As of September 1, I’ve been living in Austin for two years. I came to this city with the intention of furthering my career, and really taking it as an opportunity to start fresh, leave the past behind me, and just LIVE my life.
So, I made a bucket list specifically for Austin, and I’m proud to say I’ve tackled at least half of it (if not more). Many of the items on my list got checked off this past weekend, when my best friend came to visit! We had so much fun, I wanted to share some of the things we did.
See the bats on Congress Bridge
Each fall, the biggest bat colony IN THE WORLD assembles itself under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. These are Mexican free-tailed bats, and they stick around until it gets chilly and then fly off to Mexico. Everyday, they sleep in the crevices of the bridge, and fly out at dusk to find dinner. And crowds come out in hoards to see them.
So, my friend and I took a “bat cruise”, where we got way too close (pretty sure we got pissed on) to said bats, but were in complete awe when the 1.5 million of the little guys came flying out from underneath the bridge. The sound of them squeaking will possibly ALWAYS be a memory.
Hike Mount Bonnell
Okay, so this wasn’t on my bucket list, but it’s one of the most well-known hikes in the city, particularly because of its stellar views all the way around. It’s a fairly easy hike and you can see the downtown skyline, the tower and stadium at the University of Texas, and there’s a great shot of the Colorado River. Absolutely gorgeous!
Paddle board on Lady Bird Lake
This wasn’t on my list either, although I did list “Have an adventure on Lake Travis”, which I did in August when I went on a pontoon boat across the lake! However, I have never been paddle boarding! I’ve been kayaking once, on the Colorado River, so my friend and I decided to grab some paddle boards, and we were able to paddle behind one of the stages at ACL and hear some live music before paddling back to the dock. It was fantastic!
Tour Jester King Brewery
The Jester King Brewery is basically out in the middle of nowhere, but I’m ALL about these sorts of adventures, especially in Texas. So, my friend and I drove southwest, and ended up on the working ranch where the brewery lives, right next to Stanley’s Pizza, which is a glorified barn, complete with a fire oven. This place made all of my Texas dreams come true: beer and wine served in mason jars, a pasture, live chickens, fresh beer, and chandeliers hanging from beams in the barn. And that pizza was delicious!
Hit up Rainey Street
I’ve already been to 6th street several times, but Rainey Street is supposedly more of the local’s place to get rowdy. We checked out Icenhauer’s, where we both got some fancy cocktails (her’s had grilled pineapple in it), and then we went to the Parlor Room, which seemed a little more college-esque. But still, a very good time.
Go to ACL
Also not on my bucket list, but a recent wish of mine has been to go to ACL, because why not? I live 15 minutes away! So, we got 1-day passes and completely lived our best festival lives and saw Tank and the Bangas, Run the Jewels, Vance Joy, The Killers, and about three minutes of Gorillaz. We both fell in love with the Silent Disco, drank our fair share of beer, and enjoyed a local favorite: Torchy’s Tacos. The frozen sangria was also tasty.
See Graffiti Park
This was a perfect stop on the way to the airport – closing off a three-day weekend of Texas fun. The Graffiti Park at Castle Hills has art on art on art. People are tagging it every day, and there were already messages of hope sprayed on the walls for Vegas and Houston. Plus there were plenty of owls, skulls, and pop culture references. A must see!
When I visited Indiana in June, many of the things I was told we could do, we didn’t end up doing, and that bothered me. I meet lots of people who are happy living where they were born and raised, and that’s great – but these are often the people that let life pass them by. I’m a firm believer in being a tourist where you live; making the most of each situation; and just going for it!
Other things I’ve crossed off my list include: get a pedicure at Caesar’s salon, eat at the Hula Hut, and one upcoming thing will be eating sushi at Uchiko!
Greetings from Texas – the epicenter of, well, WATER right now. Before I dive into my weekend recap and hurricane schtuff, I want to give a big THANK YOU and lots of love to everyone who texted/called/messaged me this weekend to make sure me and kitty Blanche were doing okay. Seriously, it means a lot to me, and we are both dry and doing well.
As I’m sure many of you have seen, Hurricane Harvey unleashed its wrath upon Texas, making landfall at a category 4 late Friday night and, although it has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it’s just sitting above the state churning out buckets of water.
On Friday, it was sort of unclear how this storm was going to play out. It definitely looked like the coastal areas were going to get hit badly, but even inland, we knew we were going to get lots of water, which = flash flooding.
You may recall that also on Friday I was waiting for confirmation about the Quesoff competition. Well, late Friday afternoon, many events in Austin announced they would be postponed. I still hadn’t heard anything about the Quesoff, so I just made the decision of my own not to go. I was not about to drive South in hurricane rain and haul crockpots of melted cheese, and then serve it for 3 hours!
My boss let us leave work early to go to the store and get ready for the storm, so I hauled ass to the laundromat and while I waited for my clothes to dry, I checked Twitter. Shockingly, I saw a slew of Tweets from The Mohawk (where the Quesoff was being held) saying they didn’t believe the meteorologists and there was a 100% chance of Quesoff. WHAT?
I Tweeted back saying it was pretty messed up that they were asking 35 vendors to do this in the storm, not to mention attendees. The Quesoff is an event benefitting the Central Texas Food Bank, which usually brings in 2,000 guests who either donate $2 each, or bring canned goods. With the storm, not many people were likely to show up at this event, which meant less money for the food bank.
In response, the Quesoff organizer wrote me an email, and in total frat-boy fashion, was all, “We understand your concern but we’ve got tents up. Last year it rained and it was fun!”
Uh rain is not the same as a HURRICANE, dumbass.
Whatever. I was all of the sudden a little bit glad I backed out of the event – The Mohawk is an asshole for continuing to push and push, and frankly, this is the kind of thing that gets people hurt. Don’t be on the roads when you don’t have to be. Don’t encourage folks to travel during a storm for cheese.
The rain started in Austin Friday night, and I got up Saturday to find things fairly mild. I went to dance class, but when I left, it was very windy, and the governor issued a statement saying not to be on the roads unless it was absolutely necessary.
So, I tucked myself into bed and watched an embarrassing amount of TV. The Quesoff was cancelled less than an hour before it was supposed to start, so most vendors had gone ahead and made their 10 pounds of cheese. So ridiculous.
Instead of making cheese, I dumped all of the ingredients for chili into my crockpot Friday night, just in case I lost power, I figured it would stay warm for awhile. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout the hurricanes and tropical storms I’ve been in, it’s that you’re going to want a hot meal. I also made some cornbread, and when the temperature dropped 30 degrees, that meal sure was yummy!
And yes, I did have leftover queso from my test batch, so I’ll share my recipe here. I used this recipe, and then I made pork carnitas separately (pork shoulder seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper, and 1 lager beer, cooked low and slow), then cut all the fat out and shredded it, and added it into the queso. The queso is fine without the meat, but I’d entered the “meaty” category so that was my addition. It was yummy and filling.
At first, I was feeling really sad that I didn’t fulfill my goal of doing this competition. But, I suppose that wasn’t even really the point. I worked to make something I’ve never made before, and I figured out how to make a giant-ass batch of it. Plus, the year isn’t over! I can always enter some other cooking competition.
As far as the storm, I did lose power for a few hours Saturday night, but had plenty to keep me busy. In that short time though, I was reminded that I’m really lucky to have dodged any serious storms over these 14 years of living near the gulf, and I know many others haven’t been so lucky.
This morning, I’m sure many of you are seeing the total devastation in Houston and it’s surrounding areas. That just a few hours from here, and it’s one of the biggest cities in the country. So, how to help?
The Foot Above Foundation
My friend and sorority sister, Sarah Joy Hayes, was incredible at organizing funds, efforts, and materials when Baton Rouge flooded last year. She started a foundation to help, and now she’s using that same foundation to work with Houston. This is a trusted source and she works directly with folks who need the help and reports back on what the money was used for. Donate & get more info here.
Central Texas Food Bank
They didn’t get the massive check from the Quesoff and now they’re helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. Get info and donate here.
Austin Pets Alive
This awesome animal shelter is bringing in animals affected by Hurricane Harvey. They could really use donations (money or physical items) and help fostering these sweet pets! Get more info and donate here.
American Red Cross
This organization offers relief at any sign of disaster, so you know your money is going toward a good cause. They are on the front lines of this storm. Get more info and donate here.
One of my FAVORITE radio shows is donating all proceeds from LoveUp shirts today (Monday, 8/28) to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey Relief. Purchase shirts here.
…If there is anyone reading this that could use some help, please let me know. Comment, message me, whatever, and I’ll see what I can do! I hope you all are safe and hopeful, and if you can donate anything, please do.
I’m pretty sure that every movie I saw this summer featured a preview for the indie-film “Patti Cake$”. Granted, I didn’t go to THAT many movies this summer, and every single one of them was at the Drafthouse, so, you get it.
But, I really wanted to see this movie.
The previews said Patti would be the character you wanted to root for this year. Hmm.
So, I saw a promo in my email inbox about seeing a screening of the movie that would feature Q&A with the cast. I wasn’t exactly sure what this would entail, but I didn’t think about it, and I bought a ticket (remember, 2017 goal: Just Do It).
I arrive at the theatre Sunday night, order some food, and my waiter asks for my ID and if I have a nut allergy. I didn’t order alcohol (I’m really trying to get thin y’all), and I definitely didn’t order anything nutty.
“We’ve got a few surprises coming,” he said.
So, they bring everyone in the audience a green gin-based shot, which the host says “will make sense once you see the movie.”
He says we’re going to do a toast, when WHO walks into the theatre but Bridget Everett!
My. Jaw. Dropped.
Although not necessarily known for her acting, she was in “Trainwreck” and also the “Sex and the City” movie. She’s mostly known for her comedy, a love of karaoke, and many hilarious appearances on “Watch What Happens Live”.
She’s also in “Patti Cake$” and was there to watch the movie with us and answer questions at the end with the film’s director, Geremy Jasper.
“Patti Cake$” is a movie that focuses on Patti, aka “Killa P”, an aspiring rapper living in a Jersey suburb.
Although it was written five years ago, this movie pulls out some relevant cultural issues, which seems politically relevant (but Jasper confirmed it was not intended to be political).
This movie was realistic, at times hurtfully so, but I couldn’t turn away. These aren’t the characters anyone aspires to be – they are flawed, but as a result, they’re incredibly relatable.
A movie about a small town, hopeless cater-waiter trying to make it big; no shit I’m all over it. Plus, the rap lyrics from Killa P (written by Jasper himself) are impressive as hell – and she takes down the haters, one by one.
Since this is an indi flick, I’m not sure what cities it will be playing in, so be on the lookout for it in your town!
Last Tuesday, I went straight from work to the Drafthouse to see “Baby Driver”. I had a free ticket to use, along with a free popcorn, and everyone I knew said this movie was SO good. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was my style, but I figured I couldn’t really lose with Ansel Elgort as the lead. Amiright?
I got a rootbeer float, my popcorn, and was ready to roll. Being a Tuesday at 5, there weren’t too many people in the theatre. Here’s how IMDb describes “Baby Driver”: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Here’s a little more in-depth description from Google: Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.
The young getaway driver is known as “Baby” (Elgort), and he’s ready to get out of the business even though he’s pretty damn good at it (the opening scene will make you want to drive out of the theatre and over curbs and yell “Fuck the po-lice!”… or was that just me?).
But as things go with organized crime, you can’t necessarily put in your two weeks’ notice and be done with it. And thus we have a plot, along with a B plot of Baby falling for a waitress at the local diner – they connect over a love for music and a dream of escapism. I know the feeling.
While the events of the movie are seriously, deadly at times, the tone is smart, and pretty funny – I laughed a lot, and then felt like a psycho when I was the only one laughing. Kevin Spacey – who plays the organizer of the heists – is just the best.
In general, “Baby Driver” is getting rave reviews – despite recently being sued over one of the songs used in the film. Here’s a snippet from the New York Times’ review:
“Baby Driver” isn’t avant-travestying; it’s a pop pastiche par excellence, crammed with cubistic action; glowering and golly-gee types (played by the seductive likes of Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González and Lily James); and an encyclopedia of cinematic allusions, all basted in wall-to-wall tuneage. At times, the whole thing spins like a tribute album, a collection of covers of varying quality: diner yaks à la Quentin Tarantino, Godardian splashes of color. When it works, the allusions give you a contact high, like when a friend turns you on to a favorite movie. At other times, Mr. Wright’s pleasure veers into the self-satisfied, and all that love feels smothering, near-bullying, like bro-cinephilia in extremis.
…Sooo, should you go see it? Yes! Yes all around – I loved this movie. The next flick on my radar? “Ingrid Goes West”. Looking forward to it!
I drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’ve had it for almost three years, and I’ve quickly learned that I bought a bad one – it has recalls on recalls, extended warranties on damaged parts, and while it’s still under the manufacturer’s warranty, so many people (at least in Austin) have bad Jeeps that the wait to get into the dealership for service (in order to use the warranty) is often a 3+ month wait.
Last year, my “check engine” light was on for months before I was finally able to find a certified dealer that would help me. They fixed a $2,000+ problem for free, and gave me a free rental (all thanks to my warranty) for the couple of days I was without a vehicle.
I was relieved, and happy to be driving a car that actually worked. But it was only about four weeks before the “check engine” light came on again. Which brings me to last Thursday, when I was finally able to get an appointment at a dealership.
When I made my appointment, I made it clear I wanted a rental car, and the man said no problem. But of course, when I showed up, there were no rentals and the shuttle wouldn’t take me to my apartment. Great!
I am really working on not throwing myself a pity party and instead just simply dealing with the problem at hand. Ok, no car. I’ll use Lyft, I thought. Sure, it would be a little pricey, but it might be sort of adventurous and it’ll make for a good blog post!
Hmm… well, here’s what came of that:
Ride no. 1: From Jeep dealership in Georgetown, Texas to Austin, Texas
[9:30 am] My driver is Matt. He’s cheerful, and he tells me he works for Chevrolet, so he’s aware of my car issues. We talk about various recalls and car brands. We both agree Fords are beasts. Matt is from New York and he’s still got an accent. He’s a retired firefighter who started working after 9/11. He tells me they were still pulling bodies out of the rubble in 2006, and the smell of death is something he will never forget. He moved to Texas because his brother works for Dell. He loves it here and is considering taking a road trip from here to South Carolina, and then on to New York.
Ride no. 2: My apartment in North Austin to the Texas Capitol, Downtown
[10:30 am] I was originally assigned a driver named Arlen, but right before he gets to my street, Lyft switches my driver to Heidi. She calls me to figure out where the entrance to my complex is. She finds it quickly. It takes me three tries to get the door of her van shut, just because I can’t remember the last time I shut a van door. She has a mini essential oil diffuser between the front two bucket seats. She’s married, and has a son. She teaches children with autism. On the way, we pick up a young guy at the Greyhound station. He says he’s from Chicago, so I ask him if he took the Greyhound all that way. He says no, but that he’s here for a bachelor party and they got a party boat for Lake Travis.
Ride no. 3: My apartment to the dance studio
[4:00 pm] My driver is Jose and he does not fuck around when it comes to traffic. He drives fast and tells me he used to work for Formula One. He then started working for Jack in the Box, which has sent him all over the place. If he had to guess, he’s lived in 50 cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, and now Austin. He’s married. We see a giant wreck off Mopac and then almost get in one. He apologizes, and I’m really just glad to arrive safe.
Ride no. 4: Dance studio to apartment
[7:30 pm] Samantha picks me up in a van. I shut the door on the first try. She has a desk job where she works 9-7, and then does ride share afterward. Today is her first day using Lyft – she primarily drives for Uber. She says she doesn’t drive too late at night for safety reasons, which I agree. She still makes good money during the day. She absolutely HATES it when the time changes.
Ride no. 5: My apartment to Texas Capitol
[10:00 am] My driver is Jesspal. He can’t find the entrance to my apartment, so he calls me and I ask him if he would prefer I walk to another area. He doesn’t respond, but I can hear someone else in the car helping him figure out where to go. He finds me, and the other passenger proceeds to navigate until we get to his stop. Then Jesspal asks me which way to my stop. Uh, I dunno, dude. We correctly head south, but I get a text saying we are picking someone else up. So, we stop off at the Domain and Jesspal asks if this is where I’d like to be dropped off. “No,” I said. “We are picking up someone else.”
“What?” he asks. He looks at his phone. “It doesn’t say that on here. Null? Is her name Null?” Obviously her name isn’t Null and the app isn’t working. There is, however, a woman standing outside with a rolling suitcase. She holds her phone up to the window. “Jesspal???” she says.
“Are you Null?” he asks. “No,” she says, but I need a ride and it says you’re my driver.” She looks at me in the backseat. “I didn’t know I was sharing a ride.”
“Well did you pick the line?” he asks her. “I don’t know,” she says. “But where is she going?”
I wanted to tell her it was none of her goddamn business. But I quickly said, “The Capitol.”
“Well is that the opposite of where I’m going???” she asked. She was headed to the airport.
“NO,” I said.
“I’m not from here,” she said sharply. “So, I didn’t know.”
It is about this time that two things happened. 1. I wanted to delve into an Issa Rae-worthy rap and tell this bitch to get into 2017 and learn how the app works. It’s a fucking line for a ride share, now why the hell would it put you in a car with a person going the opposite direction as you?? GTF over yourself. And 2. I was D O N E with ride sharing. I wanted my car back; I wanted the convenience to be able to go directly where I needed to go without having to pay $17 and talking to mother fuckers.
We make it to the Capitol and I jump out at a red light with a simple: “Bye thanks.”
Ride no. 6: Texas Capitol to my apartment
[1:00 pm] Ivan, my driver, kindly swoops me up on the side of the road right outside the Capitol. I’d just gotten a call from the dealership saying that even though they’ve had my car for two days, they haven’t had a chance to look at it yet! I mean really, what’s the point of getting an appointment, but it’s fine, I’ll just sit in another fucking van. Ivan is hard-of-hearing, so he says nothing the entire ride, which is fine by me. I say nothing until my stop and give him a wave.
Ride no. 7: My apartment to The North Door, downtown
[8:00 pm] Eugino is jamming to some serious R&B, sexy-time music when he arrives. I’ve already had two glasses of wine, so it’s whatever. He says nothing and it’s clear we’re picking up another passenger. When we arrive at a nearby hotel, he asks where I want to be dropped off at.
Note to Lyft: Fix your goddamn app so the drivers know WTF is going on.
I tell him it’s not my stop. He drives across the street to an apartment complex, where the gate is open and there’s a young woman waiting. She gets in the car and Eugino looks at me like he’s so confused. He looks at the app and puts his hands in the air. He says nothing for the next 18 minutes and drops me off right in front of the bar.
Ride no. 8: The North Door to my apartment
[11:00 pm] Two vodkas later, Ryan picks me up. He’s a ginger with a big beard. He asks how my night is and I tell him I just won a dildo that’s a replica of a porn star’s penis. “Well, let me see it,” he says. I pull it out of my purse (still in the packaging) and give it to him. It’s heavy – solid silicon. “I feel like less of a man,” he says. “Did you know 60% of men are shorter than six inches?” he asks. I tell him no, and laugh. We pull off into a gravel parking lot to pick up another rider. This guy says he got a bunch of Lyft rides for $5 each, and Ryan says that we are his last two rides of the night and are both going near his apartment. We drop off the other guy and Ryan asks why my car is in the shop. I tell him it’s the thermometer. “Thermostat?” he asks. “I don’t know,” I say. He says if the dealership called it a thermometer, I should never take my car there again. I don’t have the energy to tell him that I just want my check engine light to turn off and I don’t care how it happens.
Ride no. 9: My office in north Austin to the Jeep dealership in Georgetown
[3:30 pm] Mohammad was my last Lyft driver (hopefully for awhile), and I think the stars aligned, because he was really nice. He’s lived in Austin for four months after living in Dubai for a few years. He has a degree in engineering, and was offered a green card after his service in Iraq on behalf of the United States. So, here he is. He appreciates that Austin is cooler in temperature than Dubai, however, he said Dubai was all about money and that the people in Austin are much nicer.
Mohammad is married and has two children. His wife takes care of their children, and according to Mohammad, she takes care of EVERYTHING (including him). He says sometimes she is on him to do chores, “like a teacher on my head” while he tries to joke with her. “We cannot be so serious all the time,” he says. Good life advice.
He works Tuesday-Saturday at a hotel downtown. He takes care of the pool three days a week, making sure there’s the right mixture of chlorine and salt. The other two days a week, he works security at the pool, which overlooks the skyline and has a huge bar. When I asked him if he liked his job he said, “Of course!”
When we arrive, he asks if I will give him a review. He needs one year of ride sharing experience to drive for Uber and Ride Austin. I tell him, yes, I will, and I do. I gave him five stars and a $5 tip.
What’s more fitting on a Monday than a look at ALL of the iced coffee and cold brew I’ve been guzzling these past few months? Let me set the record straight though, before I get any further: I drink hot, black coffee every morning. Around three mugs of the stuff.
And I’m not looking to give it up any time soon. But, I started looking into cold coffee drinks (particularly ones that are low-calorie) to give me a boost in the afternoons – but only on days when I’m taking dance in the evenings. I already have enough trouble sleeping.
So, thus began my hunt for the perfect afternoon coffee cocktail, and might I add, I live in a pretty perfect place for this experiment? Besides Seattle, ok. So, here goes (in no particular order):
Starbucks Doubleshot Light Espresso Drink – Years ago, I started a personal boycott of Starbucks because they support Monsanto financially. At the time, I had books, mugs, a GOLD Starbucks card, and I tossed all of it. Since then, I think I’ve had two Starbucks drinks and then I bought a pack of these Light Doubleshots. Unfortunately for me, they are low-calorie (70 cals for 1 can, which is half the usual stuff) and they only have 5 grams of sugar. Plus… they’re delicious! Damn you Starbucks for your well-priced caffeine (it’s about $5 for a 4-pack), and shame on me for being non-stop basic.
Starbucks Doubleshot Protein Coffee – Please see above comments regarding Starbucks. I saw a commercial for the Protein Coffee and couldn’t wait to try it – I mean, how perfect! One can of this has 20 grams of protein, but it IS a bigger can (which means more sugar). I’ve tried the vanilla and the caramel flavors, and like the vanilla better, but it is definitely sweet.
Picnik Butter Coffee (Cappucino) – Picnik is a paleo restaurant in Austin, particularly known for their butter coffee. Butter coffee is made with grass-fed butter and MCT oil, which works to help the body burn fat, and release caffeine sloooowly for a longer buzz. Yes! While I could technically get butter coffee anytime, Picnik bottled the stuff and you can buy it locally or online. The cappucino flavor was probably one of my favorites out of this ENTIRE list.
Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee – Despite NOT having a location in NOLA, Blue Bottle makes chicory style iced coffee, and serves it up in tiny little milk cartons you can buy at Whole Foods. And I kind of freaked out when I saw it. So I got some, and it was quite delish.
Chameleon Cold Brew Organic Vanilla Coffee – This stuff is $3 for a single-serve bottle, buuut I’m going to say it’s worth it, especially if you really love good coffee. It’s quality stuff and there’s no added sugar, but it’s packed with flavor. If you’re not aware, cold brew is actually brewed with warm water instead of hot, which results in a beverage that’s actually higher in caffeine and has less acidity. That’s why everyone loves it so much!
High Brew (various flavors) – This is ready to drink cold brew right in a can, and aide from the Starbucks’ Doubleshots, this is the next-best affordable coffee at the grocery. Because of this, I’ve tried pretty much every flavor on the shelf: Creamy cappucino + protein (this is my favorite), Mexican vanilla, salted caramel, and black + bold (only 20 calories). All of these are fantastic!
Hey Day Vanilla Cold Brew Coffee – Another cold brew coffee, which is a little more expensive, but also comes in a bigger can. I’ve only tried the vanilla, but it was very yummy!
…What coffees are you guys drinking this summer? Although I’ve clearly picked a few favorites, I’m not afraid to venture out and keep this taste-test going! Cheers to your afternoon, office-appropriate buzz!
I took a road trip to Baton Rouge this weekend. Yes, it’s a route I’ve traveled many times before – however, I haven’t done it in a whole year. Truthfully, because I kept having to make that trip before (because of CASA volunteer obligations), I’m sure I turned myself off of it.
But when a friend announced he was making a big move (13+ hours away), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to hop in the car and go for a drive.
I needed a place to stay for one night, so I slapped in on Facebook, and within one minute I had an offer from a sorority sister whom I haven’t seen in several years. I took her up on her offer, and spent Friday night doing a little baking, packing road trip snacks (fruit, cheese, trail mix, of course), and packing my clothes.
I’d also given my car a little love with an extensive oil and three-filter change, plus a tire repair, and even a tire replacement. I was ready!
I hit the road at 8am on Saturday, which would put me in Baton Rouge around 3pm provided there wasn’t much traffic or bad weather. I’ve made this trip so many times to know it rarely takes the 6.5 hours Google Maps says.
But, I was in no hurry. I didn’t have to be anywhere specific until 9pm, so whatever. I used the car time to catch up on my favorite Radio Andy shows: Reality Checked, Jim Parsons is Too Stupid for Politics, and Dan Rather’s America.
I also listened to some Dispatch I got from the library (I’m seeing them in concert next week), and made it about halfway through an audio book.
The drive from Austin to Baton Rouge is mostly farm land – especially during the Texas half of the trip. Lots of cows, steers, and neatly rolled hay. I am a sucker for these types of views.
I made it to Baton Rouge a little before 3:30, and was so happy to see my hostess, Sarah, along with her son – both of whom had just survived his birthday party. We spent the afternoon visiting, and were treated to pork chops from Iverstine Farms, along with some fancy rose Sarah discovered on Instagram. It was a perfect Saturday evening.
Already buzzed, I headed to the goodbye gathering at a nearby bar, where I took advantage of the cheap, local beer. I do miss Abita!
It was fantastic to visit with my friend and see some familiar faces, I didn’t realize just how much I needed that feeling of comfort – that feeling of home.
The fact is, I wasn’t born and raised in Louisiana. I’m from Indiana, where I’m traveling at the end of this week. And while I have spent years calling Indiana home, I don’t know if that word is the right one.
Yes, I spent 18 years there. But I spent 12 in Louisiana. And you know… I grew up, big time, in Louisiana. I survived a culture shock, had my first serious heartbreak (on top of many others), endured multiple hurricanes, got my first apartment, my first job out of college… it’s easy to say that a lot of things about me where shaped in Louisiana.
So many of my friends there are like family, and when 95% of my family doesn’t talk to me – friends are all I’ve got.
I don’t regret leaving Baton Rouge – it needed to happen, for the sake of my career, my creativity, and still for my sanity. And I know the chances of living in Louisiana again are slim-to-none. But it’s always going to hold a really special place in my heart.
I left Baton Rouge at 10am on Sunday – and was met with some pretty heavy traffic and construction on the drive back. Pair that with a decent headache from my Saturday festivities (when in Baton Rouge…), and it made for a less than stellar trip, but I made it safe, and I even got a Diet Cherry Coke – so we’re putting that down as a WIN in my book.
It was a quick and fun weekend – a much-needed, heart-fulfilling trip. I’ve got another one coming up this week, and well, I’ve been sort of harboring the story around that for awhile. I’ll spill it here later (this week), but I’ve still got to find the words to explain it.
So, cheers to tired Mondays – as long as the soul is full.
Each year, some of the best choreographers, dancers, and studio owners get together for a weekend benefit that raises money in hopes of finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. The event – Dance to Breathe – is pretty unique, but I probably wouldn’t have known about it had I not been involved with my studio.
Last year when the event came around, I was excited to see what it was all about and see my fellow classmates perform in the final show. It was at that show that, not only did I learn much more about CF, I also realized how lucky I am to be a part of my studio – not to brag, but I’m learning from some of the BEST in this city (if not the country).
As part of this benefit, there is usually a celebrity choreographer that comes to town to teach a master class. Last year, I was scraping by all of my spare dollars and sending them to the IRS, so I couldn’t attend the master class. This year however, I’ve already paid my taxes, so I was anxiously awaiting the reveal of the guest choreographer.
It was none other than Nika Kljun – here’s her resume from her website:
She has worked on major projects such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Ne-yo, Pitbull, T-Pain, One Direction, Cher Lloyd, the Britney Spears tribute on MTV Video Music Awards, Jessica Sanchez, Donna Summer, Kaya Jones, Gina Katon, Matt Pokora, Herb Alpred, Macy’s Glamorama fashion tour, Monsters of hip hop, Billboard Music Awards, Young Hollywood Awards, NRJ music awards, X-Factor USA, UK & France, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Move Live on Tour and was just recently, for the year of 2015, a part of Justin Bieber’s dancing team.
As a choreographer or assistant she worked on projects such as So You Think You Can Dance in the USA, Ukraine & Portugal, Move Live on Tour with Derek & Julianne Hough, Dancing with the Stars, Kellogg’s summer campaign, Kaya Jones, Lena Katina, Blake McGrath, Victoria Bech and Monsters of Hip Hop show to name a few. You can catch Nika at Tremaine Dance Conventions, Monster of Hip Hop or Monsters A-list conventions around North America.
…Like… are you kidding me? She’s an insanely talented dancer – and highly trained in traditional forms of dance, which makes her hip hop game solid. I’ll admit, though, that I was a little bit nervous to buy a ticket for her master class. I know that I’m late in my dance game.
I started taking jazz classes in middle school – and that is where my technical training ends. I danced on a competitive dance team for five years – being captain for two of those years. We were scrappy, and I recall very late nights at the studio, or in hallways, recounting and modifying movements to look sharp.
But I took a solid 10+ year break from dance. In that time, my body has changed, and parts of it have taken quite a beating between boxing training for four years, full-time retail and restaurant service work, and generally just getting older.
I know I struggle to pick up choreography quickly (although I am getting better), and I feel heavy on my feet. I have been to auditions and am learning to accept that even if I don’t make it (and I never have), it’s a free opportunity to learn from someone new, and at least try.
Sometimes, even if I can just get 1 8-count in a set of 7, I am really proud of myself, because the difficulty level is so far beyond me. Trying counts for something.
Many of my fellow dancers said they were taking Nika’s class, even if it meant standing in the back. Yeah, I thought, I’m going, too.
“You’ll walk away learning something,” one instructor told me. And he was right.
So, I bought my ticket. I woke up the day before the class with a classic flare-up of my pinched nerve. Because of course! But, I took my normal Saturday class, laid on a heating pad for three hours, popped a pain-killer, and headed downtown to meet Nika.
Right off the bat, I was pleasantly shocked at how nice she was – how much she simply wanted to help us learn and have fun. She taught us a combination from Jennifer Lopez’s tour, which was just cool to see.
I have never, ever tried any of the classic ballroom dancing, and she showed us the cha-cha, and salsa, and simply said, “Now you can watch ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and really know what they are doing!”
It was tough, and I struggled, and I stayed in the back. But, I gave it all I had and I pushed myself. Yes, a lot of people in the class were KILLING it. But many of them were also 16 – ah, to be young and thin and energetic!
Nonetheless, it was a humbling experience, and it makes me respect the hustle for choreographers and dancers. This is a physical industry – there’s no half-assing it if you’re on tour with Justin Bieber.
When the class was over, I was tired and sweaty, and snapped a picture with Nika, giving her a big thanks. I felt twice her size, but it’s whatever. I went home and had a solid night’s sleep – I suppose that’s what happens when you dance your ass off for almost three hours, pretending you’re JLo!
My original plans for Memorial Day Weekend included going to the pool and getting my tan on… and that’s about it. But, leave it to Austin, Texas to RAIN the entire weekend, so I made a list of alternative, indoor plans, which included seeing “Baywatch”.
I skipped over to the Drafthouse Friday night, ordered a Whiskey Banana Split shake and fries (okay and a bacon cheeseburger, too) and was ready to see just how terrible this movie was. But, I actually liked it!
Here’s the scoop from IMDB: Devoted lifeguard Mitch Buchanan (Dwayne Johnson) butts heads with a brash new recruit (Zac Efron). Together, they uncover a local criminal plot that threatens the future of the Bay.
Honestly, I’ve never seen the original “Baywatch” television show, which probably would have made the movie even funnier. But it was still really obvious that this movie was a clear spoof on “Baywatch”, and in some ways, an homage.
So yes, there’s the classic slow-motion running, the hot bodies, and the fact that LIFEGUARDS are going way out of their way to save lives, along with crimes, mysteries, and petty theft along the bay. They take themselves REAL serious.
The part I didn’t expect was Zac Efron’s character, Matt Brody, was obviously making fun of olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. It wasn’t a subtle blow either – he had the grill, the gold medals, the drunk reputation, and ruined his career after going overseas to compete and selfishly blowing it for his team. Wow.
As part of his probation, he has to work as a lifeguard (which is also part of a bigger coverup that the Baywatch lifeguards are about to discover, but don’t worry, no spoilers!). That was the other bit of a shocker – that there was an actual plot, and a few of the cast members from the original “Baywatch” series made some cameos.
Sure, it was a cheesy movie – but I think that’s to be expected, and I ended up laughing a lot. Not bad for a Friday night leading right into summer! And hey, if you’re going to the Drafthouse anytime soon – try the Whiskey Banana Split shake; totally delish!
Howdy! I’m still recovering from a two-day work trip to Dallas, and the weekend. I didn’t get back from my trip until Friday night, and still had some loose-ends to tie up before it was really the weekend, but I didn’t waste much time drinking a beer and falling into bed. I had to be up at a reasonable hour for Austin’s leg of the “Take Steps” – a walk to raise money for a cure for Crohn’s disease.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this walk. While I am SO, so grateful for everyone who sponsored me (I raised $175 toward the cure), no one agreed to walk by my side. So, I woke up on Saturday morning to find it was storming quite heavily in Austin. Nonetheless, I ate, got dressed, and drove 20 minutes to the expo center.
I checked in, soaking wet, and got all sorts of free swag because of the amount of money I raised. I still had an hour before the actual walk started, and there wasn’t much for me to do – there were plenty of things for kids to do, but I sort of slinked away and tried to kill time listening to podcasts and staring off into the rain.
I thought about Cheryl, my friend who died after fighting with Crohn’s. She was my reason for walking on Saturday. Truthfully, I felt like a jerk. She did everything with a smile, and there I was – a grouch. But, I wondered if she was with me in spirit then, and possibly laughing at the fact that this walk was indeed inside a barn, and I was about to embark on a dusty, dirt path in brand new sneakers.
I also wondered why I’d never walked before; why had I not supported my friend when she was alive to see it? The truth is, she made Crohn’s look easy when it probably was not. I know everyone’s experience with it is different, but I know her battle was difficult at times.
As my hour-long wait came to an end, they invited everyone over to the stage. They called up some of the big donors, introduced doctors in the area to help those with Crohn’s and similar diseases, asked those diagnosed to come to the stage, and introduced their “Hero” – a boy who was probably 14-ish, and had been undergoing treatments for years. He spoke, and said his doctor found a treatment that worked for him and put his Crohn’s in remission… until his body developed antibodies to it, and now he was on something new. And while this treatment helped, he said, it was not an eliminator. Our money is working to possibly create an eliminator – and together, Austin raised $62,000+ for the cause.
And with that, we walked. It was a short walk, but I’m glad I did it – for Cheryl, but also for myself. I often take my health for granted, and it was very eye-opening to see others around me who have to work hard and take lots of medications to even try to feel normal. I can’t imagine.
But, my fight for Crohn’s isn’t over. I’m walking again, in a month, in Indianapolis, to raise more money and honor Cheryl once again. And if you’re in the area, I hope you’ll join me. To join my mom’s team with me, please click here. I hope to see you there!
I know I’ve written a few posts about my resolutions and goals for 2017, but there’s one tiny thing I haven’t mentioned: I kind of wanted to enter some sort of contest, particularly a cooking contest. I don’t really know what brought it on, although I’d be lying if I said the episode of “Real Girl’s Kitchen” where Haylee enters a Texas pie contest really had me curious.
Sure, I’ve entered in writing contests all the time (and happily lose them one-by-one), but I also love to cook, and I’m always saying that I’m getting tired of impressing MYSELF in the kitchen, right? What better way to see what you’re made of than by entering a contest?
A few weeks ago, I randomly came across a Tweet that was advertising a local food contest, with all of the money going toward charity. Sounded right up my ally, so I saved it for a later day.
Upon further inspection, this contest is the 7th annual “Quesoff”, allowing anyone to enter, and all of the proceeds and donations go to the Austin Food Bank. Umm, yes! If you remember, another one of my goals for 2017 was to “Just go for it”, so I did, without really considering it.
Yep, it’s official, Team Bitter Lemon is a contestant in the 7th Annual Quesoff, which takes place at the end of August.
…Which is probably a good thing, because… I’ve never made queso. That’s right, I entered a contest to make something I’ve never made. Awesome.
Of course, it doesn’t seem that competitive and it’s for a great cause, so it’s whatever, but you better believe I want my queso to be delicious. It should also be noted that I’ve entered my (so far non-existent) queso into the “Meaty” category, so it’s got to have meat.
While I do not consider myself a queso connoisseur, I already know that I’d like to make a white queso that features lean, shredded meat with a smoky flavor, possibly duck. I also want it to be nice and spicy (edible, of course).
I haven’t tried recipes as of yet, but I have recruited some local foodies to my team, and I’ve rounded up several folks to help me taste recipes as I jump into this cheese wave of summer. It’s gonna be a fun one, I can promise you that.
In general, we use the term “queso” to describe a delicious bowl of melty cheese, often enjoyed with nacho chips. But of course, queso refers to cheese; queso blanco is white cheese; queso fresco is fresh cheese.
There are so many different ways to make queso – with several cheeses, meat, beans, spices, tomatoes, chiles… the possibilities are endless!
While this endeavor doesn’t really go with my current diet, I’m going to have fun testing out new recipes for the contest. The Bitter Lemon will NOT be embarrassed showing up in Queso country with a first timer cheese dip! Let the cheesing begin…
Friday after work, I decided to venture slightly north to an area of Texas I’ve come to know well – Cedar Park, near where the Texas Stars hockey team plays. I’d recently learned about a new store opening there, a 365 by Whole Foods Market.
So, I took the 20 minute drive and ended up in a new, really nice shopping center, complete with the freshly minted market. Supposedly, the 365 versions of Whole Foods are a test for the company, and the one in Cedar Park is one of five in the country. These stores are smaller, and house more of the 365 brand products, and are supposedly more affordable than the Whole Foods megastores we’re used to.
I went to the store with a list of things I needed for the week, but also kept the mindset that if they didn’t have what I needed, I’d just get what looked good and hit up my usual H.E.B. later. As I was walking up to the store, I noticed nearly all of the picnic tables outside were filled with people having dinner and drinking fresh juice.
Once I got inside, I could see why: the store had two counters to order food, pizza sold by the slice, ready-made sushi, a coffee counter, and a Juice Land. Major score for those living nearby, and especially for those working inside the shopping center.
At first, I was thinking the place looked a little small (like a Trader Joe’s) and there was no way they were going to have the things I needed. But, I grabbed the produce I needed and then thoroughly checked out the bulk aisle, where I got a big bag of trail mix for $6.
Next up was meats and frozen goods, where they had a bin of Mochi – a Japanese treat made from rice flour. I had never seen it before – it looks like a bath bomb – but I Googled it immediately. Hmm, ok, cool, they’ve got new things here, I thought.
As I left the olive bar, I discovered there was an entire other side to the store that had aisles, along with a section for fresh-baked goods. I went down every aisle, checking things off my list one-by-one. I even picked up a few unique bottles of wine, and got some decently healthy crackers for the salmon salad I planned on making.
But, the geeking out didn’t truly happen until I rounded the corner for the ready-made aisles. There was the sushi (a favorite of mine – I love the rolls with brown rice), and also ready-made meals from Snap Kitchen.
And then, there, under the light from the heavens was the section for cold coffees and energy drinks. For the first time ever, I saw it: Blue Bottle Coffee – right in front of my face.
“Oh my God,” I whispered under my breath. “It’s here!”
There’s only three Blue Bottle locations in the US – two are in California and one is in the Northeast. I discovered it via Instagram and have only drooled over the thought of the stuff given its hefty price tag and that I’d have to have it shipped. But there, on the shelf, was their NOLA iced coffee packaged in small milk cartons, right beside little cans of their cold brew.
It took every ounce of my insides not to do two things: 1. squeal with delight, and 2. put my arm on the shelf and slide it across it in a manner that would place all 40 cartons and cans into my cart.
It was then I realized my life has really turned a corner: There I was, 7pm on a Friday, Cinco de Mayo, and I was talking to myself over gourmet cold brew. Sing it with me, “I don’t know about you, but I’m feelin’ thirty twoooo-o-o-o-o!”
My geeking out didn’t stop there, because I soon discovered bottles of Picnik’s paleo butter coffee, along with a wide collection of Evolution’s pressed juices.
Needless to say, my fridge is really happy right now… even opening it makes me smile. As I write this, I’ve been eating olives from the olive bar, cheese, sesame crackers, salami, and sipping some sangiovase rose. It’s fantastic.
So there. I don’t know how often I’ll make the trek (and fork over the money) to hit up the 365 Market, but it sure was fun while it lasted… and now I have the joy of eating all this delish, healthy stuff!
Hello! As many of you may have read, I lost a dear family friend in February to Crohn’s disease. I wasn’t able to make it home for her funeral in Indiana, so I am Taking Steps in Austin to not only honor her memory, but to raise money and awareness that will hopefully lead to a cure for this terrible illness.
If you live in the Austin area, I could REALLY use some teammates! I’m happy to walk alone, but would love the support, along with the opportunity to make it a fun-filled day for a walk. If you’re able, please join my team by clicking here.
If you’re not in the Austin area, but happen to live in the Indianpolis area, I will be Taking Steps in Indianapolis on Sunday, June 25. Please mark your calendars, and stay tuned for the link to sign up for my team – I would LOVE to see some old friends and their families out in Indy, marching for a cure.
Here is just a snippet of some words I wrote to describe my relationship with my friend, Cheryl:
Cheryl was a ray of light in the darkness – she always found a way to laugh at pretty much any situation, which is a trait I’ve always admired. I can recall so many fun times with Cheryl and her daughter, Sarah – times I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I know Cheryl meant so much to my mom, and to her family. To me, Cheryl was South Carolina sweet grass. She took her daughter and I on a rode trip one summer, from the middle of Indiana to the shores of South Carolina, where we stayed, for what seemed like a month.
It was my first time really discovering a new culture – we went to the market, bought handmade jewelry, tried homemade ice cream, walked cobblestone streets leading to plantation homes, and chased crabs in the sands of Folly Beach. It was heaven.
You can read my entire post about Cheryl, here.
And so, Texas friends – I hope to see you on my team for May 20, and Indiana friends, keep your eyes peeled, but I’ll be there, ready to rumble on June 25.
In advance, thank you always for the support.
Hey yo! I’m starting this week off with an apology – I know I only blogged twice last week, which was not planned. Vacation kicked my ass!
I got back to Austin Monday night around 9:30, and by the time I got home, showered, got myself ready for bed, and watched “Southern Charm”, it was after midnight. When I arrived at work on Tuesday, there was all sorts of unnecessary drama that I did not need.
By the time things were starting to feel back to usual around the office – I even got things organized there, and started catching up on all of my podcasts again – the power went out and completely jacked up our internet, leaving us to work from home for a day and a half. Ugh!
It took me much longer to get back to my “normal” life than I thought. And I wondered… is this vacation after 30? I’ve always heard people complain about jet lag and adjusting back to regular life after vacation, but never really experienced it. Whew, not until now!
But, I did take a few dance classes last week, and then used my weekend to help get myself back in order.
After all of the junk (but very delicious) food and drink I had on vacation, I was excited to clean out my fridge and hit the grocery with a list of fresh produce. I am happy to report that my fridge is now full of Naked Juices, fruit, raw veggies, boiled eggs, and soda water. I’ll be living off that until I feel skinny again.
I spent a majority of my Saturday volunteering for the Austin Film Festival – an event that’s become very special to me. There was an opportunity to earn some hours by passing out fliers for their kids’ Summer Camp… I ended up walking 12,000 steps going door-to-door, and even ran from a couple of roosters on my route! It did nothing for my vacation fatigue, but it was an interesting way to spend a Saturday.
I also finished reading a book – so look for that review right here, on Friday for Blanche’s Book Club.
I did a few chores around the house, and have, at the very least, prepped my laundry for a trip to the laundromat tomorrow. And finally, I got word that my Blog Class at UT was confirmed for this semester, and it starts on Wednesday night! I’m so excited to be back teaching, and am looking forward to meeting a new group of students. Teaching is such a thrill for me and I’m excited to share my love of blogging to a new set of students.
So, I’m hitting the ground running this week – I’m back at work, back to dancing, blogging, teaching, and eating healthy (I even made veggie “sushi”) for awhile – at least until my next vacation, which is planned for the end of June. Summer is here, y’all, and I love me some summer adventures!
Isn’t it true, that when you take a vacation, you just want to keep taking them? I feel like whenever I go on vacation, I try to think of ways I can adjust my current life so that I can take more vacations and/or travel to more places. Then I just simply WISH that my life was a vacation, but I suppose it wouldn’t be as special if that were the case… or would it? I’m willing to be the guinea pig.
And so, I’m back – and I’m finally feeling refreshed. I’ve got some fun stuff planned for the blog this week (“Southern Charm” recap, a John Mayer review, Blanche’s Book Club, etc.), so I hope you’ll stick around. It’s good to be BACK!
Another Monday is upon us and I’m still reeling from the “Love Hangover” – the showcase for the dance studio I’ve been taking classes at, Dance Austin Studio. It was the 10th showcase, and included some fantastic pieces, to say the least.
After I performed at the last showcase, “The Aftermath”, I had a lot of reflection about my life in dance and how it affects me daily (you can read all about it, here). And as my time at Dance Austin continues to grow, and the more showcases I get under my belt (last night was #3), the more dance means to me, and the more I feel like I’m becoming a part of “the group”.
I’ve met so many awesome people at the studio in this year and a half (time flies), people I look forward to seeing every day, and I hope they feel the same about me when we end up in class next to each other.
On Saturday, a day before the performance, we had a dress rehearsal. Although it went really well, I was exhausted afterward, and thinking back about previous performances, I definitely feel like this is the most advanced one I’ve tried.
Last showcase, I tested myself and performed an entire routine in stiletto heels. I did it and somehow didn’t fall and break my neck, so I did it again this time. The dance was fast, lively, and a little advanced for me with spins and jumps. But, it was very fun. I don’t know if it was technically more difficult than the ones I’ve done before, or perhaps I’m more emotionally invested, and really just want to help my “team” look the best we can.
If you don’t mind, I’ll go ahead and say my group kicked stiletto booty and I was happy to hear cheers and claps throughout our performance. We sure worked hard for it!
But by far, my favorite part about any showcase is simply seeing my classmates and our instructors truly shine. Last night, I saw a few ladies that I’ve danced beside in class totally kill it in ways I never expected. I don’t know what it’s like to have kids, but I would imagine the sense of pride I felt for these women was similar. I was happy for them, and also just in-awe of what we’re all capable of.
I said it after last showcase, and I’ll say it again today – we are all LIVING. Most of us are not dancers by trade. We work full-time jobs; have friends, families, and hobbies to tend to, but we’re in the studio day in and day out, and we put everything we have on that stage.
Sure, there’s a little fear. But it’s not enough to keep us from doing what we were somehow called to do. Frankly, I started getting a little emotional last night watching some of the pieces, because we are all in this awesome dance family, and we’re out there, in the public, expressing ourselves in a time when messaging is shut down.
Dance is a powerful thing.
I tried to tell all of my classmates how great they did last night, but if you’re reading this, and we’ve shared a dance class together, and you were on that stage last night, please know that you inspire me more than you could ever understand.
I came home last night on a dancer’s high after putting in 10 hours at the venue. My showtime was maybe 4 minutes, but my feet were blistering and I could feel the soreness in my muscles setting in. I had glitter in my hair and a pound of stage makeup, and I didn’t hop into bed until after midnight.
But that is what dreams are made of.
Whether you’re a dancer or not, it’s time you #LiveYourLife – in whatever way that means to you. No holding back, and no regrets.
Ready? 5, 6, 7, 8…