A Fourth Grader's Dream

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In fourth grade, Mrs. Rushford told me I would make a great writer. That year was the big writing year, the year students got books "published" into hardcovers with laminated jackets we illustrated ourselves. Our classroom was stocked with tiny toy-like word processing laptops we were free to use during recess and writing time and I remember spending many lunches inside at my desk working on a secret silly chapter book about a unicorn in the forest. I couldn't wait to get my fingers on the keyboard and put my imaginings into a very official looking document.

When it came time to write our own books to be published at the end of the year, I couldn't decide between two stories. I had mapped them out in my head and felt sure that both would astound my class with their maturity and depth, so which to choose? Finally, I shyly asked Mrs. Rushford if it would be alright if I wrote two, expecting to hear that each student would only get one book published because if not, wouldn't everyone write multiples? To my surprise, she got excited and told me she would love it if I wrote two. Strangely, no one else in class seemed to want to do the same.

I'm not sure why I needed two different books because they were about the same thing. Two young girls who are loved and admired tragically die. I specifically remember illustrations of a morbid graveyard with a young girl's name etched in stone. Looking back, this might be a great discussion topic for my therapist. I had recently watched a Hallmarky movie about a couple that falls in love and the woman dies tragically of something or other. I became enraptured with death; my emo stage was definitely fourth grade. Thus becoming the ten-year-old Nicholas Sparks.

After we turned in our stories, Mrs. Rushford didn't bat an eye at my depressing subject matter (though I wonder if she considered talking to my parents?) and told me I would make a great writer someday. I held onto that for a long time, truly believing that if my teacher assured me that I'd excel at a career that I must pursue it.

But I would go to the library and look at the rows and rows of shelves filled with books. So many authors. Too many. Writers of books people had never heard and never checked out. Would my work even get noticed in the sea of books out there in the world? Sure, maybe I could get something published, but I'd probably never be famous and make a lot of money just from writing. Eventually, I set that dream aside and developed other interests, some of which were short whims, others lasted longer.

I still loved reading and writing, despite never allowing myself to seriously consider it as a career. I started a blog at the end of high school and loved publishing posts, even if no one read them. I read novels as much as possible, hauling heavy boxes of books between each place I lived in college.

I studied graphic design and went to culinary school and my reading and writing became much more niched, much less imaginative. Over the years, I thought of Mrs. Rushford. I wanted to someday send her a copy of a book I'd published and show her I followed through. So I thought of workarounds. I'd publish a cookbook! Or a food memoir! Or I'd become an expert on design and entrepreneurship and write a self-help book! Then I'd be an author and I could tell her I did it, even if it wasn't exactly the original plan.

Then I got a job at a bookstore and realized just how much I love books. I read more seriously, more widely, more in-depth. I wanted to be as knowledgeable as possible when making recommendations or discussing books with customers. And I discovered that when working at a bookstore, people assume you're a writer or English major. I was neither. I almost took a little pride in the fact that I enjoyed books without thinking I could write one. But a little part of me wished I could. Occasionally I'd journal or write down little scenes I made up in my head or come up with book ideas.

Then I had a really rough year. I went through a lot that left me feeling alone and confused and I desperately wished there was a book for what I was going through. I had always turned to books to be friends and guides and I didn't realize how much I relied on their help until there didn't seem to be one to help me. Then I read a quote by Toni Morrison.

If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.

I could do that. Even if I never got published, I could write the book that I needed. Just for me. So I bought a new notebook and started writing as often as I could. And through writing what I wish I could read, I found comfort in the creation. It helped me process so much and channel my sadness and frustrations in a healthy way. And it brought me back to fourth grade, the excitement of opening those little laptops and typing away, putting my imagination into a document. Don't worry, no young girls die in my stories. Not yet, anyway. 

But you know me and I know me. Next year I might be working on a completely new project and my writing will be stored away in some hidden files on my computer I'll never look at again. I won't profess that I've found my calling and will never stray again. But so far I'm loving it and it does feel like a calling, something natural to me that I've kept hidden away for too long. And maybe someday I'll be published. Maybe someday I'll have a finished product in hardcover with a jacket I didn't have to illustrate myself and I can send it to Mrs. Rushford and say, "Look. I did it. I've created a work of fiction, just like my ten-year-old self said she would." 

We'll see. In the meantime, thank you, Mrs. Rushford, for your encouragement that has stuck with me no matter what I've been working on over the years.

The Battle Of The Voices In My Head

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I was a blogger once. A self-assured, let me tell you all about my life and instruct you how to do what I do kind of blogger. I posted weekly, sometimes daily, worrying little about the people that wouldn't love my work or whether or not I was qualified to share it. I dispensed advice that I cringe at the thought of, shared personal details I probably should've kept to myself, and declared myself an expert on whatever I was working on.

I look back and have no idea how I used to do that. With the help of increasingly worsening anxiety and a large dose of imposter syndrome, I now lack the confidence to do any such thing. My blogging has been reduced to vacation reports and end-of-the-month book wrapups I can justify posting because they are full of "this is just what I thought" and "even if I didn't, you might like this book" and "this book really spoke to me personally." The idea of dispensing advice or sharing my work or standing by an opinion makes my gut twist.

I thought that by creating a fresh new space for myself, one dedicated to documenting my adventures in trying new things, starting out as a beginner, learning different crafts, and developing skills, I might find that confidence again. I built this entire website on the disclaimer "I'm just a beginner" and "this is just what I feel like talking about" and "I don't know what I'm doing but I'm going to do it anyway." Yet when I sit down to write about these experiences, the voices begin screaming at me.

"You don't know what you're talking about."
"You aren't a writer, don't call yourself that."
"Get a degree and then you can talk."
"No one cares about this new thing you're doing."
"And how long are you going to stick with this latest project?"
"Get a real job."

And so I stay silent, even in this safe space. I hate these voices. I hate how they hold me back. I hate that I can't do this thing that used to bring me joy and give a sense of community with people with similar interests. I hate that twisting in my gut when just for a moment I think my experiences, my work might be valuable enough to share. I hate that these voices might eventually quelch any confidence I have in my work, so I can no longer be creative or have any kind of career or platform doing what I love.

I don't want to be quiet anymore. I want my creative voice to be louder than the negative voices in my head. I want to share the things I'm working on. I want to revel in these rough new beginnings and embrace change. I want to ask questions and admit I don't know everything. I want to learn from the people that do know more. I want to shamelessly talk about the passions and projects that bring me joy, even if I just started it yesterday or have no clue what I'm doing. I want to hear (or in this case see) my voice and know that it's okay to say the wrong thing sometimes, to share work I might eventually hate, to talk about a thing I'm doing that I may abandon in a few months. And to not feel shame in any of that.

I'm setting a goal here and now to be a blogger again. A not super assured but I'm going to say it anyway because this is what I care about kind of blogger. If your response sounds similar to the negative voices in my head, you're welcome to unfollow or keep reading to mock me. But I won't tell you I'm an expert or pretend I know everything or tell you what to do. I'm simply going to share about the things I'm passionate about, the many passions that might change or morph or disappear in time. And I won't feel any shame for that. Because I'm doing what I love.

January 2018 Reading Wrap

January 2018 Books

I built up quite a stack for my January reads! I didn't read a whole lot in November or December so I think I was trying to make up for it by starting off 2018 with a bang. Unfortunately I'm a little depressed that I didn't LOVE most of these books. I liked all of them, none getting less than three sars, but I wanted more five star reads that would leave me with a major book hangover. But I'm looking forward to February as I've already started a few fabulous book and there's a number of upcoming releases I'm really looking forward to. In the meantime, here are the rankings!

The Immortalists - Chloe Benjamin
I don't use the word lightly when I say this book was spell-binding. I could tell you that I loved this book because the way Benjamin unpacked the themes of family, religion, and destiny really hit home for me at this particular point in my life, but honestly, this is a stunning novel that I would love ten years from now. Benjamin carefully explores four sibling's thoughts and choices throughout their lives after a mysterious woman reveals to each of them the date of their death. Despite each character living wildly different lives and infuriating me on many occasions, I found I could relate to and learn from each one of them. I cried on multiple occasions, underlined many profundities, and suffered from a major book hangover once I finally put it down. 
★★★★★

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter - Sue Monk Kidd
A beautiful, courageously personal, lovingly researched book about one woman's faith struggle and feminist awakening. It took four months of reading, studying, underlining, and journaling for me to finish. I am so glad she shared such intimated detail about her faith struggle so I could learn from her experiences and feel less alone in my own. I've passed this book onto Josh, but I keep stealing it back to look over my notes or reflect on a passage. I know I'll keep coming back to this book for a long time. I'll just tease you with this beautiful quote that I think perfectly summarizes this book: "The only way I have ever understood, broken free, emerged, healed, forgiven, flourished, and grown powerful is by asking the hardest questions and then living into the answers through opening up to my own terror and transmuting it into creativity."
★★★★☆

The Animators - Kayla Rae Whitaker
I went into this book fairly blind, trusting in recommendations from authors and bookstagrammers, only knowing it was about two friends working in the male-dominated animation industry. Immediately I fell for these two women, despite their flaws and sometimes dysfunctional relationship, and couldn't wait to get to know them better. But somewhere along the way, the story started to fall flat for me. It simultaneously felt like too much yet not enough. Twists and turns ensued and I just wished we were back in NYC watching two friends navigate their careers and social lives. That being said, I couldn't stop thinking about this book and loved Whitaker's vibe. I often related to main character Sharon and regularly marveled at the way she put feelings I know so well into words. I look forward to reading more books by Whitaker and won't ever look at animation the same ever again.
★★★★☆

Nasty Women - Edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding
When I first saw Nasty Women I thought it might be up my alley, but after reading Nicole Chung's included "All-American" essay on Longreads, I know I had to get my hands on a copy of the book. These all-female writers kept me busy as I read, underlining all over the place and regularly stopping to discuss with Josh. While not every writer wowed me and I didn't necessarily agree with every point made, I loved how inclusive these editors were, even including two essays on a similar subject but with wildly different opinions. It's books like these that help me become a better intersectional feminist by showing me different perspectives and issues I've never had to deal with so I can speak up and help.
★★★★☆

Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert
I first read this book two years ago, when I first started dreaming up an ice cream business while also trying to find my place as a graphic designer. Even in that awkward place in my life, I found a lot of inspiration from this short book about creativity. I loved the way Gilbert turned inspiration into an actual being you need to nurture and work with. Now as I pursue creative writing, it felt like a good time to revisit a book on conquering your fears to pursue your passions. Firstly, I'm amazed at how vividly I remember most of this book after two years. Secondly, it feels like a whole new reading experience when I have a totally different project to focus on. I love how applicable her advice is to all sorts of pursuits. Like many self-help/inspirational books, this has its share of fluff, repetition, and cheese, but Gilbert offers her own experiences and a lovely new perspective that turns the usual advice upside-down. It's a fun and quick read for anyone who needs a kick in the pants to pursue those creative passions that bring them joy.
★★★★☆

I'm Fine And Other Lies - Whitney Cummings
I received this from Putnam Books and was admittedly wary to read it- I don't normally love self-help books or celebrity memoirs, not to mention I didn't previously know who Whitney Cummings was. But I began reading and found the audiobook at my library to listen to on our 24-hour road trip and I enjoyed myself! Listening to Whitney (we're already on a first-name basis) was like chatting with an experienced, hilarious friend who shares a wealth of helpful and not overly self-assured advice. Not every chapter, anecdote, or tidbit of advice wowed me, but I had fun and enjoyed Whitney's perspective.
★★★☆☆

Turtles All The Way Down - John Green
I should preface by saying I don't typically read YA and when I do, I'm rarely super impressed. It's just not my favorite genre. But I'd heard good things about John Green's latest and was particularly intrigued by the themes of mental illness. So I grabbed a library copy and jumped in! I really enjoyed Green's depiction of compulsive thoughts and struggling with mental health, as well as how he portrayed its effects on Aza's relationships. I honestly would've loved a book just about that. What I didn't enjoy was the unnecessary mystery and over the top philosophizing of these few teenagers. Their language and seemingly endless knowledge about authors, astronomy, art, medicine, diseases, poetry, and more at the age of seventeen felt incredibly inauthentic to me. Overall it was an enjoyable enough read and one I'd recommend to Green's target audience, but not necessarily to everyone as a whole.
★★★☆☆

They Both Die At The End - Adam Silvera
Again, YA is not my jam so don't let this discourage you too much if you are a fan of YA. Thanks to a system called Death-Cast that can somehow accurately predict the date everyone dies, two random boys in NYC receive a call at midnight informing them that sometime in the next twenty-four hours they will die. Left with only that information, we watch as they come to terms with their sentence and live out their last day. I really enjoyed the concept of this book, but i wish it had been explored a little more as it left me with so many questions and thinking of loopholes in the story. I occasionally found myself bored or confused by the decisions these characters made and more than once I was incredibly annoyed by their personalities. But Silvera had me emotionally invested to the point that I may have shed a tear or two at the end, despite the title's very clear warning.
★★★☆☆

Getting Off - Erica Garza
When I first read the prologue of this memoir of sex and porn addiction, I was hesitant to continue. I felt blinded by the sheer rawness of it all, how she bares all without apology. I knew it would not be an easy or comfortable read and that it would challenge me. But then she said this: "Sometimes I wonder- if there had been more research and more discussion about sexual addition in women, would I have changed my behavior? Had there been more available examples of vulnerable, open, honest, women sharing their journeys, would I have been more willing to embrace the possibility that I wasn't alone and unfixable?"
I can't imagine how hard it must have been to write so candidly about something so rarely talked about, an addiction rooted in shame and loneliness. An addiction that's largely seen as a man's problem (and, lately, a man's excuse for violence and inappropriate behavior towards women). Garza is an excellent storyteller that kept me hooked and feeling for her, relating to her. I especially loved how she peppered her story with facts and surveys about sex and porn addictions so I learned more about the problem at large. It was, in fact, a very rough read, but I'm glad Garza shared her story so I could learn from her. 
Thanks to Simon Books for sending me a copy of this book.
★★★☆☆

Delicate Edible Birds - Lauren Groff
I've read some stories by Groff in the past and didn't love them, but she's so well-loved and respected in the literary community, I thought for sure I just needed to give her a proper chance and read her collection. But I still think I'm missing something. I absolutely loved the first story in the collection, "Lucky Chow Fun" and really gained a lot from it. But most others fell flat for me. Often I found myself bored until some big moment in the middle and then I'd get bored again. I just think hers is not my style. That being said, I always learn a lot for my own craft when reading short stories so I don't regret this read at all! And I'm still willing to give her another shot as I've heard great things about "Fates and Furies" and the literary world is already buzzing about her book to be published later this year.
★★★☆☆

The Disaster Artist - Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
We saw The Room for the first time a few months ago while we were in Austin and become OBSESSED. Over the next few days, we couldn't stop quoting it or scrolling through the IMDB reading the facts about the production. It is truly the most bizarre movie I have ever seen. I mean, how did a movie as awful as that even make it onto the big screen?! This book certainly answered all of my burning questions. Hilarious but heartfelt and filled with raw humanity, actor Greg Sestero tells about his friendship with producer/director/writer Tommy Wiseau and dishes the behind-the-scenes details of creating The Room. Sometimes the writing felt over the top, repetitive, or bogged down with needless detail, but it was entertaining and did the job of explaining how such a movie came into existence. I do recommend James Franco's "The Disaster Artist" for a condensed look, but if you want to know ALL the mind-boggling details, pick up this book.
★★★☆☆

Top Ten Books of 2017

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What a year of reading! I've never read so many books before and I loved so many of them, but it was surprisingly easy to narrow down my favorites. As I went through my list, I kept saying "Yep! That's an all-time favorite" and miraculously ended up with ten 2017 reads that also happen to be on my favorites list. I wouldn't be surprised if I reread each and every one of these books this year. Also. These are all written by women, half of them by women of color! You go girls!

Goodbye Vitamin - Rachel Khong
I loved everything about this book, from the characters to the themes to the humor. The way she used California as another character in the book made me extremely homesick. 

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I love Adichie so much, but this is my favorite thing I've read of hers so far (which is saying a lot because I love everything I've read by her).

Lucky Boy - Shanthi Sekaran
This is another case of a writer that made me homesick with descriptions of California, but the story of these two women and the son between them hit me so hard. It's a stunning novel.

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
What a beautiful, tragic, sweeping novel that I wish everyone would read. I was particularly fond of the short story across generations style. I may reread it soon.

Man V. Nature - Diane Cook
I generally take my time when reading short story collections, breaking them up story by story and digesting slowly. But I couldn't do that with this. I was hooked. And loved it. I wish I could write the way Cook does.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky - Lesley Nneka Arimah
I've already reread a number of stories in this collection and count a few of hers as my all-time favorite short stories, particularly the titular story. Just whoa.

Hum If You Don't Know The Words - Bianca Marais
I listened to this one and was literally taking any excuse to keep listening to this heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Seriously. I took lunch breaks out in my car with the audio going so I could keep listening.

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
I didn't read this classic until this past year just before binging the entire Hulu series. So amazing and it's really opened my eyes up to how much I love feminist dystopian novels.

Glass Houses - Louise Penny
I'm fairly certain that as long as Louise Penny keeps publishing one book a year, she will always be in my top books of the year. 

Braving The Wilderness - Brene Brown
This is a case of a book that found me at the exact moment I needed it and one I know I'll need again. I'm pretty sure I've felt that way about each of her books.

I highly recommend you get yourself a copy of any of these books and give them a read! Hopefully you'll love them as much as I did.

Silver Linings of 2017

You know how some people start off a new year by picking a word that will inspire their goals or mantra or whatever for the year? I don't do that because my life and mind changes too much to commit to year long goals, but looking back I think I can sum up 2017 in one word. "Grow". Get it? Get it? Okay, but seriously.

It was a rough year. An uncomfortable year. A sad year. I shed a lot of my cozy insulation which left me feeling raw and exposed, but prepared me for a new skin. So while I didn't always love the growing pains, I love who I am becoming because of it. I feel so different and I wouldn't be surprised if I looked back on 2017 as an incredibly significant year in the entirety of my life.

And beyond my own life, I felt that 2017 was a rough year for many in this country. So much has happened that has left me and many many others stunned or hurt or angry. But looking back, I can see growth and change for the better. Despite the insanity, there were quite a few silver linings of 2017 that brought me joy and contributed to this new change within me.

So I want to share the silver linings of 2017, both in my own life and outside of it.

First things first, #metoo. Talk about growing pains, this was a painful movement. It's painful for women to share these stories and it's painful to see the backlash. But women are coming out stronger and more committed to standing together and standing up for one another. We're creating space for ourselves and each other as we speak up, demand justice, and move into the roles we were always meant to have. I'm grateful to the women who risked it all to make their voices heard and to those who have challenged the status quo to create change.

Elizabeth Warren persisting. 

Strengthening old friendships and making new ones.

The spotlight shining on diverse books. The world of literature is changing as the stories of minorities hit shelves and reach bestseller lists. The number of women of color on the "Best of 2017" lists brings me so much joy and I'm glad I've had plenty of opportunities to read their incredible work. A few of my favorites have been
"What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah
"Lucky Boy" by Shanthi Sekaran
"Goodbye Vitamin" by Rachel Khong
"Stay With Me" by Ayobami Adebayo
"The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas
"Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
"Hunger" by Roxane Gay
I've learned so much from these incredible women.

Going to therapy. It took me much too long to finally schedule an appointment, but it's really helped me. Also, the people in my life who are open about going to therapy helped me get there and help me feel confident talking about it, so shout out to them, too.

The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu. So good. And so appropriate for right now.

Starting a bookstagram. At the time I really needed some sort of creative outlet, and turns out taking pictures of my books and writing posts about them was the answer! I've enjoyed the creative process of it all while documenting all the books I read and frankly I'm amazed people even care to follow along. Turns out the bookstagram community is awesome and I love talking books with new and old friends!

The Women's March. I attended the Indianapolis demonstration and I can't express how it made me feel. After an awful awful election year, gathering together to stand against hate and stand up for women's equality, refugees, immigrants, and minorities was empowering and healing. I love my fellow women and it was an honor to gather with many of them that brisk morning.

Wonder Woman. Powerful representation of women in film for the win!

Giving myself permission to write and signing up for a short story class. I've always loved writing, but never pursued it as a creative outlet, but this year I finally let go of all the voices in my head telling me I'll never be successful so why try? I signed up for a short story class that taught me so much and put a fire underneath me to actually complete some stories. I now meet regularly with my fellow classmates for a writing group and I love learning from them. Writing has been so good for me and I've enjoyed the process so much.

Incredible therapeutic music that I screamed sang in my car on bad days and danced to on my good days:
"Praying" by Kesha
"Heaven I Know" by Gordi
"Pray" by Sam Smith
"Hold On" by Wilson Phillips
"I Don't Mind" by Joseph
"Open Hands" by Ingrid Michaelson
Oh Wonder's new album "Ultralife"
HAIM's new album "Something To Tell You"
Gregory Alan Isakov's album with the Colorado Symphony
All of Lord Huron

Our vacation in Portland. Good food, good weather, good people, good time spent with Josh. As of right now it's my favorite city in the US, maybe because it made me feel more like ME than I've felt in a long time. I can't explain, but it lit a fire in me to keep that feeling going and to not abandon who I am and what feels right to me.

Josh's hair. It took a turn in a beautiful direction this year and brought me so much joy. So luscious. So full.

Stranger Things. I didn't watch any of it till this year so binge watching 2 seasons at once was awesome. Also. Steve Harrington could have his own line in this list of silver linings. Actually, Steve Harrington's hair could have its own line.

Being together with all of my siblings. Unfortunately my grandpa passed away this fall and as much as I hated the circumstances, I'm so glad I got to be with my whole family. It's been too long since we've all been together and that trip home was so good for me.

Two weeks with family for Christmas. We had a lot of vacation saved up for the end of the year and got to spend two whole weeks in Utah with Josh's family and my family came in town, too! I haven't ever been able to see both sides of the family on Christmas day so that was really cool. But in general, having a lot of down time to just chill and chat and play games with the family was the greatest.

International Day of the Girl "Freedom" video. Those girls give me chills.

And I'd include this on lists I'd do for any year, but Josh. I think our relationship has gotten a lot stronger throughout this year and I didn't think it was possible, but we've grown closer. He's been there for me and my crazy 200% and I've been able to be completely open with him about all of my struggles. That's an amazing thing to have.

I hope your 2017 had a lot of silver linings, too. May 2018 bring even more!

Austin - December 2017

+ We had been planning on a two-week long trip to Vietnam for Thanksgiving but after some unexpected big expenses, we could no longer afford those flights. So we were left with two-weeks of saved up vacation and a bit of extra vacation money. When I found ultra-cheap flights to Austin, we decided it would be the perfect weekend trip in December! And we were right. Maybe we'll make a trip to Austin in December every year.

+ I really loved Austin. It felt like the Portland of the south, and since Portland is my favorite U.S. city and Austin has amazing weather in December, it was absolutely lovely. Incredibly food (see below), cool people, quite a few bookstores (also see below), great weather, lots (of cheap things) to do. And it's so dog friendly! I loved it. Next time we visit, we're bringing the dogs so we can join the people who hang out in food truck parks with their adorable dogs. Bruce and Bernie would love it if we moved here.

+ My sister used to live in Austin, so when I asked her for recommendations, she immediately told me to get tickets to Master Pancake theater at the Alamo Drafthouse. It's a classic movie accompanied by a comedy show and we booked tickets without even knowing what movie they were showing. Oh man. We've been missing out on the glory that is "The Room" (Tommy Wiseau, not Brie Larson) but I'm glad we saw it for our first time with Master Pancake. So. Funny. Oh. My. Gosh. And ordering legit food (not the TGI Fridays level food that other dine-in movie theaters have) while watching was awesome. Then walking out of the theater to find the insanity that is 6th street on a Saturday night was pretty fun, too.

+ Barton Springs might have been my favorite part of this trip. It's been cold in Indiana and I couldn't wait to soak up some sun, even if it was a little colder than summer weather. Thankfully the day we decided to go to Barton Springs, it was warm and sunny and we got there early enough to catch the senior aerobics swimmers. The place was empty so it must have been a bit too cold for Texans, but we loved it. Once we were done swimming, we took a walk over to the dog-friendly area of the springs and worked on our tans while we watched dogs run around freely in the water. I could've sat there all day. 

+ I firmly believe that any place with a river should build a place like this. Sacramento, get on that! The combination of fresh water and natural rocky bottoms complete with plant life with diving boards, lifeguards, steps, and ladders is incredible! When we go back to Austin, Barton Springs will be at the top of my to-do list. 

+ Speaking of swimming, we loved the pool at the Sheraton downtown and had the whole thing to ourselves for an hour. We swam more on this trip than we did all summer and it was excellent.

+ Obviously we had to hit up the local bookstores! Austin has quite a few niched bookstores, as well as the mecca, Book People, downtown. Oh man, I loved Book People. I could've spent all day there, and Josh didn't complain when I nearly did. I found a number of books and magazines I haven't been able to find elsewhere and loved hunting around for their MANY signed copies. I spent so much time reading through all of the excellent staff recommendations. With Christmas coming, I only walked out with two books, but you can bet I'll be back there the next time we're in Austin and will budget to buy lots more. And hopefully we can plan ahead to be there for one of their author events they seem to host every day!

+ Not everything is bigger in Texas, but the Half Priced Books sure are. We went to a boutique near one of the chain bookstores, so we figured we'd stop in- it's fun to get an idea of a place based on what kinds of book donations they get. I couldn't believe how big the store was. At least twice as big as the biggest location in Indianapolis. Again. We spent way too much time there.

+ We went to a number of boutiques, but my favorite shop was Tesoros on South Congress. The prices were so good that I may have gone a bit crazy with the handmade jewelry. If we had enough room in our shared carry-on I would've bought a lot of home decor. Something to keep in mind for our next trip to Austin...

+ I almost feel guilty that our first stop in Austin was In-N-Out, but I'm a perpetually homesick California girl so get off my back. And that was the least busy In-N-Out I've ever encountered and I'm concerned for the judgement of Texans as they seem to not love In-N-Out as much as they should. So ungrateful. But anyway. It was amazing and I miss In-N-Out so much. Moving on.

+ For every city I want to visit, I have a list of places I want to go to. Whenever I come across articles in food magazines, recommendations from friends, city guides, etc. I add the places to these ever-growing lists so I am prepared should I ever visit. The first place I ever added to my list for Austin was Elizabeth St. Cafe. I discovered it in my graphic design days when I wanted to do branding for food businesses. Elizabeth St. was a prime example of incredible design, but it also featured a menu that seemed made just for me- pastries and Vietnamese food. So I had to check it out for myself while we're in town. We ate a lovely dinner of bún and banh mi with steamed buns and I couldn't stop raving about how cute the place was. I was a bit concerned, as reviews seemed to agree the place is overrated as it's overpriced somewhat Americanized Vietnamese food. They're totally right. It's not the greatest banh mi or bún I've ever had. But I was paying for the decor, design, and excellent service and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you need to take away my foodie card, I understand. We even went back for breakfast treats the next day. I highly recommend the everything croissant.

+ Torchys. Okay, so I grew up in California where tacos are everywhere and I've grown to believe that for the most part, they are nothing special. I don't often seek out Mexican food so I wasn't particularly excited to eat TexMex in Texas. We almost skipped Torchy's in favor of other more interesting looking food trucks. But we wanted a cheaper breakfast that had a breakfast menu for Josh and a not breakfast menu available for me (who doesn't love scrambled eggs) and Torchy's seemed like a good fit. Oh. My. Gosh. I want to live on the Trashy Trailer Park taco. And the green chile pork was excellent as well. It was the greatest breakfast I've had in a long time and felt so Texas, especially out under a mesquite tree on a sunny morning. We may or may not have gone to Torchy's again for a late lunch... No regrets.

+ Gourdoughs made us feel like the ultimate fatties. Holy wow those donuts are dense (and delicious). And we may have gone a bit overboard getting the concoctions topped with marshmallow sauce and giant chunks of brownie. I feel fat just thinking about it. Very good, but prepare yourself, my friends.

+ It's become tradition for us to get dessert to go and bring it back to our hotel so we can indulge while taking advantage of the TV and room we don't have to clean. This trip we got a few treats from Sugar Mama's, which might be the food I liked the least on this trip, but it was good. And the night we went to Alamo Drafthouse, we went to Voodoo down the street for donuts. I couldn't pass up a chance to get me a Mango Tango! Of course they did not disappoint.

+ But seriously, nearly every eatery in Austin is beautifully designed. The Peached Tortilla also made it on my Austin list during my graphic design days and I'm glad we stopped! It wasn't mind-blowing food and I'm a little confused about their name since it was mostly Asian-fusion and the "tortilla" implies Mexican-fusion but whatever. We loved the vibe and beautiful decor. And they convinced me to have a sweet breakfast of ultra-fluffy melt in your mouth french toast with miso syrup that I really enjoyed.

+ Our hotel was a short walk away from THE Franklin BBQ so we walked down one morning. We went. We saw the line. We turned around and left. Good thing neither of us are BBQ obsessed.

+ Hands down, Odd Duck served the best food we ate in Austin. Sorry Torchy's. I made a reservation on a whim after seeing it recommended by Bon Appetit and I'm so glad we did.
1) The service was amazing. They didn't just point me to the restroom, they walked me there. They didn't just tell me what dishes were corn-free (sucky allergy to have because corn is in EVERYTHING in America), they made an annotated menu with available substitutions just for me.
2) The food. Oh man, the food. A good chunk of the menu is vegetable based, which I normally wouldn't love but the descriptions made it sound amazing. At any other restaurant, I'm not sure I would've ordered an egg-based, broccoli-based, or squash-based dish but we did here and it was incredible. In fact, I almost wanted to order another butternut squash dish for dessert. But not to worry because they had a butternut squash Baked Alaska that was just as good- butternut ice cream on top of a spice cake and covered in a toasted meringue. Excellent and perfect for sharing. Sometimes I go to a restaurant and it makes me want to go back to my culinary school days when I was studying and experimenting with food all the time, and Odd Duck did that for me. I love when I fall in love and feel inspired by the food I'm eating. 

+ You can bet we'll be vacationing in Austin again and we might even do exactly what we did on this trip. We had a lot of fun and definitely needed that quick weekend escape.