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!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I've been in Austin a little over a week now. That time has mostly been taken up with trips to Target, with occasional breaks to shop at Petco, H.E.B., Costco, and Alberto's Appliances which is without a doubt the best place in Austin to find a cheap washer/dryer set while also being harassed by live roosters. Basically, our journey to saving more money by living outside of the money-suck of New York City has begun with something of a spending spree. Aside from shopping, I've also managed to mostly learn to drive a manual without freaking out (except on hills during rush hour) and spent too long making a detailed Excel spreadsheet of all of the Crossfit gyms in South Austin (turns out there are a lot of them). Oh and swimming! I've been doing a lot of swimming. 

This weekend was my last summer Friday from work and also Labor Day weekend. I managed to photograph a handful of things more interesting than the inside of a generic retail store. These are a handful of them. 

On Saturday, we went to Jester King for a friend of a friend's birthday. It's a brewery in Dripping Springs, just outside of Austin. A lovely place for both brews and star gazing.
Jester King. It looks prettier in person...

Friend, whose birthday it was not, at Jester King.
On Sunday night, we went to the Alamo Drafthouse to see Boyhood. Several times during my last weeks in New York, when I would tell people I was moving to Austin, they would ask if I had seen it. Now I can say that I have, and I enjoyed it. Having beer and warm cookies brought to me during the movie probably helped as well.

At the Alamo Drafthouse. Sam as a walrus. 
 On Labor Day, on the way back from brunch, we stopped by Zilker Park for a bit. It was a little on the warm/humid side, but since it was only $2 (!) we decided to check out the botanical gardens there. They have a nice garden with prehistoric plants and this realistic dinosaur statue (see below).

It's like we're back in the Cretaceous Period. 
People keep asking if we're settled in here yet. In some ways, I suppose we are, but we also don't have any of our belongings yet. I'm learning to appreciate the simple things like sitting on the floor and sharing one coffee mug. (We've actually purchased a few outdoor chairs and a cheap futon on one of our Target runs, so the sitting on the floor really is just my personal preference--just so we don't sound too pathetic.) Hopefully, our things can come in the next week or so, and we can go back to being shamelessly materialistic. And decorating. Decorating would be fun.

Monday, August 18, 2014

On leaving Astoria

I've been alternately both putting off this post and also mentally composing it for a couple of weeks now. It's sad to think that next weekend, after over six years in New York and most of it in this neighborhood, that I will no longer be an Astorian. Instead, Sam, Dinah, and I will be the newest in a flood of residents in Austin, Texas. I've had some wonderful times here. When people have asked me lately what I'll miss about New York and what I'd like to do in my last weeks here, I realized I don't have much of a New York bucket list to complete. This is, I suppose, because 1) I've done a lot here, and while there are still museums I've never gone to and New York icons I've avoided (here's looking at you, Times Square New Year's Eve), I don't feel like there's anything I've missed out on, 2) there isn't really time to do much other than pack, which I can safely say is on no one's list of must-do New York experiences, and 3) I will most definitely be back.

I figured I would pepper this post with photos of my first few months in New York. This was Thanksgiving, 2008. The same month Dinah joined me. 
I remember when I first moved to Astoria, with just a suitcase and a big box with tape handles. I moved into a basement sublet without a kitchen and worked temp jobs for a month in the World Financial Center (the last and only time I've ever worn a suit to work). I came here knowing only a handful of people, all friends of my sister. I tried a number of things to make friends from Meetups for glassblowing to adult casual league kickball, from which I mostly got a lopsided paperweight and a reminder of why I'm ill-suited for team sports. Over the years, I did eventually meet some amazing friends though. And thanks to the addition of one husband/business partner, I also have a pretty great family up here. I've additionally gained one slightly overweight cat and a fair amount of furniture. All of which is to say, it is both physically and emotionally a lot more difficult to leave this place than it was to arrive six years ago. Apparently, roots have been sneakily growing all this time, without my really noticing.

Luckily my athleticism didn't peak at 22. 
Another one from the fall of 2008, from the top of the Empire State Building. Luckily, this lady lives in Austin now, so we can hopefully find some tall things to take pictures on around there. 
Anyway, I'm not really sure what will become of this blog. I will definitely keep the same domain, even though it won't really make much sense. I might change the header at least to reflect our new Austin locale. I guess this is what I get for making a location specific blog, but I just can't imagine starting a new site at this point, since I've rather proud of this one's longevity. Plus, I like having all of my memories of my time here, nicely organized and chronologically catalogued. I'm not sure how much I'll be updating once I get to Austin because I'm aware that most of my readership is Texas-based, so my adventures there might be a bit less interesting. Nevertheless, for my own sake, I'd like to keep this thing going. So the point of this paragraph (in case you thought there wasn't one) is just to say, if you'd like to continue to see updates even though they will no longer be tinged with the glow of Astoria, let me know, and it will probably spur me to do it more. Otherwise, hope to see you in Austin!

Summer of 2008 on the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

I can still blog sometimes

It's been an unconscionable amount of time since my last update. Luckily, the good thing about having a small pool of readers that all know me is that you also know why I've been a bit too busy for the blogosphere lately.

I'm actually a little concerned about what will become of this blog once I no longer live in Astoria. I would like to keep updating it, if nothing else, than for my own record of events. I do find myself referencing it occasionally to try to pinpoint certain items on the timeline of my life in Astoria, and it's terribly helpful for that. That said, I suspect my adventures might not be quite as interesting (strictly from a blogging point of view, of course), so fair warning to readers for the future. Anyway, I will cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I just wanted to post some photos from my phone from the last month, since I haven't had the time to post about anything properly. Let the lazy blogging begin!

Pretty sunset from Socrates Sculpture Park. That sculpture you can sort of see with the reflective lines is really cool in person. 

Also at the sculpture park. Friends gather for Costco sized picnicking and a Senegalese movie. All of the the movies they show at this particular summer film festival are foreign, really good, and by-and-large depressing. This one was no exception. 

Some friends and I thought it would be a good idea to go on an East Village ice cream crawl. We went to three places and got ice cream (or gelato) at all of them. This was the last place, which is why we look sugar crazed and sort of wary of what should be an exciting summer treat. 

Maine wildflowers!

Obligatory Dinah shot. She was sitting on the edge of her chair because I'd thoughtlessly left a purse in the middle of it. 

The Shakespeare in the Park line for King Lear. You can't really tell how long it is, but it was pretty long. My friend and I were the last pair to get in. Excellent show! 

I took a shine to this little guy at the biennial for the Museum of Design. This was actually not my favorite thing there, but for some reason this is the only thing I took a picture of. 

I promise to update more substantively later as I do have some real news and whatnot.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

We escaped!

Last Friday, some friends and I did one of the "Escape the Room" games that have been cropping up in New York lately. For anyone who has ever played the Escape the Room computer games the premise should sound familiar: basically you're locked in a room and have to solve puzzles and clues to figure out how to get out. In the live action version, you have an hour on a big clock, and if you don't get out in the hour, then they just let you out to face your shame. There are also a bunch of different options in a Midtown and Downtown location. I found a number of friends willing to try it, but we ended up in a room with a maximum of 12 people, so there were a few strangers as well.

There are several different games from an office to an apartment to a Victorian mansion. Our room of choice (or rather necessity in terms of scheduling) was the Theater. I won't provide any spoilers lest anyone reading this wants to attempt the game sans cheating, but the gist is the twelve us were shut in a small theater with talking puppets. There were various locks that needed keys or combinations and once opened would provide tools or keys for the next obstacle. As you might imagine from the title of this post, we were successful in escaping. My contribution was pretty much nonexistent, however. Were I leading the team, we would probably still be in there.

I had a lot of fun, but my one quibble with the game was that there were a few too many people. With twelve, there was a lot of chaos. People were finding clues and riddles left and right, and most of the time I had no idea what was going on. Then again, that was possibly my own fault as I pretty much spent the whole time walking in circles and following one red herring doggedly for about 20 minutes. At the end, after we were successful, one of the games organizers walked us through the whole narrative that we had just done. I was amazed at all the things the team had accomplished while I was confusedly following along three steps behind. I was definitely glad for the post-game walk through, and if not for that, they probably could have locked me in there again and I would have no idea how to escape.

My poor escaping skills aside, I would do this again (were I but around for it). It was nice to do something a little different with a few of my favorite people.

Some proud escapees!
Totally unrelated to all of the above, but I must record for my own posterity: On Sunday night, my obsessive signing up for John Oliver tickets finally got me to a live taping of Last Week Tonight. Funny stuff. Also of note, former New York Times movie critic Elvis Mitchell was sitting in front of us. These are just a few of the things I'll miss about living in New York.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Harbor livin'

This past weekend and the first part of this week, I was in Maine enjoying some time with family and some cool coastal breezes far from the city. Our adorable harbor town of choice was Boothbay Harbor where my uncle and aunt have frequently gone in the summer (I don't think we're bourgeois enough to use "summer" as a verb). In fact, I was there as a kid once, although my only abiding memory is of petting a lobster to calm it before it was boiled for dinner. I guess I didn't get too attached. I do also remember seeing a photo of a little kid's train my grandparents apparently took me on. Twenty years later, the train is still there, although my sister and I had perhaps outgrown it. 

I know that many of my readers were on this very trip with me, but hopefully they will still appreciate the photos:

A family photo in front of the wildflowers at Stonewall Kitchen
On our drive up, we stopped in York, Maine as my uncle had recommended Stonewall Kitchen as a nice lunch spot. Stonewall Kitchen is the maker of a ton of jams and sauces, and most exciting they had their entire product line to sample. I made it a mission to try most things (excepting the chutneys), so I ended up not actually being able to eat much of my lunch. Nevertheless, if you're driving up through Maine, I highly recommend this stopover.  
The beauty of the Costal Maine Botanical Gardens
My aunt and uncle spoke highly of the Costal Maine Botanical Gardens (in fact, my aunt even appears in a photo from their official coffee table book!), and after going there, we could see why. Maine has an exceptional climate for flowers, but the gardens were also just really inventive. There was a wonderful children's garden and also a Five Senses Garden with elements to touch, smell, hear, see, and taste (well the taste was more theoretical, as they didn't really encourage eating anything).

Fairy house construction.
At the botanical gardens, there was also a 'Fairy House Village' with sticks and bark for building fairy houses. Some of our group partook. Others just watched and photographed the progress.

Some hardened sailors.
We chose our one very sunny day to go sailing. I had never been sailing before, and I'm not totally sure if what we did qualifies as we were not required to actually do anything other than not stand when the boom was occasionally coming across. There also wasn't a ton of wind so weren't going at too fast a clip. Still, it was a lot of fun to be out on the water and see a few of the islands in the area. And now I can cross sailing off the list of things I've never done. I still need to ride a motorcycle and try water skiing at some point though.

Our sailing captain. 
The town of Boothbay Harbor is quite cute and small enough that we quickly gained our bearings. There were plenty of fudge shops, galleries, and bookshops and one well placed popcorn shop with flavors like Coconut Curry and Bacon Chocolate. The per capita number of ice cream shops in Boothbay Harbor is also very high. Alas, we weren't there enough to try them all, but suffice is say, we didn't go hungry and were especially not wanting for sugar.

This adorable used book store seems to appropriately illustrate Boothbay.
 Naturally, in between fudge and ice cream gorging, we also managed to eat a few lobsters (or lobster rolls in my case, as I don't like the fuss involved).

Sam in his element. For the record, only one of those lobsters was his. 
 Now for some reason during the trip it became an important task to take photos of Sam with all of the bears we saw. It turns out there was a number of bears in Maine. The following is thus a selection of Sam and bear photos. Enjoy!
Sam and Smokey!
Sam at the botanical gardens
Sam at this great microbrewery in Boothbay. The bear is slightly less evident here, but he's back there.
That about wraps up our trip. It was a short one, but a truly lovely weekend with some wonderful hosts. I think I have some much clearer memories this time around. And if not, I'll at least have this blog post full of photos. 
'Til next time, Boothbay Harbor!