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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.

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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!

Another year at the Austin Film Festival!

It’s the 24th Annual Austin Film Festival & Writer’s Conference!

That’s right – I’m coming off a weekend of volunteering at the Austin Film Festival for the second year in a row! After having such a fun and inspiring time last year, I jumped at the chance to volunteer again this year.

I am still nurturing my interest in screenwriting, but have made about ZERO progress on doing much with this interest. I don’t like using the excuse that I’m too busy – but things have been a little crazy lately.

However, I still made time to volunteer. I actually starting volunteering in the spring, going door-to-door passing out advertisements for the Austin Film summer camp for kids. My first official shift during the festival was for the Pitch Competition – where I volunteered 9 hours last year and had so, so much fun!

This year… it was a little more stressful. I hadn’t been at my shift very long when one of the judges needed a cup of coffee (specifically, a medium coffee with 2/3 coffee and 1/3 almond milk). I was sent on the errand.

Of course, the coffee shop in the building was closed. I went back to my station and was told to “go somewhere nearby”…little did my shift manager know that I don’t really KNOW what’s nearby. So, I ventured to the 3rd floor where I heard there was free coffee.

Indeed, there was free coffee, but no almond milk. Only little containers of half and half. So, I moved with a quickness outside. Two blocks away was a giant “Day of the Dead” parade, on top of the Film Fest crowd – everywhere was packed. The first two coffee shops I found were closed. Awesome.

Coffee shop number three was open… but with a huge line. I jumped in line anyway. When it was my turn to order, I was informed they were actually OUT OF COFFEE. How does that happen?

I said I would wait… and about 20 minutes later, I got my order and moved as quickly as possible back to my volunteer station. I apologized for how long it took, but my manager assured me it was ok.

Well, until I looked at my phone to see she’d sent me several frantic messages basically thinking I’d run off downtown with her credit card. Umm what? I confronted her about the messages and she was all, “Ohhh just ignore those!”

Meerkat Moonship!

Regardless, she stuck me on door duty for six hours leaving me uninspired, with tired legs. I don’t think I’d survive in Hollywood.

On Sunday, I arrived at my first-ever shift to volunteer at a theatre! During this shift, I took tallies of how many people were lined up to see the movies, and helped count them into the theatre. I also got to sneak into (with permission) the theatre to see one of the films and enjoyed a free Coke and some free popcorn! Fantastic!

The movie I saw was called “Meerkat Moonship”, created by Hanneke Schutte – who was present for the viewing. Here’s the official description from IMDb:

“Gideonette, a timid and visionary girl, lives with her parents in a small town. Her dad Gideon, battles daily to allay her fears about the curse of the Gideon de La Reys. Throughout their family history every Gideon de La Rey died in a freak accident at a young age. In order to prove everyone wrong, Gideon named his daughter – Gideonette. Although Gideonette has had to endure endless teasing about the curse, her dad has tried to convince her that they’ll both grow old. When he suddenly dies, her worst fears are realized and she retreats into a dark world where her imagination runs wild. Realising that Gideonette needs to get away from the curse her mom sends her to her grandparents. Here Gideonette meets Bhubesi, a deaf boy who’s ‘training’ to become an astronaut. While her grandfather builds Bhubesi a Moonship, the brave boy wins her trust and they embark on a curious journey of wordless friendship that helps her to realise she can’t hide from death. When fate hands her a final blow and her newfound strength is tested, she has to decide whether she’s going to let the curse consume her or defy it.

Gideonette, a timid and visionary girl, lives with her parents in a small town. Her dad Gideon, battles daily to allay her fears about the curse of the Gideon de La Reys. Throughout their family history, every Gideon de La Rey died in a freak accident at a young age. In order to prove everyone wrong, Gideon named his daughter – Gideonette. Although Gideonette has had to endure endless teasing about the curse, her dad has tried to convince her that they’ll both grow old. When he suddenly dies, her worst fears are realised and she retreats into a dark world where her imagination runs wild. Realising that Gideonette needs to get away from the curse her mom sends her to her grandparents. Here Gideonette meets Bhubesi, a deaf boy who’s ‘training’ to become an astronaut. While her grandfather builds Bhubesi a Moonship, the brave boy wins her trust and they embark on a curious journey of wordless friendship that helps her to realise she can’t hide from death. When fate hands her a final blow and her newfound strength is tested, she has to decide whether she’s going to let the curse consume her or defy it.”

This was a BEAUTIFUL movie! I even teared up a few times – ugh! I think people are really going to love the aesthetic of this film, not to mention the message. Wonderful!

All in all, it was another great year with the Film Festival, and yep, I know I’ll be back next year!

Checking off my ATX bucket list!

The Austin skyline at sunset.

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!

On queso + avocado hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey approaches Texas in the shape of GIANT avocado.

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.

#LoveUp

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.

Watching: ‘Patti Cake$’.

Loved this movie!

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.

Oh, DRAFTHOUSE.

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.

Fantastic!

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!

Watching: ‘Baby Driver’.

How YOU doin’??

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!

5 Days of Lyft rides.

Picking up Holly…

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.

Ice cold: A chilly coffee comparison.

Gimmee that BUZZ.

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!

Road Trip: Baton Rouge edition.

Louisiana oak trees.

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.

A rare opportunity…

Bad ass choreographer, dancer Nika Kljun!

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!