Reunion and other things

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I can't believe that tomorrow is the last day of April.

Where the heck is this year going? Before we know it, summer will be here and the year will be half over!

To be honest, although I am always wishing time would slow down, I am actually pretty excited for summer to get here. Once June hits, we will be closing on our first home and beginning fun projects!

As I've probably mentioned a bajillion times, we officially close on June 4th and we are planning to move the weekend after the 4th of July. That gives us almost exactly a month to complete any projects we have in mind before move-in. I am so thankful that the process worked out this way. The timing could not have been any better.

We aren't going to be doing any immediate major renovations. Our focus will be mainly on the floors and the walls. Our plan is to seal the entire basement floor after the asbestos tiles are removed, paint all of the rooms upstairs, paint the wood paneling in the basement (a temporary fix until we can put drywall up), install new carpet in the three bedrooms upstairs, re-finish the hardwood, and scrub the place clean.

Then we can look for new furniture and work to move our smaller stuff in slowly before our offical move-in date on the 6th. We'll then take the following week to settle in the new house, clean our apartment, and turn in our keys on the 12th. And then finally, it's vacation time! We leave for Maine on the 13th for a nice long week at the beach!

I am in desperate need of a vacation and I am so looking forward to spending a week away!

Since things have been so work-focused for us these last few weeks, we took this past weekend to have a little fun and enjoy a few nights out with friends. On Friday night, we spent the evening at my old K-8 school for their annual Manhattan After Dark celebration. It's an awesome fundraiser where they transform a few levels of the school into "Mahattan" and have all sorts of awesome things to do. They have dancing, food, bars, gambling, raffles, karaoke, and more. This year, the class of 2003 (my graduating class), turned the alumni night into a mini 10-year reunion.

We didn't take a lot of pictures but we still had a blast catching up with everyone. We did, however, manage to meet up for a girls soccer photo! Our team was the best!

We were missing a few girls but it was great seeing everyone!

Kicking it up a notch

Friday, April 26, 2013

TGIF. I have never been so happy to see the weekend in my life.

This week has been insanely crazy at work since I've not only been trying to rush around to meet deadlines but I decided to completely re-organize my entire workspace, computer, filing system, notebook keeping system, and pretty much everything I do as well. I've been feeling like I'm spinning out of control when it comes to the dozens of projects we take on, so I thought it was a good time to re-think how I was keeping track of everything. If anyone has every worked in a research lab, you most certainly understand the importance of documentation and organization. The system I have been using previously had me scrambling every time my boss would come in and ask me about a project I hadn't touched in 6 months - which happens almost monthly. That feeling of panic crept up again on Monday and after our morning meeting I decided that never again would I stress over the disorganization. I am a very Type-A, highly organized kinda girl anyway, so the fact that I had become this way was almost embarrassing. So, I can officially say that, as of today, I have a new system that (hopefully) will not cause any more stress.

The strange part about this past week has been my increased energy level. Typically, when I have a long hard day at work, I come home exhausted, plop down on the couch with a glass of wine to watch Friends and I don't get up until Mike gets home - and sometimes, if it's been a really stressful day, I don't move until it's time for bed. I was starting to worry about how lazy I've become, until this week. Even though I had worked long hours and barely sat down for more than three minutes at a time, I was energized. After these last few days, I've kept up with and accomplished more at home than I have in the last month. I guess this really is no secret to me and shouldn't come as a shock since I have always equated organization with control and control with peace of mind. When I feel in control, I feel like I can accomplish anything. (Did I mention I'm Type-A?)

Growing up, my mom used to say that the state of my room was a reflection of my state of mind. When it was neat and orderly, she knew things with me were good and going well. But when she would walk in to find a room that looked like it had been hit by a tornado, she knew to expect a more stressed out, burned out, apathetic version of me. Now that I have started to feel more in control and organized at work, this has carried over into my every day life. I am finding that I have more time to do the things I not only need to do but the things I want to do.

So, that being said, I wanted to keep this momentum going and translate it to the blog. I wasn't sure exactly how I could do it until I came across Jenni's post on her blog Story of My Life. As a side note, Jenni has become one of my absolute favorite bloggers and I am obsessed with her photography and all around awesomeness.

When I read her blog yesterday, I thought about how cool it would be to try and participate in the challenge she presented:

One post, every day, for the month of May.

Since I am trying to keep my motivation rolling and bring that energy to the blog, what better way to do that than to amp up the frequency of my posts? What's even better is that I don't have to come up with the topics myself. She's got them posted right there!

I'm excited to try this out and see how far I get. I really am trying to work on blogging more often and I hope that blogging every day next month will spark a new habit. Or at least encourage me to believe in myself enough to post more often.

Have a great weekend!

Book Review - The Joy Luck Club

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book #4 - The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

[image source: Goodreads]

Summary (source)
Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who's "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue.

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

My Review
What I Loved
1. The emphasis on each of the mother-daughter realtionships was very interesting. I really enjoyed learning the stories from their different perspectives and then piecing it together as the book went on. I've said in the past how much I love books that are written from the perspectives of the different characters and this was no exception.

2. It was so beautifully and emotionally written and so easy to read. I was actually assigned this book as a summer read back in high school and, being a 15-year-old almost-ready-to-get-her-license sophomore, the last thing on my mind during that summer was a book about Chinese women. I didn't give it a chance. I'm so glad that I picked this one off my book shelf this month because I really enjoyed it. It's a modern classic and I would highly recommend it if you are looking for something you can really learn from.

3. The culture. This book was not only an entertaining story about the four mothers and their four daughters, but it was a cultural lesson for me as well. I've always thought that Chinese traditions were sort of magical and mesmerizing. I was drawn in, especially to the stories of the mothers growing up in China. To them, each part of life has such great meaning and it was great to gain a better understanding of what they deem important.

4. I found the broken english the mothers spoke throughout the story to be absolutely hilarious and so adorable. Words like "social security" and "architect" were written as "so-so security" and "arcky-tecky." I work with many wonderful folks from many different countries and it just reminds me of them and how funny the language barrier can be sometimes. Yes, this is probably really strange, but I really enjoyed it!

What I Didn't Love
1. I wanted Amy Tan to expand a bit more on each character. Some of the sections were just too short for me. I felt like I wanted to know more about the mothers than she described. Part of this is because I think each character's story could probably have been turned into a novel itself. There was so much she could expand on that it must have been hard to break it up into segments.

2. As it seems to be with a lot of the books I read, I had to keep going back to check the names to make sure I knew the story behind who they were talking about. It was a bit confusing since the voices of the characters were very similar, but it got better toward the end. Tan gave enough clues in the stories toward the end that I was able to distinguish the characters more.

3. I didn't like some of the things the mothers said about Americans. Some of them were true but some were very much a stereotypical stretch.

4 out of 5 stars

Earth Day

Monday, April 22, 2013

This is one of my favorite days to celebrate every year because there are always so many cool things going on. The great part is that it's not usually restricted to just Earth Day which, this year, falls on a Monday. During the entire month of April, there are tons of activities and festivals going on every weekend.

Last year to celebrate Earth Day, Mike and I made adorable little birdhouses to hang in the yard (seen above) and volunteered with the Back River Restoration Committee on one of their community clean-up events. The group works to restore the health of the Back River watershed. As it stands today, the Back River is one of the most polluted rivers in Maryland.  We, along with other teams of volunteers, collected trash along the highways and worked to pull out tires and other debris from the water. It was about an eight our day but they ended it with a great cookout. If there's one thing Mike and I love as much as helping the environment, it's free food!

Unfortunately, this year, we weren't able to find any volunteer opportunities around Earth Day with the BRRC. We checked out a few in Annapolis with other groups but soon found out we missed the cut off by about a month.

So instead, we have vowed to do some volunteer work this summer and also plant a tree in our yard when we move into our new house. I have been researching trees that are native to our region to find something nice to plant. Ever since my Ecology and Evolution class in college, I constantly think about those lectures on biodiversity when it comes to planting trees and other plants - Thanks Dr. M! I'm such a nerd.

A few years ago, it seemed like almost no one knew that Earth Day even existed. Only recently have the words "eco-friendly" and "green" become part of our vocabulary in society. It's so exciting and inspiring to see so many more people beginning to educate themselves and care more about how we treat the Earth. After all, it's our home. People should care. The environment gives us the air we breathe, the water we drink, the animals and plants we eat, and the sun that sustains it all. Those things are all pretty important if you ask me. It's easy to take them for granted and forget that without those things, we wouldn't be able to survive. With all of our technology and industry, it's hard to remember how humans started out. We continue to destroy the Earth in so many ways and somehow believe that it's not affected by what we do. We think it will always be there to provide for us. But the truth is, if we don't care for our environment, how can we expect it to take care of us?

In honor of Earth Day, I thought I would post a list of things you can do today and throughout the year to move toward a more environmentally concious lifestyle and also appreciate the Earth a little more!

1. Check your faucets. Leaks and slow drips can add up to gallons of wasted water per year, and if it's a hot water source, that can mean wasted fossil fuel too. So check out the faucets in your home to not only cut down on these wasted resources but also to save yourself some dough!

2. Take a Hike. Get off the couch, turn off the TV, put down your cell phone and get out the door! Whatever you enjoy, whether it's bike riding, hiking, kayaking, fishing, you name it, this is the time of year to do it!

3. Clean Green. Many household cleaning products contain nasty toxins that can not only hurt you and your family but also our ecosystem. Look for cleaning products that are more natural. I personally switched to vinegar and water and I will never look back. It's safe, very powerful, and incredibly cheap. If you need proof, read more about it out for yourself here and here.

4. Do Away with Paper Bills. Save a few trees by cutting down on paper and sign up for electronic bills. Most companies now offer an e-bill option that you can have emailed directly to you. Some companies will even offer an incentive for Paperless billing.

5. Get Rid of Hazardous Waste - the right way. Collect and dispose of your household hazardous waste like batteries, pesticides, and paint properly by bringing them to your local disposal center. We often forget that expired medications also fall into this category as well. Many people think it's okay to flush old pills down the toilet, but I am telling you now - THIS IS NOT OKAY! Reading the information from the EPA can provide more guidance on how to dispose of them properly.

6. Watch "Planet Earth." This is Mike's favorite series and I had actually never seen it before we started dating. It really is one of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen. The subtitle of the series is "prepare to see it as never before" and boy, are they right. Creatures and places I didn't even know existed and some that have never before been captured on film were shown in depth. It really was incredible.

7. Join a CSA or visit your local farmer's market. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a way for people in all areas, even urban, to have access to seasonal food directly from the farms in that community. It is a mutually beneficial relationship between the farmers and the consumers since the consumers support the farmers by bringing in local business, and the farmers support the community by providing local food. There will be more on this coming up in my blog throughout the year!

Happy Earth Day!

Pray for Boston

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I just wanted to take a minute to dedicate a post to the city of Boston and all of those injured or killed in yesterday's bombing. I am praying for all of them and their families that they find some sort of peace during this time of tragedy.

After yesterday's events at the marathon, I was in complete shock. Something that is typically such a joyous and positive moment turned into something completely devastating. How and why people commit these senseless acts is something I will never understand.

Please, Pray for Boston.

DC Cherry Blossoms

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Good afternoon and Happy Sunday!

I have the apartment all to myself today since Mike went out for a run early and then is off to golf with my dad and some friends this afternoon. He's also leaving tomorrow for a business trip and won't be back until Thursday. I didn't want to spend the whole week by myself so I am planning to stay with my parents until he gets back home. So while he packs tonight, I will be packing too.

In order to enjoy some time together before he leaves, we thought it might be fun to take the day yesterday to visit the Cherry Blossoms in DC. We haven't been down to the district in a while and I don't think either of us have been down to visit the blooms in years. Going down on a Saturday during the peak often proves to be a bit hectic so we tried to plan ahead. I packed up a picnic lunch, brought some fun games, and we caught the metro into town to avoid parking.

Our first stop was the national mall since we got off at the Smithsonian stop. It was a GORGEOUS day and there were people everywhere laying on blankets enjoying the sun and the light breeze. We took a few pictures and then headed off to the tidal basin.

We walked around for a bit until we found a really nice picnic spot with a great view of the Washington monument, the water, and the Jefferson memorial. The trees around us were incredibly beautiful. I was so excited to see the blossoms I couldn't stop taking pictures.

We ate and relaxed and then broke out my dad's backgammon set. Mike technically beat me but I'm still not sure that we played the end part correctly and I think I could have won. I am planning a re-match. I'll should start practicing all week while he's gone. ;)

After a while, we packed up to take a walk. We went down toward the water and walked along until we found another awesome spot to relax. It was pretty crowded so we were lucky to find such a beautiful place to hang out where there weren't as many people. We bought a couple of popsicles and took a little nap under the trees.

The breeze kept blowing petals on us and it looked kind of like it was snowing. There were tons of them all over the ground but they were just as beautiful on the ground as they were on the trees. It was like a pink and green carpet had been laid out everywhere we went.

We even got to witness an adorable proposal right next to us! It was so sweet! It was such a perfect setting for an engagement. The sun shining, the breeze blowing, and of course these beautiful trees! These were some of my favorite pictures from the day.

We spent a bit more time there and then walked over to the Jefferson memorial. I hope that we can go back soon to see a few more of the memorials. It's crazy to think that all of our lives we have lived this close and still have not really seen much of D.C. I have never seen the White house or the Lincoln memorial and Mike wants to explore the Smithsonian and the Botanic Gardens. We are hoping to plan a trip back to D.C. one weekend this Spring so we can check a few more things off of our list!

Before heading back home, we walked around the area for a bit to enjoy what was left of the afternoon. We definitely got in a lot of exercise  The day turned out to be just the escape we needed. It was a great way to spend our Saturday. We really enjoyed the trip and can't wait to go back next weekend!

Newlywed Notes

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I've been wanting to write a post to sort of check-in with how things are going in our day-to-day lives since there's a lot that goes on with me and Mike that I don't always talk about. So far, this blog has been a ton of fun for me to write but I don't feel like I share quite as much as I could be. I post a bunch of the cool stuff we do and the places we visit but not so much about the other stuff that's going on in our married journey. If I really am going to blog about our life as newlyweds, I feel obligated to include more of the real everyday stuff, not just the parties we attend or trips we take but our thoughts, feelings and the other moments too. I want to include moments that are good, bad, monotonous, funny, challenging, whatever. Because that's what life is all about, right? It's not just about the exciting times. I want to be able to look back and see everything that happened, not just the highlights.

As I write this, I am sitting in my favorite spot in our apartment - the couch. Yes, I know it seems like the most obvious place to call my favorite but what I really love are the two large windows right next to it. Right outside our window is a gorgeous white flowering tree. I've been trying to identify it since we moved in but I still can't figure it out.

Regardless, this is one of the best spots to unwind after a long day at work. With the windows open (it's 75 degrees out!), the birds singing, the breeze blowing, and a glass of wine in hand, I don't know of a better place to relax. I am so happy that Spring is here!

"Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans"
While our lives aren't completely insane, sometimes it does feel like all we ever do is rush around. We have started to joke that we barely even live in our apartment and its just become a very expensive storage unit for our stuff. Almost every weekend we leave with our bags packed and return home Sunday night to unpack. It's a very different way of living that we didn't quite expect. It's funny to me how after we got back from our honeymoon we were so excited to have our nights and weekends back when, now, all we ever do is run around. Of course, most of the time we are doing things we enjoy but still, there is little time to relax.

A lot of it has to do with our personalities. Mike and I are planners. It's what we do best, but we tend to plan activities and dinners and meetings that fill up every free space we have on our calendar. We seem to have gotten into the habit of scheduling something for every minute of our week. Recently, we have been trying to force ourselves to stop scheduling stuff during all of our free time and take a breather once in a while. We are beginning to realize that taking time for ourselves is not just an important part of life but a mandatory one. I absolutely cannot wait for our vacation in July. We are heading up to Maine to stay in Mike's family's cottage - just the two of us. While we plan to stay in touch with the family a little throughout the week, it will be a great time for us to "unplug" and spend time away from reality for a while.

Home Sweet Home
With all of the normal stresses of work and our constantly busy schedule, it's easy to forget that we are also going through the home-buying process. Things became a lot more real for us this week when we locked in our rate for our loan. I definitely can't complain about 3.625%. My parents told us that when they bought their first house back in 1985, they had a 12% rate! This really is the best time to buy a home and we are so lucky that we are able to take advantage of it. Now that we are solidifying our payment schedule and beginning to plan how we want to design each room, I am getting more excited as the days go on. We are officially 55 days away from settlement!

I can't lie, while waiting four months for settlement may seem like a lifetime to some people, I think of it as a blessing. I can't imagine us trying to pack up and move quickly on top of everything else we have going on. I am definitely anxious to get started on making our house a home but taking it slow in this process has given us time to consider each option carefully and really be thorough in our decision making. We've had months to go through the inspections, the paperwork, the loan approval, and all the other steps whereas most people only have a few weeks. Like I said, home-buying is a huge deal and taking it one step at a time has been so helpful for us newbies. In the end, I feel even better about our decisions knowing that we have had time to make them gradually.

I've got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight...
Yes, I just quoted Billy Madison.

And that's right, Mike and I are both starting to look into going back to school. As if we really needed to add another thing to eat up our free time. Mike earned his Master's degree in Environmental Management last year and is thinking about going back to get a certificate or degree in law. He is currently studying to get his CHMM certificate so he will probably wait until after that point to get into another program. I told him that we need to go back to school together so we can have study dates. Aren't we cool?

I am thinking about going for my Master's at Hopkins. There are a bunch of programs that would allow me to continue working full time while taking classes online or in the evenings. I like the looks of the Master's in Biotechnology with a concentration in Molecular Targets/Drug Discovery. I am still not sure though which path is for me. We shall see...

One Year
I know it seems crazy but I am already thinking about our one year wedding anniversary. It may have to do with the fact that every time I open the freezer, the box containing our wedding cake is staring me in the face. I want to do something super special for it but I can't seem to decide what that is. I like the idea that some couples start traditions on their one year and continue them all throughout their lives but I haven't thought of anything creative that we could do. One thing is for sure, we are definitely doing a one year anniversary photo shoot.

I was in love with our engagement and wedding photos and I think it would be a nice little way to remember the day. That being said, as I mentioned above, I love to plan things in advance. I have already started coming up with ideas for a themed session. I have fallen head over heels for the adorable "picnic" themed shoots I have been seeing - I only have Pinterest to blame! Here is a little inspiration board I put together that gives you an idea of what you might see.

So far I have a couple of old books and glass bottles and I kept the mason jars from our wedding so we will have those too. This summer I will be on the hunt for all kinds of things to fill in the rest of my vision.

Funny moment of the week
The other night when we were heading down to Grammy's for dinner with Mike's family, we were riding down the road with the windows down since it was such a gorgeous evening. The weather was nice and warm and the trees all around us had started to bloom. I took note of this as we passed a gorgeous willow and our conversation went a little like this:

Me: Wow, it's such a gorgeous night!
Mike: Yea, I know, I'm so glad the weather is warming up again.
Me: Look at that gorgeous tree! It looks just like the one that my mom has. We should plant one in our yard when we move into the new house.
Mike: Yea! Those are so cool, aren't they "Weeping Willies?"


Mr. & Mrs. Stoffel

Monday, April 8, 2013

These last couple of weeks have been packed full for us and this past weekend was no exception! Mike and I had the pleasure of being a part of a very special day for two of our friends, Alyssa and Brent, as they said "I do."

Our weekend kicked off with the evening rehearsal and then the rehearsal dinner at Mike's Crab House North. It was a little chilly but still a gorgeous evening. We got to watch the sunset over the water in the marina, enjoy delicious Maryland crabcakes, and we even made some new friends!

We stayed at my mom and dad's for the night since all of the excitement was taking place near them. We woke up the next morning on the big day and tried to relax a little before things got busy. After a quick breakfast with my parents, we were off - I to Alyssa's parents' house and Mike to Brent's to get ready for the day.

While the guys sat around playing video games and drinking beer, the ladies got hair and makeup done, sipping mimosas and munching on Panera goodies.

Look at the adorable flower girl in her rainbow tutu!

This is the picture Mike sent me while he and the guys were "getting ready" for the big day.

I swear, guys have it so easy! If only they knew how lucky they were..

The ceremony began at 3:00 and the priest gave a beautiful homily about family, love, friendship, and prayer. He even sang them a song that he wrote. After the ceremony, we snapped some photos at the church and then piled into the limo. The celebration began with a toast to the bride and groom and we headed off to the Maryland Yacht club for the reception.

The happy couple!

The rest of the night we spent dancing, drinking, eating more delicious crab cakes, and dancing some more. After the reception, we headed over to Brent and Alyssa's house for a post-wedding bonfire. We had a really great time celebrating with everyone and wish the bride and groom a lifetime of love and happiness! Thank you for including us in your day!