Blog Archives

On queso + avocado hurricanes.

Hurricane Harvey approaches Texas in the shape of GIANT avocado.

Greetings from Texas – the epicenter of, well, WATER right now. Before I dive into my weekend recap and hurricane schtuff, I want to give a big THANK YOU and lots of love to everyone who texted/called/messaged me this weekend to make sure me and kitty Blanche were doing okay. Seriously, it means a lot to me, and we are both dry and doing well.

As I’m sure many of you have seen, Hurricane Harvey unleashed its wrath upon Texas, making landfall at a category 4 late Friday night and, although it has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it’s just sitting above the state churning out buckets of water.

On Friday, it was sort of unclear how this storm was going to play out. It definitely looked like the coastal areas were going to get hit badly, but even inland, we knew we were going to get lots of water, which = flash flooding.

You may recall that also on Friday I was waiting for confirmation about the Quesoff competition. Well, late Friday afternoon, many events in Austin announced they would be postponed. I still hadn’t heard anything about the Quesoff, so I just made the decision of my own not to go. I was not about to drive South in hurricane rain and haul crockpots of melted cheese, and then serve it for 3 hours!

My boss let us leave work early to go to the store and get ready for the storm, so I hauled ass to the laundromat and while I waited for my clothes to dry, I checked Twitter. Shockingly, I saw a slew of Tweets from The Mohawk (where the Quesoff was being held) saying they didn’t believe the meteorologists and there was a 100% chance of Quesoff. WHAT?

I Tweeted back saying it was pretty messed up that they were asking 35 vendors to do this in the storm, not to mention attendees. The Quesoff is an event benefitting the Central Texas Food Bank, which usually brings in 2,000 guests who either donate $2 each, or bring canned goods. With the storm, not many people were likely to show up at this event, which meant less money for the food bank.

In response, the Quesoff organizer wrote me an email, and in total frat-boy fashion, was all, “We understand your concern but we’ve got tents up. Last year it rained and it was fun!”

Uh rain is not the same as a HURRICANE, dumbass.

Whatever. I was all of the sudden a little bit glad I backed out of the event – The Mohawk is an asshole for continuing to push and push, and frankly, this is the kind of thing that gets people hurt. Don’t be on the roads when you don’t have to be. Don’t encourage folks to travel during a storm for cheese.

The rain started in Austin Friday night, and I got up Saturday to find things fairly mild. I went to dance class, but when I left, it was very windy, and the governor issued a statement saying not to be on the roads unless it was absolutely necessary.

So, I tucked myself into bed and watched an embarrassing amount of TV. The Quesoff was cancelled less than an hour before it was supposed to start, so most vendors had gone ahead and made their 10 pounds of cheese. So ridiculous.

Instead of making cheese, I dumped all of the ingredients for chili into my crockpot Friday night, just in case I lost power, I figured it would stay warm for awhile. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout the hurricanes and tropical storms I’ve been in, it’s that you’re going to want a hot meal. I also made some cornbread, and when the temperature dropped 30 degrees, that meal sure was yummy!

And yes, I did have leftover queso from my test batch, so I’ll share my recipe here. I used this recipe, and then I made pork carnitas separately (pork shoulder seasoned with cumin, salt, pepper, and 1 lager beer, cooked low and slow), then cut all the fat out and shredded it, and added it into the queso. The queso is fine without the meat, but I’d entered the “meaty” category so that was my addition. It was yummy and filling.

At first, I was feeling really sad that I didn’t fulfill my goal of doing this competition. But, I suppose that wasn’t even really the point. I worked to make something I’ve never made before, and I figured out how to make a giant-ass batch of it. Plus, the year isn’t over! I can always enter some other cooking competition.

As far as the storm, I did lose power for a few hours Saturday night, but had plenty to keep me busy. In that short time though, I was reminded that I’m really lucky to have dodged any serious storms over these 14 years of living near the gulf, and I know many others haven’t been so lucky.

This morning, I’m sure many of you are seeing the total devastation in Houston and it’s surrounding areas. That just a few hours from here, and it’s one of the biggest cities in the country. So, how to help?

The Foot Above Foundation

My friend and sorority sister, Sarah Joy Hayes, was incredible at organizing funds, efforts, and materials when Baton Rouge flooded last year. She started a foundation to help, and now she’s using that same foundation to work with Houston. This is a trusted source and she works directly with folks who need the help and reports back on what the money was used for. Donate & get more info here.

Central Texas Food Bank

They didn’t get the massive check from the Quesoff and now they’re helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. Get info and donate here.

Austin Pets Alive

This awesome animal shelter is bringing in animals affected by Hurricane Harvey. They could really use donations (money or physical items) and help fostering these sweet pets! Get more info and donate here.

American Red Cross

This organization offers relief at any sign of disaster, so you know your money is going toward a good cause. They are on the front lines of this storm. Get more info and donate here.

#LoveUp

One of my FAVORITE radio shows is donating all proceeds from LoveUp shirts today (Monday, 8/28) to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey Relief. Purchase shirts here.

…If there is anyone reading this that could use some help, please let me know. Comment, message me, whatever, and I’ll see what I can do! I hope you all are safe and hopeful, and if you can donate anything, please do.

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BBC: ‘Gone Girl’.

Greetings, from Texas, i.e. Hurricane Harvey’s final destination! It’s been a crazy week – I was so worried about getting everything prepped for the Quesoff (which is scheduled for tomorrow), I finalized my recipe (will share next week), made a sign, bought a festive tablecloth, made business cards to give out, and dug out my table and extension cords… and now, I’m not even sure it’s happening!

As far as I know, this event is outside, and even though I live in central Texas, we are in a flash flood zone, not to mention all the rain that’s coming our way in just a few hours. I don’t particularly want to be serving queso under hurricane rain… But, I also know the Austin Food Bank could use our donations.

If my original weekend plans get rained out, go ahead and picture me in the apartment eating said queso with Blanche. There will probably be lots of reading, organizing, and trying not to open the fridge once the power goes out. Stay tuned.

Anyway, Blanche’s Book Club is behind the times BUT we finally got around to reading “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn.

Now, before we get into it, I’ll say that I let this book sit on my shelf for months (and more months) because everyone I know that read it didn’t really have good things to say about it. So, I was in no rush. I’ll also let you in on a little secret: I don’t really like books that are REAL popular (“The Fault in Our Stars” was an absolute exception).

While I was waiting on my library reserves, I decided to finally pick up this book. Here’s the description from Amazon:

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give anything away! But, I’ll say the way the first half of the book is written was definitely grasping at straws to frame the husband as the killer. Being a true-crime nut, I knew this just wasn’t going to be the case.

Naturally, the book has a pretty crazy twist or two, and I liked it. I read this book FAST, and I even stayed up until like 4am or something weird to finish it. It was easy to read, and definitely creepy as hell. A page-turner. If you’re in Texas right now and need plans to hold you over in the dark, grab your bag of tea lights and this book, and settle right in.

I saw the movie was also airing on TV around the time I was reading the book, so I recorded it and watched it within hours of putting the book down. I’m not a fan of Ben Affleck (he plays the husband), but the movie was a great adaptation of the book.

So, there you have it. I liked it. I liked it so much I want to check out Flynn’s other books: “Dark Places” and “Sharp Objects“.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this one!

Have a good weekend everyone – if you’re in Harvey’s path, I’m wishing you luck and safety! See y’all next week 🙂

Watching: ‘Patti Cake$’.

Loved this movie!

I’m pretty sure that every movie I saw this summer featured a preview for the indie-film “Patti Cake$”. Granted, I didn’t go to THAT many movies this summer, and every single one of them was at the Drafthouse, so, you get it.

But, I really wanted to see this movie.

The previews said Patti would be the character you wanted to root for this year. Hmm.

So, I saw a promo in my email inbox about seeing a screening of the movie that would feature Q&A with the cast. I wasn’t exactly sure what this would entail, but I didn’t think about it, and I bought a ticket (remember, 2017 goal: Just Do It).

I arrive at the theatre Sunday night, order some food, and my waiter asks for my ID and if I have a nut allergy. I didn’t order alcohol (I’m really trying to get thin y’all), and I definitely didn’t order anything nutty.

“We’ve got a few surprises coming,” he said.

Oh, DRAFTHOUSE.

So, they bring everyone in the audience a green gin-based shot, which the host says “will make sense once you see the movie.”

He says we’re going to do a toast, when WHO walks into the theatre but Bridget Everett!

My. Jaw. Dropped.

Although not necessarily known for her acting, she was in “Trainwreck” and also the “Sex and the City” movie. She’s mostly known for her comedy, a love of karaoke, and many hilarious appearances on “Watch What Happens Live”.

She’s also in “Patti Cake$” and was there to watch the movie with us and answer questions at the end with the film’s director, Geremy Jasper.

“Patti Cake$” is a movie that focuses on Patti, aka “Killa P”, an aspiring rapper living in a Jersey suburb.

Although it was written five years ago, this movie pulls out some relevant cultural issues, which seems politically relevant (but Jasper confirmed it was not intended to be political).

This movie was realistic, at times hurtfully so, but I couldn’t turn away. These aren’t the characters anyone aspires to be – they are flawed, but as a result, they’re incredibly relatable.

A movie about a small town, hopeless cater-waiter trying to make it big; no shit I’m all over it. Plus, the rap lyrics from Killa P (written by Jasper himself) are impressive as hell – and she takes down the haters, one by one.

Fantastic!

Since this is an indi flick, I’m not sure what cities it will be playing in, so be on the lookout for it in your town!

Watching: ‘Baby Driver’.

How YOU doin’??

Last Tuesday, I went straight from work to the Drafthouse to see “Baby Driver”. I had a free ticket to use, along with a free popcorn, and everyone I knew said this movie was SO good. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was my style, but I figured I couldn’t really lose with Ansel Elgort as the lead. Amiright?

I got a rootbeer float, my popcorn, and was ready to roll. Being a Tuesday at 5, there weren’t too many people in the theatre. Here’s how IMDb describes “Baby Driver”: After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

Here’s a little more in-depth description from Google: Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

The young getaway driver is known as “Baby” (Elgort), and he’s ready to get out of the business even though he’s pretty damn good at it (the opening scene will make you want to drive out of the theatre and over curbs and yell “Fuck the po-lice!”… or was that just me?).

But as things go with organized crime, you can’t necessarily put in your two weeks’ notice and be done with it. And thus we have a plot, along with a B plot of Baby falling for a waitress at the local diner – they connect over a love for music and a dream of escapism. I know the feeling. 

While the events of the movie are seriously, deadly at times, the tone is smart, and pretty funny – I laughed a lot, and then felt like a psycho when I was the only one laughing. Kevin Spacey – who plays the organizer of the heists – is just the best.

In general, “Baby Driver” is getting rave reviews – despite recently being sued over one of the songs used in the film. Here’s a snippet from the New York Times’ review:

“Baby Driver” isn’t avant-travestying; it’s a pop pastiche par excellence, crammed with cubistic action; glowering and golly-gee types (played by the seductive likes of Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González and Lily James); and an encyclopedia of cinematic allusions, all basted in wall-to-wall tuneage. At times, the whole thing spins like a tribute album, a collection of covers of varying quality: diner yaks à la Quentin Tarantino, Godardian splashes of color. When it works, the allusions give you a contact high, like when a friend turns you on to a favorite movie. At other times, Mr. Wright’s pleasure veers into the self-satisfied, and all that love feels smothering, near-bullying, like bro-cinephilia in extremis. 

…Sooo, should you go see it? Yes! Yes all around – I loved this movie. The next flick on my radar? “Ingrid Goes West”. Looking forward to it!

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.