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It’s true: You really can’t go home again.

Indianapolis.

Last week, I took a trip home to Indiana to visit some old friends and family. It had been 18 months since I’ve been back, and I was really looking forward to it.

I had three big things on my to-do list during my six-day trip: 1. Honor my friend Cheryl by participating in a Crohn’s Walk with my mom, 2. Get answers for a romantic relationship in-question, and 3. Visit my friend and her son.

Item #1 happened basically as planned, although there seems to always be secrecy and planning that happens behind my back and then – SURPRISE! – I arrive and it’s not what I thought it would be. Whatever.

Item #2 is a toughie. You see, I have had a little bit of a crush on this person for, well, half of my life. I am really lucky to call him my friend, first, but I know things were starting to inch toward the gray area and I needed to know where we were headed.

Long-distance relationships are difficult, and I have no intentions of getting involved in one unless there was a clear means to an end. One thing I wanted to know was if he planned on staying in Indiana forever.

If so, that would be something I’d have to seriously consider: would I move back to give this thing a chance? I’m happy to report we talked about this right away. I’m not-so-happy to report that his answer was yes, he’ll be staying in Indiana foreevvverrrrrr. Ouch.

Now let me say this, I’m definitely not married to the idea of staying in Austin, Texas forever. In fact, I’m already considering my next move. But I know I’m not equipped to move back to Indiana. I haven’t done all I need to do!

There were other wrenches thrown into the mix as the week progressed – things that showed me, clearly, a romantic future is just not in the cards for me and this guy. I don’t want to say much more than that; I do hope he’ll still be my friend for years to come.

It’s sad, in fact I’m still pretty bummed out about it, but I’m glad I saw things for myself and got the answers I needed before we traveled too far down the rabbit hole.

If you’ve been reading around these parts for awhile, you know that I’m kinda (ok, really) bad at dating. I have a history of ignoring red flags and getting myself stuck in some sticky situations. So, even though this didn’t end in love this time, I have to say I’m really proud of myself for standing up and not just “going with it” when I know something doesn’t align with my values. I know what I want for myself, and I’d much rather be single than try and force something that isn’t right.

So, it’s a bittersweet win.

Now, item #3 just plain didn’t happen for reasons I’m not really sure of.

I’ll say that as much as it pains me to admit it, sometimes people just grow apart, no matter how long or deep a history they have. And maybe that has happened here.

Regardless, my heart is still hurt, and I have been on the mend (read: sleeping way too much) since my return. Loss, of any sort, isn’t easy.

Aside from those things, I spent some quality time with another friend – we got some good laughs, drank delicious wine, and we endured some interesting challenges along the way.

We joined up with some old friends from high school and I laughed until my cheeks hurt over inside jokes that possibly only we think are funny. We went to see Guster and Dispatch in concert, and there were literally fireflies dancing above us, and it was the Indiana I’ve romanticized since my departure 14 summers ago.

As I always say, Indiana will always (!) hold a special place in my heart – I went through a lot of things growing up there. But when I boarded my plan to Texas last Thursday morning, every ounce of me knew that things just weren’t quite the same. Even if Texas isn’t my forever home, I know Indiana isn’t.

I spent 12 years in Louisiana, and although it didn’t necessarily feel like “home”, I accomplished so much there, and it really shaped who I’ve become. Texas, well, hard work got me here, and it gave me a fresh start. It’s an opportunity that I still sort of can’t believe I have.

So, cheers to old friends, but also, to looking ahead, wherever that may be.

Indiana: A story of what could be?

The road to Indiana.

Howdy! I had every intention of posting yesterday, but life took over – okay, more like work took over, and I was up until the wee hours this morning finishing things, and packing for my trip to Indiana tomorrow.

I planned this trip months ago, so I could participate in my second “Take Steps for Crohn’s”, which I am still looking forward to, but the trip has also transformed into something else.

It may come as no surprise that I have some pretty strong feelings for a guy in Indiana. It’s not someone new, in fact, he’s been a part of my life for years – but we’ve really been on a roller coaster.

Without going too much into it, I will say that we’ve managed to be there for each other through some very tough times, especially as of late. I’ve had a tiny crush on him since I was 15, and have been fairly honest about my feelings over the years – him, too, even though he hasn’t always felt the same way.

Recently, he quietly admitted he had feelings, too – something I never, ever thought I’d hear him say. And that’s just it: it’s the first time I’ve liked someone so much, I’d accept it if he didn’t like me. I’d rather have his friendship than nothing, and I want him to be happy, even if it’s not with me.

Strong words, I know.

And that’s the other part of this entire thing: I’m in uncharted territory. I’ve never liked someone who was quite so nice to me; never been able to actually talk to someone on the phone (especially about nerdy stuff, like politics and food); never had any sort of relationship that didn’t involve around sex, talking about sex, or planning for sex. It’s refreshing.

But, it’s also scary AF. What exactly is going on here? I can’t answer that right now. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer it after this trip, either.

Because if you’ve been here before, you and I both know how this ends (read this, this, this, this, and this, and this, for examples). I’ve done this. Of course, this is someone different – biologically, and in many different ways. But it has ended poorly for me before. I’m bracing myself to get on that plane next week with a broken heart, and no need for a phone.

A long time ago, I concluded I like Indiana boys because they are familiar, and because, well, I live 19 hours away and don’t really have to subject myself to the intimacy that would happen in a real, face-to-face relationship.

But what if the distance was eliminated? I always say I have stayed in the South to benefit my career. I’ve banked on the story I’ve told myself that I will always be single. But what if I put something, or someone, else first this time? What would my life be like?

There is a huge part of me that already knows the answer. My life would probably be filled with a lot more love, and a little less stress. I might actually get the thing I’ve always wanted: love. A partner.

All of that just scares me. I don’t know if I’m ready, but on the other hand, how can I NOT be ready?

I don’t want to bank everything on this trip, but I am hoping it will show me a little taste of what my story could have been; what it could be, if I choose that path, instead of the one I’m on now.

We’ll see!

PS. The blog will be sparse next week as I’ll be vacationing and mind-questing 🙂 Promise I’ll be back.

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!

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.

Loneliness is tragic.

Walking alone isn’t always easy.

Lately, I’ve been feeling lonely. There’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely, because, well, I’ve been alone for a greater part of the last 14 years. Most of that time, though, I haven’t felt lonely.

After two tragedies struck my friends and family in Indiana over the last six weeks though, I started to feel homesick. I left Indiana at 18, headed South, and really never thought I’d turn back. And yes, I’ve had some great times in these parts, and met some great people – but is anyone ever quite as great as the friends you’ve known since middle school? Doubtful.

I still don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Indiana, or the Midwest, other than for quick visits. Although in times like these, I can’t explain just how much I wish I could hop right on over to Indiana, to spend a Friday night with people who know me; people who make me excited to be alive. Regardless, I’m trying to make the most out of my life in Austin, and I know it’s one of the most entertaining cities in the country.

But my attempts at making friends here have left me feeling more lonely than when I started. People have flaked for things I’ve invited them to do – movies, concerts, brunches – and even things they’ve invited me to do. Everyone is looking for the Bigger, Better Deal (the BBD), and apparently I am not it.

After years of suffering from breakup after breakup, I quickly learned that a man was not going to be the source of my happiness, and I’ve basically given up on that part of my life. I know I can still live a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life as a single person.

But I can’t do it alone, can I? I suppose I pictured my life as a single person much like the lives of the women on “Sex and the City” – only, minus the sex and designer fashions. Or perhaps like those on “Girls” only minus the sex and easy-going careers. You get the picture: I need a few friends to do shit with.

Because you know what? No matter how cool I think I am, hanging out with just myself gets old. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried to surprise myself with yet another great, home-cooked meal. These days, I’m so over myself that I buy all of the organic, pre-made goods I can because then at least I have time to read or to build a plan to get friends.

During the week, I don’t have much time for social outings given my job, my dance schedule, and this blog. Some weekends, I am busy with chores or writing projects, but other weekends it would be nice to meet up with friends for drinks, a sporting event, or simply a movie.

Holidays, though, those are the worst. I hate admitting this, but I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas by myself last year, and as much as I tried to make it pleasant for myself – baking a pie from scratch & mixing craft cocktails – it was a very depressing time.

Because the truth is, when you’re not close to family, and your friends live 19 hours away, it almost seems as if I’ve built so many walls around myself that my only choice is to be alone, even for the moments when being together is all that really matters.

This is not the first time in my life I’ve felt lonely, of course. In fact, it is during these times when I have fallen into a dark pattern of meeting friends, or sometimes, men, who are terribly wrong for me. Because of this, I am very weary of my actions during these times – I don’t want to fall for the wrong people out of desperation.

But it is also during these times when little things hurt even more than they would on a good day. The cat call of a construction worker (“You have a fat ass”) on your morning walk to the Texas Capitol stings more; being ignored by a crush cuts a little deeper; and getting ditched by a girlfriend calls for a bottle of wine to keep all to yourself.

I struggle with gathering the courage and confidence to do things alone, or to simply just curl up on my couch and accept my fate.

After a week of debate, I braved downtown Austin and went to see Big Freedia in concert, alone. I put on my best twerking outfit, dark lipstick, and treated myself to a beer (or two). As I was standing at the bar alone, a few ladies approached me and asked if I’d come alone. Yes, I did, I said.

So had they. All of our friends had ditched us. And so, we danced the night away, together. It was great, and just the night I needed. I had done it for Freedia – her positive attitude and awesome music got me off my couch, and her presence sent me floating into the night.

I am still trying to make friends; and to figure this whole thing out. Until then, perhaps I’ll just live by a new set of words: What Would Freedia Do?

“All I can do is do what I do and make it do what it does.” -Big Freedia 

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.

An unwelcome tradition: Santa Mouse.

Hopefully, this is what the mouse in my house looks like.

Hopefully, this is what the mouse in my house looks like.

I’m really disappointed in myself that I can’t post a new read from Blanche’s Book Club today – I am stuck on chapter two of the book (absolutely NOT a reflection of the content) simply because this week has been NUTS. I keep bringing the book to bed with me, and then when my head hits the pillow, I’m zonked.

But today is my LAST day of work until after Christmas, so you can definitely expect to see a book review next week!

Last week, I mentioned that I’d been blessed with the presence of a mouse in my apartment. A little brown mouse.

I had just settled onto my bed to watch some episodes of “Orange is the New Black” when my cat ran into my bedroom, chasing said mouse through the room. I said nothing, grabbed my keys, and went to buy fresh mousetraps.

Because this is not the first time I’ve had a mouse in this exact apartment. And it happened almost one year (it was just one day shy of being exact) before, when Austin experienced the first cold snap of the season. When it happened last year, I screamed bloody murder while standing on the back of my couch.

This year, I was going to catch the sucker and show all the mice in the ‘hood that apartment 208 is not the place you want to venture. I don’t turn on the heat, and my traps are set with organic peanut butter.

Before last year,  I’d never seen a mouse, let alone had to deal with the terror that comes from the experience of one setting up shop in your house.

Anyway, I set the traps that Saturday night, and locked the cat and I in one half of the apartment, in hopes the traps would snap and the problem would be solved. But they didn’t, so I spent my Sunday cleaning in hopes I’d pickup every little crumb and possibly scare the mouse away.

But Monday morning, around 2 am, my cat was chasing said mouse – and I ended up back on the couch, screaming. I grabbed a broom – because why not? And I sat there, for hours, waiting for the bastard. It managed to find a hiding spot near my Christmas tree, and ended up running under my stove.

I then got the great idea to set up a trap around the stove – for certain I’d catch it. But, after I set it up, I had to leave for work – running on around 4 hours of sleep. I talked to my leasing agent, and she didn’t really seem to care.

“Hmm.. we can send someone out on Thursday to set up traps,” she said.

Great. Four more days with the mouse.

So, the traps – thick strips of glue – have been lining my kitchen for 8 days now and the fucking mouse is nowhere to be seen.

On that crazy Monday morning, my trusty cat Blanche actually caught the mouse, carrying it around the apartment in her mouth, before setting it on the floor and it running under the couch. I felt terrible for not having something to trap it (I started pacing the apartment with an empty shoebox in my hand for two hours afterward). Nonetheless, I’m proud of her and thankful she found the mouse in the first place, and has kept it away from me – although now I’m convinced we both have Lyme disease.

I am still unsure of how the mouse came in – I sealed my dryer vent last year – and live on the second floor. I hope it came in through my stove connection, and that it left that way as well, and I also hope it told its entire mouse family that there’s a crazy cat lady in the apartment, and you’ll be damn lucky if you make it out alive!!

But you know what’s super annoying on top of all of this? Mouse traps don’t work. Last year, I bought the traps that are like a little tunnel – snap traps that are enclosed so you don’t have to see the mouse. They are easily $10 a piece, and never caught a thing.

When I was chained to my couch on Mouse Watch 2016, I started Googling all sorts of things about mice, and found all of these ridiculous articles about how you have to set one trap per each foot of wherever you saw the mouse, and how you must set the trap using gloves or else the mouse will smell a human scent and know it’s a trap. UMM COME ON.

Like how the hell are you ever supposed to catch a mouse with all of these rules? My mom is coming in town tonight and has graciously offered to help me move some of my furniture to clean and stuff any holes with steel wool in hopes this won’t happen again.

I’m not a fan of this holiday tradition, so perhaps this will be the last year for the real life, Santa Mouse.

My grownup Christmas list.

Naturally pretty.

Naturally pretty.

This isn’t about the Christmas song entitled “Grownup Christmas List”, where the singer (it’s been covered by many different ones over the years) wishes for world peace, healed hearts, togetherness, love, and friendship. Of course, I want ALL of those things + some.

But, today I’m talking about my material Christmas list – what I sent to Santa. I didn’t think much about what was on the list until one of my friends told me she laughed at what she told her parents to get her – “grownup things”. Hmmm, I looked over my list. It sure looks different from the lists I wrote as a kid, but I’m okay with it, and I’d venture to say I’m just as excited about these items as I was then. So, here’s what I asked for this year:

Lighted Mirror – For daily use, I’m good with my standard bathroom mirror. However, when I need to pluck my eyebrows or stare at my pores, I need more lighting! I also want something I can use pre-performance; I’ve learned by now that the lighting backstage is subpar. Here’s a portable light up mirror from Conair.

“Cravings” by Chrissi Teigen – If you’ve been following Ms. Teigen on Instagram over the years, you KNOW she is always whipping up something so delicious, it makes you wonder just how she keeps that model body. Amirite? According to the book’s description, her first cookbook has got recipes from fried chicken and Thai classics to breakfast and salads. Grab your copy here!

Birchbox Subscription – I’ve had a subscription to Birchbox for a few years now, and I can’t imagine my life without it! Each month, I get a small box that contains at least five luxury samples, based on my custom profile. This way, I can try beauty and lifestyle products before I decide to buy them. Over the years my Birchbox has sent me candles, perfume, hair care products, makeup, and nail polish, among other items. It’s a fun thing to get in the mail each month! Subscribe, or gift a subscription to your favorite guy or gal, here!

Glass Food Containers – I don’t know about you, but I’m freaking SICK of plastic tupperware containers. I pack my lunch five days a week, and I don’t think my little containers ever get as clean as they could be, and who knows what sort of chemicals go into my food when I pop the plastic sucker into the microwave. I’m ready to upgrade to glass, even if it means a heavier lunchbox. Here’s a set of various glass containers and lids from Glasslock.

“Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton – I’m teaching a course on Twitter Tips in March and I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the platform before then. I stumbled across this book by listening to a podcast, and cannot wait to read it! Supposedly, there was a lot of greed and betrayal in creating Twitter, and this is the first book to spill the beans. Get your copy here.

Donut Baking Pan – I always see the cutest donuts when I’m scrolling through Instagram, and while most of them are from bakeries, why not make them at home (and make them a tad healthier)? With my very own donut pan, I can turn all sorts of flavors into delicious donuts! Here’s a pan that fits one dozen of the yummy suckers.

Various Facial Masks – If you follow me on SnapChat (@OrangeJulius7), you know I love to test any kind of face mask – sometimes multiple in a single night! I really like to live on the edge 😉 I am always looking to expand my collection of face masks to keep my skin looking fresh. Here’s a pack of 11 sheet masks I found for just $10!

Over-Ear Headphones – You probably know that I’m OBSESSED with podcasts (and recently downloaded the Sirius XM app), and I listen to them all day long at work. Well, earbuds are starting to really hurt my ears, so I need a solid pair of earphones that block outside noise. Check out these cool white ones.

Various Makeup Sponges – I know the Beauty Blender is ALL the rave, but I like to try different things when it comes to makeup. And life. For awhile I was going with the brush sets to apply makeup and now I want to see if there’s a good sponge that will work better. Here’s a pack of various-shaped sponges, for just $5!

Rechargeable/Battery-operated Vacuum – I’ve lived in an apartment for 9 years, and one of the biggest downfalls is not being able to plug in your regular vacuum and use the attachments to clean out your car. Amirite? Because it’s like $10 to use the vacuums at the car wash. So, I need a portable vacuum. Here’s one that plugs into the cigarette lighter – smart!

…And there you have it, my Christmas list! I’d love to know what you all are wishing for this year, too!

‘Mariah’s World: For Love of the Tour’.

Welcome to 'Mariah's World'!

Welcome to ‘Mariah’s World’!

Hellllooo! How was your weekend? Mine was… eventful in an unexpected way. I spent a majority of my Saturday running errands – mostly for Christmas presents – which was hectic, and to top things off, it was cold and rainy. I came home around 6, got things put away, and settled into bed to watch “Orange is the New Black”. I was about 5 minutes in when Blanche comes running into my room, chasing a mouse.

Yep, a real mouse. With a tail.

Longtime readers may recall this exact thing happened to me last holiday season – you can read about that incident right here.

Last year, after screaming bloody murder and finding refuge standing on the back of my couch, I coaxed myself into my car, drove to the nearest Walgreens, and bought all the traps they had. I set them that night, and then locked myself, and the cat, into my bedroom, in hopes the traps would solve the issue.

I never saw the mouse, or any mouse, again until Saturday night, when one ran through my bedroom, heading toward my Christmas tree, which is in the living room. I said nothing, grabbed my keys, went to Walgreens, set the traps, and locked us back into the bedroom.

Apparently, we’ve got a new holiday tradition. Holly, Blanche, and the Christmas Mouse. Look for it in Barnes & Noble, nationwide November 2017.

Despite being terrified the mouse was going to jump out at me, much like the squirrel in “Christmas Vacation”, I spent Sunday cleaning, wrapping gifts, and watching Christmas movies.

And of course, I was counting down the hours until the premier of “Mariah’s World”! Sooooo who else watched it? Let’s get into this recap.

 The show started off with what I assume was a preview of what’s to come on this 8-part “event”… and in this 3-minute series of clips, I had no freaking clue what was happening. There were so many different people, lots of arguing, and lots of audio from “Fantasy” on repeat.

Right off the bat, we’re taken to Italy, where Mariah is vacationing on her yacht, which is across the water from her then-fiance’s yacht. I noticed immediately how vocal Mariah is about material things. It’s not enough that she’s on a lavish yacht, wearing diamonds, as she’s about to jump in the ocean, but she has to say it outloud that she’s wearing a dress and diamonds and is about to jump into the ocean.

I don’t know why this surprises me, but it certainly does, and it’s kind of annoying. She acts like she’s new money, when sure, she came from nothing, but that was many, many years ago (not a knock to her age, but rather a nod to how long she’s dominated the industry).

The residency in Las Vegas has just wrapped, and for some reason, Mariah’s assistant Stella, is scheduling a 27-stop European tour, that’s going to start in just two weeks – around the same time as her wedding.

So there’s lots of scrambling, lots of yelling on the phone, even a bridal fitting (super awkward), and eventually, Stella hires a person named Molly, who seems to have no experience as an assitant, yet she’s going to work on this European tour.

Seriously, HOW DOES THIS SHIT HAPPEN?

But nonetheless, that’s not the high point of the episode. Instead, it’s the first side of Bryan Tanaka – one of Mariah’s dancers, but also her now boyfriend.

Bask in the shady palm trees, my friends.

Like, let’s lay this out, because in the show, she’s PLANNING a wedding with James Packer. But during these dance rehearsals, she is ALL about some Tanaka.

Here’s my other odd observation. Why are the dance rehearsals held in her home? Better yet, why doesn’t she have a rehearsal space in her home? She’s literally practicing beside a pool table, and then when they go to rehearsal, there’s no real equipment – she’s using a water bottle as a mic, and they’ve set up gymnastic mats and plywood as a makeshift staircase.

Did anyone get the memo that it’s a Mariah CAREY reheasal?? That just seems odd to me. She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to cut corners, but shit.

By the end of the episode, Mariah has pushed back the wedding, strictly in the name of the tour, and she’s a whopping 3-hours late to rehearsal.

This… should be an interesting 8 weeks, folks.

BBC: ’99: Stories of the Game’.

I feel like every single day this week kicked my behind – it was the holiday, the chilly weather, and yeah, I just wanted to stay in bed! At least it’s Friday, because I’ve got huge plans to sleep in this weekend and make tortellini soup. How cool am I?

Basically, it’s the perfect season to read a book about HOCKEY. And that’s exactly what Blanche’s Book Club did, as we just finished “99:Stories of the Game” by Wayne Gretsky.

I was really excited when I saw this book on the shelf in the library, because it was just released in November! I snatched it right up and got to reading. Here’s the official description from Amazon:

From minor-hockey phenomenon to Hall of Fame sensation, Wayne Gretzky rewrote the record books, his accomplishments becoming the stuff of legend. Dubbed “The Great One,” he is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player who ever lived. No one has seen more of the game than he has—but he has never discussed in depth just what it was he saw.

For the first time, Gretzky discusses candidly what the game looks like to him and introduces us to the people who inspired and motivated him: mentors, teammates, rivals, the famous and the lesser known. Weaving together lives and moments from an extraordinary career, he reflects on the players who inflamed his imagination when he was a kid, the way he himself figured in the dreams of so many who came after; takes us onto the ice and into the dressing rooms to meet the friends who stood by him and the rivals who spurred him to greater heights; shows us some of the famous moments in hockey history through the eyes of someone who regularly made that history.

Warm, direct, and revelatory, it is a book that gives us number 99, the man and the player, like never before.

As the description says, this isn’t really a book about Gretsky, but moreso a book about the game of hockey and its history. It’s loaded with interesting tidbits – about how long players went before even considering to play while wearing helmets, how the size of the rink affects the game, and how the league was formed.

Of course, there is plenty of information about Gretsky’s story; I had no idea his first professional team was in Indianapolis (Hooooosiers!), and that he spent lots of time practicing on a frozen river, learning to play while dodging frozen sticks and uneven ice… and he often wore skates that were many sizes too small, just for a certain edge in the game.

What I love about sports stories is that they’re really inspirational. There’s lots of hard work; tough stories, and often hard-fought victories. And while coaches and players can often move us with their voices, sports writing is another craft.

I will not say this book is phenomenally written, because it isn’t. But the stories are really interesting and worth the read – perhaps if you’re into audio books, it’s available in that format (check it out, here). Besides, who better to explain the history and the best moments of the game than Gretsky himself?

If you’re a hockey fan, or even just a sports fan, this is definitely a book you’re going to want to check out. The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “One True Loves” by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Read it with us by following me on social media @OrangeJulius7 and chatting!

Have a great, great weekend everyone, and I’ll see you right back here on Monday!