Thursday, June 21, 2018

Colorado Honeymoon (Part 1)

I've talked it up for quite some time, now I'm finally back to write about our belated honeymoon trip to Colorado!

I should start by saying this trip has been in the making since last September when Thomas' family friend called us and said she wanted to give us a free week-long stay at their condo in Durango. We were ecstatic, but also unsure of what all we wanted to do while there. The only thing we made firm plans to do was go ziplining at a place that was stupidly expensive (but well worth it...and I bought our tickets on a 2-for-1 sale, so it was much easier to absorb...and we had free lodging). We had tentative plans to visit 4 Corners and the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. We were so excited to have this week in the mountains!

We put a lot of planning into this trip. By that, I mean that I made about 10 different lists/phone memos/reminders, and Thomas used his vast knowledge of outdoorsy stuff like hiking (from his years in Boy Scouts) to help me figure out what gear I needed. We made multiple trips to REI, where we spent a small fortune, but earned a lot of dividends for ourselves. (They're a co-op. Also, tangential thought: Why is good-quality hiking and outdoorsy stuff so blasted expensive?) I was unnecessarily nervous about the trip, probably because that's how I handle big things? We decided to take lots of healthier options for snacks so that we didn't have to stop at every restaurant or gas station along the way, saving us lots of money. (I also had an epic snack prep session...that's what else I did.)

So the big day finally came, June 1st. It was my first official day of summer vacation, and I spent it tying up our loose ends at the apartment, while waiting for Thomas to get home right after lunch. We planned to be on the road no later than 2, because we had a hotel reservation in Amarillo, TX, and we also wanted to eat supper at the Big Texan, so we wanted to be in Amarillo by 8 at the absolute latest. Well, we succeeded in the matter--we were on the road by 1:30 PM, a half hour ahead of plans! It felt great to finally be on the road!

When we were in Denton, about to turn on to the highway that'd basically take us to Amarillo, my phone rang. It wasn't one that was saved, but my phone thought it was the lady whose condo we were heading to. (I think she shared it in an email at one point. iPhones are bizarre.) I answered, figuring she probably was either wishing us well on our journey or letting us know something about the condo she forgot to previously mention. When she spoke, I knew immediately that NEITHER of the reasons I thought up were correct. As it turned out, she was calling to let us know that the resort in which the condo was located was under an evacuation warning, due to a wildfire that broke out in the area earlier that morning. She seemed worried, but didn't want us to outright cancel the trip, because there was a chance that it would be contained and it'd be fine by the next morning. (Which would have been perfect since we weren't slated to arrive until about 3 PM that Saturday) I quickly relayed the information to Thomas, and she said that she'd call as soon as she knew any updates.

Not funny, Sean Kingston...NOT funny.

Picture I received from the condo owner.
Was taken in the parking lot in front of their condo...scary stuff!
Thomas asked if we needed to turn around and go home or what we should do. I was of no real help, because this vacation we'd worked so hard to plan for was almost literally going up in flames. Ultimately, we decided to go to Amarillo since we already had a hotel reservation and likely wouldn't get a full refund on it if we were to cancel. Tons of thoughts flew through my mind at that point, for example...
  • How unfair is it that after we've waited so long to take this trip and now we can't even take it?!
  • You're being selfish--people's lives, homes, and livelihoods are in danger right now!
  • Well, it's still unfair. Everyone else gets to travel and go wherever they want and never seem to have any issues.
  • This always happens when Thomas and I travel together! (Remembering the debacle that was traveling to Jay and Mark's wedding 2 summers ago...)
  • We went through all this hassle just to find out that we can't do anything.
  • Other people don't even have the luxury of taking a vacation. QUIT WHINING!
  • You are being utterly ridiculous.
  • But on the other hand...
  • If this was the worst thing that happened to other people, they'd probably just "embrace the journey" and laugh it off.
  • Nope. Not ready to "embrace" anything. Those people can... (I'll let you fill in the blanks...ha!)
  • I really hope this condo doesn't burn down. That'd be sad for our friends.
  • I really hope no one dies from this. Scotty was fighting wildfires a couple of months ago, and it was terrifying to hear some of the stories about what he did and where he was. 
  • I'm still not happy about this. But I also feel like a terrible person for being upset when so many other people have MUCH bigger things to worry about. 
I was not the best travel companion to Thomas for the next hour or so. One thing I learned during our trip was that he is my opposite in all the ways it really matters. When I am in total freakout/hysterical mode, Thomas is uber practical and composed. Not that I appreciated it in the moment, but even so. I would relate some of my aforementioned thoughts, and he'd squash them with irrational statements like, "It'll be okay," "We still have the week off--let's come up with other plans!", or my personal favorite, "I'm just happy to spend this time with you--it'll be an adventure! We love adventures!" Yeah, definitely wasn't feeling any of his good vibes or practical thoughts. And I felt even worse about being in such a crappy mood when he made the comment about spending time with me. I definitely did not win co-pilot of the day on June 1st...just saying! I also took some time to review the cancellation policy for our ziplining trip, just to realize that we were 2 days past the point when they would have given us a full refund. Lovely...

I'm not sure what finally snapped me out of my hysterics, but I finally rebounded about halfway to Amarillo, which was when we finally made some peace with the fact that we probably weren't going to Durango. My sisters and Thomas' family gave lots of suggestions, ranging everywhere from staying with my family for the week, to going to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas. (Actually, I think those all came from my sisters!) We started thinking more and more about one option someone mentioned--Colorado Springs. I started looking up local attractions, then I realized that it might not be that terrible...and it was 3 hours closer! It was a good thing I found some peace, because we received the call from our friend that the resort was evacuated, and it didn't look as though we'd be able to go. What really sealed the deal on that was learning that lots of places in the town of Durango were being used as temporary shelters, and we didn't want to take up valuable space that other people may have legitimately needed. Also, we weren't sure what the air quality would be like and didn't want to spend a week surrounded by ash and smoke if we could help it.

We decided to get to Amarillo before we really formulated a new game plan. We called my mom during the drive to apprise her of the situation. She told us it'd be a great story to tell our grandchildren on our 50th anniversary. Thankfully, I was able to laugh/smile at that, because, all things considered, it will make a great story! I also left a voicemail and sent an email to our ziplining company to inform them that we would NOT be coming for our scheduled trip due to the wildfires, that I realized we were just past the cancellation period, but still curious (given the extenuating circumstances) if we could get a refund. I figured no one would respond immediately because they had to evacuate, but they'd get to it eventually.

Upon our arrival in Amarillo we checked in to our hotel, found out that Diana had a friend who lived in Colorado Springs who would be home during the next couple of days, and had a basement she'd let us stay in until we figured out what we were doing. Also, she had some connections to get us concert tickets. (More on that later.) Things were starting to look up! We touched base one last time with the friend who offered one last option for us to go to Durango, but she agreed that CO Springs would be a much better bet. She also promised us that, one way or another, we'd still get a free week-long stay at her family's condo in the future! We were a little overwhelmed at the initial thought of re-planning a week-long vacation, but decided to not worry and go eat at the Big Texan!

We arrived late enough in the evening that we didn't have to wait for very long before being seated, basically just long enough to look through the gift shop and see that it was a lot of typical overpriced gift shop stuff that we could live without. (Except a Route 66 beer glass. Thomas decided to collect those through the trip, and it was one of the few decently priced items.) We somewhat assumed that since it was a big tourist draw, that it wouldn't be that great of food. We are happy to report that the food and service was wonderful! It was one tourist trap that was worth going to. When we made it back to the hotel, Thomas got out his laptop and looked up hotels in CO Springs. (Side note, I was initially annoyed that Thomas insisted on bringing it for the trip. This instance alone was enough for me to eat crow. The same thing happened during our flight debacle of 2016 when Thomas insisted we only pack carryons and we ended up having flights canceled and needing to move fast. Moral of the story is that if the man is oddly insistent on one aspect of the trip, you should probably just go along with it.) We didn't realize just how lucky we were to have free lodging for the week until we realized just how expensive it was. We wanted to stay at a cabin of some sort in the woods, but quickly found out that unless we wanted to shell out $1000+ for the whole week, that was NOT happening for us. If places seemed decent, had good ratings, AND had vacancy (huge "if" there...), they definitely weren't in our budget. At last, Thomas happened upon an extended stay motel that wasn't as "rustic" as we were wanting, but it was relatively affordable, had a full kitchenette, had vacancy for the entire week, and wasn't stupid expensive, so we made reservations. So we went to sleep Friday night, at peace with knowing our new tentative plan.

We finally found our smiles as we checked into our room!

The big steer!



Saturday (6/2/18)
Diana's friend informed us not to arrive at her house in Colorado Springs any earlier than 4 PM local time, so we were able to sleep in a little bit and have a leisurely Saturday morning. We mapped it out and saw it'd take 5-ish hours, accounting for the time zone change, so we were able to leave a little after 11.
Eating breakfast like a true Texan!

After breakfast, a quick shower, and packing up, we opted to stop at the nearby tourist trap, Cadillac Ranch. I'm not sure if you've ever heard of it, but it's basically a bunch of old Cadillac sedans buried nose-first into an empty field that have decades worth of paint on them. Definitely nothing special, but worth going at least once. As luck would have it, our hotel was located close to the site and to a Home Depot, where I went to grab a can of spray paint...if we were going to take the time to go, we may as well have made it worth our time to do so. Upon entering the store I saw that we weren't the only ones with that idea. Someone at the Amarillo Home Depot made a small display right at the front of the store that contained a small selection of spray paint in about every color one would want. Naturally, I picked the orange! (If it were just me, I'd choose pink, but orange is the one color we can definitely agree on.)

Down the road we went to Cadillac Ranch. In retrospect, I should've queued up the Chris LeDoux song of the same name, but didn't. We almost missed the turnoff, as there was a surprising lack of signage. Also, Cadillac sedans aren't that tall or imposing when they're buried in the ground. It was very anticlimactic upon our arrival. Minus the cars, it looked like most empty fields with worked ground in Oklahoma. There was also a disappointing amount of litter and vandalism on the property. The litter was especially frustrating considering that there was a huge dumpster to put trash in right by the entrance. It was a good 1000 ft or so walk. In true TX panhandle fashion, it was hot and windy, so there was a lot of dirt blowing around and pelting our legs. (It reminded me of many days out on the playground during elementary school.) So, we took our time and made our literal mark on the Cadillacs. Nothing says happy honeymoon quite like some recreational graffiti, huh? We still had some paint in the can, so we decided to wrap the can in a bag and keep it in the car.

The view from the road. See what I mean?







Off we went to Colorado! The next few hours were pretty uneventful, besides us stopping near the Capulin volcano monument. We would have driven up further had there not been an admission fee and if we had a little more time, but it was nice to admire, if even from a distance. I was fascinated as we drove on the stretch of paved road to get there that it contained a section in which cattle and other wild animals could freely walk on the roadways, as there was no fencing. There were cattle guards at each end of the section and fencing along that perimeter, but still. I probably would have thought more of seeing the animals had I not grown up surrounded by cattle.

The Capulin Volcano
As we grew closer to our destination, I realized quickly that I was not a fan of heights. Okay, the heights didn't bother so much as the idea of going off the edge of the road and falling to our eventual death. (Thanks, wreck, for scarring me for life. Never worried about stuff like that til that happened...) This was about the time Thomas requested that I drive. I was not feeling my drive time, as my palms were sweating, making it difficult for me to grip the wheel. I was probably on the verge of a very small panic attack, which ultimately ended by coming upon Pueblo and Colorado Springs. I was somehow more comfortable driving within metropolitan traffic than I was out on the open road, go figure. Upon our arrival to Diana's friend Mary's house, we were greeted by her two rambunctious dogs. She quickly showed us her basement, and provided us with towels, pizza, booze, and tickets for the evening. You see, Mary served in the Navy for a good number of years and now works at the nearby Air Force Academy. (Melissa, if you happen to be reading this, yes, that's exactly who I'm referring to, and she said to tell Steve hello! We had a great laugh over the happenstance of the situation!)

That night was the opening ceremony for the Warrior Games. If you aren't familiar with it, you should look it up--good stuff happening there. It is more or less like the Paralympics, but for servicemen and women from all branches of the US armed forces, as well as some delegations from Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Because of Mary's position at the academy, she was able to secure some tickets for us. The ceremony was emceed by Jon Stewart and included performances by country singer Eric Paslay and Kelly Clarkson! It was such an awe-inspiring evening full of camaraderie and hope. Our favorite part of the ceremony itself was hearing all of the service anthems played by a choir of buglers and hearing each country's national anthem sung by a vocal choir. We missed most of Eric Paslay's act, but liked what we heard of it. Kelly Clarkson had a phenomenal performance. She possesses such talent that baffles me. If you enjoy her music and have the opportunity to see her live, know that she puts on a great show. So many of my late grade school/junior high dreams came true by seeing her perform! I loved it! We ended the night by happening upon some free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches that were being doled out among the crowd! CFA was a big sponsor for the evening, and they had a setup on the field where the participants and other dignitaries plus any guests of theirs were able to receive a complimentary CFA meal. They had an excess of 100+ sandwiches after it was over, and since we were close to the field, we ended up getting some! After our long, weary past couple of days, it was a huge bright spot for us! Turns out that having to re-plan a vacation at the last second makes one very appreciative of any random things that go right!

Look at our seats! Such a great view!


I promise that Thomas' expression was from his reaction to the flash, and not him being drunk!
Driving back from the concert was a little chaotic and time-consuming, but not bad. We collapsed into bed and decided to make plans for the week the next morning. We were exhausted, but happy to sleep, if even on a fold out couch in someone's basement. We so appreciated Mary's last-second hospitality!

Sunday (6/3/18)
We sat around Mary's basement for a good deal of time on Sunday morning. Finally I told Thomas that I didn't care what we did, but we had to make a decision, because I wasn't going to spend my vacation wallowing in a basement, even if it was fully furnished and had a completely stocked liquor cabinet. We couldn't check in to our hotel until 3 PM, so we had to figure out what to do with some of our spare time. I was so glad I went a little overboard on packing snacks, as that was the majority of what we ate from Friday-Sunday. (We had refrigerators everywhere we went, so the food didn't spoil. I can hear people being concerned about this already.) Since we had the unexpected expense of paying for lodging, we went back into budget mode pretty quickly, which involved a lot of not going out to eat.

Between Friday and then, Gina had taken the liberty of looking up lots of activities and adventures for Thomas and I to go on during our week there. I sat down and made yet another list in which I made tentative travel plans for each day and lumped everything together by location, cost, and interest level. The biggest thing we missed from our original trip was ziplining, so I made it a priority to make that happen. Luckily, I found a Groupon for us to go ziplining at a place Diana recommended to me, so I got those reservations down right away. (And I saved money! Woohoo!) Nothing else that we planned on doing required any pre-payments, reservations, or advance notice, so we operated off a loose itinerary, as I'll describe throughout the week.

At some point, I felt what were likely the effects of eating too many corn-based snacks, as I had some stomach issues. I was legitimately worried that it'd be yet another hitch in our already chaotic trip. Thankfully, the issues passed without too much fanfare, but I definitely felt "off" for the remainder of the day. Once I felt better, we packed up and decided to at least locate our hotel. (It was somewhere between 11 and 12 at this point, so we were closer to check-in.) We found our hotel, decided the exterior wasn't enough to scare us off, and went on to find the local Catholic Church so we could go to Mass later that day. In between our search missions, we happened upon the Team USA Olympic Training Headquarters. Since we had nothing better to do and a couple of hours to kill, we ventured in to find out that it would cost $10/person (maybe $15, I can't remember) to tour. It was more than we cared to pay, but figured it'd be alright. We later found out that it included a complimentary picture with replica medals and the actual torch used at the '96 Atlanta games. The tour itself was good, but nothing mind-blowing. It was mostly looking at gyms and training facilities through windows, as there were athletes who live on the campus and actively train there. They wanted to maintain as much privacy and normalcy as they could for the athletes, which was understandable. We later found out that tours are a big revenue source for them, as they are considered to be a non-profit organization. (It made me feel a little less cranky about paying for the tour.)

We're Olympians...not really!

How about this for a workout room?

The pool

As seen in the window of the gun range for the shooting sports...haha!
At the conclusion of the tour, I received a phone call from the ziplining company in Durango (the place I called/emailed on Friday to ask for a refund). The lady was polite, but not thrilled to be making the call. She begrudgingly issued a full refund, despite it being after their normal grace period, given the circumstances. (I'm sure I wasn't the only person requesting that, so she probably was going to be losing lots of money...like I said, the tickets WEREN'T cheap.) She struggled to believe that we canceled our entire trip to Durango all because of the wildfire, which was still raging on as we spoke. (Not as many evacuations, but even so.) She really wanted us to take a voucher, which would only be good for 6 months, which was when I insisted that we lived almost 1000 miles away in Dallas, had busy work schedules, and we would not/could not get back to CO in that timeframe. Like I said, not thrilled, but she issued the refund. This was a huge relief, as it greatly offset a lot of our newfound lodging expenses!

We made it back to the car around 2, when Thomas called the hotel and asked if we could do an early check-in. To our luck, the manager okayed that, so off we headed! After almost 3 days of practically living out of my car, we unpacked and finally started feeling like we could relax. I napped periodically through the afternoon, realizing that I had a random pain shooting up my right forearm that I couldn't figure out. I later realized it was from the previous day when I had a death grip on my door handle in the car as we drove into Colorado. We ran by a grocery store and grabbed some other food things for the week (sandwich makings, fruit, milk, dinner makings, etc.) We later went to Mass and out to dinner at a nearby pizza/beer place. Yes, we were on a budget, but we had no desire to even think about cooking a meal in our hotel kitchen after the last few days we had. It hit the spot, and was the perfect end to our tumultuous beginning of our trip.

The mountains as we walked out of the cathedral. What a sight!
(To be continued...)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Memorial Day/Rebecca

Every time you start a new journey in life, I feel like God sends you people to help you along your way and to make it a little easier. Let's think back to where I was five years ago (back in 2013)...

I was a bundle of nerves and on the verge of moving to Stillwater to finish up college at OSU. I was quite a wreck, spiritually, emotionally, and almost every other way. I was on the heels of a breakup and trying to figure out that part of my life. I was ready to move forward, but I was scared of the unknown. I was scared to move to a new town surrounded by people my age. (I've always preferred the company of older people or old souls, likely a byproduct of being the youngest in my family by a margin of 10 years.) I tried putting it all in God's hands, but I still wanted to keep a little bit of control over the situation...don't we all do that?

Why am I blabbering on about 5 years ago anyway? I guess I should get to my point.

Five years ago, I was on the verge of beginning one of the best chapters of my life, and I didn't even realize it. Of course, we all know how the story ends, I went to OSU, fell into the warm embrace of the St. John's community, became a much better version of myself, made a ton of friends, eventually fell in love with Thomas, and finished my degree along the way.

I'd like to take some time today to tell you a story about one of my most important friendships I gained during those years--my friendship with Rebecca. I know you've heard me mention her throughout the years, but I wanted to take a bit to expand on our friendship.

I know that I met Rebecca the first time I attended a Wednesday night student Mass at St. John's. She was an exuberant, joyful, friendly person who immediately drew me in. Initially we bonded over the fact that she spent the first eight-ish years of her life living in Waukomis. Furthermore, she was related to some kids who went to Pioneer. If that couldn't have been a gift straight from God, I don't know what else could have been. As much as I was happy to find a new circle of people apart from where I grew up, it was so comforting to find out that she knew all the places I did and had an easy time relating to me. Also, she was Catholic, and she seemed to be much nicer and more down-to-earth than her cousins were! After some time chatting, we became instant friends.

We had lots of similarities. For example, she also had 2 sisters, her dad worked a blue collar job, our family structures/morals were fairly similar, and we had many common interests. She was studying architecture at the time, having switched out of mechanical engineering a year before, but was probably going to change her major to something in human sciences the following semester. She was quirky in her own way, but she was loads of fun. She also happened to live in an apartment at St. John's, which fascinated me to no end.

Of course, we didn't become close friends for a good little while, as I was scared that she would think that I was being too clingy. Also, she was good friends with almost everyone I hung out with, so I didn't want to overstep any boundaries or shake things up too much. She was very easy to talk to. And by that, I mean that she let me be my normal chatterbox self, and she was happy to interject as she felt appropriate. As time went on, we started hanging out more and more, and she helped me to get to know everyone and step outside of my comfort zone. Because of Rebecca, I decided to join the intramural teams (even though I was definitely the least skilled person on almost every team!) She encouraged me to become a lector, something she often did at student masses. Looking back, a lot of the things she encouraged me to do were things she did that not a lot of other people wanted to do. I'm sure there's some deeper meaning in that, but maybe not. I went along with most of her schemes because I figured that I didn't have a lot to lose and that I didn't have to keep doing it if I didn't like it. (Turns out that I didn't like flag football, soccer, or ultimate frisbee, because I definitely only did that for one season! I lectored for the remainder of my time at St. John's...I miss it a lot.)

Rebecca is one of the most adventurous people I know. She has traveled abroad without her family multiple times, and she studied in France for a semester. She loves visiting new places and immersing herself in the culture. But she also loves peanut butter and Tex-Mex and was depressed to find out that there is a lack of both in Europe. She's always up for weekend trips that involve outdoorsy things like hiking, rafting, or rock climbing. She also loves baking (something I also love!). One of my dearest memories was the time we went to OKC to visit Able's spice shop so that she could buy some rose water to make cupcakes that she found in a French cookbook. I could probably write a book with all of the fun times I've had with Rebecca!

One of the bigger adventures she and I went on was the time we visited convents in Wichita. It was an interesting weekend. I was visiting mostly to fulfill a promise I had made to Fr. Stuart (a story for a different time). Rebecca was visiting because she was legitimately interested in religious life as a nun. Through the weekend, I left feeling utterly confused, a little depressed by the prospect of becoming a nun, and generally unattached to that idea...Rebecca, not so much. I was baffled by that, honestly, because I'd never known anyone (let alone one of my peers) who was remotely interested in that particular vocation besides my distant cousin (who is an actual nun). Besides hanging out with Rebecca and knowing that I was definitely supposed to get married, the only other highlight of that bizarre weekend was that we visited Tonisha while in Wichita.

I mention that particular instance because it was fairly instrumental in our lives. I felt a little bad because I realized quickly that I couldn't ever be happy as a nun, whereas Rebecca legitimately enjoyed herself. We all know how that story ended for me, obviously. Rebecca, on the other hand, never really let go of the idea of pursuing religious life. There was a period of time in which she dated a guy (one of our St. John's friends), just to realize that dating wasn't for her. (That guy is now happily dating a different girl from St. John's, another dear friend of mine. They're absolutely perfect for each other, and I couldn't be happier for them!)

As you could guess, after some time of praying, discerning, and researching, Rebecca has decided to take the big step of joining a convent at some point within the next year. Some of the details are still being ironed out, so I can't be too specific at the moment. She is excited to start this next chapter, and I couldn't be happier for her! Since she will be in the convent and won't have a ton of spare time in the future, she decided to come visit me over Memorial Day weekend.

It was such a fantastic weekend, possibly more so because I knew that we wouldn't get to spend a lot of carefree time together like that for quite a good deal of time. I did my best to savor every moment and give Rebecca a good Dallas experience. We covered a lot of ground in her short weekend here.

I'll give you highlights:

  • Lazy dinner at the apartment after she arrived
  • Mass at my church, where she met some of my women's group friends
  • the Dallas Museum of Art
  • the cathedral downtown 
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Bishop Arts District
  • Bishop Cider company, where we shared a flight of ciders
  • Emporium pies
  • the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge
  • another lazy dinner at my apartment
  • a late night of talking about life
  • visiting a coffee shop in Steve & Diana's neighborhood
  • driving through Steve & Diana's neighborhood
  • lazily sitting and talking with Thomas once he got back from Quitman
Okay, here's some pictures!
Klyde Warren Park


In front of the Dale Chihuly exhibit

Love this mural


Definitely worth a visit--good brews!

The bridge!

Picture in the wildflowers!

COFFEE!
So blessed by Rebecca's friendship, and can't wait to see where the next few years take her! 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

April/May Photos

Yeah, I thought I published this a long time ago, but guess I didn't...oops! Here are some pictures to go with my last post, along with a couple of other quick updates.

Fun pictures from a weekend out at Quitman...

I found a vendor who happened to sell kolaches. This was a raspberry almond kolache that rocked my world!

Farmers' market, where Steve went to speak to the beekeepers' association.
Lots of baked goods, honey, and some late spring produce.

Random find at an antique store. Interesting use of old farm implements!

We found a random old caboose, so of course I had to pose on it!

If you notice the steps on the right side of the picture, I contemplated climbing up those to reach the top of the car.
I was going to be spontaneous and do this. My rational side won out!

View of downtown Winnsboro, after the farmers' market packed up.

Zoe on Steve's lap, contemplating life and whatnot

Thomas simultaneously set up his tree stand and made me very nervous!

I worked on breaking in my new hiking boots for our Colorado trip. 

From our weekend in OK...
Thomas coming in from swathing wheat



The Mattsons after Andy's first communion.
Notice the first of Jake's three phases...

Phase 2...overexcitement

Phase 3...Andy holding his arms down
I should go on the record and say that truly candid photos of my nephews make me much happier than nicey-nice posed pictures, which is why I love some of our wedding photos so much! We'll never forget how much of a vivacious child Jakub was!

Andy with Scotty and me, his godparents

No, your eyes are not deceiving you...my almost 14-year old nephew is clearly taller than me!
Not pictured: us both standing flatfooted without shoes on!
 Back in Dallas...
Look at the great job Elizabeth did painting some of the beeboxes!
This one has the Dallas skyline on it! 
Equally awesome!


One other fun thing we did before Memorial Day weekend was meet up with some new friends, Cameron and Laura. Thomas met Cameron through a church event, and I've been acquainted with Laura since December through women's group. They have two adorable kids, a boy and a girl, and they're great people! We had such a fun time getting to know them better, and they're just what we've been looking to find in couples friends! Best yet, Thomas and Cameron really hit it off, so he has found himself a new good friend! Looking forward to more fun times to come with them!

I have so much more to tell you all about...especially Memorial Day weekend and our trip to Colorado!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Catching Up in April and May

Let see where I left off...

Not long after returning from my parents' anniversary party weekend, we celebrated Jay's birthday. In an unexpected turn of events, he happened to be in Dallas for business on his actual birthday, so we were all able to have dinner and celebrate with him! He was sans Mark, since it was a business trip, but we enjoyed the night on the whole!

Somewhere in that week, we were ravaged by a nasty stomach bug. And by we, I really mean Thomas who battled it for the better part of 3-4 days. At the end of that week, Thomas and I were slated to make one more trip up to OK to celebrate Emily's birthday and for Thomas to attend Man Day with Scotty. When I got home from work on that Friday, I felt awful. I was achy, tired, and generally miserable. I thought I was catching whatever Thomas had, so I decided to bail on the OK trip, much to my dismay. I think that I was overly exhausted from everything I had done in the past week and from working my teaching and tutoring jobs. I say that because from that Friday through Saturday morning, I slept for almost 12 hours. The achiness didn't subside until Saturday night, but I felt much better on the whole. (Note to self: self-care days are a non-negotiable, like it or not.)

A couple of weeks later, we had a very well-placed inservice day at school. It was on a Friday, and it was a nice light at the end of the tunnel towards the end of the school year! The inservice itself wasn't phenomenal, as we had to listen to a speaker talk about what we, as a school, should do in the event of an active shooter situation. I hate that that is the type of thing we have to do now, but it is what it is, I guess. I have thoughts on this that I'll spare you from hearing at the moment. We ended the day with a nice wedding celebration shower for all of the upper school faculty who have gotten/will be getting married within this last part of the school year. We had a great time celebrating with appetizers, drinks, and cake! Speaking of work, I also took an evening to go to the senior-directed one-act plays. My school has a phenomenal fine arts department, so it's such a treat to get to see the students' hard work come to fruition.

Right after my inservice day, Thomas and I joined Steve and Diana for a relaxing weekend at Quitman! It was exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of relaxation. Around this time, Steve made the decision that, in order to keep an ag-related tax exemption on their property out there, he was going to start beekeeping. This came as a surprise to us, but it made sense to do so. Of all the ag exemptions to be had, beekeeping had the lowest up-front cost and was one of the more low maintenance activities, which was mostly important because Steve and Diana are only out there on certain weekends. We went to the local farmers' market that Saturday, so Steve could meet and chat with the president of the local beekeepers' association. He gleaned some great knowledge from her and figured out a good starting point in the process.

I probably should have stuck around and listened more, since I later found out that Thomas has decided to take an interest in the bees, but I wanted to explore and revisit some of the shops I had been to when Mom and Dad were there last. We ended the day with lunch in town, and work at the house that evening. Nothing else of note happened while there, but it was just fine by us.

A week later, we blazed the trail back up to OK for Andy's first Communion. That Friday night, we met my parents and Emily's family at a new restaurant in the town where I used to teach for dinner and drinks. It was great to visit, and I happened to see a handful of former students while there. They may or may not have been the ones working there who served me a beer...it was an odd juxtaposition, but we went with it! It was great to be surrounded by familiar faces once again. During our weekend, my dad taught Thomas how to use the swather, and Thomas was happy to go in the wheat fields and swath some wheat for this year's hay crop. I think my husband was meant to be born and raised on a farm as much as he loves learning about everything. Andy's first Communion was great. It was my first time of having one of my godsons receive a sacrament (besides baptism, obviously), so my aunt/godmother heart was full to bursting that day!

We had to leave the fun with my family a little early that weekend, but before we did, my sisters and I gave my mom our Mother's day gift to her--an Instant Pot! She was excited to have it to be able to do more cooking out in the kitchen in the shed room, especially with harvest and long nights of field work in their future. I meant to have a cookbook of pressure cooker recipes all put together and ready to go for her, but that didn't happen amid my busy week.

The reason we had to leave my family early is that one of our great friends from OSU, Amanda, had a wedding shower in Edmond, and I was invited. I didn't want to miss it, especially since we were in OK and it was on our way home anyway. I was so happy to have gone. She is quite excited for her upcoming nuptials, but is equally anxious. It turns out that her fiance, who just graduated with his master's in electrical engineering, received an amazing job offer...in Seattle, WA. They are both close with their families (who both live in Edmond), so it was tough, but they decided that they couldn't let this opportunity slip away. John (Amanda's fiance) just moved up there, and he won't be back in OK until the wedding at the beginning of July. Amanda has yet to find a job up there, so she is very anxious since she won't have any friends or family up there, and she will be unemployed. I SO related and empathized with her, because that's exactly how I felt at this time last year. I did my best to give her good advice that didn't consist of cliches that really weren't helpful to the situation. I also made a mental note to be sure to reach out to her after they're up in WA to check in on her. Community is key, and sometimes it's nice to not feel so alone in your struggles.

Fast forward a week to Mother's Day, when we celebrated with Thomas' family (his parents, sister, grandma, and Diana's brother's family). Steve made a great meal, headlined by his pulled pork. We had a great time getting together to celebrate the mothers in the family, as well as welcome Elizabeth and McKenna back home from their year at college.

That week for me, work-wise, was pretty nice. The family I tutor for went on their annual week-long trip to Florida, so I got to work one job for about 1.5 weeks. Even if working with the girls isn't difficult, it was so enjoyable to just go to school and come home. Better yet, it was our review week, so I wasn't assigning any homework, just going through a massive review packet with the kids in class. I almost felt bored in the midst of this time, but I enjoyed getting home much earlier than usual and having more free time than ever before! Going back to tutoring this week was a little bit tough for me, but once I got back in the groove, it was all good.

This past week has been our final exam week. It's nice because they split it up where we only give 2 tests per day (we have 8 class periods in all), and the kids are released by noon. Since we teach the demographic we do, the kids need some rebound time to be able to psych themselves up for the next day of testing. Furthermore, many of the kids really struggle with test anxiety like you couldn't imagine, so it helps allay some of that. From the standpoint of us teachers, it makes our days so much easier to know that we only have to be "on" for about half the time that we normally do. It was awesome.

My students' testing went about as well as it could have gone. I officially finished working with kids on Wednesday. They all did pretty well. Nobody failed my class or the final, which was a good feeling. On Wednesday, I received a couple of sweet notes/emails from some of my students, thanking me for everything I did to help them. One of the girls told me that I inspired her to want to teach Algebra, which was probably the best compliment anyone can give a teacher of any subject. (I may or may not have cried a little while reading that note.) On the whole, my students were appreciative of my efforts, and all that I did to make the transition from their former teacher to myself as smooth as I possibly could. There were also emails from students wanting me to round their semester grade up from an 89 to a 90. I had to be the bearer of bad news and explain that their 89 was already an 88.6 that rounded up, so there wasn't much I could do. I hated being the bad guy, but sometimes that happens. It wasn't all great feedback, but you can't please everyone, so there.

Today, we have a brunch, and then we're (mostly) free for the Memorial Day weekend. We have graduation tomorrow, and inservice days Tuesday-Thursday before we're officially finished for the school year. I'm quite excited about what the next few days/weeks entail, so I'll give a quick highlight reel of everything that is to come...

-Tonisha happens to be in Dallas, so we're planning on meeting up!
-Rebecca is going to be spending the weekend with me and exploring Dallas!
-Thomas and I are about to leave on our belated honeymoon to Colorado!

At this point, I'll make a separate post for pictures from this segment, but enjoy the great Memorial Day weekend--I know I will!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Anniversary Party

Last time, I left off right before I told you about my parents' anniversary, so that's where I'll start.

We left out on a Thursday night and made it up around 11 or so. Friday was a flurry of getting things ready. Dad and Thomas spent the day smoking some pork butts on the Traeger. Mom and I went in to Hennessey to pick up some flowers and bread. Tables were delivered, and we slowly pulled everything together. Our preparations were greatly helped by the fact that Dad made great headway on the room inside the shed. The new things that helped were the kitchen (complete with a sink, stove, and some primitive counters/cabinets. We also finally have a working toilet in the bathroom! I was on centerpiece duty for the party, but wasn't able to do much for it until Saturday.

It is definitely worth mentioning that on Thursday night/Friday morning, an oppressive cold front came through, taking with it the pleasant 50 and 60-degree weather and replacing it with 30s/40s and a brutal north wind, all with intermittent rain. Yuck. Thankfully, my parents' shed has a couple of great heaters, so as long as we kept the doors closed, it was pleasantly warm. It was a little less than ideal, but I suppose it's better than having 100 degree heat.

During the day on Friday, my mom and I made a quick trip to Hennessey to pick up flowers for the centerpieces and bread for the party. We also made a quick stop by the shrine to light a candle with prayers for decent weather the next day. It seemed as though we weren't making much progress in terms of decorating or getting things put together, but we eventually got there, albeit late on Friday night.

Saturday morning was spent with the guys tying up loose ends with food prep and with the girls going to town for a little pampering. My cousin Vickie was sweet enough to do my mom's hair for the evening, then we went to get our nails done, which is our new favorite group activity! We also stopped to get lunch at Katy's Pantry, because why not?! We had to get some other odds and ends along the way. During one of the stops, I happened to see one of my old students. Incidentally, this was the first time that I've seen any of them since I left last year, so it was a welcome surprise! I was walking through the store when I heard a frantic shout of "Ms. Hladik!!!!!!!!" which was immediately followed by the sounds of someone running. I finally registered who it was when he came up and gave me a hug. It was a nice surprise to see students who were happy to see me, especially since my current students are still missing their old teacher quite a bit and aren't that fond of me. I had a great talk with my former student, then eventually made my way home to put together my centerpieces.

In making my centerpieces, I gave myself a crash course in flower arranging. I had great guidance from sweet Abby, the florist, in choosing my flowers. I just had to hope that I could make something good happen with them! I opted for white and green hydrangeas, red alstroemerias, and some hypericum berries. I also happened to find some old jars in the shed that, once I cleaned them up, made the perfect rustic vase. Add in some fancy bows that Aunt Pat made, and I was very pleased with the end result...which I managed to complete about an hour before people started arriving. Heaven knows I probably made my mom a little more than nervous by this, but she was overjoyed by how they turned out, so I'm telling myself that that redeemed the situation somewhat :)

Before we knew it, people started arriving, and the party was well underway. We had a great evening of socializing and delicious food. It was so great to get to see so many of my friends and family, most of whom I haven't seen since the wedding. It was great to catch everyone up on my new job (and the jobs I had in between) and to hear what they've been up to in the interim.

I was excited that Tonisha, her sister Shardaye, and her niece Jela all came to the party! So did Thomas' friend Nick, as well as Thomas' parents! We had a truly wonderful time hanging out together. Of course, the weekend was over almost as soon as it began, and I gave a tough goodbye to everyone for the meantime. Times like this make me wish we still lived closer to the OK crowd, but I know that we're where we need to be for now. I'm continuing to embrace this part of my and Thomas' journey, knowing that life has a way of changing things in an instant.

Of course, the best part...photos!

Jakub and Cole

If you're going to make a weird face, it's going to be documented for all eternity...

Kyle got a rare picture of me with multiple nephews :)

Mom and me going on our Hennessey venture 
All the flowers waiting to be arranged...

Girls' lunch at Katy's Pantry


One of the arrangements

Another arrangement

Yet another arrangement (on the guestbook table)

Really proud of how the guestbook table turned out!

Thomas and Jeremy's brother, Jason

Of course I got a picture with Tonisha :)

And why would we forget Jela? Love that sweet, sassy girl!

I thought I had a great candid shot of Thomas talking with both sets of our parents...then I noticed Steve yawning.
Such is life. I still think it's a good picture!

Fun fact: we did NOT plan to all be wearing pastel floral tops.
We still look great :)
Sadly, all the great photos of my parents are on other people's cameras/phones, so you'll have to imagine. I promise Mom and Dad had a great evening! Here's to 40 more years!!!