It’s 3:38 on Friday afternoon. On a typical Friday afternoon around this time, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be celebrating the conclusion of yet another work week and the fast-approaching, much-needed weekend. But today’s a different day. Today is one of the most devastating Friday afternoons I can remember and I hope our country never has to deal with a tragedy like this ever again.
The shooting in Connecticut might be the worst national news I’ve read in 2012. The poor victims and their families are in my thoughts, as well as the fortunate young survivors. As Obama so eloquently put it, “For as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.”
This news certainly puts a damper on the holiday season that is centered around joyous, innocent children and spending time with your families and loved ones. I know I’m going to hug my nephews and niece extra tight when I see them next week. I’m so thankful that they’re in my life and I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to cause them any harm or sorrow.
I’m not trying to be political with this post. That’s not at all my intention. But I hope this tragedy causes our country to truly reevaluate its position gun control. I have been on the fence about the issue for a long time, supporting the right to protect and defend yourself, but in this year alone, Trayvon Martin, a theater in Colorado and now at least 20 little kids lost their lives at the expense of the irresponsible use of arms. I don’t have all the answers, and the government doesn’t either. There’s no easy solution to the problem, but I think we can all agree that this is a sad day in America. I think we can agree these children were taken too soon and unfairly, and there’s a pressing need for preventative measures to avoid anything like this happening ever again.
At some point last year, a friend asked me “How many concerts do you think you go to in a year?” and I honestly couldn’t give a fair estimation. It really got me thinking – “How much money do I spend on live music in a year?” “How many bands did I see?” “Did I see any bands multiple times?” “If so, how many?” To provide some insight, I literally kept a Google Doc spreadsheet listing every show I went to this year and updated it regularly throughout the course of the year. Upon auditing my year to date, even I was surprised with my results. I attended a grand total of 48 shows/events and saw a whopping 107 bands/artists. That doesn’t even include the bands I watched more than once. Numbers like that make me really grateful that I live in Austin (where all but one 3-day event) took place.
I decided to make an infographic visualizing my year in live music. A screen grab is pasted below, click-through to see the full visual!
Key findings include:
- Genre = Electronic and dance music comprised the majority of concerts I attended. Indie shows were a close second.
- March and October were my busiest live music months, which is to be expected since SXSW and ACL take place during those time periods
- Danny Brown and A-Trak are tied for artist I saw the most – each with 3 separate performances in 3 separate venues
At this very moment in the time and space continuum, I’m sitting at my cubicle on this dreary Tuesday afternoon, patiently waiting for the minutes to tick by before I can go home, and I just came to the realization that Christmas is exactly two weeks away. Two damn weeks!
I hope you’re all getting into the Christmas spirit – I certainly enjoy seeing festively decorated homes, receiving Christmas cards and buying gifts. Since it is the season of giving, I thought I’d generously share some of my favorite holiday ideas and finds.
DIY Magnetic Advent Calendar
I love this idea for a clean, simple magnetic advent calendar. These tiny pots can conveniently adorn your fridge and you won’t have to fuss with nailing anything to your walls. Fill with candy or any other little knick-knacks, also easy to store and reuse for next year.
DIY Snow Globes
Snow globes are typically cheap and tacky, but these clean, minimalist ones are much cuter. Plus the different sizes and shapes of the jars adds height and dimension. If you want to be really creative, build a Lego landscape or use miniature action figurines. Who says snow globes have to be holiday themed? (Unoriginal people)
This is one of my favorite inexpensive Christmas decor ideas. The results are sleek and sophisticated and even the laziest and most creatively-challenged people could successfully pull off this project. I’d recommend only using round, spherical ornaments, so they stack nicely but I recommend experimenting with the texture, color and the shape of your glassware.
Printable Gift Wrap
I love all of the iconic and poppy designs from Minieco.co.uk. Plus, these are printable designs so you will never run out (theoretically)! You can embellish with high contrast gift tags and ribbons or print on neon or colored paper. A lot of these designs could certainly be used for other gift-giving occasions as well.
Alternative wrapping paper
I love the idea of using alternative materials for wrapping your gifts; not only is this sustainable, it’s creative and unique. With smartphones and the Internet, I doubt anyone uses antiquated maps or atlases anymore. If you want to be extra thoughtful, use a map of a meaningful location such as the honeymoon destination for a wedding couple or the hometown of one of your friends. Other alternative papers include pages from books, music or old calendars.
Brown paper is also one of my favorite wrapping materials; whether you buy a roll or reuse one of your paper grocery bags (like the Trader Joe’s example above), brown paper looks simple and classic and you can use for any gift giving occasion. You also have a huge range of accessories to decorate with! You could stamp patterns, write or directly on the packages or dress up with ribbon or yarn.
I love receiving Christmas cards; it’s a friendly reminder that your relatives and peers are thinking about you during this busy time. I’m personally not a big fan of the Walgreen’s family photo glossy prints and opt for simplified and minimalist designs.
I love wrapping gifts; it’s one of my favorite holiday activities. For whatever reason, I find the whole process oddly soothing and therapeutic. Crowded shopping malls, parking lots and screaming children tend to overwhelm me during the holidays, so coming home, turning on a movie and pouring a glass of wine while meticulously packaging and decorating my purchases is my way of unwinding and exercising the right side of my brain. I realize my love of gift wrapping is terribly inconsequential considering my beautiful creations will ultimately be destroyed and disposed of, but I don’t seem to mind.
Today, i devised a DIY holiday project that’s easy, versatile and relatively cheap. Plus, your newfound creative prowess will impress your gift recipients. Look below for instructions on how to make some handy dandy gift tags:
STEP 1: GATHER SUPPLIES!
For this particular project, you will need:
- Alphabet stamps
- Holiday stamps
- Ink pads in pigments of your choice
- White or manila card stock
- A hole-punch
- Decorative ribbon
- Wine (optional)
Tip: You can buy most of this stuff at your local craft store. These holiday stamps often come in packs of 4 or 5, so you don’t need to buy individual images unless you want to; these stores also have sales on seasonal stuff all time. Also, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby always have coupons, and not shitty “spend $75 and save 10% coupons“, but awesome “take 50-60% off of any item in the store” coupons, so look up their weekly ads online and print them. Michael’s even accepts coupons you download on your smartphone. If you want to save a few bucks, you can always get the card stock and ribbon from Walmart, Target or an office supply store. If you want to be really stingy, steal the hole-punch from your office like I did…
STEP 2: STAMP!
Neatly stamp your card stock. You can be as minimalist or as enthusiastic as you please, but keep whatever wrapping paper you plan on using in mind because the gift tags should match and compliment the end product. Don’t worry if your letters aren’t perfectly aligned. I think the words look cuter and more whimsical when they’re a little crooked anyway.
Tip: Make sure you thoroughly clean the stamp rubber if you plan on changing ink colors to avoid ruining your ink pads. I use a wet paper towel and blot with a dry one. Then I stamp out any remaining ink on a scrap piece of paper to ensure it’s fresh and clean for the next use.
STEP 3: AFFIX TO YOUR PRESENTS!
Crop and finish your gift tags as you see fit. I like to accessorize with simple accent ribbons.
The best part about crafting is the versatility you get from using the same materials. You can make a variety of other holiday-themed paper products based on your own family’s respective traditions. Some ideas include:
- Christmas cards
- Wish lists or Letters to Santa
- Holiday menus
- Holiday party invitations
- Christmas dinner place cards
Here are some of my other creations:
I hope everyone enjoyed their much-needed and well-deserved long weekend because I know I certainly did. I paid a long overdue visit to my underwhelming suburban hometown, ate too much turkey and spent some (but not enough) quality time with friends and family. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, no holiday is devoid of at least some stress or frustration – so I listed a series of pros and cons summarizing my holiday. Cons aside, ultimately, it was wonderful.
Naps – The greatest thing about visiting my suburban hometown and staying with my easygoing old parents is the over abundance of free time. To put it simply, there were just multiple occasions where I had nothing to do. There were no errands to run, no work to attend to and only a few friends to visit. When nothing on TV or my bookshelf looked particularly stimulating, I’d simply just take a nap. As a gainfully employed member of the workforce, I rarely have time to sleep just for the hell of it. I napped at least once a day over Thanksgiving break and it was fantastic (on Thursday it was obviously tryptophan-induced). And yes, that’s my bedroom where I spent a good portion of my formative years. My mother so kindly collected every mismatched pillow and stuffed animal in the house when making my bed and preparing my room for me.
Football – Last week, I watched that new Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence movie, Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the movie, I loved the cast and I loved the humor – ultimately, an excellent, excellent film. However, an ongoing plot point in the movie involved superstitious behavior affecting the final outcomes of Philadelphia Eagles football games. Since I watched that film, EVERY single one of my teams lost on Thanksgiving and the days following. The Cowboys lost. The Longhorns lost. The Packers lost. But Oklahoma and Texas A&M won. Fucking Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro compromised the fate of my football allegiances and I’m borderline hysterical. Hopefully, my Fantasy Team wins this week as our league heads into playoffs. Believe it or not, I’m counting on the Eagles’ wide receiver to clench this week’s win for me. According to Silver Linings Playbook, “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Therefore, DeSean Jackson better show up tonight and break this awful losing streak that almost ruined the holiday for me and my family.
Megabus – I decided to test the Megabus waters for the very first time. Thanksgiving traffic in Central Texas is a nightmare so I thought the holiday warranted an opportune time to try this alternative mode of transportation. The fact that I didn’t have to drive and sit through 5 hours of stop-and-go traffic was a godsend. For $40 round-trip, my friend and I watched 2 discs of the Friday Night Lights TV series, ate snacks and napped multiple times. It even had a reasonably clean bathroom. I don’t mind long commutes – traffic and distance are factors far beyond my control. However, if I have to spend 5 hours in traffic, I’d much rather multitask, watch movies, read or sleep than be alert, focused and bored the entire time.
Megabus – In spite of the pros I just detailed, this mode of transport definitely has some room for improvement. Operationally, Megabus left something to be desired. Long lines, poor communication and logistics just led to a frustrating experience on top of a commute that was already abnormally long. Luggage could have been unloaded more efficiently. The check-in process could have been expedited. There were just a lot of easy fixes to what I considered very trivial problems. I can’t judge Megabus fairly from this one journey, especially because I chose the busiest weekend of the year to try it out. If we’re evaluating cost vs. reward, it’s ultimately still a great service with a few understandable, but fixable glitches.
Family – I’m fortunate that I live close enough to my family where I can always return home for the holidays or any other occasion that warrants a short, weekend visit. I don’t have to deal with expensive holiday travel or taking precious time off, and for the most part, I can see my parents, sister and big extended family with little to no hassle. I’m blessed with a big, loud, loving family, and as my generation grows older, my family continues expanding and becoming closer knit as my cousins marry and have children. Though I’m on the fence about reproducing (the expense, the responsibility and the stress are not things I look forward to), the kids are always my favorite relatives to visit because they grow up and significantly change every time I see them. It pains me that my personal favorite cousin/nephew, Nicholas, will soon approach the age where it’s uncool to give hugs and hang out with his elders, so I’m cherishing these last few years where he still looks up to me and genuinely enjoys spending time with me. Thankfully, Baby Benjamin has quite a while before he starts rejecting my affections. Ha.
Holiday weight - This is a no brainer, but I ate my weight during our family’s Thanksgiving feast and I ate my feelings during all of those miserable football games I mentioned above. A lot of people ask if my family conducts a traditional Thanksgiving, and we do. We don’t cook rice or potstickers or duck though many Asian families do, but every year my parents fry up a batch of eggrolls to snack on while people prepare food in the kitchen or watch the afternoon football games in the living room. As you can see, these delicious morsels are swimming in delicious grease. I’m lucky I didn’t pop any buttons off my jeans or you know, have a heart attack. Good thing New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner.
This past weekend, I took a short, semi-impulsive trip to two of my favorite cities with some of my favorite people. Until recent years, I never considered the Midwest a particularly ideal or charming vacation destination. Thankfully, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by multiple Midwestern cities I’ve visited and have found myself returning to these chilly locales over and over again. Here’s a quick recap of my wonderful weekend characterized by scarves, flowing beer and life-long friends.
I’ve only been to Chicago a few times and unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to explore the city as thoroughly as I’d like to. During this particular jaunt, my best friend and I took a charming tour along the Chicago River that details the history behind the city’s remarkable buildings. The skyline is a sight to behold, especially viewed from afar. We lucked out with the forecast too – clear blue skies and chilly, but by no means intolerable weather. I suppose I brought the warmth up with me from Texas. You’re welcome, jerks.
Though I’m not a Chicago native and far from an expert on the city, I thought I’d share some of my favorite music inspired by Chi-town, some created by Chicago-based artists.
Lupe Fiasco: Go Go Gadget Flow - One of my favorite speed raps about the best city in the Midwest (best city in the whole wide wide world)
Ryan Adams: Dear Chicago - Such beautiful lyrics. Makes me miss the city and makes me want to go back.
Sufjan Stevens: The Seer’s Tower
I keep a special place in my heart for Madison, Wisconsin. Upon my first visit to the state in 2009, I never imagined that Madison would eventually make its way into my top 10 list of U.S. cities. I might be biased because that place represents a very significant part of my life that resulted in wonderful memories and amazing friendships, but even from an objective lens, I’d still argue that Madison is pretty great. In fact, it’s a lot like Austin in some aspects – thriving campus town in a Capital city that’s a great place for young people to live. Just a lot colder.
This time around, I attended my first Big 10 game and it was quite a culture shock from what I’m used to in Texas. The school’s traditions are so much fun and you could safely assume that their tailgating scene is characterized by beers, cheese and bratwurst – all delicious things. The night life in Madison is awesome too – I’ve had many a late night along State St. and a fair amount of war stories in that city. I’m not sure if I could live in the Midwest – I don’t think the cold is an element I could ever get used to, but I’m definitely still a fan. Maybe I’ll convert one of these days.
Until then, have a great Thanksgiving. I’m so thankful that I have such a fun, loyal group of friends. What are you thankful for?
For the overwhelming majority of my 25 years, I’ve equated Ramen noodles with what most of you would equate Ramen noodles with – the affordable and convenient pre-packaged cup noodles that serve as staple items in virtually every college student’s pantry. However, I was recently introduced to a traditional Japanese Ramen eatery here in Austin and I’m never going back to those economy-sized packages of MSG and beef/chicken/shrimp flavored powder.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya has only been open a little over three months and has certainly lived up to its cult-following calibur hype. Currently, the restaurant is only open five days a week during dinner hours and there’s usually a line of eager patrons patiently waiting out the door. Though this line may look intimidating, I’d advise against giving up and trying again later because the line actually moves reasonably fast. Once you finally reach that sacred cash register at the front counter, it’s pretty smooth sailing from there.
Your food comes out hot and fast and though the waitstaff is busy, they’re also friendly and super attentive. The food is also a force to be reckoned with – the traditional Tonkotsu broth is a hearty, creamy, buttery combination of meaty flavor – up to 60 hours of preparation go into creating the broth alone. In fact, ramen virgins are encouraged to take a few minutes to savor the broth before trying the noodles and other accouterments.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya also features a slew of extra toppings you can add to your dish – spices, extra noodles, you name it – it’s like a Pinkberry, but hotter and much saltier. I consider these satisfying ramen dishes as a nice alternative to Vietnamese pho which is usually my cold weather, Asian comfort food go-to. This place is purely traditional Japanese – they don’t even carry forks because ramen is meant to be enjoyed with chopsticks. If soup and noodles aren’t your thing; I feel sorry for you – but fortunately, this place offers other options that look quite admirable – their edamame (both spicy and regular) is some of the best I’ve had. Their sliders and curry bowls have also received rave reviews. Their cold house sake and mochi ice also add a nice refreshing kick to mitigate the savoriness of the meal.
If you’re in Austin at all during the cold weather months, I would stop and visit this charming little place. Your belly will thank you profusely.