Wednesday, September 30, 2015

goings on

I've been back from vacation for nearly a week and I don't have a single post to show for it. I uploaded all of my pictures to thislife.com (thanks for the rec, Kelli), but it's hard to get them from there and into picmonkey so I can make collages. I literally took nearly 1000 pictures and I'm lazy. I've written a few posts, so once I find a good way to edit pictures, hopefully they'll be posted. If you have any tips, send them my way. Regardless, I find myself missing a) writing down what's happening and b) blogging interaction. And I have stuff on my mind, so let's talk.

- I lost my reading groove. I had a few books back to back that I wasn't that into, and then I got sick and just wanted to sleep all the time, and then on vacation I just didn't feel like reading before bed like I normally do. I've been listening to lots of This American Life podcasts in the car. While some episodes take me a while to get into, I always end up lost in other people's stories. The one about The Land of Make Believe where a dad built a 24 foot ship in his backyard for his 12 kids to play on and ran it like a Navy ship was a recent favorite. I'm also listening to Gilmore Guys as I make my way through the show (again) (don't judge) but I get annoyed when their guest hates the show and then they start to seem bothered by it.

- We have friends coming to town next week which is a great excuse to do all of our favorite things in Houston! Andrew and David went to high school together and Mandy and I have gotten to know each other better through blogging. We haven't seen each other since their wedding five years ago so I'm excited to catch up and to force them to play Head's Up with me repeatedly and eat all my favorite things in the span of just a few days.

- Fall is allegedly coming. I decorated for it and have been trying to order hot coffee drinks. A Sweater Weather candle is burning every night. It's still in the 90s here. The weather man said that fall isn't coming just yet... dude, October starts on Friday... if not now, when?

- And now, what's been on my mind this week. If you follow me on snapchat or we're text friends, forgive the repeat, but I'm not over it. Last week, I heard that a friend of mine from high school passed away. A new school was built before my junior year, so I had to leave my friends behind and make new ones for my last two years of high school. I never really fit in, but there was a group of six of us who were in a lot of the same classes, were all kind of dorky, and got along. They were my group, and he was one of them. Post high school, I've kept in decent touch with one of the girls, and through her, our friend who is now gone. I saw him a few years ago and of course there was talk of having lunch, but neither of us ever made the call. He worked at a restaurant with two locations, one of which is near my office. Every time I went there, I thought of him and hoped he might be in for some reason. He was hilarious and smart and the fun guy in the group who got along with all the cliques in high school and one of the few people I would want to see should a high school reunion come to fruition. I always thought we would get closer when our mutual friend came to visit or if she moved back to Houston. He was fun to reminisce with and just a presence I took for granted. Even though he hasn't been a part of my daily life for over ten years, I am extremely saddened by his passing. His funeral was standing room only and full of great stories and memories of those who knew him (and, it served as a de facto high school reunion - I think he would approve). It just made me think about wasted time, and how I should call and text the people whose lives I want to be a part of. I shouldn't wait until someone is gone to let them know that they were a happy part of my life. I don't want my funeral to be full of people who haven't spoken to me much in the past ten years but could have. I want to make a better effort to reach out to people whose names just live in my phone or whose statuses just pop up on Facebook every so often. The night of the funeral, I texted my best friend from eighth grade and into college. She was in my wedding, but we drifted apart pretty soon after. It was nice catching up. She has a ton going on that she didn't post on Facebook and it was great to hear from her. A small step in the right direction. So, to my friend who passed, thank you for being my friend when I was weird and alone. Thank you for calling me The Hey Song Girl and The Awkward Silence Maker because at least you saw me when I felt invisible, weird habits and all. You'll be remembered every time I take the extra step toward someone I need to reach out to.

Anyway. That was sad. How about we end with some pics on my phone that I can actually get on here? And a promise for some California posts... soonish.

The French Laundry garden, which was down the street from our hotel in Yountville | Potato-horseradish dumplings with plum from The Progress in San Francisco | Hot air balloons in Yountville | the Napa equivalent of the Vegas sign.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

where i've been // where i'm going

I love three day weekends but I don't love the four day week. Trying to cram in an extra day's worth of work into fewer days leaves me feeling tired at the end of each day and ready for a two day weekend, which feels short compared to the previous weekend's extra day. Does that make sense?

So last week, I went to the Taylor Swift concert. I drank all the 1989 kool-aid and last year, when Andrew asked if I wanted tickets for her show (scheduled for October of this year and then moved to September since the Astros are actually a good team), I said no because almost 31 sounded way too old to attend this concert and what if I decided I hated her by then? But I didn't decide that, so I got tickets to the concert several weeks ago and majorly overpaid, but I didn't care because I was pumped.

Weeeeelllll... I mean, this is a very first world thing to say, but I realize how much amazing concert luck I have had in the past few years and sitting in the nosebleed seats just doesn't do it for me anymore. Don't get me wrong - Taylor put on a great show with tons of costume changes, great themes and dances, and everyone got to wear the light-up wristbands that moved in time with the music, but I just wasn't as into it as I normally am, and I think it's because of the seats. I could never really see her or anything else and instead had to look at the giant screen, which made me feel like I might as well be at home. People in the nosebleed seats don't have the same level of energy as you get when you're closer. Lesson learned - I'll buy ahead of time now. I also won't convince myself that Beyonce is going to be the special guest, only to be let down when it's Wiz Khalifa and they sing some depressing duet that just didn't do anything for me.

Anyway, so add a late night to a long week and I really didn't want to do anything this weekend. Both pets went to the vet and look to be in good heath, except Bauer is fat (but we knew that already). Duncan charms everyone he comes into contact with. It's pretty cute to watch. Andrew had his annual first day of football crab boil so I left the house because I hate the smell but came home when I started feeling bad. I noticed a tickly throat earlier in the day but ignored it - I thought that my performance of "Thinking Out Loud" in the car that morning just to annoy my husband had aggravated something - but when I suddenly felt beyond tired, I headed home and laid around all night. I woke up with a sore throat and stayed home from work Monday. Went to work Tuesday but started running a fever that afternoon. Went to the doctor who confirmed strep throat. Yuck. Stayed home Wednesday, of course. Now I have to get back to work Thursday and Friday since I'll be out next week since our California trip has finally arrived! I felt like a bit of a lush asking the pharmacist if I could drink while taking antibiotics, but when one is in wine country, one must drink as much wine as she wants.

Needless to say, I will be overgramming, tweeting, and checking in on swarm at every opportunity. Follow me somewhere if you want to virtually experience all of the food and drink along with me. Luckily for you, the calories won't count and it's free!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

labor day is for buffets

Three day weekends are pretty much the best. We didn't make plans for this one (because we leave for California in less than two weeks!), but it was still great and full of lots of food. Because why wouldn't it be?

On Friday, I got off work early and went to Good Dog Houston with a few friends. I had just gone there thirteen days before and living in a city with so much good food, I rarely go to the same place twice in two weeks, but after my friend saw my caphin cajeta shake, she had to go and who was I to make her go alone? This time, I tried the Ol' Zapata - a hot dog topped with bacon, muenster cheese, caramelized onions, jalapeƱo relish, tomato, ketchup, and mayo. It was great! I'm a little wary of jalapeƱos as I have become a bit of a spice wimp lately, but this was just enough spice to make me want a drink of water every few bites. The textures, from the tomato chunks to the crispy bacon to the melty cheese, also made me love the dish. Instead of a shake, I went for fries this time. They were crispy - just the way I like them - and the housemade ketchup and aioli for dipping made the fries more than worth it. I went home full and happy.

I think it's safe to say that the relish tastes better than it looks in this pic.

On Saturday, Revival Market did their much-adored (in my house, at least) kolaches. One of the flavors was fig and ricotta and since I'm crazy for all things fig lately, I really wanted them, but not badly enough to go and get them. Luckily, Andrew did want them that badly so he got them while I slept. What a good husband. I proceeded to photograph them from every angle when he got home since I need some DSLR practice (I think I mostly understand aperture priority mode now, woo hoo).

(Please tell me these look better than an iPhone pic? At least a little?) | the pale one is the pear and the dark one is the fig.

We had plans that afternoon to meet with some of Andrew's barbecue friends at a bar where a trailer is normally parked. Normally I make him go to eat barbecue all by himself, but I was actually excited for this Saturday because my BBQ-wife friend Amber was visiting Houston with her husband so I had someone to talk to. I wasn't all that hungry so I just had an order of loaded mac and cheese. I liked the peppery bark of the brisket with the mac and cheese (which would have been great on its own), but the sauce was too tomato-y for me. Amber and her husband still had some time before they needed to get to a friend's house later in the day, so the four of us went to Common Bond for a snack (and mostly for AC). We introduced them to baked good amazingness. Andrew and I shared a frangelico chocolate cake, which was delicious, and a chocolate hazelnut brioche, which was good but absolutely bursting with nutella. I love nutella, and it was too much of a good thing. We sat at the coffee bar and the baristas ended up with an extra cappucino, which I gladly took off their hands. The four of us sat and chatted for over an hour and already started a list for more things to eat together next time they're in Houston.

Loaded mac and cheese (there was plenty of pasta under that, I promise) | pretty and tasty cappuccino | our Common Bond treats. I would be bummed about the nutella explosion but I maybe just went there last weekend so I can't be too upset.

My husband is a huge football fan. He loves the New York Giants and joins multiple fantasy football leagues every year, so needless to say, Sundays during football season are sacred to him. That means that we can't really go to brunch, or if we do, we have to go so early to be home by noon that one can't enjoy her mimosas without feeling like a total lush. So, two years ago, we started a "bye-bye to brunch" brunch on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We've gone to our favorite brunch buffet, Hugo's, each year, and pigged out so I can ignore my brunch urge a little bit easier all football season long. Hugo's is a traditional Mexican place with the best guacamole and a vat of Mexican hot chocolate, just to name a few of my favorites. The meal was fantastic, as always. I especially loved an unexpected lentil salad with radishes, red onions, and spicy cheese. There was also an avocado and peach ceviche, and while I'm weird with fish, this stuff was so good, I got seconds. I also had a cocktail with gin (which I'm oddly drawn toward lately) and muddled peaches. It was a great way to say goodbye to summer.

(Both nights for dinner, I had hummus, crackers, veggies, and some meats and cheese. Just felt like I needed to throw that out there, too.)

On Monday, I wasn't exactly hungry after a weekend's worth of great food, but of course I needed to eat. After attempting to get a lighter lunch at our favorite taco place, which was closed, we ended up at a brand new Indian place in my suburb called The Curry House. Since it was a holiday, it seemed like ordering the buffet was mandatory, which was no big deal since it was priced around the same as an entree - around $10 per person. I had really low expectations - my suburb has proven over and over that it's a dining wasteland over the past year - but I was very pleasantly surprised. I especially liked the butter chicken and the vegetable biryani. The chutney was good and there were a few other things on the menu that I wouldn't want for a full meal but definitely enjoyed for a few bites. I really hope the community supports this place and I know we'll be back.

Plate one at Hugo's including an enchilada, guacamole, ceviche, refried black beans, corn and squash blossom casserole, and more | my brunch cocktail | Andrew's plate at the Indian buffet since I didn't think to take a pic

In between all of the eating, I did a few other things too - saw my parents for a few, gave the dog a bath, did some online shopping, read, started watching Veep, and stocked up on fall scented candles at Bath & Body Works, just to name a few. If only every weekend could be this long.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

august books

If I loved a book this month, I really loved it and tore through it. There were some stinkers, too - I couldn't connect with The End of Your Life Bookclub and Days of Awe just never went anywhere and I found myself yelling at it in my car for moving too slowly. That's when I knew it was time to give it up. The past week was really busy and I haven't been able to focus long enough to pay attention to anything, which means I'll go back to the end of the list for Unbreakable. I couldn't get into it - any thoughts? Is it good, or overhyped?

Anyway, onto what I actually read. Audiobooks denoted with an (A).

I'll Give You the Sun - I have no idea how this got on my to-read list, but I'm so glad it did! It's YA and I think it's better than The Fault in Their Stars, which might be blasphemy but it's true to me. The story is told in the alternating points of view of two twins - one tells of what happens to them when they were 13-14, and the other tells the story of what happened later, when they were 16. It isn't as confusing as it sounds, I promise. The way this book was written - described as a literary novel (is that a thing? If so, I think it's my favorite genre) - is what really got me. It was lyrical, descriptive, and really made you feel like you were spending time in the presence of these characters. I read this in two days and wish it would have gone on longer.

Modern Romance - I loved Aziz Ansari in Parks and Rec and his stand-up is hilarious, so I was excited to read his book. It's not a memoir; instead, it's a sociological look at dating and romance in the age of the internet full of statistics and personal stories from Ansari, interviews he conducted, and a subreddit he set up for feedback. I've never really dated in the time of the internet, so I didn't find the book relatable, though it was interesting to an extent. I didn't retain much, and it was just okay overall for me.

(A) Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back - This was a memoir told from the POV of a 15 year old girl who had a drug problem and kept leaving home and her mother, who wanted to do anything to get her daughter back. The daughter was sent to an intensive behavioral correctional facility, and you can see how her perspective changes as she goes through the process. That part was interesting. I found the mom's parts to be a little boring, and she also came across as a little clueless in regards to her daughter. The daughter also went through some traumatic abuse that was honestly stomach churning. I know these things happen, obviously, but the account left me sad and disgusted. I don't want to minimize anyone else's personal experiences, so I feel bad saying I didn't like the book, but if you're looking for a memoir on this subject, I would suggest Beautiful Boy instead.

You - Despite the fact that this book is creepy as anything and the narrator is a despicable human being, I loved this book. You've probably seen this book multiple places, so just add me to the list of fans. Joe's loneliness was something seen often in books, but the method he takes to alleviate it was quite different. Mini spoiler alert: there's a sequel coming out in February and I'm already excited to see how what else Joe can do and see if more is revealed about his younger years.

(A) Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - After falling in love with Love May Fail last month,  I added several of Matthew Quick's books to my "to read" list. This book isn't in my normal wheelhouse. It's a pretty mature YA book in which the main character, Leonard, intends to shoot his bully and kill himself on his 18th birthday. The action all takes place on that day. Leonard goes to the people in his life who are most important and gives them all gifts, all while highlighting his depression and loneliness. Parts of this book were beautifully written and it really made me think about adulthood - Leonard watches adults on the train traveling to and from work and wonders why they all look so miserable and thinks that if he were going to live to adulthood, he would surely find ways to be happier - but some of the characters were stereotypes and Leonard always thought he was better than and smarter than everyone. Overall, it was fine, but it was no Love May Fail.

Where They Found Her - This story is told through multiple perspectives and takes place in a small town, where every character is interconnected. The book held my attention well enough, and it gets points for being mostly unpredictable, but part of that is because of the sheer volume of characters; there were too many possibilities. Too much happened and some plot points seemed unnecessary and could have been eliminated (couldn't her boss just be her boss? Did he need a storyline?). Overall it was fine and I didn't hate it, but I won't rush to recommend it, either.

(A) Beyond Belief - This is the true story of the niece of the leader of the Church of Scientology, who escaped from it when she was 21 years old. I had to do a research paper on things I thought were BS in College, and I chose scientology - it's so bizarre that it's fascinating. This woman had been in the church from the age of two on,  and the way she describes the way children were treated - separated from their parents, forced to do manual labor, and often screamed at and harshly punished - was unbelievable. The way that the church finds a way to control everything about its members and find out all of their secrets through auditing sessions is crazy. After her escape, the author is able to better explain how the church keeps people believing and why so many people stay members. If you're interested in scientology at all, this is the book to read.

One Plus One - After crying through Me Before You, I was hesitant to read another Jojo Moyes book, but I loved this one. It was so different. A single mom ends up on a road trip with a near stranger and everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Just when you think the book is basically over, more happens to extend the story a little longer. The plot reminded me a little bit of Little Miss Sunshine. While it wasn't a literary work of art, it kept me up late because I wanted to know what happened next.

In the Unlikely Event - I loved Judy Blume growing up. I did not love Summer Sisters as an adult. Since I had low expectations for this one, I was pleasantly surprised. The book is a fictionalized account of what happened in Elizabeth, NJ after a series of real-life events. It's told from several different points of view, often changing perspective after just a few pages. It was a little hard to get into, but I found myself curious about how things would end up and overall, it was an enjoyable read.

I want to say that I read fewer than five books in 2014. I'm at over 50 in 2015 (!!!). Part of it is this link-up, which always gives me tons of new book ideas. Thanks as always to Steph and Jana for keeping it going!

Life According to Steph