Monday, October 27, 2014

Art and literature

I've finally gotten around to tinkering with my blog a bit. The color changes are not final and neither is the title. The URL will definitely be staying the same though. Even though it no longer reflects the content of the blog (that is to say, if it ever did), I like having all my posts in one place, so I just can't see changing it any time soon.

Faraway from Astoria, it was a really lovely weekend here in Austin. On Friday, Sam and I went to the Blanton Museum of Art. Once a month, they have an after hours party in the museum called B Scene. It reminded me of an event they have at the Brooklyn Museum, that was always fun, so it seemed worth checking out. As hundreds of gallery openings the world over have proven, there's something about drinking and art that just go well together. Better still, this month's theme for the party was somewhat Halloween related: Exquisite Corpse. The name comes from a French parlor game where different people complete a sentence or picture through connected lines on a folded piece of paper. I remember doing something similar as a child, creating new chimeras through random animal heads, bodies, and legs on a trifold.

In addition to the drawing activity, there were also some great bands, theme cocktails, and free lavender macarons and the galleries were all open to walk around (although naturally you had to put your drink down first). I had never been to the Blanton before, but it had some great exhibits and the permanent collection seemed to have some nice stuff too. I'm also quite a fan of the building itself, which goes a long way in my book. The only reason I ever kept going back to P.S. 1 (other than because it was free and in my neighborhood) was because of the building, as the art itself was never my cup of tea.

One of the bands playing at the museum. You can't really tell, but they were all dressed like zombies. They were called the Dead Capital Band...and I'm not sure if they dressed up to fit the theme or if they were chosen because they just always look like that. 
Another one of the bands. I don't remember their name, but they had a cool sound. 

I forgot what this art piece was supposed to represent, but it was 600 cattle bones hanging over 60,000 pennies. 
Sam attempting an Exquisite Corpse drawing and having trouble with the ink pot. If you were the last person to finish one, you were allowed to keep it.

They had a free photo booth, so we were finally able to get a non-selfie together!
We had a really good time at the museum, so we decided to become members. This means we can get into these monthly parties for free (and really if we just go to two more, it will pay for itself). As part of the membership, they also gave us a very bland mug, so there's that.

Another excitement of the weekend was that the Texas Book Festival was in town. It's a free event that brings together a bunch of authors and publishers and shuts down a number of streets around the Capitol. We didn't go to the festival itself on Saturday, but we did go to the "Lit Crawl" that evening--a literary themed bar crawl on East 6th St organized for the festival. There were a number of really cool events happening at different bars in the area, but in the end we could only go to three. For Phase 1, we chose to go to a cocktail lounge for Sexist Bingo. Authors would read sexist quotes from famous writers throughout history from Plato to Jonathan Franzen and people would shout out the answers for prizes, while also recording them on their bingo cards. I was only Laura Ingalls Wilder away from bingo-ing and getting a free tote bag, but I like her, so I'm also glad to not hear what sexist things she had to say.

For Phase 2, we went to a reading series hosted by Austin Bat Cave, the nonprofit that organizes writing workshops for kids that I've been volunteering at since we moved here. There were some great stories, my favorite was from Bret Johnson, the writer of Corpus Christie Stories, describing trying to convince Joyce Carol Oates that he'd actually written his most well-known book while she was staunchly convinced it was written by someone else.

For Phase 3, we went to another bar for a Literary Death Match--a sort of read-off from new authors that culminated in a round of bar-wide literary charades. It was also a lot of fun, and I found a few new authors whose books I'd like to look up. Leaving that bar, we ran into someone I went to high school with, which when deciding to move to Austin was one of my fears. Luckily, it was one of the people I was happy to see again, so a happy and relatively not-awkward end to a lovely evening.

On Sunday, we went to the festival itself. We only stayed for one reading (by the author of this book), but we walked around for a while checking out all the exhibitors. Sam even ended up wining opera tickets to the Austin Opera. (Not sure how good they are since until Sunday I didn't know Austin has an opera...but hey, it's free!).
Sam at the festival. You can't really tell, but he's wearing the shirt he won at Sexist Bingo. It has Walt Whitman lounging in a bath on it. 
A group called the Typewriter Rodeo was there. They improv type up poems on vintage typewriters based on whatever word or phrase you want. We now have a lovely little poem called "Austin Re-Transplants"
That about wraps up this weekend. Will keep working on the blog to tone down the garish pink in the sidebar. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Zen and the art of the tailgate

Things are pretty busy at work this week, so this will have to be a short post. This weekend Sam and I joined in on a little Austin culture: the tailgate. A friend in town from New York invited us to one organized by her friend's family (one of whom I think works for the city which accounted for us having a good spot) While not a fan of football especially, I have always been a fan of eating and drinking outside, so it seemed like something I would enjoy. On Saturday it was also a perfectly lovely day, if a little on the warm side. There were beers, chips, and dips aplenty (we arrived sadly too late for the bulk of the BBQ). All in all, lovely way to spend a Saturday.

I don't have too much else to say about it. We only stayed for half the game, and honestly I didn't care enough to even look it up to see if UT won or lost, but I did take a few pictures:

Our assigned tailgate area was actually behind a church. Less traditional perhaps than in a parking lot, but still a nice shady place to have some beers. 
A view of the festivities from the parking garage where they must make a killing on game days. 
Clark. Our faithful tailgate mascot. 
I think Sam took this on our drive home. 
Will hopefully have more time for a proper update next week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shakespeare on the farm

On Saturday, Sam and I went to check out Shakespeare on the Farm's production of The Tempest. Shakespeare on the Farm is the work of a nonprofit theater company (The Present Company) that puts on donation-based shows on a small farm in Austin. Since it combines three of my favorite things: outdoor theater, Shakespeare, and free (well okay, I donated, but it was potentially free)...I couldn't resist checking it out.

We took a few pictures of the farm ambience. This looks like something out of the new season of American Horror Story.
 As expected, it was a lovely setting. The set designs were particularly fun, although I think this play lends itself to that. We got there an hour or so early to picnic and enjoy some of the theme cocktails (I think I had Prospero's punch?). They had cranked up some opera tunes out of an air stream trailer and you could watch the chickens run around. You know, you're basic Saturday night farm/theater experience. We were also really lucky weather wise, as it's finally getting some fall crispness in the air.

The sets were quite possibly the coolest part. They built castles out of wood pallets!
The play itself made good use of children running around as fairies (another reason this play lends itself well to community theater); however, overall I think my expectations were a little too high for the acting. I may have gotten a bit spoiled by the million dollar productions over in Central Park and come to expect that all free outdoor theater should have huge Shakespearean talents in it. It also doesn't help that the last time I saw The Tempest performed was one of the single coolest productions I've ever seen. Now that was a phenomenal use of community talent.  This is not to say that the Shakespeare on the Farm production was bad, just that there were neither professional actors in it nor a troop of hip hop artists and taiko drummers, which again, is probably asking too much.

This was part of a huge display maybe out of 20-30 bicycle wheels. 
 Still, it's always fun to spend a night under the stars (and that's one way that outdoor theater on an Austin farm has Central Park really beat) and see a little Shakespeare. I'm actually taking a Shakespeare class (for free as part of FutureLearn) right now to brush up a bit and feel like less of an impostor when interacting with Shakespeare bloggers. Seeing a production after spending the morning reading a different play really reminded me of how preferable the former is. The language is just so much easier to follow when read allowed and with its proper scansion and intonation.

The cast and crew.
Anyway, thanks to the lurkers for your comments and emails last week :). I do appreciate knowing you're out there. Gives me more of a reason to remember to take photos of things and (crucially) to actually download them from my phone.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Enchanted weekend

I'm still working at remembering how to change the design on my blog, so one day that lovely mural of Astoria that I stole without crediting the artist (I should really find out who the artist is...) will be replaced by some Austinian icon. Until then, you can just keep enjoying this slight disconnect as I continue to "live the Astorian dream" from parts Southwest.

It was gorgeous this weekend, and Sam and I decided to go for a hike at Enchanted Rock. It's an enormous pink granite rock formation about an hour and a half outside of Austin. This huge bit is actually only a small part of the whole rock, which underground is apparently four times the size of Manhattan. I thought the name for the rock came from a Mark Twain quote from when he spent time there, or at least I swear I read that on the park's signage, but I can't find that information on the Internet, so who's to say what's real?

This is just one smaller, but equally enchanted, bit of rock on top of the larger one.
We were a bit stressed out getting to the Rock because the park website insisted the parking lot for the natural area could fill up as early as 11 in the morning and I figured that issue would be compounded by the fact that it was perfect weather. Nevertheless, despite the best intentions of leaving early, we rolled up at about 12:30, and there were no issues of overcrowding at all. I guess the Enchanted Rock Natural Area people have inflated their importance a bit, or else people in Texas hill country are just over the novelty of beautiful weather.

The rock is covered by little patches of trees, flowers, and cacti, that manage to grow in eroded bits of the rock. Ah, the power of nature.
We took perhaps too many pictures, but it's such a cool environment.
Anyway, after a nice drive through the wine country of Texas, we arrived at our destination. We climbed to the summit and walked around enjoying the views. Growing up in Houston, I never really thought of Texas as particularly beautiful. Flat, yes. Hot and unbearably humid, sure. But in terms of beautiful landscapes, Houston is not your target city. Consequently it's been really enjoyable to explore Texas hill country, which definitely has an attractive quality with its rolling hills, wildflowers, and patches of cacti.

The view from the top!
Sam at the start of the Summit Trail
Since we drove all the way out to Enchanted Rock, we figured it would be silly to go back to Austin without checking out Fredrickburg, a few miles south. Fredricksburg is a small tourist town with winery tasting rooms and galleries. It was settled by Germans, and that's still an important facet of its culture, so we weren't surprised to find and Oktoberfest festival going on. Unfortunately, it did make parking rather difficult. We wandered around for a few hours, at least 20 minutes of which was spent in this awesome store that gives you samples of all their salsas and sauces. I ate enough sample crackers that we didn't even really need lunch.

This was at the Pioneer Museum and Visitor Center. The docent woman was pretty aggressive and strongly encouraged us to sign the guest book in exchange for using the public bathrooms and receiving a map of main street. 
Sam takes close up pictures of signs he likes the graphic design of. Sometimes I post them. 
This final photo is not from our Saturday jaunt at all. On Sunday, Sam had been talking about wanting to go to the LBJ Library. I hadn't been since I was 12 or 13, and remembered it being rather boring (as most presidential libraries are when you're 12 or 13, I suppose). What I have no memory of from when I went before was this animatronic LBJ. You can't get the real creepiness from this photo, but he's moving, and also, for some reason, telling jokes.
Apparently there's a (possibly now defunct) rock band in New York called "The Animatronic LBJ"

Anyway, I know two of my most loyal readers are likely not reading this week, so I feel a little bit like I'm writing this for myself. (But then when am I not?). If you're out there, readers, hope you're doing well! 'Til next week...

Monday, September 29, 2014

My trip to Austin

I've been living in Austin for a month now, and yet when Google takes photos from my blog to create unsolicited "google story" slideshows out of them, it still insists on calling it my "trip to Austin." I suppose it does kind of feel like a vacation still, as I don't have all my routines quite in place yet. We've definitely come a long way in this month though. It's hard to believe just a few short weeks ago, I would have been writing this from the floor of my living room instead of in a nice elevated pappasan chair. 

This weekend we went out on the town and tried a nice restaurant (turns out you can chicken fry anything...including beef ribs). We also tried standup paddleboarding on Town Lake and spent some time at a brewery in Dripping Springs. I don't have too much to say right now, so I thought I'd share a few photos from my phone from the last couple of weeks. 

A friend and I text photos of our cats back and forth. That's my excuse for having so many on my phone...

This is the view from my new crossfit gym. When we arrive, there is a blanket of stars, and about mid-class we get to see the sunrise. These are the perks of being willing to do your workout at 6:30 in the morning. 

At the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. It was free this weekend as part of the Smithsonian Museum Day. 

Sam, as seen through a waterfall. 

Our attempt to take more pictures together. Look at the beautiful Texas countryside behind us!

This one's from Houston last weekend. I didn't post about it because I figured it would be redundant for the large percentage of my readership who was there, but it was good times!
Next time I promise to have more interesting things to say. Or at least things that I will find interesting. I also really am planning to change the banner soon. This site could use a redesign that doesn't feature the majestic skyline of Astoria any longer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Home is where the blender is

It's funny how a place doesn't really feel like home until it has all of your worldly belongings in it. We've been living in Austin about three weeks (more for Sam), and as of a furious weekend of unpacking, we finally have a real and functional apartment. No longer are we sitting cross-legged on the ground, re-washing plastic cups, and talking about how shallow and materialistic we are for missing our high end blender. Now we're sitting on couches and chairs and can revel in very-un-Buddhist smoothie making with abandon! Beds that don't inflate also have a renewed importance to me. 

Anyway, as I sit typing this from my couch, with my feet on a coffee table, on a laptop that is connected to the Internet through wireless magic (that this is a novelty is really my own fault because I forgot to pack the wireless router in my suitcase), I just wanted to share a few pictures from our newly furnished pad. 

Here is the kitchen! The finishes are a bit cheaper than our previous places (say what you will about landlords weaseling out of rent stabilization, but it does make them have to spend more on fancy appliances), but it'll do the job. Now I no longer have to limit my cooking repertoire to what I can make in a single sauce pan and pot combo. We've been eating a lot of pasta. 

This is the dining area corner adjacent to the kitchen. We're really enjoying eating meals at a proper table. It was a bit touch and go for a bit while the movers couldn't figure out how to put all the pieces of the table back together, but luckily they persevered.

This is perhaps my favorite room in the house. We finally have an office! This means not only do I not have to work in the living room, but Sam will not keep me up when he's working late at night, as his desk is no longer in our bedroom. Additionally, we have a walk-in closet devoted just to The Bard's Cards stuff, so that won't be piled alongside our bed anymore. I should also add that this room will be our guest room should anyone reading this like to visit! To those who aren't sick to death of air mattresses, it could really be quite comfortable. There's also a futon option.

The bedroom. Doesn't really photograph well, but it's a bit bigger than it looks and also has a walk-in closet. I suppose it's a shame I gave away a good chunk of my wardrobe for the move, although I don't really miss any of it. In fact, I realized even though all my other clothes have arrived, I keep wearing the same few favorite things I'd brought with me originally. It's not the clothes I missed, just the kitchen appliances.

Finally, here's the living room! It can be kind of hard to get the layout from the order I put these, but basically you walk into this room and the dining area/kitchen is directly across. You can also see our little balcony. It doesn't get much sun during the day, which is great for keeping the apartment cool, although not so great for my attempted patio garden. Also, not great for my patio garden is Dinah insisting on eating everything except the wheatgrass we expressly bought for her to eat. She is enjoying the balcony as much as we are though. It's really nice to be able to sit outside with a cup of coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening. I guess hypothetically I could be typing this out there too. Wireless internet is a wondrous thing.

Anyway, thanks for those who expressed concern during our time of exile in an empty apartment. I'm happy to say that we firmly settled in. So I guess we live here now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Below Hill Country

On Sunday, some friends joined Sam and I on a day trip to Longhorn Caverns. I actually first read about the caverns when working on a series of Texas books for work, and then when recently looking for fun day trips an easy drive from Austin, it popped up again. The caverns are a river formed, limestone cave system in Hill Country. They've been used over the years by Comanches, outlaws, and during Prohibition as a speakeasy. A big part of the basis for their appeal (which continues to this day) is that even in the heat of summer, it remains an average of 70 degrees in the caves. 

The entrance to the caves. I think the blurry light is cool, but it could just be sunblock on my phone camera lens or something. 
Longhorn Caverns were dug out in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Interestingly, only a mile or so of the cave system is part of a state park. The other six miles are all privately owned (I think by one ranch). Seems a shame they aren't using it, but then again, it's probably in a lot better shape because of it. The part of the cave we saw had a lot of damage from its many visitors over the years. There was one big formation where people in the 1920s had carved their names and broken off stalactites that had taken thousands of years to form.

It's hard to get a sense of scale here, but some of the rooms in the cave were truly massive. They also have amazing acoustics, so they host concerts and weddings down there. 
 We took the basic tour. I'm generally a pretty claustrophobic person, but the basic tour involved only a few spots where you had to duck because of a low hang and was mostly just straight walking. Apparently, there is an option for the "Wild Cave" tour where you explore more of the side channels. That one involves a lot more crawling on hands and knees and shimmying, and it's safe to say is not for me. They also have paranormal tours where they turn off all the lights and take you around with flashlights. The few times our guide turned off the lights (she would turn off those in the rooms we'd exited as keeping them on too long creates heat that causes further damage to the caves), I think I had my fill of it, so it's safe to say I won't be doing the paranormal tour anytime soon either.

I included this one for scale. You can see us walking in front as Sam took this from behind. I kept thinking he would tarry too much back there and be lost forever in the caves, but such was not the case. 
 All in all, it was a fun little jaunt outside the city. We stopped at a little diner in Marble Falls on the way back and had some fried things and giant slices of pie. I'll probably have to start focusing on healthy eating again at some point.

A view from the top!
In an unrelated update, we still are without our furniture and assorted belongings. Hopefully, this week. I find the thing I miss most is my blender. Sam did decide to buy a desk the other day, as he'd been toying the idea of replacing his old one anyway. I hadn't thought I was really that bothered by working from the floor, but now that I have a proper desk space, I must say, it's a lot better. I see why standing desks have taken off while floor desks are still yet to start trending.

Dinah also appreciates not sitting on the floor during her work day.  Here she is practicing the art of domestic camouflage. 
Hope you're off to a good start of the week, readers!