Thursday, October 31, 2013

Back to Basics: Dinner Without Gadgets

Note:  It seems time for me to revisit my "Back to Basics" series, which has become a monthly series since August.  This is the third in a multi-post series called "Back to Basics."  Click here to read the first and second entries in this series.


In this fast pace, over-"networked" world we live in, I believe it's healthy to take a break from technology every once in a while.  That doesn't mean I don't crave the connection or feel strange without it whenever I do take those intentional (or not-so-intentional) breaks from the web.  However, I know it's important and I try to practice what I someday hope to preach with my own children who undoubtedly will be even more connected than we can imagine.

For as long as I can remember, Alex and I have made a point of leaving our phones in the car on date nights and during church.  At least.  Sometimes we leave them behind when taking the dog on walks, and occasionally we even forget the phones at home (mostly unintentional, though positive consequences result) when we leave for short periods of time.  But we are hard core serious about leaving our phones behind while on dinner dates and during church.  It's become a habit that we don't even consider anymore.  ...Take one last look, drop the phones in the glove compartment, and off we go. 

From time to time, we miss calls from our parents or wish we could take that food porn picture you know you're sad to miss (not!), but by and large, we never regret it.  At dinner, we are able to truly enjoy time with one another, practice open communication/dialogue, and take in a good meal.  Sadly, we tend to sit in front of the TV during dinner at home, and even though we talk to each other daily, it's really not the same with all the distractions around.  With regard to church, I can't say enough how nice it is not to be tempted in thought about what might be occurring in the outside world during the mass (or to look at the clock - sheesh!).  Not to mention eliminating any sudden fear of forgetting to silence our phones before hand.  (Phones in church - Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise, are one of my biggest pet peeves!!)

Eventually, Alex and I hope to have a family and I can say that we will most definitely be limiting screen time.  I know it's one thing to say we our children won't watch TV before the age of 2 and another thing to actually practice it, but I really hope we can hold out on that plan.  (I'm not talking the occasional treat or group event with family/friends; I'm referring to regular bouts of television for any extended period of time.)  It's just not healthy and I would instead prefer to spend time together as a family.  We also joke about how neither of us received phones in elementary school, nor will our children.  Driving or afterschool obligations will be a requirement for receipt of such privileges.  And privileges they are... privileges that can be taken away at any time, for any reason, and monitored as well.  But alas, I digress.

Alex and I try to make a point of keeping regular date nights, whether those present themselves in the form of dinner out, movie nights at home, local attractions, or even weekends away.  It's just another way we get "back to basics" in maintaining and rejeuvinating our relationship.  Just for fun, I've included a few pictures from one of our date nights that included dinner, mini-golf, and froyo desert.

I'm terrible!




Final Note:  What do you guys think of this series?  I'm currently "out" of topics for continuing the series, but would love your ideas for additional entries.  Maybe one of you would even be interested in serving as a guest blogger or "linking up" (is that what they call it?) sometime?  Let me know! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A New Normal

Yeah, yeah, I know it's been two weeks since my last post.  I guess nothing too exciting has been going on, in combination with busy weeks at work that haven't allowed me flexibility to write during my lunch as usual. In any case, I'm back today in hopes of not falling off the bandwagon and getting another post or two out before the end of the month.  In reality, though, I'm already super proud of myself because my 18 (now 19) posts to date in 2013 have surpassed the number of entries for 2010, 2011, and 2012.  Wow!

So, last weekend was really...what's the word...normal?  What I mean is that the weekend seemed to have just the right balance of work, relaxation, and time with friends.  It was one of those rare occasions where I think, "Hey - we're normal people again!" (As opposed to new residents of a city where we know no one, have no involvement with community events, and work strangely long/odd hours...aka: 90% of our current life.)

On Friday, Alex and I both got off early - him because the university closes at Noon on Fridays and it was bye week for football, and me because I knew I had to work most of Saturday so I decided to skip out on an afternoon in the office.  With that extra time, we were able to spend a little time talking about our game plan for the weekend, and even got to check out two new-to-us local attractions.

Thanks to a GPS malfunction (I've had too many of those lately.), we barely caught the start of a moonlit hike at Black Bayou State Park.  Apparently, the full moon was the inspiration for this night hike, but other than tons of banana spiders (which are wayyyyy creepy in the dark) and a baby alligator, there was really nothing interesting to note from the experience.  I did take a few photos when we got to the open water area where we were able to look out on the bayou (sooo gorgeous!).  We'll have to go back sometime on our own when we can really spend time enjoying the view before it's dark out.

After the hike, we tried out a new restaurant for dinner.  The term restaurant should be used loosely here because Enoch's is technically a "pub" and I think there was more drinking/smoking going on there than eating.  In fact, we sat ourselves in the back room to avoid the cramped room filled with tall tables and smoke fog.  Having the room to ourselves was kind of unique though; that never happens in restaurants - it was like our own private dinner.  :) For entertainment, we quizzed each other on which Monroe restaurants we thought each of our friends would most enjoy.  It's likely only a few of you out there would actually enjoy this particular place.  I think we'll be sticking to our tried and true list of favorites for a while.

Saturday morning, I met a group of 4-H Jr. Leaders at Tractor Supply in Bastrop, where we spent two hours promoting their bi-annual Paper Clover Sale.  I gave each teen a stack of ten clovers and told them they would receive 1 extra entry in our monthly drawing for every 5 clovers they sold.  The incentive worked okay and I think we ended up selling at least 80 clovers in two hours.  It is what it is.

Afterwards, we all had lunch at Wendy's and then loaded up for our second attempt at visiting Curry Farms, a local pumpkin patch/corn maze/Christmas tree farm.  Thankfully, the weather was gorgeous this time around and I think the group really enjoyed their visit.  I'm looking at the possibility of having Mr. Curry, the owner, speak on the subject of agritourism at our meeting in November.  We'll see.  I had a great time and would totally take Alex there or even any of our friends; it's always fun to be a kid again!

Somehow, I ended up making it home earlier than planned, so Alex and I were able to attend Mass at a little mission church near our home.  It was totally spur the moment, but I'd been wanting to check it out for a while because it's 5-7 minutes from our house as opposed to the 20 minutes we usually drive for Mass.  Little churches always crack me up because usually there isn't music and the mass is sometimes as short as daily mass (30 minutes).  In fact, we were in our cars 47 minutes after Mass began, and I know it'd been over for a while before that because the priest spent time sharing announcements, congratulating birthdays/anniversaries, and even had a guest speak about his recently published book...all within 45 minutes.  Too funny.

That night, Alex and I made dinner together (breakfast pizza) and watched a movie recorded on the DVR.  No Strings Attached, with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher was actually better than I expected.  Yes it contained crude behavior and sexual content, but there was still a story line and a happy ending.  Ultimately, the movie ended with the understanding that "friends with benefits" don't work and faithful relationships are the way to go.  Not too bad.

Another spur-the-moment friend visit occurred on Sunday morning.  Dawn made the trek to Ruston for the weekend to celebrate homecoming at her alma mater, Louisiana Tech.  She invited me to have brunch with her after Mass, on her way to Shreveport before heading back to Dallas.  This girl makes me tired, ya'll!  Haha.  Anyway, it was fun to see her again in such a short period of time, and believe it or not we had lots to catch up on even though we just saw each other three weeks ago.

That afternoon, I was able to enjoy the second game of five in the ULM Blood Series for baseball.  The idea is that players are designated as coaches, two teams are drafted, and at the end of the five game series, the team who loses has to give blood as a service project.  There are some other losing-team stakes, too, but I can't remember them all. In any case, I had a great time enjoying the great weather and lovely game of baseball.  Alex even let me work the scoreboard during the series, which I always love.  Yay!

See - things have been busy, but nothing really special to report.  It was a good weekend overall, as I said. Coming up, Alex and I are working on a fun project together and I can't wait to share it.  No, it's not baby/marriage/house-related.  Actually, it's something related to work for both of us and I'm pretty excited to see how everything turns out.

Until next time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Long Lost Friends

Now, where was I..?  Oh yeah, Jen's visit.  First, though, I'd like to give some background about Jen and her little family.

My friendship with Jen is pre-blog, since I didn't start writing here until the last few weeks of our time living together.  Jen and I met during the first week of our freshman year at Nicholls State University.  I actually had a terrible paring with my first roommate, but Jen's original roommate/friend from home was kind enough to give up her room so that I could live with Jen, who I'd not actually met before.  Throw the ridiculousness that was Hurricane Katrina in the mix and let's just say it's a wonder we even made it to the first level of friendship.  But we did, and after three years of living together, the title "friend" was an understatement.

Even though we were technically "adults" when we met, I feel like Jen and I grew up together over those three years (two of which we shared a room).  We muddled our way through academics, adventures in our faith, and of course, boys.  I feel like Jen played a big part in me deepening my love for the Catholic faith and I can honestly say I miss the days of going to daily mass or adoration together (remember ADORE?!?).  In fact, we were so close that Jen even trusted me enough to allow me to read her journal...including those from way back in high school.  It was kind of strange, now that I think about it.  Haha.  

Fast forward a few years.  I spent time roaming around the country (see previous entries circa 2008-2012) for a while.  Meanwhile, Jen married her high school sweetheart, Logan, in 2009, and settled in her hometown of Luling, LA.  She worked nights as a nurse before transitioning to the school setting, and experienced some pretty trying times, including the loss of her first son, Levi.  Logan established his business as a videographer and named the business in memory of Levi (12-29 Productions).  In fact, I was honored to have Logan capture our wedding video exactly three years later, on December 29, 2012.

These days, Jen and I don't get to see each other very much since we live 5 hours apart.  However, I follow her blog diligently which helps me to feel closer to her little family despite the distance.  With each blog entry or phone conversation (We need to go back to sending letters the old fashion way!), I learn more and more about marriage, mommyhood, and The Faith.  I hope one day I can only be the wife, mother, and child of God that she is.  Ok - so enough of my "worship" for Jen, haha.

Jen, Logan, and their 15-month-old, Landon, visited Monroe last weekend.  Logan was in a wedding in Ruston, so they decided to forgo the hotel room and stay at our house which is just about 40 minutes away.  We were thrilled for the company, and I'm sure they appreciated the "affordable alternative" to a hotel.

Of course, I was out at Challenge Camp until Saturday, so the hospitality role fell on him for Friday night and half of Saturday.  However, the whole family attended the rehearsal/dinner on Friday evening, so I don't suppose it was too much work for him. ;-)  Saturday afternoon, Logan went off for groomsman duties, so Jen, Landon, Alex, and I had lunch at Chic-fil-a in West Monroe.  The afternoon was pretty laid back, before Jen left to met Logan for the 5 p.m. ceremony and reception that followed.

Notice how I didn't say Jen and Landon.  Yep, that's right.  Alex and I had the honor of babysitting Landon for the evening.  Can I just say we had a ton of fun with Landon?  He fought off a nap in the afternoon, so I thought we might have a grumpy kid that evening, but no.  He was just as happy as always, and we really enjoyed playing with him.  He even happily obliged my offer to go to sleep right at 8 o'clock, and by 8:06 p.m.  Alex and I were curled up on the couch looking at each other like, "Whoa, that was easy!"  (Yeah, we know it's never really like that when you have your own kids.)

It was also fun to get some adult hang out time with Jen and Logan when they returned later that night.  We even got to attend mass together before they left (for another wedding) on Sunday morning.  For a minute there I almost felt like we lived near one another all over again.  If only that were the case... :-(

Until next time.

To read Jen's version of the visit, see So Many Blessings and Photo Friday:  Food, Shoes, and Fun.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Team X-treme

Last weekend, I took a group of five middle schoolers and two high schoolers to the Northeast Region 4-H Challenge Camp.  The camp was held at Grant Walker 4-H Educational Center (aka:  Camp Grant Walker or 4-H Camp) in Pollock, which is about two hours away from the town in which I work.  All the kids loaded up in a sheriff's van on Thursday afternoon and we made the trek down for the two-night camp.

The primary focus of Challenge Camp is to give middle schoolers (typically 7th graders) the chance to develop that sense of "belonging" within a group and to foster teamwork with each other.   With that in mind, activities at Challenge Camp typically involve some sort of "team challenge," where the group either has to a) work together to accomplish a task, or b) build upon individual contributions for the sake of the group.

In the spring, we did a Challenge Camp with the "4-H Dynasty" (think A&E's Duck Dynasty) theme.  Then, the kids completed several rounds of outdoor/hunting-themed activities, which culminated with a duck-blind building contest.  Each group built their duck blinds with cardboard, duct tape, bamboo, leaf/branch clippings, camo-colored paint, etc.  Once the structures were built, two members from each team were given marshmallow guns and ammo (mini-marshmallows) to "shoot" as many rubber ducks floating in kiddy pools as possible.  Now, these kids are from the "Sportsman's Paradise," so I am sure you can imagine how much they enjoyed these activities.

This time around, we wanted to continue the momentum we gained with our challenge activities and the culminating project, but in an effort to appeal to a more diverse audience (girls and minorities aren't always fans of the idea of being out in the woods or hunting, per say), we decided to go with a more general "Team X-treme" theme.  However, we stuck with the same basic idea as our previous camp.  This year, each group or individual (depending on the activity) earned points for their teams throughout the weekend.  After all the challenges were complete, the top three teams were recognized for their hard work by being allotted extra materials for their culminating activity - lean-to building.

To give you an idea of what this all looked like, imagine groups rotating through different "outdoor-like" activities:  archery, marshmallow shooter building, tent building, simulated fishing, outdoor cooking, and compass reading.  I lead the archery activity (yes!), where each kid earned points for the team based on their archery skills and participation.  If at any time, a child chose not to participate in any of the activities, the group lost points for the team (I don't think this actually happened, though.)

When it was time to build the lean-tos, every team was given a standard set of materials - cardboard, duct tape, trash bags, bamboo, etc.  Those teams who excelled at their activities were allotted additional building materials depending on whether they were 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place winners.  Every team had two hours to build their lean-tos in preparation for the "storm" that was brewing...

Unbeknownst to the kids, this "storm" came in the shape of two 4-H agents, using a leaf blower and power washer.  Every member of each team had to take cover under their lean-tos while the "storm" blew through.  Oh the squeals and shrieks we heard when the kids realized what was about to occur (and as it did, too).  It was quite comical to say the least.

I really think the kids enjoy these activities and I bet they'll be talking about it for months.  We actually doubled our numbers from the spring camp to the fall one, and I'm sure they'll grow even more now with these new activities.  Generally speaking, the southern part of the state does some fabulous 4-H programs, but I think we're starting to build upon some of our own.  Good times.

...and while we're on the subject of the weekend...I can't wait to share about the Jen and her family's visit to Monroe.  It's probably best, though, to save that for another day.

Hugs, kisses, and love!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

...a Visitor?!

Saturday morning, I awoke to this text:  "So, any chance you are up for a visitor this evening?"  Whaaaat???  Now, ya'll know we don't get many visitors in these parts, much less visitors that are unrelated to us.  Imagine the surprise and excitement I felt when I laid eyes on that message from the lovely Dawn (aka:  Sunshine).

Dawn "lives" in Brusly, Louisiana, which is near Baton Rouge.  I say "lives" because this girl is a gypsy like none other.  I tell people I've lived in 5 states in the last 5 years and she definitely has me beat!  This week, Dawn moved to Dallas until December, after spending a week at home in between this adventure and her last one (a summer in Galveston, TX).  Before that she was at Washington University in St. Louis.  ...You get the idea.

Anyway.  When one of my #bestfriendforevers asked if she could drop in for a visit, of course I said YES.  (Not to mention she was the first non-related, out of town visitor we've had!)  The next step was making sense of it all...I mean, wasn't she in Baton Rouge?  Why Monroe?  Again, whaaaat?? As it turns out, Dawn decided to go out of her way to make Monroe (and Shreveport) a detour on her way from Baton Rouge to Dallas.  It took me a few minutes to put all the pieces together.  Immediately, Alex and I threw all our weekend plans out the window and began pulling the house together for this impromptu visit.

It took her a few hours to pack everything up and drive from Baton Rouge (4h15m to be exact), so we did end up having time to do a few of the things we'd originally planned for the weekend.  Sort of.  We tried to visit the pumpkin patch at Curry Farms in Start, LA, so I could scope it out for an upcoming 4-H trip we're taking with some teenagers.  However, I'm an idiot and though I read the address, phone number, and hours of operation, I seemed to have missed the part that said the season starts on October 5th.  *face palm*  Oops.  After a few detours due to some crazy people trying to move a mobile home, we almost went home with our tail between our legs.  Instead, I convinced Alex to head back to Monroe and check out Biedenharm Gardens, a four-part attraction that includes a tour at the local Coca-cola Museum.  We did enjoy ourselves as tourists in our own backyard, and 5-cent bottled cokes became the highlight of the trip.

That afternoon, I worked on cleaning the house and doing laundry once Alex went off to work for the 6 p.m. kickoff of ULM v.s. Tulane.  Dawn arrived around 4:15, so we were able to hang out and enjoy an early dinner before heading to the game.  Me and football don't "jive," per say, but Dawn is a fan.  It also helped that one of her sisters attended ULM for a semester and the other is currently a student at Tulane.  [Maroon attire was required in the Edwards Household, however.  ;-)]  She situated herself in the perfect position to watch the game while chatting with me - very clever.  Toward the end of the game, we decided to go check out the Press Box and say hello to Alex.  We didn't last very long up there, though, because it was bone cold and Alex needed to go down to the field for post-game events.  She and I ducked out right at the end, grabbing some yummy half-price shakes at Sonic on our way home.  We spent the night playing Phase 10 Twist while waiting for Alex to return; it wasn't until about 1:30 a.m. before we turned in for the night.

Rah! Rah!  Go Warhawks!

View from the Press Box.
Sunshine and MooFace

Sunday morning we got up bright and early to attend Mass at 8:30 a.m. before Dawn drove off into the sunset forever...Haha.  She actually had plans to meet her brother for lunch in Shreveport (he's a Med Student at LSUHSC) before heading on to Dallas, so that's why everything was on warp speed.  Though tired, the early morning allowed Alex and I to get in a workout and make home again all before 11 a.m.  How nice.  I spent the rest of Sunday relaxing (may or may not have snuck in a nap) while Alex worked on game notes for the upcoming Thursday night game versus Western Kentucky.

Another notable moment from last week was watching my little Cajun Yota hit 100k miles.  What a milestone!  She's been good to me for these last 8 years and I look forward to keeping her around for several more.

Tomorrow, I leave for two nights at Camp with 120 of my favorite teenagers - Ha.  When we return, my college roommate and her little family will be waiting at home for me.  I can't wait!

-Stay tuned.

P.S. Blogger has been giving me problems with placement of photos so forgive me for extending the length of this entry even more with photos.