A New Beginning

For over 2.5 years, The Modern Austen has been my home.

My digital scrapbook.
My personal stylebook.
My own unique community.
My side business.

It has been the most wonderful and rewarding learning experience, one that has changed everything for me, both personally and professionally. I didn’t realize when I signed up for a free WordPress.com account in May 2012 that I was embarking on the journey of a lifetime, but now I know that it was woven into my plan all along. I have loved every second of the journey–even the periods of burnout–because it has stretched and pushed me to become a better person: a better writer, a better marketer, a better creative, and, most of all, a better friend.

Though The Modern Austen hosts numerous embarrassing posts and lots of fluff, I am extremely proud of several gems that I published over the years. Nearing the end of 2014, I began feeling the itch for change. In the past, that often meant switching up the design, introducing a new feature, kicking it up a notch in my community. But this time felt different. As much as I adore the brand behind The Modern Austen and still feel its message is relevant to me, I knew that it was time for a more drastic change.

After several months of daydreaming, planning, designing, collaborating, doubting, brainstorming, reinventing, organizing, and writing, I am FINALLY ready to announce my latest creative venture.

Introducing Ampersand Creative.

A lot of soul searching led me to one major conclusion: it was time to narrow my focus. I dug through the echelons of my brain and mindmapped my way to discover my real passions that could simultaneously serve others: creativity, entrepreneurship, and blogging. It is my aim to help millennial bloggers and young professionals identify and achieve a fulfilling creative lifestyle. You’ll find musings on the side hustle, discussions about navigating the job search, insight into other creative individual’s projects, how-tos to get your schemes up-and-running, and whatever else strikes my fancy that might be of use to others.

Before I leave you to go and explore my lovely new site (designed by the incredible Sam Bell Creative), I want to say thank you. Thank you for sticking with me, for being such a supporter over the last three years, for being so flexible no matter what direction I took the blog, for getting to know the girl behind the blog, for reading, for commenting and emailing, for challenging me. I am eternally grateful. I know this new direction won’t be for everyone and I understand if you choose to turn down another path. But please know that you have made a difference in my life and I appreciate you. Here’s to new beginnings!


Life Lately

I’ve been away from this space for quite some time and I have to say, I miss it. I know I’ve been alluding to a brand new venture I’ve been working on and I am indeed plugging away at it (and SO very excited about it), but I miss the familiarity of this space from time to time. Most of all, I miss all of you, lovely readers of mine.

Instagram Collage Life Lately


Life has been a bit of a whirlwind recently. I’ve been traveling for work, dancing, working on side projects, balancing time with friends and family, and supporting my mom through some difficulties. While there have been some bumps and bruises here and there, I am overall very content and excited for the future. I feel encouraged and motivated by the many driven people around me and am anxious to see what opportunities lie ahead in the next few months.

As of yesterday, I have been back in Pittsburgh for an entire year. The decision to move back home was a difficult one, but I can’t believe how much that one choice has affected everything. Where and who I was then is miles and miles away from where and who I am today. I knew that I would one day be “on the other side,” and I am humbled and thrilled to finally be there and only going up from there.

I’ll be posting some hints here and there on social media of things to come, so stay tuned for that, BUT what I want to know is: What are you working on? What’s keeping you motivated and giving you that excited feeling in your stomach? Let me know in the comments and share a link so I can ooh and ahh over your brilliance!

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that, upon reflection, you have much to celebrate and be grateful for! I know I spoke on this last year, but even though January 1st is not a special day, there’s something about the changing of the years that is especially powerful. Personally, I have felt in a bit of a lazy slump this past December. Work has been really slow (for good reason) and that has permeated into my personal work ethic and I wasn’t enjoying it. Somehow, magically, after December 25th, a spark has reignited in me and I caught the New Year’s Bug. Combining that rediscovered ambition with witnessing motivational change within others and I am ablaze with excitement for 2015.

I haven’t had too much motivation to write on The Modern Austen as of late, which I addressed recently, but I did want to take some time to reflect upon this year. I wasn’t really feeling up to creating a solid round-up post, so when I came across Lisa’s A New Year for a New You annual review series on Market Your Creativity, I thought it would be a perfect way to reflect upon the year in a unique way. I won’t be answering all seven days of her questions, so I just selected the first group to address. I’d love to hear your own responses to these questions in either the comments or in your own post. Be sure to link to Market Your Creativity if you do!

Goodbye 2014 Hello 2015

Looking Back at 2014

  1. Was time very well spent this year?
    In many ways, yes. I felt like I was in a complete standstill the first few months of 2014, but the choices I made and actions I took were instrumental in setting up the series of events to follow. As soon as I moved back to Pittsburgh, I pounded the pavement and truly hustled. There were times, of course, when I was lazy and procrastinated, but I like to think that I also spent many moments feeling content and relaxed. Towards the end of the year, I definitely got into a slump and look forward to being more structured and intentional with my time.
  2. Was money very well spent this year?
    I saved and spent a lot of money this year. I am extremely fortunate to have had parents who were willing to take me back in when I made a leap of faith, which has allowed me to save a great deal of money and recover from the loss of the previous year. With a new MacBook Pro, iPhone 6, and Christmas gifts, I also spent a great deal as well. I was able to take a look at my net worth, however, and I am very pleased with my progress thus far. I anticipate some important investments for my new blogging ventures in 2015 as well as the opportunity to move out again, so I will need to be better at budgeting moving forward.
  3. What are your favorite memories of 2014?
    I have to say, 2014 was a year for the books. So many amazing things happened. Sobbing with joy on my drive home (super safe) after getting a job offer, going to the beach with my whole extended family, traveling for work, accepting various blog opportunities, discovering my passion for swing dancing, making some really incredible friends, getting involved with Levo League, and reclaiming (and refocusing) my life have all filled my heart.
  4. What did you accomplish or complete this year?
    I completely and successfully switched careers, moved back to the city I love, reached the largest audience on TMA thus far, traveled to two new cities (Chicago and Dallas), and decided to make a big change for the blog next year.
  5. Did you make any progress on long-term goals?
    Looking back on my reflection post from last year, I remembered that my only true goal was to make progress. And man, did I crush this goal. I’m in a totally different (and happier) place now than I was then and it’s all because of progress.
  6. What felt successful about the year, as a whole?
    The tangible evidence of successes are very nice and rewarding, but how I feel–about myself, about the future, about my family and friends, about my career, about blogging–is most noteworthy. I feel amazing and proud of how far I’ve come emotionally and mentally.
  7. Did you overcome any obstacles or mental blocks this year?
    Absolutely. Perhaps my lowest moment of 2014 came early on when I felt overwhelmingly defeated and suffocated, like I could never get out of this spiral I had found myself in. But, with the help and encouragement of my family and friends, I pushed through and persevered. It was crucial that I did something–I made a change or completed a task–to overcome this roadblock.
  8. What did you learn about yourself after all that happened in 2014?
    Oh, this is deep. Let me think…I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought possible;

    I’m more courageous than I’ve ever been before;

    I have big dreams that don’t seem entirely out-of-reach;

    I don’t have time or energy for people or places that don’t fill me up positively;

    I need to stop being so careful (and worried) about how I might be received online as it can stifle my voice;

    I need to continue to let go of things that aren’t fulfilling a purpose or serving me well;

    I am not defined by my career (none of us are!);

    I know what I want and need in a relationship.

    …Among so many other things!

  9. Who nurtured or supported you most this year?
    My parents saved me this year and have been my biggest supporters through everything. I discovered who my truest friends were because they supported me no matter what and genuinely cared. A few of my blog friends have gone out of their way to express their support, whether via email or comments or social media, and every single message helped to build me back up.
  10. Who did you enjoy nurturing and supporting?
    My mom, Ashlie, Brigid, blog friends, and a few other special individuals :)

Here’s what I know to be true as a result of 2014:

  • Plans never go according to plan (and that’s okay).
  • Family is everything.
  • Overcoming the fear and anxiety of going solo to pursue an activity you’ve always wanted to do always pays off.
  • You are in charge of your happiness.

Here’s to 2015! Can’t wait to see what is in store!

PittStop 2014: How to Survive and Thrive at Your First Lindy Hop Exchange

Two weekends ago, I attended one of the most memorable and enjoyable events I’ve ever signed up for: PittStop, a regional lindy hop exchange. If you’ve been reading along for a while now, you’ve probably picked up that I’ve been swing dancing for about six months now and LOVING every second of it. Even though I have been dancing consistently ever since, it was still intimidating to sign up for an exchange, where you’re likely to be surrounded by advanced dancers. The theme of this year, however, has been pushing myself out of my comfort zone and I can say with confidence that it has been worth it every single time.

PittStop Lindy Hop Exchange 2014

What’s a Lindy Hop Exchange?

Lindy hop is a form of swing dancing, apparently named after Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight to Paris in 1927 when the newspaper read “LINDY HOPS THE ATLANTIC.” It has a lot of quick footwork and involves the infamous “swing out,” which may take me my entire life to master! Check out some impressive advanced lindy hop in this awesome video.

An exchange is an opportunity for dancers in all different cities to come together to dance and enjoy one another’s company. Since many locals host visiting dancers, it often serves as an “exchange program” of sorts, encouraging fellowship akin to summer camp. Since most exchanges offer this free housing, this allows for relatively inexpensive traveling. What sets exchanges apart is that they typically do not have workshops or lessons; they mostly exist for the sole purpose of social dancing. Lindy exchanges can range in terms of size, but PittStop is one of the largest on the east coast with about 400 dancers, attracting visitors from all over.

The schedule is intense, this particular exchange featuring seven dances in a period of two and a half days, including two late night/morning dances from 1-5 AM. We were also fortunate enough to experience several nationally renowned live bands, including Gordon Webster, The Boilermaker Jazz Band, The Fried Bananas, The Downtown Shimmy, and Jimmy Sapienza’s Five Guys Named Moe. The daytime and evening dances featured swing music while we slowed things down for the late night sessions with blues music.

An exchange is a great way to explore a new city, too. PittStop featured a few really unique and gorgeous venues in our lovely city, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum and Pittsburgh Opera. Our mayor, Bill Peduto, even made a PittStop Proclamation.

My First Exchange

Going into PittStop, the only expectation I really had was that it was going to be exhausting and fun. And I was definitely right. But it was so much more than that. I ended up attending the exchange on my own, something I never would have done months ago. (I wasn’t persuasive enough to convince my friends to do the whole weekend with me–can’t say I blame them since it IS intimidating, but so worth it.) While I certainly knew a good handful of dancers from the Pittsburgh swing scene, I didn’t have anyone to fall back on or someone to hang around with the whole time. This solo scenario isn’t for everyone, but it really allowed me to talk to a lot of new people and gave me complete control over my schedule. In any case, you really do bond with those you meet or share the exchange with. I really enjoyed meeting people from West Virginia, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, and D.C., for example, and have even become Facebook friends with a bunch of them. It was really awesome to build on the friendships I’ve already made, too.

Since I consider myself an “intermediate” swing dancer, I didn’t feel too intimidated or nervous about being surrounded by such talented dancers. My brave friend and colleague Melissa and my talented college buddy Will joined me on Saturday night for the incredible Gordon Webster evening dance with little to zero swing experience; while they were such troopers and learned a lot, it may not have been the best first experience for them since there wasn’t a formal lesson to practice first. I so appreciated them coming out and having fun regardless! It’s not an impossible feat for first-timers, but I would suggest you at least learn a few basic steps before attending an exchange. (Pittsburghers, I know a guy.) Keep in mind, you WILL get infinitely better by the end of the weekend, no matter your skill level.

PittStop Lindy Hop Exchange 2014 Ralf Brown PhotosPhoto credit: Ralf Brown (who is not only a great photographer, but a phenomenal dancer, too!)

One of the biggest surprises of the entire weekend was my newfound love of blues dancing! I had danced to a few blues tunes in the past, but really did not know what I was doing or what to think. The best thing about blues is that you really don’t need to have prior experience; you do, however, need to have some confidence and feel comfortable getting closer to your dance partner than the typical dance. As a follower, I was lucky to have some strong leads who guided me (both for lindy and blues) and made it so much fun. It was the perfect way to relax after a long day of lindy hop without crashing. I even attended a house party at the very end of the exchange where we blues danced in socks and dragged out the experience as long as we could. Too much fun.

Now that I’ve attended PittStop, I plan on attending other exchanges and dance workshops for years to come–hopefully getting the opportunity to travel! It’s so exciting to see things I’ve always said I wanted to do come to fruition. Next “stop:” Steel City Blues Festival. Join me?

How to Survive (and Thrive)

Should you be crazy (and awesome) enough to attend a lindy hop exchange, here are just a few tips to help you not only get through 30 hours of dancing without getting sick but also to help you make the most of your experience:

How to Survive and Thrive at your first Lindy Hop Exchange

Pack multiple outfits (and shoes) per day.

No matter how much deodorant you use, you will sweat. A lot. Do yourself and your dance partners a favor and bring a hand towel and an extra shirt, as you’ll likely need to change during the dance and most definitely in between dances. Make sure you have a few pairs of comfortable shoes (with the appropriate socks or tights) and bring a few bandaids to prevent blisters. Your shoes should have soft soles that will allow you to spin easily, such as Keds, oxfords, or flats, but make sure they have laces or a strap so they don’t fall off. I wore these slip-on Keds, these fake classic Keds, and a pair of character shoes throughout the weekend, occasionally putting a strip of duct tap on the sole to make it easier to turn.

Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Drink more water than you think you need and fuel your body with Emergen-C and Gatorade. You will need it. On this same note, be sure you’re eating foods that will give you sustainable energy.

Attend as much as you can.

The only way to get the most out of your experience is to really be present in as much as you can. It may be exhausting, but you never know who you will meet or what you will learn. Keep in mind, you still need to be careful and…

Pace yourself.

Only you know your limits. Take breaks throughout the dances–you don’t need to be dancing for every single song (or your feet will kill you). Take a water break, sit down, stretch out before and after dances, and get as much sleep as you can. I ended up leaving a dance early on Saturday afternoon to rest up for the evening dance and I’m really glad I did.

Ask people to dance.

In swing dancing, there are no rules. Guys ask girls, girls ask guys, guys ask guys, girls ask girls. Just dance! Don’t be afraid to ask someone you don’t know to dance. You’ll never grow unless you push yourself. Dancing with someone is one of the easiest ways to break the ice without the awkwardness of small talk and nothing to do. You’ll always have something to talk about if you find a break in the conversation. Besides, you’re bound to make a ton of new friends.

Dance friends–what would you add to this list? Give your best pointers in the comments below!

I would highly recommend PittStop (or any lindy hop exchange) to anyone who wants to try something new, make friends, dance for fun, and have an incredible and memorable time. I am so grateful to have found a hobby that fills me up to the brim and to have so many opportunities ahead to grow, learn, and enjoy. Push yourself to give it a try and then let me know how much you love it, too. (And then let’s go dance!)