28.) Survival. Rebirth.

Soooo, yeah. As you can see by the date of my last entry and the date of my current entry, I took a few months off from blogging. The reason was the same one it has always been for gaps in my grad school journals: lack of time. However, this time it was beyond any time crunch I ever could have expected.

Christmas break was quite enjoyable. I kicked it off with the NSA Christmas Party and the Creepy Moustache Party (an epic house party hosted by local friends, held the Saturday after finals) on the same night. Shortly after that were several babysitting gigs to make some extra cash, and then oodles of traveling. I love to travel. I love to visit new places, feel out new cities, explore the cuisine – and combined with my…hmm…”wily”…travel luck it’s always an escapade! I went home to PA to visit my fam for Christmas, drove out to NJ to see more fam while there, drove out to NY to visit even more fam (love the big Irish/Italian fam <3), flew out to Indianapolis to visit T’s fam, drove with T to Chicago for a wedding, spent several (awesome!!!) days in Chicago with some of the most amazing friends I know, flew to Austin (and got stuck without food/sleep in Memphis for the night along the way), had enough time in Austin to do laundry and repack and left 18 hours later for Seattle to visit one of my bff’s. Bff and I took a train to Vancouver and toured Seattle and Tacoma (AMAZING salmon, oysters, and sushi, along with gorgeous mountain scenery!), and then flew back to Austin just in time for grad school to gear back up.

This semester, in short, has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to go through. I was lucky enough to land an amazing and demanding internship working at a local hospital doing acute inpatient care (MWF, 10 hour shifts). I was also taking an Advanced Dx clinical rotation, which is an incredible amount of paperwork, session preparation, and data analysis. I was taking a night class on Mondays and a perceptual neuro class on Tues/Thurs. Oh, and analyzing my thesis data and writing my thesis? Looking for a job? Studying for interviews? Preparing to take the Praxis exam? Running the NSA Youth Group? In shorts, I was working 14-19 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for the first two months of the semester. I never thought I’d ever say this but after 4.5 years of grad school, this semester nearly broke me. I entertained the thought of quitting, and the weekend of my birthday actually very seriously considered it. With my hours-per-day-needed greatly exceeding the hours-per-day-allotted, I stopped working out completely, stopped cooking, stopped sleeping properly, stopped reading for pleasure, stopped blogging (obviously), for the most part I stopped seeing my friends. Unless it was during a study date.

However, things are starting to lighten. My Monday night class is complete and finished for the semester. My hospital rotation was reduced from 3 days a week to 2. My thesis is fully written and formatted, and nearing its final stage. As of today, I’m essentially done with the Advanced Dx rotation. I got a job offer. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s such a bizarre and surreal feeling.

I liken it to times when I was little at home in PA, and we would get these horrible thunderstorms. Like really bad, tear the trees out by their roots, house-shaking, tornado-warning laden thunderstorms. As a girl, I had this crazy phobia of tornadoes…maybe I watched Twister too many times, I don’t know – but I would feel physically ill as we camped out in the bathroom, crying and pale with hands trembling. After it would pass, the sun would come out, and I’d feel kind of numb. I’d feel anesthetized, zombie-esque, somewhat in disbelief of what we had just “survived.” That’s kind of how I feel now. It hasn’t really hit me because I’m still kind of in shock. I feel like I’m crawling out of a car wreck, beaten and exhausted. But alive. And with perhaps a brand-spankin’ new appreciation for life.

28.) The worst of the semester is behind me. And I somehow survived it. I’m alive!!!!!! With a brand new appreciation for things I missed: my family, my friends, being outside, cooking, working out, reading books for fun. I have a beautiful new sunny perspective that I will happily share more about next time. My stunned little self doesn’t really have much more to say about this. So I will just say it with a smile. *SMILE*

😀 !!!!!!!

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27.) New coffeehouse love!

27.) Finding a new awesome coffeehouse…right around the corner!

I adore coffeehouses. In high school and college, there were no real coffeehouses around where I lived. There was the basement cafeteria on campus that served the usual suspects of assorted flavored coffees (french vanilla, hazelnut), and there was the dingy, smokey diner across the street from my dorm that served 75-cent cups of coffee with free refills – during high stress finals time I would usually camp out there at odd hours. But I didn’t really experience coffeehouses until my summer in Pittsburgh. We’d trek down to Caribou or Kiva Han on Forbes Ave and my roommates would study for the MCATS while I read a novel or journal articles. Ever since then, I’ve really enjoyed the spending time in coffeehouses. Most of my studying first year in the PhD program was spent at Texpresso in north Austin. The bulk of my first master’s thesis was typed up at the local Flightpath, near my old apartment. My friends and I would meet at sunrise to study at Medici on the drag the morning of a big test during my leveling classes, and my sister and I would bask in spring breezes on the porch of Mozart’s, which sits right on Lake Austin. My greatest love affair, however, has been with Epoch.

Epoch is everything a coffeehouse should be. It has plenty of seats and tables, and extension cables galore so you will always be able to juice up your laptop when you get in the work-zone. The music is not too loud, but it’s peppy. The lighting is gentle and soft, not blaring. There is plenty of outdoorsy porch space for nice days, plenty of bike parking (and nearby street parking for when the parking lot gets full), delicious coffee and tea, reasonable prices, a small but delicious food menu assortment, free water, and the baristas are friendly, knowledgeable, and chill. It’s also open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s got a very artsy feel, but perhaps the thing I like most about Epoch are the people.

Epoch patrons are a very eclectic and friendly group that’s fairly representative of what Austinites are like. Most of the people are students and are there to work, but there’s also several regular artists, chess/checkers players, and even a fellow who comes to do wood carvings. Not surprisingly, Epoch is a pretty popular place to be.

Most of the time I never have a problem finding a place to set up my little work station, but as we near the end of the semester, the rare nights where there is just NOTHING available are becoming more frequent. These nights were always dejecting, because I knew if I tried to work at home my productivity was going to suffer. Enter Monkey’s Nest coffeehouse.

This past Thursday a fellow speech student and I were trying to get some work done at Epoch and couldn’t find any place to sit. On a whim, we decided to try this new place that’s really close to where we live. Bingo. It was a great coffeehouse….cute and cozy, with a fireplace, and an interesting layout. I was incredibly impressed with the drink I got too! I don’t do caffeine after 3 pm, and so I have gotten used to drinking some flowery herbal teas (not my fave, but I make do). At Monkey Nest I had a caffeine free coconut Turkish spice tea, made with steamed milk and honey. Oh, heavens, did I ever smile!

I’m so happy to have discovered this new little treasure, just in time for the finale of my final fall semester.

So if you read this, and you are making the rounds to the Austin-based coffeehouse greats, I hope you put this one on the list!

26.) Joining a gym

26.) Joining a gym

I’ve actually never joined a gym before…so this was a whole new experience for me. Most of my life I’ve been an outdoors-exercise kinda girl: give me some dirt trails, some local neighborhoods to run and bike on, some wind on my face, some squirrels in my path. However, my schedule hasn’t really allowed for me to run daily outside like I could last year. I generally get home as the sun is going down, and  because of poor lighting and my almost-car-theft incident I don’t like running in my neighborhood after dark. I’ve tried zealously to set my alarm to run at 5:45/6 am prior to starting my day at clinic or school, but to be honest….I’m no morning lark. Getting to and from the gyms on campus is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth and there are often lines for the cardio machines.

My sister recommended a dirt-cheap local gym, and I’ve got to say it’s been an awesome experience! It’s by no means a fancy gym…no green smoothie machines, no sauna, no pool or racquetball courts. Just rows and rows of cardio machines and weight machines. Ahhh….the elegance of simplicity.

There are always machines available, there are about 10-15 different TV channels to mitigate treadmill boredom, it’s cheap, and it’s really close! It’s also motivating to be around a bunch of other workout fiends. That might be just me though – I’ve always reaped incentive for improvement from group settings (yoga classes full of yogis, writing papers at a café of studiers, etc.). And gosh exercise feels so good again! Since I’ve become a gym rat I’m sleeping better, feeling more energized during the day, and feeling less stressed and anxious over school. Here’s to you, gym!

25.) Finding out your car has been towed

25.) Finding out your car has been towed – I know what you’re thinking. Getting your car towed made you smile??

In September someone had tried to steal my car. Luckily, they failed and the car was repaired and all was better. But it had still unnerved me…I never imagined anyone trying to steal my car. Austin is pretty safe as far as cities go. The shaky event left me in a slight moment of panic every time I couldn’t find my car in a parking lot. I’d have trouble finding outside the supermarket, and be like “HOLY CRAP DID SOMEONE STEAL MY CAR??” My more rational side would reply “Colleen, don’t be ridiculous. No one stole your car. It’s  probably a couple rows over.” And rational-side was right…it was always there.

Last night, I went to a friend’s place. I’ve been to this friend’s house before, and she lives in a gated community. I parked, enjoyed a delish dinner and great conversation with her for several hours, and around midnight we went on the back porch to look at her plants. And I didn’t see my car in her parking lot.

My rational side was saying, “It’s there. You just don’t see it.” So we went down and I walked around like a zombie, hand in the air clicking the “beep” button on my keys. My rational side was totally in denial…it’s here. It has to be here. It’s ALWAYS here….you just don’t see it right now. Then I finally stood in the exact spot (now empty) where my car was and concluded it had been stolen.

Followed that up by some swearing, which caught the attention of some boys on their porch who said that they’d seen a truck come by and tow a bunch of cars about 30 min ago. This was kind of ridiculous, because the spots weren’t designated and there were definitely (easily) 40 free spots in the locked in lot. It was somewhat shady call by the towing company and way more expensive than normal towing would be.

But still!

My car had not been stolen! 🙂

24.) Surviving

24.) Surviving. A little bit at a time. – This semester has been crazy. Well, whom do I think I am kidding? Every semester of grad school has been crazy! But this is like, really crazy. School isn’t terrible, and clinic hasn’t been terrible, but I’ve been bad at managing my time. I spoke with my Mom yesterday and she asked me how things have been. I told her that I’ve totally overextended myself. I’m completely overcommitted, too many leadership positions, too many responsibilities, but the problem is that the things I’m committed to I enjoy SO much, and I can’t give them up. She took no pity on me and said merely, “Colleen, I have only two things to say to you: N. O. Learn to say NO.”

I know she is right. I know I need to start giving up some of the things I love for the things I have to do until I graduate, but like I said, it’s doing the things that I love that keep me motivated to keep going. It’s a cycle.

Anyway, today is the last day of September. And it is also Friday. This means I not only have survived another week (big accomplishment in my book!) but I’ve also survived the MONTH. Tis right….first month of 4th of 5 semester of grad school will be behind me in a few hours. 🙂

And so, little by little, minute by minute, I’m surviving this semester. Ups and downs and rounds and rounds, and heartache and happiness, and stress above all stresses. True, maybe I have barely slept every night for the past 3 weeks. But there ain’t no rest for the wicked, right?

20.) – 23.)

20.) Waterparks – growing up in the northeast I never really frequented waterparks. In my opinion, it was never really warm enough to justify  standing in lines for water slides all day, and there’s some weird aspect of Dorney Park that just skeeved me out a little. My sister, on the other hand, adores water parks. She always reminds me of the time she went to the tiniest crappiest little waterpark out near State College and spent nearly all day there. Before she left Austin, her one big dream was to go to Schlitterbahn, one the largest waterparks in the world. I’d been to S-Bahn once before with a group of friends. We went about 3 years ago and on a weekday, and it was also overcast and drizzly. It was amazing! No lines, we rode all the park rides at LEAST once (in many cases, twice). My sister and I went a few Saturdays ago, and it was just as fun as I remember! It was pretty dang hot, and the lines were long, but we were still able to ride a good number of slides and as the crowds dissipated near the end of the day we were able to go on our favorites again!

21.) Live music – Austin calls itself the Live Music Capital of the World, and live music is just one of the many things I adore about this city. Last weekend was the ACL festival, and I got 3-day wristbands for my sis and me. It was MUCH more crowded than the last time I’d ACL-ed (also, ironically, 3 years ago), and I sadly missed some of my favorite acts because of work, but it was still a ton of fun. I probably won’t do ACL again (maybe a day pass next time), but my favorite thing were the aftershows downtown. There were some awesome acts (IRON AND WINE) at some great venues (STUBBS!), and we also were able to see Bon Iver in that same week! This time last year I was able to see Michael Franti and Jonsi. The thrill of seeing your favorite musicians, breathing the same air as them, sharing in the spine-tingling sensations of listening to them serenade you, makes live music a big smile win.

22.) Getting out of work early – Isn’t it just awesome when you wake up on a Friday morning exhausted from a long two weeks, mentally prep yourself for a full day of work, and then get out 3.5 hours early because they pulled in some extra help?? Oh yes, so very awesome!

23.) Rediscovering old favorite tunes – yesterday on the drive home from work, I was flipping through the stations and heard the second verse of “Fire and Rain.” I used to be totally obsessed with James Taylor. I had all of his CD’s, I had several shirts and other memorabilia, I had seen him 5-6 times in concert (once got to hold his hands as he reached down from the stage)….total groupie. But over the last few years I tired out the songs…listened to them a little too much. In fact, I hadn’t really listened to JT since maybe 2008 (gah…I’m sensing a totally unintentional theme in this post!). Hearing “Fire and Rain” brought me back and reminded me how much I absolutely LOVE James Taylor’s music.

Happy weekend, ya’ll!  🙂

16.) – 19.)

16.) The Prelude to Fall – Fall in Austin is totally unbeatable. I mean it, it is absolutely hands-down my favorite season anywhere, and Texan fall has a different personality (and lasts a lot longer) than northern autumns. Austin fall is the intersection of pretty much all of my favorite things. First of all, the weather is indescribably beautiful: it finally gets cool enough to play outside (and start logging those long runs!) but is still warm enough to be comfortable, the sun starts to slink lower in the sky and goes from blaring red-hot to a soft, gentle gold. After the summer heat, fall is a breath of fresh air. Add to that the fact that it’s also the season of my favorite sport (football!) and my favorite holiday (Halloween!), as well as one of my favorite flavors (pumpkin-flavored-anything!), and sprinkle in some of my favorite road races (Livestrong 5K, Turkey Trot, etc.) and you’ve got one happy season. So it’s not quite fall yet…but it’s coming. The first Longhorns game was today, the high for Monday is 94 degrees, and the stores are Labor-Day-saleing away their summer stock. It’s what I like to call the Prelude to Fall. 🙂

17.) Scrubs – my sister is a nurse, and she has often said that one of her favorite things about her job is that she gets to wear scrubs to work. Besides their PJ-comfort appeal, she also never has to plan too hard about what to wear to work. This semester I’ve been placed in a local nursing facility, and I was overjoyed when they told me that if I’d like to, I could wear scrubs. So today, my sister took me scrub shopping and showed me all the secret in’s and out’s of buying super-comfy scrubs that still look cute (and not too boxy).  Here’s to my sister, for teaching me the way of medical-wear. 🙂

18.) Getting a text/call that makes you smile – Thursdays this semester are kind of longish. I’m on campus from about 9-6, and then after waiting for the bus I sometimes don’t get home till 7 (or later). After getting home this week quite late, I went to the store to pick up a few things. It was almost closing time, and the lines were very long. I was tired, starving, very thirsty, and just feeling a little tense. Then I got a phone call from someone that just changed my mood around 180 degrees. Like nerve gas, the sound of this person’s voice crawled into my system and every cell in my body breathed a deep sigh of relief. It wasn’t a particularly important call (just  a “Hey while you’re at the store can you pick up this and that?”), but it warmed me nevertheless. 🙂

19.) Off-the-cuff recipes that work out awesomely! – one of my goals for fall is to finagle more vegetables into my diet, and cut back again on the meat. I was a vegetarian in high-school/college. For Lent this year my goal was to eat meat only twice a week, but fell out of that pattern this summer. Although I still eat meat, I’m trying to cut back again. So I stocked up veggies this week: eggplants, red bell peppers, turnips, leafy greens, mushrooms, along with some tofu, faux chicken, and faux sausage. Wednesday night I was dying to cook, hastily pulled a few ingredients out of the fridge, and whipped up a delectable little dish: vegan casserole (roasted eggplant and crimini mushrooms with crumbled tofu, and baked with a light spicy peanut sauce) and served over forbidden rice (pictured below). This dish did not disappoint. The veggies were roasted perfectly, the tofu added a complimenting creaminess, and the sauce was flawless: slow burning chili, a touch of sweet peanut, and not too thick. The next night was flatbread pizza topped with a cabernet –marinara sauce, faux chicken, cheese, and fresh garlic and basil. The next recipe adventure? Herb mashed turnips and potatoes. It’s so wonderful to be cooking again. 🙂

Black forbidden rice

Vegan casserole with a spicy thai peanut sauce (over forbidden rice....it's hiding!)