Thursday, July 31, 2014

my birthday came early this year gave me a credit towards tickets to write a review of their site, but I was already planning on going to a Giants game anyway.

So you might remember last year when the New York Giants (the team that I "married into") were in a slump and lost a bunch of games in a row and I got to be in the New York Daily News. That was cool, but their crappy season was not. I was all set to go to my first Giants game when we spent Christmas in NYC but since the dismal start meant that the game we could attend was likely to be played by third-stringers, we skipped the game entirely.

And I've been bitter ever since.

The Giants play the Cowboys in Dallas (a four hour drive from my house, but who's counting?) less than two weeks before my big 30th birthday, so as soon as I saw that, I told Andrew we should go. It would be for both of us, but we could call it part of my birthday month celebration. And then reached out to me and offered me a pretty awesome coupon code so the decision was made - I am going to see Eli and Victor in person!

Basically ScoreBig is a lot like, but with a twist. You go online, choose your event, and choose the type of ticket you want (one star to four star, club level, etc.) There's a seating chart that gives you an idea of where you'll be sitting and an average price that ScoreBig users pay for tickets, which you can then compare to the face value (or another site's resale price) of the tickets to see how great the deal is.

So you choose your section, name your price, and put in your credit card number, and then cross your fingers to see if your bid was accepted. ScoreBig gives you an indicator of how likely that's going to be. But, here's the catch - if your bid isn't accepted, ScoreBig makes you either change your ticket level to bid again or wait 24 hours to bid on the same type of tickets. They will also provide an offer for you to just buy the tickets right then, but you have a limited time to accept it. This is great if you're in a pinch and the event is coming up soon, but since we have months until the game, I waited 24 hours - it's all about the savings, what can I say?

When Andrew and I started the process, we went with the absolute lowest bid we thought might get accepted. It didn't. We waited 24 hours, increased our bid by $10, and still nothing. In that time, we noticed that the counteroffer ScoreBig gave increased, too. On the third night, we only increased our bid $5 from the night before and it was declined, but the counter offer was only $3 more per ticket than we bid - so we accepted! I received a confirmation email and then the next day, received an email about how to download my tickets. So easy. And, I checked and I got my tickets for $100 cheaper (for the pair) than I could have on another site!

I thought ScoreBig was easy to use so I will definitely use it to buy tickets in the future. Plus, it's supported by ebates so you can save even more money that way. Wins all around! Now if only the Giants can pull one off in Dallas and Andrew and I don't get booed out of the stadium...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

tourist in my town: houston's tunnels and the chase tower observation deck

I don't think you ever fully understand what another place is like until you live there. For those of you who have never experienced Houston, we are known for extreme heat and intense humidity. The summer months are meant for soaking up as much AC as possible; our cars, home, stores, everything has AC (most dominantly central air; only really old homes rely on window units). As downtown Houston started really booming in the 80s with oil and energy companies putting down roots, a system of tunnels was developed to go from building to building. Since then, these tunnels have started housing different businesses to appeal to downtown workers - restaurants, salons, dry cleaners, jewelry repair, print shops, chiropractors, and even a florist. Ever since my dad told me that there were tunnels underground when I was a kid (we don't even have basements here, so this was a big deal!), I wanted to check them out. I was so happy that my first job downtown was so close to a tunnel entry point. I like to check it out every so often and see what's new.

In all honesty, the tunnels simply existing is their most exciting aspect. You would never know that there were people having lunch and hanging out beneath your feet, but a quick escalator down in many major buildings shows you the truth. The restaurants below aren't all that exciting (Subway, McDonald's, pizza, delis, even a Gigi's Cupcakes) but they do range from mall food court style to sit-down places. There's no directory to see what's where. You have to learn by trial and error since each part is maintained by the building that sits on top of it. There are maps and signage throughout, but it can be hard to get your bearings since you lose your sense of direction. I've been known to spend my lunch break just wandering around, taking the first escalator up if I get lost to see where I am in town and then walking back to work accordingly.

Detail on an elevator I passed | Some parts of the tunnels look like ugly office space, and other parts look like a mall food court (sorry for the pic taken while walking...)

I knew I needed a walk yesterday, so I wanted to see if the tunnel system would connect to the Chase Tower Sky Lobby. The Chase Tower is 75 stories - the tallest building in Texas - and has a viewing area on its 60th floor that is open to the public (and free to visit!). Due to some construction, I wasn't able to make the trek completely through the tunnels, but the two block walk I had to make on the street wasn't too bad. It also gave me a chance to realize how pretty the Esperson Building is and look at the statue outside of Chase Tower.

The tall building is the JP Morgan Chase Tower | The Esperson Building is so pretty | Statue outside of the Chase Tower

Once inside, I took an express elevator to the 60th floor. There were lots of people up there taking photos and just checking it out. For my Houston friends, you could clearly see NRG Stadium and the Williams Tower. I didn't feel as high up as I thought I would! The view was nice and made me wish that the lobby was open at night - I bet it would be beautiful then. I liked seeing Houston in a whole new way. It's definitely worth checking out if you're ever in the area.

Zoomed in view of Houston landmarks and the non-zoomed view facing toward the Galleria

Do you ever play tourist in your town?

The Sky Lobby | Another non-zoomed view | Proof I was there | Cars below were so tiny

Monday, July 28, 2014

disappointing dining

My weekend was annoying in the most first world of ways. At least I admit it.

I was more than excited when Andrew suggested Friday dinner at our favorite Thai place on Wednesday. When my dad and step-mom wanted to meet up with us, I was even happier because that meant more variety on the table. Andrew and I were down the street from the restaurant when we got a call - they were at a store nearby killing time and their battery died. No big deal, we turned around to meet them. Only the battery wasn't dead; a cable was corroded and the car needed to be towed, preferably to their mechanic on the other side of town. Since we have AAA, Andrew called a tow truck and we drove my step-mom across town while my dad rode with the driver (whose life story he got - apparently the guy was a repo man who got shot once?). We ended up going to a not-so-great Thai place and didn't get home until almost 10 p.m. I'm glad we were able to help them out, but it wasn't the dinner I had been craving.

We took it easy on Saturday - it was nearly 100 degrees here and too hot to move - and Andrew asked if I wanted to check out Cuchara, another restaurant on the Top 100 in Houston list. It's authentic Mexican and the menu sounded great. It features really cute murals inside and as a bonus, I could wear jeans. We got there and ordered a round of drinks - a house margarita for me and a paloma for him - and both were great. It was hard to decide what to order since everything sounded so good, but we started with mushroom and corn quesadillas. Andrew liked them but I thought they were pretty basic and the corn tortilla flavor was too dominant, but I know that's just my personal preference. For our entrees, Andrew ordered the cheese enchiladas that had rave reviews and I got the pork mole. The presentation of my dish was promising - little colorful mini crocks housed each component of the dish and the tortillas (corn, again) were served in a paper bag to the side. I took a bite of the black beans - no flavor. The rice was too salty for me and the white corn puree was just okay. But, I figured, if the mole was good, then it would be okay, right? It wasn't. There was little flavor and the pork was the worst texture due to being overcooked. I was not impressed, and as much as I hate wasting food, I left over half of my mole in the crock. Andrew's enchiladas weren't much better - just a mound of cheese in a tortilla covered with sauce with very little variety in texture or taste from bite to bite. I had been looking forward to coffee and dessert on Cuchara's menu but after these sad offerings that lacked flavor, we didn't bother. The place wasn't cheap so I was pretty bummed it was a bust.

Quesadillas | The Enchiladas | Pork Mole (see, cute presentation) | Beignets at The Honeymoon

But, since we both had our hearts set on coffee and dessert, Andrew asked if I wanted to go to The Honeymoon, a new place not too far away. The Honeymoon is inspired by places in New Orleans; it's a coffee shop in the morning, has sandwiches and salads by day, and is a bar at night. Coffee and desserts are also served at night, so that's what we wanted to check out (even though I went there for coffee a few weeks ago). It wasn't very crowded when we arrived, but everything was very disorganized. Apparently it was abnormal not to get a drink at that time of night. We got coffee (I liked my caramel latte with housemade syrup) and shared an order of beignets - they were good, but dense. Not a favorite. However, I love the idea of The Honeymoon and nothing was bad so I will definitely be back.

 A pic I posted on Instagram a few weeks ago of The Honeymoon during the day.

I guess my main point is that sometimes restaurants stink. Sometimes you order wrong, and sometimes it just isn't that good. I'm glad we tried it, though - I would go back for drinks or happy hour, but I will never want to buy entrees there again (plus, that gets me to 48/100!). You win some and lose some and in a list of 100 restaurants, I'm bound to catch one on a bad day. And if that's the worst thing that happened to me this weekend, then my life really isn't all that bad.


Friday, July 25, 2014

five simple favorites

It isn't just the summer blahs; I've been wholly uninspired to write anything worth reading lately. I like it when blog posts are a simple slice of life and my life lately has been anything but inspiring. But, the truth is, is that I miss my desire to post and read and comment so this post is my best attempt at getting back in the game and taking my advice from this post to give you yet another glimpse of me (though is it really even a glimpse anymore? I feel like you all have a pretty broad picture...). Whatever you want to call it, here are five favorite things happening in my life lately.

My job can be awesome. My favorite thing about working in events is having a small idea and seeing it happen. The school had a party this week because 17 people are retiring (there are buyouts, which is awkward). It was as successful as it could be, despite the awkwardness of goodbyes and people "left behind," and there are few feelings I like more than realizing that I'm pretty good at my job.

This $10 bouquet is leftover from Monday's event and really makes my office brighter but people walking by keep asking if it's from my husband...

I have people now. I was in a funk this week for no real reason. I tend to stew in my funks and let them fester and run over into home, work, and all of my thoughts until everything feels like it's literally The Worst. But now I have people - people who reach out to me, and who I can reach out to. It's hard to be irritated when a friend sends a text to see how you're doing when they don't know you needed it or you can gchat about the ridiculousness of the day or even *gasp* send lengthy emails that just catch up on life. I used to not have that and now I do (thanks, mostly, to blogging), and it means so much.

All these New Yorker stories. I've read things in the New Yorker here and there, but now that its content is going behind a paywall, I want to read everything. I found this list of things you should read before that happens (in three months) and have been reading so much in my spare time - Taylor Swift, Scientology, and Texas executing a possibly innocent man. There's something for everyone and I can't get enough. Also, how smart does it sound to say "Well, I was reading this New Yorker story about..."?

This Conan O'Brien Bit. I've said before that I am completely Team Coco. As someone who has been coupled off since before internet dating was really a thing, I am completely mesmerized by the idea of Tinder and this bit answered a lot of my questions and made me laugh out loud the entire time. If you haven't seen it and need a laugh, check it out.

My home life. My cat has been so snuggly lately and after almost six years of him not getting on the seats of the furniture, it's a welcome change. And my husband. I try to toe the line between being real and being "OMG my husband is soooo great" on the blog (because believe me - he can make me crazier than anyone else faster than anyone else - a dangerous combo) but he really is pretty great. We laugh and sing songs and do voices and stop for wine on the way home for no reason and he doesn't take it personally when I wake  up grumpy (which is pretty much every morning) and just makes the coffee and lets me doze off in the car. He isn't perfect and neither am I, but together, we are content and really, I think that's all I've ever wanted.

Magically, this is the only pic of Bauer on my phone this week. Normally there are at least three.

Another weekend with no plans. Let's see where this one takes me. What simple things are making you happy right now? What do you do when your desire to blog leaves you?

Meet At The Barre       photo H54Fbutton_zps973d26e1.png       

Monday, July 21, 2014

how we do birthdays

So in case you missed it, I snuck away to Austin on Thursday to bring back barbecue from a few places in Austin for Andrew's birthday. I think keeping that secret is part of what stole my blogging mojo - it was all I was thinking about last week! Thursday was his actual birthday, but as is tradition, this weekend was his birthday weekend and I think we did it right. Some highlights:

- Vietnamese for dinner on Friday and learned that too few restaurants in my suburb are open for a late (9:00) dinner.

- Saw S-x Tape (bleeped because I don't want you to google my name and that phrase and have something come up!). It was better than I thought, though not great. Rob Lowe uses his Chris Traeger voice to play a different character, I don't buy Cameron Diaz as a mom, and if you've seen Date Night and Horrible Bosses (which I love), then this movie is completely unnecessary.

- Breakfast at our favorite local place, dinner at Coltivare. I posted the full meal on instagram (private right now, as is twitter, but ask and you shall receive) but I didn't talk about my drink - the Lillie Langtry. Something about hibiscus and lemon. It was hot pink and sweet and served with a metal straw which felt extra fancy. I want to order a set to keep at home. Everything was fantastic - even our estimated 45 minute wait time ended up only being about 25. I like this place more every time I eat there so Houston friends, you need to check it out.

Sneaky pics get a little blurry but yes it was very pink.

- Sunday I thought we would be back to normal and past all the birthday celebrating but Andrew convinced me that a trip to Killen's Barbecue in Pearland would be a good idea. They, like Franklin, are known for their long line, though it isn't nearly as bad. They have a new system where you can pull a number like you do at the deli counter and that will save your place in line. So we went, pulled a number, and then went to get coffee. It was a great system, we had a fine place in line (maybe twenty minutes?), and ate. The turkey was great, as were the sides, as always. I have never liked creamed corn but I could eat this stuff every week.

Andrew was right where the column is. For those keeping score at home, that's three BBQ places I've been to in the past four days!

- Lazy Sunday with several episodes of Six Feet Under. That show really is a Who's Who of actors who are bigger now. Adam Scott plays a guy who David/Dexter dates and it blew my mind (I kept waiting for him to bring up calzones).

If you want a mushy post about how much I love my husband, check out this one (it's all still true, I promise). I'm thankful that birthdays only come once a year because we definitely did some celebrating. I'll be spending the next week eating carrots and apples and trying to recover from too many great things.

Friday, July 18, 2014

a birthday cake to make ron swanson proud

I love the idea of birthdays and it being your day and getting celebrated a little extra. My husband, however, mostly views it as any other day because he is a normal adult lacks my enthusiasm. In our eight years together, a lot of years have been ho-hum, but there were a few years where I was a birthday ninja and really came through on the birthday front. It's been a few years, so this year, I decided I wanted to reclaim ninja status.

If you remember, in April, we went to Franklin Barbecue, the place the President went just last week with the obnoxiously long line. Upon realizing that it was truly my husband's favorite food on the planet, I announced to a coworker/friend that for his birthday in July (the hottest month of the year in Texas, mind you) I was going to road trip to Austin just to stand in line for smoked meat. Since she is awesome and also a food fan, she said she would come with me, which was perfect because given three months to think about it, I surely would have talked myself out of it. But since someone else was planning her life around my trip, I knew I was locked in - no flaking out for me.

After saying that I had to work late so we couldn't carpool, I sent Andrew off to work and scrambled to pack up my water, sunblock, lawn chair, and the all-important cooler (to keep the meat warm) and my friend met me at my house at 6:30. We made a few stops and got in line around 9:15. It was long, and I was honestly worried that we would be behind the infamous "last man standing" but we were lucky and it looked like enough BBQ would be there for us... after several hours of waiting. Fortunately, it was an overcast day and the weather was pretty comfortable and it didn't rain - could have been much worse!

At this point, we were right outside the door, hurray!

We finally made our way inside the door of the restaurant around noon and ordered around 12:45. We both ordered everything to go, because in my day of barbecue insanity, I wanted to go to Micklethwait BBQ down the street for sausage, moon pies, and jalapeño cheese grits. I can't lie, I know that Andrew loved the sausage there and also really liked the other two items, but I loved them. I thought that if I was going to drive nearly 300 miles round trip, then I deserved a few favorites, too. There was nearly no line (yay) but they were out of sausage (boo) and weren't making moon pies for the summer - it was lemon bars instead (NOOOOOO!). I at least got my grits, some more brisket for Andrew, and a lemon bar and slice of buttermilk pie - after all, the birthday boy needed a sweet treat, too.

We were both getting tired and had yet to eat anything relevant all day. My friend wanted to check out Gordough's and since she was nice enough to hang out with me all day, I was fine with that. We went there - it's a food trailer that serves crazy donuts - and both decided it just wasn't that great. It was 2:30 by this time and I wanted to be home by 5:00, so we just headed back toward Houston. I did have to stop at a favorite bakery/gas station, Hruska's, though, for fudge-filled chocolate chip cookies. If I was going to go big, might as well add a little something extra.

Buc-ee's bathrooms are the best | new mural (you can see the old one in my April post) | Franklin's new smokehouse | We left a Giants sticker when we visited in April and it's almost gone - I blame Dallas fans | My "I just got here and this line is long" face | Overcast and I love it | The Mikelthwait trailer | Heavenly Hash donut from Gordough's | Meat cake

I worked really hard to keep this a secret from Andrew. I told him I would pick something up for dinner and tried to text him throughout the day and said I was picking him up a special dessert, but his nosiness got the best of him and he tracked my iPhone to see where I was. Praise Murphy's Law that it didn't work and he never found me, but I thought he had. I had big plans to have his present wrapped and his meat cake set up before he walked in the door, but he walked in before I was completely done. The smell of brisket was too overwhelming so against my wishes, he came in the dining room and saw my little display. I told him to look at it and tell me where it was from and his first question - "Wow, what time did you get in line?" - let me know he knew where it came from. His reaction was really no reaction as he was busy swearing up and down that he had no idea I spent the day in Austin, but he sat on the couch after having his fill and just smiled and said he couldn't believe I did that.... so I think he's pretty happy.

The whole birthday set-up

So this probably sounds crazy - over 300 miles round-trip for barbecue. And it really kind of is. But at the same time, it's so Andrew. He really doesn't ask for much, and often when he asks for things, I am a whiny brat (cleaning the french press, taking out smelly trash, cleaning up my mountain of shoes by the front door). He is always doing nice things for me from stopping for a bottle of wine or a cupcake after a long day, listening to me rant about the same things over and over, and most importantly, trying his best to understand me and make me feel better when I'm venting (often irrationally). He's my person. I know life is defined by the little things, but a big thing thrown in here every so often always makes for a good time.

Besides, next time he asks me to clean the french press you know I'm going to remind him of his brisket birthday cake.

Happy birthday, honey (a day late). Love you to Franklin and back.

{All right bloggers, it's Andrew. Comment below and tell me how I can top this amazing day for Lauren's 30th birthday coming up this fall!}

Friday, July 11, 2014

faveday fiveday friday

Another week gone. I can't lie; I kind of wished this one away as Andrew (who always wants to do something and be productive) suggested spending as much time on the couch this coming weekend as possible and well, as we are heading into his birthday week, who am I to argue? Relazing (relaxing + lazing), here we come (thanks to Steph for helping me make an almost typo happen!) But at least I was able to find five favorite things this week.

Favorite Reason for not posting - I went to happy hour with Miranda and Sarah on Tuesday night and stayed so long that I didn't prepare a post for Wednesday. Three bloggers, no pictures, kind of a fail, except I see them so often that I don't think pictures are necessary (which is a good thing!).

Fridays are for leftover Bauer pics. Here he is on his spot on the couch (evidenced by the fur...) Look closely and you can see where I accidentally cut him with scissors on his ear when he was a kitten. In my defense, I was trying to keep him from strangling himself...

Favorite Part of Being Back from Vacation - Cat Bauer, who is not a lap cat, definitely missed us and spent time in my lap, on my feet, and just in my general area since we got back from Austin on Sunday. I haven't hated it one bit.

Free Books - So I went down the rabbit hole of the internet and found out some paparazzo wrote a book about how awful of a human being Kate Gosselin is. Naturally, I wanted to read it but my cheapness stood in the way. I clicked around on Amazon and learned that since I have both a Kindle and Amazon Prime, I can read one free book a month and this book was on the list. It's an interesting read, albeit really repetitive. Totally worth the low cost of free but I wouldn't have paid for it.

My Expanded Music Library - I heard that Amazon Music was going to be a big thing and I got super excited til I downloaded the app and didn't get it... womp womp. I was clicking around online again, though, and saw that using Amazon Prime you can add tons of music to your Music Library, so I did, then I redownloaded the app and it was all there, easy peasy. I added tons of music that I like but again, would never pay for - 90s country, Hall and Oates, Billy Joel, and the best of the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync, naturally. I am totally getting my money's worth from Amazon Prime (this isn't sponsored - I pay $40 per year like any student/person with a .edu email address can and I love it).

Favorite Surprise - REFUND! After the mess we dealt with last weekend with our hotel, Priceline realized that that wasn't cool and gave us a 50% refund! Though I will never feel as comfortable using them as I have in the past - I will for sure call the property to confirm reservations from now on - they did their best to make it right. I'll take it.

There are a lot of Friday link-ups to choose between so I went with a few. Only half-kidding, but who is going to start a Tuesday link-up so I can make friends that day too?

Meet At The Barre       photo H54Fbutton_zps973d26e1.png       

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

when I think about the summer

I hate bugs and sweating and not having wifi and smelly animals, so it's probably surprising to you that my grandparents grew up in the country and I grew up visiting my great grandparents there. Yup, this suburban, city-friendly girl has an uncle we call Brother (I asked my mom his real name once. She told me, but I forgot) and a second cousin who raised rabbits to feed to his snakes. I often forget that it's a part of me.

My grandparents grew up in a small town outside of College Station, Texas (where Texas A&M is). They got married, which in my mind, basically meant the entire town was in our family. I remember driving along the dirt roads as a kid, sandwiched between my grandparents in their Lincoln and my grandma telling me where her cousin and high school best friend and our uncle's sister-in-law all lived. It was like she knew the entire town and they were all a part of our family tree.

One of my great grandmothers never learned to drive. She lived across the street from her church and down the block from her hair salon - what else did an older lady need? The only store in town - an oversized convenience store with meat and produce, honestly - was a short walk away. I remember making that trek with my cousins on summer days with a few dollars in our pockets to buy cartoon character-shaped ice cream bars and outdated Archie comics. We would bring them back to our nanny's house and fight over who got the prized perch on the shiny red barstool that was so easy to spin around in. The best seat in the house, though, was always Nanny's lap - no matter how big you got, she would rock you and call you sugar the way that only your great grandmother can. My childhood self was terrified of the swing set in Nanny's yard. It had been there since my mom was a kid and had splintered wooden seats and wasn't anchored to the ground at all, so the front legs popped up as you swung higher and higher. I was convinced that one day, one of us would find a way to swing so high that we flipped over the top bar. Part of me was thrilled at the prospect, but I mostly just learned to jump off of the swing gracefully before I got too scared.

My other great grandmother (who is still alive at the age of 98!) lived on the other side of the small town. Her house was always a menagerie of cats and dogs of all ages and sizes who I constantly begged to take home. It was also the house with the aforementioned snake and rabbits and cows that could be seen in a field in the distance. My grandparents lived in Houston but kept a mobile home, known simply as "the trailer," nearby since they visited so often. I remember its scratchy pink sofa and making pallets in corners on the shag carpet when cousins and aunts and uncles filled the space over long weekend trips. I remember staining my socks with the red dirt and sitting on the porch swing, wishing it would go as high as that old wooden swing set. I clamored for tractor rides sitting behind my grandpa and counted down until I was old enough to drive it by myself through the wire fence in the back and making circles around the property. Little did I know I was merely doing his yard work on a riding mower for him. We played outside and ate fresh tomatoes standing over the sink and drank in fresh air not available in Houston.

My grandma, cousin, and me (age 5-6?) on the trailer's porch swing. I had this pic in a scrapbook I made as a teenager which explains the crazy scissors.

When I think about the summers of my childhood, this is what I think of - a tiny town where kids can run to eat ice cream, dirt roads, and swinging into the clouds. I got older, and the country got less cool. My Nanny passed away, schedules got busy, and the trailer is long gone. I think there's even a gas station and a few more paved roads by now. It seems like a lifetime ago and memories that happened to someone else, but I'm so happy they all belong to me.

Monday, July 7, 2014

the weekend that almost wasn't

I normally don't care to celebrate July 4th since I hate water and the sun and am indifferent to fireworks. However, this year we made plans to go to Austin with my friend Sara and her husband Bryan for a little mini vacation. Lots of emails and gchats were exchanged and me being me, I was excited yet nervous about the trip - What if we annoyed them? What if I felt sick and held the group back? What if the things we told them were going to be so fun were incredibly boring? Luckily I was wrong and we all had a great time (I'm pretty sure, at least) but something I never would have thought of went pretty wrong. This is long so I bolded the best parts.

Bryan offered to drive so they picked us up early Friday to go to Austin. We first planned a stop at La Barbecue to give Sara and Bryan their first stand-in-line for Texas BBQ experience. We got in line at 10:15 for an 11 a.m. opening. We quickly realized it was BYOB so Sara and I walked to a liquor store and came back with a six pack for each of us (we like to be prepared, okay?). It took until after noon before we got our chance to order, but the food was great and worth the wait. We ordered too much and all wrapped stuff up to snack on later.

Band, long lines, and tons of food = par for the course in Texas BBQ

We got a deal on Priceline to name your own price for two rooms in downtown Austin. We tried to drop our stuff off at the hotel, but were told that the hotel was full to capacity and we couldn't check in until the official check in time (3pm), so we went shopping on South Congress. Unfortunately a lot of the big stores were closed due to the holiday, but we got to walk around a little and take pictures in front of the "i love you so much" wall. We were hot and sweaty and still had time to kill, so we drove to Lick for ice cream. I was intrigued by its cool flavors (strawberry balsamic, goat cheese and honey, things like that) but was mostly underwhelmed with the execution. I tried the Texas Au Lait and Texas Sheet Cake and both were fine but I didn't love either.

In front of the mural on South Congress where you can kind of see my awesomely tacky sunglasses | cute area where we stopped for pics (but the lighting wasn't on our side. Also, I got sunburned).

3:00 rolled around and we were hot and a little sunburned, so we wanted to go back to the hotel to check in and shower and relax before going out for the night. Totally reasonable, right? We go to the hotel and give our name at the desk and we are told that we have one room... um, we are four people. Two adult couples who aren't related and didn't intend on sharing a room, no matter how wonderfully we all got along. The hotel told us that there was a mistake in Priceline's reservation system and that they only had one room for us for two nights instead of two for two nights and they were full to capacity so couldn't give us an extra room. They offered us one room with two beds (no) or to call a sister property for us to see if they had availability and we would incur any expenses (um, it was a holiday weekend - hell no). Very long story very short, we sat in the lobby of the hotel for nearly three hours on the phone with Priceline and their third party who communicates with the hotels and no one knew where the issue came from. I almost thought we were going to have to just head back home instead of dealing with it. We think that the hotel was at fault, and after they spoke with the third party, they offered us a night at a nearby hotel at no charge and then to come back to their hotel for the second night. The third party also had an offer coming to us that we were waiting for - it ended up being a night at a two-star hotel (we had paid for 3.5 stars) THIRTY MILES FROM DOWNTOWN AUSTIN. Um, no, all of our nighttime plans were to eat and drink nearby so we could walk or take an affordable cab and everyone could have fun. So we took the hotel's offer and headed to a hotel about a mile away for a night. We can all laugh about it now, but it was three very annoying hours squatting at a hotel with a staff who wasn't friendly to us until the last thirty minutes.

I hate to admit it, but the location of the second hotel (Town Lake Holiday Inn) was awesome to go to Rainey Street, where we wanted to spend the night. It was less than a mile to walk there. Rainey Street is an adult alternative to Sixth Street - the bars focus more on cocktails, food, and a slightly less drunken clientele. We went to No Va (kind of an old timey feel), Javelina (my favorite - we had a quiet table in the corner of the patio), and Lucille (great idea in that it had hammocks and cool seating but loud and a little bit younger). We also checked out a tapas food truck. It was an early-ish night so we could get up early the next day.

Cute sign on South Congress | Jester King | There was a weird gaming conference going on so we walked down the street behind a horse and a chicken, of course...)

After a breakfast made of leftover BBQ (Andrew heated a sausage in a glass. So classy), we went to a farmer's market and sat in the park in the shade and just people watched and talked for over an hour. Then we headed to the State Capitol of Texas and went on the self-guided tour. I amused myself by taking pictures of as much Texas-themed stuff as I could. We planned to spend the day at Jester King Brewery, which Andrew and I went to just a few months ago. It is a great place to go with a small group, though - affordable drinks, pizza, and permission to just sit and hang out. I tried a raspberry drink that was technically a beer (though it didn't taste like one) and a few ciders. We played Uno and discovered we are all super competitive. I haven't played that game in years but I may have to get a deck of my own soon. It was a nice, relaxing afternoon.

Outside | Texas State Representatives | Texas glass and doorknob | The Rotunda | Former Texas Supreme Court | Texas Capitol door hinges | Outside the elevator door

We checked into hotel number two (they greeted Andrew by name as we walked in - we definitely left an impression) and rested and then went out for dinner. We went to Second Bar and Kitchen, which we have been to before and honestly wasn't as good as I remembered. There was no plan for that night, so we turned to Yelp and ended up at HandleBar, a bar where all of the male bartenders have amazing mustaches. They were also wearing SHORT shorts and there may have been a nearly naked picture of Burt Reynolds behind the bar. It was almost a gay bar and the people watching was great, but it got crowded, fast. We walked toward our hotel and ended up at Easy Tiger, a beer garden next door. They had games to play but not a lot of pieces, so I downloaded the Heads Up app. I've seen it played on Ellen but never gotten to play myself. You guys - it is SO MUCH FUN. Best dollar I've ever spent! We were loud and obnoxious and played and drank until nearly 2 a.m. when my phone finally died. Probably my favorite thing we did.

Thanks to Sara for snapping these awesomely awkward pics of us playing Heads Up!

On Sunday morning, we slept in a little and went to breakfast at Cenote. We headed back to Houston and stopped at Bucee's on the way since Sara and Bryan had never truly experienced it. Bucee's is basically a convenience store on steroids - it sells produce and home decor and snacks and t-shirts and souvenirs and more. I had so much fun on the trip - it was nice to experience a favorite place with friends and show them why I love it so much. It was also new for us to have a trip that was more about experiences and less about food. Even though there were no fireworks, it was a perfect way to spend the 4th.

                  Blonder Side of Life

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

some food confessions

I like when my Confessions posts have themes and my husband suggested my food confessions. So here goes.

- I hate shellfish which most people find shocking. It's a texture thing more than a taste thing but I don't like the taste much, either.

- Other "normal" things I typically don't like: cauliflower, broccoli, eggs, and tea. I have liked all of them in some way, though.

The best cauliflower I've ever had at Coltivare in Houston.

- This might get me kicked out of blogland but I don't get Chipotle. Perhaps it's because Mission Burrito is its local cousin with more flair but I just don't get the Chipotle-specific love. The food mostly has no taste and you have to pay extra for sour cream. Not cool!

- I grew up eating these things called tuna patties that I choose to believe my grandma invented (though I'm sure she didn't) - canned tuna formed into a patty, dipped in egg, and then coated with a flour-breadcrumb mixture with a pinch of powdered sugar. This was my favorite dinner growing up; now the thought of it makes me ill and I haven't eaten canned tuna in years. No real reason, I just decided I didn't like it.

- I loathe the word "foodie" and just prefer to say that food is my hobby.

- I want so badly to like beer and red wine but I prefer my alcohol to be sweet like candy - give me all the cider and Riesling and the occasional Moscato (though I'm starting to think that is too sweet!).

- I can't tell you the last time I ate at McDonald's, Burger King, Jack in the Box, or Subway...

-... but I visit Chick-fil-a and Sonic regularly (so I'm not always a food snob).

- Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese foods were completely outside of my comfort zone until a few years ago and now they're all in my regular rotation. I can't believe I went so long without some of my new favorites.

Andrew recreated Som Tam (Thai papaya salad) at home the other night and it was so good we took a few bites before I took a pic!

- When friends won't try new things and go so far as to say there's nothing for them on a menu, I get irrationally annoyed,

- I used to love Starbucks like everyone else but then I started to explore more local coffee shops with housemade syrups and well... I'm kind of off the Starbucks wagon unless there's a groupon or I get a gift card. I would rather spend .50 more at a local shop for a better quality drink. Plus, when was the last time the 'bucks provided pretty latte art?

Sorry Starbucks. Maybe I'll come back when you have pretty coffee in real mugs?

- Someone asked me what my last meal would be and I've been thinking about it off and on for months and I can't narrow it down. Too hard!

So tell me, what are some of your food confessions?

Linking up with Kathy like always.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

making a house a home: the dining room

If you remember, back in March, Andrew and I decided not to try to move but to make our house feel more like a home by getting new furniture and redecorating. You can see the living room here. The table arrived after the living room stuff and I meant to blog about it but never did. So now I will.

I took pictures when my beloved peonies were in season. One day we'll change the light fixture since it isn't centered over anything...

Our house has an open floor plan, so the living goes into the dining into the kitchen. There's no wall to separate the living and dining, so the decor had to be similar. I fell in love with the table when I wasn't even looking for a table - the chairs looked comfy and I loved the casual feel of the wooden table top with the wrought iron legs. A blend of comfort and ease with some intentional maturity thrown in.

We always knew we wanted the "hipster restaurant napkins," as I call them, so a set of them lives in a Coke bottle holder on the table. The pig was purchased after I saw a pig soup tureen I fell in love with but didn't buy (it was $65) - I was grateful to find this bowl for $15 a few months later. Andrew thought he was clever for telling me to put apples in its back. I added the terrarium I made for a little color. A few months in and only one plant still looks mostly alive. Oops.

I like keeping silverware in the Coke thing when I remember - one less thing to have to bring to the table. The napkins aren't for using since they took a while to find in a small quantity.

I love the way the table and chairs look, but I didn't think about how hard it would be to keep light colors clean. The table also scratches really easily and the finish scuffs a little when hot plates are put on it, so I'm constantly paranoid I'm going to mess it up. Since the dining table is pretty close to the living room rug, I haven't put a rug beneath it, even though I kind of want to. What would you do?

The wall with the buffet has so much meaning in one small space that it still makes me happy when I walk past it. We purchased the buffet off of Joss and Main and I knew I wanted a round mirror to go above it - preferably antique. Of course I had a price point in mind and of course it was unrealistic, but while we were out looking at antique stores one Saturday, Andrew found one and it was perfect. Simple but with small details on the bottom, unlike anything I can get at HomeGoods, and complete with age spots around the edges. Plus, it was less than I had budgeted!

Mementos from some of our favorite dinners are hanging around the mirror including a golden ticket and sealed menu from é in Las Vegas, a brunch menu from The Spotted Pig in NYC (gotta love the hints of pig), and menus from The Pass and Provisions and Oxheart, both great Houston restaurants. I learned that menus can be odd sizes, but the floating look frames from Michael's made framing much easier. Andrew also fell in love with the pig chalkboard (from World Market) early on and wanted to put the cuts of pork on it, but I thought a friendly message was a little less disgusting more inviting.

The buffet is both functional (all of our bar stuff is stashed inside and my cake domes are on the bottom) and a place for things I've collected. I've always loved the look of apothecary jars and have never known what to put in them. I had to have the vintage toaster (the weird silver thing) when I found it at an antique store over a year ago. It's from the 1930s and I got the vintage coffee can to match it. The vintage-looking milk bottle was picked up in Atlanta last summer and the wooden tray actually says "Andrew Winery" on it so I had to get it when I saw it at Garden Ridge because things like that make me smile. The corner has a little wooden cubby on the wall that has some other menus as well as a place to keep mail and bills so they don't pile up on the table.

One of the few things I would change about the room are the barstools. We both loved them and then they went on sale so I bought them pretty early. They aren't very comfortable and are a little more industrial than everything else, but it isn't the biggest deal. We got really lucky in finding a door mat at Kohl's that matched our other decor, so hopefully that helps to blend the spaces together.

Cake domes, a Texas BBQ book, a cookbook by a favorite chef, and a little tub that says "The Best BBQ in town is right here."

So that's my dining room. I mostly love it, but I do need some help with the rug, table centerpiece, and curtain (or no curtain) on the big window. Any suggestions?

The cubby came from HomeGoods and you can kind of see the flow of the rooms - the fireplace with TV above is on the left, and then a patterned curtain is on the narrow window. What should I do about a dining room rug and curtains?