Monday, February 24, 2014

My love/hate relationship with Austin

It is no secret that I have struggled to embrace life in Austin. The summers are hell. It's in Texas. And it's a big city.

But. But. There are so many aspects of our life here I love. I know I will forget the positives in a few months when the heat of the summer is upon us, so I best write it out now while my heart is full of love for this place.

So here it is. What I love, and hate, about life in the Texas capital.


The winter. It's blissful. The past two weeks have been in the mid-seventies, sunny, breezy. Perfect park weather. Perfect biking weather. Perfect everything weather.

The food culture. There are farmers' markets at least four days a week all year round. We live less than three miles from four urban farms. There is a local, seasonal, bulk only grocery story. A cooperative grocery with two branches. More food trucks and restaurants that I could ever hope to try. Even though we rarely go out to eat, we are glad to live in a place that has so many options, many of which are focused on local and seasonal foods.

Our backyard. HP spends at least an hour every day exploring our backyard and the parkland beyond. We usually meet Neil in the driveway on his way home from work. I'll take Neil's bike inside and work on dinner while they head out back to run down the path, throw rocks in the creek, climb the hill to the bridge, and explore the boulders at the bottom of the stream below. Besides the obvious benefits for engaging a toddler, we have space to hang up our laundry, grow a garden, and look out our back windows and see nature, rather than concrete.

Our house. The major repairs are almost done and we will soon be able to kick back and enjoy the fruit of our labors. It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. The size of our house is just right for our family (1300 sq ft including an enclosed garage we use to store our bikes, tools, strollers, etc.). If anything I would say it is slightly too big. The mortgage is affordable, which in Austin's real estate market is becoming harder to come by.

Community. After a low point last summer, I stopped making excuses for not getting out of the house and made socializing a priority. It has paid off and I am significantly happier now than I was a year ago. Austin is a young city full of transplants, which makes it easy to meet people once you reach out.

Neil's job. He likes the work he does, has coworkers he enjoys being around, and is making a meaningful contribution to the world. It's hard to complain about that combination.


The summer. I am terrified of the summer. Yesterday HP and I were down by the creek while Neil worked on replacing outlets in our house. We had on long sleeves to block out the sun, hats, and suncreen. The heat was uncomfortable. Not unbearably so, but still a notch above pleasant. It's February

The size. It's a big city and we are not big city people. Austin is not a dense place; if it were, the large population would be less of a problem. Almost anywhere we want to go requires a minimum three mile bike ride, usually closer to five or six, and sometimes more than ten. Not terrible, but not amazing. Besides the inconvenience of a large land area, the air quality is terrible and borderline non-compliant.

Cost of real estate. Ideally we would live in a more central, walkable neighborhood. I love our house and yard, but I wish we could walk down the street to the library or to grab a coffee with friends. Simply put, we are priced out of those neighborhoods. I try and pretend we're not and frequently browse the listings, but when I stop and do the math I have to admit that it's not going to happen.

The politics. I know crazy stuff happens in all parts of the country. My native Missouri (home of the infamous Todd Akin) is no exception; I am always horrified when I read the local newspaper and discover what the state legislature is up to. But Texas is its own special brand of crazy. Austin is somewhat isolated, but we are still governed by Rick Perry and have to follow the curriculum decided by Texas State Board of Education. (If you had any doubts about the incompetence of the Board of Education, please watch this documentary.)

The lack of nature. There are some beautiful parts of the city and state, but it's no Oregon or even Arkansas. I miss having beautiful hiking trails and mountains nearby. There are always vacations...

Austin is likely not our "forever" place, but even taking into account the negatives, it's a good place to call home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Life lately

I would start out by stating how crazy my life and how I have had no time for blogging to explain my lack of recent posts.  But that would be a lie.  Here's why I've really been away:

(1) I've been reading. Every night I think about all the things I want to blog about, but when nap time rolls around, I pick up my book instead of writing. There are worse ways to spend the afternoons and I can't say I feel guilty about it. My favorite books from the past month? Divergent, A Partial History of Lost Causes, and the Family Fang.

(Can we also talk about how ridiculous the Austin Public Library is for only allowing users five holds? Because five holds is not enough. Especially when I have to wait MONTHS for popular books. Example: I am number 242 in line for the Goldfinch. Two hundred and forty-two. There are 42 copies, but it will still take several months before I make it to the top of the list. Ugh.)

(2) Every time I start a post my phrasing feels all off, my word choice is awkward, and I give up before I have halfway through.  My answer to that is that I am going to hit publish and stop worrying about it. Because I like looking back on old posts and seeing where I was and what I was thinking.

So here I am. Writing.

This means you can look forward to many more posts of this nature with no general theme and lots of rambling.

The garden is sad. Very sad. I did manage to plant for the late winter/early spring the weekend before last. My seeds are old though, so the germination rate is likely to be low. The radishes have sprouted, but the rest of the garden looks just as barren as before. We do have cilantro going strong if that counts for anything.

The weather has been amazing for the past week. Absolutely gorgeous.  Mid-seventies. Sunny. Perfect for going to the park and wearing the toddler out. I thought I could trade the awful summers here for a real winter, but I have realized that may not be true. It doesn't get below freezing often, but being trapped in the house on the couple of days where it has been too cold to bike somewhere was ... challenging with a toddler. And yes, I know I have nothing to complain about and that when it is cold here it's not even that cold. Let's just ay I have become much more sympathetic to parents of small children who live in cold climes.

We have been waking up in the five o'clock hour for the past month. Usually the first half of that hour.  Usually the first quarter of that hour. I am a morning person and am happy to be up by six. Quarter till would even be okay.  But five? It's a little much. When we try and lay down with him to coax a few more minutes of sleep into all of our lives, he now sits up and emphatically says "no! no, mama! up! go! go!" When I ask if he wants to get breakfast he sweetly says, "o-kay!"

We (finally) closing in on our house projects. The bathroom is almost done. I have been slowly chipping away painting the trim in the main room. The front doors still need to be painted, quarter round needs to go up, and any number of other smaller projects. But we are getting there. Can you imagine how much free time we will have on the weekends when large projects aren't looming over our heads? I can. It will be glorious.

My birthday is next week and Neil is taking off work so we can spend the day together. It will involve breakfast tacos and tamales, time at the park, good cheese, and a cup of coffee and a good book while the boys have their own adventure. We even hired a babysitter for the evening so we can check out a new restaurant on the eastside. I love birthdays.

My child is still sleeping right now, which means he has been down for three and a half hours. Morning at the park with friends for the win. What was not a win was discovering my bike had a flat tire just as we were preparing to leave the house with HP already strapped in and ready to go. Once it became apparent that I was not going to be able to find the source of the leak immediately, we switched to my other bike and the trailer, so no harm done. Fixing it is my project for the evening. Not my favorite task.

And he's up! Off to make frittata for dinner.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best books I read in 2013

Last year I complied a list of the best books I read in 2012, and it is time to do the same for 2013.

In January, I set a goal to read 52 books by year's end.  I know the number of books read is an incredibly arbitrary measure.  Some books take a few hours, others take weeks to finish.  The point of setting the goal wasn't about the number, but more of a way to encourage me to make reading for fun a priority.  I have always loved to read, but if I'm not careful, I'll use my free time to read blogs, check Facebook, and catch up on my favorite shows.  There is nothing wrong with those pastimes, but balance is key and I know I am a happier person when reading is a regular part of my life.

I achieved my goal and ended up reading 54 in total.  I had a long lull in June and July where I only read one book over that two month span, but in November and December I was averaging two a week.  Here are my top ten, listed in the order I read them:

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
I was getting tired of reading uninteresting, poorly written memoirs, but Taylor restored my faith in the genre.  Leaving Church follows her move from leading a large Episcopal congregation in Atlanta to a small church in the countryside, and her eventual decision to leave the ministry altogether.  I could relate to her musings on the role of church in the life of both the community and the individual.  As someone who is taking a break from organized religion, this was perfect dose of spiritual stimulation.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Strout's prose is simple and at times sparse, but her characters come to life.  This book is a series of short stories, each of which features Olive Kitteridge.  In some stories she is the main character, in others she only appears briefly.  We learn more about Olive--the good, the bad, and the human--with each chapter.  A beautiful portrayal of life in a small Maine community, it's obvious why she won the Pulitzer.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
This year I read Kaling's book, Tiny Fey's Bossypants, and Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman--all of which are compilations of autobiographical humorous essays.  Kaling's was by the far the funniest and most relatable and had me laughing out loud.  It far exceeded my expectations.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
This is a reread, but it was a different experience now that I have a child.  Bronson reviews the research--and debunks common myths--on topics such as language acquisition, lying, praise, and racism. 

The Call by Yannick Murphy
A novel that follows the life of a Vermont veterinarian as he tries to find the person responsible for the hunting accident that injured his son.  Yannick tells the story entirely through his notes on the visits (or "calls") he makes as a vet.  Unique, and effective, way to tell the story.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Non-fiction that reads like fiction.  I am still trying to make sense of my time in The Gambia and what it means to be an American in a world filled with staggering inequality.  Boo's work gave me a new opportunity to engage in those questions.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
By the end of the year I was burnt out on contemporary fiction that left me depressed about love, life, and marriage, but this one still made the cut.  Wolitzer follows the lives of six friends who met at a summer camp as a teenagers.  This one was of those books that I could not stop reading once I started. 

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
A compilation of advice columns written by "Sugar."  Once I got over Strayed's pseudonym (Sugar?  Really?), I was sold.  I was moved to tears multiple times by her compassionate, funny, and insightful advice. 

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A well-written young adult fantasy book (dragons!) with a strong, complex, female heroine.  I am looking forward to the next installment of the series.

The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce
If I had to pick only one book to recommend, this would be it.  I loved Joyce's earlier work--Quiverfull--and she has managed to do it again.  Informative and well-researched, this book showed me how much I have bought into the cultural narrative of adoption as a "win-win" situation when the reality is so much more complex.  Fascinating.

Honorable Mention (also in the order read):

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Song of Ice and Fire (Books 1-5) by Geroge R.R. Martin
Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose 
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

I have several books on the docket for the next few weeks, but am in need of good fiction recommendations.  As much as I love non-fiction, I get burned out if I don't regularly mix-in quality fiction.  I enjoy all kinds--contemporary, young adult, fantasy, and historical.  Basically anything but chick-lit (though I will indulge on rare occasions).

Here's to a year filled with good books!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life lately: Happiness edition

Things have been good lately.  Really good.

On Sunday we hosted Neil's work Christmas party.  It started with a group bike ride on the trail, then we returned to make pizzas for dinner and munch on an obscene amount of delicious snacks and treats.  After dinner, we gathered around the fire pit in the backyard talking and drinking wine out of mugs.

Yesterday the high was sixty-eight.  Sixty-eight!  Today is turning out to be just as gorgeous.  The summer here is miserable, but the winter is blissful.

Snapshots from yesterday:

HP and I met up with a friend and her little girl at the park in the neighborhood.  Two hours of outdoor fun.

After nap time, we played in the backyard and creek.  Dirt + water + rocks + sticks = hours of toddler entertainment.

HP helped me make pumpkin pizza dough for homemade pies, which mostly involves him kneading it for a second and then sticking a big hunk in his mouth.

I attended a yoga class in the neighborhood--always a highlight of my week.  I leave feeling calm, centered, and realigned.

The whole day slow, peaceful, and lovely.

Tomorrow we leave to visit our families for Christmas.  First stop, Missouri.  Second stop, Arkansas.

I hope to write some over the next two weeks, but if I'm honest with myself, I know I probably won't.  I'll be too busy relaxing with our families, catching up with old friends, and generally enjoying the last two weeks of the year.

See you in 2014!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Introversion, what it isn't

This article popped up in my reader a few weeks ago.  It bothered me.  At first, I couldn't figure out why.  After all, it was just one person describing her experience as an introvert.  But really, it wasn't her experience as an introvert.  It was her experience, and she happens to be an introvert.  Introversion is not a one-size-fits-all explanation for behavioral quirks.  As an introvert myself, I bristled at her words.  Here's why:

Introversion is not social anxiety.

Introversion is not shyness.

Introversion is not the inability to be a good friend.

I am a textbook introvert.  I look forward to and enjoy spending time with friends and family, but I need breaks.  Often.  I need time alone to recharge so I can be my best self.  Being an introvert does not mean that I have trouble making small talk, that I become anxious when I have to meet a new individual, or that I am reclusive my nature.  It means I get my energy from solitude, not from other people.

When I am visiting people for days on end, I know that occasionally I will need to go into another room, stop talking, and be alone.  I go a little crazy otherwise.  Not crazy because I am uncomfortable with people or because it feels like work to socialize, but crazy because I find it mentally and emotionally draining to be "on" all the time.  I need space to just be in my own head before I am ready to rejoin the crowd.  I know these things about myself.  Introversion is not debilitating; it is just another way of being. 

I do not mean to dismiss her post; I think Glennon's post was brave and needed voice in the conversation.  She is honest about challenges in her life in a way that few people are and through her platform, many people think: Hey!  Me too!  I thought I was the only one!  But in this instance, she used introversion as an excuse, which perpetuates the many negative stereotypes and misunderstandings people have about introverts.

On one point though, we both agree--the beauty of Quiet by Susan Cain.  It was one of the best books I read last year (or really, ever).  I cannot recommend it highly enough.