May 31, 2010

Xeriscaping Facelift

When we bought this house it had great potential. Very much a blank canvas that we could dress up in our own way.

One area that was NOT blank though was the area of yard between the sidewalk and street. No, in fact it was over-dressed. This month we tackled it. Here's the before, mid and afters!


So you can see its this big enormous 12 foot long rosemary bush. We would tell people "you'll see the house, there's a God-awful bush thats taking over in front."

Mid-destruction, stumps sticking up all over the place, dirt being moved. It lived in this phase for about two weeks.

After (Now! Today!)
023 Bam! Xeriscaped to perfection!
Lexi shows off xeriscape

May 28, 2010

Calc - still the bane of my existence

Last night I started contemplating applying to the University of Texas for graduate school. They have a Masters in Public Affairs degree at the LBJ School that intrigues me, especially since it has a nonprofit management concentration. So I'm clicking all over the site, investigating, checking admissions, etc. And then I discover that to be eligible for admission, I must have taken college stats and calc.

I do remember taking stats. I remember because the prof was terrible, so terrible even the TA thought he was terrible. Stats: check.

But I couldn't remember about calc. I really didn't enjoy math, in fact I enjoyed it so little, I couldn't tell you what the other math class I took was.

So I logged on to and started searching for my transcript. Oh. My. God. Process from hell! And since I am still paying for this education, it peeved me even more that after all the money my parents and I have given to BU, I couldn't even find record of those very expensive classes! I might have written an accusing email to the Alumni Online Community help desk.

At this point, I tell Ross the situation and announce that if I have to take calc, then grad school just wasn't meant for me. No way I am putting myself through that torture. Do you know what that sweet hubby of mine did? He offered to enroll in calc with me at Austin Community College so I would be eligible for graduate school.

Well, that is exactly what it would take because I hate math. And I would definitely need a cute boy to coax me through it and possibly let me cheat off his exams.

Fortunately for Ross and me, after three emails and a scanned copy of my drivers license being emailed to BU, my alma mater finally granted me access to my own grades and lo-and-behold, I took and passed calc my junior year!

Whew! I love Ross but I am SO glad we won't be bonding over calc textbooks.

May 25, 2010

My Huge Soapbox

This blog post began with a misunderstanding. I'm watching The Biggest Loser which is one of those reality TV indulgences I take advantage of when the hubby is gone. And I saw an ad for a new ABC Family show called "Huge." It appeared to be about a group of overweight teenagers learning to love themselves, despite their weight.

I got all worked up. Then, ready to blog about it, I googled it and discovered it is about a group of overweight teenagers going to weight-loss camp. I'm significantly more behind that.

All those things said, my huge soapbox is still getting written because it's my blog and now I'm all worked up about it.

I think kids, teens, adults, whomever should feel good about themselves. I think life is too short to eat only broccoli. I think people should be judged on their character and abilities, not their appearance. However (you knew one was coming) I also think we should encourage ourselves and those around us to be healthy.

I often hear about programs encouraging kids to love themselves no matter what. I think the intent here is good. I also think that sometimes it goes too far, that kids are encouraged, or think they are encouraged, to accept negativity. A child should never be encouraged to embrace their failing grades or their dangerously obese weight. A child should know they are more than a grade or a weight but should always always always be encouraged to excel to the best of their abilities and to live a healthy life.

When it comes to weight, we often focus on too fat or too skinny. I read a recent article in Redbook that put it best: aim to be pretty healthy. No reason to stress yourself out over having a glass of white wine when red is healthier. It's ok to have that glass of chardonnay. But it's also a good idea to take the stairs, not the elevator.

To overuse a cliche, it's all about moderation and balance. Walking two miles to the ice cream shop. Limiting Starbucks to only once a week instead of every day.

I've kinda gone off on a tangent but what I was trying to say is this: I value living a healthy, active life. I hope we teach our kids that value and give them the tools they need to eat right, exercise and maintain that lifestyle no matter what.

May 24, 2010

Productive Hubby: My Fav Version

Productive hubby is my favorite version. This weekend Ross has been a rockstar of productivity and thus, I am going to brag on him.
  • Saturday he passed the GFD and RRFD physical agility tests with flying colors! He actually shaved a full two minutes off his time on the GFD test. That means a test that he has up to nine minutes to complete, he completed in just 6:30. ROCKSTAR. The next step is oral interviews and those start right after Memorial Day weekend.
  • DSC00488Today he did all his chores. I know this doesn't sound super romantic and many of us ladies are probably thinking "what the hell? I do all my chores every weekend." But Ross had serious chores this weekend. He bought us a new mower, mowed the front and the back and edged both. Then, from some source unknown, he found the ambition to organize the garage from top to bottom. I have never seen so much of my garage! (Lexi helped, Ross swears. Hence the Lexi-pie photo.) And then, as if that wasn't enough, he changed the oil in my car and checked the air filter. Now please take into consideration that due to the physical agility tests, the man could barely change from sitting to standing position or vice versa yesterday. It becomes even more impressive.
I know every couple has their system, but our chore system consists of me writing a list on our fridge for Ross. We are the quintessential users of the honey-do list. It took probably a full  year of living together to determine that a honey-do list was the most effective way to get chores done. Occasionally it makes me feel bossy but Ross has assured me, its a winning system. He knows what needs fixing, has a written reminder and does not have his wife asking every night what he did that day (I believe that's known as nagging).

However, despite the winning system, I do like when Ross says "hey, make sure X is on my list this week. It really needs to get done." Music to my ears! I'm a big dork, but I love the initiative and the reassurance that the list is not me barking orders, but a friendly reminder of what needs to be done to keep our home in working order. This week, re-grouting the master bathtub is the wonderful, almost musical, item on the list.

And me, well I've completed the usual chore list of laundry, grocery shopping, sweeping etc. The misc stuff that needs to be done every weekend. Super lame huh?

Slightly more interesting is the vacation research I'm doing. We're hoping to take a little adventure between if/when Ross gets an offer letter and his start date. It'll have to be planned mostly on the fly but I love to travel so much, I just can't help myself. Ross said he'd like to gamble a little or do some hiking and baseball is always a plus. So I'm looking at Denver (hiking, no gambling), New Mexico (both maybe?), Sedona Arizona (hiking) or Vegas (not explaining). I'm not sure how I ended up with all western states but it seems just as good since I've traveled westward very little. Anyone have a vote for or against one of those? Help in narrowing my selection?

May 21, 2010

She suggested tennis

In response to the needing a hobby, my best friend, Melissa, suggested I play tennis. She then said it might require skill so I could get bummed about my lack of skill. And then she remembered that it might cost money and Ross is cheap. She retracted the tennis suggestion.

She suggested a book club: cheap and involving others.

That as well as some other ideas inspired a crazy hair-brained idea of my own. What if I try to write a novel? From what I hear, I'll never actually finish it. It will help scratch that writing itch I already feel developing now that I'm not working in communications anymore. Heck, maybe it will even become a revenue source for my preferred hobby of shoe shopping.

They say to write about what you know. Now, knock on wood, but I haven't faced much adversity in life and let's face it, a good book needs adversity. So what do I know? Well, I was a teenager for the usual number of years so I've thought about that. Maybe a 'tween book, the ups and downs of high school romance, cheerleading try-outs, girl drama, SATs. What do you think? Should I aim for the modern day Babysitters Club series?

May 18, 2010

Put your thinking hats on

I blog when Ross is at the firestation. Partly because its my "me time" partly because I really don't know what to do with myself without someone here to talk with. I'm guessing if you are reading this and know me, this is no surprise.

Tonight I called him with the "I'm bored" whine. We chatted about fire jobs, cute puppies, whatever. And then my husband told me to find a hobby.

You know what I think about hobbies? I'll tell you what I think about them - eh.

In my mind "hobby" means idle thing you do by yourself. Y'all, I am terrible at both "idle" and "by yourself." My wicked type A personality makes me default to the old saying of "idle hands do the devil's work." How boring does that make me!? But I would be a dirty liar if I told you something different. And as for "by yourself" well I just don't have a high-need for alone time. The alone time I get for an hour a day at the gym is pretty sufficient. The 2-3 days per week while my husband is gone...well those are excessive. Can't my hobby be socializing? Or buying shoes?

Ross explicitly says no, it cannot be buying shoes...or anything else for that matter.

OK, so what did I do, me the girl who needs a hobby, so says her hubby. Well I did what any 21st century yuppie would do. I googled "I need a hobby."

It was not what you'd call fruitful.

Thus I'm imploring you, my friends and family to suggest some good hobbies I might like and on Ross-accepted budget. I find that I have a tendency to be a nay-sayer when it comes to hobbies, probably given my aforementioned aversion to them and in relation to some, complete and utter lack of skill (ie playing an instrument - epic fail). But I'm going to try to consider your suggestions very openly and maybe even try a couple of them. Really. Seriously. I mean it. I think.

K I'm ready. Hit me with the hobby ideas. GO!

May 16, 2010

Supermodel Puppy

Ross is firefighting today so it's just us girls. Enter a new picture frame, the camera and one super cute puppy. Yes, we had a Lexi photoshoot today. She's a supermodel.

DSC00491 Say cheese!

DSC00478 Lexi caught blinking! How funny is that!?

DSC00490 The winning photo. As soon as Walgreens prints it, it will be taking a coveted spot in our living room, in the new "woof" frame I bought from Target that inspired the day's shoot.

Oh yeah, I'm totally one of those puppy mommas.

May 15, 2010

Livin' the dream

Over Mother's Day weekend, Mom and I were talking about a recent segment on GMA: the reporters spending a day living their dream. Admittedly a very self-indulgent segment but it inspired interesting conversation.

If you had one day to "live the dream" what would that dream be?

I told Mom mine and when Ross walked into the room, asked if he could guess mine. He didn't even hesitate "you'd travel someplace." Bingo. I would like that travel place to be backpacking in Europe but if I'm really confined to one day, it might be a day trip down to Fredericksburg or some other nifty place within a couple hours drive of Austin.

I guessed Ross' dream and was also spot on: to play with puppies. I can't tell you how many times he's told me he wants to be paid to play with puppies. As I tell him, he could be but we wouldn't be very well off. His perfect retirement plan is to own a doggy day care...and live in West Texas.

Mom's was a hot air balloon ride I believe. From GMA, some of the dreams were playing baseball with A-Rod, learning to fly or being a pro poker player.

I've tried to think of some of my family and friends but I don't think I know too many people's odd-ball dreams. I know career goals, family aspirations, educational aims but not odd-ball dreams. So what would yours be?

May 12, 2010

Life Has a Funny Way About It

I'm not usually one to blog three days in a row, but I can't go to sleep so what else to do?

Nobody's life is perfect right? K, great, covered that. In the history books of Team Black are some things we say "dang, wish that had gone differently" about. Like "dang, wish I had used a blinker at that intersection when I was 16 and not busted out the headlights in my car." Things of that nature.

Today we had one of those "dangs" if you will happen to some younger friends, friends we see as family, as little sibs. I'm sorry they had to have a "dang." That bites. But I'm oddly happy that we were the people most convenient to them and that oddly enough we know how to deal with that "dang."

Isn't it funny how a "dang" in your past can help another so shortly thereafter? Maybe this means our mistakes and roadbumps aren't in vain. We learn and we help others learn from their similar incidents that much quicker. (Note to self: when someone tries to offer you are about to do...let them. Listen to them. Don't let their "dang" be in vain.)

If you had ever told us one of those "dangs" would make us feel...well almost wise, I'd've never believed ya. Yet here we are, at the ripe old ages of 25 and 29, feeling a sense of mildly ironic wisdom.

May 10, 2010

The Vetting Process Has Begun

If you are a poli-sci junkie, you may think I mean the vetting process for Supreme Court Justice hopeful Elena Kagan.

No, I'm not talking about anything quite that lofty.

I'm talking about the vetting process for Team Black's philanthropic endeavor of 2011. We have a few criteria and a few prospects. The criteria are...
  • Feasible. We intend to make a donation but it has to be one we can actually make. Sure, I'd love to have $10k to give to charity but y'all, that's just not the case. We're young and though feeling charitable, we don't want to become in need of charity ourselves. So the amount that we give needs to be feasible.
  • Engagement. I want to be more involved than a one time check writer. I love the idea of a giving circle where once the money is pooled, the collective group decides how to invest the lovely large lump sum. I want to be engaged in the decision making process and I also want to be engaged with the organization. A giving circle that consists of just one voting meeting won't be sufficient. I'd like to connect with and be engaged in the organization(s) somehow.
  • Community. The part about church that appeals to me is building a community of people who have something in common other than their zip code, something like a value or belief. We aren't church people but I see our philanthropic activities as our way of building our community based on a common value. This sorta goes along with engagement and is why something like a giving circle or a fund sounds right to me.
  • Professional growth. This is the least important of the four criteria but would still be icing on the cake. It would be great if through this philanthropic activity, one or both of us could develop a new skill or make connections to aid our careers. Let's face it, without any kids at the moment, our careers is where we are focused. Most things in our lives, be it wardrobes or puppy doors, are aimed at making our careers more successful (and bank account bigger and thus, hopefully, donations larger).
Then you have the subjects of interest to us
  • Animal Welfare. Specifically puppies and specifically an enthusiasm of Ross'.
  • Health. Specifically cancer research/prevention, according to me.
  • Education. Specifically literacy and practical life skills that will help kids grow up to be independent, self-sufficient citizens who do not need charity in their adulthood. However, that said, we specifically do not want to give to school districts. In both of our experiences governments waste a lot of money and as education is a state function, I don't think our money would be well used. If I'm parting with my hard-earned cash, I want it to be extremely well used.
Given all that criteria, here our our frontrunners
  • United Way Capital Area's Young Leaders Society. I like that the United Way gives to such a wide variety of organizations. Our local United Way has three focus areas: health, educationa and fiscal responsibility. Given our personal definition of "education" I think fiscal responsibility fits right in there. The hang up here though is from what I can tell, YLS doesn't offer the opportunity to decide which UWCA partner receives your funding. At least, I can't find that clearly online. No worries though, I'm going to their mix-n-mingle event this month and intend to get the scoop.
  • Dell Children's Trust. This meets one of our interest areas (health) and has the engagement opportunity of deciding which part of the hospital receives the funding. It is also, from what I hear, the charity of choice for Austin's up-and-coming young leaders which sounds attractive. But are they going to be poeple I can build community with? Maybe, I'm not sure; I suppose it depends on their personal motivations for engagement. And I'm not sure if this offers any hands-on volunteer engagement which I feel like I'm craving.
  • Junior League of Austin. I've heard nothing but good things about the local Junior League chapter. I know they do LOTS of hands-on volunteer work in the community and many members are involved for years. I definitely think the volunteer engagement and community building elements can be met here. Besides logistical information like annual dues and time commitment, I'm also seeking to learn how they choose their grant recipients. I hope I can be part of that process because that is important to me. The only downfall I see to JLA is that its women only which leaves poor Ross in the cold. However when I pointed out that some of our charitable options are chicks only, he didn't seem too concerned. As long as I keep him in the loop on where our funds are going, he seems pretty content.
  • Impact Austin. A women's only giving circle, Impact Austin has received considerable national press. The founder, Rebecca Powers, was a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction last month and I had the good fortune to meet her. She's lovely! I need to learn more about engagement opportunities with this organization. As luck would have it, one of my tasks for the next month at work is to set up follow up meetings with all our Women of Distinction, Rebecca included.
As a fundraising professional, my own personal exercise in giving makes me think about what all my donors must be contemplating. As a team, we're considering a one time gift of not even 2% of our income and I'm taking more than six months to determine the organization based on many many criteria. That should and does tell me if I want donors to give significant sums, $5,000+ I need to be patient and thorough.

Though it wasn't a goal of my vetting process, I may become a better professional as a result. One of the many reasons why those giving are actually receiving the biggest gift of all.

PS Thinking about making a charitable gift in Central Texas but not sure where to begin? Check out I live here, I give here for a fairly comprehensive list of organizations by focus area.

May 9, 2010

happy mother's day!

I realized earlier this spring that it had been since Christmas that I last went to Houston. More than four months! And before that it was August. Long story short, it was time for a visit. Ross and I loaded Lexi in the car yesterday and went down to H-town for the weekend. I also realized that this was Ross' first trip to Houston without my WHOLE family there. As you can imagine, for Ross, who is from a family of four, the whole Lowe gang and related psuedo-relations is a bit overwhelming sometimes. That made this trip of only Mom, Dad and Kevin a new and welcome experience for him.

And now because I like lists, random things from the weekend in no particular order.
  • Kevin is enlisted in the Navy. Kinda a big deal right? Last week he completed his enlistment paperwork and took the oath. He's signed up for four  years of active duty (renewable if he so chooses) and four years of inactive duty. To have the Navy career he wants, he doesn't leave for bootcamp until October. That way when bootcamp is over, the specific training he wants will be starting right up. Otherwise if there was a significant gap he could end up being stuck in like cook or cleaning crew training. And he really doesn't want that. He's going to be doing IT work...I can't tell you the details though, they escape me at the moment. At first I wasn't wild about this Navy idea but Ross has really sold me on it by pointing out all the good elements and the career opportunities Kevin will have as a result. So...YAY LITTLE BROTHER!
  • I've caught my mother's disease: no-picture-itis. The whole weekend in Houston and I didn't so much as bust out with my iPhone to take a pic, not even of the puppies playing. What a picture taking failure I am.
  • In the spirit of Mother's Day (I guess), Ross and I spent the bulk of our drive home discussing our own unborn, and unconceived, children. We talked about everything from how we feel about discipline styles to funding all or part of college to our family friendly work schedule potential to hiring a maid service to help balance the children and two working parent situation that we'll be encountering.
  • And then we said "why wait 'til we have kids to hire a maid service? I don't like cleaning now." I'm not saying we're doing it but we're at least pricing out how much it would be and who knows, maybe we'll consider it for a Christmas gift to ourselves this year. All in favor of a dramatic reduction in chores, say "aye." AYE.
  • And now we're in our PJs, making hot wings with Hooters sauce, not really doin' a whole heck of anything. Even after a full weekend together, with little to no "alone" time, we're still wanting to hang out. That friends, is why I married this guy.
  • patio with puppyFinally, Happy Mother's Day to Mom, Ma Nancy, Grandma and Gramma. Happy Mother's Day also to the pregger moms-to-be, puppy mommas and other animal moms in the world.
Now I'm going to go cuddle with my fur-baby. It is, after all, Mother's Day.

May 4, 2010

Ready, Set, MAKE MONEY

iphone_picToday officially marks day one of the new gig: Development Executive for Girl Scouts of Central Texas. That's right, my first day on the job is a Tuesday. Mmmm hmmm, because we no longer work Mondays. That's right folks, 4-day work weeks that start on Tuesday and end at 3 p.m. on Friday. You can stop turning green with envy now. I've got a good thing and I know it.

So back to day one on the job, I have to say, I think I've started out OK. I have $9,000 pledged to my first event (S'more Soiree) and a meeting with a potential big sponsor lined up for Thursday afternoon.
I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little nervous about this fund raising thing. I have a lot of money I need to raise. More than $300k annually just to give you an idea. What does that make the $9k I have pledged...about 3% of my annual goal? Long story short, if you have some extra change in your couch cushions or car floorboards, I can use every penny. And if those pennies total thousands of dollars, I can hook you up with a box of thank you Thin Mints. Heck, maybe even two boxes.

There's lots of things that I'm jazzed about for the new job but let me tell you about just two for now.
  1. On Friday I am having coffee with Judy, fund raiser extraordinaire. It is an enlightening session, fund raising 101's cliff notes if you will. My office is currently seeking a Chief Development Officer so I'm in great need of a mentor and I appreciate Judy filling this void, and in my first week nonetheless.
  2. The Girl Scout 100 year anniversary is just around the corner (2012) and with this new gig, I should play a significant role in the fundraising efforts and special events focused around that anniversary. What a cool moment to be Girl Scout staff!
And what does the picture have to do with anything? Not a whole lot except that's what I did with my Monday off, play with the puppy.