Thursday, December 31, 2009

It ain't broke

I'm feeling particularly farsighted this week and am having trouble focusing on close objects, so I'll be getting an eye exam. Apparently, it is also time to get a new pair of glasses. B has never been super fond of my current prized Moscot Nebb clear frames (they don't even make that color anymore), complaining that I look more like a librarian-type. I get it.. it's the ugliness/ironic fashion factor. Nerdiness doesn't go that far in terms of attractiveness. But I have never gotten so many compliments on my eyewear before, from people my age to people my dad's age. Heck, I made it through my own wedding with those things on. Everyone was so used to them it wasn't a big deal, sigh of relief.

And I blanking at what frames to get next. Maybe some thin metal ones, but anything rectangular is too modern for me. Plastic again? But I can't find plastic frames I like better than my current ones. It'll have to be a compromise. To me, there are only three categories of frames: vintage, 1990s/2000s, and modern/futuristic. Vintage has been making a solid comeback for the past decade. Modern is for people who want to really stand out, regardless of fashion sensibilities. Think highbrow designers. And 1990s/2000s is for everyone else not too particular about their frames; they're very "eh" and don't stand out at all, which most people prefer. You all should know that I greatly fear falling into the "eh" group, as I have always been finicky about my personal style. I call for more variety! I never really thought eyeglasses made women seem more attractive, but maybe more professional or intelligent or votable (Sarah Palin?). Since I'm not really aiming for those labels, I like to have fun with it and wear something more playful. Wood frames? Very unique, but probably not. Shurons? Cheap, but I'm going to steer away from the female octagenarian, Atticus Finch, or child molester look.


On another note, B and I saw Up in the Air last night at the Drafthouse. I've been unenthusiastic about watching new movies for the past year, because they have mostly been disappointing. And this one didn't look any better, wearing its "life lessons" heart out on its sleeve in the trailer. George Clooney is all over the box office these days. (True, I also did enjoy Fantastic Mr. Fox). And I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Clooney plays a confident, middle-aged businessman who travels 250-ish days of the year to avoid his home and having to construct a real life. To him, relationships and possessions are heavy baggage that drag you down. As he says in his seminars, "movement is life," which explains why he never wants to get married or have kids, why his condo is barren, and why he make a huge effort to avoid family matters. But then through his interactions with a fresh-faced, perplexing coworker and a potential love interest, he begins to reveal the vulnerability in his views. It's a thoughtful film that had me smirking at some scenes because they truly resonated with me. It made me hurt for older people like the main character who are misanthropes and completely toss aside the idea of relationships. They'll never get that lost time back. Later in the film, Clooney makes the point that if you think of all the best times in your life, you notice that you were never alone. So true.

B practices this philosophy. He is always calling people up to see what they are doing so we can come over and hang out. For the longest time, this really put me off. Why should he constantly be putting himself out there for people who seemed like they didn't give a damn or were impossible to reach? I was personally offended for him. And I was contemptuous of his behavior. He employed this persistence on me that resulted in us dating, and eventually getting married. Having 0 relationship experience, I was more into the supposed rules of romance, informed by cinematic sources, such as making yourself desirable, not seeming too eager, creating a back and forth pursuit, crap like that which B totally rejected. Even if I didn't prefer it at the time, as it was much less thrilling, it definitely worked. It's so hard these days to see people on a regular basis. People are too busy, too lazy, too distracted, etc. But all the more reason to strive for communion with others in this ticking clock of a life. B remarked that at the end of the day, it doesn't matter who called who, but that we all got together and enjoyed ourselves. I think I subscribe to that now. I tend to get pretty stubborn and give up easily on "friends" who are hard to meet up with. But I should really try harder. Life's too short to be so proud. Other people may be hell, but I would argue that being alone is probably even more terrible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Favorite Music, 2009

I did one last year, so I'll do one this year. Here are the songs I'd put on a mix CD for you, if I still did that sort of thing.

Animal Collective / My Girls
They owned the entirety of 2009 with
Merriweather Post Pavilion in January and the Fall Be Kind EP in December. I can't talk about this band anymore. They are in a class of their own, and I hope they continue to put out music for decades.

Grizzly Bear / Ready Able
Another timely young band for which everything has already been said. The hype is merited!
Veckatimest was not only fresh, but lovingly crafted by proficient musicians. I am still enamored with this live studio video of "While You Wait For the Others."

Bill Callahan / Jim Cain, Too Many Birds
Easily one of the best songwriters of this generation. With his rich baritone voice, he sings with a wisdom and tiredness that belies his age.
Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle contains some excellent meandering, thoughtful songs. [I ended up in search of ordinary things / Like how could a wave possibly be..]

The National / So Far Around the Bend
They've been filling in the void left by Sufjan with their gorgeous arrangments, plus a good dose of jaded melancholia. Hard hitting lyrics for listeners on the
Dark Was the Night compilation. [Take a bath and get high through an apple / Wanted to cry but you can't when you're laughing / Nobody knows where you are living / Nobody knows where you are]

Dirty Projectors / Stillness Is the Move
Bizzare mix of Dirty Projector's special brand of off-kilter choral melodies and Mariah Carey. The entire Bitte Orca is original and spectacular.

J. Tillman / Though I Have Wronged You
Forgiveness. See previous post.

Kings of Convenience / Boat Behind, Peacetime Resistance
The new Simon and Garfunkel. Makes me want to learn finger picking real bad. Declaration of Dependence is a welcome release in light of their previous hollow-pop one. They have become a more mature band (which just means that I think a song is sad but I'm not sure why).

David Bazan / Hard to Be
A very relevant album to us at this time. In Curse Your Branches, Bazan deals openly with his struggle with Christianity and God.

Loney Dear / Violent
This was a recent discovery. I had joined the guys in seeing them as SXSW in March, but their live performance in the sweaty dungeon of a 6th street bar didn't stick with me. This song is so full of life, longing, joy. The rest of Dear John is noticeably darker.

Great Lake Swimmers / Pulling On a Line
Can't get enough of these Canadian folkies.

Honorable mentions:

Sally Shapiro / Dying in Africa, Miracle (Remix by Bogdan Irkuk)
Bring on the cheese! It's called Italo disco and I couldn't get enough of it. The remix is pop perfection. The only reason it's in this section is because I easily overdose on these songs.

jj / From Africa to Malaga
I felt guilty for liking this band, because it could be in very poor taste. They sound like Caribbean-influenced easy listening world music. But oddly enough, they're Swedish and also socially acceptable to listen to. It must be one of those hipster irony things.

Vampire Weekend / Horchata
Technically, this album doesn't come out until 2010, but the single was already released. I got over the reactionary anxiety over whether I should like this band and find myself enjoying them more and more.

Cass McCombs / The Executioner Song
Previous post.

This Week:

Le Loup / Beach Town
I don't know much about this band, except that I ignored them this year. And then today I found out that they are up my alley.

Noah and the Whale / Blue Skies
I like this Brit's voice.

Girls / Hellhole Ratrace
This song is quickly growing on me. Saw them at SXSW, revisited now. Lead singer has a fascinating history- he was raised in a cult, escaped, got picked up by a rich dude, was gifted a guitar from an ex-Fleetwood Mac member, started a band.

Telekinesis / Awkward Kisser
Had this song stuck in my head weeks after I first heard it. Like a poppier, riffier DCfC.

Atlas Sound / Walkabout (w/ Panda Bear)
Keep hearing good things about this ugly but talented dude.

Sources: iguessimfloating, said the gramophone, the rawking refuses to stop!, pink teeth, stereogum, tsuru radio, the burning ear, dbf-music, captain obvious, disco workout, chickens don't clap!, regnsky, pop tarts suck toasted, polaroid alla radio, merry swankster

Monday, December 21, 2009


If I had capital, the business I would most definitely start is an affordable classic clothing company for women, focusing on sweaters and jackets. Why is it that "classic" women's clothing is so painfully fugly (LL Bean, Lands End, Orvis), while the mens' variants are timelessly stylish? It's like night and day. It also bugs me to no end that women's trends change so quickly that the whole thing seems like a joke. It has nothing to do with aesthetics, and everything to do with status. What looks atrocious to the average person is actually the latest fad, so only those enslaved to the media and keeping up with it are afforded the satisfaction of seeing "beauty" in it. So many women's clothing designs are not only unflattering to a woman's body (slouchy tops, onesies, high-waisted pants, etc.), but are randomly chosen by the fashion nazis above (gladiator sandals..vom). It's completely The Emperor's New Clothes fable. Lesli over at Archival Clothing is the first woman I've encountered (albeit over the Internet) who passionately feels the same way, rejecting modern women's trends for classic ones. Even more so, as she has started her own line of cycling-influenced bags. And hopefully she will move on to clothing later on..

This sweater was a bit too large for but I got it anyway because I like it and there is nothing remotely similar for women. It is high time for a company to start producing solid non-frilly clothing for women, because the market is definitely there.

Sweater: The Quiet Life, Parka: Steven Alan, Bag: Billykirk, Shoes: Blundstone, Pants: Outlier

Friday, December 18, 2009

Texas (the State, not the School)

Tonight is our company Christmas dinner at Jack Allen's. It's a brand new restaurant, and the main reason it was chosen is because someone knew someone who knew the owner. I had hoped to convinced them to have it in a more centrally located eatery, like Moonshine or Vespaio, but clearly my influence doesn't go very far. However, it is pretty close to where the management mostly lives, near the Y.. Anyway, I did some research and it is the new project of the previous head chef of ZTejas, which I've never successfully eaten at. What caught my eye on their website was the list of local vendors they use. They get serious points for that. Hope B and I will have a decent time. I always feel more at ease in an unfamiliar group setting when he's there, because at least he tries to be entertaining. And white people tend to think he's a big laff.

After an extended period of rumination, I have something I'd like to share. I like Texas. I like the shape. I like Texas pride. I like how it's so big. I'm the type of person who despises where she/he is raised and wants to exit immediately, so this is an odd realization. Perhaps one way to put it is that I like Texas the way some Americans like Western Europe. Austin is like a blue oasis of modern life. I just think it's amusing as an outsider, even though I've lived here my whole life. Also, I think someone should make good Texas memorabilia. I saw a large wooden astray carved in the shape of Texas at my friend's house a while back, and I thought it was really classy. None of that made in China dinky poorly designed gaudy souvenir sort of crap. Also, this is a nice vintage ceramic ashtray too. A recent sighting of Texas flag running shorts made me almost go out and buy them. So awesome. Whenever I move out of here I need to stock up on stuff like this.
I also find Southern drawls endlessly amusing. Like the latest Geico commercial. Every time I laugh at it B looks at me like I've gone insane. And that makes me giggle even harder, since he is especially repulsed by redneck culture.

I've long been harboring a penchant for vintage hiking boots, and 1970's "waffle stompers" with red laces are very in these days. Very tough footwear. I have yet to see anyone in town with them on, probably because it would seem goofy with the weather and terrain we have here. There is also a general fascination with old outdoor technology and designs. Why? Are we as a culture so lazy and unmotivated to create our own trends, content to always look back in tribute?

Danner Mt Light


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Atheistic Pessimism

To the MAX.
Author: Arthur Schopenhauer

Every moment of our life belongs to the present only for a moment; then it belongs for ever to the past. Every evening we are poorer by a day. We would perhaps grow frantic at the sight of this ebbing away of our short span of time were we not secretly conscious in the profoundest depths of our being that we share in the inexhaustible well of eternity, out of which we can for ever draw new life and renewed time.

You could, to be sure, base on considerations of this kind a theory that the greatest wisdom consists in enjoying the present and making this enjoyment the goal of life, because the present is all that is real and everything else merely imaginary.But you could just as well call this mode of life the greatest folly: for that which in a moment ceases to exist, which vanishes as completely as a dream, cannot be worth any serious effort.


That human life must be some kind of mistake is sufficiently proved by the simple observation that man is a compound of needs which are hard to satisfy; that their satisfaction achieves nothing but a painless condition in which he is only given over to boredom; and that boredom is a direct proof that existence is in itself valueless, for boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the emptiness of existence. For if life, in the desire for which our essence and existence consists, possessed in itself a positive value and real content, then would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us. As things are, we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something - in which case distance and difficulties make our goal look as if it would satisfy us (an illusion which fades when we reach it)- or when engaged ill purely intellectual activity, in which case we are really stepping out of life so as to regard it from outside, like spectators at a play. Even sensual pleasure itself consists in a continual striving and ceases as soon as its goal is reached. Whenever we are not involved in one or other of these things but directed back to existence itself we are overtaken by its worthlessness anti vanity and this is the sensation called boredom.


That the most perfect manifestation of the will to live represented by the human organism, with its incomparably ingenious and complicated machinery, must crumble to dust and its whole essence and all its striving be palpably given over at last to annihilation - this is nature's unambiguous declaration that all the striving of this will is essentially vain. If it were something possessing value in itself, something which ought unconditionally to exist, it would not have non-being as its goal.

Full text

Warmest Socks

Today I was looking down at my boots and noticed the top orange band of my SmartWool socks peeking out of them. And it made me smile. When it gets cold like this, I remember that I love socks and wintry fabrics.

I adore the vintage look of these SmartWools. (I also think that socks look best when they're not worn, ha.) As I only own 1 pair of SmartWools, I'm not sure if they're a good value for the price. And, would you buy one pair of socks for ~$20?

SmartWool Mountaineer Socks

Smartwool Popcorn Cable Socks

Alternately, Happy Socks have been all the rage this year. Great, non-cheesy designs, but I'm still not willing to fork up $10-15 for a pair. (Sorry, B!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Literary Quotes

Taken from this newly discovered blog, Slaughterhouse 90210.

“I began feeling the way I imagine an actor or athlete must feel when, after years of commitment to a particular dream…he realizes that he’s gone just about as far as talent or fortune will take him. The dream will not happen, and he now faces the choice of accepting this fact like a grownup and moving on to more sensible pursuits, or refusing the truth and ending up bitter, quarrelsome, and slightly pathetic.”

— Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“It makes me angry sometimes, it’s a visceral thing—how you come to despise your own words in your ears not because they aren’t genuine, but because they are; because you’ve said them so many times, your ‘principles,’ your ‘ideals’—and so damned little in the world has changed because of them.”

Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water

“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”

— Madeleine Albright, Madam Secretary: A Memoir

“We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?”

- Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
(nice explanation of title on Wikipedia)

"I am aware that there is a world out there that functions without regard to me. There are wars and budgets and bombings and vast dimensions of wealth and greed and ambition and corruption. And yet I don't feel a part of that world, and I wouldn't know how to join if I tried."

- Douglas Coupland, Hey Nostradamus!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Arts n Crafts

I am eating peanut butter again. For a while I was getting tired of the ground-peanuts bulk kind, since the paste and oil tend to separate easily and you need to refrigerate it. After scanning the prices, I got Earth Balance peanut butter from Wheatsville. It's no stir and contains flaxseed oil (yay!) and agave syrup. It isn't as delicious as Jif, but it's also much healthier, so it's a win. The only ingredient that made me hesitate was palm fruit oil- is that the same as palm oil, what's responsible for the destruction of rainforests and murder of orangutans? I think it is. Boo. Here's an in-depth review.

Earlier this week, I was so tuckered out from running around town figuring out car details that I would be exhausted upon returning home. It finally put me on the same page as B, as all I wanted to do was zone-out and watch TV. And I happily did so without balking. But now that I'm back to the daily light grind, I'm antsy all over again. Wanting to accomplish much in the evenings to make up for my relative inactivity in the daytime. It's not ideal, but is B's intensive work any better? Sure we all need time to relax after work, but I worry that he may not have enough energy for anything else. Like future kids, for example. And hobbies! : /

Speaking of hobbies, I am surrounded by a legion of talented crafters. They're all stay-at-home moms with young kids from the Vox community. I started hanging out with them because they were the wives of B's friends, and they are pretty cool. Because of them, I picked up crocheting this summer. It wasn't weather appropriate at all! Some of them are in the business of making stylish headbands- I bought a couple for Christmas presents. I'm currently about to start making my first quilt. B's mema (grandmother) is a lifetime quilter, and I never thought I would be up to the task after seeing her gorgeous creations. I still don't really think I can do it since it requires a good deal of precision and repetition, but T invited me to try out her old Singer machine. We will see how that goes. B drove me to a good quilt shop up north for a pattern, but it turned out to be extremely complicated, so I plan on a stitching square blocks together, checkers-style. She also makes purses and cycling caps, and they look good. For a while I let myself feel anxious that I wasn't creating this much this well, but I've realized that I'm not super crafty, and that I shouldn't put irrational expectations on myself to be like other people. Maybe when I'm a bored stay-at-home mom will I be more motivated to get crafty, but right now, I'm content to dabble. No guilt in that.

On Sunday night, post-Antichrist, we went over to the newish 24-hour coffeehouse, Bennu, to meetup with E. It was roomy and had a nice deck area, but I had forgotten that coffeehouses in Austin are prime locations for people watching. The moment I stepped in the door I felt so many pairs of eyes on me. It's really stupid! I didn't really care, but I was guilty of doing this when I was a student. Ultimate representation of urban isolation, a deep desire for connection, and inaction. The tantalizing fantasy of a person or group that never materializes, or is a let down when it does. I hate it when places are scenes to be seen at. It has always made me uncomfortable, and while I previously tried to assimilate, I feel like I can freely reject it now. This environment is partly responsible for the proliferation of 30 and 40 year old adolescents in this town, as you are forced to feel self-conscious because of the ever-present Gaze. Felt similarly at Mohawk last Friday at the crowded Balmorhea show. We went because they are our friends and we really like their music, but it irked us that people had paid admission to stand around and talk over the music. It was a cold night, and I was just wearing my raincoat over a fleece for warmth. Being stylish in the cold is way too much effort for me, but that wasn't an issue for everyone else there. Bleh. The last vestige of my connection to that world is my Moscot glasses, and I've been thinking about getting new ones anyway. Tired of having strands of hair getting painfully caught in the hinges.

Song: Loney, Dear - Harsh Words

Monday, December 14, 2009

Toffee Mouf

Right now, I've got a drawerful of candy at work. I've been exiting the long stage of having candy on the outs. Chocolove makes the best toffee chocolate bars I've ever tasted. First off, I'm not an organic/natural/gourmet/fancypants chocolate bar kind of girl. $3-8 is a pretty penny to pay for chocolate that tastes better than the trash that is Hersheys. I recalling buying Chocolove one time before, for Erin for her birthday one year, because it tickled me that each wrapped had a poem or letter written inside of it. I've eaten my fair share of Skor and Heath bars, and I've also tried Green and Black's, but they all pale in comparison to this one. Toffee- it tastes so good and the base ingredients are butter and sugar. How can something so simple be so divine? I ate half the bar today without even noticing it, so much so that I dropped by Central Market on my lunch break to grab some of their bulk toffee. I was tempted to get it last time, since B was stocking up on gourmet cheeses and cured meats, but I resisted. Turns out that it is not nearly as good at the stuff found in Chocolove. It is moist, and then cavity-inducing sticky at the end. I have the same opinion for bulk items that I have about Whole Foods eatery: so much variety, but lacking in quality. They are not beneath using artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated oils and other crap found in processed foods. I don't recall the first time I ever set foot in a bulk foods section, but it must have been awe-inducing, because I still feel that tingly excitement every time I go back. Endless variety is so impressive, but I really have to question the healthiness and freshness of the items.

Yesterday I did a rare thing: watch two movies in one day. I used to have a lot more patience for sitting in front of a screen, but B's voracious appetite for media quickly outpaced mine in the beginning, so much so that I just watch whatever he wants to watch nowadays. You know how hard it is to compete with him in that way. We watched Secretary and the dreaded Antichrist, back to back. Secretary was pretty weird. I had planned on cleaning the house early on, but the David Lynchian set hooked me in. I definitely did not expect to watch a touching movie about an S&M relationship. Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as Lee, a young woman recently discharged from a mental hospital who finds work as a secretary for an "eccentric" lawyer. Eccentric as in prone to mood swings where he is soft and kindly one minute, and then unexplainably frosty the next. So they begin to have a dominant/submissive professional relationship at work, and it is interesting to see how that plays out later in their personal lives. It is a daring movie that tries to give credence to a sexual preferences previously defined outside the boundaries of normalcy. One note, Lee is shown as a cutter (I couldn't watch those scenes!). After she begins her relationship with her boss, she no longer cuts herself. But was she merely replacing self-abuse with sexual abuse? I hope that the underlying issues behind her cutting habit were dealt with, as I'm not sure hurting yourself in any context is healthy.

Then there was Antichrist. Disturbing promo image, huh? It's a story about a grieving couple who, after the accidental death of their young son, go off to their private cabin in the woods to find healing. Then the wife (the lovely Charlotte Gainsbourg) loses her marbles and becomes perversely dangerous. First off, I had no intentions of watching this after hearing it labeled shock-cinema, but somehow B convinced me to. It didn't really shock me because I made sure to hide under the covers during the two massively gory scenes. The movie was saturated with color and also darkness, especially when showing the main characters. And not to mention generous with scenes of graphic, depressing sex. There was a heavy emphasis on the grotesqueness of nature and animal life. I came away visually impressed, but unmoved. I think I would have probably been very bored if I wasn't on the edge of my seat the whole time preparing to be treated to a horrific scene. It is quite easy to brush off this sort of movies as gore for gore's sake, but it wouldn't be fair to do that to this one. I know this story means something, as the director Lars von Trier made it in the midst of depression, but I'm just not sure what.

Image sources: slash film, daily poetics

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best pack

I crudely designed my "dream" backpack using a free online drawing tool. It's maddening trying to draw with a mouse, so that is why this looks awful. The whole thing would be pretty small and sit close to the back, 500 cubic inches or less. With one main pocket and one small pocket. Camelbaks were my inspiration, and I thought about getting the smallest one, but taking the hydration pack out of it would render a lot of the original design useless. Also, small-sized Camelbaks seem to be very skimpy on durability and padding. The material would be Cordura, thick, rigid and sturdy. It would include a removable back padding insert.

1 Bungee cords for a light jacket
2 U-lock holster, a la Seagull, for them larger u-locks like mine
3 The top flap would fold down against the front and attach to velcro. (This may be problematic if there is clothing in the cords, but whatever). Or it could be a small roll top. I just don't like the full long flaps of the Chrome backpacks.
4 Thick key rings on both straps for easy access (my favorite detail of my current Chrome dually pack)
5 Small bottom zipper pocket for tools, tubes, etc.

Now if only I could sew this myself, that would be awesome. Because nothing of the sort exists on the market. The only other pack that has a similar aesthetic is this one, but neoprene is not breathable at all, the amount of padding is questionable, and it sort of makes you look like a turtle, or someone who is a wearing a bulletproof vest backwards.

Song: Lindsay Brohan - Javelin

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hello, Mazda3

After 2 long hours at the dealership last night, we drove out of there with a 2005 Mazda 3 hatchback in excellent condition. I had been dreading the final stage of the car buying process, as we had a downright awful experience last time at Champion Toyota. Sneakiness, dishonesty, and oodles of pressure were applied previously, and it did not help that both of us were so obviously inexperienced and thus easily manipulated. This time around, we prepped ourselves, and made sure it didn't happen again. As soon as we portrayed that we were firm on our choices and knew what we were doing, the salespeople didn't give us too much trouble.

B loves the car! I like it too, and it would be inaccurate to say that I can love a car that I can't even drive. It's a manual, so I should probably learn sometime from a non-family member. The color and paint job is really beautiful, and it's definitely a much nicer car than we ever expected to own at this stage in life. As much as we loved the Scion, we both feel much safer in this. And the trunk space is enormous! Helpful for IKEA trips in the far future. B was itching to drive it around more last night, but if you noticed, the clouds had descended on Austin. There was only 30-40 feet visibility, which is crazy foggy. It felt like you were inside a humidifier when you stepped outside.

After that we accomplished that massive task, it was pretty late, neither of us felt like cooking, so we went over to New Oriental Market for some grub. Initially, I considered being offended by the name, but the market is run by Koreans who just named it themselves. At $5 a plate for Korean food in the attached restaurant, it may very well be the best deal in town. And it's a lot of food, too. Can't forget to mention the free broth/soup, and the handful of fermented, steamed and/or marinated banchan dishes that come with each meal. It's a stellar avenue for familiarizing yourself with the cuisine, as none of the dishes are too exotic. Usually we stop by the fridge for imported canned sodas, coffees or juices. I've been on a McCol kick- it's barley Cola. Pretty rad retro design too.

Been laying off on the natural craze lately. But, I have to make one comment about green dish soap. They are wretched! We bought two expensive kinds of "natural" dish soap and washing the dishes was agonizing. The oil never really left the dishes. Watch out for the offerings of J.R. Watkins and Earth Friendly. I recently read about a new line of non-toxic cleaners called Better Life that I'd like to check out. Walgreens has them in stock, which shocked me, since Walgreens specializes in conventional supplies and a lot of cheap, off-brand, made-in-China paraphernelia. It really is an odd store- I should know, as I have spent way too many 15 minute segments wandering around waiting for my film to print or prescription to be filled. Anyways, the line was started by these two dads concerned about their new childrens' well-being in the house. (No, they're not a couple or gay.) Here's a radiant review. I'm particularly interested in the floor cleaner, as my allergist advised that I stop using my vacuum on the hardwoods and wet mop. (But if you have to vacuum and you have allergies, keep out of the room for at least one hour so the dust can settle.) Well, on second thought, I might as well stick with white vinegar as the most economic and safe option. After I finish my bottle of Clorox Green Works.

On Monday, after a 2.5 hour test involving 40 or so pricks and 30 needles, I was informed that I was highly allergic to dust mites, cat dander, and a slew of pollens. Western Cedar, Mountain Cedar, Juniper, Mountain Oak, Bermuda Grass, Ragweed.. The unfortunate truth is that there are pollens I am allergic to every month.. so I might as well never go outside and keep the windows closed. I also learned that dust mites live in bedstuffs and that I have to get special encasings for my mattress, duvet, and pillows. Oh, and also wash the duvet cover, sheets, and pillowcases once a week in 140 degree water. Still trying to figure out what thermometer to use to test the hot water setting on the washer.. And "no pets in the bedroom." We've tried that the past few days, but Snorri is really hurt by this and mews pathetically all morning outside the door. I'll probably also get some anti-dander shampoo for the cats. Basically, my life just got a good deal more inconvenient, if I choose to follow this advice. An effective but stupidly expensive option is to get allergy shots. It's something like twice a week for 6 months, and then a more spread out schedule for 5 years. And it's like thousands of dollars. That's not an option for me, but it would be nice to be able to breathe clearly one day. My mom suggested that I look into natural/herbal remedies. Maybe. B is pretty skeptical about alternative medicine, and I must say that his skepticism has rubbed off on me.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Goodbye, Scion

It was a quiet rainy evening on Sunday. Instead of just plopping down on the couch to watch yet another TV show, we went out for a night drive. With no real destination in mind, we meandered around 2222 and 360. We stopped at Mount Bonnell and tromped through a few trails in the dark. Then we got the ever-windy Redbud Trail. On the first curve, B understeered, then oversteered to correct it, then way oversteered and we plowed straight into the Westlake United Methodist Church sign. We were not hurt at all, despite the fact that the airbags both went off. After a lot of waiting in the rain, getting a tow truck to come out, talking to the police, getting a rental the next day and getting ripped off, finding out that we have to tow it to another shop, we found out our poor Scion is totaled. And we've only had it for three months. On top of that, the gap insurance I purchased through the Toyota dealership in town did not carry over after I refinanced the loan. And, the settlement is actually lower than the payout on the car mostly because we paid too much for the car in the first place (due to ignorance and getting swindled by salespeople), so instead of ending up with extra money, our down payment pretty much goes down the drain and we owe an additional amount (the gap) on the loan. Very, very uncool.

We found a Mazda3 hatchback at the local Mazda dealership in our price range, so we're probably going to get it. It's funny, but I've been infatuated with that car for years, ever since it came out. It is much sturdier, faster, heavier, and overall better than the Scion. Thankfully, I didn't have to pay for another rental car today, because our friend Dallas let us borrow his car. It's been a whirlwind these past two days getting the paperwork completed and going back and forth between the auto shop, rental agency, credit union and the dealership. I went back to Flamingo Automotive this morning to get a rental car (only $25/day), but they had none available, so I biked instead. I'm pumped that my water-repellent (vs water-resistant) raincoat is getting put to good use. I was toasty and warm on my bike except for my face and fingers, which were wet and freezing. And then the whole rain on glasses thing is super annoying as well.

Here's to hoping that we'll stop hemorrhaging money soon. But mostly, I am grateful that neither one of us was hurt, and that we have padding money from the wedding to help us get through this. I've been keeping my parents updated, and they said they had to learn the same expensive mistakes. Albeit once for each lesson. Hope we learn too. It's shitty that everyone is out to get your money and if you aren't informed, then they most definitely will.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Not Supertasty

Today was a day for a great realization. We had dinner last night at Shilla, a Korean restaurant, and it was a common meal experience. B ordered a good deal of expensive food and praised each bite, while I, wanting to offset his lavish habits, ordered a small dish and ate to quell my hunger. Specifically, he ordered sushi (smoked salmon, caterpillar roll, spicy tuna) and sundubu jigae, while I got a clear broth soup with pork short ribs and veggies. Afterwards, in our analysis, I looked around the table at our various dishes and the 10 small dishes of banchan and concluded that I was pretty much over Korean food. I had tasted each of the dishes, familiarized myself with their flavors, and found no particular desire to have them again. B, on the other hand, savored and loved his food. He talks about food, its flavors and mouthfeels, when he's eating it. And then he called me a supertaster.

I looked it up this morning, took a few informal short quizzes, and found out that I may be and probably am a supertaster. A supertaster is someone who has more tastebuds than the average person, is put off by strong tastes (like bitter, sugar, fat), prefers "bland" food, and is a picky eater. Part of me was hugely relieved that there is a term to describe people like this. I always thought I was weird and felt ashamed that I could not appreciate a wide variety of foods, since that is somewhat of a prized ability. For example, when people ask me about my preferences, I always offer that I don't really like cheese, except for white cheeses that do not have a strong flavor. Like mozzarella. Or gruyere. I can do pizza or Italian food. As a kid, I remember giving my mother a hard time whenever she tried to get me to eat a grilled cheese sandwich. She probably just wanted me prevent me from developing osteoporosis later on in life, but whenever I was asked to take a cheesy bite, I would gag and be unable to swallow. Pretty soon I made such a ruckus and even cried sometimes that my parents gave up. Same with milk, cream cheese, cheesecake, cream frosting. My brother and I were notorious for scraping the cream clean off our birthday cake slices (and wiping the fork) before even taking a bite. I now wonder why we never considered getting another celebratory dessert after all those years.

This self-label can liberate me from the fear of being abnormal in this category. Now I no longer have to feel guilty when I don't share B's zeal for a dish. Instead of beating myself up for not being receptive to new experiences (I will generally try something even if it looks distasteful), I can just accept that is how I am. I will admit that I used to enjoy eating a lot more, and that dishes I used to love are oddly uninspiring to me now. Like, I never suggest Thai places anymore, because I feel like so many of their dishes are all way too sweet. And I am completely over Mexican/Tex-Mex. Too many years of eating refried beans (hate the texture), forcing down shredded yellow cheese, and stinky flour tortillas. And I have yet to find a good dessert place in town. Usually, to satisfy an inconveniently strong craving, I will go to Quack's in the neighborhood for a quick fix. But their pie fillings are somewhat dry and the crust is eh. I've also tasted too many bad desserts in this town: Whole Foods has a gross, overly sweet dessert section. All their offerings are uninspiring and mediocre, at best. Bountiful Bakery and Sugar Mama's both make sugary bars that I found inedible. The main things going for Tiff's Treats is butter and sugar, neither of which impress me in a cookie. I strongly believe that people should have higher standards for dessert. The only place I have found worthwhile dessert is at Pie Slice (chocolate coffee pie only), and at nicer restaurants in general.

B gave me a look when I recently announced my favorite dish at Mandola's: thin pasta tossed with olive oil, garlic, basil, and fresh tomato. He prefers to go for more flavorful food, such as cured meats, organ meat/offal, strong beers, fish, etc. Tonight we ate at Peche for his belated 25th birthday dinner. It was a three-hour affair. I have to admit that I felt very much out of place there, since everyone was very much moaning from delight over their fine food and mixed drinks, and I thought everything was either OK or not for me. Can't remember the last time I thought a meal was awesome. I really yearn for that sort of culinary enjoyment, but unless some taste buds get killed off or my brain changes, it's not gonna happen. It stinks.

Friday, December 04, 2009

I think I can

Post Linked-In browsing session. Made me feel like shit. I know it's bad to compare, but too late. What can I say? Business and technology titles and jargon that I don't understand greatly intimidate and impress me against my will. Besides the wildly successful connections in my age group, even the artists have hearty profiles with a good deal of experience. At least they're building on something they love, knowing they will eventually get to their destination. While it frustrates me to no end that I am not building on anything, and I don't know where I want to go.

And then I get anxious that I am doing not what I "should" be doing, whatever that is, and it creates more anxiety and prevents me from doing anything, really. Rotten cycle.

Really good new Animal Collective song (left-click). Everyone should listen to them. Their music is enormous: at first challenging, then ecstatically poppy. See 5:04.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Sitting here in the lobby of the Sofia Hotel in San Diego. It's pretty dece. Nora caught some sort of bug today and is not doing too hot, so our fancy dinner plans at Dobson's had to be cancelled. Now I'm waiting to grab some food from the hotel lobby. Apparently the happy hour menu is dine-in only, but I don't really want to rub elbows with two older businessmen in there. Even if it means forgoing housemade sangria.. I trudged through a whole day of Powerpoint presentations. About HR policies and practices. Starting at 8 AM. Just realized that I know very little about my profession. Clearly, they keep me away from all the decision-making. Which is weird that they sent me on this $1200 conference. Shrug.

I have been texting B all day out of pure boredom and loneliness. It feels off not having him around in this new place. Then we could at least laugh at the same things at the same time. Instead, I have to tell him about how I hate groups and hate being forced to network so I attached myself a woman who just came over from Austria, since foreigners are generally less confident and thus nicer, and how I was about to talk to this girl at lunch but then she opened her mouth and sounded just like Sarah Palin, awful northern accent-wise, and how I wore a Gap button-up shirt whose 2nd button (boobs) kept unbuttoning which is why I never wore it anymore but I forgot that, so I was uncomfortable the whole day and nervous about exposing myself.

Alrights, I'm out.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Excellent 4-Day Weekend: Thanksgiving

B and I celebrated a joint Thanksgiving with both of our families this year. After a grueling 4 hour drive with stop and go traffic and multiple pee stops, we arrived in Dallas late Wednesday night. We went to my cousin's house in "Useless" (Euless) Thanksgiving Day and had a lot of super tasty Chinese food, plus a roast turkey. I baked a blueberry crisp the morning of on the fly, since Marie Callendar's refused to hand over a prepaid pie when we tried to pick it up the day before. Inept workers. It was also B's 25th birthday, and my parents bought him a cake and a gift I helped pick out. He wasn't expecting that at all, which I loved. Then we took 121 across town to B's uncle and aunt's house in McKinney. They had been frying turkeys all day and I tried one for the first time. I kept going back for more of that crisp and flavorful skin! The rest of the weekend was uneventful and awesome. B caught up with some of his shows on my dad's big screen HDTV, I reread through some of my college notes for kicks, I learned a song on the harmonica, and ate lots of leftovers. The whole family made a grocery trip together, and although that is generally a boring affair, I was excited to have B along. It is also one of the last few times I'll be able to hang out with my parents for a while, as they have plans to move to China for missions work. We'll see. We went back to Austin on Saturday, after spending the afternoon in downtown McKinney, and had another relaxing day to spend before the workweek started up again. I forced myself to bike in the evening, my first ride in weeks. It was to the Capitol and was moderately difficult because it was windy and lightly raining. I wished my rain jacket had come in already, as my cardigan was not cutting it. It was odd coming home to a super heated house with B sound asleep on the sofa, By Any Means blaring on the telly. Back to inertia.

We spent most of Saturday in downtown McKinney with B's uncle, aunt, and 2 cousins. It boasts a handful of fine restaurants and even a British pub. We went to the local butcher to get some chili bricks to take home. B's uncle boasted that it was made with quality meat cuts, not the crappy stuff. We had already handed over the cash before we found out that the meat wasn't local. Oh wells. We made some yesterday, adding some canned tomatoes and black beans. I didn't take any photos because chili generally looks gross, especially at a low resolution, but it was not bad! Very meaty.

Lazy boy.

Other lazy boy.

B's been making a lot of mulled wine lately. Just simmer a spice packet in cheap wine. He loves that stuff. It is very economical, compared to the craft beers he normally buys.

I'm going to be in San Diego for the next 2 nights and days. HR Generalist conference. Wooh. Hopefully I'll be able to meet up with Nora & Colin tomorrow night. I promised B not to get into too much trouble while I was there, so I won't be roaming the streets at night. I usually like to wander around a city as much as I can when I'm on a work trip by myself. Even if it's suburban awful and doesn't have any sidewalks, like Metairie. I can only take so much cable TV, so we'll see..

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Conscious Consumption

B and I watched the documentary The Corporation last night, and it was long and scary. Basically, corporations have taken over the American economy and are ruining the world. Because they have they masterfully gotten the legal system to consider them "persons," they can get away with bad deeds such as producing too much of an unneeded product, employing advertisements backed by psychological research to get you to buy their products, use child labor, exploit workers by paying stupid low wages, trick the government into OK-ing a product that has been proven harmful, selling the unsafe product, polluting our air and water, taking ownership of natural resources, etc etc. I know I'm not the most eloquent writer, but we've all heard about the irreparable damage done by corporations so large that they have no accountability. Even their "green initiatives" are just a tactic to quell public suspicion, while they carry on with the bottom line: profit. The only two hopes are that capitalists will keep "selling the rope that will hang them" and that the public will act differently against unjust corporations.

Again, as the credits rolled, I found myself wallowing in a pit of guilt. But then B reminded me that feeling guilty does nothing.. it just makes you feel better later after you are done feeling guilty because you felt something. It's true. We then started really examining our lifestyles and started a serious conversation. I was previously really turned off by the green movement, 1- because I didn't feel like it could do any lasting good, and it seemed like the majority of people did not care. And 2- it is so annoyingly trendy- those damn rich middle class yuppies. But if everyone sympathized with point 1 then nothing would ever change. And remove all the trendy baggage and the point is still ever so relevant. What have we, as a couple, done with this burgeoning knowledge?

Food: Thanks to Erin and Andrew, we've made our first married grocery trip to Wheatsville Co-op. I had a membership in college, but the high prices really turned me off, and after that membership expired, I could not bring myself to pay the extra 50 cents to $1 for each item. They've since changed that system, and as a member, you get discounts on certain items. (We are not members.) This trip was spurred by watching Food, Inc., and sleeping in on Saturday two weeks in a row and missing the downtown Farmers Market. We went armed with a purpose- to buy only local produce and meat. I understand that at those health stores, it's the stupendously expensive snacks and drinks that suck your wallet dry. Not a huge problem when you realize that those things aren't really food (meal food), and you should not buy them regularly. To have the comparison of HEB-priced snacks is helpful because it's still fresh enough to cause you enough mental pain to resist paying $5 for a tiny box of crackers.

Analysis: The produce is labeled with state or country of origin. I was disappointed to find that they sold non-organic items, and they also had a pretty small local section. I guess by pretty small I mean that the entire section is not local, woefully. I think a farmers market or planting your garden is the way to go on this one. I found out about a community garden in our neighborhood off 45th and Eilers run by Austin's own Sustainable Food Center. (They're the guys who put on the weekly Farmers Market downtown and at the Triangle.) We're still considering getting a plot- it is $40 a year plus volunteer maintenance. Anyways, back to Wheatsville. The meat section was more impressive. They have a freezer full of a variety of meats from nearby farms, and they are labeled by how far the meat had to travel to get there. We purchased some ground beef, chicken and sausage. The ground beef was something like $8 for half a pound. It sounds insane, but think about it: in what other way are you paying dearly for really cheap meat? Your health. And for those of you who care, the well-being of the animal. It's just not worth it. B was a bit put off bv how little meat we purchased, but after we made burgers, he was more enthusiastic about it. The meat also tasted different to us, as it should. I could not put my finger on it, but it was not bad at all. The burger was pretty great, actually. And I felt good not eating the meat of 1000 corn-fed, antiobiotic-pumped, manure-contaminated cows. In regards to money, we did not spend our entire weekly grocery budget!! Yes, the meat was much, much more expensive. But all we bought was meat, veggies, fruit, yogurt and bread. We're used to "treating" ourselves weekly with real-sugar sodas, chips, bulk section items, anything fun looking that catches the eye. It's good to only buy what we need. I'm happy we have fully weaned ourselves from HEB, and the next grocery I want to check out is even closer, Natural Grocers. I'm proud of B for joining me on this journey, especially since guys can sometimes be "whatever" about food, as long as it tastes good.

Clothing: Still thinking about this one. I'm quite sure the majority of the clothing I own is not sold by socially responsible companies. My new Cheap Monday jeans are made in China. Not good for stimulating the local economy. I get the occasional bargain-priced item from Forever 21. I'm guessing they have egregiously bad labor practices.. why else are the clothes dirt cheap? But girls don't care. And sadly, Urban Outfitters is basically the only place you can get fashion-forward clothing without breaking the bank. But not only are most if not all of their womens' clothes all made in poor Asian countries, they are also not made to last, and they unabashedly steal their looks from high-designers. I've always been very put-off by their shoddy construction, but I begrudgingly keep shopping there for fear of becoming irrelevant, style-wise. I know it's dumb, but it's hard. B and I agree that for now (and this is something he has always done), just wear what we have until we wear it out. This somewhat bleeds into Christmas gift territory, as I like giving my brother clothes as gifts. Instead of the cheap American Apparel cardigan I had been eyeballing from a bulk eBay seller, B and I decided to go with Alternative Apparel (see their Social Responsibility section) instead. Samuel, I hope you are not reading this. I generally like American Apparel because it is plain and made in the US, but I have heard cases of employee mistreatment and yes, sexual harassment.

While it is encouraging to me that one of the current fashion trends is items (hand) made in America, it disheartens me that this is just an impermanent trendy ideal. And that people who wear the same outfits for years and years get their unwanted 15 minutes of crazy bright spotlight, and are never mentioned again.

Regarding the Christmas gift-giving tradition, our extended family has always gotten together and given every kid a gift. I'm still considered a kid. The problems with that are: The economy has gone down and gifts have become cheaper and shoddier to cope. -> Everyone gets the same non-personal gift. I have no issue with my family wanting to spend less on unnecessary gifts. This year, I want to try to encourage our family to toss that tradition and instead, draw names out of a hat and just buy one gift for one person in your extended family. That way, you can put more thought into a gift and that person can get one way cool gift versus ten made-in-China useless ones.

Pets: B brought a good point that if we ourselves are paying attention to what we consume and what companies we support, we should also rethink what we buy for our cats. The Purina stuff we get them is just regular cat food from HEB, and I don't know where the ingredients come from. Clay litter is useful in eliminating odors and clumping, but it is also definitely awful for the environment and for you. Manufacturers employ the method of strip mining to extract clay, thereby destroying acres and acres of land. And the nasty dust in the litter contains a carcinogenic ingredient. We'll probably check out Wheatsville's pet section for alternatives soon.

House: Besides the oft-recommended turning off lights when you're not using them, taking shorter showers, washing clothes in cold water, turning off power strips, and fixing window and door leaks, there is still a lot to be done. Like toilets. 1 flush uses up 1 gallon of clean water. Not only that, we mix our waste with drinking water, which we then have to spend a lot of energy purifying. It's a really inefficient system, especially since our waste could be naturally useful when put in the ground. It's great that some places have installed toilets capable of half-flushes (for when you pee). But I think that toilets in general are not sustainable. It's a quick way to get rid of something gross and never see it again. Think about the hidden consequences. Check out this Boston Ideas article for more on this topic. Still thinking about this one. Can we be sustainable in a house turned green, or do we have to revamp the whole idea of a house? Fortunately for us, people are thinking about this here and there are quite a few "green" houses in town, especially on the Eastside. I'd like to learn more about them.

It's a process for sure. And for the most part, we can only try to do better, not best. And stop buying so much stuff from here on out. We just got a wonderful new couch last weekend from IKEA. The loveseat was not cutting it for us, since we could not both lay down together on it without poking each other in the face or back. It's been great having a larger couch, but IKEA is a large corporation.. This Inhabit post seems to think IKEA has commendable environmentally-friendly practices and rules. It sounds good, but still, the whole idea of a corporation is not sustainable.. Again, solid products that are also awesomely cheap should spur you into doing more research. I know I will be. This is why I'm pleased that we built two of our tables. It was super fun, challenging, and ultimately rewarding. Handmade custom furniture can be very pricey, but it doesn't have to be.

Still working through the whole money thing, as in "how much money should I spend on products that are better for the world?." Why are most products manufactured under socially responsible means so expensive? Are you paying more for the good "green label" feeling? Because right now, I don't see how those alternatives are a true option for most people. Then there's the argument that we should own less in general- there is no need for a closetful of clothes. True. Fashion may be an enormous ruse created by companies to drive purchases, but it's so compelling. For many people, it's an integral part of their identity. I can definitely identify. Anyways, sorry for the gargantuan post. I'll be thinking about this more from now on. Not because I really want to (it's really, really inconvenient!), but because I am compelled to. Some coworkers I talk to about the industrial food issue can sympathize, but throw their hands up and refuse to think about it further because they feel helpless. But I don't think that we are helpless, especially as we are so privileged. Terrible norms have always existed in history, and when people worked to change them, sometimes they succeeded. B and I half-joked about how we weren't going to have kids because people are awful for the world. Still working on a good answer to that one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Glenn Tipton

Cassius Clay was hated more than Sonny Liston
Some like K.K. Downing more than Glenn Tipton
Some like Jim Nabors, some Bobby Vinton
I like 'em all

I put my feet up on the coffee table
I stay up late watching cable
I like old movies with Clark Gable
Just like my dad does

Just like my dad did when he was home
Staying up late, staying up alone
Just like my dad did when he was thinking
Oh, how fast the years fly

I know an old woman ran a donut shop
She worked late serving cops
Then one morning, babe, her heart stopped
Place ain't the same no more

Place ain't the same no more
Not without my friend, Eleanor
Place ain't the same no more
Man, how things change

I buried my first victim when i was nineteen
Went through her bedroom and the pockets of her jeans
And found her letters that said so many things
That really hurt me bad

I never breathed her name again
But I like to dream about what could have been
I never heard her calls again
But I like to dream

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Death N TX

I don't bike too much anymore.. I should. I tried working out by biking alone after work, but it was surprisingly boring. No destination, no riding partners, no adventure. That lasted a day. B has been riding on an exercise bike at work, and he has developed a good routine. Last weekend, we rode a bit on the East Austin Studio Tours. (And yes, I did get to check out the Iona Handmade Books. So lovely, but unjustifiably expensive..) But it was mostly socializing; that's how group family rides tend to turn out. Exercise in general bores me. There has to be a larger goal or some sort of game involved, which is why I've always enjoyed playing team sports. In fact, I've started playing ultimate frisbee with B's old crew on Saturday afternoons. I'm always happy to participate in healthy competition, especially if getting my heart rate up is incidental. The first time I played, I was pretty out of shape and went for 2.5 hrs.. I was sore for nearly a week afterwards! But I healed just in time for the next game. Apparently bicycling only works a small set of muscles!

This is a really minor nitpicky point, but I am still searching for the best way to carry stuff while riding. I have an old big Kryptonite U-lock, which is not small enough to fit into a back pants pocket.
The orange hipster mini u-lock I bought out of vanity last year was so small that I had a good deal of trouble locking my bike up each time. B was pretty frustrated from using brute force to help me lock it up, and I eventually sold the expensive and wildly impractical item.

I've been using a Chrome Dually backpack for more than a year, and it gets the job done . It's better for larger loads, as it is 1000 cu in. But most of the time, I just need a place to put my u-lock, keys, wallet, camera and water bottle. And most of the time, most of the bag is basically empty. Furthermore, it is an art rearranging bulky items so that they don't stab you in the back or cause discomfort after riding some time.

A few months ago, I purchased a classic Carradice saddle bag in an effort to switch over. At the time, I was really won over by the new-old-traditional accessories trend. It was handmade in England- definitely a looker. It was pretty heavy though, and I didn't like the extra weight added to my previously stripped down bike. And the leather straps, as cool as they looked, were a pain to buckle/use. I had also purchased a quick release system for it, so I could take it off after I got off my bike. It was quite unwieldy though, without having a strap or bag handle. It was OK but one night I used it, I lost my wallet. And this was the night before my flight to Hong Kong. Lots of trouble and scrambling ensued over the loss of my credit card for identification, and I had to buy a whole other plane ticket.. So I no longer use that bag. Cursed!

A long while back, I bought a Zugster hip pack to replace an old messenger bag. Out of vanity again. I think I only used it once, as clamping a heavy bag to my hip proved to be very uncomfortable. Some people I know have front or rear baskets, but that just runs into the weight issue. Panniers are getting more popular, but that is also more weight, and makes more sense for a commuter. B's small Chrome messenger bag is a good size and works well for him, but I could never go back to messenger bags- they smash your boobs! Maybe I should just get over feeling weird that I don't fill my backpack up usually. It feels odd that it flaps around, but until someone makes a half-size pack (specifically for women, maybe?).. And hopefully lesson learned, all the accessories I bought in the past because they looked cool, well they have not ever worked out. Function over form!!

Speaking of pretty bags, these are pretty and I love the Texas mention. Glad to know that good things can come out of Dallas. That means there is hope for me, right??

Death and Texas Etsy site

Image sources: bike tires direct, rakuten, calhoun cycle

Friday, November 13, 2009

Art of the Trade

Lately I've become enamored with handmade trades. Frankly, I'm very disinterested in working for a large business or corporation, learning about its inner workings and using that knowledge for my own gain. I don't know anyone who truly enjoys working in this kind of environment. Who really loves Microsoft Excel with a passion? Who loves filing tons of paperwork? Or being on the phone for hours each day? None of that is intrinsically fun or rewarding to most people. Sure, there's money in it, but how often do people buy into the idea of money over time, enjoyment, and other people? Far too often here in the US. B and I were talking last night, and we were both be very happy if our income stayed about the same our whole lives (only accounting for increases due to standard of living, and for kids). We have more than enough for ourselves. There are deeper, non-monetary experiences to be found elsewhere.

Recently, I've looked into and learned a lot about two tiny companies whose products I like and whose history I respect. Both use traditional craft techniques to create extremely durable goods.

BillyKirk is a brother duo in New Jersey that handmakes leather goods. They have been in business since 1999, but are only now starting to make huge waves in the fashion industry. I checked out their wares a few years ago, and was particularly drawn to this bag, but wrote them off as another expensive accessory maker. In actuality, their story is quite inspiring. They were apprenticed under a leather maker for three years, and they get all their leather from the Amish communities nearby. Their products are well-crafted and made to last a long time, if not forever. Funny how durability comes and goes as a trend, since inherent to the definition of a trend is disposability. Even though American-made rustic goods are extremely trendy now, it really speaks to the Bray Brothers' credibility that they are truly committed to and love their work and have been doing it for many years. Read more of their story of origin here.

I first heard about Iona Handcrafted Books this morning, actually, when I was scrolling through the E.A.S.T. list of vendors. I did the whole tour last year on bike, and although it was fun, I don't feel much need or energy to do the same this year. Still, I had time to kill at work and the "handcrafted book" company name caught my eye. Going to her website, I saw some astonishing bound leather books with handmade paper. I was especially moved by the beautiful watercolor drawings in the gallery. An Austinite named Mychal makes all these books by herself! Her story, starting from how she learned her old craft from an Italian bookbinder, is also really inspirational. Totally speaks to finding out what you love, working hard at making and promoting them, and reaping the rewards (albeit after possibly many years- she started in 1992). I love that her products are purchased by people all over the world, and also that her studio is participating in a massive community art event.

When I spoke wistfully of the trade, B reminded me that business is involved as well. Except that you have to do it all yourself, and not rely on an organization to work out all the kinks for you. Just because you have a good product doesn't mean that you will do well. Very true. So many people sell amazing (and awful) handmade items on Etsy, yet most of them probably don't make a living doing that. Seems like that is the more common situation. Hmm, more thought needed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You are what you eat

B and I finally watched the documentary Food, Inc. last night. It doesn't really compete with other blockbusters films as being equally exciting or mindlessly entertaining, but we felt like we needed to see it. And I'm glad we did. We were planning on having burgers tonight, but I decided I didn't want to do that anymore. Did you know that up a burger patty is made up of up to 1000 different cows? Cows that are being fed corn (get fatter faster), pumped full of antibiotics, and stand all day in their own manure? And their hides eventually get plastered with manure, and are skinned when slaughtered, but the whole process is so fast that they aren't all cleaned off properly? Sick. Yes, this is the meat we buy at the supermarket, and why it is so cheap. It also scares me that so much of our food is made of GMOs now, and that the food industry is not required to label items as such. I'm not going to go into all the details about this movie, since other reviews summarize it much better. But by the time I finished the doc, I had sworn off meat, vegetables, all grocery stores, processed foods, and America. Again, it all boils down to more profit and complete power. Funny how that works, since the people in control are eating the same food we are.. Idiots. But the ones who suffer the most under this system? As always, the poor. Cheap food is awful for you. Why is a fast food hamburger cheaper than a head of lettuce? The film states that 1 in 3 Americans born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. That is insane. Corn and soybean, which are both heavily subsidized by the government, is found in 90% of our food products. The food industry is slowly killing us all. Another desperately timely reason to champion economic equality, à la Sweden and Japan. Are we living in dire enough times?? Everything is not OK.

I hope we're not all mutated, disabled, or dying horrible deaths in the next few decades because of the "food" we have been fed. I'm starting to think that the only people who can come of out this unscathed are the ones living off the land, growing their own vegetables, raising their own animals, and rejecting all industrial food and products. (The Amish..?)

As always, you cannot rest on your laurels by only buying food with the "right" labels. They are intentionally mindboggling and misleading to conscious consumers. Example. Also, aside from false labeling, organic food isn't necessarily better for you, and it's quite bad for the environment, due to all the transport costs and emissions. Buy produce in season! In all, B and I were thoroughly disgusted, and we will try hard to not fall back on old convenient ways of getting food. We're going to check out the Austin Farmers Market and the Sunset Valley Farmers Market this weekend. (Tips on how to save money at farmers markets.)

Oh yea, and maybe watch out for BPA in canned foods. Consumer Reports did the test.. odd that the cans weren't initially tested by the manufacturers, huh? Oh wait- no surprise there.

If you are not familiar with the industrial food battle, please watch this film!