Thursday, August 27, 2015

thursday thoughts

Taking a page from my friend Steph's book for a mishmash of things on my mind today. If you borrow an idea from your blog friends, it's always nice to offer a shout-out. Remember that.

(Also my last post was also inspired by a blog friend. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I'm making it rain compliments. Anyway...).

-- Like most people, I was horrified, sickened, and distracted by yesterday's awful attack in Virginia. All unnecessary killings are disgusting, sad, unforgivable, and beyond. Just the idea that these two people went to work yesterday morning to report on something as mundane as tourism and this person carefully plotted this attack so that it would garner him attention and let his feelings be known by the entire country is simply unbelievable. So much of the violence in this country is unbelievable and it's easier not to talk about it online rather than try to find new words to say since this kind of tragedy is hard to comprehend, let alone put into words.

A rainbow makes a nice segue, right?

Anyway (again). On to happier, fluffier, easier things now, shall we?

-- So there's this hot dog restaurant in Houston called Good Dog. I had heard about it, and Andrew had tried it, but I had never been. I mean driving "into town" for a hot dog never sounded that appealing, but this past weekend, Andrew suggested it, and since I didn't have a better idea, we went. It was the best hot dog I've ever had. None of the hot dogs are typical. The one I got, the Curryous Frank, was Indian inspired and had onion relish, cilantro chutney, sweet potato crisps, sriracha ketchup, and roasted garlic aioli. The texture of the chips, the sweet and salty combo, and the cilantro chutney which is just such a unique flavor were all perfect. The bun was also amazing - toasted on the outside but soft, yet still able to handle all of the toppings. And of course, this wasn't a grocery store hot dog. It was all-beef and tasted like meat, not like a mystery. We also shared a coffee-cajeta (goat milk caramel) shake and it was fantastic - I just wish it had been larger. I'm ready for another trip already.

I need to take a class in food photography but trust me that both were ridiculously tasty.

-- I felt very Sandra Lee this weekend in that everything I did was semi-homemade. We wanted dessert, so I made a pound cake (from a box that's been in my pantry for a while), cut some strawberries and added sugar, and then whipped some leftover cream for strawberry shortcake. It was pretty good and made me feel domestic. Then one morning, I got up and made homemade kolaches, which are really just souped up pigs in a blanket. One can crescent rolls, two little smokies, and cheese baked for 12 minutes. I spend as little time in the kitchen as possible so the fact that I made two things (albeit very, very easy things) makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, I'm growing up. A little. More thoughts on this to follow, for sure.

-- For the most part, it seems to take me three hours of shopping for one article of clothing. This is unacceptable. Who has time for that? I want a few new fall things before we go to California and new bedding for our guest room since we're expecting guests this fall but the idea of shopping for either already has me frustrated. I'm not a good online shopper - I like to touch things and try them on - so finding holes in my wardrobe and knowing that I need to fill them is less than appealing. Stitchfix is starting to sound like a great idea, but I don't think I can stomach a $48 shirt that I could find at Marshall's for $16.99.

And that's all I've got right now. My thoughts seem an awful lot like a weekend recap but when I package them like this, you hardly notice I'm four days late in my recapping, do you?

Linking up!


Friday, August 21, 2015

a link-ly roundup

One of my biggest time wasters in life is going down the black hole of the internet. I'll get on twitter and click from article to article and before I know it, an hour has gone by and I have zero to show for it.

I might as well turn it into a blog post, right?

I love how Kelli gives a weekly round-up of her life followed by some links and perhaps one day I'll adopt that format, but not today. I already posted once this week about what real life is like.

Anyway - onto the best things I've seen online this week. A few of these I've mentioned on twitter before. Are the repeats annoying to you because you already follow me and click through the links there, or are they new to you because you're not into twitter? I know everyone has twitter but I also know not everyone checks it as often as I do.

--- This free, print at home, DIY planner has the potential to be awesome. I already printed one for work since people are already asking me about 2016!

--- I'm a member of a Houston bloggers facebook group and I posed the question a few weeks ago about if anyone still liked to read personal blogs (ya know, more like "here's what I'm doing lately" and less clothes/recipes/niche content). Very few people responded in the affirmative and those who did have failed to stop by here and make themselves known. I find it discouraging, but whatever. Anyway, my friend Bre tweeted this link the other day and I had to retweet because it's everything I feel about blogging and being on the internet, period. I'm not a brand, I'm a person, and all I can do is write about my life and the way I experience it.

--- Hey, Ladies is the funniest thing I have read in a long time. If you like satire and think that millennials are crazy, then you need to read this. I haven't read every entry - I'm savoring them instead.

--- When I first started getting into the big world of blogging, I saw this SMD person who seemed to comment everywhere on everything and actually say something, like she actually read and considered each post. So of course I started reading her blog and basically as I got to know her, I decided I want to be her when I "grow up" (um, she's only a few years older than me) because she just gets things done and is so secure and confident in her choices that I'm always left feeling that I need to be more like that. She's currently hosting a giveaway for $50 to the non-profit of your choice that you should go enter.

--- I listen to the same music over and over and tend to stick largely with the things I liked in high school (and to think, I mocked my parents my entire childhood for doing the same thing). When I want some variety, I click on the Discover Weekly feature on Spotify. It takes what I already listen to and suggests new things. Then I can click on the artist's name and listen to more by them or whatever. Despite that cool feature, I spent all of yesterday afternoon listening to the Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! soundtrack that I fell in love with in college. It's the musical equivalent of comfort food for me.

Not much planned for this weekend - I need to do some fall shopping and I'll definitely catch a little bit of the Little League World Series. The manager of the team from Texas - the guy with the dreadlocks - is a professor at the school I work at (and we're a small school so it's not like I've never spoken to him before) and one of the other dads on the team has actually approached us about another project so it's cool to see people I've worked with on TV. Go Southwest!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

real life this week

My real life this week involved a low key Saturday at home, nearly falling asleep upstairs, and stumbling downstairs in the dimness and stepping straight into a hairball (don't worry, a thorough foot washing took place immediately).

Real life was my husband waking me up before my 5:45 a.m. alarm going "I have bad news...." only to lead me out of bed to show me the mouse in the dog's water bowl. Thankfully, outside. The drought in Texas combined with our cozy wooden deck and the damn beautiful greenspace behind our house means that critters like to find homes near us.

Real life is finding a pet-safe pest control company but still not trusting it (because chemicals) and carefully combing through your yard for traces of poison from the bait boxes because you can never be too careful.

Real life was the idiot reversing into my still almost brand new car, coming out of his car on a busy downtown street without a shirt on, and claiming to have "forgotten" his license and insurance at home. The damage is truly negligible - I didn't even see it at first - but it's still disappointing.

Real life is snapping at your spouse because he's the closest one there, the one who always gets the pleasure of seeing you at your worst, and the one who gets the short end of the stick because all of your patience and good cheer was used up on the rest of the world - the part that didn't promise to love you and build a life with you. Anyone else feel guilty over that bit of irony?

Real life is realizing that even though your problems might be first world, they are yours. You're entitled to feel the way you want and need to feel, and just because others have bigger and more serious problems, it doesn't mean you haven't earned the right to throw yourself a little pity party. I tend to wallow and I know that misery loves company but I have to try to remember one of the only things that I've ever found useful on Pinterest is the saying "It's a bad day, not a bad life."

And I mean, I may have vomit and creatures instead of white walls and freshly picked flowers that the internet makes me think is the norm, but my life is still pretty good. My crazy, type A husband planned our upcoming Napa vacation down to the minute and I can't wait. Fall is coming. I'm going to see Taylor Swift in a few weeks. I have friends who come to work bearing treats. I have people in my life who are always there to listen (or read) if I have an amusing, frustrating, or otherwise share-able day. I have a relentlessly happy dog and a cat who shows his affection by laying on my head so I can't breathe.

Real life. It definitely isn't all bad.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

july books

This month seemed slow for me, book-wise. probably because Audition took three whole weeks to listen to! You already know that I'm dedicated to all things electronic that come from my library (and my library shared my post yesterday, too - so cool!) but while Andrew and I were driving around over the weekend, I realized there was a library branch right off the road I drive down every day to get to and from work. You can see it from the light I sit at every morning, but I didn't know it was there. Amazing what you see when you look up from your smartphone, right? I feel so silly for never having noticed it.

That said - onto the books!

(A) Sarah's Key - I liked this book because it taught me about a very sad piece of history I didn't know about:  the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup that took place during WWII when French police officers arrested Jewish families, kept them in deplorable conditions, and then sent them to concentration camps after the Nazis occupied France. The book goes between the point of view of a ten year old girl whose family has been arrested in 1942 and an adult journalist in 2002 who is writing about the 60th anniversary of the roundup. I liked how the stories came together, though part of the modern day story was too tangential for me to really get into. I wanted more of the focus to be on the events of the past. The book got a little long toward the end, but I mostly enjoyed it in the way that one enjoys books that are incredibly sad (though the author said things smelled of lavender and that hair was shiny so often that it was distracting!).

Luckiest Girl Alive - This was all over "Best of Summer" lists so I was excited to read it. I hated it and only finished it because it's written in a way that forces you to keep reading to get the gist of the story. The narrator was shallow and unlikable, despite what happened to her that should have made her sympathetic. I wanted her true nature to be seen at the end and for her facade to be broken. I think people have compared it to Gone Girl, but no. Not at all. The main character went through a lot of serious stuff and the main way that she was affected by it was by being obsessed with being skinny and that just didn't appeal to me in so many ways. I also felt that the book was written in a way that was very 2015 - a lot of the fashion and make-up references seemed very current now, but I don't think the book will age well, and for some reason, that always bothers me.

(A) Audition: A Memoir (by Barbara Walters) - I'm a sucker for a celebrity memoir and I was hoping this would be read by Barbara, but sadly, it wasn't. It was long and took me over three weeks to listen to, so be warned. Walters has led a fascinating life. She broke barriers for women on TV without really trying (she just wanted a job, period) and really seems to know everyone. Parts of the book were slow, but she intertwined her career with her personal life until the end of the book, when she talked about interview subjects in categories like presidents and first ladies, her favorite interviews, and her least favorite interviews. The behind-the-scenes anecdotes were my favorite parts. I'm kind of bummed that she's semi-retired now and I likely have few chances, if any, to enjoy her specials again.

Love May Fail - I was in the middle of nonfiction books and wanted something I could really get lost in. I loved this book. If you saw (or read) Silver Linings Playbook and liked the damaged, quirky characters there, then you'll probably like this book. The plot was a little silly, but it was okay with me. I liked the characters and the way that the POV of the book shifted in order to best tell the story. I liked seeing Portia, the character who tied everything together, through the eyes of other people. Something about this book has stayed with me since I read it and I overall really, really enjoyed it and want to read more of Quick's novels for adults. If you're skimming this post and want one rec from me, this is it!

Five Days at Memorial - The premise of this book intrigued me. A reporter wrote it about the allegations that doctors and nurses basically euthanized patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The conditions were terrible and the miscommunication that added to the awful situation is nearly unbelievable. The first third of the book was an interesting read - it went over, to the best of the author's ability, what happened in the hospital in the days before the hurricane until it was mostly evacuated. After that, the author focused on the investigation, so a lot of the action already told was repeated through other people's recollections. It seemed very repetitive. I wikipedia'd to see what happened since I had the book for four weeks and just couldn't get through the rest. If you don't pick up the book, I would highly recommend reading more about the incident since I had never heard of it before. It's terrifying.

I'm not sure why I had so much seriousness going on this month, but sometimes it happens. I'm linking up with Steph and Jana in hopes of finding some lighter reads, though right now I'm in the middle of Aziz Ansari's Modern Love (not a celeb memoir; more of a sociological explanation of love in 2015) and Comeback, a story of a drug-addicted teenager told by both mother and daughter. I need something easy!

Life According to Steph

Monday, August 10, 2015

summer eats

I've been terrible about writing about food lately, but believe me, my going out to eat game is still going strong. I've been trying to limit lunches out since I know nearly every weekend will mean a great meal or three, but I still have plenty to talk about. Houston is such a great food city right now - amazing things are popping up weekly, it seems - and we're in the middle of Houston Restaurant Weeks, which makes dining out affordable and charitable. Wins all around. Here are some notable things I've enjoyed this summer.

Enjoying a brewery, sans beer - Recently, we decided to visit the Karbach Brewery and their new tasting room. The Korean fried chicken was so great, I'm still dreaming of it. A little sweet, no bones, and great amount of crunch, it has become the first thing I talk about when someone mentions Karbach anything. No matter how hard I try, I can't acquire a taste for beer, but I enjoyed this so much I'm ready to go back to the brewery for another meal.

Best and worst of the 'burb - My area only has one bakery, and it closes at 5pm on weekdays - definitely not ideal for an after work pick-me-up. However, I finally made it to Yummy Tummy Pastries on a Friday off work and the $1.25 chocolate chip cookies didn't disappoint. On a return visit, they were out of them an hour after opening for the day (???) but I like at least knowing that they're an option nearby. On a sour note, I thought we had finally found a Tex-Mex place to call our own, but upon second visit, it was merely "eh." Not having a place for good margaritas and queso remains the height of my personal first world problems.

Trying something new - I was craving a burger the other night for dinner. We were going to settle for something nearby, but through the magic of the internet, Andrew learned that the soon-to-open Southern Goods was doing a soft opening of their bar menu that night which featured, as luck would have it, a burger. We made the drive to the Heights and without really considering the menu, I ordered a burger (and a French 75. It was Friday and cocktails were a given). The burger was great - tons of cheese, which I loved, a soft, lightly toasted bun, thick-cut pickles, and a "comeback" sauce kind of like a remoulade that made the whole thing amazing. Some friends met us and I got to try the pimento cheese grilled cheese sandwich, which was also delicious. I'm excited for the full opening when I can try more of the menu because the soft opening was already so good. The location - caddycorner to Fat Cat Creamery - meant that dessert followed, which I also didn't hate.

Brunch - I love brunch and especially love a good brunch buffet because it always guarantees that there will be more to eat than just eggs. Eggs and I have a weird relationship - let's just say they're one of the last foods I gravitate toward, ever. When Andrew told me he wanted to go to Caracol for his birthday brunch, I was torn. On one hand, we went there for a so-so dinner in December and I feared repeating that experience. On the other hand, Caracol's sister restaurant is Hugo's, which serves my favorite brunch in Houston, so it should be great, right? Luckily, it was beyond my expectations. Caracol has a focus on seafood, which isn't a favorite of mine, but the ceviche was delicious. They serve the same fantastic guacamole and tomatillo avocado salsa as Hugo's and I could eat the cost of the meal in that alone. There was a beef cheek mole and steak skewers and so much other goodness along with the flan and Mexican hot chocolate that are also a staple at Hugo's brunch. Both brunches are very similar and probably equally amazing.

Other things I've loved lately - The margherita pizza at Pizaro's Montrose (using sauce in favor of tomato slices and adding sausage makes it not like a regular margherita, but worth a try, especially for $9.99 at lunch), Cloud 10 banana split, Tout Suite's $5 stuffed avocado, and cold brewed coffee from pretty much anywhere (but Blacksmith and Javaman have my favorites).

Karbach's Korean Fried Chicken | Cloud 10 Banana Split (whole caramelized banana, nutella marshmallow ice cream, nutella powder, among other things) | brown butter cone with dark chocolate and vanilla bean swirl at Fat Cat Creamery | Burger from Southern Goods (I was too hungry to take a better pic, oops).

And, there are lots of other food-related plans on the horizon before summer ends. We have plans to check out Revival Market for Houston Restaurant Weeks, plus we have to pick another place to go to with friends. Every year, we have a "bye-bye to brunch" brunch at Hugo's during Labor Day weekend; it's the last weekend before football season, and therefore the last time my husband will want to go to brunch until mid-February. I'm craving Cafe TH and have also been in the mood for good Indian food since there's none close to where I live. I'm so happy that there are so many great options in the rest of the city to make up for it.

And if you want more food talk, I finally updated my Eat tab, above!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

the best thing in life that's free that you might not be using

It's the library. And I was a library skeptic for a long, long time. Don't be like me. Be better.

The library is amazing and like Netflix for books. If you like to pay for books, then cool, but if you like free stuff and you aren't actively using the library, then you're crazy. I use the library nearly every day and I rarely step foot through its doors. Let me tell you what you could be missing...

Photo by my friend Bre

Free (new) music: I'm cheap. I love Pandora and Spotify and free music because the radio is mostly awful these days. My library offers the Hoopla app which offers tons of music, often on the day it's released, free for a week. Try before you buy, or if you're me and the sudden resurgence of Fall Out Boy makes you want to relive 2006 and relisten to Under the Cork Tree without digging in boxes for a CD, there you go. I also love listening to comedy CDs through the app because they're something I enjoy but would never buy since I wouldn't relisten to them often.

Goodreads Laziness: I love Steph and Jana's monthly book link-up and I often add books to my Goodreads account based on other people's recommendations. Then, I have to go to my library's Overdrive app (which is where I get 90% of my books, with the other 10% being Hoopla audiobooks) and check for each book, one by one. It isn't hard but it's tedious, especially as my to-read list grows. You never know when a book is added to the Overdrive collection or if you've already looked for something. After some googling, I found a Chrome plug-in that you can install on your browser that adds a column to your Goodreads shelves or a line on each book you click on telling you right away if the book is available in the app. It is magic. Now, I can look at my shelves, right-click on what's available, and then it opens in Overdrive so I can borrow, request, or save each selection. It also tells you if there's a hold on the book and how long it is and if it's an ebook or audiobook.

With the plugin, there's a new column on my shelf view page | If you click to view a book's page, you can also see the Overdrive availability. The first number is the number of requests and the second is the number of copies available.

Flipster: This is my new favorite thing as my library just added it last month. It's basically magazines, loaded onto my iPad, for free. I love People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and I occasionally want to flip through a Better Homes and Gardens, but again, I'm cheap, and I know they'll end up in the recycle bin pretty quickly. With Flipster, you can add a magazine to your account, load it onto your device, and then you have two days to read it. I don't load one until I know I have some time to focus, so it's perfect to just check out the things you really want to read.

Personalized Recs: This is where my library is amazing (Harris County!). I read that they offer a Book Hunters program where you fill out a short survey about books you like to read, which platform you prefer, what you're looking for, etc. and then a librarian looks at your list and makes personalized recommendations. I filled out the survey and also sent a link to my Goodreads account in case it was helpful. I got a list of 14 books back, all available electronically, and I'm excited to get started on the recommendations -  I added at least nine to my to read shelf.

Audiobooks: I know, audiobooks are like the coolest thing to hit blogging since the blanket scarf, but unlike wearing too much material around my neck, they are actually something I bought into and love. I always have an audiobook going for in the car (I drive at least an hour and a half a day), while walking the dog, and often when I clean. It takes just the right amount of attention for me to be able to multitask. Some narrators are amazing and really bring you into the story. You get each book for two weeks and they are 100% free through the library so why haven't you given them a try yet?

Comic Books and Movies: You can get comics through Hoopla and graphic novels (like The Walking Dead!) though Overdrive. Comics are expensive and sometimes I want to see where TWD book went so I can try to figure out the show. There are also movies (and kids' shows!) on Hoopla. This isn't something I've used yet, but I love just knowing it's there.

No one asked me or paid me to write this post. I just wish I had known all the great stuff available to me for free long ago. I feel like I wasted a lot of time not reading or using my commute time in the middle of a great story. I think I annoy my coworkers by constantly telling them what I've been reading but I always have new options easily accessible and I'm excited to share. Who knows, maybe one day I will actually get to the library during its working hours and take advantage of the other things it offers. There's actually a craft class that sounds kind of fun...

Linking up with Joey and Kristin...