I'm going to Chicago

Back story: There are four of us lady best friends from New Braunfels. (It's like Sex and the City if the city is a German town of 50k and the cast is far less slutty and annoying.) Kendra, Kim, Christina and I have been pretty inseparable for the last few years.

That is until...
Back in March, Kendra moved to Denver, CO. Kim got married in September to an Air Force man, and is now stationed with her husband near Raleigh, NC. Christina and I are still in humble little NBTX.

So back in October, Christina and I spotted a deal from Southwest Airlines - tickets were $30, $60, $90 each way. Great deal, right? At first we thought to visit Kendra in Denver. But it's been a dream of mine to see Chicago, and we didn't really want to bunk up with Kendra and her boyfriend.

So what did we do? We rallied for a girls' trip to Chicago!

The planed tickets were really cheap - each girl, flying in from three different time zones, each paid $141 round trip. The unfortunate part was the timing; we're going Jan. 27 - 29. It will be cold, but I got a new coat and I know how to layer.

So since I am the planning queen, I've been happily making all the arrangements for this trip. Today I booked the hotel that will cost each person just $92 for four nights. It's a 3.5 star in downtown Chicago, 6 blocks from the rail and 2 blocks from Michigan Avenue. I'm the queen of trip planning.

I've also created a map of all the places we want to see while we are there. Take a look and shoot me a message if there's some places I've missed.

View Chicago January 2010 in a larger map


Not so funny

I'm okay with trying new things, though I'm still a comedy snob, especially when I'm "taking one for the team" and being a supportive girlfriend.

Last night I went to a live performance of Tim and Eric, whose show has been featured on Adult Swim for FIVE seasons. (?!?!)

Let me just say, it was really really weird and not funny at all. Half the show consisted of skits that were just bizarre, and loud, and the only highlight I could find was John C. Reily's guest appearance for a skit he participates in regularly in the TV version.

The Paramount in Austin was packed with chubby, nerdy hipsters, in their skinny jeans and keds, agonizing over the lack of PBR. ...All who paid at least $30 to see bad, unfunny actors.

Overall it was just lame, silly and too loud. This makes me think I'm getting old. Or just that I have good taste in comedy.


Fast, Fresh, Nonexistent

Maybe there are healthy fast food restaurants in other parts of the country, but certainly not in my neck of Texas. There are nights when I leave the radio station at midnight or later, and the last thing I want to do for a meal is trudge through HEB to find a lean cuisine, bagged salad or raw chicken to cook up when I get home. I want to drive up to a window and get something that won't make me feel disgusting. Is that too much to ask?

So with this movement of eliminating trans fat at fast food joints, why aren't in-and-out healthy eateries being set up too? I can't imagine a how drive-thru that serves wraps, hummus, fruit cups and fresh veggies could fail in a place like New Braunfels. So many people (especially parents) want healthy food. Chick-fil-a and Jason's Deli are almost always packed.

It makes me wonder why someone else hasn't thought to open a quick and easy fast food joint, instead of having to study an illuminated menu through a car window to find something relatively inexpensive, fresh, and healthy. If my passion were food and I had some startup money, I'd be the first to embark on this idea. But alas, I'm just a journalist.


Election Night

I'm not going to get all political all over everyone. I actually think that's kind of annoying, and seeing as I'm a journalist, it would be unprofessional. But I will say working in a newsroom on Election Night is WAY different than watching the votes roll in from home. Why?

1. You're more objective. Instead of getting pissed the donkeys/elephants got another seat, you tally up in your head how many each have for the night, what it means for the delegates in that district or precinct, and how you can milk our of it a story or at least a few good interview questions.

2. It's busier. Because you're not invested in just one but many races, there's no time to fuss. It's a broader perspective. And the investment isn't personal, it's professional. Plus while you're watching the votes come in, you're on the phone with your reporter down at the courthouse, and also listening to the police scanner to hear if there's been a riot, robbery or car accident.

3. You lose sleep for different reasons. You're not mad because Harry Reid or Rick Perry was reelected, you're mad the secretary of state's website hasn't been updated in 45 minutes and you're trying to finish your story before 1:30 a.m.

4. In a newsroom, there's candy leftover from Halloween. You lucky journalist, you.


Music snobbery

I'm a recovering music snob. I'm a recovering everything snob, but lately I've been expanding my horizons in the world of music. Ultimately I've learned that just because it's not the genre I prefer, doesn't mean it's bad (although sometimes it definitely is really bad.)

Take for instance, the band Killswitch Engage. My little Wilco-loving ears aren't accustomed to the harsh sounds of metal mayhem. But I can appreciate them for what they are, and for the talent they welcome into their own genre, if only for the sake of my friend Lee Harris who listens to them constantly.

Also, I've recently explored the genre of DubStep, which seems to be growing in popularity among college students. I got a birthday mix from my dear friend Michael Scheel that, in the company of MIA and songs from The Life Aquatic soundtrack, featured some pretty sick beats. I don't know their names though since my birthday mix only has a picture of a birthday cake drawn on it.

I've also been exposed to many-a Americana bands because of my association with KNBT, and by association I mean employment. I remember I time I hated anything classified as "Texas Country" or the like, but now I can say I somewhat enjoy at least some of those bands. It's a limited list but it's a start.

So along with the 1,500 other goals I have for the year 2010, I want to tack on "find a new favorite band." I've had the same top 10 favorite bands for the last 6 years, and I'm now in search of something new and fresh and outside my comfort zone. I'm open to suggestions.


The tradeoff

I am now less than two months away from graduation and the end of my college career. It's been a long road and it's hard to believe I've arrived. I've spent three and a half years exhausting my brain and bones to bust through higher education, and I'm now starting to see some things I've skipped over - things like walking around campus just to explore, going to football games, joining fun extracurricular groups etc. But in return I feel like I've gained what I hope is valuable experience and life lessons. I've had two amazing internships, one that evolved into a job, which have led me to network with tremendously successful people. I'm virtually debt-free because I paid tuition out-of-pocket. I'm still thrilled with the elements of journalism and think I always will be, but where my skills in this field will take me, I don't yet know. To be honest, I'm a little scared but so excited and ready to have a very expensive piece of paper framed on my wall.


Four Months

For those of you who don't follow me or my sister on Facebook and/or Twitter, my nephew Elijah will be 4 months old this weekend! He's very adorable. Look, I have proof.

I know you're jealous.


July Adventure

This weekend Mitch and I got away to the Texas coast (despite the alleged tar balls) and we had a wonderful time! Friday night we went to Minute Maid Park to watch the Houston Astros take on the St. Louis Cardinals. Afterwards we went to the latest Houston bar scene down on Washington with a few local friends. Saturday we drove down to Galveston relaxed on the beach, sans tar, followed by some pretty good burgers at The Spot. Most of Galveston is still rebuilding after Hurricane Ike hit almost two years ago; it was sad to see so many shops along The Strand boarded up. We stayed in Texas City and then went to the Kemah Boardwalk on Sunday, which was exciting despite the swarms of mosquitoes. We had a fancy dinner at Landry's, including delicious lobster tail and a mango mojito. We drove back today after another night's stay in Texas City, and of course rounded off the trip with a stop at the infamous Buc-ee's.

Maybe I never realized it but sometimes a weekend getaway can improve even the best life. It doesn't have to be glamorous or far away, but exploring and making memories with someone you care about is half the adventure.

A map of our travels:

View Gulf Travels in a larger map
Track my future adventures by following me on Twitter!


Pipe dreams of the American college student

From our first day of kindergarten, we are sold a dream. We are all told that we can be anything we want to be when we grow up. As we get older, we are taught, whether intentionally or not, that some professions are better, more dignified than others. And eventually we're given a golden ticket, convinced that if try hard in high school, get into that top 10%, go to college and get a degree that we will land a great job and be happy forever. But that dream is an illusion.

I've seen this story repeated over and over. So many of my peers leave college empty-handed and ill-prepared for the real world. Growing up, no one ever tells the truth about the downfalls of a free market economy, where sometimes there just aren't enough jobs to go around, and certainly not enough for everyone to chase their dream.

As a college freshman, no university advisor admits getting a Bachelors in English will make you a glorified secretary or that you might have to wait tables at Applebee's after paying $60,000 for a business management degree. Because that would crush the dreams of eager optimists across America who believe the key fulfilling the dream is a piece of paper handed to you as you walk across the stage, draped in black, family applauding.

Colleges are turning out naive white-collar workers in masses, many of whom have starting salaries at less than half of what a plumber or mechanic makes. But that's supply and demand and we are all urged to go to college and "make something" of ourselves. The aspirations of my generation flooded the job market with hundreds of graduates lined up, all expecting that dream to come true in a matter of months.

So now our dreams have turned against us and we fight one another for whatever we can get: bank teller, substitute teacher, Census worker. After a while these college graduates start thinking they've done something wrong. They wonder why their dreams aren't coming true as promised. Even those who had internships, studied hard and worked full-time can't seem to move up the ladder. Meanwhile, our non-collegiate counterparts were long ago convinced that going back to school would advance their future and make everything better. Little do they know...

The dream we were sold was only a facade of a greater life and purpose. With foresight most people can answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with one simple word: happy. And somehow higher education became the only stepping stone to happiness. But a traditional education does not lead to wealth or happiness, knowledge does. And knowledge can be acquired through an array of mediums not reserved to frat parties and textbooks priced upwards of $250. If I've been taught anything in my short life it's to learn what you love and make a living doing it. And if someone drives trucks because it's quiet and scenic, I would say that person has a better grasp on life than college graduates who wait for job offers to come pouring in.

With this understanding maybe we can ask ourselves what the price tag attached to our happiness reads. Is it worth the distorted understanding of success? Is it worth feeling inadequate because despite four years of dedication, no one wants to hire you? I don't think so. My happiness is worth more to me than the pipe dreams spoon-fed to my generation and more than a piece of paper that says I'm worthy of employment.

I've recently abandoned my concept of a "dream job" because I just want to love my profession. I know I love the art of journalism; I love learning constantly and getting along with my co-workers. Beyond my need to maintain a livable wage I just want to be happy. I want to find a job that highlights my unmatched perseverance, enthusiasm and flexibility. I'm not sure where this paradigm shift will take me but I believe my destination and the journey there will be guided by an auspicious knowledge and not the outdated illusions of my childhood.


The Day Elijah Was Born

My nephew Eli arrived today and I lost the bet. After over 12 hours of labor, he arrived at 6:52 p.m. and 10 lbs 11 oz. He is a beautiful baby and I can't believe he's here. When I saw my sister after she delivered, we both just teared up and I told her I was so proud of her. She's a real trooper and pushed that huge baby out for almost 2 hours. I love her, I love her husband and this beautiful little boy.


Gambling on Eli

In just a few short days I will become an aunt for the first time! My sister and her husband are expecting a little boy, Elijah Michael Grau, and my sister is being induced on Wednesday morning, May 19th.

I'm really looking forward to meeting this little guy; I have even dreamed about him. He is the first grandchild too, and my parents are excited.

We are pretty sure he is going to be a big baby. For instance, that picture was taken just over 7 weeks ago. His estimated size last week was between 7.5 and 11 lbs. So tonight my dad and I made a bet. I'm officially a gambling woman. If Eli is over 10 lbs, I have to clean the house for a month. If he is under, my dad is going to reimburse me for my recent car repairs, totaling about $225.

So needless to say, I hope that not only for my sister's sake but for my finances and leisure time's sake Elijah is small... relatively speaking. I'll be posting many pictures I'm sure once little (or big) Eli graces us with his presence.


Making the Hill Country a Habit

I had the joy recently of spending a few days and nights in the scenic Texas hill country, specifically Bandera, Kerrville and Boerne.

I live right on the edge of the rolling hills and emerald views of these sleepy little towns, but never experienced them in their full capacity. In the midst of a plethora of summer camps, souvenir shops and miles of open highway, the gems of the hills stand out.

One little place I found nestled in downtown Kerrville is called Grape Juice. It's a wine bar, tap room, restaurant and art house comparable in aesthetics to my beloved Huisache down here in New Braunfels.

It's a half-restaurant, half-bar with a wonderful, comfortable vibe. There's lots of interesting (albeit overpriced) art hanging on the walls, unique beers on tap, and an extensive wine list. After spending an evening in the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, the people who greeted us at Grape Juice seemed normal and slightly sophisticated but grounded. The TV near the bar had sports, while the one in the corner was connected to my favorite XM Radio station, The Spectrum. I just felt really good being there, and it's not every day you can walk into a brand new establishment and feel at home.

So if you're planning a trip to the hill country or already close, check out Grape Juice. It's not cheap, but the atmosphere is worth it, at least to me.

I hope to make discovering such hill country gems a habit.


View Grape Juice in a larger map


Dead Snow and my Hatred of Horror

I hate horror movies. Horror movies capitalize on fear. It's a cheap shot. The makers are rude to assume a cookie cutter formula -- creepy string music, young people having forbidden relations, dark and abandoned cabins etc -- will impress and entertain me. Unfortunately I have a low tolerance for their generic scare tactics and despite my stance on idiotic scary movies, they sometimes work. So I consistently choose to avoid them.

I only agreed to watch Dead Snow for three reasons: 1.) It was the middle of the day. 2.) It's practically summer in south central Texas and therefore the cold setting isn't directly applicable to my real life. 3.) My boyfriend asked nicely.

Dead Snow is not only a horror movie, it's a Nazi zombie movie from Norway. This horror movie is original compared to more generic gore flicks that put the horror in horrible.

Now although I don't like horror films, I think I might have enjoyed it just a little bit. It certainly had more gore than any movie I've ever seen, including the ripping of people in half, a close-up of a creature getting its eyes gouged out, and lots of blood. Everywhere. Most of the graphics were actually believable although the plot had gaping cliches. Examples: Young med students are vacationing in an isolated cabin in the snow-capped hills of Norway. They all want to get rich. And course an old man warns these stupid young people of their doom but do they listen? If they had, there wouldn't be a disgusting blood-soaked movie about it.

In addition to the gore, there were a few "That would never happen!" moments, which also comes with the genre. No girl would take of her shirt in -20 temperatures while straddling some dude in an outhouse. And not to take a note from the zombie apocalypse handbook, but rule #1 is that you never, ever split up. Unless you want to die.

It had some good moments, though. It poked fun at some classic zombie cliches, like the "don't get bitten" rule, which apparently doesn't apply to Nazi zombies who want your gold and not your brains. In fact, the Nazi zombies were more like the un-dead crew of the Black Pearl from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie than typical brain-munchers.

I liked Dead Snow because it was different. It wasn't an Judd Apatow comedy, a Nicholas Sparks romance, or a Tyler Perry "I don't get why people like this crap." Since I don't watch horror films, it was memorable and (as I later found out) was premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It's enjoyable sometimes to poke fun at the lack of logic right before you scream and grab the thigh of the person sitting closest to you.

So I say watch Dead Snow if you have a strong stomach, but don't ask me to join. I'll be lucky to make it through tonight without a chainsaw nightmare. But in a genre at capacity with predictable situations, there's still room for one more.


Public Radio: Another Notch in my Belt

Lately I've been completely immersed in my latest venture, an internship with Texas Public Radio. It's a passionate love affair that started back in high school when my political science teacher would describe a story she heard on NPR and it sounded so compelling, I'd have to go find the material myself. That and I'd listen on the way to school and then name drop a story I heard from Diane Rehm.

Although I'm a journalism major, my abilities are not limited to only writing. So I found working in radio (and eventually public radio) rewarding and informative. I've benefited much from the three months or so I've been here. I've even posted my works on this blog.

Ultimately I don't want to restrict myself to the traditional definition of a journalist. I want exceed expectations, learn about all elements of reporting become an asset.

I've heard so many students say, "I've just got to get an internship done so I can put something on my resume" --and that's from my counterparts who even care enough to get an internship. But to me, especially with Texas Public Radio, an internship should provide more than the required "experience." It should be an experience. Why put yourself in a learning environment and then not ask questions?

It's a struggle, but I'm not a fan of the "I can't" attitude. At times working in this business isn't ideal or convenient, but it's something I'm passionate about, so any sacrifices made to succeed are worth it. Nothing is more invigorating than fostering a deeply-rooted passion.

My passion has brought me to public radio. I work alongside Edward R. Murrow Award winners and mentors who display pictures of themselves with a former vice president. I've gained a niche for public radio, developing elements of an engaging story. It's an art and at the same time a calculated discipline.

At a humble 22 years old, I can't say I'll work in public radio forever. My internship ends in May, followed by work over the summer and graduation in December. Public radio has given me a greater understanding of how to tell a story, which embodies a philosophy of good reporting. I can say for certain though that I hope to use the knowledge I've picked up here for future ventures, potentially including advisement from Terry Gildea to stay in public radio.

Among many other things, public radio has helped me develop one side of the multi-talented journalist I'm working to become. Audio is just one way to tell a story, and with these skills under my belt I am able to expand other dimensions of my career self, not for the sake of building a resume, but truly to become a wildly well-informed, versatile multimedia journalist.

The future though frightening is full of opportunities. And I want to keep them coming.


Michael Nye's Table

I recently wrote and produced this story for Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. Click the player to hear what aired and get additional information from the story.

It’s Friday morning at the Witte Museum and hundreds of school children rush to see a new dinosaur exhibit.

But in quiet wing upstairs, photographer Michael Nye’s exhibit Table of Contents: Portraits and Stories of Hunger and Resilience is getting attention. Fifty large black and white portraits hang on royal blue walls. Headphones dangle under each photograph and at the push of a button, patrons like Marco Islas can hear these stories of hunger.

“The pictures are what stood out to me. Without even listening to the stories, you can just see the harsh reality that some people face,” Islas said. “But I think after listening to some of these stories, also they show the resiliency of the human spirit.”

Nye began in San Antonio and traveled across the country for over four years collecting these stories, asking strangers the question, “Have you been affected by hunger and can you spend three days with me?”

Nye’s conversations with those affected by hunger could last up to six hours. And after photographing each person, he edited the conversation into a 5-minute narrative paired with their image.

“My focus is a fidelity to each person's experience,” Nye said. “What do they want to say? What did hunger do to them? What do they know?”

During his journey, Nye met Rick in Little Rock, Arkansas. Rick, now middle-aged and homeless, was abandoned by his alcoholic mother at a young age and struggled with the impacts of hunger throughout his life.

“Hunger is not missing a meal. Hunger is when you go to bed hungry and you're hungry all the next day and then you go to bed hungry again. And all you think about is food,” Rick said.

The exhibit sheds light on hunger in the context of a larger life and catalogs diverse personal experiences. Some tell of temporary hunger while others recall lifetimes spent struggling to survive.

“But I think there is a commonality of stories. Although each story is different, each story could be in each of our communities. Anyone could be hungry,” Nye said.

Michael Nye's exhibit Table of Contents is at Witte Museum through Sunday, April 4th.