Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My memories instant recall function failed me a minute ago but upon reflection I remember that a number of significant things happened in the past week.

The first important happening was the purchase of a new computer. Leah and I decided that the ratio of our computer's performance to the amount of work that we do on the computer had gotten far too low. So a "new" iMac should be here tomorrow. Apple was selling refurbished models for a good deal less money than new ones so we bought one. Leah must have access to a number of design programs that have special requirements in terms of memory and performance. This new machine will certainly take care of her and allow her to do what she does best.

The second biggie was the one year mark for Leah and I. That was very cool. We give ourselves a two day period from which we can choose the most convenient day in advance. This worked out great this time because the date fell on Saturday. Leah actually had to work on Saturday so I went for a bike ride as usual. We celebrated by dining out at a new restaurant. The choice was Italian so we went to the highest rated Italian place in town. If it was up to us their ratings would go down a few notches. It was good but different. The sauces were very spicy and it was clearly Tex-Italian. Mounds of cheese and extra meat. We had a great time regardless and followed it up with some snicker-doodle ice cream. All in all a memorable and fun night.

Sunday started pretty slowly and didn't really speed up all that much as the time passed. We went for a walk at about 11am but we succumbed to the heat after about 15 minutes. As a result Leah went to the gym and I went for a mountain bike ride. That was about the closest to heat stroke that I've been yet:) Haha. It really is hot here.

The third and arguably most important happening was Leah being contacted by an art director at a design firm. The firm's name is Latinworks. They specialize in corporate advertisements for recognizable names such as Burger King, Budweiser and Lowes amongst many. Leah got put in touch with the art director through, I think, a friend of a friend of Leah's Aunt Doris. She is lined up to schedule a meeting sometime next week to feel out for any opportunities. We are crossing our fingers and hoping for good news.

Number four is that we just booked tickets to Denver for July 24-31. I have a break for about two and a half weeks and that will be it until Christmas vacation. We decided that it would be a smart and welcome time to go for a trip. Neither Leah nor I have been to the Rockies in the summer recently enough to remember it and I haven't even met Chris' son Riley. We will be hanging out with Chris in Denver for a couple of days and then heading up to Breckenridge to stay in a condo very graciously offered by Dr. Lane.

Other than those four items of significance, nothing major has occurred. Our plants are growing nicely. The trumpet creeper is still attracting a few clever and relentless ants that have found ways around my barriers. We may be smart and somewhat clever but insects have a mindless determination that is tough to beat. It has also attracted a hummingbird that visits regularly. Make that two hummingbirds, playing as I write. Reminds me of sitting at the cottage and watching the feeder in the pine tree...

With luck we'll be checking back in about a week with more exciting news.

Love Jay and Leah

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Going Green in Texas

Another week has flown by here. They're rate of speed is becoming alarming. Leah managed to contract the plague last week and so spent most of its second half in bed resting. The tables turned for a few days there and I got the chance to take care of her. I continued to go to my summer institute sessions in the afternoons. They’ve been going well. My FA (Fellow Advisor) teaches the classes and reminds me distinctly of Anne, of Uncle Jack and Anne. She looks similar, has a similar voice and a similar sense of humor. I enjoy spending time with Anne so this has been quite comforting. It is likely that other things occurred last week, but if they did, I certainly do not remember them.

Leah’s health started to look up on Friday and she was mostly better by Friday evening. What I remember about last Friday evening is that in her newfound vigor, Leah made spaghetti. It was sooo good. I was especially thankful for that meal by about 10am Saturday morning! I managed to rouse myself Saturday at about 6:30am to go for a bike ride and beat the heat. It started great and almost finished great as well. The weather was nice, about 80 degrees when I left with high humidity and low hanging clouds. I was about 45 miles into my ride and unknowingly took a wrong turn. I began to see biker after biker after biker. I swallowed my pride and said to one of them, “Where am I?” For a split second I think he was wondering if maybe I was nuts from the heat, but he told me that I was near Mansfield Dam. Mansfield Dam is the dam that holds back Lake Travis, about 10 miles north of Austin. When all was said and done, I had tacked on an extra 15 miles, 1000ft of climbing, drained my 100oz water tank and met some new cyclists. Not too bad.

Leah's time has largely been occupied with portfolio and design business the past few days. She has a BA in graphic design and can do some mightily impressive things on the computer. Lately she has been working on a personal logo and organizing her portfolio to make herself marketable. When I consider the amounts of time, energy and frustration that are involved in simply writing this journal, the things that she does absolutely blow my mind. She is fluent in a bunch of different design programs. Many things that we look at everyday we often take for granted because our world is so saturated with visual stimuli. But all of those graphics that you see on websites, brochures, TV and packaging must be created from scratch by someone. And that person will likely be Leah in the near future.

Saturday afternoon Leah and I decided to remedy the problem of a Home Depot Gift Card burning a hole in her pocket. We finally made it out to buy plants for our apartment. Neither of us had half a clue what we were doing and luckily an employee who had recently moved here from Wisconsin took pity on us. She pointed us towards some advantageous plants to have at an apartment and gave us directions on watering, trimming and potting etc. We came home with a yucca plant and a dracaena massangeana for indoors. For our patio we picked up an aloe vera plant, a bougainvillea and a vine called an Indian Summer Trumpet Creeper. They really make the place look better. And the patio smells nice as well.

Later that afternoon, I made the famous Prescott chocolate chip cookies to take to a potluck/pool party that Leah and I were planning on going to Saturday night. It ended up being quite a bit of fun. It was hosted by the roommates of one of my fellow classmates. Great variety of people and some good food to go along.

Sunday morning I wandered out onto the patio to have a look at the new plants; to my slight dismay I saw that every bud on the creeper was covered with fire ants. I hadn’t woken up fully yet but I knew for sure that I didn’t like what I had seen. Sure enough, I looked it up on the net and approximately 40 trillion southern gardeners had complained that the creeper attracts fire ants from miles around. I thought for a few minutes on my dilemma and decided to block their path of entry and then get rid of the current intruders. I used brake grease to create little barriers around all of their potential points of access. So far so good. The unopened buds secrete copious amounts of a sweet nectar that seems to be attracting every insect that has survived the myriad pesticide attacks by our complex.

We generally reserve Sundays for accomplishing tasks like laundry, shopping, and cleaning. And that is exactly what we did. We wanted to go to Lowe’s to look for a lamp so I had their lumber guy cut me some plywood to make a bookcase out of. Leah has stated adamantly that the clutter on the desk just isn’t going to cut it, so we now have some more storage.

Monday morning began with my first "practice teaching" session. The entire process has been vague in description and lax in direction. I was just told to arrive at a certain place at a certain time and figure it out from there. Perfect. My cooperating teacher is a good guy but he's not actually teaching a class this summer. He's a behavior specialist who's there to look in on kids who have behavior plans. The purpose of me being there is to practice teaching so I made my way around until I found a teacher who will let me run a few lessons so that I can be observed and get credit. Plus my assigned teacher is explaining loads of stuff to me that I will need to know this fall. All in all it's going well. With a little self-advocacy the situation will turn out for the best.
I am fairly sure of who my co-teacher will be next year. All accounts thus far have been glowing so I will hope for the best. She has experience teaching the course so my job will be to provide appropriate modifications to the lesson plans to accommodate the special education students in the class. I will be sharing the teaching responsibility as well as doing some case management outside of class.

I can't believe that it's Wednesday night already. That's all for now.

As always Leah and I hope that all is well in Michigan. And we of course appreciate any and all pictures of the Michigan summer that we are missing.

Love Jay and Leah

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The temperature is STILL rising

There goes another week in Texas. They're moving by quickly. We've been here almost a month now. We are staying busy. I have been exploring the hill country by bike when I get the chance. I made the mistake of going for a ride about a week ago in the afternoon. Human beings just aren't made to exercise in this heat. Siesta's were created for a very good reason. I had enough water with me so I was fine and the ride was great, but sort of rough. I went west of here to a small town named Fitzhugh. The road is hilly with vistas across the hill country. The "country" here might not fit the stereotyped definition of country, that being of forgotten lands inhabited by low income peoples. In Michigan the boondocks start not too far out of town. Here you can go for miles and miles and not find the boonies. The cars that pass you on the road become more expensive and the homes turn into sprawling estate ranches with mansions set in their middles.

Leah finally finished her training at Chuys and has started waitressing without the added load of quizzes and criticism with no tips. She has been working most days (not to mention taking care of me) and the experience is improving. As for my work future, I do have some more official dates. I start on August 4 with a week of new teacher training followed by two weeks of planning. School starts on Aug. 24.

Chuy's did not require Leah's service on Thursday so we had some fun in the sun. If you walk about a mile towards town on the greenbelt you come to Town Lake where the Colorado River is dammed. Along the inlet of Barton Creek there is a canoe rental place that we visited. We spent about an hour canoeing out into the lake and seeing the sights. The water provided a great view of the city and gave us another perspective. Living in the water near the inlet are hundreds of turtles. We couldn't believe how many turtles there were floating and eating about us. We counted ten on one log practically stacked on top of one another. The trip went without difficulty until we were almost back to the rental place. We were close to the bank and heard a kid yell cuh-caw. We couldn't see him until he had landed in the water next to us giving us a good soaking. He had apparently been perched in a tree waiting. We weren't happy about it but it was a very well executed prank nonetheless.

Leah's aunt Doris arrived into the airport later Thursday. We picked her up and all went out to dinner at Baby Acapulcos. The food, atmoshpere and company were all wonderful. Doris is a blast and kept us thoroughly entertained. She was traveling to Texas primarily to visit her friend "Doc", but we got her for some of the time. We showed her the Greenbelt Friday morning and then she was off to the south to meet her friend.

Back to the topic of exercise, if you want to get some serious time in you must go out in the morning. I went for a group road ride early Saturday morning west of town. It started at 8am and we rode around the country for about 50 miles. I was expecting to meet a bunch of hardcore athletes that would kick my butt all over the road but was happy to find quite the opposite. They were very relaxed and just out for a nice morning cruise. Apparently the "kick your butt" rides start later from a different location.

Saturday afternoon I did something that I have never done before. In Michigan, every moment of every sunny day must be relished and utilized to the greatest extent possible. Last Saturday, a beautiful sunny day, I closed the blinds, turned the AC down and watched a movie. It was heavenly. Leah came home later hot and tired from work and we watched another movie. Things are different down here. It takes some getting used to.

Sunday we woke up with a fire under our butts and got serious. Leah went to the gym and I went mountain biking. She had a great workout and I had a great ride. I met the president of the Austin Ridge Riders Association. I think that will be a good contact to have as they know all the trails and organize rides and events. We spent the afternoon by the pool and doing house cleaning type stuff.

Sunday night Doris and Doc came back up to Austin and we all had dinner at a barbecue place called the County Line. The food wasn't all that great but the restaurant was perched atop a hill with a great view, and the company was excellent as well.

We haven't seen too much out of Marie and Ryan lately. Marie and I went up north last Friday to pick up a desk and she came over yesterday to hang out and go swimming. They had an apartment warming party last Saturday that we heard went very well but we weren't able to attend.

Summer Institute for the Fellows started yesterday with opening ceremonies. I have afternoon classes this week and practice teaching starts next week. That will take place in the mornings.

Our apartment hasn't changed much of late. We have the necessities all taken care of plus some luxuries so I think we are mostly content.

That'll do it for this one. We hope you are all well and as always, we appreciate updates on what's new and how things are going.

Love Jay and Leah.

I'll leave you with this,

Back to the heat, Leah and I saw a hilarious example of it's effects on Sunday. In the oak tree outside of our window were two squirrels completely zonked out. It looked as if they were taking a siesta. Don't worry, they were not dead.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Things are still moving right along down here in Texas. We've been here a little over two weeks now. The weather finally evened out a bit. It tends to get down into the high 60's or low 70's at night with daytime highs in the low to mid 90's. We have had a lot more clouds than we were expecting but that is fine with us. Constant sun can become just as monotonous as constant clouds. We are still learning new things, how to get around, what to do and what to see.

Leah has been at Chuy's for exactly a week and is just about done with their extensive training period. What we thought was a unique diner is actually a nationwide chain with the concomitant rules and regulations, right down to the special non-skid shoes that she will be required to buy. As far as I am concerned, Leah can keep right on training for as long as she needs to. Part of the training is becoming familiarized with the menu and the food that they serve. This means that she gets to bring home a different Tex-Mex dinner every night. The portions are Texan sized so there is plenty for the both of us to share. I love it.

The job front for me cleared up surprisingly quickly. I didn't really have to do much work for it. About a day after I finished sending in my district applications, the assistant principal for special education at Del Valle High School called me and wanted to interview me the following morning. Tuesday I had taken the Science 8-12 certification test and was awaiting my results. Wednesday I received the interview request. Thursday morning was the interview. Part of the Fellows program is designed to train you for the teaching interview. As the program has yet to start, I was quite unprepared for the interview. I showed up a few minutes early and chatted with the secretary who told me that she could see my interviewer walking across the parking lot. When he came in I stood up and we shook hands. I followed him down to his office and he promptly began to tell me the story of why he showed up late. Apparently as he was leaving his house that morning, the school bus had hit and killed a dog. He had done the dirty work of dragging the dog off the road. Then he reflected for a second and said, "Speaking of which, I need to wash my hands." Upon his return from the restroom he remembered that we had shaken hands and suggested that I might also want to wash my hands. Uh....YEAH. That definitely set the mood for the remainder of the interview. He was a nice guy and it went well. The job was mine if I passed the Science 8-12 test and my references checked out. About two hours later I found that I had passed the test and the next day my references had all checked out so that was that. Done deal. Freshman biology inclusion for 2009-2010 at Del Valle High School. The day had already been sweetened for me but the cherry on top was when Marie called and said that she had also landed a job. On the exact same day. We are meant to live in the same place. I do declare.

We have done some more exploration of the areas surrounding our apartment. We've been walking on the greenbelt a few times. It seems that if you resign yourself to the fact that you WILL be dripping with sweat, you'll enjoy yourslf. The inability to escape into the woods was a large concern of mine moving to a city. It turns out that we are closer to the woods here than I ever have been. And it's a deep woods filled with plants and animals of all sorts. Leah has been riding her bike to work almost everyday, which makes me very proud. I've been able to go with her most days. We've got a route planned through Zilker Park so she can make it almost all the way on sidewalks. Marie's boyfriend Ryan and I went mountain biking on the greenbelt on Saturday. Our goal was to ride all the way to the end and we, unknowingly at the time, made it. The very end is a rather steep hill. I had my GPS with me and measured it to be about 300 ft up in 1/3 of a mile. In this heat that was a killer. We got some great exercise and saw a Ferrari show on the way back. Very cool.

Marie and Ryan are also busy moving into their own apartment together. The new one is only about 25 ft from Ryan's old apartment. It made the planning rather simple but a short move = no packing = many trips. Their new digs are much more comfortable than either of their previous residences. The new place has lots of light and it's a loft. We had the two of them over for a special dinner during the middle of their move. Leah made all of her famous Italian food. It was all great. Great food, fine wine and good company made for a pleasant evening.

Our apartment has been filling in nicely. The newest addition is a behemoth of an entertainment center. I drove 30 miles to get it on Sunday and it just barely fit in our trailer. I had to solicit help from Ryan to carry it. Leah had very specific directions to figure out precisely where she wanted it on the first try. My brain says hernia whenever I look at the monster. Ugh. Marie found us a great deal on a TV. The Hampton Inn upgraded to LCD and sold all of their 27 in Zeniths for $40. Awesome.

Leah just cashed in some reward points that we are going to invest at Home Depot. We figure that growing our own basil will probably pay for itself in a short period of time. We have a patio that gets a fair amount of sun each day so we are going to start a planter garden.

Anything beyond this would lead to pointless ramblings, so I will sign off.

Thanks for the return e-mails that we received. We do appreciate it. Especially any pictures from MI that we can get. The Michigan summer is still missed, even in this land of eternal summer.

Hope you're all well.

Love Jay and Leah.