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‘The Aftermath’: Twerk ’til you drop!

The Twerk ‘N Burn trio with our Instructor and Choreographer, Lily!

Last night, Dance Austin Studio put on its annual “spooky” showcase, The Aftermath!

Per usual, spending an entire day with my dance family and getting the opportunity to put it all on The North Door stage brought up all sorts of feelings about my life, and memories of the past.

After a super tough year and choosing more difficult pieces to perform in for showcases in the past, I decided to choose one that would be more FUN to perform, and possibly easier to learn.

So, I signed up for Twerk ‘N Burn – and our large group quickly dwindled to just three of us, but I think it ended up being the cream of the twerking crop. It was really neat to get to know the other two ladies – Kim and Michaela – and finally dance on stage with them after many years.

Our performance combined many popular twerking songs and costumes to fit the bill: short, red yoga shorts and cropped white hoodies. It wasn’t quite the smallest costume I’ve worn on stage, but it comes in at a close second.

During our final practice, Kim said it looked like we were trying out to be NBA cheerleaders – and she was right.

It made me recall a dream I’ve had for many years and since buried – to dance for a professional sports team.

In high school, I wanted to grow up and be a famous choreographer. So, when we had to do senior projects, I choreographed a piece for a local dance team, which they performed on stage and I recorded it for my senior presentation.

A panel of teachers “judged” all of our senior presentations and followed it up with questions. I will never forget that one of the questions they asked me was if I really was going to study dance/choreography in school.

I told them no, because in my research, I discovered it was very rare to be able to make a decent living off of it, and it took such a difficult toll on the body. The panel was disappointed in my answer, but I graduated!

I went on to Louisiana State University – a college I chose based on their basketball dance squad, the Tiger Girls – but I never even auditioned. Despite having years of dance experience, I wasn’t as technically trained as those dancers.

But I have always admired them, and many other dance teams from afar. Sure, I love the moves, but ultimately, I love the performance: the outfits, the hair and makeup, the attitude, the swagger.

That is what I hoped to capture from my Twerk ‘N Burn performance.

A few of my coworkers came to watch me perform, and they were shocked – “Oh you CAN dance! You’re finally coming out of your shell!”

But… I’m still the same person I’ve always been. I’m introverted, and although it takes a lot for me to get on stage and dance in front of hundreds of people, there’s an art to putting it all together and that’s what I’ve been working on the hardest over the years – the facial expressions, adding style to the moves, connecting with the audience.

Many of my extroverted friends and coworkers dance in their everyday lives – in the office, at the bar on the weekends, or even when a song comes on the radio, no matter where they are. I dance at home sometimes – you know, with Blanche, ha! – but that’s just not me to want to be the center of attention.

I dance for different reasons.

Last night, I danced to prove something to myself. I proved that at 33 years old, I can still, most-definitely, get on stage in a crop top and not feel judged. I got to show an audience that twerking isn’t about Miley Cyrus or skin color or even sex – it’s about having fun and embracing your body as is.

I also got to put my nasty side-eye to great use – finally!

It was the perfect way to end a really rough month at the office. It reminded me that my energy can be put in much more productive things – and I don’t mean making spreadsheets or replying to emails – I mean LIVING.

I am still very much on my journey to actively live – to having a schedule full of adventures and things i love doing. I refuse to let the days, months, and years pass me by without having handfuls of experiences to remember.

Last night was another one I won’t forget.

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Year three at the Austin Film Festival!

I almost didn’t volunteer this year for the Austin Film Fest – I feel like things have been so hectic and I wasn’t even sure how much I could volunteer. But then I reminded myself how much fun I’ve had as a volunteer the last two years.

Plus… the Film Fest has been the one thing I’ve allowed myself to completely indulge in. I don’t make any money getting involved, there’s no promoting myself or the blog or what I do, I simply go, do whatever tasks are needed, and just observe.

It’s something that really feeds my creativity in a different way, and I always, ALWAYS, have to give myself permission to do that.

In years passed, I’ve done a majority of my volunteer hours downtown at the Writer’s Conference. While I learn so much doing those shifts, I wanted to stick a little closer to my apartment this year, so I chose all theatre shifts.

Theatre shifts = managing the lines going into each film, scanning tickets and badges, and often getting to sit in the back and watch the movies. Between my two shifts this year, I got to see three movies.

Surviving Bokatar

Here is the film’s description, from its website:

From the ancient carvings on the temples of Angkor to the international stage. What started as a genocide survivor’s dream to revive one of the world’s oldest sports becomes an inspiring mission to heal a nation.

A story of triumph, heartbreak and coming of age in a Cambodia on the rise.

You can watch the trailer here.

Honestly, when I read the description of this film, I wasn’t so sure how I was going to like it. But I ended up really enjoying it – I almost cried – and once the film was over, two of the people in it were in the lobby and I was so amazed to see them in person.

This documentary focuses on the Grand Master of Bokatar and his extreme efforts to have the martial art recognized as an official sport from Cambodia. He sees the importance in tradition – so much so that he’s hurting financially, taking care of many of his students as they live in the gym.

It’s all the things you want a movie to be: heartfelt, great storyline with compelling characters, and the wonder of whether or not they’ll make it.

Care to Laugh

Here is the film’s description from its website:

Jesus’ world is flipped upside down when his mother, Adelaida, undergoes emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. Although most aspiring comedians build their careers on the road, Jesus juggles his responsibilities at home in Long Beach, Calif., with open mics and auditions in the Los Angeles area, often driving more than two hours each way every day. As the pressure of his budding career mounts, the family receives more devastating news: Jesus’ father, Antonio, is diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

An only child, Jesus becomes his parents’ sole caregiver. Transforming adversity into comedy, he uses his life experience as material for his routine. He continues to reach for his dream while taking over his father’s landscaping business to keep the family afloat. When his set catches the eye of producers at The Late Late Show with James Corden, Jesus may have scored the big break he’s been banking on.

I LOVED THIS!

I love the story of the underdog, the hustler, and Jesus was such a lovable character – I say character even though he is a real comic, and he came to the movie! When I scanned his ticket, I said, “Hey this movie is about you!”

Ghost Hunter

Here is the movie’s description from Rotten Tomatoes:

A western Sydney security guard and part-time ghost hunter, Jason King has spent two decades searching for his absent father. As a survivor of trauma, he seeks to reconcile his fractured memories and piece together his past. When his search converges with a police investigation, an horrific family secret is exposed – forcing him to confront a brutal past in order to reclaim his future.

This was also a documentary – this was my year because I love documentaries – and although this was creepy, it really wasn’t creepy because he was a ghost hunter, it was his past.

It was really well shot and I liked that the director included other media – text messages and voicemails – to tell the story. Very riveting, but heartbreaking as well.

See the trailer here.

And that’s it! There are still movies playing this week and sometimes they’ll message us about free movies, so hopefully I’ll get to see more, but so far, I enjoyed everything I saw. Another successful year in the books!

BBC: ‘Puddin”.

We made it to Friday, y’all – on top of a ROUGH week at work, some general life stuff, and considering today is Day 5 of having to boil Austin water – let’s praise the higher powers!

I have three non-renewable books due back to the library Sunday, so I really tried to channel any and all of my energy into reading this week. I’m only one book down, but considering it was 400 pages, I’m labeling this as a win.

Plus, I loved this book!

I’m talking about “Puddin‘” by Julie Murphy. Here is the official description from Amazon:

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster—and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.

Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.

When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined.

“Puddin'” is the companion to “Dumplin‘”, which I read earlier this year (read my full review here). The cool thing about a companion book is there’s a little bit of overlapping storyline, but not enough to make reading the other book a requirement.

For starters, I absolutely loved jumping into this world. I have a weak spot for books that fantasize high school, and this one brought me right back to some great memories. I also love that this takes place in a small town in Texas – near Marfa – and even touches a bit in Austin!

But no matter the location, this is a story about seeing who people really are – past all appearances and even a few faults. It really is sweet.

Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it. If I want to call the shots, I have to start acting like it. And when that camera turns on, it’s like someone flips a switch inside me and gives me permission to be the version of myself I only dream of.

I’m recommending this book to anyone who loves YA novels, especially those in small towns, and to anyone who’s been misunderstood.

Meanwhile, the book “Dumplin'” is being turned into a movie that will be released on Netflix, December 7th! Jennifer Anniston stars in it, and Dolly Parton has at least one song on the soundtrack. Yes!

The next book Blanche’s Book Club is “The Dinner List” by Rebecca Serle. Follow me on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 for real-time updates!

Next week on the blog, be on the lookout for my adventures during the Austin Mandatory Water Boil, and an update on my work situation. Have a good weekend, y’all!

It’s Taco Tuesday!

Give me all the tacos!

I’ve been trying to eat mostly vegan (if not, vegetarian) for a year and a half now, and I can easily say that vegan or vegetarian tacos are one of my favorite things to make. The awesome thing is, there are so many options out there – delicious ones – and I wanted to round up FIVE of my favorite vegan taco recipes so far.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Vegan Cauliflower Tacos with Garlic Sauce by Vegan Heaven

I made these last night! I admit, I was slow to get on the cauliflower taco train, but it’s so crazy how much it feels like you’re eating meat or seafood. I was able to get most of the ingredients at Aldi (always a win) and I served them with rice and beans and some store-bought mango salsa. Get the recipe here.

Corn & Green Bean Tomatillio Tacos by Love & Lemons

I had these on my “to try” list for so long, and I’m glad I finally did because they are so good! I wasn’t sure what to expect with the green beans, but they are quite yummy. I love tomatillio salso, so it was impossible to go wrong there. The original recipe (find it here) is technically vegetarian since it includes cheese, but I simply excluded it – more on this a little later. I served this up with pinto beans on the side!

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco by Minimalist Baker

Okay, I love the Minimalist Baker for all of my simple vegan recipe needs – so, I put all of my trust in her, as this was the first cauliflower taco recipe I tried. Now, I have a bit of a confession to make: sometimes I cut corners on recipes. If a recipe calls for something different (that I don’t already have) or something hard to find, I’ll omit it. But I have really been trying not to do that, because sometimes that little thing or ingredient makes all the difference – and that’s the case with this romesco. I thought, how could this tomato sauce made from almonds be all that great? WRONG. It is great, and so worth it (and not hard to make)! These tacos are spicy and yummy, and would be delicious in the fall (or any time, obviously) – here’s the recipe.

Spice Sweet Potato & Grilled Portobello Tacos by Cocoon Cooks

Ok scratch what I said above because I didn’t grill my portobellos in this recipe – I live in an apartment complex/don’t have a grill of my own/I’m too lazy to walk to the pool and use the shared grill, but I sauteed mine – and it was still amazing. These tacos are spicy (which I love) and very filling between the cashews and the sweet potato. I served them with a side of coconut rice (from Chrissy Tiegen’s cookbook, “Cravings”). So good! Get the taco recipe here.

Crunchy Black Bean Tacos by Pretty Plain Janes

This is another vegetarian recipe, but you can easily sub out the cheese for vegan cheese if you want. This recipe was a little out of my comfort zone frying the tortillas, but it’s well-worth it in the end. These tacos taste like they are from a restaurant and I absolutely love the crunch combined with the heat from the jalapenos! I served these with a simple avocado salad (red onion, tomato, avocado, cilantro, with lime juice) Yum! Get the taco recipe here.

Before I wrap this up – I often get questions about vegan cheese. Honestly, I find that cheese is often unnecessary (and I do love cheese), but I have found a few goods brands that I like for certain recipes. For Mexican food, especially burritos and enchiladas, I usually get the Go Veggie brand shredded cheddar. It’s the closest thing to actual cheese, and it’s good when mixed in with other ingredients.

Got any vegan taco recipes I should try? Let me know! I’m always looking for new ones!

Staycation Diaries: That’s a wrap!

It’s oooovvverrrrrr.

Okay… it’s almost 10pm on a Sunday night, and it’s about to be official: the end of my Staycation.

I’m definitely savoring these last few moments before reality hits when my alarm goes off at 6:30 tomorrow – I cooked a meal (I’ll be taking the leftovers for lunch tomorrow), I spent three hours on the patio with Blanche and a book, I soaked in the tub, and am currently in bed watching TV while I type.

On Friday, I felt this urge to be productive: I had freelance work to do, laundry to do, groceries to get, and I had an evening rehearsal. I also needed to get to bed early because the shoot for the music video was at 6:30 Saturday morning.

But, at the advice of a friend, I decided to do some work, but also have a little fun. So, I did finish my laundry and about an hour’s-worth of freelance, but I also took myself to Taco Shack for lunch (that was my first time there) and I took an afternoon nap before my evening rehearsal.

I didn’t make it to bed early – I stayed up until midnight talking on the phone – and then I still had to shower and do ALL the face/lip/eye masks… so it was at least 1am before I went to bed, and I got up at 4:30 to do my hair and makeup and make it to Bull Creek by 6:30.

I was soooo nervous about the shoot – there were parts of the dance I was less-confident about, and I was also worried about it being outside, and hot… but honestly, it was a lot of fun. All of us worked really hard and I think it will be a great video – it premiers July 29!

The shoot wrapped at 10:00 am, and I felt like I’d already lived an entire DAY. But it was starting to rain and I was exhausted, so I immediately came home, took a shower, and got into bed to binge season 3 of “The OC”.

I actually took a three-hour nap, but then I watched several episodes, hit up the grocery store, and was still in bed early.

I woke up this morning so, so sore. Dancing outdoors, on a picnic table, jumping off rocks, and skipping through the river took a toll on me!

This morning, I got up and got ready for a brunch I’d had on my calendar for awhile. A woman I met through dance was hosting a brunch with all of the creative women she knew.

Honestly, things like this make me a little nervous – I knew I wasn’t going to know many people aside from the hostess, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I could have easily stayed in bed, but who knew – maybe it would be great.

And it WAS. It was about 10 women, and we went around the table explaining all of the things we do and it was so neat to hear how different, yet similar we all were. It’s really cool (and comforting) to meet people who are dabbling in new things, facing fears, starting new businesses, and overall just being awesome women!

I am really excited to have possibly met some new friends, and to try new classes and hopefully go to more brunches with these ladies! I felt like it was just what I needed after a draining few months at the office.

When I got home from brunch, I really just wanted to continue to abandon all responsibilities and sit on the patio with a book – so I did exactly that. I went IN, too – I laid a blanket down, laid on a pillow, and read outside with Blanche for hours! It was really nice.

In general, I’m really sad that my Staycation is over. It was really nice to be able to have a whole week all to myself. But on the other hand, I felt like I was still pretty busy during the week, and it was a huge reminder of all the things I’ve got going on – which, on any other day, I would tell you is a great thing, but when you need a rest, it’s nearly impossible to put your entire life on hold.

I’m a firm believer that Newton’s First Law of Motion: a body in motion, stays in motion – applies to life as well. When I’m at work during the week, it’s easier for me to stay moving, go to dance after work, get freelance done, eat healthy, etc. But when I’m on vacation… I’m a slug (relatively speaking).

That’s not a bash to slugs; I also wanted to say that this week was a reminder of just how important it is to take a break, rest, step away. Even if it’s just for an hour, for a day, or whatever you have, you owe it to yourself to rest and restore, and you’ll be a better person for it.

So, I’m wrapping up this Staycation (I’m still going to stay up and read a little), but I’ve decided I’m going to stretch these vibes into the weeks coming. I’ve already booked a facial for Saturday morning, and I’m going to treat myself to meals at restaurants I’ve never been to much more often.

#StaycationForLife

Staycation Diaries: Day 4.

Day 4!

Howdy! Here we are, on the evening of Staycation Day 4 – I just got home from the Drafthouse where I saw “Tag”. But, more on that in a minute.

Since I last wrote about Staycation, I’ve been a busy bee. I had an informal jazz rehearsal Tuesday night (our video shoot is Saturday morning, and I’m feeling “meh” about it), I went to one of the restaurants on my list – Veracruz All Natural (it was delicious) – and I even made the other recipe on my list: Vegan Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts! You can get the recipe from Rabbit and Wolves.

I also started on a necklace for my Etsy shop, worked on freelance, and did some work around the apartment. It’s really easy to see how days fill up when you’re not at work.

Yesterday, I didn’t think I was going to get to go to the ONE activity I actually had planned this week: the July 4th paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake under the fireworks! It was raining and storming all day… until it was time to hit the water!

I know in the last post, I mentioned my mental health, and you’re probably going to hear more and more about it because I’ll be starting my treatment plan ASAP (I found a place to complete an assessment today).

I’m not entirely sure what my diagnosis will be, but in general, I have severe anxiety. It’s so severe at times, that it makes normal, every day tasks difficult for me. Let’s take the paddle board thing for example.

I almost didn’t even buy a ticket because I knew driving there and parking would stress me out. And I was right, it did, I even had a stomach ache over it, and had to do some deep breathing… but hey, I did it, I got there, and it was worth it.

I got on the water around 7:30 and was out there until about 10:30 – I am so sore today! I paddled as far down as we were allowed, getting as close to the fireworks as possible (obviously), and it was really nice to just sit on the board with my feet in the cool water, watching a pretty big fireworks show. I have always enjoyed July 4th!

When the show was over, everyone was racing to paddle back by the curfew – and I will say that paddling in the dark is much, much different than it is during the day. It’s a little creepy, and it’s difficult to see juuuuust how far you are away from the right dock. It seemed like it was taking forever to get back; I was really happy to see the dock, and to relax on my couch once I got home.

Today, I worked some more on my Etsy jewelry, soaked in the tub, and went to the movies! Let’s talk about “Tag” – let me know if you’ve seen it! Here’s the description from Google:

One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running for a no-holds-barred game of tag — risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take one another down. This time, the game coincides with the wedding of the only undefeated player. What should be an easy target soon becomes an all-out war as he knows they’re coming to get him.

The movie was really, really funny – I felt like I was laughing the entire time, honestly. There was a part in the end that was a little sad, and it’s impossible to forget that this movie is based on a true story, because they show footage from the real story (which is equally as funny)!

In the movie (this isn’t a spoiler), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal is along for this epic game of tag because she’s writing a story on it – and in real life, that story was published in 2013 (I wanted to read it but you have to subscribe). Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t that much different than the real story – these guys really did play tag for almost 30 years, complete with formal rules, and hiding out in odd places to tag the next person.

It makes the movie that much more funny! You’ve got to see it if you haven’t yet.

Tomorrow is my last official day of Staycation! Ugh! I am going to sleep in, but I’ve also got to be productive. I’ve got laundry to do and I need to go to the grocery, all before a jazz dress rehearsal. What a difference a day makes…

Staycation Diaries: Day 1.

If we’re not counting the weekend, today was officially my first day of Staycation! But, I did have a good weekend – I went to two places in town that I’ve never been – Counter Culture and Capital City Bakery (both vegan).

I also laid out at the pool, finished reading a book (and am already close to finishing a second), and went to Sprout’s Farmer’s Market for the first time.

As difficult as it is for me to admit, my mental health has been suffering lately. Sometimes, I feel like my brain is about to explode! It’s difficult for me to tell if it is grief, work stress, fatigue, or a combination of all three, but what I know is that my usual comforts haven’t been reliable, and that’s scary.

So, part of my staycation will be giving my mind and body the rest that it needs, but also moving “Find a Therapist” from the bottom of my to-do list and move it to the top.

Yesterday, I started making the vegan Banana Cream Pie that was on my Staycation list – it took awhile since the filling had to set overnight, but it was worth the wait. I finished it this morning and immediately had a slice – it was very good, very light! You can get the recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

I spent a majority of the morning on my patio, drinking lots of coffee and reading – it was really peaceful and nice.

But, it wasn’t long before I ventured to my computer, because even though I’m off at my day job – freelance work means you’re never truly on vacation. It also didn’t help that my boss from my 9-5 is also on vacation and she set me as her backup – le sigh. Communication really is key, folks.

I’ve talked some about my freelance career on here, but it’s something I’ve always done on the side to earn extra money and to keep my skills fresh. I find that no matter the day job, I am always looking for a change of plans.

Currently, I’m really lucky to have several steady jobs going at once, and they’ve really broadened my horizons because most of them are in other countries, including Switzerland and Columbia.

But it also means lots of organizing, juggling, and time management. For a few hours, I actually felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all. Then I remembered that I do have a whole week ahead of me, and even though I’m still doing work, it’s nice to be doing the work while posted up in bed, binging on MTV’s “Ex On The Beach”.

I did take a break to run to Michael’s, because I need to ship an Etsy order tomorrow! Ps. I am currently running a summer sale in the shop – get 20% off + free shipping when you order any two items!

I did get some supplies to make a few new items for the shop, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for those.

In about an hour, I’m heading to a yoga class, and tonight I’m going to cook dinner, and probably head back out on the patio to finish reading a book!

I was gifted the LUSH sleepy shower jelly and lotion, which I have been dying to try – I’ve heard you really zonk out after using it – so I’m going to try that. Really partying hard over here!

Stay tuned for Staycation Day Two… and keep up with me on social media @OrangeJulius7 (especially if you want to see how my pie turned out)!

Staycation, all I ever wanted!

I am fairly certain its bad blogging etiquette to say how exhausted I am, but it’s been a crazy few weeks at work, and life has just been SERVING it to me. Lucky for me, I planned a staycation for myself months ago and have the entire week off!

At first, I didn’t think I’d be that excited about a staycation (I’ve never really had one) and I also thought a week (or 9 whole days) off work would be almost too long. Turns out, I’m already feeling like I probably should have asked for two weeks off.

Regardless, I made a list of things I might do next week – with an understanding that I also might just lay in my bed until the morning of July 9th, when I’m expected back at the office. So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Brunch at Holy Roller

This downtown gem is known for their witty, religious twist on their decor and menu items. They are also home of the “Trash Fries” – but I’m also eyeing the “Grilled Cheesus”. Take a look at their menu for their full offering.

Head to the Movies

It’s been a minute since I’ve been to the movies, and I really want to see “Tag” along with the new “Jurassic World” – I even have a free movie pass to use, so I’m really hoping for one of those afternoons where I’m the only one in the theatre…

4th of July Paddleboarding

This is the only event I know for a FACT I am doing because I already bought my ticket… plus, I’m pretty excited about it. This is a 2-hour stand-up paddle-boarding session on Lady Bird Lake at night underneath the Downtown Austin fireworks on July 4. I can usually see fireworks from my apartment, but each year I always wish I would have actually gone somewhere to see them closer… and I think this is about as close as I can get! I have only been paddle-boarding once before, but I didn’t fall, so I’m hoping I have similar luck!

Lounge by the Pool

It’s a no-brainer that at least a few times, I’ll be at the pool with my head buried in a book, alongside a cooler full of snacks (and white wine).

Binge on ‘The OC’

I bought seasons three and four and have no had a chance to start either of them! I really have some catching up to do.

Lunch at Veracruz All Natural

I heard that Round Rock’s Veracruz All Natural has THE BEST shrimp tacos in Austin and I will happily forgo my vegan diet to try these bad boyz. They also serve 32-ounce agua frescas and I am so freaking excited to get a pineapple one!

Cook in the Kitchen

While I do plan on eating out and enjoying food at the Drafthouse during movies, I do want to cook a few new vegan goodies right at home, including Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts from Rabbit and Wolves, and a Banana Cream Pie from the Minimalist Baker #treatyoself

And so concludes my list. I sort of wanted to include a few productive things on my list, like renew my passport, renew my car registration, and wash my car… but I decided to drive myself insane and did it ALL this week so that next week – I’m completely without obligation.

I’ll let you all know how it turns out on Instagram and SnapChat @OrangeJulius7

BBC: ‘One Plus One’.

During my road trip to Marfa, I listened to my first Jojo Moyes’ book: “One Plus One”. I’ll be honest here, I know people love Moyes, but I have never read a description of one of her books that made me really want to read it.

So, I was excited at the sound of “One Plus One”, because I want to like her books! Here’s the description from Jojomoyes.com:

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever. One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

…That last line is a flat-out LIE. This audio book was 12 hours long. Parts of it were interesting; like when love-interest starts to perk up between Jess and Ed. But in general, I found this really difficult to pay attention to, and I thought it was boring.

If you’re a Moyes’ fan, I’d love to know if there’s a different book I should read, or what I’m missing from her books.

So… I’m not recommending this book, but hey, at least I tried, right?

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “The Vanishing Year” by Kate Moretti.

Meanwhile, I participated in a Hackathon over the weekend, and it was so much fun! I met some new people, and was able to create a web-to-text chat app for my 9-5 website. I also created a guidelines and policy document that will help train the folks replying to all of the web chats… it’s amazing what can happen when people put their minds together, right?

I am working all this week (a little brutal after a mind-boggling weekend), but am rewarding myself with an ENTIRE week off afterward. I am planning some activities to celebrate my staycation and will share them here, but if you’ve got any good ideas, feel free to let me know – I’ll have 9 whole days without obligation!! #DreamBig

The Writer’s Retreat!

On Saturday, I packed a backpack and headed about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Elgin, Texas, where New Republic Studios is located. I was going to my first ever Writer’s Retreat, and it was also the inaugural Writer’s Retreat hosted by the Austin Film Festival, where I’ve been volunteering for the last two years.

I have always wanted to go to some sort of writing retreat, and I was excited about this one because it was just a day event, so I could test the waters. When I registered, I got an email saying to just pack my writing supplies, lunch, and any snacks – everything else would be provided.

I feel like I always have so many ideas in my head for things to write, but I’m not very good at just sitting down and bringing it to fruition. This is a problem many writers face, especially if we’re doing other things to pay the bills (there’s no shame in that game) and/or if there’s no deadline or reason to write, other than to satisfy our minds. We are all guilty of putting ourselves and our needs last, right?

The thing is, one of the major projects on my mind involves my dad, and I’m still very emotional about it. I know that is a big reason I’ve been putting it off. I’m so emotional, in fact, that the entire WEEK leading up to the retreat, I felt anxiety and grief. I finally just had to keep telling myself that this retreat was for me, and if I went and didn’t feel comfortable working on that particular project, then I didn’t have to – I have so many other things I could work on. I also reminded myself that I was under no obligation to stay the entire time. If the retreat wasn’t beneficial to me, then I could leave.

So, I packed up my laptop, notepad, journal, pens, headphones, and lots of snacks, and headed on my way. The little road trip to Elgin was a treat in itself. I am a sucker for scenery, and some of these tattered curves seemed straight out of a Nicholas Sparks’ book – there were dusty roads, cattle, and rolling fields of bluebonnet. I even spotted a cardinal perched along the road!

When I got to New Republic Studios, I was impressed. I’ve been to movie and sound studios before, but this was such a neat setup. It’s right along the Colorado River, and has multiple studios for filming.

The schedule.

Upon checking in, we got a schedule for the day, and there was free cold brew coffee and snacks. A few different people welcomed us, and talked about the day, and how important it was that we were carving out this time to work on our craft.

Then, everyone sort of went their own way and got to work. Some people went to an optional improv hour, and others (including me) went to write. I chose a spot outside – it was such a beautiful day, and I feel like I don’t get outside enough.

I worked on my project about my dad for as long as I could, and I also worked on my blog some, but I spent hours just journaling. I started writing in my journal in October, when I felt like I couldn’t turn to my blog as an outlet, and I stopped writing in it about three days before my dad died. I think I was scared to even go there – but I filled many pages on Saturday!

I sat outside almost the entire day – moving to a shady spot in the afternoon. I’d packed a small blanket so I could sit in the grass, and that was nice.

However, one of the people who is affiliated with Austin Film Festival, was at an outdoor table for most of the day, and spent that entire time talking and laughing to a few other people. I don’t know if anyone else was bothered by this, but I definitely was. It’s really difficult for me to concentrate on my work when I can hear other conversations.

This was a Writer’s Retreat, not a talking retreat, and this was someone who had just given us a speech, “You are a writer, no one can write the story in the way you can.” And here he was being so loud that he even said, “Sorry if we’re being too loud,” but then continued to talk! How about not being sorry and simply being quiet?

I put in my headphones and listened to music for a little bit, but then I realized, what is the point of me sitting here with my headphones in? We all paid to be here, and I could sit anywhere with headphones in. So, I packed up and left about 30 minutes early. I’d gotten all I was going to get out of that day.

All in all, I really enjoyed myself. But I would encourage the Austin Film Festival staff to be more respectful to those of us who need a quieter environment.

I couldn’t help but think about how much it takes for some people to write. I have had this blog for more than 10 years, among other blogs I’ve had, and am always doing something that involves writing. And maybe I’m a rare breed, but I do feel like many writers will go out of their way to avoid actually sitting down to write.

This is something Stephen King talks about extensively in his memoir, that writing is something you just have to DO, even if it means locking yourself in a room and doing it, and it often doesn’t look like anything fun or glamorous.

I met so many people at the retreat who were scared to even call themselves writers – because they hadn’t been published or hadn’t had a movie made… it takes work! And even sometimes, the result might not be what you planned.

It certainly does help to have retreats and environments that support writing and creativity. But sometimes you’ve got to make those spaces for yourself, or you’ll never get it done.

After the day at the retreat, I felt relaxed, like my mind was a bit clearer. And that is something I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m so thankful for that.

The Love Hangover: Bring painkillers.

The full cast of the “Love Hangover”

Last night, I put performances in my 5th showcase with Dance Austin Studio to bed. After our showcase in November, I said I was coming for you, Love Hangover, and that’s exactly what happened.

In the fall, my life took a turn when my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. When I found out, we were in the thick of rehearsals and I remember just how difficult it was to retain choreography. But with lots of practice and support from fellow dancers, I did it.

This time around was similar. My dad passed away on February 3rd, and although it’s still very difficult for me to talk about publicly, I will say that my dance family has been incredibly supportive this month.

So many of my fellow dancers and instructors, and even the owner of the studio, reached out to me to offer their condolences and support. I got so many hugs before rehearsals, and even last night, dancers I don’t see often made sure I was okay to go on stage. I am so, so thankful for that.

Before my dad passed, I signed up to perform in two pieces at the showcase: broadway jazz and lyrical hip hop. The two pieces were some of the more difficult routines I’ve ever learned – continuing with my goal to keep pushing myself each time the opportunity arises.

I had to miss one rehearsal to attend my dad’s memorial, and even though I got total support and love from my choreographer/instructor, I returned ready to NAIL. THIS. I needed the distraction and I knew more than ever that it’s simply my time to live my life.

I’ve felt like my mind, heart, and all of myself had been taken over by my dad’s disease and all of the trappings that accompany a heartbroken family. Sure, I am grieving, and will continue to do so. But after six months of finding very little that brought me out of my funk, I was ready to just DO this, and do it with all I had.

So, I did. I spent hours reviewing videos from class, dancing in my kitchen, listening to the music in my car, getting help from other dancers, and scouring multiple Goodwills for the perfect costumes.

There were times I wondered if I’d made a giant mistake; if I’d picked pieces that were too difficult for me. But that’s the thing about growth – it’s not easy, sometimes it hurts, but you come out a better person because of it.

And you know what? I got to dance beside people that I’ve looked up to since showcase #1. I’m talking to you, Kim and Charlene. I will NEVER forget when I saw Kim perform a unique routine to a Backstreet Boys’ song – I immediately wondered, “Who is that girl?!” I wanted to know her, and I’m so glad I got to rehearse with her and perform on stage beside her.

Charlene is a beautiful dancer in class, on stage, wherever, and she has this amazing ability to put everything on stage no matter what she may be feeling on the inside. I know I am not alone when I say that my eyes are often drawn to her no matter how many people are performing.

There’s also Chase and Mendy – I saw you guys freaking ROCK the last lyrical hip hop performance, and I thought, “That’s it, I’m taking that class.” And I did – and then we were all in rehearsal together and I remain so inspired by both of you – you have a performance quality that is so amazing.

Naturally, what would our performance be without our choreographer and instructor, Caitlin? I’m so lucky to be able to take her classes and learn from her – technique, style, performance WOW – she’s got it all and she’s so approachable and funny to boot.

I have been thinking so much lately about dance, and how many times I’ve prepped for shows, performances, and competitions in my life. Over the last six months, various memories have bubbled to the surface and I remembered specific instances from being on my high school dance squad.

The summer before my junior year, we went to a UDA Dance Camp for the first time. It was at a state college, we got to stay in the dorms (so cool), and we were going to learn all sorts of new routines that we could perform during basketball season.

Little did we know that UDA Dance Camp was, like, a THING, and other squads were incredibly serious, technically great, and focused. All of the other teams showed up in matching workout gear for each day of camp, including hair bows and the like, and we… well we brought sleep boxers and loose t-shirts.

Our assistant coach, who accompanied us to camp, did not back down. She encouraged us to go, go do our best, we deserved the ribbons and routines just as much as anyone else. She recorded us in our various practices and when we went back to the dorms each night, she helped us drill the routines until we had them.

And we got first place ribbons – mismatched outfits and all. Because dance is universal – it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what you’re wearing, where you come from – it’s about a willingness to try.

That same year, our head coach unexpectedly passed away mid-season. To this day, I still can’t believe it happened, and I can’t really calculate how we got through it, other than to say that we had each other and we had dance. I still remember performing a dedication to her on that basketball court. It felt like our whole city was mourning with us.

At the end of last night’s show, Chi Chi – the owner of Dance Austin Studio – said she’d experienced loss in the last week, and it’s often in those times we realize how importance it is to just move the mental road block and live our lives, no matter what that means to you. Dance is healing.

That’s the truth! I’m so thankful I have a place to help me heal, a place to go when times are good, and when they’re bad. It wouldn’t be that way without the people there, and know that you all mean so much to me.

You guys, it’s Christmas!

I need all of my presents to look like this.

Okay, so not quite yet but it’s almost here – and man, I feel like it creeped up on me this year even despite the early arrival of Thanksgiving. Oh well!

Tomorrow is my LAST day of work in 2017 and I could not be more ready. Y’all, I’m exhausted. I am looking forward to some much-needed sleep and relaxation and self care for the remainder of the year.

A few weeks ago, I was editing a book for someone and she wrote in said book that traditions are often things people don’t want to do, but it’s an easy way to force people to partake. Like, well… it’s tradition.

I suppose so, but I like all of my traditions. They are small, such as, waiting until Christmas morning to open all gifts (always starting with the stockings first). There are always nuts and an orange in our stockings (a tradition my mom’s family has always practiced), aside from small gifts. It has slowly become a tradition for my mom and I to make a stew on Christmas Day, too.

I’ve spent the last two Christmases in Austin and I’m looking forward to a third! I’ve got all sorts of things planned: Mozart’s, the American Girl pop-up shop (!), the state history museum, Miracle on 5th @ Eleanor’s, the gingerbread village @ The Four Seasons, pedicures, and of course, lots and lots of Christmas movie watching! I even got supplies to make apple cinnamon rolls, from scratch (send prayers)!

Once Christmas is over though… it’s me and the couch for a solid six days. I’m not going to get into it here, but I need a break. Some real rest.

Not to mention my AT&T U-Verse receiver is half-working and AT&T said I have 10 days to watch all 100 hours of precious recordings and toss it (they sent me a new one), so it’s absolutely necessary for me to be glued to my TV until 2018.

I hope you all have a fabulous holiday! I’ll be posting a few more times before the year is over, but just in case you don’t stop by beforehand – Merry Christmas (ya filthy animal)… and a Happy New Year!

Watching: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’.

Just saw this movie!

Yesterday afternoon, I saw a movie I’ve been eyeing for awhile, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson.

“Three Billboards” is the story of Mildred (McDormand), a passionate mother who is trying to push the local police to continue working on her daughter’s murder case. To spark their interest, Mildred pays rent on three billboards along a seldom-used country road to advertise her case.

The words she plots on the billboards puts Ebbing, Missouri into a tailspin – to say the least. But although what she’s doing is not illegal, the police are willing to do anything (and everything) they can to get her to shut up and remove the billboards.

Although it’s not directly related, Mildred and her billboards highlight the systematic racism within the town of Ebbing, solidified by the police force and their brutal actions (not to mention the words they say).

This movie was very dark, and although their were parts that made me laugh – I felt like the audience was constantly nervous-laughing, because it was so dark, and it was difficult to tell exactly what was going to happen next.

It’s obvious Mildred has never quite fit in, in Ebbing, and the brutal murder of her daughter seemed to harden her even more, creating an even greater distance between her and the town. The conclusion of the film (no spoilers) wraps this up nicely.

Although it was difficult to pinpoint exactly when this film took place, it has a timeless sensibility to it. After all, it’s not a recent problem for missing girls to be found murdered, have their killers on the loose, and for a police department to pick and choose who they go after based on race and/or relationships.

I cannot close this blog post without saying that parts of this movie were very difficult to watch. I had my hands over my face for probably 1/4 of it, and was on the verge of tears for at least half. It’s gut-wrenching.

But, it was well-done, and very unique. A recommendation for crime and mystery lovers.

Naturally, I saw this movie at the Drafthouse, so I treated myself to some fries and a salted caramel shake. YUM.

I was happy to go home afterward and make Christmas ornaments though, and get my mind out of such a dark place.

Dining at Uchiko!

The fantastic Uchiko!

Ugh, I’m mad at myself for not posting this earlier, but a few weeks ago, I was able to cross off yet ANOTHER experience from my Austin Bucket List: dining at Uchiko!

I discovered Uchiko, after seeing the original “Uchi” on an episode of “Food Porn” right when I moved to Austin and I hoped that one day, I’d get the chance to devour some of their top-notch sushi. Austin is home to Uchi and Uchiko.

Well, fate was on my side because… you may recall a few months ago when my friend Corey and I WON a “Saved By The Bell” trivia contest. Part of our prize was a giftcard to… *drumroll* …Uchiko!

It was meant to be!

Uchiko is a farmhouse restaurant, and they focus on using fresh ingredients – flying in seafood everyday from Eukuoka and Tsukiji markets in Japan.

Naturally, I was too busy enjoying the food to recall everything we ate, but here’s some of the things we had:

  • Yokai Berry: Scottish salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian kale, yuzu
  • Coffee Bacon: peach, apricot, onion
  • Ham & Eggs: katsu pork belly, yolk custard, espelette
  • Brussels Sprouts: fish caramel, lemon, chili
  • Kokumostu: toasted and fried milk, cereal, chocolate mousse
  • Seasonal Ice Cream: I believe we had cinnamon… it was so yummy!

We had at least three other items… but I probably had too many glasses of wine to recall their names. I DO know that everything was fresh, delicious, and impeccably presented. It was really a fantastic experience!

Tyson Cole is a partner and the chef of both Uchi and Uchiko – here’s his story from the Uchiko website:

Best Chef Southwest, James Beard Foundation 2011
One of the few American sushi masters, James Beard Award-winning Chef and Owner Tyson Cole is a passionate student of the Japanese tradition. Having trained for more than 10 years in Tokyo, New York, and Austin under two different sushi masters, he continues his path of study and experimentation each day at the restaurants in the Hai Hospitality family. Employing classical cooking techniques with a Pacific Rim perspective, Cole marries global ingredients with traditional Japanese flavors, resulting in inspired combinations of flavor, texture, color, technique, and style.

Cole became fascinated with sushi in his early twenties while working at an Austin Japanese restaurant and quickly dedicated himself to learning every aspect of the cuisine. Working his way up from dishwasher to head sushi chef, his dexterity with the knife led him to Austin’s top sushi restaurant Musashino. During an intensive traditional apprenticeship under owner Takehiko Fuse, Cole traveled to Japan to experience the cuisine firsthand while gaining technical skill.

Challenged by Fuse to learn the Japanese language, Cole moved on to train at Bond Street, one of the busiest sushi restaurants in New York City. In his last year at Musashino, Cole ran the restaurant in Fuse’s absence and began experimenting with new flavor ideas, influences, and ingredients. Opening Uchi in 2003 as executive chef and co-owner, Cole quickly garnered national attention, most notably a coveted spot on Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005 list; a James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Chef: Southwest” in 2011; and a James Beard Foundation semifinalist spot for “Outstanding Chef” in 2016 among many other accolades.

Citing the newly easy accessibility of ingredients and flavors from across the globe, Cole continues to push the envelope with every bite, stating, “The cuisine I create is playfully multi-cultural, mixing the Japanese tradition with tastes that inspire me.”

Impressive, right?

The even COOLER part is – Corey and I still have two more giftcard to burn as part of our prize. Doesn’t get better than that!

Thriving at ‘The Aftermath’.

We killed it!

Over the weekend, I performed in my 4th showcase that Dance Austin Studio hosts. After each performance, I’ve written about how I’ve felt and I realize what an important place dance has in my life.

This time was no different, in fact, I realized just how much I need dance and those I dance with to fulfill my life.

I started dancing in 6th grade, taking a jazz class at a small gym with one of my friends. We performed a few times, and I still recall flopping when we had to pull red boas from our partners’ leotards. It was cringe-worthy!

A year later, I tried out for the dance squad at my middle school – I didn’t make it, but made it the following year after practicing my smile and wearing lots of body glitter. I continued dancing throughout high school, I served as captain of a team, competed across the state of Indiana, and even choreographed a piece for my senior project.

And then I stopped dancing. I used writing as my form of expression, and while obviously I still am (and will always be) a writer, I started dancing again when I moved to Austin two years ago.

I feel like I’m really lucky that I ended up at THE best studio in the city – or maybe that’s all the proof I need that fate is real. Dance Austin Studio has challenged me physically and emotionally, and I’ve done things I never thought I would get to do: audition, perform on stage, and most importantly, learn from some of the best dancers in the industry on a regular basis.

Over the last two months, my life has suffered a whirlwind of changes. Many of my readers know that among the general hectic nature of my life, I recently went through a family emergency that flipped my world completely. There were days I was barely going through the motions of life, and I forced myself to dance.

I may not remember a single thing I thing I learned during those classes, but I know my classmates were there for me – even if they didn’t know it.

That’s the other thing about Dance Austin; it has truly become my family. While I had acquaintances at the studio last year, some of the ladies have really embraced me, invited me into their homes, and even included me in dance pieces of their own. I don’t know what kind of shape I’d be in without these people, these experiences.

For this showcase, “The Aftermath”, I performed in a Broadway Jazz piece. I have always had a secret wish that one day, I’d wake up and my life would be a musical – very much like the blue bird scene from “500 Days of Summer”. Taking broadway jazz was pretty much that dream, realized, and then I got to be a KILLER stepford wife on stage.

It didn’t happen without hours of practice in and outside of the studio; many nights I practiced in my living room wearing slippers while my cat watched with wide eyes.

I was also asked to perform in a contemporary piece with a message of women’s empowerment. It was very powerful and a true honor to get to dance in it!

This was my first time doing jazz in (obviously) several years; first time doing any “dressography”, and my first time performing two routines, plus in both shows! Whew!

But as we probably all know, the more challenges thrown at you, the more you conquer, and the more you ultimately learn about yourself. This weekend, I can say I learned that I CAN DO IT. I can learn something completely new amidst chaos, and smile through it.

So I owe a big thank you to all the ladies that danced with me, a thank you to Chi Chi – the owner of Dance Austin Studio, a thank you to Caitlyn – my instructor and insanely talented choreographer who put up with me being zombified for six weeks, and a thank you to the Ultraviolets for inviting me to share the stage with you as part of such an incredible piece.

February showcase, I’m coming for you!