Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Summer Reading List

Nope, this one isn't for the students, though they do have one; rather, this one is my own personal summer reading list.

People have the misconception that all English teachers do is read. And while I wish that were true, it's not. In fact, they say if you want to have time to read, teach math. And while I certainly do have some free time on my hands, I don't always use it to read. But I absolutely love reading, and I love getting lost in a new book, which is why I created my own personal summer reading list. I like checking things off of lists, so I'll use that as my motivation. It features the following books, and though I do hope to read a couple more, these are the seven (eight) that I absolutely have to read. They're all new-to-me books, because we all know if I chose to reread my very favorites, I would only read Harry Potter.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
I'm actually reading this book right now and I'm finding it so incredibly fascinating. Being a teacher, the concept of school shootings is very real, though it's certainly not something I ever think about or anticipate happening. I have no recollection of Columbine, as I was just seven years old at the time - though it's funny that I can distinctly remember 9/11 - but to read a true account of what happened on that devastating day. And it's so much different from many of the media reports. Dylan and Eric were just like the next troubled high school student - with lots of friends, who made good grades - and though they left tangible signs everywhere they went - 20/20 hindsight, of course - the Columbine incident was such a devastating tragedy, that I've found it hard to stop reading about what likely went through the minds of these two killers. 

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
This is one of those rare instances when I have seen the movie, but not read the book. For me, it's always the other way around. I am so bad about seeing movies. But I can't take all the credit for this one, as I actually watched it with the Pre-AP English II classes at Westwood last year when I was doing my student teaching. I was surprised by how much I loved it, and I suspected that, as most book and movie combinations go, the book would be better than the movie. I've heard nothing but good things about it from the junior English teachers who actually get to teach it, so I'm excited to cross this one off my list.

Emma by Jane Austen
This one has been on my list for quite some time. Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite books, and I've seen Emma sit high atop many lists. Higher even than Pride and Prejudice, in many instances. In fact, Emma is said to be Austen's "most flawless work," as it explores the mystery that is relationships, and shows the protagonist - Emma, surprise! - going about her every day business. As is my experience with Austen, this one will probably take me a little while to really get into. But when I do, don't expect to hear from me for a couple of days. 

Fences by August Wilson
I'm mixing things up a little bit by throwing a play into the mix. I'll admit, I was actually completely unfamiliar with the works of August Wilson, until just the other week when I was talking with one of my fellow English teachers about some of the works taught in 10th grade English. Fences came up, and he asked me if I was at all familiar with Wilson. I said that I was not, and he recommended I pick up the book from the bookroom if I'm looking for an enjoyable way to spend an hour. Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for this one, and because plays are meant to be performed, surely it will inspire me to watch the performance. 

Denzel is in it, after all (Source)
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I love John Steinbeck. East of Eden is one of my all-time favorite books, but to be honest, I have truly loved all that I've read by Steinbeck. Granted, I haven't read all that much, but that's why I'm looking to expand on that number with Cannery Row. The characters are supposedly simple, as are much of Steinbeck's characters, and likeable; the prose is unsurprisingly descriptive - classic Steinbeck - and it's said to provide "deep commentary on human society." Should be a quick yet deep, and enlightening read.

You Don't Know Me by David Klass
This one is actually on the English II summer reading list at Bellaire, and to hear another teacher talk about the plotline is what inspired me to wander into the arctic tundra that is our bookroom and grab a copy of my own to read. It's a coming-of-age novel that should be a quick read, and it evidently focuses on the angst-ridden adolescent, and the increasing pressures of high school, so pretty much a story featuring my students. The protagonist also deals with a very troubled home life, which is a very serious reality that many of my students do face.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Cue the excitement of every single English teacher (and really every person) ever. Originally written in the mid-1950's, the lost manuscript was discovered late last year, and it centers around the character of Scout - returning home to Maycomb to visit her father - 20 years later. I feel as though I should reread To Kill a Mockingbird before I pick up this novel - it's as good a time as ever, right?, but I could not be more excited to read the sequel to one of America's most influential books. I vow to not compare the sequel to the original, because one, it's a sequel, and two, it's been sitting in the vault for a long while. And whatever this book holds, I don't want it to cloud my opinion of the brilliance that I believe is Harper Lee.

She's said to be both humbled and amazed about this publication (Source)
What books are currently on your list? If you're anything like me, you're always adding to it. And of course, I plan to throw in a couple of beach reads here and there. Because I anticipate many of these books to be very heavy reads. I also hope to find some books that will appeal to my reading kiddos for next year, as so many of them don't even know how to look for a book that interests them. Trips to the library or bookstore are no longer treasured events, and I think we owe a lot of that to the standardized test phenomenon. We tell kids what to read and how to read it, so it's no wonder they scoff at the idea of reading for fun. But that's an opinion for a whole other post. Have a great one, and check back sometime this week for an exciting fitnessandfroyo announcement!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Chicken Lentil Vegetable Soup Recipe

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful and relaxing weekend, because today is the first day of the work week (and/or school week), and it's never a good thing to enter into a week feeling tired. I personally had a great weekend - full of sunshine and watching sports and exercise and reading and some playing around in the kitchen. I've mentioned before that a lot of my food prep for the week happens on Sunday, which certainly means I have to give up quite a bit of Sunday time to do it, but it saves me so much time during the week. And for that, it's more than worth it. Normally I make the same breakfast and lunch week after week - scrambled egg whites and salad - but I decided to do a little something different this time around. It's a strange time to do it, as temperatures here in Texas hit close to 90 degrees yesterday, but when you're hit with inspiration, you're hit with inspiration, ya know?

As I am sure you could tell from the title of this post, the recipe I am sharing with you guys today is a Chicken Lentil Vegetable Soup Recipe. The prep work takes a little bit of time, but then you get to slide it all into a crockpot, and let the slow cooker do all of the hard work for you. That's my kind of recipe! So, because I've already enjoyed this taste of something different, I'll share this fitnessandfroyo original recipe with all of you. May your warm nights be made even warmer with this one!

  • 2 cups lentils
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • Seasoning of your choice - I used thyme and rosemary pepper

1. Place the first  eight ingredients into a slow cooker
2. Place the two chicken breasts on top of the vegetables - seasoning, if desired

3. Pour in your four cups of chicken broth
4. Cover and let cook for six hours
5. Shred chicken breast and enjoy!

I would provide a picture of the finished product, but it's quite honestly a sight for sore eyes. Just trust me on the fact that it tastes much better than it looks! I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as much as I have already enjoyed it. There's no end to the various vegetable combinations you could throw together, and I think mixing in some quinoa would be another tasty way to sneak in some extra protein. But that's a recipe for another day. Have a fabulous rest of your Monday!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Compilation Survey

After an absolutely (and unexpected) beautiful Saturday, I've got a random compilation of questions for you guys this Sunday.

1. How do you like your steak? 
Medium rare. Anything else just isn’t Texan.

2. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? 
I’ve admitted before that I’m pretty bad about going to see movies at the movie theater. So with that being said, I honestly can't remember the last movie I saw in theaters. I have been meaning to see the movie Unfriended, as, one, it was a movie all of my students were talking about prior to its release, and two, it's one that I think would really hit home for some of them. Maybe today I'll venture out and see it.

3. What is your favorite TV show? 
Boy Meets World or Friday Night Lights. Two absolute classics. But you certainly can’t forget about Full House, either.

4. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? 
I’m a Texas girl through and through, but if I had to live somewhere else for say, a couple of years, I would probably choose California, Hawaii, or London. Three of my favorite places.

5. What did you have for breakfast?
Some of my banana-oatmeal-almond butter muffin dough. Can't get enough!

6. What is your favorite cuisine? 
Mexican, or American. But I also love Italian and Greek food. I don’t really discriminate. Though I used to reject anything that wasn't chicken fingers and French fries.

But quite honestly, a sandwich will always hit the spot
7. What foods do you dislike? 
Sushi. Even though I did try raw fish while in San Francisco. And I liked it! But it was probably a one and done type of experience.

8. Favorite Place to Eat? 
Hungry’s. It’s the Stratford America go-to, and one of my forever favorite restaurants. 

9. Favorite dressing? 
Balsamic Vinaigrette. I eat it every day on my salad!

10. What are your favorite clothes? 

Is it bad to say that my favorite clothes are workout clothes? But if we’re going real clothes, maxi dresses are both cute and comfortable, and you can’t get much better than that. 

I loved that most of what we wore in SF was workout clothes
11. Where would you visit if you had the chance? 
Australia, Switzerland, Ireland, and Greece are at the top of my list these days. 

12. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full? 
A majority of the time, it’s half full. But we all get bogged down sometimes.

13. Where would you want to retire? 

Sausalito. This is very, very real. 

14. Favorite time of day? 
I’m most productive in the morning and early afternoon. I shut down right around 3:00pm, which makes me realize that teaching is the only job for me!

15. Where were you born? 

Houston, Texas.

16. How many siblings? 
One little brother.

17. Favorite pastime/hobby? 
Running, reading, and baking.

18. Do you have any pets? 
I don’t, but I’ve already vowed to rescue a beagle when I move out of my parent’s house and into my own house or apartment.

19. Any new and exciting news you'd like to share? 

On Friday I had my End of Year Conference with my appraiser, and unless something drastic happens, it looks like I'll be returning to Bellaire for a second year! Not that there were really any worries, but you just never know. And I'll raise my glass to that!

20. What did you want to be when you were little? 
I’ve actually wanted to become a teacher since the third grade, but before that I desperately wanted to become an astronaut. I had such a fascination with space.

21. What is your best childhood memory? 
I think playing outside. And biking and razor scootering over to my friends’ houses. There was no distraction of social media or cell phones, and my only cares were how fast I was going to finish that Mad Minute.  

22. Are you a cat or dog person? 
Dog. I took after my Granny in the cat department. 

23. Always wear your seat belt? 

24. Been in a car accident? 
I’ve been in a couple. Thankfully, none of them were serious, just enough to shake you up a little bit. 

25. Any pet peeves? 
Tardiness. But I’m sure that’s one you could have answered on your own. And just to switch it up a little bit, I also can't help but roll my eyes at people who mess up your and you're - it's just really not that difficult.

And it happens quite often with my students, unfortunately. Where am I going wrong?
26. Favorite Pizza Toppings? 
Vegetables – zucchini, squash, broccoli, mushrooms – anything, really. Sans cheese, of course!

27. Favorite Flower? 
Tulips or sunflowers, for sure. 

28. How many times did you fail your driver's test? 
I actually didn’t take a driver’s test. I was in that sweet spot where all I had to do was take a written test for my learner’s permit. And though I am actually a very good driver, I’m not sure that I ever would have passed the parallel parking portion. 

29. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? 
Anthropologie, hands down.

That's where this outfit came from
30. Do anything spontaneous lately?
Honestly, the most spontaneous, out-of-the-ordinary thing I've done recently is purchase the orange hat I wore in Napa. I'm a pretty predictable gal, it seems.

31. Like your job? 
I absolutely love it. And for that, I am very, very grateful. 

32. Broccoli? 
Only if it’s cooked! 

33. What was your favorite vacation? 
This is such a tough question. I’m going to go with my most recent trip to San Francisco. It’s fresh in my mind, it was honestly probably the most perfect weekend, and I got to do it all with four of my best friends. Life is G O O D.

And I’ll check back in with y’all sometime this week! Have a great one! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Things I'm Loving Friday XXXI

I enjoyed three four-day work weeks in a row, and I am on my way to surviving my first five-day work week. Whew! And today is going to be a relatively easy one because my first two classes are quizzing, I'm giving one of my English classes a mini catch-up day, and I'm taking my beloved 7th period to a sneak preview of the Bellaire Belles Spring Show. Because when that's an option on a spring Friday afternoon, you take it. And on that note ...

7 Signs Teachers Know It's Spring
If this isn't THE most accurate representation of what being a teacher has looked like as of late, I don't know what is. Now that the STAAR is over, my stress level has gone down (at least a little bit), and the pressure has lifted. I've found myself telling myself, "Hey, if it takes me a day or two longer than I thought, it takes me a day or two longer than I thought." While I was initially nervous about leaving my kids with a sub for two days, I realized that it really wouldn't be the end of the world if they chose not to do the work that I left for them to complete. Anyway, number two of this article really called my name. Taking attendance means I've had a productive day, and replying to an email? Going above and beyond.

And then you get things like this and have to be a little bit flattered
Shut Up and Dance
Y'all. I'm obsessed with this song by Walk the Moon. Like can't stop listening to it obsessed. I think I played it for maybe 20 minutes straight on my most recent run. I realize the song has been out for a little while, but I heard it on the radio the other day while driving home from school and I couldn't help but rock out to it a little bit (okay, a lot. But I made sure I was far enough away from the school). It's one that you can't help but dance to.

The founders of this business are huge proponents of YoungLife. YoungLife promises to give you the "best week of your life" when you attend camp, and I can't tell you how many lives have been changed because of YoungLife camp. But camp can be expensive. And that's why Camp+Out gives 10% of each purchase to the featured YoungLife area of the month, so that they can help give every kid the experience of a lifetime. Love and joy and adventure and whimsy. Clothe yourself in some of the most comfortable apparel you'll ever own, and help give middle and high school kids the best week of their lives.

30 Day Plank + Push-Up Challenge
Okay, I'll admit that I haven't started this one yet. I was waiting to post it so that we could motivate one another to complete it, you feel me? Anyway, I received an email from Active Insider with this in the subject line and it made me do a double-take. I'll also admit that my track record of sticking with challenges like this is not the greatest. But what I like about this one is that it lets you build up from your current level of fitness. There are no set numbers or time that you start at, rather, it's totally based on you, and going from there. Let's make a virtual pact - we'll start this Sunday. Toned arms and abs, here we come!

Houston Rockets
Red Nation or Clutch City - whatever you want to call us, the Houston Rockets are on F I R E! We are currently 2-0 against the Dallas Mavericks as we head to their part of the state for games three and four. Howard and Harden are rockin' and rollin' (fear the beard, right?), and I am absolutely loving watching them play, even if it does mean staying up past my usual bedtime. Rockets forever!

Though I don't actually know writer Susie Davis, I feel as though I know her, because she lives in the hills of Austin, I know one of her daughters through YoungLife, and I follow her on Instagram. Her most recent book was released this past Tuesday, and because I happened to be at Barnes and Noble that very night purchasing a book for a student,  I plucked this one off the shelves as well. And holy moly, am I glad that I did. I am nearly finished with the book, and I am absolutely loving it. While my fear may look completely different from your fear, fear is still a burden, and we are all seeking real and true peace.

Wilton Nonstick 6-Cavity Donut Pan
Though I'm not usually a huge fan of buying single-use pans (actually, as I write this, I realize that I have quite a few single-use pans), but this one was worth every penny of the seven dollar price tag. Frying donuts, from what I read, is extremely tedious and time-consuming. But baking donuts, on the other hand, is a piece of cake. Especially when you have this donut pan. Simply whip up the dough, pour it into the pan, and bake them for 10ish minutes. And adding glaze gives them that extra feel (and taste). I whipped some up this past weekend to leave in the English lounge on Monday morning, and as of Monday afternoon, all but one were gone. I'd call that a success story! Side note - I never know whether to spell it 'donuts,' or 'doughnuts.' Your input on this issue is greatly appreciated.

And that's all I've got. Have a great one! 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

45-Minute Circuit Workout(s)

I'll be short and sweet with this post tonight, but I have a couple of workouts to share with you guys. The other day I had to stay after school because I was hounded (and I don't even feel bad about using that strong of a word) by Bellaire's retirement man to get with him and set up a retirement fund. While I was in over my head throughout the length of that meeting, I do at least feel better about having something set up. I think he probably thought I was dumb when I answered, "I don't really know how much money I have. I don't really have bills." Which made me realize that I should probably keep a closer eye on my savings account, but I think I guesstimated everything pretty well. Anyway, I was subbing for a friend's club practice, so I didn't want to sit in 4:30pm Houston traffic before having to turn right back around and head up to Memorial High School, so I headed over to 24 Hour Fitness after leaving Bellaire and completed a combination of the following circuit workouts for a total workout time of around 45 minutes.

Now, before I completely confuse you, let me explain what I did here. I did ten total rounds - six rounds consisted of alternating between circuits one and two, as shown above. The last four rounds were all circuit number three. I just wanted to keep things from getting monotonous, so I changed things up just a little bit with each circuit. As per usual, the burpees killed me, and the squats and lunges aren't something I have spent much time on lately, but I felt very challenged by this workout. I got in some cardio, some strength training, and some core work. Not too shabby for someone who much prefers long running or swim sessions.

And I'm off to do some lesson planning. Word on the street is that the English teachers are being observed this week, so I want to make sure that I've got everything all lined up. It's getting harder and harder to hold the students' attention, so I'm trying to mix things up and keep them on their toes. We all know they keep me on mine!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Blog

Happy Sunday, guys! I’ve only got a short post for you today, but let me just give you a quick Saturday update. First and foremost, a workout. I was up late (later than usual) on Friday night, as Sarah and I met up to F I N A L L Y do a Christmas and birthday gift exchange, and, more importantly, catch up on the past month or so since we've seen one another. You would think that living in the same city would lend itself to regular hangouts, and normally it does, but school - on both of our ends - has just been crazy lately. But we braved the crazy Houston weather and ended up sitting and chatting over burgers at Ruggles Green for about three hours. Sunshine on a very cloudy day.

So, I let myself sleep in a little bit this morning, finally getting out of bed around 9:45am. I ate a light breakfast of cuties and a mini Luna bar, and then headed out the door to squeeze in a swim at the MAC. It was relatively uneventful, aside from the fact that I got there (and even snagged my own lane!) and realized that I had left my goggles at home. Shout out to the lost and found bin for saving me on that front.

After my workout and a  quick shower, I made my way over to City Centre – Seasons 52, to be specific – to celebrate the bridal shower of my setter half, Hayley. Remember when she got engaged? Well, she’s going to be a married lady in just 83 days. #macandchurch.

After an enjoyable afternoon, filled with delicious food and great friends, I headed home to get in a little bit of work, before making my way up to school. School? On a Saturday? Yes, it is true. But this time it wasn’t anything school work-related. I had agreed to chaperone Bellaire’s Sadie Hawkins Dance, and though I was cringing at the memories of my own high school dances, and how silly we all must have looked to our chaperones, I had a great time chatting with some of the other teachers and principals. As a student, I always found it funny when I saw my teachers outside of school. Now, I find it funny seeing students outside of school. How the tables have turned.

All dressed up for Prom (which I secretly hope I get to chaperone)

And speaking of seeing teachers outside of school, I ran into one of my all-time favorite former teachers at Randall's on my way home from school - Mrs. Watson. Though we were on the block schedule at Stratford, I was lucky enough to see her every day, as I had her for both government and psychology. I loved chatting with her (and meeting her husband), and she assured me that she is a faithful reader of fitnessandfroyo. Because I know she'll be reading this - Hi, Mrs. Watson! You really were one of my favs, and I hope I can one day have the impact on some of my students that you had on me.

Now, without further ado, here's your weekly dosage of Survey Sunday!

1.  How did you come up with your blog name? 
What got me into the blogging game was my constant reading of healthy living blogs that focused on both quality workouts and healthy recipes. But with a little bit of pleasure thrown into the mix. I knew I wanted my blog to be much of the same, and for a couple years I was absolutely obsessed with frozen yogurt – eating it at least twice a week – so a combination of fitness and froyo seemed like the perfect choice.

2. What is your favorite thing about blogging? 
I have two favorite things about blogging. Okay, maybe three. One, I love getting my thoughts down on paper (or Web browser), and the chance to work through some of the many thoughts that cloud my mind. I also love that it’s something I can look back on at any time, and remember some of my most favorite and random memories. From time to time I reread through different posts, and I laugh at some of the things that made a fitnessandfroyo appearance. I am just glad that my photos have gotten a *little* bit better from when I started. And lastly, I love the reaction that I get out of other people. Call me self-absorbed, but when people tell me that they love my blog or they resonated with a certain post, or even that they read my blog, those comments go straight to the heart. They bring a (pleased and embarrassed) smile to my face every single time, and maybe my blog isn’t the most enlightening or deep or useful, but hey, if even one person is reading what I write, then I’ll keep trucking along.

3. What is one thing you have discovered because of blogging and now can’t live without? 
I love writing. It sounds silly, but in high school I thought I hated writing. Probably because I saw it as a means of passing a state or national test, and it all seemed so formulaic to me. And literary analysis is not my favorite genre of writing. Though once I actually learned how to do it in college, I disliked it a little less. But now, writing is one of the most therapeutic things I can do. And the fact that so many people enjoy reading what I write? I love that someone can possibly take something away from the nonsense that I put into this blog.

Not my favorite type of writing
4. Facebook or Twitter? and why?
Twitter, for sure. People are sassy, insightful, funny, and sentimental, all in 140 characters or less.

5. If one celeb read your blog who would you want it to be? 
What a question! Can it be a blog celeb? Because I think we all know the answer to that question – Peanut Butter Fingers. She is the blogger who inspired me to start my own blog, and though I can only dream of becoming as much of a success as she is, to have her take a look at my blog would be a dream.

6. What is something you want people to know about your blog?
I hope you guys know that it means the world to me and more when y’all read this blog. And while this blog certainly leans toward the light-hearted side, your support on some of the more serious posts is also something that means more to me than I can put into words. This little blog is me in my entirety, and it’s also something that I hope to (one day in the far, far future) turn into a career of some sort. When I was younger, I wanted to grow up and write a book. But I think I like the direction my passion for writing has taken.

And that's all I've got for y'all. I'm thinking of turning this Sunday into one that is both relaxing and productive. There's going to be no school work happening over here!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Things I'm Loving Friday XXX

And we’re back with another Things I’m Loving Friday! But how is it already Friday? Work weeks with a missed Monday always seem both a little bit chaotic and stressful, but it also seems to fly by. I think I am actually mostly caught up with everything that I missed, though, so I am breathing a sigh of relief on that front. I can go into the weekend with my usual workload. Which isn’t that much, before you start feeling sorry for me. So, without further ado, here is what I’m loving this week.

The Happy Goose Shop
I’m not entirely sure how I happened upon this little shop. I started following Lindsay, aka The Happy Goose, who lives in Dallas, on Instagram. I think I found her blog and really liked it, so I decided to follow her posts. Anyway, she just recently opened a most successful online shop, and everything she posts is so incredibly cute. I think I expected the prices to be higher than they are, so I didn’t order anything right away. I quickly learned that the prices are extremely reasonable, though you have to act fast before items go out of stock. A couple of weeks ago I ordered two dresses, a simple white shirt that can be worn with anything, and a lace-bottomed slip to wear under the dresses that I bought. I wore the red dress and lace slip to school the next day and got endless compliments on it. If you are in the market for cute, simple, affordable clothes, this would be the place to go. While nothing will ever replace Anthropologie in my heart, this is certainly a more wallet-friendly option.

32 Pictures That Will Give You Intense Elementary School Flashbacks
This BuzzFeed article is probably the most accurate depiction of my elementary school career. Mad Minutes, scooters, the school Book Fair, KidPix, and of course, heads down, thumbs up. Of all the throwback articles I've read, this one definitely takes the cake. The only thing that I believe to be missing? Oregon Trail. The best computer game of all time. 

I entertained the idea of asking for a GoPro as my graduation present. I am a big-time picture taker, and I felt like all of the photos that I saw that had been taken via GoPro were just really cool, for lack of a better word. I was talked out of the GoPro (and talked into a KitchenAid, which was admittedly a more practical choice), but over spring break I bit the bullet and ordered myself a GoPro Hero 3. So, it’s not the most up-to-date edition, but for what I was going to be using it, I didn’t feel as though I needed it. I just knew that I had a couple of trips coming up, and I felt as though a GoPro would be something that I would appreciate having. We certainly appreciated having it in San Francisco, because it allowed us to get pictures with the five of us in them, but without having to be those girls who annoyingly ask people to take our picture. Selfie stick for the win, ya know? And once I really get the hang of it, I’m expecting some truly dynamite pictures to come out of it.

I know this isn’t a new song, but the more I listen to it, the more obsessed with it I become. I’ve always been impressed with Zac Brown Band, yet I can never seem to go see them at the rodeo, but this song is one of their best. I know I’m far from living in a small town, but my Stratford America community feels like a small town. And I couldn’t help but think of this song over Easter while I was catching up with some of my high school friends at the crawfish boil I attended. While I will eventually leave, I couldn’t help but take a moment to appreciate where I came from and all that I have around me. I got everything I need, and nothing that I don’t, after all.

Trader Joes Inner Bean
I found these on a surprise trip to Trader Joes. And by surprise I mean that I discovered the Montrose Trader Joes by complete accident while visiting the American Apparel over there. I always love a good Trader Joes trip, so I popped in for a quick visit. I had only a couple of items in my cart, and was pretty proud of myself for that. But then I went down the chip aisle. Typically I avoid that aisle, because I don't even really like chips that much. But Trader Joes-type stores often have some interesting chip alternatives. And I was not disappointed. I was intrigued by the Trader Joes Inner Bean, which claimed to use whole black beans from Canada, so they must be healthy, right? My mom and I both loved them, finishing the entire bag in one sitting - whoops! They're light, crunchy, and have a very light salt finish. We both recommend, and they're practically guilt-free!

Dancing With the Stars
Stay with me for a second, here. I used to watch this show pretty regularly, but who has time to watch two hours of television? Especially on a Monday night. That being said, I do catch a dance here and there, because my mom absolutely loves the show. I may or may not have mentioned this on the blog before, but I have a gymnastics obsession. I follow Olympic gymnastics religiously, and I still haven't quite forgiven my mom for telling me that Shawn won a gold medal on her last event. The point I'm getting at here is that I'm obviously rooting for Nastia, as she is competing this season. But I'm so inspired by veteran Noah Galloway, who lost both an arm and a leg in the year 2005. As predicted, dark times followed this life-changing injury. But once he accepted his injury and changed his attitude, he got back out there and became an inspiration to so many. He used a horrible situation and turned it into something good. If you haven't seen this dance, you have to take a couple of minutes to watch it.

And that's all I've got for you guys. See y'all sometime this weekend!

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Perfect Break: Part Two

And we’re back! Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we? This post will cover both Saturday and Sunday, so just be sure to prepare yourselves in advance for the length of this one.

Saturday we let ourselves sleep in a little bit. With the time difference, I woke up fairly early, read a little bit, and then made myself fall back asleep. Though I got about five hours of actual sleep the night before, and then slept some on the plane, I still didn’t want to enter into a sleep deficit. We started moving around 9:15am, threw on some workout clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast at Starbucks, and went to pick up our rental bikes. My one request for this trip was that we biked across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, as that was one thing my mom and I did not do when we were here that had been recommended to me a couple of times over. Mary Ellen had actually never done that herself, so she went ahead and rented bikes for us to use. Which, by the way, is far superior to doing a bike tour. We paid for bike insurance, because flat tires and broken chains would be our fault, of course, dropped a few layers off at Mary Ellen’s apartment, and headed on our merry way. And let me just stop right here and say that the weather in San Francisco has got to be more bipolar than the weather in Houston. We would be freezing one second, and then shedding jackets the next. We also weren’t sure what the weather would be like crossing the bridge, and we decided we’d rather be safe than sorry. But one thing stayed consistent the entire weekend – sunshine. And for that, we were all especially thankful. Especially because we heard that the weather in Houston was not so ideal.

Anyway, we headed in the direction of the bridge, and this was no easy feat. We are all in relatively good shape, and I would consider all five of us to be athletic, but some of those hills definitely got the best of us. I was winded after just one hill, but thankfully we only hit a few more tough hills after that. And the hills getting to the bridge were more than worth it for the views we were afforded while crossing the bridge. Clear blue water, the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz, and mountains that we certainly don’t see in Houston.

Once we got across the bridge, it was (mostly) downhill into Sausalito, which just might be the cutest little town I ever did see. When my mom and I were here a couple of years ago we stopped in Sausalito, and I fell in love with the place. It’s cute, quaint, and the views don’t get much better. We stopped for lunch at The Trident, only settling for a patio seat. We got what we wanted, and we truly could not have asked for a more perfect day. We laughed, enjoyed some delicious food, and even caught some rays. After much deliberation, I settled on a salmon sandwich with a side of greens, and that was easily one of the best meals I had all trip. But then again, everything I ate was pretty top notch.

Mary Ellen's prized picture

We enjoyed the view for a little while longer before checking out some of the cute shops around town. I love unique, one-of-a-kind boutiques, and that was just what Sausalito offered. We walked around for a little bit before getting in line to catch the ferry back to San Francisco. We entertained the idea of biking back across the bridge, but some of those steep down hills caused us to rethink that idea. We ended up boarding the ferry with no problems, minus the chaos that was removing our bikes, but I think it was definitely the better plan. From that point on, we referred to every hill with a, “Imagine if we had to bike up THIS hill.”

Once all five of us had our bikes, we biked to the other side of the city for some famous Philz Coffee. While I don’t like coffee, it sounded good to everyone else, so I went along for the ride. Though this bike ride tiptoed on the dangerous side, as we were riding through the city with no bike lane, the sports fan in me loved biking by the San Francisco Giant’s AT&T Park – Home of the 2014 World Series Champions.

After a coffee break, we returned the bikes, walked through the Marina District and did a little bit of shopping, picked up some famous Susie Cakes (literally the cutest bakery I think I’ve ever seen), quickly showered and ordered pizza (and a salad for lactose intolerant me), and speed-walked to the beach by Mary Ellen’s apartment so that we could picnic and watch the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn’t talk much at first, because all of us were absolutely starving by this point – I think that was the cause of our speed walking – but I think that had to be one of the most enjoyable picnics I’ve ever had. We talked and laughed and maybe had a little bit too much wine (me – I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol), and it made me realize just how grateful I am for these girls. I think we were all feeling a little bit of that at that moment because we even vocalized it, agreeing that no friends are quite like the friends who saw you through high school. And the fact that each of our college experiences were so very different and we were able to pick up right where we all left off, is something worth noting. The sunset was of course, beautiful, but I think the low-key, laughter-filled night was the icing on the cake.

We were pretty wiped after that, but we took the long way home, walking by the Palace of Fine Arts so that we could see it at night, and it was just beautiful. You guys know I love Houston, but there’s no beauty like California beauty. Once we made it back to the apartment, we winded down pretty quick, wanting to make sure that we got a full night’s sleep before Sunday’s Napa Valley adventure. We had a car reserved for six hours, meaning we had time for three wineries. We started off at Artisa, which afforded us some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I didn’t even feel like I was still in America at this point. We had a personable waiter who shared his accents with us, and of course, tasted some delicious wine, while sitting on the deck on this gorgeous day.

White wine girls

The Chardonnay was my favorite at this winery, but some of the reds were quite tasty, too. We spent a little over an hour at this winery before packing up and heading to Gundlach Bundschu, a winery that had picnic tables and a lake view where we could eat lunch. Instead of tasting, we simply purchased two bottles of wine – one red and one white – and set up shop with sandwiches and meat and cheese and crackers and hummus and celery (that last one was my personal contribution).

What many of our attempts looked like
With full stomachs, we piled back into the car and made our way to Sonoma for our last, and probably overall favorite, winery of the day – Cline Cellars. This one actually let you taste five wines for free, so we grabbed our wine, and walked over to the vineyard and had our own little photo shoot. We were those girls, but with a GoPro, you don’t even have to inconvenience another person by asking him or her to take your picture, so we didn’t feel that bad. Besides, as long as we were happy and having fun, that’s all that matters, right? I really liked this place because it had a very family, country club feel, and the aesthetics were just very pleasing. Though, the aesthetics certainly weren’t lacking anywhere else.

Caught in action with the selfie stick

We wanted to be sure to give ourselves plenty of time to get back to San Francisco, especially because we feared there might be traffic, so we left Sonoma just before 3:00pm. We ended up making great time, and my friends, and our fearless driver, Sammy, allowed me to fulfill my childhood dream by vising the actual Full House House. Remember a couple of years ago when I visited the Painted Ladies? Well, this time I got to see the actual house used in the show. The door is no longer red, and the house has been repainted, but John Stamos was at this house just a couple of weeks ago, so I knew it was one and the same. We snapped a couple of quick pictures, jumped back in the car, and I was on cloud nine after that one.

The sun and wine had clearly taken it out of all of us, so we crashed for a little bit upon our return to the apartment, but soon after we shed our Napa clothes for workout clothes (of course) and walked around the Marina District a little bit before enjoying a light dinner at Blue Barn. This place reminded me of Salata, in that I built my own salad, but I regretted it a little bit when I saw the sandwich that Lindsay ordered. But that really didn’t stop me from eating almost all of my gigantic grilled chicken salad.

We made another stop at Susie Cakes for one last dessert, where I got my parents some H U G E chocolate chip cookies, before making our way back to the apartment one last time. We packed up and talked and laughed and it really was the most perfect weekend. A little escape from reality with some of the very best girls I have the pleasure of knowing. And though it was hard to say goodbye to one of my best friends, and we returned to rain and thunderstorms, I’m strangely excited and ready to go back to school tomorrow. Who would have guessed that I would miss my students as much as I did? But I think the best part of all is that I’m feeling relaxed and rejuvenated and I’m going back to the real world with the fullest of hearts. And on that note, I should probably start getting back in school mode again. Here’s to hoping I had competent substitutes!