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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!

Yep, I saw ‘Baywatch’.

The good-looking cast of “Baywatch”.

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!

Taking steps for Crohn’s.

Take Steps for Crohn’s!

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!

Queso me crazy?

Queso Fundido from ‘What’s Gaby Cooking’!

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…

Yep, I just geeked out over groceries.

Introducing Whole Foods’ 365 stores.

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!”

Amirite?

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!

Join my team!

I’m taking steps to honor my angel, Cheryl, in Austin and in Indiana.

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.

Life after vacation.

Le sigh.

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!

Nursing the ‘Love Hangover’.

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…

Cedar Fever: killing me coughly.

Pollen from a Cedar tree in Austin. Aaaaacchhooooo!

Pollen from a Cedar tree in Austin. Aaaaacchhooooo!

I’m writing this from the comfort of my bed – wrapped in fresh sheets and an electric blanket while it’s 65 degrees outside. There’s eucalyptus and rosemary oil pumping through my nearby diffuser.

You see, for the last few weeks, I’ve had a little tiny cough – just enough to be annoying, almost more of a weeze. And it was mostly happening in the afternoons.

That is, until I wokeup on Monday morning, complete with chills, sore throat, itchy eyes, and a much deeper cough. Crap. I didn’t think it was allergies at all, I felt like I was getting a bad cold, if not bronchitis. So, I stayed in bed all day catching up on TV, before heading out in hunt of a milkshake to ease my pain.

On Tuesday, I hauled it back to work despite barely having a voice. I felt okay; the chills were gone, and the cough was under control. But when I got to the office, I found that most of my coworkers were also hacking up their lungs and blaming it on “Cedar Fever”.

Umm, what?

I didn’t suffer from allergies until my last few years living in Baton Rouge,  and even then, I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, I just felt like I always needed to be carrying Kleenex, which is annoying if you’re a girl that wears foundation every day.

I figured out it was allergies, got on regular meds and essential oils. When I moved to Austin, though, allergies became a regular point of conversation at the office water cooler. Apparently everyone suffers from allergies in Austin, and the pollen count here is very high.

Each morning, the local weatherman talks through the pollen count projected for the day, and even says what’s the highest, whether its ragweed or mold, or anything of the like. But I have no clue exactly what I’m allergic to, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand the pollen count.

Needless to say, I hate blaming things on allergies – I’m a firm believer that germs cause illness, not the weather or the seasons, and while allergies may be bothersome, they didn’t leave someone in bed with chills and painful coughs.

Color me wrong, because I have Cedar Fever, and it is a motherfucking bitch.

I woke up yesterday morning feeling worse, with barely any voice, just huddled under the covers listening to the weatherman and wishing kitty Blanche could go to work for me (for realz though).

The Mr. Weatherman explained that Cedar Fever would be particularly bad this year, as the pollen count was at a record high, and the pollenation season would last from now until March – which is when allergy sufferers enter all out WAR on cedar dander.

I honestly didn’t even think this was a real thing, so I had to Google it, because, of course that makes it real, and I came to find that many people who move to Austin and never suffer from allergies, may live in blissful ignorance for up to six years before Cedar Fever rapes them thru the nose and sets up house in their lungs.

What the hell, Austin?

More Googling informed me that there’s not just a few Cedar trees ’round these parts, Austin actually has the MOST cedar trees per capita of any location IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. That’s just great.

So I looked up rememdies for this crap because I’m not about to be hacking up my insides for the next three months, and what do I find? “Take a shower”, “wash clothes”,  “bathe pets”… um, yeah no shit. Obviously we’re all doing that and it’s not working.

Some of my coworkers told me that even regular allergies can’t smash the stuff, so it’s a matter of doubling up on pills, snorting essential oils and natural elixers, and getting rest whenever possible.

Right…

I mean don’t get me wrong, Austin is a pretty cool city, but daaaaamn, this is a bitch of an initiation – the most snot-filled one I’ve ever been a part of, that’s for sure.

In the meantime, I’m back on my regular allergy meds, which may take a few long, dreadful days of coughing, sniffling, and guzzling tea and water in hopes of staying hydrated.

When I got home from work, I dusted, changed my sheets, and vaccuumed, because now I’m paranoid little bits of Cedar are everywhere – my apartment is probably made of Ceder pollen that swirls around me every breath I take – although, have no fear, Cedar pollen can travel up to 100 miles from its original destination.

If anyone has a pool they’re not using for the next 24 hours, I’ve got a large truckful of spicy chicken ramen from Whole Foods arriving this evening, and I’d really just like to live in it until the symptoms pass. Limes make for great flotation devices.

The Austin Film Festival!

Bigger than I ever expected...

Bigger than I ever expected…

Today concludes the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival – an event I honestly never pictured myself being a part of, but this year, I was! Let me explain.

I know I’ve mentioned that I have had a recent interest (turned to minor obsession) in screenwriting, and back in May of this year, one of the many screenwriting podcasts I listen to suggested to get involved in your local film community, especially if there was a film festival.

Well, hello Google, and voila – turns out the Austin Film Festival is one of the biggest, most anticipated film fests of the year. Whoa. So, I signed up to volunteer. If you volunteered for 10 hours, you earned yourself a pass to see any and all of the films at the fest for free. Work more hours and you could get into panels, contests, parties, and roundtables.

But honestly? I just wanted to see what this world was all about.

In August, I heard from the volunteer coordinator and things got started. Immediately, we were invited to free movies and events to created to help us meet each other and be a part of the event. It was really exciting right from the start.

In late August, I attended an orientation session where I learned that not only were we going to be volunteering with one of the biggest film festivals, but it was also a massive writers conference. Wow! Without knowing it, I’d signed up for something that was going to benefit me in so many ways – ways I couldn’t have even imagined.

At the orientation, we were also informed of the areas in which we could help. There were tons of jobs to do – in fact, much of the work of the festival is completed by its volunteers. I knew immediately that I wanted to work on areas of the writers conference, but I’d have to sign up for the shifts first.

And I did. I signed up to help with two very special events: the pitch competition, where participants are given 90 seconds to pitch their feature film or tv series, to a panel of judges, in attempts to win a badge to next year’s conference; and then the script library, as a part of the screenplay competition.

I also signed up to help with some of the pre-festival activities, such as stuffing swag bags, and filing registration forms.

Naturally, the pre-fest stuff wasn’t glamorous, but it did a lot of good for me a few weekends ago: for starters, it got me out of the house. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a bad habit of staying indoors all weekend catching up on sleep or reading or TV.

So, the volunteering got me out of the house, and it also got me downtown (I live in North Austin), and I got to meet cool people, all while stuffing 3500 giveaway bags for a massive festival. Not too shabby!

Last Saturday, I signed up for a 9-hour shift (I was feeling really eager), and it was going to be 9 hours of the pitch contest. The coordinator for this event was really nice, and she let me be the timer – meaning I had to time each pitch and raise my hand at the 90-second mark for the pitcher to quickly wrap up.

I knew the pitch competition was going to be fun and cool – hearing everyone’s ideas for TV and movies. However, what I didn’t expect was the other half of this event: getting to hear the feedback from respected professionals in the industry.

I kid you not, these panels were LOADED with talent. There was a writer from “Thor” and “X-Men”, a writer from MTV’s “Awkward” and “The Fosters”, a writer from “Justified, writer from “Adventures in Babysitting”, writer from “The House on the Left”, a producer from “Lost” and “Castle”, and so many more. Y’all… my jaw was on the floor for pretty much the entire 8 hours.

There were so many cool aspects of this competition: 1. All of the amazing, diverse ideas that were pitched, 2. How kind and supportive everyone was to each other, and 3. The positive and constructive feedback the judges gave to the contestants.

At the end of my 9-hour shift, yes, I was exhausted, but I was also so inspired. I am just now dabbling into screenwriting – researching it and finding out how to even construct a script – and it was so, so cool to see people (both amateurs and professionals) come together on a mission to improve their craft.

On Sunday, my shift was in the script library – a room within the Intercontinental hotel that houses all of the semi-finalists and finals in the screenplay competition. There are scripts for feature films, tv series, and hour-long dramas, and there are all sorts of genres. The screenplays are all neatly printed and bound and laid on a table in alphabetical order, meant for anyone attending the conference to come in and look at and/or read any of the scripts.

Uh, yes! My shift was about five hours, and I read several scripts during my time there. I read a paranormal crime thriller, a romcom with a devilish twitst, and a spec for “Broad City”, among many others.

Many of the writers of the scripts even stopped in to see their own scripts, take photos, and read others in the room. It was a really neat experience, to say the least.

Coincidentally, my weekend ended at The Ritz in downtown Austin, seeing a viewing of “E.T.” in the theatre.

I had a new perspective on it, watching it as an adult, and as a person who just got a crash course in script-writing, and a new outlook on the craft of writing.

As a child watching it, of course, there were parts that really scared me. As an adult, though, I could relate to Elliot (pretty much the cutest kid ever) on so many levels – on going through a parent’s divorce and remarriage; on not fitting in at school or with family; and doing what we do when we need to connect – finding it anywhere, whether it’s via a stuffed animal, an imaginary friend, a long-haired sassy cat, or a wrinkley extra terrestrial.

It was perfection – the movie – and the weekend.

‘Kidding’ in a world of ‘Adulting’.

I simply cannot.

I simply cannot.

I don’t even like the word “Adulting” – it sounds funny, and it also makes it seem like I’m not accepting the fact that I’m a grown-up, or doing things people my age do. If I’m being truthful, I think I’ve done adult-like things for many years.

Afterall, I’ve had a job since I was 16, and have always found more enjoyment in staying in rather than going out. I get joy out of being productive on the weekends, and I feel good about myself for setting the coffee pot each night before bed (sometimes even on the weekends), and I maintain a pretty hefty filing cabinet where I keep bills, taxes, and medical records. I’m an adult!

But, the past three weeks have sent me into a tailspin of responsibility unlike any other, and it’s a world where I definitely don’t fit in.

It started with the sheer fact that my Louisiana inspection sticker was going to expire at the end of August. I’m well-past the point where I should have registered my car in Texas, and gotten an inspection here, but my Louisiana plates don’t expire until October 2017.

But, if I didn’t get a new inspection sticker, I was going to get pulled over, so something had to be done. I looked up inspection stations, wrote down a few addresses, and figured I’d go on my lunch hour one day that week. And then, for whatever reason, I was thinking about my driver’s license. When was the last time I had it renewed?

I reached for my purse, and looked. EXPIRED.

Great. So, I’m living in Texas, driving on an expired out-of-state license. That’s no good.

So, I spent about three hours on a Sunday night sorting through my filing cabinet looking for all of the forms of identification I would need, including but not limited to two bills with my Texas address from within the last 90 days, my passport, my social security card, proof of insurance, and a form I filled out. I piled it all in a file folder, and headed to the DMV around 7 am the next day.

The DMV opens at 7:30, so I really felt like I was ahead of the game, given that it’s less than 10 minutes from my apartment. But when I arrived, the line was from the door, all the way to the street (about two blocks in length). Damn.

So, I got in line and sipped my coffee. A few minutes later, an employee sorted the line according to why people were there. Luckily, the line for a new license was rather short. He told me to get rid of my coffee, so I stuffed it in my bag and went to my waiting area.

I only had to wait about an hour, but once I got to the station, the woman informed me that I couldn’t get a license until I got my car inspected and then registered. Awesome.

So, I went to work, and then headed to the inspection station during my lunch break. The guy at the counter told me it would be a three hour wait. Awesome, but no.

I went back to work and told my boss what was going on, and asked if I could work remotely the following day in order to knock out some of these to-do items (you cannot get an inspection, registration, or a license on the weekend).

So, the next morning, I camped out at the inspection office and worked while my car got inspected. Once it passed, I drove to the registration office in Travis County, which is located next to a senior citizen’s activity center. The building is about as big as a bathroom, and you just go in and pull a number and wait.

My number was 43; they were on #8.

So, I worked until my number was called. When I got to the counter, of course I didn’t have the proper forms, and I needed my insurance company to fax over the declaration page (whatever that is). So, I pulled a new number, filled out my forms, and called my insurance.

When I got back to the counter, my Louisiana insurance didn’t meet the Texas minimum. I had to either call my insurance and up the liability coverage, or switch it to Texas. I stepped outside, called, and made the switch. Then, got the new policy faxed over, and got back in line.

Four hours later +$197 later, I walked out of that office with Texas license plates and a receipt for registration. I went back to work, and was feeling pretty accomplished. All I had left to get was my driver’s license, and everyone said that was the easiest step.

The following week (last week), I left work early to head back to the DMV before they closed. When I arrived and said I needed a license, the guy warned me it would be a three hour wait. So, I worked, and did some reading. About 2.5 hours into my wait, an employee came up and wanted to make sure I had all of the right paperwork.

Passport? Social security card? Two recent bills? Registration? Inspection? Yes, yes, yes! I had everything and I was about to bounce on out of there! Until she took a look at my out-of-state license and saw that it was expired (by six weeks).

“Sorry, we actually can’t help you today, you’ll have to take the written test and the driver’s test in order to get a license, and you can’t take it today because we’re closing.”

She highlighted a sentence on a manila envelope and handed it to me.

Uh, excuse me? I’m 31 years old and I have to retake the driver’s test? As in paralell park and hands at 10 and 2, and the hand-over-hand crossover turn method? What?

I wanted to sell my goddamn car. Who the fuck is Texas, and what the hell am I DOING here? All because I let my license expire (which I know is wrong), now I was having to pay the ultimate price, of not only having to study and take the written exam, but then to take the driver’s test, on top of having to take more time off work to sit in the waiting area (even driver’s exams are first come, first serve).

I went directly home, and got into bed. When was I going to find time to take these tests? It had to be soon, as I didn’t like driving on my expired license (Google told me it could result in an arrest if I got pulled over). What if I didn’t pass?

 The same lady who told me this terrible news said they would be open on Labor Day. I thought it was weird, and possibly untrue, although I was too bad to inquire further. So, I spent a portion of my holiday weekend reading the Texas driving manual, and taking practice tests.

I didn’t really think the Driver’s License office would be open on Labor Day, but I couldn’t not go see. So I got up at 6am and made my way there. They were closed, of course.

So, I got up at 5am on Tuesday, made it to the branch by 6, and got in line amongst many 16 year olds hoping to get their licenses, too. As far as I was concerned, we were in this together.

This particular DMV is one of the popular locations in Austin, given that it’s the only ones that take walk-in drive tests. According to my teenage line leaders, the wait to schedule a road test is at least six weeks. The other problem? The online scheduling system doesn’t work; so you still have to show up, and wait in line if you ever want to get behind the wheel.

Some of my line friends had been camped at the DMV since 1 am that morning in hopes to be one of the people to take a road test – they only take the first 20 each day.

Around 6:15 am, a police officer came outside and announced that starting NOW, this location would not accept walk-ins for road tests. You had to schedule an appointment, so if that’s the reason you’re here, leave.

The dreams of many were crushed in that moment, and the sun had yet to even rise.

I wasn’t planning on taking the road test that day, I just wanted to get the written and the vision done, because those were the things I needed to pass in order to even schedule a road test (which apparently wouldn’t happen until December).

So, I stayed, and befriended the two teens in line near me. We still had another hour and change before the doors opened. And we did what anyone does in times like these: we shared our frustrations with the DMV.

The guy beside me had scheduled his road test, so he had an appointment, just not for that day. So, he was going to see if he could take it early. And the girl said, she was in the office on Friday and they didn’t say anything about having to schedule an appointment. There was 15 years between us, but we were equals.

The police officer came out several more times within the hour, demanding that we leave unless we were there for other reasons than a road test. Since most of the line had left (including those that had been there since 1am), that put me very close to the front.

Because of this, I only had to wait a few minutes to get processed – paperwork complete, vision test passed, thumbprints, photo, fees, and signatures. And then, it was time for the written exam, which was a mix of road signs and legal questions (have you ever heard of intoxication manslaughter??).

And then, the woman told me they could probably squeeze me in for a road test. Sweeter words have never been spoken, given that I’d surrendered my Louisiana license so I had nothing to prove myself, and probably shouldn’t be driving.

So, I got processed for the road test and my car got inspected… and then I was assigned someone to ride with me, complete with a clipboard, and we were off. I completed a backup test, the parallel parking, several right and left turns, and a few 4-way stops.

In the end? I passed. “You know how to drive,” said my passenger.

As for my line friends? They both got to take the road test that day. I will probably never know if they passed, but I’ll remember the day I felt 16 again, nervous about the driving test, while simultaneously knowing that the DMV is the place where being an adult totally sucks.

Between taxes, vehicle registration, driver’s licensing, check engine lights, it’s been months of way too much responsibility. And sometimes, I joke that I’m just a teenager still, given my love for Justin Bieber, glitter, and cats – but after all this? Being a kid isn’t so bad. And so, I bought myself a backpack – with a cat on it, and the cat is wearing big pink glasses and mascara. And I wear it to my big girl job, and I’m going to keep doing it.

Because life is about balance and if there’s all these boundaries and rules, where’s room for the fun?

“We ain’t never gettin’ older…” -The Chainsmokers

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Helloooooo Zac Efron!

Helloooooo Zac Efron!

I’ve adopted a new rule: from now on, I’m only seeing movies that star Zac Efron. If that means my movie life will be dwindled to frat boy flicks and rom-coms, then so be it!

So, I had “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” on my to-see list for a while; truthfully, it was my budget that was keeping me from the theatre. But, thanks to one of my Twitter followers, I found out I got a free movie ticket for my birthday, courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse!

What?! This was the BEST news ever! The Alamo was slowing their showtimes for “Mike and Dave”, so I went to see it on Wednesday night – something I haven’t done in a very long time. But, it was a nice change of pace to get out of the house mid-week, take a break from the TV-Couch routine, and do something fun.

So, I got my free ticket (worth $10.25), and treated myself to an overpriced Diet Coke and parmesan fries; I was in my pajamas, sitting between two couples on dates.

….And I laughed so much during this movie!

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are brothers, notorious for partying hard, especially at weddings and family functions, which usually ends up in disaster for everyone involved.

When their sister announces she’s getting married in Hawaii, their parents make Mike and Dave promise to bring sensible women as dates to the wedding, as to not ruin their sister’s big day. The guys agree, and set out to find dates, using Craigslist.

While their Craigslist applicants don’t really pan out the way they’d hoped, their odd ad got the attention of Wendy Williams, putting them on national television, and also in the eyes of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza).

Alice and Tatiana, roommates and friends, are also overcoming hardships of their own: they were both just fired from their jobs, and Alice is still heartbroken after being left at the altar. On account they need a vacation, the women set themselves up to win over Mike and Dave.

And as you’ve probably guessed, hilarity, along with absolute ridiculousness, ensues.

I can’t quite pinpoint exactly what it was about this movie, but I laughed SO much! I think part of it is just the sheer ridiculousness of it – pretty much none of it makes sense, but it’s all good, because Zac Efron is fine as hell, and Adam Devine is pretty cute, too.

This movie also made me feel a little sorry for Efron, because… let’s face it, he’s been typecast. Like big time. Let’s take a look at his list of work: “High School Musical”, “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody”, “Hairspray”, “17 Again”, “Charlie St. Cloud”, “New Year’s Eve”, “The Lucky One”…

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed seeing these movies, but I have to wonder how he feels about always playing the same type of character: hard exterior + incredibly good looking + softie on the inside.

I know on the one hand, actors are excited to make money doing what they love – and probably for Efron, he’s lucky to have gotten out of the whole Disney thing. But still. Will he ever have a serious or adventurous role?

This movie, “Mike and Dave”, also introduced my to Aubrey Plaza, probably because she’s known for “Parks and Rec” and a bunch of other things I’ve never seen. But nonetheless, I thought she was hilarious, and I have a feeling her work in this movie will only help her career.

 So, if you still have a chance to see “Mike and Dave”, I’d definitely recommend it – you’re in for some laughs.

In other brief news, good luck on this Monday. I was so, so lazy this weekend, and really sad to see that come to an end. I can’t remember the last time I laid in my bed as much as I did this weekend, and it was quite nice.

I still watched some good TV, finished reading a book, and took a trip to the library (per usual). This week, I’m looking forward to my dance classes, and counting down the days until the Olympics! I’ll have more news on that front as the week continues. See you all here, tomorrow!

Simple ways I’m tackling life.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’ve been in the midst of tough times; because, well, that’s the kind of thing that happens as the years pass. We have good times and bad, and getting through the bad times is often when we learn the most about ourselves and the people around us.

I’ve written a lot over the years about happiness – ways to shift your mood and feel happy now, or finding happiness from within (which inevitably fills my inbox with emails about finding Jesus) – but what do you do when the going really gets tough, when you can’t turn to your wallet, or possibly your friends or family, or job, or any of the usual crutches to perk things up?

Several years ago, I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin – the first of her several books on how to make, and live, a better life. The book was highly criticized because Rubin is pretty privileged, but that really doesn’t get annoying until book two. I actually really enjoyed “The Happiness Project” and have turned to it in the recent weeks as I tackle life like a 12-step plan, one day at a time.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve really done some searching in my life to discover the small things that make life a little better, and I’m sharing them with you in hopes they help you, too.

Getting up earlier. As nerdy as it sounds, I’ve spent the better part of the last year getting up at least an hour earlier than I need to. Why? Well, truthfully, I really like being able to get things done before I have to go to work. I don’t usually leave important tasks for the mornings – some days I get up to write for an hour, or watch TV, or perhaps I just want to take my time getting ready.

When my life started to turn dark, I noticed right away that I started hitting the snooze button a lot more, to the point that I barely had time to brush my teeth and run out of the door each day. And it took me awhile to realize that it just wasn’t working. So, I got right back into my early morning habit, and it’s amazing how much it helps. I can spend time on my patio drinking coffee with Blanche, or tidy up my living room so it’s clean when I come home, or even just eat breakfast at my counter instead of at my office. I can also do my hair and get my makeup right so I go about my day with confidence. This one little move makes it feel like I have more hours in the day, and that they’re not all taken up by work.

Getting more sleep. This probably sounds quite contradictory to the previous tip, but I realized that I’d been staying up too late, and really for no reason other than to avoid the next day approaching. It was time I invest in myself and the first step toward that was getting a good night’s sleep every night.

Many, many people struggle with getting sleep, and it’s an issue I’ve had for several years. Everyone probably has their own approach to getting a solid night of sleep, and even Rubin covers this topic in her book. She goes about it the traditional way, skipping out on work, television, or anything stimulating an hour before sleep.

That doesn’t really work for me – instead, I told myself that I wanted to be asleep at 11 pm on work nights. So, around 10, I started winding things down, washing my face, turning on my essential oil diffuser (with lavender), and sometimes taking melatonin. I also stopped drinking during the week. I still watch TV in bed, or sometimes read, but it usually doesn’t take long before I’m asleep. And if I want to stay up late to watch a certain show (such as a political convention) or read a book or work on a meaningful project, then so be it, just as long as it’s not a daily habit.

Accepting the challenges. When things hit the fan, whether they be a growing pile of bills, burnout from workout, or a broken heart, everyone has two options: 1. starting a diet of NyQuil and sleeping in hopes things get better, or accepting it and figuring out how to kick its ass. I chose the latter, and I can say that while accepting reality does suck at first, it makes me feel more in control of my life, and at the very least, I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many of my current issues are financial, down to my last dime. So, a challenge for me was creating a budget and then slashing it to live off as little as possible. Once I accepted this challenge, I’ve discovered that I can live on a lot less than I did before, and I’ve made new discoveries, such as how many meals you can get from a single rotisserie chicken, and how to fix a ceiling fan in order to use less air conditioning.

Evaluating. Once unhappiness starts to settle in, it’s time to take a good, hard look at your life. For me, this meant looking at my finances and getting control of them. What kinds of monthly bills could I get rid of, or lower? What was I spending my money on and could it be taken out?

A few things, I found, could be eliminated. Some things I miss, but others were expenses I was paying simply because I was too lazy to cancel an account. Some things I couldn’t part with – such as my dance studio membership. Not only is dance my main form of exercise, it’s also a social activity for me, plus it’s creative, and a stress reliever. So, while I didn’t cancel my membership, I decided I’d make the most of it and attend more classes since my membership is unlimited.

I also looked at expenses I couldn’t change, like my rent. What would make me hate paying my rent less? One thing was that if I just got serious about keeping the place clean and tidy, and perhaps got rid of a few things. Turns out, cleaning felt productive, and I even have a box of things I can sell at a local bookstore. Part of my rent expense is a $30/month trash valet fee that is non-negotiable. I’ve never been able to use the service because of its strict time limits, so I talked to my leasing office to make sure I had all of the right information.

Turns out, they’re a little more lenient than I thought, so I was able to use the trash valet service twice last week – I just put my designated trashcan outside between a certain chunk of time and my trash is taken away for me. Now, I feel better that I’m not just wasting the monthly fee, and it saves me dreaded trips to the dumpster, which keeps my apartment even cleaner.

But evaluation doesn’t necessarily mean monetary things; for me, it also meant people. I started to recognize people in my life that were bringing me down – I cut them out. If they were only planning on being with me during the good times, it was time to let them go.

Reading & writing. Whether you’re a creative or not, I think it’s healthy to have some form of escape plan, even if it’s fictional. One of the first things I did when I realized I needed to penny pinch was get a library card. I have always loved going to the library, and there’s nothing bad about tackling a reading list. Now, I go to the library at least once a week, and I enjoy the tiny adventure of searching for books on my reading list, looking for any good DVDs to check out, and adding any of the library’s free activities to my calendar.

I have yet to master the art of journaling, as most things that come into my brain end up on this blog, but I know for some, writing privately is a great way to cope. When I lost my job almost two years ago, one of the first purchases I treated myself to was a thick notebook that had an inspirational quote on the front. As simple as it sounds, I used the notebook to hold my life together – lists of jobs I applied to each week, upcoming interviews, and my weekly work schedule as I juggled three retail jobs. I have since used the entire notebook, but have kept it since it was so helpful to me.

Making the most out of everything. I have always appreciated the small things in life, but now, I pretty much realized they’re all I’ve got. So, when a song I love comes on the radio (“One Dance” by Drake is my recent favorite; along with Justin Bieber’s new one), I turn it up and dance in my car. When I wakeup before my alarm, I get up and take a few moments to enjoy the sunrise.

When I was evaluating my expenses, I considered eliminating my Tuesday night latte ($4.28) from my life. But, I decided against it, as it’s a small expense, but more importantly, it’s an hour I spend each week reading between work and dance class, and it’s a treat to myself; a chance to just breathe. Instead of just grabbing your latte each morning, consider actually enjoying it, and the people around you. The coffee shop I go to is a game house; they host weekly war game tournaments, and Tuesday nights are very popular. And while I have no clue what these games entail, I enjoy seeing all of these people gathering for something they’re passionate about.

Take a break. This could mean a lot of different things for different people. For me, this literally meant taking a break. Before allowing myself said breaks, I’d taken less than three lunch breaks in the last year. I was overworked and burned out. So, I vowed to stop skipping my lunch breaks. Even on days when things felt crazy, I’ve taken a break; gone outside, taken a walk, sat on a bench and read a book. And, it’s pretty amazing how much good it does for the brain. It makes the work day seem so much shorter, and I look forward to it each day.

I also vowed to stop taking my work laptop home. I often took it home even when I had no looming deadlines, and at the very least, I would check my email before bed, or find a 30-minute task to complete. Not anymore. If I had too much work to complete within 9-5, then I was just going to have to tell someone that it couldn’t happen. And so far, I’ve been more efficient at work – probably due to my sleep schedule – and I’ve been way less stressed. Home is for being at home, not for work.

Creating new goals and working toward them. I am a dreamer, so I’m always thinking ahead. What do I want my life to be like in 3, 5, or 10 years? I honestly don’t know. But I know I’m going to keep writing and I am always working to continue my craft. Recently, I’ve discovered a great interest in teleplays and screenwriting, so I’ve set a goal for myself to write a script. I even bought myself a how-to book with a gift card I got for my birthday. Will my script see the light of day? Who knows! But I will work to find out. And who knows what will happen along the way.

 I’d love to know what kinds of things keep you going throughout the week! Maybe it’s your daily food journal, taking the scenic route home from work, or a weekly sewing class – share it in the comments!

Officially addicted: ‘Nurse Jackie’ season 2.

Season two - hells yes.

Season two – hells yes.

It’s official: we have made it to Friday… And, I’m addicted to “Nurse Jackie”.

And how could I not be? At the end of every episode is a cliffhanger! I watched season one in a single day, and season two was no different.

At the end of season one, it’s obvious that Jackie can’t keep on as-is, because her two lives are starting to bleed into one another. But where are things really going to start to crumble?

It seems obvious that at some point, Kevin will find out about the affair, given that Eddie has all but moved in. But at the end of season two (spoiler alert!), Kevin and Dr. Ohara surprise Jackie with an intervention.

A review from Time magazine explains the season in an interesting way: At the outset, the series presented Jackie a dedicated, righteously driven but flawed nurse whose drug use was a reaction to the physical and emotional pressures of her career and home life. Season 2, however, has been dedicated to taking that setup apart, demonstrating how easily that explanation turns into excuse-making and even—as shown by Jackie’s final, sarcastic “Blow me” at the idea of confessing that she’s a drug addict—a kind of monomania. Lix Brixius and Linda Wallem, along with Falco, have done a thorough job of presenting how Jackie uses her pressures as the ultimate answer to any demand that she change, and how—true to form for an addict—she’s mastered the art of combining her lies with enough truth, and even genuine confession, to get by.There are lots of reasons why people probably loved this show – it’s smart, funny, and very different from other medical shows of the past. Why am I loving it? I love the juxtaposition of, well, everything. The music is cheerful and chipper, much like a musical; while Jackie’s actions and body language read stiff and direct.

She’s easy to like despite doing a lot of terrible things; and this is always the type of character that’s most difficult for writers to grip. But Jackie juggles the ultimate balance that all of us face at some point – sure maybe it’s not a percocet addiction or an affair at work, but it’s the angel and devil issue.

Now, I will say I haven’t watched much medical television (I’m much more a crime and mystery fan), but I’m curious about this whole argument among doctors and nurses: are nurses the healers? It’s a theme that’s constantly being brought up in the show, so I’m just curious.

 There is no question that I’ll be watching season three – given that I spent a majority of my Saturday driving around the greater portion of Austin to find a reasonably priced DVD of it (no, I don’t have Netflix, and yes I know it’s cheap). Anyway, I found a copy for $6, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

I also wanted to sincerely apologize for posting this so late – I am currently doctoring up my at-home laptop (which is about 15 years old) and I ran into some serious difficulties when I wanted to post this – I even tried writing it on my phone and posting it from there, but it essentially got deleted, so there’s that.

Don’t worry, next week, the blog will be completely back in full swing will all kinds of goodies! I hope you all have a great weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday!