20 December 2011

2011-We're glad to see you go!

The start of this year found Joshua and I at our lowest point, desperately trying to survive this economy, like many others.  My first year of teaching happened to be one of the most dramatic in the state and nation's recent history, with extreme budget cuts leaving many educators out of work or facing new challenges in the classroom.  I am fortunate enough to be working in a district that went out of its way to save teaching jobs, and my contract was renewed for another year.

At the end of the school year, we had visits from Heather, as well as Tanya and Matt.  We enjoyed a fun night together starting with dinner on Lake Travis, and then on to the outdoor venue in Bee Cave known as The Backyard for Willie Nelson's birthday concert.  It was a much-needed fun weekend that allowed Joshua and I to show off this wonderful city to loved ones.

A few weeks later, I completed my mega-portfolio and passed my state exams, leaving me certified as a Generalist for 4th-8th grade in the state of Texas.  In June, a few days after finishing my first year of teaching, I flew to New England to attend the required one week residency for my Master's of Diplomacy from Norwich University in Vermont.  

The campus was beautiful, and the cool Vermont weather was a welcome relief from drought-striken Texas.  Although the trip was an unwelcome expense for Joshua and I, it was an amazing experience that left me feeling very positive about my future and provided an opportunity to be inspired by my fellow grads, who are also facing obstacles and looking for ways to put their new degrees to work.

Joshua and I enjoyed the following month by seeking out cheap ways to have fun, and taking advantage of our central apartment location before our upcoming move to the south side of the city.  And, yes, we gave the furry boys mohawks to beat the insane summer heat...  

Of course, he was still actively looking for a permanent position and I was completing my final semester at Norwich online.  Eventually, one of my new connections led Joshua to an interview, and a new career at a senior living facility in northwest Austin.  He was still in the application stages when I flew home to visit my family and wait for the arrival of our new nephew.  The new job in a new industry has taken Joshua through an experience not unlike my jump into education last year.  He has learned a lot in his first 5 months, and he's just getting started.  He's working in the business office, working with healthcare providers and insurance companies, and mingling with the friendly residents whenever he can.

While I was back in Wisconsin for 4 weeks, I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my beautiful 7 year old niece Olivia, and adorable 2 year old nephew Connor, as well as their new brother Grant, who arrived on July 27. 

I also tried to catch up with as many friends and family members as possible, and I stood up in Ben and Julie's wedding, which was an adventure in itself...Rain storms and a slow chairlift ride to the top of a ski hill do not mix, though they do result in good stories and more reason to start drinking before dinner.

When I came home to Austin, it was to a new apartment in the south side of the city.  Joshua's sister and brother came down to help him move us over his birthday weekend.  Of course, I cannot thank them enough, especially considering the triple digit temps that they were working in.  Our new place is wonderful, we finally have all the amenities that we couldn't afford downtown (Geppetto loves the dog park!) and we have found a new favorite Thai restaurant nearby.
The fall was a busy one for us, as we tried to get our new schedules in sync.  I am teaching a new class this year, journalism, as well as French, and producing the yearbook, co-sponsoring student council (which I started last spring), and sponsoring a UIL academic team.  All these new things made this semester nearly as busy and stressful for me as last year, which was frustrating (I thought this was supposed to get easier!).  Bartleby does a good impression of me grouchy and tired:

At any rate, visits from Jaime, and Heather and Danielle in October and my dad, plus Colleen, Rob and Emma in the November helped get me through my third semester as a teacher and Joshua's first few months in the health care field.  Call us if you are in the area-we want to show you this city!

Our fall concerts included seeing Buddy Guy at the new Austin City Limits theater in the fancy W Hotel downtown, Bon Iver (Eau Claire's favorite hipster) at the beautiful Long Center at Auditorium Shores on Town Lake, and an amazing line up of local musicians at a concert to raise money for victims of the Bastrop fires, including Willie Nelson, George Strait and THE DIXIE CHICKS!
Our fall road trip was an October Saturday in Houston.  We had a great time visiting the Rothko Chapel to see works by Joshua's favorite painter, and we stumbled upon the impressive Menil Collection nearby.  A tour at the St. Arnold's brewery and lunch at the delectable Pepper Tree left us loving this city.

Joshua and I enjoyed Thanksgiving at home, cooking a delicious feast and cheering on the Packers.  Christmas day, we plan to do the same thing, but with new recipes.  We love to cook, love watching cooking shows (The Next Iron Chef is our current favorite), but we rarely have time to dedicate to trying new things in the kitchen and spoiling ourselves with mouth-watering bites.  
So, while we will miss our families and friends all across the country, we will make the best of it by getting use out of all those wonderful kitchen gadgets we received as wedding gifts. :)

New Year's Eve, we'll be checking out an up and coming Austin musician, Gary Clark Jr., at one of the city's legendary clubs, Antone's.  I always look forward to going out in the city for an evening of good food and good music, one of the main reasons we moved to the Live Music Capital, and I'm grateful that we have come far enough in 2011 to comfortably enjoy our new home.  

Happy New Year's to our friends and family!  May 2012 bring new opportunities and adventures!  
As a wise man said-- Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

16 March 2011

Spring Fever

With all of the ups and downs of the past year regarding my career switch-from applying to several alternative certification programs around the country, to interviewing with Texas Teaching Fellows and taking my state exams, to applying to a dozen districts in the Austin area, waiting to learn my fate in the coming budget cuts may be the most unnerving.  It will be bittersweet to have made it this far, and complete my certification, yet find myself unemployed.  As nearby districts like AISD make their cuts, the competition for available positions will increase and I could easily find myself fighting for a waitressing job like I was last summer.

Spending my spring break in Austin, remembering why I fell in love with this city last year, is helping to keep me calm.  My mom arrived Friday and Joshua and I had four days to show her the best parts of this city.  We took her to Kerbey Lane Cafe the first night and drove her around campus and the strip of Guadeloupe, a highlight for her was the Party Barn, the drive-thru liquor store.  On Saturday, we walked the growing number of booths of the farmer's market and listened to the live music while enjoying a fresh baguette and hummus from The Mediterranean Chef.  Then we headed to South Congress where we wandered through art galleries, vintage shops and more before savoring crepes from one of the many amazing food trailers Austin has to offer.  We went out to take in the circus of 6th Street for the start of the South by Southwest festival, and mom loved it!  We danced to live music at Friend's and Joshua got his locally brewed beer at Lovejoy's.  We capped the night off with fried goodness from Whataburger, mmmm!

Yes, when people visit Austin, they find themselves eating and drinking a lot.  It is hard not to indulge in a city filled with such culinary creativity.  On Sunday, Joshua and I showed mom some of our own inspiration with cornbread waffles for breakfast, along with apple compote and Joshua's French press.  I took her to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center where we walked a few miles and took in the rustic southwest landscape and some gorgeous spring color and smells.  The bluebonnets were vibrant, and the Mexican plum trees smelled incredible.  Next up, we took Geppetto to the dog park at Auditorium Shores where he barely escaped from an overly excited, mud-covered spaniel.  Once he was worn out, we headed to Whole Foods on Lamar where we had trouble decided what to treat ourselves to.  We sat outside and talked until dusk, then we realized we should get home to Joshua.  He was starving, so we ended the night with pizza from Conan's and a movie-Blades of Glory, to end our night with laughs.

We slept with the windows open every night and woke up to sunshine and the sound of birds singing, I love spring!  On Monday, mom and I slowly made our way to the capitol to join the other spring break tourists for a tour and a little history lesson.  As if the Texas capitol didn't already look big enough, I learned that most of it is underground, making it the biggest state capitol by far.  Joshua picked us up and we headed west to Lake Travis for sunset at The Oasis, which a few of our friends recommended.  It was a spectacular view of the lake and the sunset, and with more decks and tables than I have ever seen before, we were not surprised to learn that it is the 3rd largest restaurant in the US.  So, it is true, everything is bigger in Texas! :)

Tuesday, we slowly got ourselves together and my heavy head told me that all of this time outside has not been welcomed, my allergies were kicking in.  Of course, the bottle of pinot grigio last night while we watched The Fighter, probably didn't help.  Mom and I took Geppetto for a walk around the neighborhood and Joshua made his famous Pad Thai for lunch, yum!  On the way to the airport, I took mom to Toy Joy to see all of the cool toys and enjoy some homemade cubano/vanilla softserve.  Just a few more tasty calories for the road, which she seemed to like as much as I did.

It was hard to say goodbye to mom, but I am so glad that she was able to stay as long as she did and she had the chance to fall in love with this city too.  Showing her around reminds me that moving here was a good decision, and this last year has been a positive experience, no matter what happens with my job.  Taking risks and setting high expectations brought me to a career that I love in a city full of new tastes and sounds and sights to discover.  I look forward to taking in as many more as I can in the coming days of South by Southwest with Joshua...Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye, vegan cookies, mmmm, can't wait!

04 February 2011

Second Semester Snow Day

The school year is flying by, and I find myself already one month into my second semester as a teacher.  It has been an eventful 2011 already, and I am starting to feel overwhelmed.  At work, new challenges are coming my way, reminding me that teachers must be unfailingly flexible and patient.  Many students were out with the flu, some for a week at a time.  I have managed to stay healthy somehow (fingers crossed)!

 I am now a co-sponsor  for the student council, which means meetings every Monday and Wednesday after school, plus extra little projects like our upcoming anti-bullying week.  In addition, lots of professional development is scheduled this semester.  I have had at least one day of meetings or seminars every week, and have several more coming up in February.  It is all very helpful, and it all counts towards the required hours for my certification.  The difficult part about taking a day away from the classroom is planning for a substitute, it is a surprising amount of work to set someone else up to do your job.

The final months of my certification program are ahead, which means finalizing my portfolio and completing all of the paperwork the state of Texas requires of me.  I am excited that shortly after my birthday, I should have my teaching certification!  Unfortunately, this has become a stressful time to be employed by state or local government, due to the shrinking budgets everywhere.  Austin Independent School District has already cut 450 jobs and is looking into closing over a dozen schools.  Our district has told us that cuts are coming and they will inform us once any decisions are made.  We are much smaller than Austin, however jobs will certainly be cut, it is just a question of how many.  I am trying to focus on just completing my program right now, just concentrating on what is in my control.

Up until this past week, the winter here has been very mild.  These pictures show us at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Sunday when it was in the 80s!  We are scoping out ideas for my mom's visit during spring break.

It has been getting colder since Monday, with temperatures below freezing for nearly three days now.   A dusting of snow last night led to all of the schools, universities and government offices to be closed today.  I am very glad to have been saved from driving to work on unplowed, unsanded roads with a bunch of people not accustomed to driving in the snow.  It was like a skating rink on most of the roads until everything started melting this afternoon.

Joshua continues to improve his cooking, spoiling me with homemade goodies.  We have been on a Pad Thai kick lately, along with Ahloo Gobi, seitan sausages, chocolate pecan waffles, and Pho asian noodle soup.  Mmm, yum!  Geppetto hates the cold weather, but loves the fact that we are spending more time than usual snuggling with blankets on the couch.