This past weekend, I was given the honor of shooting not only my first engagement session, but to add even more pressure to the experience, photographing my good friend Julie. I adore her and Johnny so much and I wanted to do right by them. I recently delievered her photos to her and breathed a sigh of relief and happiness when she told me she loves them so much that she could cry. Here are some of my favorite shots!
Question: Tell me about the last scary challenge you took on.
My budget suffered a severe tightening after I was laid off last year. I’m now partially employed and am entrenched in the gig economy, which means I’m never sure what I’m bringing in each month. Though I was never an extravagant spender, I had to bring in the reins on my spending. Here are 5 ways I’ve tweaked my financial habits.
1. I ask myself if I can get it at home or get it free some how. For example, sometimes I want to make a latte run. I know that coffee is only about five dollars per cup, but I have the supplies I need to make delicious Vietnamese coffee at home and we have free Starbucks at my part-time day job. Less cups of coffee bought while out, more money in the bank!
2. I check for coupons on sites like Groupon Coupons. Often sites like these have partnerships with major companies like Turbo Tax. (Did you guys file your taxes on time?)
3. I check if my credit card has a partnership with any of the companies I’m purchasing from. I use the Chase Sapphire card which earns me travel points. When I need to make a purchase, I scan their partnerships to see if I can earn a higher point ratio with any of their preferred vendors. It’s an easy way to rack up points for products and services I’m going to buy anyway.
4. I find new ways to socalize. I’ve been doing more errand dates and walking dates. My friend Stephanie and I once bought coupons for oil changes, met at the mechanic’s and then caught up over adult coloring books while we waited. I also entertain in our apartment more instead of eating out.
5. I maintain current good practices, which includes, not using the emergency fund unless there’s a real emergency, paying off all credit card balances every month, borrowing from the library when possible, and cooking most of my meals.
Question: What are some financial habits you swear by?
February seems so far away! March rolled in and had so much steam that writing my monthly recap for February just kept getting lost in the shuffle. Thank goodness for my compulsion to snap photos and share on Instagram. In February, I enjoyed meals with fellow food bloggers who also climb into chairs for pretty overhead shots of food. We hung out again in Jane’s home and dabbled in water colors. I spent a weekend in Fredericksburg with Sugarface and our puppies. We ate around Fredericksburg, played Scrabble for the first time together while drinking pink champagne, and our dogs had a narrow escape from wild donkeys they aggravated. That weekend might be my favorite memory from February.
A close second favorite memory was Valentine’s Day and wasn’t depicted on Instagram. We started the day with breakfast tacos, then watched my friend run the Austin Marathon. For lunch, we had a chicken tender-off and ordered chicken tenders from around town to see who had the best one. We followed that with leisurely reading for me and him working. I was just about to make the same dinner I made for him the previous Valentine’s Day when I get a text from one of my good friends. She couldn’t make her reservation for dinner and gifted us an elegant multi-course dinner at an esteemed restaurant in Austin. We literally had 10 minutes to decide and make the seating. It was such an unexpected surprise that we spontaneously rushed to. It made me feel so lucky to have kind thoughtful friends and a man who is such a willing partner in crime in my life.
It’s funny how January felt like it was mostly routine days but in actuality there were a handful of big events. Sugarface and I rang in the New Year dressed up at a New Year’s Eve wedding in Arkansas. I had never seen him look so handsome in a tux before! We spent the first few days of the year in Arkansas and enjoyed some quality time with his parents. The dogs got to do some exploring too. Shortly after getting back from Arkansas, we celebrated our first anniversary by watching Die Hard and eating dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. I also made one of his favorite meals to celebrate, garam masala pot pie. It’s been such a sweet year.
There were awesome chance encounters with memorable strangers this month. I met a man on the elevator named James who had a bag full of lilies. He was traveling soon and didn’t want his flowers to go to waste. He gave me a stem and brightened up my day. I also met Victoria and her sunshiney crew on the streets of downtown giving out free warm hugs.
Finally, we ended the month the same way we started it. Dressed up for a wedding.
Not depicted on Instagram was an oil change date with a dear friend. It was the most fun I had waiting for an oil change. We snacked at McDonald’s and colored our coloring books as we talked for almost 3 hours.
This year in review post will be my eighth recap post on this blog! I’ve had this blog for at least eight years! I gave a general break down of 2015 in my Thanksgiving post but here you will find my traditional recap month by month. 2015 contained the beginning of my treasured relationship with Sugarface, one of my biggest life’s accomplishments, and an ugly lay-off that made me question whether I even want a conventional job anymore.
I rang in the new year hosting a party with my roommate. Sugarface was my date and midnight kiss and almost a week later he became my boyfriend. What a great year 2015 forever will be. I had no idea in January where we would go, but now as I’m writing this, I can say our relationship has been the best thing that has happened to me this year.
In February, I hosted a brunch for Valentine’s Day and loved how the decorations turned out. My best friend Kimmy, the keeper of all my memories, came up to visit me in Austin for the first time in a few years. She met Sugarface when I took her to see the local graffiti park. I treated the two of us to a play about dating for her birthday. Also in February, I had a cameo on a food show on Bravo, judged a cake contest, and Sugarface made me a pop-up card that I now keep on my nightstand and read every so often. There were many Mad Men marathons and our first wedding together.
One of my biggest accomplishments happened in March. For many years I dreamed of treating my parents to an all expense paid trip. I’ve tracked my saving on this blog for years and waited impatiently for my parents to finally retire. Within the year of them retiring I took them on a trip! In all my fantasies, I never dreamed Vegas but my mom wanted to experience Vegas after seeing it in the movies. So to Vegas we went! It was the first flight my dad has taken since flying to Houston after escaping Vietnam as a refugee. It was the my mom’s first flight since she took me to Vietnam in high school. I didn’t think Vegas itself was all that great but my parents still talk about it and now instead of being bored with Vegas, I’ll forever be endeared to her. Besides, it was there I shot my favorite light trail photo.
Sugarface and I spent a weekend housesitting for his friends and it was my first glimpse at what it’s like to spend full consecutive days from waking up to falling asleep with him. We spent the whole weekend either in bed and watching Lonesome Dove marathon style or out eating Asian food till our stomachs hurt. Neither of us lived North where some of the best Asian foods in Austin are, so the housesitting was geographically convenient for these binges.
Kimmy came down again for work and we had dinner with Treavor. After dinner, we laid in Kim’s pretty canopy hotel bed and talked about men and shared secrets from our pasts. We then walked along a iconic street in Austin and talked a closed restaurant into selling us dessert. I can’t remember if it was a cookie or a brownie but I do remember feeling struck by how beautiful my life felt.
I took Sugarface to Houston for a wedding of my sweet friend. Funnily, I met Sugarface the same way I met her but their time at the lab I worked at didn’t overlap so they didn’t know each other. During this weekend, he met my parents for the first time. After dim sum with the parents, we shared a snow cone while walking a street festival with my friends.
May might have been my funnest month this year. I went on my annual trip with Ashley and Nicole. We were sad my roommate couldn’t join us. The four of us try to take a trip once a year so we can have some actual real life face time. We went to Utah and hiked Zion National Park. It made me committed to come back and visit Bryce National Park. Almost immediately after getting back from Utah, Sugarface and I drove a new and fancy Cadillac loaner to New Orleans. It was the first time I’ve visited since a few months before Katrina. I met his siblings who live there and relished their childhood stories they shared.
As I was reviewing my monthly posts to write this recap, I saw that in my May recap I wrote about how happy I was and how that scared me. Less than two weeks after I wrote that post about May, I was laid off and subsequently suffered my hardest thing of 2015. As I write this, I know how insecure and anxious being laid off made me. It really affected me mentally and in many ways I think I will continue to be affected. The day after the company layoffs, I met up with my coworker who was also laid off at a coffee shop. We met every weekday for a few weeks and searched for jobs together. I think we were both shell-shocked and used each other as reasons to get out of bed the first few weeks.
During the third week of June, I tried to meet Sugarface in his home state by flying. I ended up being stranded in Dallas after waiting 5 hours for my connecting flight. While I was waiting for the ultimately canceled flight, I conversed with a fellow flyer named Kevin. When the flight was canceled we split a car and drove into Arkansas together. We talked another five hours in the car and that remains the longest conversation I’ve ever had, at ten hours. In Arkansas, I met Sugarface’s loving and funny parents and enjoyed the most scenic boat rides on a beautiful lake. We were barefoot the entire time and I had no cell phone or internet service. Normally that would make me anxious but it gave me a beautiful and idyllic reprieve from job rejection notifications!
We drove back to Arkansas for Fourth of July and had another fantastic weekend there. Sugarface’s hometown has become one of my favorite places to visit. We spent another weekend barefoot on the lake, eating his mom’s gourmet cooking. It was my birth month and for the first time in many years, I didn’t feel like planning a dinner for myself. In years past I worried about finding the perfect venue that would suit varying budgets and tastes and with job hunting and my anxiety, I decided to take it easy this year and not plan anything. For my birthday, my sweet friend Stephanie took me out on the lake and I had my first paddle board experience. On the day of, Sugarface made me breakfast and treated me to dinner at my favorite restaurant. My family and friends made me feel especially loved.
We were in Dallas for a wedding (I lost count of how many weddings we attended this year!) the weekend of Sugarface’s birthday and since we were almost halfway to Arkansas, we drove to his parents’ home to pick up his dog and so he can spend his birthday with his family. We had enough time to eat dinner with them and go on a peaceful boat ride in the middle of the night. I felt lucky and so awestruck by the bounty of stars that night.
September was mostly about moving. My lease was ending and Sugarface planned on living together once our leases ended. Funny fact, last year around this time we almost became roommates but I told him I couldn’t live with him because I found him too attractive. Ha! We went apartment hunting with one of my best friends who is a new real estate agent and fell in love with the first apartment we saw. Three weeks later we moved in. Moving while unemployed was so stressful. I felt like I was hemorrhaging money. The night before my movers came, I spent one last night at Sugarface’s apartment sleeping on the floor in his living room. It felt so right to be moving in with him, the financial worries subsided.
The month of impeccable make up! I was in a wedding of a high school friend. The fun thing about going to weddings of high school friends is getting flashbacks of them as awkward teenagers. Except in this case I don’t think my radiant friend ever went through an awkward puberty stage! She hired a make up artist to do our make up and I never seen myself that pretty before! (Usually make up artists make me look like a ridiculous geisha.) Then came Halloween and my old coworker and now dear friend Jeremiah did my makeup and I was so impressed that this was his second time ever doing makeup! He did the same kind of makeup for himself days before doing mine.
In November, I Feel Better Podcast went live, I accepted a part-time job that also provides health-insurance and committed to freelancing and attempting to monetize my food blog to complement the part-time-not-enough income. The longer I was unemployed the more uncomfortable I started to be with the conventional nine to five. This is a weird place for me because before being laid-off, I didn’t want to ever consider life without the “stable” nine-five job.
For the holidays, Sugarface and I worked out that we’ll do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. So I took him to Houston and we spent a couple of days eating my mom’s food and chitchatting with my parents and brother. Kimmy and I tried to show him cool spots in Houston but all our chosen spots were closed with exception of that Before I Die wall.
Sugarface’s family came for Christmas and it was so much fun hosting them. They included me in their holiday traditions and I felt so touched by their acceptance. His mother spent hours in the kitchen on Christmas day. I’m not a pancake person. I take one or two bites and then I’m usually done. Sugarface’s mom officially converted me with her blueberry pancakes. We spent the day watching movies, opening gifts, and then eating an amazing dinner she cooked. Sugarface’s mom blows me away with her talent in the kitchen. We spent the remaining days being in each other’s company, eating, and watching more movies. They left and I found myself missing them almost immediately and am happy to be seeing them for New Years!
Today we’re driving to Arkansas for a New Year’s Eve wedding that Sugarface is in. It’ll be my fourth visit to Arkansas this year with him.
This was basically a verbose way of telling you 2015 was pretty swell.
On the first day of November, Sugarface and I took our puppies out to one of our nature belts in Austin. I love taking the dogs out on these hikes. They are so happy when they’re running free in nature. A few days later my podcast with friends went live with our very first episode. As I’m writing this, we’re about to publish our 8th episode and have been so far well received. We’re just so happy people are actually listening! Sugarface and I attended our second to last wedding of the year. We have one more next week! It was a small intimate wedding at a beautiful venue I never knew existed. I also volunteered at my favorite annual food event called Wine & Swine. For Thanksgiving, I attended a Friendsgiving with Austin Food Magazine and then took Sugarface to spend Thanksgiving with my family and friends in Houston. My best friend Kim and I were disappointed that the places we tried to show him were all closed. It was still a relaxing trip and the first time we traveled with both our dogs. Finally, I joined the Artful Bachelorette Austin team as a teacher and hostess.
Not depicted on Instagram, I started a part-time job in an engineering firm and am committing to a life of a part-time freelancer to supplement the part-time job. It’s both exciting and scary.
For nine years now, my best friend Kim and I have released balloons or prayer lanterns towards the end of the year or on New Year’s Day. It’s one of my favorite holiday traditions. We write on one balloon or lantern all the things that we could have done without from the previous year or want to avoid in the upcoming year. On the other balloon or lantern, we write our hopes and wishes for the upcoming year. It feels like each year the balloon where we list our grievances gets sparser. I think we are evolving to be better at not keeping relationships and things that drain us.
I’ve been binge reading all week trying to catch up on my yearly goal of reading 50 books. I have to read 10 more books this month! I’ve linked a few of the books I read this week in this week’s internet finds that made me feel things.
I finished Stoner in just about a day. It was so beautifully written, but if you are searching for an uplifting read, this isn’t it.
Rising Strong was such a great book. I’ve read all three of Brene Brown’s books and do recommend you read Daring Greatly before you start Rising Strong.
So I have a new and sexy part-time gig as a party hostess and teacher for The Artful Bachelorette! Hilarious because I shared their business before they even launched in Austin, not foreseeing this opportunity.
When I go through a hard time, I’m usually simultaneously keenly aware of how good I still have it. I noticed it every time I faced a heartache or big set back. It’s usually when the saints of my life come out into the light and remind me that I’m supported and loved. When I reflect back on this year, the glaring ugly spot was being laid off and scrambling for cash and thus feeling insecure and sometimes even unworthy. I’m in my thirties, how do I not have my life figured out? But then I looked around that blemish and I saw a lot of wonderful things. As I struggled through these feelings of unworthiness, my dad, unaware of the mental dressing down I put myself through, told me, “I’m proud of you. You do a lot. You can do a lot. You take care of yourself and others.”
“You took us to Vegas this year!”
“I couldn’t do that for you now and you did it for me and mom.”
Fuuck. He took my breath away with that statement. That’s only a small fraction of what he’s given his family. His confidence in me though was so timely and appreciated.
This year’s pleasant surprise is my relationship with Sugarface. This time last year, I cherished our friendship but had no idea it would yield the biggest romantic treasure of my life. This time last year, I had just moved into an apartment without a couch and Sugarface helped me put together a dining room table. I had no idea that a few weeks later, I’d feel butterflies when we held hands for the first time.
I journaled it. I wrote about how scared I was because this could be a really great thing or a really painful thing. I actually equated the feeling I had as Bambi eating delicious fresh grass in a snow-laden meadow. This grass is delicious and inviting but what if I get shot?
As time went on, that fear of possible danger lurking dissipated to feelings of security and acceptance. As the ugly and dark layers of my personality and history and story aired out incrementally, Sugarface remained loving and accepting. I’ve never experienced this kind of acceptance and love from a significant other before. Thank you 2015. Thank you Universe!
The second half of the year, I withdrew from my social life. I didn’t want to subject my friends to the Negative Nancy I was becoming but some of these saints, man. They love hard. They were patient even though I wasn’t receptive to phone calls and emails. I took forever to respond and they never stopped reaching out. And when I sheepishly came back, they carried on with me as if no time has passed. Ever generous and kind, these fun-loving friends.
I was inspired to look back at this year with my rose-tinted glasses on after reading a handful of blog posts of people counting their blessings for Thanksgiving. And I’m glad I did. This year has been awesome. There was that trip to Vegas. A trip to Utah. A trip to Chicago. Dance parties, hungry kisses, cohabitation, a new project with old friends, scenic boat rides, long phone calls, countless coffee dates, and days brimmed with joy and laughter.
The first three photos on this post were from my first asado, an Argentinean barbecue. I wrote about what a serene day it was on my food blog. (Click on any of the first three photos to read the post.) I went to Houston for a weekend to stand in a high school friend’s wedding. I stayed with my parents and brought back some of the permissions they harvested from their garden. Sugarface and I were invited to an outdoor hot pot party which was also another serene experience dining outside in good company.
October was mostly about settling into the new apartment with Sugarface. I’m proud of how well we handled our transition from seeing each other a few times a week to every waking moment spent at home. That’s a lot of change for any relationship. Not depicted on Instagram, all the home-cooked meals we’ve made in our new home, hosting our first dinner guests, a dance party in our undies with our puppies, and hosting our first overnight guest. We did a good job breaking in our new home!