.

Today, we got up early, packed up the car, cleaned up our Airbnb, thanked our hosts, and hit the road. We made it home around 7:30PM. The yard looks good (shout out to the most amazing house-sitter, Jenni), and tomorrow AM, you will find us both weeding.

We have so much to do before the next trip...but right now, I'm having a margarita!

*This isn't quite true as L&Z are still with their loving grandparents in Austin! We can't wait to see them in a few days.
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