Blog Archives

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!

My Thanksgiving menu.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

A perfect Thanksgiving spread from Saveur.

Thanksgiving is one week away! I know everyone is saying it – but it’s come up so fast, and before you know it, Christmas will be here! But, let’s not skip Thanksgiving, as it’s pretty much the most important meal of the year, and it’s truly a holiday to be savored.

I really do love Thanksgiving. Think about it, it’s a meal that embraces the flavors of fall, and we get two days off of work to celebrate it! Then there’s the Macy’s parade (complete with terrible lip syncing), the drinking… really, nothing beats it. 1014001_hm_holiday_hosting_associate_300x250

Today at work, we’re having our potluck Thanksgiving lunch. I’m not a fan of potlucks, but it is the company tradition that the CEO provides the turkey, so you can at least count on that. Last year, for my first Thanksgiving in Texas, I discovered that even on Turkey Day, Texans eat BBQ-style – the turkey was sliced and served with thick, white toast, BBQ sauce, and crinkle-cut pickles. Because why not?

I am hosting a low-key Thanksgiving meal this year, and wanted to share my menu with you, in hopes that you’ll find some new ideas for your table, even if it’s not for this meal in particular. Out of all the great recipes I’ve got in my stash for Turkey Day, it was really hard to choose a few for my menu, but here’s what I’m cooking up:

Starters: New Orleans Baked Brie

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

Baked Brie from The Mediterranean Dish.

On Thanksgiving Day, I’m a really huge fan of having the large meal later in the afternoon, and serving up yummy, filling snacks and appetizers until then.

I am obsessive over homemade meat and cheese trays, serving various textures and ages of cheese with meats, mustard, olives, fruit, jam, and chocolate. It’s a perfect excuse to sip on wine while watching the parade and checking on the turkey.

If you want step-by-step help with building the perfect cheese tray, hop on over to What’s Gaby Cooking – she is always whipping up complex snack platters.

One thing I wanted to make this year was baked brie – it’s easy, delicious, and it’s really impressive.

I’m making a “New Orleans” baked brie, named because of my topping choice of pecans and Worcestershire sauce for a lil kick. Should be delicious.

For the baked brie, you’ll need a wheel of brie (any size will do), 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. If you want to wrap your brie in pastry, you will need to add a frozen sheet of puff pastry to your list, along with one egg, and a little bit of all-purpose flour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, wrap brie in foil, top with the mixed toppings, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese gets soft (you don’t want it to melt).

If you’re baking it inside the pastry, you need to thaw the pastry, then wrap the brie with it, sealing the edges with the single beaten egg and brushing the top for browning. Bake in a 425 degree oven until golden brown.

Serve warm with sliced pears and apples, along with crackers, and pepper jelly if you really want to stick to that Southern theme.

Entree: Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich

Can't be a Thanksgiving sammy.

Can’t be a Thanksgiving sammy.

I found the recipe for this sandwich in the latest issue of Better Homes & Garden, which listed it as a way to spruce up your Thanksgiving Day leftovers. However, it seemed like the perfect entree for my low-key Turkey Day, as I was trying to find something that wouldn’t require me to bake a huge turkey and a ton of side dishes.

This sandwich captures nearly all the flavors of Thanksgiving – stuffing, cranberry, and turkey, all in one bite. I say, serve it up with some sweet potato fries and you’re good to go!

For the sandwich, you’ll need 1 cup of halved and sliced red onion, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 cup of cranberry sauce, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce, 2 tablespoons of finely chopped chipotle chile pepper in adobo sauce, 3 cups shredded cooked turkey, pretzel buns or other sturdy bread, bibb lettuce, sliced mozzarella cheese, and sliced jalapenos, if desired (YES),

Cook and stir the onion in the oil over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the cranberry sauce, bbq sauce, and the chipotle. Add turkey, toss to coat, and heat throughout.

Add lettuce to the bottom half of the buns, and top with the turkey-cranberry mixture along with the sliced cheese. Add bun tops and serve with additional cranberry sauce and jalapenos. Yum!

Sides: Chopped Green Bean Salad

Green bean salad.

Green bean salad.

I love a green bean casserole, and this “salad” from Better Homes & Garden is a great twist on a classic that I’m really excited to try.

For this green bean salad, you will need 1 1/4 pounds of green beans cut into 1-inch pieces, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1/3 cup minced shallots, pinch of salt and pepper, 4 ounces of shredded manchego or parmesan, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups of cooked farro, 3/4 cups toasted almonds, 3/4 cup golden raisins, and 2 ounces of chopped manchego or parmesan.

Cook the beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes before transferring to ice water. In a blender, combine the vinegar, shallots, salt and pepper, along with the 4 ounces of cheese and olive oil. Blend until smooth and then add to the beans (after you’ve taken them out of the ice bath).

Finally, add the farro, almonds, golden raisins, and 2 ounces of cheese. Finished!

Dessert: Sweet Potato Pie

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

Sweet Potato Pie from the New York Times.

I am a sucker for pumpkin pie. Seriously, I love the stuff. But, I heard that a sweet potato pie is actually sweeter and more flavorful than pumpkin, so I want to give it a try. It better be good, or else I’l be running to the nearest open store Thanksgiving night to get my fix of pie!

Remember last year when everyone lost their shit over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie at Wal-Mart? Truthfully, no one cared much about the desserts until a YouTube-r made a video of himself tasting the orange pie and broke out into song because it was so delish. See the video here – it’s worth it.

The video got more than 5 million views and Wal-Mart was selling out of Patti’s pies left and right, and Ms. LaBelle even expanded her dessert business to include other options, including apple cobbler and pecan cake.

So, I’m making my own sweet ‘tater pie and I hope it’s as good as Patti’s (even though I’ve never tried hers, or anyone’s). For this pie, you will need a piecrust, 1 1/4 pound of sweet potatoes, 1 cup of whipping cream, 3/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup of whole milk, 2 eggs, and 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Prepare the piecrust as directed (I will probably get a frozen one) – although don’t let it get brown. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Wrap each tinfoil, and roast for about 70 minutes or until tender. Reduce oven heat to 375.

Let sweet potatoes cool before peeling and placing in a bowl and mashing with a potato masher. Combine the mashed potatoes with the cream, brown sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. You can use a food processor or a blender if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pie crust. Cover the crust edges with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until evenly puffed. Let cool before serving.

And there’s my menu (aside from the wine, wine, and wine). What are you guys cooking for the big day?

The Austin Film Festival!

Bigger than I ever expected...

Bigger than I ever expected…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was perfection – the movie – and the weekend.

‘Kidding’ in a world of ‘Adulting’.

I simply cannot.

I simply cannot.

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

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

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

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

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

I reached for my purse, and looked. EXPIRED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My number was 43; they were on #8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#LivingLife

Facing the sun.

Facing the sun.

Last Tuesday, I was taking my favorite dance class (per usual). I love it for two reasons: 1. The dances we learn are always fun and challenging; and 2. The instructor has this amazing, positive energy that’s contagious.

On this particular Tuesday, she was teaching us a dance very different from ones she’s taught us in the past; one that was less about exactness and perfection and more about being comfortable in our own bodies, feeling the music, and adding our own style.

In my years of dancing, this is probably something I have never done. I’ve always been instructed to do this; do that; fit in with a team, not necessarily stand out or be myself.

And that Tuesday night, our instructor told us to dance like no one was watching; in other words, LIVE LIFE; dance!

One of the reasons I got back into dance was to gain back some self-confidence I’ve lost over the years. Whether it be from manipulated men I’ve dated, family issues, friendships gone sour, or even career missteps, sometimes I don’t know who I am – even at 31.

I know I’m not the only one that sometimes struggles with body image, or speaking up at work, or feeling nervous about getting out there to make friends or date. It’s tough! And the more I research about it, having confidence can be a constant thing to work toward.

#Truth

#Truth

The good news is, many of the things I listed in “Simple Ways I’m Tackling Life” are also things we can all do to help ourselves regain confidence. These are things such as:

  • Paying special attention to hygiene
  • Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself
  • Eat a healthy diet & make meal times special
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep
  • Manage your stress levels
  • Keep your living space neat & tidy
  • Do something creative!

But I’ve also discovered some new things we can do to boost confidence and feel good about ourselves. One of those is to make three lists: 1 that lists your strengths, 1 that lists the things you’ve accomplished, and 1 that lists the things you admire about yourself. Keep the lists handy so you can refer to them often, and especially when you’re feeling down.

Think positive thoughts. This is a tough one for me, but I know it’s necessary. Tell yourself how great, unique and valuable you are. Affirmations on the mirror? YES.

Here’s a cool idea I found: set up a challenge you can realistically set for yourself – whether it’s learning a skill you’ve always wanted to learn or hosting a dinner party. This could also be doing something you’ve been putting off, such as cleaning out a room of your house or finally planting that garden. I’ve got to think of what my challenge will be, but this sounds like such a great idea!

The next thing is to do something nice for someone else (#LoveUp). I forget how great being a CASA volunteer for 3 years made me feel, and I definitely miss it. This could be something like volunteering, or even just saying something nice to someone or holding the door open for a stranger. The world needs love!

And finally, don’t be afraid to speak up about how you’re feeling. That’s exactly why I love this blog – many times, when I’m feeling low or have an issue, I write about it only to find that I’m not as alone as I originally thought in the way I feel. We are stronger in numbers and we can help each other.

So, what are you going to do today to help yourself, or someone else, feel a little bit better? I think even doing just a few of these things will help me, and whoever is reading this, feel way better – and I’m all about that!