Sunday, August 30, 2009

The real world has started with a bang. Both Leah and I started working full time on the same day. For those of you who have not yet heard, Leah secured her internship with Green Mountain Energy. And it's going great. It is turning out to be a 40 hr a week deal which is just superb. She has lots of work to keep her busy. Thus far she has been a star at the office. The work that she has done and the ideas that she has generated have been met with much praise by her co-workers. Being able to put a college education worth of knowledge to work to produce necessary tangible products is proving to be quite satisfying.


My first week has been good. About what I had expected. A bit overwhelming, busy and fun. There are a lot of names to learn, both of students and other teachers. The co-teaching situation has a learning curve but it's going well. We share similar views on most situations. I did finally get a computer from the school so I can now do my job. That was a huge relief. A good portion of my responsibilities involve some variety of computer program. And I should have a desk by Tuesday morning. So far I haven't had anywhere to put anything. I just have a way overstuffed bag that I carry back and forth home with me. It's not too bad but will become overwhelming soon.

I recently purchased a new car. Leah and I spent most of our evenings last week dealing with one thing or another related to the purchase. Lots of hoops to jump through. I can't imagine what buying a house is going to involve. When all was said and done we had ourselves a 2004 Honda Civic. The old Subaru was quite tired and needed a replacement. Especially considering the daily 35 mile round trip commute. This new car should use about 1 gallon of gas for that drive. When compared with 1.5-2 gallons for the Subaru over the course of a year I should save a considerable amount of money. Very good. Besides the mpg I really like it. The AC works and it gets up to speed much faster with much less effort. It is a manual which I really like and the brakes actually stop the car in a reasonable distance.

Unfortunately Leah's car got itself stuck in a parking garage on her first day at work. The key simply would not turn in the ignition. And of course the tow truck that can access garages was out of town. As you might remember we just recently had work done on the ignition so naturally we had the car towed back to that shop. They quoted the repair at $1000 +/- $200. That didn't seem quite right, especially after they told us that during the first repair they had told us that the car wasn't completely fixed but they gave it back to us because we insisted on getting back on the road. If my memory serves me correctly, which it usually does, that is not at all what occurred. After a few more phone calls the Focus now sits at the Ford dealership waiting to be fixed for a far more reasonable price. The service manager at the dealership told me that whoever did the first diagnostic didn't have a clue what he was doing because there was physical damage to the steering column. Needless to say I will be having a few words with the manager at the Goodyear store when he returns Monday.

We are trying to figure out how to avoid the working man schedule. The apartment managed to get really messy and all we wanted to do in the evening was sit around and eat. Not a good situation. I think once we get into a more consistent routine we'll be able to get out in the evening on a regular basis. The weather is still a killer in the afternoon but the mornings are cooling off. Yesterday it was in the low 70's and it felt cool. I went for a ride at 9am and the air literally felt cool. It was amazing. And while I was biking Leah was biking too!! She took her Motobecane down across the river, through town and back up to our place. Last night we saw the new movie "Inglorious Basterds". It was very good. Highly recommended.

Only one new piece to the apartment. Leah bought a spherical lamp shade a few weeks ago but it didn't come with anything else. It was quite literally just a shade. We wanted it in our living room so I wired a light socket to the end of an extensions cord and wired a small inline switch into the middle of the cord. It works well and was a fun quick project.

Today we're getting ready for another week. Cleaning and cooking and relaxing in between. We took a walk this morning at the SW end of the greenbelt. Completely different type of trails out there. Narrow hilly single-track.

Hope you're all doing well.

Love Jay and Leah.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Real World Staaarts, NOW!

It's been a long time. About two weeks since the last entry I think. We've been both broke and busy for the majority of those two weeks. Leah started working the day after we got back and I relaxed/prepared for the start of training. Orientation/new teacher training has been somewhat of a bust. An expectedly subpar mix of useless activities and required information.

Some excitement was granted to us late in the week of our return. I had just finished a hike to the end of the greenbelt and Leah was planning on picking me up and giving me a ride back home. All was well until we were driving down Bee Caves Rd and Leah's accelerator ceased to have any effect on the forward movement of the car. The engine was still on but momentum and gravity were all that were moving us forward. Leah pulled into a driveway that was slightly uphill and brought the car to a stop. No flat tires, no leaks of fluid onto the ground and no parts of the car visible on the ground. Hmmm? No idea what could be wrong. The car will not start back up. Battery's fine. Hmmm? I glance across the street and there are two automotive shops. Perfect. Now all we have to do is cross 5 lanes of busy traffic. Leah's in the driver's seat cranking the wheel for lack of power steering and I am pushing. A peculiar man drinking a margarita on the sidewalk offered to help and so he was walking behind the car....?
There was a steep downhill into the Goodyear store and so I slammed the door and Leah was off. She did great and pulled the car to the side and stopped smoothly. By the morning of the next day they had diagnosed and fixed the problem. There was a short in the ignition wiring in the engine compartment as well as a bad ignition. Good to go now though.

The heat has continued to be oppressive but we've managed to get out for a few walks and rides. Marie and I got out for a walk on the greenbelt a while back. That brought back memories of good times past. Leah and I also drove to a mid-point entrance to the greenbelt and walked on a portion that she had not yet seen.

Bike rides have been few and far between lately. I suppose I am getting tired of waking up so early on the weekends to ride. That coupled with not being able to ride in the evenings because of the heat equals not much riding.

Leah had an interview on Friday the 14th at a place called Green Mountain Energy. She spent a good portion of the week preparing her print portfolio (comprised of some truly impressive pieces) and the interview went very well. She actually said, "it was the best interview that I've ever had". Needless to say we both have our fingers crossed for a good response from the company. The position is a paid internship for a graphic designer. Ideal. And because Leah would do a fantastic job as an intern, she would hopefully get hired afterwards. We'll just have to wait and see.

As I mentioned earlier I've been going to "work" everyday. It has really just been training and information seminars about the upcoming school year. My room will be in a brand new wing of the school and the builders just recently finished it to a point where the teachers could gain access. Our new rooms are great. They are large with state of the art technology and huge windows. There are 8 new teachers at the high school who are from this summer's teaching fellows program. Teachers tend to favor cliques and so being familiar with some other new people has been helpful to get started.

The biggest problem with working everyday is our schedules. Leah has been working during the evening after I work all day. Not a preferred situation. I don't like going an entire day without seeing her so I would of course stay up and wait for her to get home. Unfortunately that led to a sleep deficit. Also not a good situation. This is yet another reason why I am crossing my fingers for the internship.

I only have two photos to share this time. We literally have not taken any pictures in the last two weeks. I just took a couple of our plants. The aloe vera plant went nuts when we repotted it, but I think that its roots have reached their limit and will subsequently limit the size of the top. Our bougainvillea has really taken to the trellis and is flowering as well. The trumpet creeper is still flowering but has acquired some mites that seem to be munching on it.

I shouldn't forget that there has been some excellent cooking going on around here. Our favorite of late has been the following recipe for baked spaghetti. Between my love of food prep and Leah's finely tuned taste buds, we do pretty well. We hodge podged it together and it turned out great.

Note: the series of temperature increases is crucial.

Leah's Sauce

3 small carrots-finely chopped
1 medium onion-finely chopped
1 stalk celery-finely chopped
3 cloves garlic-pressed
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 handful parsley-finely chopped
2 tbsp. fresh basil-rolled and sliced
salt and pepper to taste

1. Soften carrots, onions and celery in olive oil
2. Add garlic
3. Add crushed tomatoes and let simmer until desired thickness has been reached
4. Add basil and parsley
5. Add salt and pepper to taste

Cheese Mix

2 eggs-beaten
4 C. mozzarella-shredded
~2 C. ricotta cheese
1/3 C. parmesan
5 tbsp. butter-melted

1. Mix all together. Save out 1 C. for later use

Cheese Topping

1/2 C. mozzarella
1/2 C. monterey jack
1/2 C. cheddar

1. Mix together


1 lb. spaghetti noodles-cooked and drained

All Combined

1. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F
2. Mix noodles with large part cheese mixture
3. Mix in desired amount of sauce-approx. 4 C.
4. Place in 9"X13" baking dish, cover and bake for 40 min.
5. Spread remaining cheese mixture over top, raise temperature to 425 deg. F for approx. 10 min.
6. Spread cheese topping over top and bake at 425 deg. F until the cheese is browned

That's all for now. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the end of your summer wherever you are. Hopefully we will soon be peeking our heads out from our summer hibernation. And if you happen to make this recipe, let us know what you think.

Love Jay and Leah.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mountain Respite

Well, both Leah and I got our much desired breaks from the Texas heat. We actually got a little more than we bargained for. We experienced every phase of H2O that can occur on the surface of the Earth. All in Colorado.

We landed in Denver at 7:40 am on a Friday and had a long day in store. Chris had his son Riley with him who I was very much looking forward to meeting. He looks just like Chris and has his personality as well. We all strolled through one of Denver's parks during the afternoon until Riley's mom picked him up. I made steak and chicken fajitas with one of Chris' friends Zach for dinner before we all went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game that evening. By "we all", I am referring to the four people we grew up with from Holland who happen to live in Denver now. It was strange to suddenly see so many people that we used to know all in one place. The view from the stadium was amazing. We were in the second row from the top and could see the sun setting over the Rocky Mountains. Baseball being one the most thrilling sports ever to watch, it was difficult not to pay attention to the sunset.

Saturday started with perfect Denver summer weather. It was long forgotten by Leah and I. We walked onto Chris' balcony and it was 65 deg, sunny and dry with a light breeze. Just like Michigan. Mr. Lane appeared at the front door a couple of hours later and we were off. Up into the mountains we went. The first stop was Golden Gate Canyon State Park for an acclimatization hike.

The weather wasn't ideal, with rain and thunder, but the scenery was great. Mr. Lane took us all to a "famous" pizza place named Beau Joe's for dinner. I wish that I had a picture to share of the road that got us there. True to his reputation, Mr. Lane did some exploring on the way there and drove down an old mining road with perilous drop-offs and no guard-rails. It was excellent. After paying a premium for groceries in a small mountain town, we were finally there, and it felt good.

Sunday was mostly spent exploring the town of Breckenridge. There was an art fair going on but we certainly couldn't afford the expectantly inflated resort prices, so were relegated to browsing only. The weather was beautiful until about 2pm. Apparently during the summer in the Rockies, storms roll in during the early afternoon and persist on and off until the evening. That proved to be the rule for most of our stay.

Monday was a great day! We rented a tandem from the sports shop and rode up Boreas Pass Rd. The road itself was originally a narrow gauge railroad route into town. It went up and up and up. We switch-backed out of town and continued onto one-lane gravel road. We got quite a few looks and some thumbs-up for riding all the way up there on a tandem. Leah was a trooper as "stoker" (rear person on a tandem). The views and descent were both spectacular. We were going downhill at the speed limit of 35 mph. I was a bit nervous steering that monster down the twisty mountain road but all's well that ends well.

Tuesday was an equally great day. We had planned on going horseback riding but the place was booked. So I got to go on another bike ride. This one was up French Pass. The day before when Leah and I picked up our tandem, the rental guy tried to steer us away from going up Boreas Pass Rd. This day a different rental guy again tried to steer me away from going up French Pass. The greatness of the previous days ride convinced me to ride where I wanted to, so off I went. It was great. A long twisty gravel road climbing through pine forests and open meadows. The weather was great until I got to the very top. I would guess that with the wind chill factored in it was probably around 30 deg. The road climbed past the tree-line, which I was very excited about.

We finally got our chance to go horseback riding on Wednesday. We took the bus to Copper Mountain and walked to the stables. So far so good. The weather was nice, a few clouds but nothing too tall or too dark. We took off up the hill, Leah on 'Dusty' and myself on 'Oke'. Shortly thereafter the sun disappeared for good and a light rain began to fall. The light rain became freezing drizzle which turned into large pellets of slush. Soon we were soaked and cold to our cores with thunder booming and no respite in sight. Our wonderful guide Connor cut our trip short and got us back just in time for the sun to come back out.

We flew down to town and ate large hot sandwiches and Leah bought a sweatshirt for the ride back to Breck. As soon as we got back we jumped into the hot tub and stayed for a long time.

Later that day we walked down to the Riverwalk Center, an auditorium in Breckenridge. Leah had gotten us tickets to the National Repertory Orchestra concert, part of the town's summer music festival. The first half consisted of a Serenade for Winds and Tod und Verklarung (Death and Transfiguration), both by Strauss. The conductor was a man named Gerhardt Zimmerman, who appeared to be a bit full of himself. The second half was Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), by Stravinsky. The conductor was Carl Topilow, and he was not full of himself. He was awesome. The music was amazing and brought the entire audience up to full attention. We were both very thankful for the second half.

Thursday was the exception to the rule of Rocky Mountain summer weather. It was hailing when I woke up, it was raining when Leah woke up and it rained on and off for most of the day. Being huge breakfast fans we went to a popular place called Daylight Donuts. Unfortunately our food was cold and wasn't anything special. Thus we decided to go to a different place to get our donuts, for which a newfound love had grown during our trip. Kava Donuts proved to be our morning's savior. Delicious, fresh-made mini-donuts upon ordering. Perfect.

Little did we know that our time in the mountains would end with some of the best pizza that we'd had in a long time. We were more or less broke by our last day but pizza and ice cream seemed like the right decision. Giampietro's Pizzeria was where we went and it was superb. Afterwards we actually got an honest confession from a store employee upon the asking of, "Which ice cream is better, yours or Boulder's?" Boulder's it was and she was right on. Smooth and decadent Dutch Chocolate. Some of the best that I've ever tasted. Leah went with her usual Cookie Dough, and it was good but not great. The vanilla was right on but the cookie dough:ice cream ratio was too low, the most common problem with cookie dough ice cream.

Friday morning my trusty old friend Chris showed up around 9 am and we took off for Denver. We took the long way up and over Loveland Pass for a quick hike and some great views. And we got a few minutes to play in the snow.

Chris dropped us off at the airport and we're now back in the heat and humidity of central TX. Bittersweet I suppose. This is the first time that we've returned to TX as "home". It was a strange feeling but we were both happy when we arrived.

As always we appreciate any information, be it text or photos or sounds that we can get from Michigan, New York, California, Arizona, Minnesota or Ohio.

Love Jay and Leah