Friday, May 30, 2014

Things I'm Loving Friday V

Happy FRIDAY! I'm back in Houston as I type up this blog post, and I am so excited to say that one of my oldest childhood friends is officially a married woman! I got back to Houston last night, or rather, I went straight to Friendswood with Dylan, crashed there for the night, before we made our way back over to my side of town to head to the wedding. There was a little scare with the rain, but thankfully it held out, though I hear that rain on your wedding day is good luck! But, cheers to the new Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Freeman!

Things I'm Loving

And now for another rendition of Things I'm Loving Friday -

Pinterest Crafts

I'm the least artistic person in the world. Unfortunately, using the transitive property, that also means I'm the least crafty person in the world. So why my craft board on Pinterest has so many pins, I will never know, because I hardly ever actually follow through with any of them. Lucky for me, Dylan loves a good DIY project, so when we went through my Pinterest board and saw this pin, I was inspired to put my own little spin on it and create one displaying my classroom expectations. We had a lot of fun doing this project together, and I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. Possible tutorial to come in a future post!

Baked Goods

I've been off my baking game lately. I'm not sure why that is, but when I was going through my shelf on both the pantry and the fridge, I found a few things that could be used to make these Oreo-Stuffed Sugar Cookies. The recipe was so easy (if you're cheating and using store-bought dough like I did), in that I simply wrapped an Oreo with dough, rolled it in nonpareils, and placed it in a lined muffin tin. Heat your oven to 350 degrees, cook them for 18-20 minutes, and you'll have a treat that is both aesthetically pleasing, as well as pleasing to your taste buds, or so I've been told.


One of the top things I will miss about living in Austin, and specifically about walking through the UT campus, would have to be the squirrels. They are so funny in that they are the friendliest squirrels I have ever come across. They let you get so close to them, and they will never ever turn down food that is offered to them. Two of my roommates once started a squirrel blog, and Dylan and I frequently send squirrel pictures to one another. Props to him for starting #squirrelsaturday, which is sure to be back and better than ever this summer!

Kid President

I don't know how many of you have ever watched this videobut if you haven't, you certainly should. I don't know why but I never watch videos that are sent to me or posted on any social media, but even I watched this one, and I'm sure glad I did. In this video, Kid President shares his five favorite things about summer. And the best part about this video is, every time someone watches, likes, or shares this video, ConAgra Foods will donate money to Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief organization, so that every kid will get to have an awesome summer!


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ten Day You Challenge

I know we desperately needed the rain here in Austin, but I was sure glad to wake up to the sun shining its rays into my room this morning. Overcast weather makes me want to do nothing more than curl up with a book, a movie, Pinterest, or all three. Not that I have a ton on my to-do list these days, but there are things that I need to get done, and good weather makes it all the easier. I ran a couple of errands today, and while I went into Anthropologie strictly to buy a graduation gift for my brother's girlfriend, I also walked out with this trEATs book for myself. Hey, it was on sale!


I know that I bore you guys when it comes to breakfast, so maybe this summer I'll work on getting more creative with my morning meals. I'm leaving to go home to Houston tonight, but when I return, that will be one of my main focuses. Anyway, this morning's breakfast was the same as it always is - a couple of Cuties and some scrambled egg whites and spinach. It's just so hard to beat that combination!


As I mentioned earlier, the sun showed its face today, and I took full advantage of that by walking over to Gregory for an afternoon swim. One of the biggest (literally) things I will miss about UT is the outdoor lap pool - I have yet to find a pool that can compete!

Ten Day You Challenge

I saw this posted on, you guessed it, Julie's blog - Peanut Butter Fingers -  and I decided that as a lover of surveys (Survey Sunday, anyone?), this would be the perfect remedy for days without much to report on the blogging front. Today is really one of those days, but I am running out of time before I am scheduled to hit the road to Houston. So, just know that this mini-series is likely on its way. I hope your Thursday was a great one, and I will see you guys from Houston!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sunny Wednesday

It's Hump Day already, and I'm going home to Houston tomorrow for a couple of days to attend a wedding of one of my oldest friends - eek, so this week has just flown by for me. You would think I would be sick of going back and forth from Austin to Houston and vice versa, after making said trip probably too many times in the past month and a half, but I'm not too annoyed by it yet. Good thing, since Houston is going to be my future home, and I already see a few Austin trips in my future!

I can't stay away from this for too long!
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, because I have a bad habit of looking too far into the future and not enjoying the moment I am in right now. I still have about two months left in Austin, so I plan to enjoy them as much as possible before I make Houston my permanent residence again.


Breakfast was the same as it always is - scrambled egg whites with spinach, all topped with salsa, and a couple of cuties on the side. 

This morning, however, I also whipped up two batches of my banana-oatmeal-almond butter muffins, so I may have also eaten quite a few spoonfuls of the batter before I put the muffins in the oven. Oops!


My body woke me up around 8:15 this morning (not having to set an alarm is so nice, however, I better not get too used to it), so I wasn't too reluctant to actually get up at that time. I changed into athletic clothes and enjoyed a cool morning walk around Town Lake.

As much as I don't like the rain, especially on the days I don't have to work, I know that we do need it, and it does cool things off a bit, at least until the humidity comes in with full force.

After my walk, I came home to fix the above breakfast, do a little bit of baking, and begin the long and gradual process that is organizing and cleaning out my room. My official move to Houston date is now July 24th, and I will only be going to Houston a handful of times before then. So, to save myself some stress, I am trying to take as much home as I possibly can in these next couple of trips home, so that I don't panic come July 24th when I have no more room in my car. How I accumulated so much stuff I will never quite understand, but I have found a few things I thought I lost, so I am enjoying that aspect of it! 

The current state of our hallway
I also have a really bad habit of holding onto things (example - I still have all of my high school work in multiple bins at home), so I am trying really hard to just throw things away if I know I will never wear and/or use it, no matter how much it might have meant to me ten years prior. Seriously, I hold onto things for that long. It's a problem.

I digress. So, after a little bit of organizing, I headed up the road to the gym where I was able to take a spin class from my very favorite Austin spin instructor. I love her sass, and her classes always leave me feeling like I just got in a great workout. It didn't hit me until I was walking out that it was probably my last spin class with her, as my work schedule won't allow me to take a weekday noon spin class, and I obviously won't be in Austin next year. Bummer!

But we did a lot of interval work today, which is my very favorite type of spin class. We never stick with one thing for too long, so it prevents boredom and it keeps my muscles guessing. One of the highlights of the class for me had to be the mountain bike loops - in which we did 30 seconds each of jumps, standing run, seated climb, and standing climb. We repeated that cycle three times, with a minute flat in between each round. It had me sweating, that's for sure!

And now I'm off to fix myself a late lunch of chicken sausage, zucchini, squash, and Brussels sprouts and then continue on with my organizing. It is quite the process, but I know I'll be glad to have it out of my room (though I can't say my parents will feel the same). Enjoy the rest of your Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Restaurant Review: Salata

Happy Tuesday! I hope you all had a very relaxing Memorial Day Weekend (if you were lucky enough to have Monday off, that is)! It poured all day - all weekend, really - in Austin, but it let up enough so that we were able to enjoy a beautiful evening. It was the perfect day to stay inside to do some classroom crafting, as well as some baking, but more on that in a later post.

I have a wonderful restaurant review for you guys today, but first, let's get through the routine news.

Breakfast + Workout

I woke up to rain this morning, so I let myself lie in bed for a little while before eventually getting up to make my usual scrambled egg whites and spinach (but first, I made my bed).

I planned to attend a 10am BodyPump class at the gym, so I packed a few of my banana-oatmeal-almond butter muffins in a Ziploc bag and ate them just before class began. I really love taking BodyPump classes, but I also don't take them regularly enough to not feel sore the next day. So, I have a feeling I will not want to get out of bed tomorrow!

The bicep and lunge tracks were particularly challenging this morning, and I have a love/hate relationship with what I think are called progression lunges. We started off by putting one leg on an exercise step (sans blocks), and one on the ground directly behind us in a reverse lunge position, simply moving up and down with 5-lb weights in each hand.
Up and down movement - legs remaining in this position (Source)
We then progressed to keeping that simple lunge movement, but we added to it by bringing that back foot back up to the starting position on the step before taking it back and completing that same reverse lunge movement again.

Step One 
Step Two
After eight reps of that movement, we progressed into our final movement, which meant that instead of stopping that back leg at the platform, we brought our knee up, as if we were doing high knees. This one killed me, but as always, I was glad I didn't quit!

Step One (Source)
Step Two 
Step Three

Now for the exciting part of this post! I think I've mentioned a couple of trips to Salata before on this blog, and I absolutely LOVE it (the fact that there is one located so close to my house in Houston is one of the greatest attractions to moving back home). So, when Brooke reached out to me about reviewing the recently opened Austin Salata, I jumped at the opportunity. This Salata opened just over a month ago, and I have driven by it quite a few times, but I had not yet had an opportunity to stop in. So, this past Thursday, Dylan and I drove out to the ArborWalk Shopping Center to enjoy a healthy and refreshing lunch.

We were greeted right away, and I was told to ask for Kasey, the franchise owner for the Austin and San Antonio locations. She was so sweet in explaining how everything worked, and told us that she would be the one taking care of us today.

Salata offers salad and wraps, and though we both went for the salad options, I saw someone eating a wrap and I vowed to get that next time, as it looked great! Anyway, the way Salata works, and the reason I think I like it so much is because it reminds me of many frozen yogurt establishments, in which you get to create your very own dessert. The salad option might just be a little bit healthier!

So, you start out by picking your greens - I went with spinach, and Dylan went with the romaine hearts, but you can also choose from mixed kale/spinach as well as mixed greens. I'm a creature of habit, and I have always only gotten the spinach, but everything always looks great.

Going down the line, you can then choose to add as many fruits and vegetables as you please. And they have just about everything you can think of. You can see all that there is to choose from in the picture, but I added black olives, green olives, sprouts, onions, tomatoes, and chopped pineapple to mine. There is seriously so much to choose from, and you can add as many ingredients as you want with no additional charge, as each salad starts at either $7 or $8, for the small or regular, respectively, and the only additional cost is for the protein.

There are also options to add sliced and chopped nuts - Dylan added some sliced almonds to his - as well as cheese, though you guys know I had to pass on that one!

Once you get through with the fruit and veggie toppings, you get to the wide array of dressing options. I unfortunately didn't manage to snag a pic of the different dressing options, but they have all the usual options - balsamic vinageriette (my fav), ranch, honey mustard, caesar, and they also have options such as ginger lime, mango, and sun-dried mango. What I love about Salata is the fact that they let you sample as many dressings as you would like before committing to putting one on your salad. Bonus points, for sure!

Moving on down the line, next you have an option to add protein. Not one to pass on meat or seafood to go atop my salad, I went with the Herb Marinated Grilled chicken, but you can choose from so many options, such as Pesto chicken, Spicy Chipotle chicken, and Asian BBQ chicken. 

And for your seafood options, there is Herb Marinated or Spicy shrimp, Baked salmon, Krabmeat, and a Seafood mix. So, in other words, something for everyone!

Finally, you can choose between three types of bread, which comes with your salad. You can choose between pesto bread (Dylan got this, and I was immediately jealous), wheat bread (not pictured here - I chose this option, and it was also excellent), and spicy chipotle bread. I have no doubt that that one would taste excellent as well. They send the bread through a toaster oven so that it is nice and warm by the time it gets to you. More bonus points.

And finally, though we did not choose to add any soup to our meal, you have the option to add either a cup or a bowl of broccoli, tortilla, or tomato basil soup. I'm sure it will be perfect in the colder months, as I cannot seem to fathom the idea of soup during a Texas summer!

After we were checked out at the register, we were given cups and encouraged to try their different flavors of lemonade. Dylan remarked that this is truly a healthy restaurant, as they don't even have soda as an option.

I started out with water, but Dylan started with the raspberry lemonade, which was our very favorite throughout the entire meal. We also tried the peach lemonade, as well as the Arnold Palmer, and while both were excellent, the raspberry won the gold that afternoon.

Overall, I can't say enough about my experience at Salata, and I think Dylan would second that notion. I love the build-your-own salad concept, because there are so many times that I like the sound of a salad, save one or two ingredients, so I like that I am able to customize this to whatever I want. Like I mentioned earlier, the options are truly endless, so you are sure to find something that suits your taste. And, there is no judgment for asking for topping after topping after topping - it is your salad, after all! We also loved how fresh all of the ingredients were, as well as the fact that all of the employees take care to make sure each topping container never got too low.

In the state of Texas, Salata has locations in Austin, Houston (Sugar Land and The Woodlands, included), Dallas, and San Antonio, as well as in Addison, Fort Worth, Irving, and Plano. Salata can also be found in California, so click here to find one near you. I already know I will be making a return trip very, very soon.

So, a huge thank you to Brooke for reaching out to me with this opportunity, to Kasey for taking such good care of us, and for the Salata chain as a whole. I give you guys five stars, and I absolutely love the concept of this next generation salad bar. It's fast, easy, healthy, and delicious. So, stop by Salata and be ready to eat good, look good, and feel good.

Over and out - I'll check back in with y'all tomorrow!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Real World: "Commence"

I apologize for yet another extended absence (although nothing can beat my March - May absence, oops), but I promise this absence was with good reason. As of Saturday, May 17th, I am officially a college graduate! And the University of Texas at Austin is now my alma mater (I may have teared up when President Bill Powers said those words).

Because it is impossible for me to sum up the past four years in a single post (and believe me, I sat down multiple times to try and do so), I will simply say that my four years at UT were truly the best four years of my life, and I am so thankful for the people I met, the friends I made, the opportunities I had, the laughs I shared, and the education I received. I could not have asked for a better college experience, and I will only look back at my time at UT with the fondest of memories. And I think this quote from The Office sums things up pretty well, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."

Graduation Weekend

My family arrived in Austin late Friday afternoon, and Dylan and I met them at The Roaring Fork out in North Austin for a 7:30pm dinner. We timed it pretty perfectly in order to see the sunset over the water as we were enjoying a delicious dinner. It came as no surprise to anyone that I ordered the salmon dish (predictable), with an order of asparagus on the side. I intended for the asparagus to be for anyone who wanted it, but I ended up eating most of it all by myself. Oops.

It was wonderful, and it was also great to see my family for the first time since accepting my job!

After dinner, we parted ways for the night, but we reconvened in the morning when they picked me up for a 12:30pm graduation ceremony. 

This was the ceremony in which my name was called out, I walked across the stage, and I received my diploma (or a piece of paper promising my diploma).

Because there were only 117 of us graduating with a degree in English, the ceremony was fairly short, and we processed out around 1:45pm.

We then made our way over to the Tower to take some oh-so-original pictures by the Tower,

before piling back in the car to eat a late lunch at Gloria's in the Domain. I was essentially starving by this point, so I filled up on chips and guacamole (mainly so I wouldn't be drinking my orange mojito on an empty stomach) before my shrimp and chicken salad came.

I still managed to eat every last bite, and I think we were all in agreement that it was more than time for a nap. We headed back to the Clubhouse to relax before the evening festivities began. I was contemplating (not really) skipping my own commencement, thanks to exhaustion and a headache, but I have heard from so many people how rewarding the big commencement ceremony is. And though I was standing outside the PCL for a little under an hour, and it took all of the graduates 45 minutes to process onto the Main Mall, it was absolutely worth every single minute to be a part of the evening's festivities.

Both University President Bill Powers and our student body president spoke before we heard from the star of the show - Admiral William McRaven. He is the commander of the U.S. Special Operations, and he actually led Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden. So, it only made sense that a U-S-A chant broke out among the students. McRaven is a '77 UT grad, and I may be a little biased, but his speech was easily one of the best speeches I have ever heard. I was so inspired that I wished I had a pen and paper to whip out so that I could take notes. Luckily, we are currently living in the 21st century, and a full copy of the speech is available online for your reading pleasure, as is a video recording of the actual speech if you prefer to listen and watch. I HIGHLY recommend that you give it a read and/or listen, because I was left feeling highly motivated to change the world. Because our tagline is "What Starts Here Changes The World," here are Admiral McRaven's 10 ways to change the world:

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.
4. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.
5. If you want to change the world, don't be afraid of the circuses.
6. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.
7. If you want to change the world, don't back down from the sharks.
8. If you want to change, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.
9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you're up to your neck in mud.
10. If you want to change the world, don't ever, ever ring the bell.

Again, I highly recommend reading through the entire speech, because it was simply amazing, and I guarantee you will finish feeling inspired. So, in the words of Admiral McRaven, 
  • Start each day with a task completed.
  • Find someone to help you through life.
  • Respect everyone.
  • Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up.
After his incredible speech, the dean of each college stood up, said a few words, the Tower was lit up with each corresponding color, and finally, the Tower was lit a beautiful burnt orange while sporting a '14. The grand finale was the fireworks show, which was easily one of the best that I have ever seen.

It was a truly incredible night, and I have to admit that I had goosebumps as I sang "The Eyes of Texas" at the conclusion of the ceremony. I am so proud to be an alum, and an official Texas Ex, of the greatest university in the world, and I absolutely cannot wait to get out there and change the world!

Cheesy, but true. As bittersweet as it is to end this chapter of my life, I could not be more excited for the new chapter that lies ahead. As I mentioned in this post, I will be teaching English at Bellaire High School, and I have also just accepted a position coaching freshman volleyball. A mere 30 minutes after I walked the stage, I received a text message from one of the coaches at Memorial High School asking if I would be interested in coaching at Bellaire. Overwhelmed with all that was happening in that moment, I gave it a few hours before replying with a resounding (as resounding as a text message can be) YES. I can't tell you how much my volleyball years - and my incredible coaches - meant to me, and I look forward to (hopefully) having even half the impact on these players that my coaches had on me. I know that being a first-year teacher is going to be tough enough, only to throw a crazy volleyball schedule on top of that, but I knew I would have regretted saying no to this opportunity. 

I met with the head coach at Bellaire yesterday afternoon, and I went up to Bellaire again this morning to talk specifics, go over the calendar, and learn a little bit about the Bellaire volleyball program. I left the school feeling even more excited than I ever thought I would be, so I'm going to go ahead and say that I made the right choice in saying yes to this opportunity. And I cannot forget to thank the numerous coaches I have had along the way that have been nothing but supportive and helpful throughout my career as a player, and now on my journey to becoming a coach. Y'all are the best, and I cant' wait to see you guys on the (other side of) the court!

And hopefully the regularly scheduled posts will resume starting tomorrow - I'll do my best to make that happen!

*Disclaimer: I typed this post up on Tuesday evening, and am just now getting around to posting it, so I apologize if some of the verb tenses don't make as much sense.