Category Archives: How-Tos

Life Lessons Learned Through Improv

A couple of months ago I went on an awful first date. There’s not much of a story there except that I found him too much of an intellectual elitist. I hate wasting my time and always enter every experience (especially the bad ones) with searching eyes. Looking for treasure in the guise of a new hobby or lesson learned or a good story. As I was sitting over coffee with this pompous man, I tried to learn something. Anything. It was such a difficult endeavor since I was so turned off. Finally, he mentioned that he was a serious comedian and also dedicated a lot of his time to improv. He said anyone could take a free introduction class at any of the clubs in town. Ding, ding, ding! Treasure! After we parted ways, I shook off the icky feeling he gave me and went home and signed up for a free two hour introductory class. I went to the class and loved every minute of it.

I walked away from this class with a new conviction. Everyone should take a free improv class. Even if you have no interest in pursuing it further than just one free class. Not only will there be fits of laughter as you play, there are skills in improv that are useful in everyday life. Let me share three of them.

Failure Bows

During the intro levels of improv, we are encouraged to yell out, “I failed!” and then take a bow every time we failed to come up with the perfect line, let the ball drop, tripped either figuratively or literally, broke the rules of a game, zoned out, or do anything that made us feel like we failed. When someone yells out “I failed!” and takes a bow, the rest of us are to applaud them. The life lesson of the Failure Bow is two-fold. We should be proud for taking chances that lead us to our failures. We should react with admiration when we see people take chances and fall short. Our failures are our badges of courage.

Yes, And…

Improv is a live collaboration. Connecting with the audience and making them laugh hinges on how you work as a team. Enter the “Yes, And…” rule. When someone suggests something to you or invites you to play along with something, for the scene to stand a chance, you have to not only validate what your partner is saying to you but add to it. “We should get in this boat” should be met with an enthusiastic “Yes, and we should pack a snack!” There’s a beautiful openness and acceptance in the interactions during improv that could enrich our everyday life.

Be Present

To have a really great improv session, you have to be present. To really validate your teammates, you have to see and hear what they’re doing instead of withdrawing into your own mind and planning out your lines. The only way you can naturally and seamlessly move forward a scene is to be completely present. This means no live tweeting or instagramming. I’m the queen of preserving my moments live through my social feeds and yet that night I published nothing. I was too busy listening.

And there you have it. Three life lessons I gleaned from a bad first date.

Questions: What’s the best thing you have happened because of a bad date? Have you ever tried improv?

Having Adventures Without Traveling

Local Turtle Pond

Local Turtle Pond

Some time ago a nomadic soul who recently planted roots asked me how I managed to keep the explorer in me fulfilled when I’m not traveling. There are infinite amount of experiences to be had which means you don’t necessarily have to get on a plane to start exploring. As much as I love traveling, it’s not always feasible to hop on a plane or jump in the car with an out of town destination.

Be a sponge for local news and events. I am always on the lookout for things to do in Austin and Houston, my home-bases. Even if my schedule isn’t free, I’ll mentally bookmark the local gems. Just last week I finally checked out a rooftop telescope that has been open to the public at the University of Texas for decades. I saw Jupiter and four of her moons. I’ve had access to this building for thirteen years and still just manage to experience its roof and peer at Jupiter for the first time. Examples of some of my local gems? In Houston there’s an obscure museum called the National Museum of Funeral History and in Austin we have the Cathedral of Junk. What does your town have? When was the last time you checked out your local tourist spots?

Be deliberate. I’ve been consciously looking for a new experience at least once a week since the summer of 2005. I have not missed a week and it comes so easily to me now. It can be as small as trying a new restaurant or cooking with a new ingredient or finally taking that dorky Segway tour of your city. Scan your Livingsocal and Groupon emails for new experiences in your town. That’s how I found myself taking a bee-keeping class and rolling down a hill strapped inside a plastic ball. All of these experiences required no booking of airfare or lodging.

Have friends with adventurous spirits. I recommend being friends (and dating) people who aren’t afraid of looking stupid. People who don’t mind making fools of themselves as they learn how to ride that Segway or who are brave enough to be in that plastic ball with you. These like-minded friends will also be in the know of all the unique nooks and crannies your town has that most locals take for granted.

Be open and say yes. I’m willing to bet that a lot of us are so comfortable with the familiar that we make excuses. Excuses are dangerous stories we tell ourselves on why we can’t have or do something. Adventures aren’t limited to faraway places. Be open. Next time something strikes your fancy, google it along with your city. See if your city has a sensory deprivation chamber after you hear about it on the Joe Rogan podcast. If your friend invites you to a reading party, even if it’s easier to just read in your pajamas at home and not suffer the social anxiety you get from meeting new people, say yes.

Traveling is an easy gateway into the feelings you’re bound to feel when your horizons are being stretched and you are seeing things for the first time. I get it. I can never get enough of travel. But it’s still possible to feel awestruck anywhere you happen to be.

Now that I have you here. I need your help fundraising for Make-A-Wish and fulfilling one of my local adventures. If I’m one of the first 200 people in Austin to raise $1500, I get to rappel off a 38 story building. Help me raise money for a good cause and scare myself silly?

Friendship Dates

I have a handful of friends who are always up for things. Skydiving? Sure! Go to a new country because you’re turning 30? Okay! Paint something pretty because Instagram inspired you? Let’s do it!

I’ve met Anita through Bloggers in Sin City last year and in just a year, I’ve learned that she is one of the people in my life who is always willing to say yes to a new adventure, however big or small. It’s such a fortunate coincidence that she lives in Austin too. She recently sent me a Groupon for a splatter Pollock date. Since we both recently have a shared interest in saving for a house, I suggested for a fraction of the cost, we can just have our own painting date. I’ll bring the sheet to protect for paint splatters! She offered to cook a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook dinner because one of her 2013 resolutions is to cook her way through the entire book. And there we have it, a perfect girls night in to brighten a week day.

Most of my close friends don’t live in the same city as me. Through the years of having quarterly phone dates to catch up, I noticed a theme in all the conversations. It can be quite lonely in our age group. Friends move away to pursue careers. Friends get married and all of a sudden common interests shift. There’s hardly any time outside of work and home life especially if you’re also juggling a family or a long commute or both! When I trace back the friendships I cherish to see what was the moment that caused two people to realize they like each other and want to continue seeing each other, most of the time it was someone going out on a limb to invite a near stranger to an outing. It could be as mild as sitting at the same table for lunch at work or as huge as skydiving.

There are these endorphins that release when you do something new and fun. It feels good. And when you’re doing something that feels good with someone, that’s a form of bonding. (Refrain from TWSS jokes. I’m trying to be semi-serious here!) And when you find that you’ve made a new friend and you both like each other, keep doing new things with your friend.

You might even get free homemade desserts.

Question: Tell me about your last great friendship date.

Gift Idea: Count The Ways You Love Someone and Tie Them to Balloons

Have you ever counted the ways you love someone as a gift? I enjoy giving birthday gifts that align with the years of life. Back in college, I’d collect kisses on the cheek from strangers for friends which made for a better night then collecting birthday shots. As I’m not much on the bar hopping scene these days, I’ve shifted to other numbered gifts. I gave Alan 28 gifts for his last birthday, one of which was a list of 28 things I love about him. A coworker and friend of mine just had her 26th birthday and her supervisor and teammate collaborated with me on 26 reasons why we adore her. I collected the reasons and added a few of my own and decided to have fun with the delivery.

Instead of printing the reasons on a single sheet, I wrote down each reason on card stock and then tied it to a balloon. It was really fun to put together and sometimes creative packaging can level up simple gifts. Keep in mind that card stock is heavy; I was able to fit about 7 or 8 reasons to one balloon before it started to get weighed down.

Tell me about a gift you received that was creatively packaged.

How to Feel Love

I received a heartfelt email from a reader of my food blog which she gave me permission to share. I blogged about my favorite noodle soup that my mom makes. I still have not been able to find one restaurant that makes it at half the level my mom makes it. I’ve always planned on learning how to make this from my mom eventually. I hate to admit this but I haven’t prioritized this for years. This was very sweet reminder to make the most with the limited time I have left with my loved ones. I wanted to share Carmel’s story because it has such a great message.

Me eating a bowl of mom’s soup

Hi Linda,

I know I’m about 3 years late, but I just read your bun rieu blog from April 2010. I love how you like to eat! You are a girl after my own heart. My grandma used to make big pots of bun rieu. I would eat it everyday, sometimes 2x a day, eating most of the pot.

Being a young Vietnamese-American (or more American-Vietnamese), although I loved it, I never learned how to make it or spent time with her while she made it because I always seemed to have something else to do. Now that’s she’s passed away, I really miss her and her recipe. My mom doesn’t know to make it. You’re right about not being able to find it in Vietnamese restaurants. The ones I was able to find, were less than mediocre. So, I googled the hell out of “bun rieu” until I found one that resembled hers, written in English, I thought I’d try it. After a slight tweaking, it’s 95% like hers. My mom is so happy I’ve discovered it.

The point of this whole story is: learn it from your mom while you can. It’s not just comfort food, but it brings you closer to her. Every time you eat it, whether or not she’s with you, will make you feel love. My biggest regret is not bonding with my grandma in the kitchen.

Thanks for blogging your story and happy eating!


Tell me about a specific skill a family member has taught you.

photo credit: Thomas Chen Photography

How to Host a Reading Party

I’ve mentioned that I’m desperately trying to finish up my reading resolution. I currently have 9 more books to read before the end of the year. So I was really excited when I received an invite to a reading party! I have never heard of a reading party before and it’s no surprise that Neville, a college friend of mine, came up with the idea. He’s full of very unique ideas that are more or less documented on his blog.

I was so excited about this event that I talked it up to a few of my friends and most of them kind of look at me bewilderedly. The reaction that made me laugh belonged to a friend from work. “Oh my god, Linda, no.” It reminded me of Mean Girls and joining the Mathletes. However, the most popular reaction I got was, “how would that even work?”

Well let me tell you how Neville did it!

First, he invited people using Facebook events.

Then, he moved his bed out into the living room to make more comfortable reading space. An idea he entertained but didn’t implement was pitching a tent in his apartment to serve as a reading nook.

He then bought some light snacks and drinks.

He set rules and limitations. Arrive promptly at 8 pm so that you can meet his other friends and mingle for an hour. At 9 pm reading time starts for a full hour. No talking. No computers. Just reading! He actually told a friend of his to put the computer away! These rules were disclosed in his Facebook invite so they surprised no one.

At ten, he released us from quiet time! Unfortunately, it’s a work night and I still needed to run home and blog for today’s National Blog Posting Month. I want to thank Neville for hosting a fun event, helping me carve out some reading time, introducing me to his interesting friends, and also giving me blog fodder for tonight!

More photos of his party will be posted tomorrow for Worrdless Wednesday!

7 Ways to Better Manage Your Time

People often ask me how I manage my time. How did I find time to read 40 books last year? How do I have time to juggle a full time job and pick up an additional side gig? How do I keep up with my friends and cook almost every day? How do I find time to follow my favorite TV shows? Admittedly, most days I feel like I could really use another 10 hours to the week. I’m perpetually looking for ways to improve how I can really maximize my time and be productive. Despite my struggles, I have noticed these 7 little strategies have made a huge difference in managing my schedule. I hope you find some of these helpful!

7 Ways to Better Manage Your Time

photo credit

1. Set a timer

Ever taken a five minute break that ended up being an hour? Or closed your eyes for 10 minutes and then woke up 3 hours later? I lose track of time so easily when left on my own. Timers help me regulate my breaks and keep me on task. If I feel like I need a 10 minute break, I will set an alarm. If I want to allot 30 minutes to cleaning, I will set a timer for that too. This eliminates my having to watch the clock and therefore helps me focus.

2. Procrastinate productively

I usually keep my plate really full and not everything on my plate are things I’m dying to get done. What I do to indulge the procrastinator in me is to do something productive when I’m avoding a task. For instance, maybe I need to call the electric company but I want to avoid being put on hold for so long. If I were to procrastinate this task, I might pick something else that I need to get done but isn’t making me feel like hiding. So though I’m am procrastinating one task, I’m still tackling things that are on my general list of to dos.

3. Meal Plan

Planning your meals eliminates multiple trips to the grocery store and temptations to be lazy and eat out.

Things to consider when meal planning:

  • Keep an electronic and searchable record of recipes you love. If you have a surplus of chicken in the fridge, you can do a quick seach in your personal record for “chicken.”
  • Keep an online calendar of your meal plans. Eventually your backlog can serve as useful templates.
  • Plan your meals so you use up all your groceries. For instance, if a recipe calls for a few teaspoons of fresh cilantro, I would plan for a few more recipes that could help use down the bunch of cilantro.

4. Write things down

Write things down in your journals, in your to do lists, in your calendar. The more often you say out loud or write down your intentions, the more imprinted they are in your memory, thus making it easier for you to spot opportunities. Often when I journal, I write down my desires and dreams. It keeps my priorities simmering on the back burner so that when I get an email from an airline about flights to Seattle being on sale, I’m more likely to pause and say, “OH MY GOD, I’VE BEEN WANTING TO GO TO SEATTLE!” Your memory needs help. On that same note, keep a calendar of your appointments. I love Google Calendar because I can have it text me my appointments.

5. Be prepared for pockets of free time

Waiting for the water to boil? Stick some clothes in the wash. Waiting for your doctor’s appointment to start? Write a few thank you notes or read that book you’ve been meaning to read. You have an hour long commute from work? Schedule a phone date with an old friend or listen to an audio book.

6. Schedule some fun activities

Constant productivity can lead to a fast burn out. Have a seat. Breathe. Watch your favorite TV show. As I was scurrying around these last two months trying to keep my head above water, I did take a few scheduled time outs. I would sit with Alan and watch a documentary or one of our shows. I scheduled a few meals with my girlfriends. These pockets of connecting with loved ones helped me keep my sanity.

7. Prioritize

This one can be a doozy. Always keep in mind what your big goals are and what you want out of your life. This may help you decide between playing a full day’s worth of video games or cutting it short with XBox so you can connect with your loved ones.

Question: What helps you manage your time?

Eight Packing Tips to Make Your Move Easier

I’ve moved eleven times since 2001 which makes me a bit of packing expert. In fact, I’m gearing up for another move in just three more months. Here’s a list of eight packing tips that have made my life easier when it comes to moving.

Eight Packing Tips to Make Your Move Easier

  1. Start collecting boxes a couple of months before your move-out date. The last 5 years, I worked in places where we get many shipments and I started to hoard the boxes a couple of months prior to my move-out date. Prior to that, I would check with friends who recently moved or grocery stores.

  2. Right before a move is a good time to declutter, sell, and make donations. The more you get rid of, the less you have to pack. Go through your closet and start taking out what you’ll never wear again. Sell what you can and gift or donate the rest. If you make some cash, maybe you can save it towards your moving expenses!
  3. If you keep your shoes in shoe boxes like I do, you can use the dead space in your shoe boxes to store knick knacks. Just remember to open each box to check for stowaways when you begin the unpacking process.

  4. Find extra padding. I keep a lookout for free bubble wraps as I collect my boxes but they are a bit harder to find for free. I make up for the lack of bubble wrap by being creative. Dirty laundry make great padding for fragile items. T-shirts, kitchen and bathroom rugs, and towels can serve as cushion. Just be sure to launder and clean as you pack and unpack! I have used newspapers, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, rugs, purses, sheets, stuffed animals, pillows as cushions for my breakables.
  5. Label everything. I know this is an obvious one but I’ve witnessed friends not labeling what are in each box they packed and I wondered why they did that to themselves. I even label the box of randoms. I’ll bullet list what random objects I have in the miscellaneous boxes.
  6. Start packing at least a month before moving out. Everyone has more stuff than he or she realizes.
  7. Use your storage. I pack jewelry into zippered compartments in my handbags. (I also leave a note on the moving box in which these bags are stored with a reminder to check the handbag compartments.) I use the compartments in backpacks. I even use tupperware to hold the smaller bits. For example, I packed kitchen magnets in tupperware containers. I also packed silverware in clean tupperware containers. That way, I could just unload the silverware and not worry about washing them.
  8. Flatten and store as many moving boxes as you can after you’ve unpacked. This will give you a head start for your next move.

I know moving is a pain but I hope these suggestions make it easier for you. Good luck and enjoy your new home!

Thank you UMoveFree for sponsoring this post. 
Moving soon? UMoveFree complaints are few and 
far between for this Texas-based relocation 

Melted Crayon Art

I really cherish the memories I make with my friend, Brandi. We don’t just do movies and drinks when we get together. We started off our friendship by skydiving together. We’ve sampled bacon at the first two and soon to be third Bacon Takedowns. She was the one who was maniacally infectiously laughing in the video of us rolling down a hill while strapped inside a ball. We’ve co-hosted a “Never Have We Ever” dinner party and shot bows and arrows at the Texas Renaissance Festival. Even our girls’ nights in are unique. Case in point, last weekend we stayed in to make melted crayon art for the first time, taking small breaks to munch on s’mores. Here’s our personal guide on Melted Crayon Art!

Materials Needed:

  • hot glue gun

  • crayons
  • canvas or thick board

  • blow dryer

  • newspaper or something to protect your workspace from crayon shavings and splatter

  • bedazzled stickers (optional)

  • acrylic paint (optional)


For Brandi:

  1. Use a ruler and align bedazzled stickers.
  2. Ruminate over which colors to melt.
  3. Cut crayons into pieces with equal lengths.
  4. Align crayons along edges.
  5. Hot glue crayons along edges.
  6. Protect work space and lean board against the wall.
  7. Make a s’more and eat.
  8. Blow dry crayons and watch in amazement as the colors melt and meld into each other.
  9. Stop blow drying as soon as the crayons melt to where she wants it. The wax dries almost instantly.

For me:

  1. Use acrylic paint to paint a textured background.
  2. Immediately regret painting blue and white background as I ruminate over which colors to melt.
  3. Resign to just use janky color combinations as this is just a “starter” piece.
  4. Hot glue crayons along edges.
  5. Protect work space and lean board against the wall.
  6. Make a s’more and eat.
  7. Blow dry crayons and watch in amazement as the colors melt and meld into each other.
  8. Stop blow drying as soon as the crayons melt to where I want it. The wax dries almost instantly.

  9. No longer regret artistic decisions that lead to a cool piece of art.

Questions: Who is your adventurous partner in crime? What kind of shenanigans do you guys get into?

Do-It-Yourself Fail

Martha Stewart had this fun and easy looking craft on her site. You basically just adhere lace to tiles and then spray paint. I had visions of making these beautiful coasters for a few people on my Christmas list.

I need a new vision. It was super tricky! If you wait too long for the paint to dry, you end up pulling off the paint when you remove the lace. Too soon and it’s blotchy!

Brandi used die cut stencils and they worked out a lot better.

Question: What is your favorite handmade gift to make?