Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Merry Seasons!

Happy Holidays...

Merry Christmas...

Seasons Greetings!!!

Due to a strict financial budget, this is our Holiday Card to you (our beloved friends and family)! Hope you don't mind (hey, it's green, too!).

This Holiday Season brings together not only the close of the year, but the end of our first year of marriage, and needless to say - it has been a complete success (well, mostly).

The year began with us entering our third week of marriage, freshly tanned and warmed from the beaches of Jamaica (thanks to our ever-generous parents, Richard and Sam). Stephen was working for Andy in the "Home Remodeling" Business and I began the treacherous semester of student teaching. Luckily for me, Stephen has a lot of patience and understanding - because I was pretty much swamped planning, grading papers, perfecting my "Teacher Work Sample," and trying to find the elusive JOB (as anyone who has ever done student teaching very well knows). That is what we could consider the one "non-success" of the year - I, now nine months graduated - am still woefully unemployed. I mean, sure, I do a lot of substitute teaching, which can be fun, and stress-free (or stressful, depending on the day), and great teaching experience - but it's not a "real" job in most people's opinions. But I did graduate college, which was pretty exciting.

Stephen, on the other hand, has had great success with employment. He loved working with Andy, but we also love health benefits (no offense, Andy - and trust me, there are a lot of days where he wishes he were still working for you!). At Garmin, Stephen sits all of twenty feet away from his best friend, Aaron (dangerous planning on Garmin's part), and gets the joy of helping lost and confused citizens figure out the problems with their GPS units (for more on this topic, see the post titled "Global Positioning System" from September), which provides us with an income and plenty of humorous stories. There's also a pretty awesome job opportunity in the near future for him - so keep your fingers crossed for good fortune!

We took several trips, the first to Vancouver, Canada in May for, basically, a super-awesome-amazing-fun vacation (which involved seeing my favorite band, Our Lady Peace, TWICE in two nights!) For pictures, see my facebook page. The second trip was driving our best-friend/other-half, James, to Graduate School in Denton, Texas in August. It was hot. It was muggy. It was miserable moving all his junk (including winter clothing??) into a stifling apartment with no A.C. But it's love. It's what we do. Unfortunately, that trip resulted in our bestie living 552 miles away. So, we've enjoyed the pleasures of Skype, and the two trips he's made home. (In the future, don't be surprised if we strike up a "Scrubs-like" relationship and end up living together - he's J.D., for those of you who watch "Scrubs").

Our little house has made a lot of progress - we have a new wall in the basement/garage with a new door, a fully-completed main bathroom, a beautiful dining room floor (and even drapes on the windows! - because we did live for almost a month without those. In the grand scheme of things, it was so low on the priority list. For those of you unfamiliar with the "trials and tribulations" of pre-wedding-madness: The deadline of getting this house ready to live in before we got married got pretty tight. In fact, Stephen installed the toilet at 11:30pm the night he moved in (which was the Thursday before the Saturday wedding). Good times, good times...but we're glad we don't have to do that again).

So, all in all, it has been a successful and fun year. We've hung out with family and friends a lot and found that we pretty much rock at being married. Hopefully your year and your holidays are as wonderful and exciting as ours.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

Christmas-on-the-River Date Night! Dec '10

Anya - always worth a laugh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


pa-per-ing verb: 1. to be in the process of hating your life while in the process of accumulating research for a paper or while in the physical act of writing a paper. The infinitive is to paper (I paper, you paper, we paper, they paper). The gerund is I am papering. i.e. After I am done papering, I am going to start papering again so that I can write Merriam-Webster to add this definition to their "little collection of word meanings": And, I am not at all bitter that I am spending a beautiful Sunday papering. (Westbrook, James). 2. The act of celebrating the first wedding anniversary, due to the fact that the traditional gift of the first wedding anniversary is paper. (Waters, Vanessa).

A year in reflection (spark notes version):

A most excellent Wedding Ceremony and Reception, with all of our friends and family. A blizzardy Christmas. JAMAICA (sand, sun, beaches, all the food we could eat). Relaxation. Adoption of Anya. Vanessa's Student Teaching in Dearborn, MO. Stephen's new job at Garmin. VANCOUVER (Our Lady Peace (twice), excellent hotel, excellent sights, excellent food). Housewarming Party. Driving Hamez to Texas for Graduate School. Front Porch "Bonfires" with friends. Working on the house (it never ends, does it?). Hamez coming home for Thanksgiving Date Night. Putting up the Christmas tree - together this time. DJing at our Reception Hall for a friend's wedding. Hamez coming home for Christmas Break Date Night. Celebrating being best friends forever!

Celebratory Activities: Piropos (where we ate more food in one sitting than any two humans should eat in one day (example: Stephen's prime rib was the size of a small child)), The Plaza (we went to barnes and nobles and "ooh'ed" and "ahh'ed" the pretty lights), we skipped going to The Cheesecake Factory because we were so full from dinner), and New Wii Games (Wii Sports Resort) on Saturday. Games, Movies, Relaxing, Spaghetti on our China, Eating Year-Old-Frozen-Wedding-Cake on Sunday. Okay, that last one's a lie - we didn't eat the cake - it was DISGUSTING.

Our General Observation: If the first year is supposed to be the hardest year of marriage, we are so going to own this institution.

December 19, 2009

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sing it, Bing!

"Happy Holiday. Happy Holiday... It's the Holiday Season..."

I love this time of year. It's absolutely the best: trees decorated with sparkly ornaments and colored lights; Icicle lights swinging from the eves; pine scented candles; Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Bing Crosby crooning from the radio; snow; the neighbor's weird blow-up dancing yard decorations; peeking into people's houses to see their festive decorations, whether they be Trees or Menorahs. 

"...and Santa Claus is coming back; the Christmas snow is white on the ground."

We got one of those crazy snow storms last night, where it snows half an inch, but the wind blows it around like a blizzard. One minute the road's clear, the next there's a wall of snow flying at you at a million miles an hour and everything disappears outside of your windows. Stephen and I went to a wedding last night, held in the same place as our Reception. It was very cool to be at our reception hall almost at our first anniversary and witness the event without the stress of being in the limelight. Emily and Jordan's wedding was absolutely beautiful (Congratulations, again, you two! We're so happy for you!), and Emily looked beautiful, and we had a total blast playing "DJ." Well, I played DJ, Stephen did the actual DJing. 

It was so cold. The wind decided it did not care that I was wearing a wool dress, heavy coat, gloves, scarves, and cut right through it anyways, making me feel like I was sitting at the North Pole in my swim suit. But the snow was beautiful (from the inside, of course) and it made everything feel very "Holiday-esque" - which is my favorite. 

"When old Santa gets into town, he'll be coming down the chimney, down." 

Part of what Stephen calls my "obsession with the Holidays" stems from my strong dislike of change. I like stability, normalcy, and tradition. Every year for Thanksgiving, I want the same foods. Every year for my birthday, I want the same dinner and cake. Every year for Christmas, I actually get to relive all of the old traditions and keep things the same, so it fits perfectly for me. Our tree has the same ornaments as I've always been looking at, I smell the same pine scent, and listen to the same jolly songs. We do Christmas Eve with the Werners and Hamez: eating dinner, having dessert, playing instruments at Mass. 

"It's the Holiday season, and Santa Claus has got a toy for every good girl, and good little boy."

I remember my favorite Christmases. The first was when I was in 2nd grade. Santa brought me the Star Wars trilogy on VHS, and Grandma Mary and Papap got me Molly - my first American Girl doll. She was my favorite because she had glasses and braids. 

The other favorite, Uncle Jim brought Anya for Grandma Mary. I'm not sure it was actually Christmas, it may have been before. Grandma was sick with cancer, and she'd always loved yorkies. Little Anya (unnamed at the time) was so tiny and black and scared! Uncle Jim, Dad, and Papap had some how deceived Grandma into thinking she was getting something like a new recliner, or some piece of furniture. She was so happy to have that little runt climbing up her shoulder. 

I put up most of the ornaments - that is, until Stephen's mom brought over his box of ornaments from her house. He was like a kid! Telling me about all of his really cool ornaments (including a hot wheels one, and a tool box one), and how and where he would put certain ones on the tree when he was little. Like the gold star with his birth stone in it (topaz) - he said he would always put it in front of a yellow light so that the light would shine through. And, you can't forget his really cool snare drum and cymbal ornaments. 

One of his favorite Christmases was when he was younger and in Michigan. He said there were so many people over at his Grandma Gazdag's house that it warranted an adult table and a kids table, and there were lots of cousins from around and across the street over, and even a THIRTY pound turkey. That is a lot of bird. 

"So leave a peppermint stick for Old Saint Nick hanging on the Christmas Tree."

Candy Canes. Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Carolers dressed in old fashioned garb. Ebenezer Scrooge. "You'll shoot your eye out, kid." Hot Cocoa with Peppermint Schnapps. Sugar cookies. Unmanageable traffic. Cards, cards, cards! Grandma Mary's Christmas tree and Grandma Gazdag's Christmas ornaments hanging on the (overloaded) tree. 

"It's the Holiday season, with a whoop-de-do and hickory dock, 
and don't forget to hang up your sock, cause at just exactly 12 o'clock, 
He'll be coming down the chimney, down."

One of my favorite Holiday traditions is going to The Plaza, eating some cheesecake and watching the carriages drive around in the soft glow of 280,000 lights. It's especially great when it snows. 

Every year since we started dating, Stephen has taken me on a Christmas date to the Plaza (we skipped last year - we had other things going on...the wedding...Jamaica...). The first two years we went to P.F. Changs (yummm I love chinese), then the third year we went to Piropos (and Stephen proposed). This year we're celebrating our first anniversary. We're going back to Piropos for dinner, then down to the Plaza to have cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory and watch the carriages and people. On our actual anniversary, we're eating the top layer of our wedding cake - hopefully it'll be delicious, and not stale and disgusting. 

"Happy Holidays, Happy Holidays." 

This is why we got married in December, even if it was cold, even if there was a chance it would snow and ice and be -14 degrees, effectively stranding every member of our extended family, even if it's a busy time of year anyways, let alone adding a Wedding - we love, we adore the Holidays. What other way could make this time of year better? Celebrating being together, of course. Last Christmas was wonderful - getting married and enjoying our party, being newlywed (for a week), finally getting the time to relax after the worst and most stressful semester ever...but this Christmas season is shaping up to be even more wonderful. Just hopefully it'll snow just as much as it did last Christmas!

"While the merry bells keep ringing, may your every wish come true."

Ah, December. The ringing of the bells in front of Walmart, Home Depot, Target, and every other major chain in the United States...and the weird guy who brings a large bell and tries to beat the money out of your bleeding eardrums. (You'd think after I give him all of my spare change, he'd turn down the volume at least a bit) You don't have to give me a lasting headache to convince me I should give money to the needy - I want to. In the grand scheme of things, we have so much, it feels wrong not to give. 

So yes, shopping can be stressful. The Post Office and The UPS store are busy. Traffic sucks. Lines everywhere, are long, and time consuming. It's expensive. But, you get to hang out with family and friends, wear fun sweaters, listen to music that's only appropriate once a year, eat delicious food and drink warm, yummy drinks. There are two trees in my house adorned with multi-colored lights, delicate ornaments, old and new, with presents wrapped in shiny paper under them. Hopefully, in ten years or so, we can have twelve trees! 

All Anya wants is a new cow!

"Happy Holidays."

"Happy Holidays!" - Our (3/4-of-the-way-done) Tree!

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

(P.S. Tracy - doesn't this song just remind you of tap shoes and kick-lines?)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Turkey Bone Sculpture

It's already December, and our BIG Christmas tree is up, and our little Christmas tree is up. There are even lights on the outside of the house and list of cookies and goodies to bake. However, even the Christmas Holidays are about being thankful for all the things you have. So, is this a late Thanksgiving post? Sure. Is it corny? Absolutely. It's like the acceptance speeches at The Academy Awards. It probably reads that way, too.

These are a few of my "thankfulness" things (they're also my favorite things):

Stephen. Without him, I'd be either homeless or living in a tiny room at my parents house (no offense Mom and Dad, but having my "own" house is much better, for all of us!)

My "little" family. Stephen, Anya, Hamez, and I. That is my happy thought.

My parents. Rhonda picked a great couple to raise me, even if I spent most of my adolescence trying to convince them otherwise.

My extended parents. Sue, Sam, and Richard. I could NOT have gotten better in-laws. You guys are so great.

My sisters. Megan and Samantha. They are the best. The absolute best.

Okay, my entire family. Grandma Rao, Papap, Grandpa Tom and Grandma paula, Grandpa Greg and Grandma Karla, all of my Aunts and Uncles and super-awesome cousins. I'm especially thankful for the time I get with them, because it's never enough. And I'm thankful for the time I got with Grandma Mary and Grandpa Rao, because it wasn't enough, but I'm glad I at least got what I did. Some memories are better than none.

The Werner's - who are basically family.

My "old" friends. Hamez, Brittanie, Tracy, Brad, Rachel, Carl, Josh, Shayline, Kendalynne, Kent, Matt, Adam, and about a billion more. You guys have been my rocks, keeping me sane in this insane world.

New friends. Rachelle (Matt couldn't have picked a better wife), Aaron, Haley, Jeff, Tristan, Nicole, Nate. I knew when I married Stephen I'd inherit a family, but it never occurred to me the great friends I'd get, too.

All my other friends, new, old, the ones I talk to frequently, the ones I talk to infrequently. (And Cecil, without whom I probably would have failed grammar, and gone completely insane in all of our classes)

My dog. Sounds goofy maybe, but she's been my best friend since the awkward-pre-adolescent years and has done nothing but love me and keep me company. And make me laugh. She's the perfect companion.

My health. (Let's face it, even though I'm sick all the time, at least I don't have some incurable disease. It could be loads worse, at least I can hear and see and eat and move).

My ability to read, and my fantastic taste in literature. Weird, yes, but it gives me the escape I need that even movies can't provide.

I complain a lot (at least to Anya and Stephen) that a lot of the movies I really want to see I will never actually be able to see. I love silent films, but most of them are lost forever, and I tend to focus on the tragedy of that, when really, I should focus on the fact that I get to see any at all, that some of the ones I've seen on dvd are my favorite movies.

My awesome supervising teacher from student teaching. Going into it, I thought, "I probably won't like this, and will have to find another profession. I have no idea what I'm doing." I think without Dorell, I may not have liked teaching, let alone loved it and decided for sure it's what I'm going to do (if I ever get a job). At the time (a year ago, in fact), I was freaking out and upset because I didn't get placed at any of the schools I applied for. Little did I know that God had a bigger, and much better, plan by placing me with the best teacher ever. Who would not only become a fantastic mentor, but also a really great friend. I could never thank her enough for all the help she's given me.

All of the opportunities I've been given, in music, in writing, in school, in education, in my entire life. Pretty sure my life's awesome. Can't really be more thankful for anything else.

Also, I'm really thankful for the holiday season. It's my favorite.

Stephen's favorite things (aka his list of thankfulness - have no fear, I'm a much more condensed writer than Ness):

My WIFE!!! And my "little'' family. Hamez and Anya have been a nice addition to me and Nessa.

All of my family. Mom, Dad, and Sam (I'm so lucky to have such great parents). Jenny and Chad and my two awesome nieces and my soon-to-be-here-unnamed Nephew.

My extended family. Grandma, Aunt Sara, Uncle Bob, Aunt Bonnie, Uncle Steve, Zeb and Angie. And my in-laws. They're pretty cool.

My friends. Ness basically covered all of them - they're awesome. And I like that that they're friends with her, too.

Have a job - even if I don't like it all the time. At least I'm not stuck working at McDonald's or Walmart.

Vanessa having sub work and being really good at what she does.

The fact that progress is always being made on the house. I.E: water and ice in the refrigerator door :)

Anya's list of "thankfulness" (yeah, we went there):

Cows cows cows cows!

Nessa and Stephen.

Fuzzy blankets.


A backyard to run in without being on a chain.

Places in my house to sit and look outside all day long.

So, it being the Holiday season, we hope that you have as many things to be thankful for as we do - we sure are very lucky. We could both be homeless, or living in a tiny apartment, rather than this awesome house that my parents let us rent. Or we could be sick. Or about a billion other things.

We hope your Holiday season is as wonderful is ours is shaping up to be! It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year. Don't believe me? Just ask Andy Williams.

Our "little" Family.

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

If you give a mouse a cookie...

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
By: Laura Joffe Numeroff

If you give a mouse a cookie,
he's going to ask for a glass of milk.

When you give him the milk, he'll probably ask you for a straw.
When he's finished, he'll ask for a napkin.

Then he will want to look in a mirror
to make sure he doesn't have a milk mustache.
When he looks in the mirror,
he might notice his hair needs a trim.
So he will probably ask for a pair of scissors.

When he's finished giving himself a trim,
he'll want a broom to sweep up.
He might get carried away and sweep
every room in the house. He may even end up
washing the floors as well!

When he's done, he'll probably want to take a nap.
You will have to fix a little box for him
with a blanket and pillow. He'll crawl in, make himself comfortable
and fluff the pillow a few times.

He'll probably ask you to read him a story.
So you'll read him one from one of your books,
and he'll ask to see the pictures.
When he looks at the pictures, he'll get so excited
he'll want to draw one of his own.
He'll ask for paper and crayons.

He'll draw a picture. When the picture is finished,
he'll want to sign his name with a pen.

Then he'll want to hang his picture on your refrigerator.
Which means he will need...
scotch tape.

He'll hang up his drawing and stand back to look at it.
Looking at the refrigerator will remind him that he's thirsty so...
he'll ask for a glass of milk.

And chances are if he asks for a glass of milk,
he's going to want a cookie to go with it.


If You Give a Mouse an Entry Point
By: Vanessa Lynn Waters

If you give a mouse an entry point,
he's going to come inside.

When he gets inside, he'll probably find it warm.
Once he's found it warm, he'll decide to stay.

Then he will want to run around,
to make sure he likes his new home.
When he decides he likes it,
he might notice there are snacks to eat.
So he will probably try to eat your dog's food.

When he's finished munching leftover dog food,
 he'll want a nice couch to hide under.
He'll start running.
He might get carried away and run around
every room in the house. He may even end up
in the basement as well!

When he's done, he'll probably want to take a nap.
He will probably choose the couch, or the dog's bed,
or even your bed. He'll crawl in, make himself comfortable
and fluff the pillow a few times.

He'll probably expect you to leave the light off.
So, you turn the light on, and walk into the living room,
and he'll wake up. When he sees you, he'll be so frightened,
he'll want to run away. He'll run across the living room floor.

He'll run down the basement stairs.
When he's done running, he'll find a new hiding spot.

Then you'll chase him around, and he will be scared.
Which means he will need...
to go outside to get away.

He'll run around the yard, and be very cold.
Looking around, he'll want to come inside.

And chances are if he wants to come inside,
he's going to find an entry point.

This is how Stephen found Anya and I
when he came home from work: hiding
from the mouse on the coffee table.

Vanessa, Stephen, Anya, and Horaldo, the mouse.

Monday, November 8, 2010


In completely unrelated news, and completely unrelated to this post...we're currently sitting on the couch listening to Gustav Holst's The Planets, Jupiter: The Bringing of Jollity and Anya is dreaming on the recliner very loudly. I wonder if she's dreaming jolly things. 

STEPHEN turns twenty-five years old today. Here's the difference in our thinking: Stephen thinks the most significant part of this birthday is that his insurance rates go down. I think the most significant part is that he's been alive for a quarter of a century. It seems so grandiose and spectacular.

However, Stephen's not one for making a big hullabaloo about birthday celebrations, so we're getting together with a few friends and eating a checkerboard cake (have no fear, I'll post pictures post-cake-baking). Saturday, we at ate Smoking Guns, which is a world famous (being on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives constitutes as world famous, right?) BBQ joint here in KC. Stephen's mom had a brilliant idea that we should eat at all the places around Kansas City that have been on Food Network. So we can check that one off the list. It was delicious, too. (Which you don't have to take my word for it, just check out all the trophies and ribbons they've won)

Sunday, we went with my parents to take Megan back to college (she came home this weekend for the first time in almost a month). We made a family trip out of it and ate at Heroes (best onion rings and long islands ever) on Pine Street. It was, naturally, delicious. Then we came home, at some of dad's excellent cookies, and watched the Chiefs lose to the Raiders (lame sauce).

I hope Stephen's having a good birthday weekend. (He assures me he is - no dry-walling involved!)


It's hard for me to imagine, what with the mere twenty-two and a half (the half is very important) years I've put under my belt, what it's like to be alive for a quarter of a century. If Stephen were money, he'd be a quarter. Wonder if he'd be a state quarter or a commodity quarter, or just a regular run-of-the-mill quarter. A state quarter probably thinks it's better than regular quarters because people collect it, so I don't think that's quite Stephen's personality. Some commodity, rare, limited time quarter (like you see on those weird infomercials) would most definitely have a personality problem. I mean, talk about snotty and thinking highly of yourself. So I guess that makes Stephen a run-of-the-mill quarter. But before you start getting upset and say that I'm making Stephen out to be a nobody, listen to my reasoning:

A "run-of-the-mill-every-day" quarter isn't just a flat little coin that's lost in the couch. I mean, it might be, but I'd equivocate that to some worthless couch potato guy that does nothing with his life. Definitely not Stephen. A quarter can be anything. It starts out polished and shiny, untouched. It can be put used to buy candy, or soda, or crackers. It can be saved up and used to buy a car, a house, or an engagement ring. It could be used to pay for breakfast at McDonalds, or dinner at Piropos. Or it can be used to pay for car insurance. It can be given to charity, sent to a poor country to feed someone else. It can be given to someone sick to make them better. It can even be welded onto some wire to make the face of a metal ballerina. And by then, maybe that quarter doesn't look so sharp anymore. It might be tarnished, blackened, or even bent in places. But, maybe someday someone polishes it up and places it in between two plastic sleeves and a cardboard frame to be kept clean and and in good condition: a valuable memory of what money "used" to look like. A token of a bygone era (just ask my dad, he collects all sorts of coins).

My Stephen is ridiculously talented at fixing things (everything, from computers, to houses, to jewelry, to cars, to food, to...well...everything. We haven't yet found something he can't fix), he is kind and compassionate, and very intelligent. So while maybe sometimes he seems a bit tarnished (even to himself), just like a "run-of-a-mill" quarter - it doesn't show what's on the inside - or where the quarter has been or what great things it's done, or the awesome things it's still going to do.

25 Things We All Love About Stephen:

1. His talking skills - everyone loves to talk with him (even strangers).
2. His ability to fix our cars.
3. His weird love-affair with James.
4. His ridiculous Garmin work stories.
5. His work ethic (good grief that boy works hard).
6. His ALWAYS well-timed jokes.
7. His seemingly endless knowledge about everything.
8. How great he looks in argyle.
9. His mad recording skills.
10. How well he takes care of his mom.
11. His loyalty.
12. His cooking skills.
13. His weird man-love with all of his boyfriends. I know you guys love him.
14. His ability to be mature.
15. His ability to be immature.
16. His funny voices and impressions.
17. His willingness to help with anything, and everything.
18. How excited he gets about food.
19. How intimidating he was in high school as lead bass drum.
20. His mad timpani skills.
21. His ability to fix all of our broken electronics.
22. His shit-eating grin (sorry - that's what he calls it when other people smile like that).
23. His awesome dance moves.
24. His goofy nature.
25. The sideburns.

That was probably the easiest list I've ever made. :)

Happy Quarter-Century-Anniversary-of-Birth, Stephen!

Probably the best picture of Stephen ever. 

Vanessa and Anya

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

If I had a Golden Drachma...

Today I read the most fantastic book: "The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan. He's been creeping up on my list of favorite authors, and after reading his newest publication, I have to say, I think he's topped the list as the author I respect most. Here are my reasons why:

- His books captivate the reader (generally speaking, because they all do this) by engaging them in a believable scenario with characters that are very, very real.

-He knows his stuff. This man has written an entire series on Greek Mythology, is currently working on a series about Egyptian Mythology, and on a series that is incorporating Greek and Roman Mythology together. That is a lot of gods, goddesses, and monsters to remember. And he utilizes them all. It's astounding.

-He's currently writing TWO young adult series. Every spring (starting last spring) he's releasing a book in The Kane Chronicles (the Egyptian series), and every fall (starting last week) he's releasing a book in The Heroes of Olympus Series (The Greek/Roman-I'm assuming? series), for presumably the next five years. Talk about a demanding work ethic.

-The impressive and complicated way that "The Lost Hero" was set up. Every two chapters the point of view would switch narrator, starting with Jason, then Piper, then Leo, continuing in that order, throughout the entire novel, always keeping up with the story, never overlapping, and always providing the perfect side of the story to keep it logical and progressive. Not to mention, the story began and ended with the same character, and it was so logical. That just really impresses me.

-His characters are unbelievable, or rather, super-believable. The heroes (Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, and at least 50 more) are so believable and well-rounded. They're all so individual and realistic. They are completely believable characters, which is the most important aspect of a character. Anyone can relate to the way they think and process their dilemmas.

-And lastly, my favorite reason for liking Rick Riordan: he's very into helping kids read. This includes tons of teaching material on his website. After reading "Percy Jackson and the Olympians," I thought, "Wow, this would be great to use in the classroom with "The Odyssey." And low and behold, there on Rick's website, a whole section dedicated to helping teachers do just that. Awesome. He also recently discussed how to get dyslexic and ADHD kids to read, because apparently that's how the whole Percy Jackson series started, as a way to get his son interested in reading (after all, the main traits of a demigod are ADHD and dyslexia).

So, for those of you still reading (and not completely bored by my obsessive-love for this author), I thought I'd provide you with a list of some of my favorite pieces of literature. Some of them I like because they're entertaining, some of them because they're great "gateway books" (books that get people interested in reading), some of them are guilty pleasures (books that, as an English teacher, I totally shouldn't enjoy), and some are not even books. But it's all great literature (just in case you decide to get off the computer and do some reading!)

Vanessa's Non-Comprehensive, Random-Order List of Fantastic Things You Should Read

  • Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling (fantasy series)
  • The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (science-fiction series)
  • Percy Jackson and The Olympians - Rick Riordan (fantasy series)
  • The Heroes of Olympus - Rick Riordan (fantasy series)
  • Twilight (just Twilight, not the series) - Stephenie Meyer (fiction novel)
  • Public Enemies - Bryan Burrough (non-fiction novel)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera (fiction novel)
  • The Inferno, from The Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri (classical literature)
  • The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T.S. Elliot (poem)
  • The Red Wheelbarrow - William Carlos Williams (poem)
  • The Miller's Tale, from The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer (short story)
  • Our Lady Peace - Mark van Doren (poem)
  • Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
  • The Song of the Lionness - Tamora Pierce (fantasy series)
  • The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien (fantasy series)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (fiction novel)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (fiction novel)
  • And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie (fiction novel)
  • The Giver - Lois Lowry (fiction novel)
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events - Lemony Snicket (series)
  • Holes - Louis Sachar (fiction novel)
  • Freak The Mighty - Rodman Philbrick
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (fiction novle)
  • In Cold Blood - Truman Capote (non-fiction novel)
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger (fiction novel)

That's probably a longer list than any of you cared to skim. But, it's reading. It's what I do, and I feel that if someone can get half of what I did out of any of those pieces, then it would be worthwhile to them. So there you are, some of the greatest things I've ever read that I think other people should read. Happy Tuesday! 

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya (although the latter two don't read...)

P.S. If I did have a Golden Drachma, I'd probably Isis-Message Percy and hang out at Camp Half-Blood. But, since I'm not a demigod, they probably wouldn't let me in, so then I'd spend it on lots of books. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

buffalo for brunch.

A day in the life of...

...a Substitute Teacher...

can be summed up in one word: exhausting.

But for your entertainment, I'll elaborate. In August I subbed for my supervising teacher from student teaching, Dorell. That was fairly easy, since it was English. This week I subbed for one of the History teachers. I taught 9th grade Geography and 11th grade U.S. History. Turns out teaching is teaching, but it's a little more difficult when you know just about as much as the students do (and oftentimes, less).  I did have one student ask me, "do you have to know a lot about all the subjects to be a sub?" And I said, "I sure hope not, or I'm out of a job." They laughed. But I was serious. Luckily for me, I know the teacher I was subbing for, and he gave me the textbooks beforehand to read. Otherwise I would not have known that the only river contained entirely on a mountain in the United States is the Little River in Alabama. Nor would I have known that the Canadian city with the highest population is Toronto (although, it's Canada, so the answer was either Toronto or Vancouver, right?).

As frustrating as some of the students can be, and as much extra homework as I had to assign today (and as much as I'm hoping he collects it, or else I'm in big trouble the next time I sub), it's not too hard to stand back and look at the funny moments and realize how great teaching can be. For instance:

While looking up terms on the Wild West, one student asked, "So if his name is Sitting Bull, in the glossary is it listed as Bull, Sitting?"  The look on his face? Priceless. His jaw dropped open as soon as the words left his mouth, followed quickly by hurried apologies. Too funny.

Student A: "Does anyone know who Little Crow is?"
Student B: "Probably the son of Big Crow."

Buffalo were defined as: "big, furry animals that Indians killed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and sometimes brunch."

Continuing with the theme of the Wild West, the students were writing dime novels (western novels once sold cheaply in dime stores) as an assignment and had a hard time coming up with ideas of what to write about (probably because they refused to read the chapter on the time period), and insisted they could re-write the plot to the movie "Back to the Future: Part 3." The English teacher in me was frustrated at their lack of creativity and willingness to do work, while the nerd in me was tickled pink by the fact that they, too, were thinking of "Back to the Future: Part 3" while learning about the Wild West. I mean, everyone thinks of a flying DeLorean and Michael J. Fox when hearing about cowboys and indians? Right? (Remember the scene when Marty arrives in 1885 and gets chased by Indians? Classic!)

I also got called "Madam," which was both mortifying and hilarious.

And, as much as I love my family name, Rao, I have to admit, my new name gets lots of funny nicknames from the students, ranging from MW2, Mrs. H20, and according to them, my gangster name, EM DuB. Goofy freshman. Guess we'll just have to wait till next time I sub to see what goofy stuff they say next. Now, it's time for a nap.

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Global Positioning System

A day in the life of...

...a Garmin Employee.

Stephen spends 4 days a week talking to people on the phone about their Garmins. He works (luckily) on the outdoor/fitness rather than the automotive side of things. (There's also marine and aviation sections, for those of you who, like me, had no idea Garmin made anything other than the GPS that you use in your car). That means he doesn't have to deal with angry teenagers who are lost. Phew!

HOWEVER, don't be deceived. He deals with plenty of interesting folk. The outdoor/fitness team deals with runners, bikers, golfers, hikers, and hunters, to name a few. I love sitting at our dinner table as he tells the tales of the day. Here are some of my favorites:

There was the guy who asked if he could get maps worldwide, like in South America. Stephen kindly pointed out that it is a Global Positioning System, so yes, as long as South America is on the globe, he should be fine. I think people forget what GPS stands for.

One call, the customer told Stephen what was on his watch display (Garmin makes watches for runners to wear), which was "Pace," "Distance," and "Time." The gentleman proceeded to ask if he had to enter the distance on that screen of the watch that he was going to run. Stephen (kindly) informed him that it was a GPS watch that tracks distance automatically and displays how far the runner goes in real time. This man was unaware that his watch could do that. He spent $350.00 on a watch without knowing anything about it.

A few days ago, a customer had a black watch with a broken band. Garmin didn't have any black bands in stock, but they were going to be available in two weeks. The lady was upset because she had a marathon to run, so Stephen offered to send her a navy blue band from a different watch to use for the time being, and then send her a black band as it became available (meaning she would get a free watch band, and no shipping charges). The lady was seriously upset. She told Stephen, "I can't run like that." I can't run like that? As if it were a physical problem preventing her from running! Really?

Garmin makes a GPS dog collar (called the Astro, naturally) for hunters to use (on their "coon dogs"). A week or so ago, Stephen had an angry customer who called about a problem with his dog tracking unit. The unit lost communication with the dog collar and he couldn't find the dog. Now the dog was lost and he insisted that Garmin replace it. The dog, that is, not the collar. When Stephen told him that they wouldn't replace the dog, the man asked, "Well what is the warranty for then?"

And, my personal favorite: there was a hunger from Louisiana that called about a problem with his dog tracking unit. Casually, he told Stephen about how he had lost three huntin' dogs. "How?" Stephen asked (thinking they had gone out of range and ran off). "Oh," the man replied, "to gators." In fact, that gentleman had found one of the alligators because the dog collar was still working inside of it.

Surprising, right? Who knew Garmins were so versatile. I bet "works inside of gators" isn't in the Astro unit's manual.

Stephen near our hotel in North Vancouver

Stephen, Vanessa, and Anya

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fortune Cookies

I decided to clean out my wallet today. Turns out I've been hoarding movie ticket stubs and fortunes from fortune cookies.

I have a whole box of "stuff" from "Stephen and Vanessa: The Dating Years" and there are a lot more ticket stubs in there, but here are the ones I found in my wallet:

  • Madagascar 2
  • Harry Potter 6
  • Ice Age 3
  • Twilight (yeah, I dragged Stephen to that once. I'm so mean)
  • Wall-E
  • X-Files 2

You know, taken from that sample...I'd say we're about 12 years old. We enjoy kids movies. Clearly.

In Shakespeare's opinion, someone can only be Fortune's fool, but Virgil believes Fortune favors the brave. Either way, the most common way to end a meal of General Tso's, fried rice, and egg rolls is with a cookie stuffed with a fortune.

For the sake of my own sanity, I'm not going to put all of the fortunes in quotation marks:

  • Your present plans are going to succeed within the year.
  • Do not dwell on differences with a loved one - try to compromise.
  • You could prosper in a few years in the field of entertainment.
  • Your friend or partner is needing your advice and encouragement.
  • Focus on the color purple this week to bring you luck.
  • You are going to take a trip to the seaside. 
  • Confidence isn't something that you get. It's something that you are.
  • Do something unusual tomorrow.
  • You will soon bring joy to someone.
  • Confidence is at a high.
  • Your courage will bring you honor.
  • You will make change for the better. 
  • Life is not a problem to be solved, but, rather, a mystery to be lived.

There are two ways to interpret these tiny slips of paper (well, three if you use the "lucky numbers" on the back). You can live life with courage, honor, confidence, and most importantly, optimism. Or, you can wave it off as "Confucius-esque" nonsense. After all, it came from a cookie

The thing is, Stephen and I love food, especially Chinese food, so it just makes sense for us to take the route of believing in the cookie. So in our day-to-day lives, we try to remember that life isn't a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. This aptly fits with our blog's title: "two unpathed Waters, undreamed shores," which for those of you who aren't avid Shakespeare readers, comes from "The Winter's Tale." The original quote is

A course more promising
Than a wild dedication of yourselves
To unpathed waters, undreamed shores; most certain,
To miseries enough: no hope to help you;
But, as you shake off one, to take another:
Nothing so certain as your anchors; who
Do their best office, if they can but stay you
Where you'll be loth to be: besides, you know,
Prosperity's the very bond of love,
Whose fresh complexion and whose heart together
Affliction alters. (Act IV, scene iv)

So, even though we have a "plan" of what we want to do in our lives, we're always surprised at how that plan manifests itself in reality, and we're never quite sure of where we'll end up. For now, we're content living modestly in good ol' Kansas City, Missouri. But even we don't know where we'll be in ten, fifteen, fifty years. (Hopefully living next door to James)

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya

Thursday, September 2, 2010

three peas in a pod

As summer comes to an end, and I remain unemployed, I find myself endlessly making lists. Grocery lists. Walmart lists. Chore lists. Job idea lists. To-do lists. Today I decided to make a Completed List. A list of all the things Stephen and I have accomplished since we got married eight months ago:

  • Work on the House - we have drapes, interior doors, a bathroom, new dining room floors, furniture. check!
  • Get Health Insurance - Stephen's new job at Garmin! Check!
  • Get a Dog - well, we "stole" Anya from my parents, so...check!
  • Go on Vacation - we went to Vancouver, B.C. in May...check!
  • Find time to have fun - definitely Check!

So, even though I still have no teaching job, there's still no baseboards on 85% of the house, the closet door in the front room still needs to be painted, and the back bedroom (aka: Diante's room) still needs to be mudded, sanded, and's hard to deny that we've accomplished anything. 

When we moved into this little house, we didn't have any drapes, or any interior doors. The mirror in the bathroom was the old one, propped up on the new sink. The brand new dining table sat on paint-splattered parkay floors, and the basement and garage were rightfully called "the dungeon." After all, just looking in them was a cruel form of torture. 

We do have drapes now, so our neighbors can't peek in on us, and we have a bathroom door (on a bathroom that's painted and fitted with new "stuff"), so people aren't afraid to use it. The basement and the garage are no longer tortuous to look at, even if they are still scary. We have new floors in the dining room, and eventually we'll get all of that baseboard up (and Diante's room will eventually be Stephen's office). 

We've accomplished a lot (even if it's not that noticeable to others...) on the house, we've spent time together, chased Anya around with her cow, watched Dexter, Scrubs, and The Office together, and tried to stretch our tiny budget on this tiny little house. But the best parts have been spending time with our families, and our friends:

Stephen riding the jetski with Sam and Richard at the lake, me taking three lactaids to try my dad's homemade ice cream (and still getting sick - totally worth it though), us taking Sue out for cheap dessert at Houlihan's. Moving James to Denton, Texas (which by the way, is entirely too far away) for grad school. Singing karaoke with our friends at a really sketchy bar. 

Summer's been so much fun (minus the heat), that needless to say, Stephen, Anya, and I are looking forward to fall. Bonfires, apple orchards, walks, raking leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving, sweaters, and apple cider candles from Lowe's. And who knows, maybe we'll even get the house painted.

Anya and her cow. 

Vanessa, Stephen, and Anya