One Year of Fostering..

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A year ago at Thanksgiving, <3M and I began volunteering with Austin Boxer Rescue as fosters. We began with the intention of fostering a dog until we found one that truly fit our family and could be a true buddy with our puppy girl Stella. One year and 5 foster dogs later, we don’t have a new, permanent furry resident but we do have a few lessons learned and many fond memories as foster parents

Saying Goodbye
A lot of our friends ask how we could love a dog for a few weeks or months then one day, most of the time unexpectedly, say goodbye.  Since saying goodbye to our first foster Jack (ABR – Sean) we’ve learned that each dog has a family it’s destined for.  Although we’ve loved each of our fosters, we’ve been able to objectively look at each temporary family member and pinpoint why that dog isn’t the perfect fit for our family and kept these reasons in mind when kissing the pups goodbye, reassuring ourselves we made the right decision by letting him go.

Boxer Collage

We also learned that saying goodbye is not only hard on us but also on our puppy girl Stella. Each time a new friend comes and goes, Stella goes through a short mourning period – often watching for her friend from the window, worriedly whining about their whereabouts, feeling she needs some extra love and cuddles, and being too heartbroken to eat. This is by far the hardest part for us, not saying goodbye to our recent foster, but watching Stella work through the goodbye without fully understanding.

Every dog has a story
Each dog has a background that’s shaped him into the dog they are when we receive them.

Jack arrived to us with mange.

Jefferson came to us with cuts and bite marks.

Apollo (ABR La Bamba) was surrendered by his owners.

No matter how they ended up with us, we always tried to remember that these dogs needed to feel safe, cared for, and loved. They were all scared, confused, and had been sleeping in a different place each night. What they needed was a calm environment and a steady routine to bring their life back to normal.

Apollo So when they have a small accident on the carpet or become a bit territorial over a toy, blanket, or human – we often had to remind ourselves that our fosters are still in training. That somedays, we just have to bend down, clean up the mess and remember that they’re still learning how good life truly can be.

Every Dogs Has a Perfect Family
After having a dog in your home for a while, you come to know what exact needs they require in order to get adopted and begin looking for that perfect family – the family that fits the dog to be their forever home.

Sean : Jack 2 You learn that your foster won’t fit the needs of every family that finds their fuzzy little face adorable. You learn how to nicely direct the family to a better fit while petting your foster pup and letting them know, as another potential adopter walks away, that it wasn’t meant to be and that his future family is still out there.

Jefferson was one in particular that <3M and I had a hard time letting go but we knew he wasn’t a great fit for our family and that he needed some special attention to break his overprotective nature. Jefferson found his forever Daddy one adoption day. His behavior has improved greatly and he’s now a daily presence at the gym his Dad owns! Knowing Jefferson found the right fit in his adoptive home gives us peace of mind, in knowing we made the right decision in letting go and taking the time to find him the right family.

Jefferson & Dad When it came to Kringle, we knew exactly what type of family to match him with. We lived in an apartment and he simply needed more room, he had a ton of energy and needed space to let it all out. Kringle needed a place to run and stretch his legs – he needed a backyard. One adoption day, he met a Dad looking for a fur-brother to keep his current boxer entertained when his 2 little girls weren’t around. Kringle met his potential fur (and skin) sisters and it was a perfect match. The girls play with him to keep his energy level in check and when they’re away, Kringle has is fur sister to play and tumble with in his very own backyard!

Apollo, our most recent foster, was a rambunctious 2 year old who becomes a little too playful when having another dog around. He also needed a lot of attention in order to become properly trained on a leash. Getting to know Apollo over few months he was with us, we came to learn that he’d be best as a solo dog. When it was just him and I, this guy was super cuddly, super responsive and just simply wonderful. As we meet potential adopters, <3M and I knew to keep our single dog family recommendation is mind in order to ensure Apollo’s match truly would be his forever home.

Sean : Jack

It’s hard. And Fulfilling.
Fostering’s hard. It requires patience and understanding. It requires sacrifice. And sometimes it’s heartbreak for all those involved. But overall there’s joy in know that even for a short period of time, you were able to share your home and love with an animal who truly needed and appreciated it. Who with your love and attention, was able to regain that sparkle of love and trust in their eyes.

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Let’s talk about cupcakes

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Molly Ron, Berry, Cake BatterMy friends think I’m obsessed with cupcakes and when you consider  all the facts, I can see how they’ve come to that conclusion..

Let’s start at the beginning —

While  pursuing my MBA in Marketing at RIT, I was drawn to a certain, strong entrepreneurial cupcake shop owner, turned frosting extrordinaire, Heather “Cupcakes” Saffer.  As a final grad school project, a team and I created a marketing plan for her bakery, at the time – The Cupcake Dreamery.

Over the course of our project work, Heather and I became friends.  Afterwards, I helped her with a few cupcake-oriented PR needs & basic social media setup [now, Ms. Cupcakes could write a book on social media marketing!].

I spent a lot of time in her cupcake bubble and even worked an afternoon shift at her second bakery, Dollop Gourmet, oncewhen she was short staffed.  Having the chance to decorate cupcakes and watching customers smile as they received their treats was one of my favorite food service experiences!

During my final year in Rochester, I made many visits to the Dollop bakery to chat cupcakes with Heather and sample her newest creation.  This was my weekly mental break from everyday life.

Molly Peach Cobbler

I believe this time spent at Dollop opened the door into the magical, sprinkle-sparkled world of cupcakes.

After moving to Austin, I had a short stint of unemployment where I kept myself busy working behind the counter at Delish, an ATX cupcakery [now full-on bakery].  When I found out Delish wouldn’t let me frost the cupcakes without going through “training” I realized they were oblivious to my intrinsic baking talents and ditched Delish venturing back into the corporate world to pursue a traditional career.

A whirlwind trip later, I’m in New York City and Heather Cupcakes comes to visit me.  I plan out an entire day where she and I venture from NYC cupcakery to cupcakery reviewing bakery creations & concepts  while eating ourselves into a sugar coma. Her motivation was purely research oriented while my purpose was to find “The Best Ever Cupcake” [Mission accomplished].

There’s been a few other random cupcake acts in-between as well, such as draggin’ M<3 to a cupcake festival where I willingly paid to launch cupcakes at a guy dressed in a pig costume.

And for the record, I hit him right in where it counts!

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I’ve also been featured multiple times on the famous cupcake blog Cupcakes Take the Cake, obsessively DVR Cupcake Wars (reruns included), will predictably show up at social gatherings with a plate of cupcakes in tow, excitedly attended any and all cupcake-themed events, and I consider it completely normal behavior for my friends to meet me at a new cupcakery to catch up rather than meeting for coffee or a cocktail elsewhere.

Lastly, let’s not forget, I got engaged at a cupcakery here in Austin.

Considering my above history with cupcakes,  I’d say I’m obsessed too!

But what you don’t know, is that I don’t actually like cake.

[I’ll pause while you gasp]

Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of cake and 10 times out of 10, I will choose a cookie, brownie, or ice cream over cake any day [unless of course it’s ice cream cake…]

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Don’t believe me? Then ask the people who actually see me eat the cupcakes. They’ve seen me implement my Bite Rule….Basically, I go all Cupcake Wars on those little cakes….

Bite 1: Taste the Frosting
Bite 2: Taste the Cake
Bite 3: Taste the Filling  [No filling? That’s a shame…Proceed to Bite 4]
Bite 4: All together now! [Frosting, Cake, Filling]

Four bites max.  That’s all I need.  I can tell right then whether or not it’s a great cupcake and I don’t need anymore.  <3M knows, he’s eaten many deconstructed cupcakes after I’ve torn my way through them to inspect and carefully evaluate every element. After I make my official tasting decision, I move on to the next cupcake in line or pass the remaining goods to anyone nearby.

SweetRevenge

Still think I’m obsessed? Maybe you’re right. I am but it’s not with eating them…

I like cupcakes because they’re just plain cute!

They’re pretty to look at, portion controlled desserts that offer unlimited flavor combinations with cake flavors, fillings, frostings, & toppings.

I especially enjoy mini cupcakes because I have less wasted cake and can still enjoy tasting each of the elements.  Plus, mini cupcakes are much more fun – everything’s cuter when it’s tiny!  [Baked By Melissa knows a thing or two about minis!]

I also truly enjoy baking and decorating cupcakes.  I love that cupcakes require multiple steps from assembling the batter and making the frosting to filling the piping bag and the intricacy that can go into decorating each one separately.

But even after all that, my favorite thing about cupcakes is that they make people smile.  Have you ever given someone a cupcake and watch their face light up?  They get a huge smile and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing you made that something, that’s so small, so pretty and so delicious that it brings happiness to another person.

baked by melissa

That’s the real reason why I love cupcakes – because I love watching other people smile when they receive one!

“Cupcakes are for sharing” – Baked by Melissa

It’s been 6 months

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So here’s the truth – I haven’t gone missing.  I’ve literally just dived into life and a lot has happen in the last 6 months, making life much too fun to break for anything – including this blog!

But now that 2014 has rolled into town, life has slowed a tad, at least momentarily.  And to bring you up to speed, here’s the cliff notes version of what I’ve been up to the past 6 months!

July

I got engaged! There were cupcakes, champagne AND a ring!

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August

I took a trip to New York, vacationed in Montauk (the Hamptons people, yeah, I’m that girl) and watched my best friend & college roommate marry her prince charming – also another great friend from college.

Biking in the HamptonsMary, Alison & Lys

September

Autumn rolled into town, the Texas heat became moderately tolerable and people actually wanted to visit us! This month, M<3 and I had a few New Yorkers visit and we played tour guides as we toted them around the great ATX.

We had to hit up obvious Austin activities – hanging on Town Lake and drinking Mexican Martinis.

Jon & Lys Paddleboarding

Mallory, Lys & Martinis

October

This month I pushed wedding planning into high gear  –

  • Venue – CHECK
  • Cater – CHECK
  • DJ – CHECK
  • Photographer – CHECK

Basically, I’ve been knocking this wedding planning thing outta the park.

BTW –  did I mention, I’m having two weddings.  One in India and one in Austin.

The one in India is thankfully being planned by my future in-laws, whom I met for the first time, along with the rest of my soon-to-be-family, during our October trip to India!  This trip was to not only meet the family and celebrate our engagement but to also honor M<3’s parents’ 30th wedding anniversary!

Family - India 30th Wedding Party Lys & M India Gate

November

It’s 2 months until the close of 2013 and M<3 & I believe we need to up our karma for the before twenty-thirteen becomes a thing of the past, so we decide to take in a foster dog from Austin Boxer Rescue.  Meet Jack (aka Sean in the ABR world). He was a rock star and luckily we found him his forever home after just 3 short weeks.

Sean - Jack

This month also marked my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Since we’re not avid turkey fans, we went the non-traditional route and I roasted a whole chicken instead.  I also made a delicious homemade spread of cornbread stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce (NOT from a can, thank you very much). And you can bet these were all healtified but delicious none the less.

TDay - Potatoes T-Day Chicken TDay Sprouts

December

Winter came into full swing and I went on a baking spree – gingerbread cutouts [and houses], a plethora of cupcakes, donuts, muffins, and a dozen different flavors of cookies.

Gingerbread HouseGingerbread Cut Outs

Peppermint Mocha CupcakesPeppermint Crackles

Thank goodness I have a slew of coworkers and friends whom are more than delighted to indulge in my baking obsession!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December also brought my parents to town! For the first time they took the trip South to visit M<3 and I in Austin. We were also able to celebrate Christmas together for the first time in 3 years, they met Stella, checked out some Austin wedding related items [I bought THE
dress] and of course, they enjoyed some BBQ and tacos.

Driskill Xmas Tree

Dad & M

January

As midnight struck on January 1st, 2014, M<3 and I welcomed in the new year with a group of amazing friends, champagne, and of course – more cupcakes.

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M<3 and I have also taken on another foster dog from ABR [whom sadly just gnawed on one of the dining room chair seats as I was writing this post].  Other than that little issue, Jefferson has been great so far and Stella enjoys have a friend around to beat up.

Jefferson

This month I’ve also continued rocking the wedding planning thing and we’re gearing up for our next trip to India at the end of February for our first wedding on February 28th.

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So that about sums up my past 6 months – which you can see has been a whirlwind of fun, excitement, and filled with amazing memories.

I’m looking forward to the next 6 months and hope to once again begin posting regularly.  Except, with the encouragement of my friends & family, this blog will be changing a tad.

Content here will have  less of an emphasis on my daily life and a little heavier emphasis on recipes that showcase how I balance my enjoyment for food with my obsession for health aka Healthified Recipes!

But no worries, some daily shenanigans and of course wedding related items will be sprinkled about when it feels right – because let’s face it, it’s hard not to talk about wedding planning and life here in Austin is just too amazing to not share with you all!

What all have you been up to while I was MIA?

Any recipes you want me to healthify? Just leave a link here and I’ll get to work recreating a healthier, tastier version!

6 Months Later

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It’s been six months since we’ve returned to Austin and every day I’m positive we made the right choice.

As soon as we returned, M<3 and I fell back into your what felt like an old [but new] routine.  Somehow returning to Austin meant a return to “us” – a return to normal.

Normal…

To drive again & listen to the radio.
A renewed love for baking.
Date nights.
Conversations that no longer center around work.
Sunday Fundays!
A growing group of friends.
Time to enjoy the sunshine, warm weather, and fresh air.
Seeing a real future together in Austin.
Genuine happiness that radiates in eyes, voice and smile.

Returning to Austin meant a return to LIFE

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Dining at Uchi

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Uchi – Austin, TX

If you’re not from Austin, then you probably don’t understand the meaning of dining at Uchi so let me bring you up to speed with a few quick facts

  • Uchi is a contemporary Japanese sushi restaurant
  • The name translates to “house” in English
  • The menu consists of hot and cool tastings, sushi and sashimi. makimono, yakimono and tempura, and a changing omakase based on seasonal selections
  • Uchi has a limited number of reservations per evening and the majority of its patrons are more than willing to wait 90 – 120 minutes to be seated
  • Uchi’s owner & chef is Tyson Cole, whom won the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Chef, Southwest
  • Chef Cole competed against Morimoto on Iron Chef America: Contemporary Japanese and although he lost, the score was close (49-43)
  • Named one of Bon Apetit’s Top 10 Sushi Restaurants
  • Featured on Zagat Guide’s Best Food in Austin
  • GQ declared Uchi one of 2010’s Top New Restaurants in America
  • Uchi has a sister restaurant, Uchiko, meaning “child of Uchi.”  Uchiko has also won a number of awards and is considered a more casual Japanese kitchen compared to Uchi.

Now that you understand how renowned of a restaurant Uchi is considered, let me share my experience with you…..

Uchi was one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.  Each dish is delicious, but the food as a whole, is not the type of food that is crave-able.  For instance, I don’t believe I’ll ever eat at Uchi then 3 weeks later “crave” a specific dish and be compelled to instantly return.  I believe this is because their food is truly unique.

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Uchi Sushi Preparation

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Uchi

The food is presented in such a well displayed manner that it’s beautiful to simply look at.  The presentation forces diners to pause and enjoy the site before carefully consuming the food in front of them.  Each dish is perfectly balanced in flavors – acidity, sweetness, saltiness, and textures play an equal part in developing the flavors as a whole.

The consideration of each element that goes into a specific dish is complimented by the restaurant’s attentive and knowledgeable staff. Each waiter, waitress, sushi chef, and hostess we encountered knew the menu inside and out, was able to recommend wine pairings, and simplified the menu for our understanding   This ability to eloquently explain the menu without making a patron feel unintelligent is a feat that not all restaurant staff can accomplish.

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Mackarel & Salmon Sushi

As for the atmosphere, Uchi is naturally beautiful.  Playing up the contemporary Japaenese style – taking advantage of rocks, aged wood, water pools, and a flourish of greenery.  Even with a 2 hour wait the experience was somehow calming, relaxing, and enjoyable.

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Salmon Asparagus Roll

As for our meal, we were able to enjoy it while sitting at the sushi bar.  While some may believe that to be not as an intimate dining experience, I was ecstatic!   I love watching sushi chefs at work, looking at all the exotic, color ingredients, and speaking with the person preparing my food to learn more about the ingredients, technique, and the specialties of the menu.

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Prepping a Salmon Roll

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Display of Tobiko

M<3 and I started our evening off on the outdoor patio with a few glasses of wine and some grilled shishito peppers (one of his favorites at any restaurant!).

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Uchi, April 2013

The peppers were perfectly cooked, not overly spicy, and simply salted.

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Shishito Peppers

We were also treated to a few passed appetizers that are served to guests whom are waiting to be seated – we were able to taste spicy, apple slices. Who knew a well-picked apple and a salty-spicy rub could enhance the flavor of an apple so much.  We were also treated to some grilled cauliflower that I had been eyeing on the menu!Once we were seated, we were greeted with a watermelon granita, a palate cleanser.  Slightly sweet and refreshing!

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Watermelon Granita

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Miso Soup

Once we had time to review the menu and ask some questions to the chef and waitress, M<3 and I decided on a few dishes to split – miso soup, sweet-chili glazed brussel sprouts, a spider roll, and nasu (Japanese eggplant) sushi.

The soup was delicious & simple, just as miso soup should be.

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Brussel Sprouts

M<3 is not a huge fan of vegetables but we both loved these brussel sprouts – so much so that I was intrigued enough to find a similar recipe online the following week. Again, this isn’t a crave-able food but just truly unique, delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to any Asian meal.

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Spider Roll

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Nasu (Japanese Eggplant) Sushi

The Spider rolll is M<3’s go-to sushi roll.  It’s a cooked roll with fried shrimp (or crab, at times – Uchi served their’s with shrimp), a spicy mayo sauce, and cucumber.  Uchi’s roll also had an eel sauce on the side, a sweet-salty mixture that made the Spider Roll mouthwatering!  The shrimp was cooked to perfection (I loved the crunch!) and the spicy mayo was careful to not overpower the other, lighter flavors in the roll.  I would definitely recommend this roll for non-sushi eaters!

I love eggplant, it’s one of my favorite vegetables and I had never experience it as nigiri.  This was slighty sweet, the skin added a bit of chewiness and the eggplant is self was melt-in-your-mouth soft.  It was a simple transition into heartier dishes.

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Fresh Sea Urchin at the Sushi Bar

After our shared dishes, we each chose something a bit more exclusive to our individual tastes – I sampled, the chef recommended, machi cure  (aka: “sushi nachos” which is how the chef described them to me).  It was simple and fresh with lightly fried yuca, marcona almonds, asian pear, smoked yellowtail tuna, garlic brittle and tobiko.

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Machi Cure – Sushi Nachos

Mayank chose to try the sasami yaki, an oak-grilled chicken breast with lemongrass and cilantro. He said it was one of the most moist and flavorful pieces of chicken he had ever tasted.

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Sasami Yaki – Lemongrass Chicken

Since Uchi is known for their sushi, I had to try a couple of pieces on my own!  I chose the hotate (spicy scallop & avocado) and sake (simple, salmon and rice).

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Hotate – Spicy Scallop

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Sake – Salmon

Finally, we ended our even with a double dessert treat from the chef.  We were able to share the coffee panna cotta with white chocolate sorbet & mango and the lemon gelato with pistachios and white balsamic.  I  never thought I would enjoy white balsamic in a dessert but the lemon gelato was the dessert I kept going back for!

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Coffee Panna Cotta

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Lemon Gelato

I’m truly thankful to <3M for such a wonderful birthday dinner.  We both agreed that Uchi is a restaurant that we both want to visit again – though it’s definitely a special occasion type dining experience. And in the future, we’ll remember to plan well in advance to ensure reservations.

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April 20, 2013

Call Me, Crazy! Why I’m back in Austin.

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Most people would call me crazy, leaving Austin only to move back 9 months later.  But that was not the intitial plan.  The initial plan was to stick it out in NYC for about 2 years and suck up as much of the “big city” life as possible in those sweet 2 years before moving back to Austin.  

Yes, the plan always included moving back to Austin. So, if I knew I was to be reunited with my beloved Austin eventually, why did the timeline change?  Well, let’s just say as much as I had convinced myself that I’d love NYC, in actuality, it just wasn’t for me.  It’s not that I “couldn’t cut it” because I did.  Ask my parents – I morphed into the stereotypical NY-er.  

I could navigate my way around the subways (with a little help from Google).  I could point tourists in the right direction when they were lost.  I had perfected the rude, eye rolling, fast paced NY-er lifestyle.  I acquired savvy street smarts for hailing a cab.  I learned to curse the oblivious, cellphone obsessed tourists.  I pleasantly accepted the elite dining experiences and acquired an eclectic taste for champagne & truffles from client dinners, while also learning to snobbishly turn my nose up at the overpriced Tiffany’s bracelet while bargaining in ChinaTown.  $15 for a knock-off?  Too much.  I felt like a true New Yorker.  

The problem was, I hated it. I hated spending my morning commute waiting for my transportation to arrive only to board a crowded train & be pushed and shoved through the entire ride.  After my morning groping, I’d then have the joy of walking a mile through the natural elements to my office.  By that time, any chance of arriving looking the least bit presentable was out the window.  My morning beauty efforts were wasted by the wicked wind, drenching rain, freezing snow, or sticky humidity.  And don’t even attempt to do this in heels because you can bet your ass you’d end up on it while trotting through the crowded sidewalks.  I hated working what felt like 24/7 with no free time to visit the gym, cook dinner, weekend adventures, or even make friends outside of the office.  My life was consumed with work, commuting, and recovering from the work week spent in the city.

I missed my old life.  I missed the sunshine.  I missed seeing greenery.  I missed smelling fresh cut grass.  I missed driving in my car and listening to the radio. I missed being able to cook dinner.  I missed reading. I missed watching my favorite televisions shows. I missed spending time with my boyfriend (outside of work).  I missed having girl friends. I missed having time to think. I missed laughing and being goofy.  I missed smiling.  Really smiling.  The big toothy smile where your grin spans ear to ear.  I missed being happy.

And that’s when I knew.  That’s when I knew that sometimes, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, you have to do what makes you happy.  You have to follow your heart. I knew that being back in Austin would make me happy, so we went.  And you know what, I’m happy. So call me crazy, crazy happy!

Here’s a little map of my travels:

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Although I’ve lived in three different cities in the past three years, I’ve actually moved a total of 5 times. 

     1) Rochester > Austin

     2) Austin Apartment 1 > Austin Apartment 2

     3) Austin > NYC

     4) NYC Apartment 1 > NYC Apartment 2

     5) NYC > Austin

Public Notice: I will not be helping anyone pack or move in the near future, but feel free to contact me for mover or apartment hunting recommendations! 

Google Maps can’t solve this…

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Once you leave college, it’s common to not have a set direction – especially this day and age with the economy and all…Besides, who can choose a set path when life continually throws detours every couple of miles….or at least that’s the way I’ve felt these past few weeks…months…

Remember in high school when you choose a certain future career which in turn leads you to choose your prospective college degree, then your college, your post-college plans, and ultimately plan your life at age 16….Well I sure as heck did all that and my destined plan at 16 hasn’t turned out half that bad except ‘til now…

Not that I’m complaining in the least!  It’s not bad at all! I absolutely love my life, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve gained.  But life sure as heck gave me more than just a couple detours, I fee like life landed me flat in a round about and ever since I’ve been spinning trying to get out on the “right” path‘

So which road do I choose and how do I decide? My paths include Austin, New York, and Rochester…..warmth, family, and adventure…..

Should I follow my ol’ stand by…

BTW: This quote, to me, is NOT about following your heart, it’s about making a decision that one is wholeheartedly committed to, a decision one will not regret in the future, a choice with consequences one is fully aware and prepared to handle, a choice made with one’s head held high and a decision one can completely and fully support when faced with opposition.

Or…

Do I do I play it safe and make the “financially secure, I might not be 100% happy, but life isn’t half bad, give it some time it might improve but yea, it sure as heck will be difficult the next few months,” kind of decision?

Some of you might say, follow your gut instinct but I’ve got news for you…it’s not always right, you’re usually too paranoid, overly naïve, or maybe you just have a stomachache.  Check the article people.

I guess when it all comes down to it, I’m young and by nature, I’m more of a risk taker when it comes to life decisions (not when it comes to risking my life), and I feel that as each day passes my ability to navigate life without a set map is improving…I know I’ll manage just fine but it sure would be nice to have a road sign now to let me know I’m at least headed in the right direction….