Friday, September 15, 2017

To BYOP or not to BYOP? That is the quandary.

Fall is my favorite season. Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love carving pumpkins. (For those of you who vehemently oppose any of these opinions, go ahead and freak out. Bye.)

Starting many years ago in my tiny studio apartment, growing in guest list size as my accommodations grew, I have hosted many BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin) parties. A few years I didn't have the energy to host a BYOP party (like the year some rotten ne'er-do-wells kicked in our front door and robbed our house). Hosting this party requires much planning, physical effort, some sweat, a little bit of cursing, a good dose of creativity and a lot of cleaning before and after. I won't lie: some years after a BYOP party I swear that I'll never do it again. It's that tiring. Some years after a BYOP party I feel reconnected to old friends and so thankful for social connections. I perused old pumpkin party pics today in an effort to decide whether or not to host the BYOP party this year. Here are some of my favorites. Enjoy.

Reasons to host BYOP:

I worry that our social group and support network are drifting apart. Hosting this party invites all the people we like to reconnect, to strengthen bonds and renew friendships.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. BYOP is a fun way to celebrate Halloween.

I love seeing the pumpkins people carve, paint, sticker, bedazzle or otherwise decorate. 

I not-so-secretly love planning and logistics, especially as they relate to parties and decorating.

I already have the to-do list, party rental list, grocery list and blueprints from past BYOP parties. 

Reasons to not host BYOP:

October is a busy time in Austin including: both weekends of ACL music fest, children's sports activities, school carnivals, UT football games and various fundraisers. 

It's so much work to host this party. From setting up tables, chairs, buffet, grocery shopping, food prep, pickup from vendors, to struggling to be a gracious host as an unnamed guest lets their children barricade themselves in our home's only bathroom during the party for over thirty minutes, to cleaning up pumpkin guts off of the hardwood floors and rugs. So. Much. Work.

About half of the guests don't touch a pumpkin during the party, despite all the carving tools, stickers, paint and bedazzling supplies I offer. I should simply be glad that every guest chose to attend. But some broken part of me really wants the majority of attendees to decorate a pumpkin.

It's kind of expensive. Can one put a price on friendship? No. But this party's budget might shock some of you. 

Good weather is not guaranteed. One year it rained really hard during the BYOP party. We moved the buffet tables inside and relocated the pumpkin decorating stations to our carport. Despite our best efforts the party was kind of a bust.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Five Scary/Suspenseful Movies I'm Anticipating

With all the scary, awful stuff in the spotlight recently, I appreciate the relative safety of fictional scares and suspense. Last weekend Chad and I saw Annabelle: Creation, part of The Conjuring franchise. We both flinched, gasped, covered our eyes, and quietly uttered "uh-uh!" and "oh no!" several times during the movie. That creepy doll was relentless! I can gasp in fright, then laugh at myself with relief about fictional supernatural forces. I can forget the real scary stuff for a while. Watching scary movies is like loosening a pressure valve, letting the anxiety and fear out a bit, before the pressure builds too much.

Here are five more scary/suspenseful movies I'm anticipating:

1. Flatliners 

I loved the 1990 version. This looks like a cool refresh on the story. Plus I have a little crush on James Norton from his work on the BBC mystery series Grantchester.

2. IT

Another refresh of a 1990 production. I loved the television mini-series of IT from ye-olden-times. The trailer for this newer rendering looks even better.

3. Happy Death Day

Like the horror version of Groundhog Day, living the same day over and over until our hero gets it right, and foils her own murder: good times! Seriously, I'm super excited for this movie.

4. Murder on the Orient Express

Another retelling. When I was in middle school, I read just about every Agatha Christie book I could get my sweaty paws on. (I've told you guys repeatedly that I was a dorky, bookish child. Don't doubt.) This version looks moody, suspenseful and worthy of attention, even if most of us already know whodunnit.

5. My Little Pony: The Movie

Creepy. Suspenseful. I may not sleep for days after watching this movie.

Ah-ha! Just kidding. Obvi.

5. (For real this time) The Limehouse Golem:

The sepia-toned visual warmth of this movie adds a sinister layer of grimness and griminess to this mystery. Bill Nighy excels at portraying creepy confidence and brooding sense of duty. Yes, please.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Five Things I Loved About Summer Camp

As an adult living in Austin, Texas, I don't love summer. In fact, I actively dislike summer. It's hot, too relentlessly sunny, humid but also lacking in meaningful rain, and about five months long. Let me emphatically repeat, it's HOT! Summer in Austin causes me to plot my relocation to the Pacific Northwest every August as I stare forlornly at the extended weather forecast.

When I was a kid, I also didn't love the summer heat living in Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia and Texas. I did love the time off from school, especially those precious weeks each summer spent at sleep-away camp. My personal favorite camp I attended as a kid was Camp Cosby, a YMCA camp in Alpine, Alabama. Yes, it was hot in the summer. No, the cabins were not air-conditioned. Yes, the water from the shower smelled more like chlorine than the water in the pool did. The fun and adventure of Camp Cosby outweighed these trifling discomforts.

Here are my five favorite things about summer camp as a kid:

1. Sense of community

Some years I went to camp the same week as a few of my school friends, and we bunked in the same cabin. Other years I made new friends on the bus ride from my local YMCA in Birmingham to Camp Cosby in Alpine. Bonds formed fast and often lasted after camp ended. As a kid with a limited amount of time at camp, you clicked quickly for maximum fun and friendship. Even after camp ended each summer, I kept up a pretty good penpal routine for at least a few months with my besties.

2. Sense of freedom from "real adults"

Sure, most of the counselors were ages eighteen to twenty-two, but they weren't paying a mortgage or paying back student loans yet. Overall the counselors seemed like a relatively good-natured bunch, happy for a summer paycheck. There were always a few camp administrators or camp nurses who seemed absolutely ancient compared to the campers, but campers never saw much of those figureheads. I especially liked the annual snipe hunt that the counselors took new campers on. Would "real adults" take unsuspecting campers into the woods at night for a snipe hunt?

3. Crafts

I made about a bazillion "god's eyes" by wrapping yarn around popsicle sticks. These days on Pinterest there are some super-fancy, multi-dowel, multi-colored god's eye projects. Mine were not fancy, used only two colors, only two popsicle sticks and ended up in the trashcan pretty soon after I returned home from camp.

I also loved keychain weaving with plastic cords. I spent hours making fancy keychains and bracelets. The keychains were actually useful, and usually avoided the fate of the trashcan.

4. Canoeing

I loved paddling a boat on the lake: more than riding horses, swimming or even water skiing. No, I am not in this photo.

5. Dances/Socials

Once each camp session there would be a dance/social, varying in themes from disco to square-dancing to contemporary top 40 music. Campers never knew what the theme would be each session, but we did our best to wear appropriate "costumes" with the materials available. I remember braiding my hair and using eye-liner pencil to paint on freckles for the square-dance themed social. I remember the thrill of dancing with my camp crush, simultaneously feeling so shy and embarrassed.

Did you go to summer camp as a kid? Did you love it, hate it or something in between? What were your favorite things?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Easy as Falling In a Hole

You've likely heard the sayings "easy as pie" and "easy as falling off a log". Whoever coined the phrase "easy as pie" never made a pie. It's not very easy to make a pie, especially if you make your own crust, which I do. Falling off a log is fairly easy, though not always pleasant. A few days ago, I heard the phrase "easy as falling in a hole". Maybe this was a misquote, but I like it, and found relevance in the thought.

Most of my working life has been spent in customer service. I started working at the tender age of eight years old as a babysitter for my own sister and for neighbors. My qualifications? I was a child myself, and thus able to relate to children. File this under "what were the adults thinking?". With the benefit of hindsight, I judge that I was too young to be employed in the childcare industry. I continued my highly unregulated childcare business up through my teens on top of school, speech & debate, theatre and other part-time jobs simultaneously.

At age fifteen I landed my first legitimate job at Arby's for a summer. My mom thought that I could walk the 1.5 miles from my house in the Texas summer heat to this job at Arby's. A neighbor's mom was horrified at the thought of me walking, and secretly gave me rides to and from my job when my own parents couldn't/wouldn't. Thank you, Mrs. Blackwood. I owe you.

For my next legitimate job I toiled as a home fashions department salesperson at Mervyn's located in an unfashionable strip mall on the edge of town. My mom maxed out my Mervyn's credit card, and I got called on the carpet to explain that to my manager. Otherwise I maintained good employment standing for about a year.

At age seventeen I decided my destiny awaited in bigger and seemingly better employment at the glamorous shopping mall in the middle of town. I worked at Margo's ladies' fashion store for over five years, on and off. The district manager trusted me to train many of the store managers and new employees, because technically I had the most seniority. I enjoyed working at Margo's during winter holiday breaks and summer breaks from college.

As a college freshman I got a job at the University of Texas Alumni Fundraising Call Center.  I didn't stick to the script for fundraising calls, because it sounded stilted and unnatural. I got reprimanded for not sticking to the script, but then I was THE top performer raising over $25,000 in alumni donations. I got to meet the University President who personally thanked me for being such a bad-ass fundraiser. (My term, not his.)

While back in Plano the summer after my freshman year of college I worked at Camp TV in downtown Dallas as a video editor and office underling. I felt very grown up working full-time downtown, until I was in a hit and run car accident on the way to work one morning. (To clarify, another car broadsided my car and kept going.) My dad was so mad about the wreck, he threatened to not allow me to return to college in the fall. A whole terrible ordeal ensued. I paid nearly every penny I made that summer to get that stupid car repaired. My dad refused to claim the wreck on our insurance for the repairs, convinced that I was at fault.

Mercifully, I secured a job as a Resident Assistant for my sophomore and junior years at University of Texas at Austin. This enabled me to (somewhat) rationally explain to my dad that with or without his permission, I found a way to pay for my room and board at school. I also scraped together just enough money for tuition to return to school. Being a Resident Assistant was the toughest job I ever loved. Residence hall life provided an amazing sense of community. In retrospect, I wish I'd stayed in the dorms as a senior in college, but I thought I wanted to live off campus in an apartment my senior year. Live and learn.

I worked as a cashier at Breed & Co. during the fall semester my senior year of college. I worked as a salesperson at Toy Joy during the spring semester my senior year of college. I also worked as a Residence Hall Receptionist at University of Texas both semesters my senior year of college. Yes, simultaneously while working at Breed & Co. and Toy Joy, interning at a radio station and finishing my senior year of course work. When did I sleep? Seriously.

Right out of college I got a six-month temporary job with way low pay doing fundraising for a non-profit collective. I was quite the shiny, happy do-gooder.

Through an acquaintance at the non-profit, I found my next job as an Assistant Manager at a high-end store that shall not be named. My eighteen month tenure there came to an abrupt end when I uttered the phrase, "I resign effective immediately", rather than stay at a hostile work environment one moment longer. One of the owners felt bad about the situation, and found every minute of unused vacation time, sick time and overtime that they could to pay me a big parting check. The other owner lied and told my next employer that they fired me. Classy.

For like ten seconds I worked as an SEC-licensed Service Representative at a mutual fund company. Worst job fit ever for me. I'm so bored by other people's theoretical money and by investment income tax laws.

Fresh off that disaster, I landed a job as a Junior Graphic Designer and Copywriter at an insurance company in the marketing & advertising department. Also a bad cultural fit for me, I slogged away here for two years before resigning. The final moment that sent me running was when a claims adjuster proudly announced, "We won that brain-damaged baby case! They didn't get a dime." Disgusting. Bye, Jerks.

What did I do next? I decided I needed an easy job where I felt comfortable. I fell into that old familiar employment space of retail doing sales & visual displays at Old Navy for one holiday season. There was so much fleece. So. Much. Fleece.

Still a young go-getter, I nailed a job interview for the supporting role of Marketing Assistant at Zachary Scott Theatre. The wages were dramatically low. I eventually figured out that I wanted to be on the stage, not writing the press releases and assembling the press packets. I lasted one frustrating year.

I rose to Assistant Manager at J.Crew while also working at Dougherty Arts School in various roles. I didn't sleep much or socialize much during those two years.

Right about the time I started doing paid acting work on a regular basis, I also started working at Furry Godmothers as an insured and bonded, mobile veterinary technician and petsitter. Pros: petting cute animals for money, walking dogs all over Austin including some very chic neighborhoods, writing humorous and informative pet care journals during each visit, a somewhat flexible schedule that allowed time for also doing theatre. Cons: poop, insulin shots, subcutaneous fluids, tube feedings, working EVERY holiday, sometimes starting my day at 6:00 AM and not ending until 10:00 PM. I quit after two and a half years, because I needed time to grieve my dad's sudden death. This also coincided with way too much time spent in New York City for Chad's work and a job offer to move there.

I spent several years as a serious actress with a talent agent and everything. Résumé available upon request. I wrote a separate blog for this at

While still going on auditions and occasionally getting acting work, I started as a volunteer at a pet rescue non-profit. After a year of volunteering, I scored a (barely) paid job as an Adoption Center Co-manager. I cared too much. I got too stressed. I burned out in a white-hot flame of significant weight-loss, hives and hemorrhoids. Cute, huh?

As soon as my stress-induced hives and hemorrhoids healed, I fell back into retail as a Home Stylist and Visuals Associate at a hip furniture store for two and a half years. My (mostly) delightful coworkers kept me there longer than I could have endured without them.

With only two days off between jobs I began my next post as a Supervisor and Visuals Coordinator at a decidedly not hip men's clothing store. I made a bad decision in taking that job, but I had bills to help pay. When an unexpected financial windfall happened, I happily resigned that job.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being unemployed for the past two years. I've been busy with some acting gigs, maintaining my trophy-wife status and being the neighborhood crazy-cat-lady. But... I'm getting kind of bored and restless. I want to work again, to feel relevant, to have some kind of social connection with humans.

With my work history, it's no surprise all of the inquiries I get on are for retail and customer service jobs. It's as easy as falling in a hole for me to land a customer service job. But then I'm stuck in that hole. I no longer enjoy being in that hole. It's dark down there. There are some unpleasant creepy-crawlies down there. It's difficult to climb out of there. The schedule is unpredictable down there. The pay is cruddy down there. Customers/clients are not always nice down there. When I begin to look for my next work or volunteer project, I will be very wary of holes in my pathway.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ex-Boyfriend Spotted at Favorite Grocery Store

I have one ex-boyfriend from college who still lives in Austin. We shop at the same grocery store sometimes. Over the years I've seen him approximately five times at this store. We never speak or acknowledge each other. Back in the day, he broke up with me by ignoring my phone calls and telling a friend of a friend that he didn't want to see me anymore. I think the modern version of this is called "ghosting". At the time, it broke my heart. It sucks to be dumped unceremoniously. Six months later I met Chad, and pretty much forgot about that Ex-BF.

My former, much-beloved gym shared a parking lot with this grocery store, which happens to be my favorite grocery store. Usually when I spotted Ex-BF in the past, I looked sweaty and ruddy from exercise, with little to no makeup, less than ideal fashion and unstyled hair. Since my former gym closed, I have a better chance of showing up at the grocery store wearing makeup, and with some thought given to hairstyle and outfit. On that fated day last month, as I left for the grocery store, Chad asked, "You got a hot date?" This is his funny way of telling me I look nice. Honestly I wasn't doing anything special with my outfit of jeans and t-shirt, except for accessorizing with a necklace, earrings and my wedding ring. (I don't wear my wedding ring to the gym. I'm afraid it will get scratched or damaged. I also dislike the pinch-feeling of the ring as I'm gripping weights or handles. Chad agrees with me on this.)

I spotted Ex-BF from a distance of about 50 feet at the grocery store that day. I thought, "He's aging well. Good for him." Then I noticed that I wasn't blushing or hyperventilating, and thought, "I'm handling this Ex-BF sighting really well. Good for me." Ex-BF did not spot me in that moment. Awkward situation averted. Yay.

I steered my cart toward the checkout lines. I waited in line for about two minutes with no one in line behind me. I stacked my groceries on the conveyor belt. I had several feminine products, three bottles of Chameleon cold brew coffee, vegan hot dogs, buns, sunflower seeds for the birds/squirrels and many bottles of Topo Chico fizzy water amongst my groceries. I remember thinking how absurd it might be to judge someone based on the products purchased on a random grocery run. Someone got in line behind me. They put cat litter and several giant bottles of cheap wine on the conveyor belt. I sneaked a peek at what I assumed would be an elderly spinster lady. Nope. It was Ex-BF. Dangit! Did he not recognize me? Why would a sane person knowingly get in line behind their Ex? I gave a grimace in his general direction, not making eye-contact. I looked just long enough to see him tilt his head a bit to the side, like a dog does when they are trying to understand your words. Maybe in that second he recognized me, too late to back out of that checkout line. He suddenly became engrossed in his phone. I felt myself blush mightily. I turned and kept my back to Ex-BF. I watched my heartbeat become more and more pronounced under my shirt. As inconspicuously as possible I took a few, quiet, deep breaths to try and calm myself.

I gave my friendliest smile when the checker greeted me. As the checker scanned my items, I pawed through some Snickers bars that said funny things on them in the Snickers font and logo style such as: POUTY, SLEEPY, CRANKY, LOOPY. Yes, I am allergic to peanuts. Yes, Snickers are packed with peanuts. Anything to avoid looking back at Ex-BF behind me. The sweet bagger asked me if I wanted my face powder left out of the grocery bag, and maybe in my purse instead. No thanks! Throw it all in the bag, please. Hurry, please. Thankyouverymuchhaveagooddaybye. When I completed checkout and all my items were bagged, I dared to give the tiniest glance back as I fled for the exit. I saw Ex-BF digging through the Snickers bars with a half-smirk on his face.

I got home and immediately spilled all the details of my Ex-BF sighting to Chad. (Chad works from home, as do all of the employees at his company.) I was still blushing and flustered. Chad laughed with me about it, and kindly asked if I needed a cold compress for my forehead. He gave me a hug.

I'm so glad that Ex-BF behaved like a thoughtless jerk all those years ago. I'm so glad I met Chad at the right time, when I was ready to have a thoughtful, smart, nice, super-handsome boyfriend who respected me. I'm not so glad that Ex-BF got in the checkout line behind me at my favorite grocery store.

I need to find a new favorite grocery store.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Five Cool Treats in Austin

It's not even officially summer yet, but I'm lining up my coping mechanisms for the heat that will pervade summer in Central Texas like a hot, wet blanket. In semi-related confessions: Chad and I fell off the vegan wagon. More on that later. I now self-identify as a strict vegetarian with vegan tendencies. Some, but not all, of the following places are vegan-friendly. All are vegetarian-friendly, of course.

1. Sno.Co Flattop Shaved Ice

This shaved ice trailer parks at the charmingly funky Vortex Theatre complex at 2307 Manor Road. After seeing an Instagram post of the frosty goodness I can't wait to try it!

2. Snow Monster

Chad and I have ventured way north to the Snow Monster location at North Lamar and Braker Lane several times. Snow Monster is totally worth the trek! Snow Monster serves snow ice which is a popular Taiwanese dessert made with fruit extracts and fresh milk. Snow Monster makes a soymilk version also! They offer about a bazillion toppings to personalize your frosty treat.

3. Juiceland

Having some vitamin-deficiency induced guilt? Feeling like you need a healthy cool smoothie? Juiceland can help you with that. They have lots of locations, even outside of Austin, for you to get your fix. Vegan-friendly to the max.

4. Sweet Caroilne's Snow Shack

Sweet Caroline's Snow Shack serves yummy New Orleans-style snowballs. The trailer at 8102 Mesa Drive near Spicewood Springs Road sits conveniently/dangerously near my gym. If I tell you I'm going to my gym, and return with a technicolor tongue, you know what's up. I like the texture of these snowballs.

5. Venezia Italian Gelato

Venezia serves up Italian gelato made by real-live Italian-Americans! I can't wait to try it.
Chad spent his baby and toddler years in Naples, Italy where his dad served as a Navy Pilot. Chad loves gelato and most things Italian. It will be easy to convince him to make the trek down to Venezia Italian Gelato at 1701 South Lamar Boulevard.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Circus 1903

If you live in Austin, you have one more day to catch Circus 1903 at the Long Center. Chad and I marveled from our front row center seats at this magnificent circus complete with a wise & wise-cracking ringmaster, contortionist, strong man, trapeze artists, high wire act, acrobats, beautiful (puppet) elephants and more. Wow!

Use discount code: ZACH for 25% off!

I don't want to say too much about the show and spoil it. Chad and I both loved it, and we're a tough audience. Circus 1903 delights young and old. If you live in a city other than Austin, check out the official Circus 1903 website for tour dates in other cities by clicking here.