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Based on years of observation and personal experience, I’ve realized that even the most motivated and well-intentioned people who start recreational lifestyle blogs about really anything (i.e. music, travel, home decor, marathon training, gluten free recipes) – they almost certainly end up de-prioritizing and neglecting their respective sites. Fresh ideas, dreams of grandeur and hopes of one day becoming America’s Next Top Influencer can be quickly squashed by the mere fact that blogging takes a long time and entails a lot of work.

I am the first to mock full-time bloggers – especially the Fashionistas and the Mommys – the ones who house online banner ads and receive random, but awesome endorsements from Estee Lauder or Dole Bananas – Why do they get all-expense paid trips to Manhattan to try on the latest pair of New Balances or get to give away gift cards good for 250 letterpress wedding invitations? Psh, I could do that.
 
Well, turns out I can’t. Technically, I could. But I don’t, so I can’t really judge. It takes me a long time to write posts, edit them, re-read and sometimes, re-write them. On top of that, uploading, organizing, captioning and embedding photos and multimedia is a time suck too. Deep down in the recesses of my subconscious I know that I will never meet my modest internal goal of posting once a week as I already struggle to find time to call my family or run errands with my full-time job. And when I do have free time to spare to enjoy a concert, finish a book or travel to a far-off land – the last thing I want to do is open my uncomfortably warm laptop and attempt to write something clever or coherent about said experience.
 
But I just concluded 10 whirlwind days of SXSW, and anyone vaguely connected to me would know that South By is my favorite week of the year. Every free, waking moment that I’m not earning a living is spent actively exploring my beloved city; watching my favorite artists; discovering new ones while shamelessly eating free tacos, drinking free Budweisers and unwisely collecting free tshirts that I have to carry around for the rest of the day. Though a true blogger with a press credential would probably be updating their sites on a daily basis; Tweeting and Instagramming in real time; and providing intelligent analysis about whatever shows they got to see – I’m secretly glad that I could just blissfully live in the moment without any obligation or responsibility to report. However, since it was such a fun, jam-packed week – I did want to write a follow-up post detailing my most notable adventures and share some photos I captured with my new iPhone 5s. Teehee
 
 
Most Energy: TIE between Travi$ Scott and Sleigh Bells
Travi$ Scott fucking killed it. In the span of 30 minutes, Travi$ Scott stripped off his shirt, crowd surfed and sprayed liters of water (dare I say, 100 bottles?) all over an amped up, over-excitable crowd at Fader Fort. One of the wildest shows I’ve ever witnessed – I anticipate a big future for this dude. You can watch a vid of him performing  “Upper Echelon” here on the Fader site.

Travi$ Scott at Fader Fort

Travi$ Scott at Fader Fort

I’ve seen Sleigh Bells several times; and I’ve always known they were heavy on the distortion, loud on the volume and epileptic with their lights, and though they’re not necessarily new or undiscovered, I couldn’t not include them on this list. Sleigh Bells always delivers a loud, rambunctious rock and roll show. Their double-bassing drummer is immaculate; Alexis Krauss’ stage presence is undeniable; her sex appeal is unquestionable and in the tiny confines of the Red Bull Sound Select 4 Days in Austin SXSW series – headbanging ensued.

Sleigh Bells at Red Bull Sound Select

Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells


Best New Discovery: Strange Talk
So I got to see these Australian fellows twice throughout the week in two uncrowded intimate settings and thoroughly enjoyed what I heard – I’d recommend them to anyone who likes Friendly Fires or The Rapture. Will definitely check out their new album when it releases at the end of the month.
Best Multi-tasker: Robert DeLong
So this kid isn’t necessarily a new discovery either; in fact, he was all over SXSW last year, but I will forever be impressed with the mere process of how he creates and performs music. One guy mastering like.. 27 technologies including a Wii, XBOX controller and an Atari – it’s just fun to watch.
 
Best Production: Chromeo
That leg keyboard gets me every time. First time I saw them, and definitely not the last.

Chromeo at the Fader Fort

Chromeo

 
Best Celebrity Sighting: Chromeo’s brother
I’ve had a stupid fan girl crush on A-Trak for as long as I can remember. He was just chillin’ and watching the Chromeo set at a Dell-sponsored event riddled with middle-aged Dell employees and business school grads. Given his approachability and cool demeanor, you’d never guess that he’s quite possibly the most famous DJ and producer in the world. I bet those Dell bros had no idea the “Barbra Streisand” guy was calmly standing right next to them.
 

Me and Trizzy

“Hey is that the Barbra Streisand guy?”

Best Event Lineup: SPIN at Stubb’s 
Disclaimer: This list was only based on the events that I attended. I did not have an official SXSW wristband or a Music badge. If I had greater access to more exclusive events, I’d guarantee that I’d have a very different answer.
 
This was my first time attending the SPIN SXSW party, and it might be a contender for my favorite event of the week based on an informal cost benefit analysis. Short line with non-existent wait time, uncrowded venue with two stages featuring a well-curated lineup of some really talented and diverse artists – none of whom I’ve ever seen before, but have always liked and respected. Temples, Warpaint, ScHoolboy Q, Cloud Nothings, Future – all of them were great – Q being my favorite of the bunch. Only downside was that free Tito’s wasn’t available until 3 pm, meaning I had to sip on free Crispin cider tallboys for a few hours. Felt like drinking a gallon of overly sweet and carbonated Mott’s apple juice.

Temples

ScHoolboy Q

FUTURE

 
Best Kept Secret: The COMPLEX
Complex is one of my favorite magazines – providing quality entertainment coverage about everything from technology to sneakers, not to mention hip hop. This showcase was small, obscure and surprisingly under-attended the two times I stopped by. The COMPLEX touted free drinks and good rap and DJ sets curated by good blogs like Green Label and Pigeons and Planes – it just had a chill vibe populated by lots of trendy people wearing camouflage print, fitted hats and some really fucking dope sneakers. I didn’t get to see any of these guys, but Childish Gambino, Pusha T and even Skrillex graced The COMPLEX stage. Definitely making a point to come back next year. Mental note: need to cop a pair of Nike Rosche Runs.
THE SNDCLSH - DJ Lupe Fiasco and DJ Sky Gellatly spinning at The Complex at SXSW

THE SNDCLSH – DJ Lupe Fiasco and DJ Sky Gellatly spinning at The Complex at SXSW

 
FOMO Award: Watch the Throne
Dammit.
 
 
Most Disappointing: Julian Casablancas and The Voidz
Stereogum put it best in their headline “Watch Julian Casablancas’ Unfortunate Show at SXSW Fader Fort.” After the aforementioned riot that Travi$ Scott incited on the final day of Fader Fort that eager fans literally waited 3+ hours in line for, this personal hero of mine was a total let down. I’ve seen him perform with The Strokes twice and the stage presence, showmanship and volume I so badly wanted to experience again simply wasn’t there. The lights were turned low, he was hunched into as awkward a fetal position that someone of his height can muster and he muttered his way through songs no one was familiar with save his Daft Punk collaboration “Instant Crush.” I’m assuming he was hungover. As usual.
 
Meh, you win some you lose some.

Best of the Week: Jimmy Kimmel

This could technically contend for Most Disappointing since this was the one and only SXSW experience I badly wanted to attend, but did not get to. However, I knew my odds of receiving access to one of Kimmel’s five coveted Austin tapings was slim to none – so no tears were shed. Fortunately, all of the content still lives on his Youtube channel and as you can see from this video – he totally embraced his time here and I hope he returns in 2015.

Worst of the Week: Car Accident on Red River

The tragic events on Wednesday night shocked and saddened every single person in this city. I read that in the 28 years of SXSW, the accident on Red River was the first ever fatality. With events of this size and thousands of people milling around, accidents are bound to happen. However, in this particular instance I firmly believe that the culprit is the single person responsible for this horrific event. Not only does my heart go out to the victims and their families (and in case you haven’t heard the third victim passed away in the hospital this morning), but that beloved part of town will always be tainted with sadness and bitter memories. The Mohawk is my favorite music venue in Austin and I’ve had countless euphoric musical experiences there. I hope everyone remembers to be safe, careful and responsible and to remember how lucky we are.
 
If you have anything to spare, please consider donating to the SXSW Cares Fund where all proceeds will go toward a community-based recovery fund for the victims. I will say the light at the end of the tunnel is how evil acts such as this never triumph over good. The entire Austin community has united to donate blood and financial aid for the victims. In mere days, Vans raised over $20,000 in proceeds toward the cause. A sweet 18-year-old girl who plans to attend UT this fall was serenaded by her favorite band in the hospital. These acts of kindness remind me that the world isn’t always the evil place we make it out to be. And I wanted to give a sincere thank you to all of the friends and family members who called, emailed or texted me at godawful hours of the night to check on my safety. I love you all and I am so thankful you’re in my life.

SXSW memorial on Red River

Around this time every year, I always mentally compose an evaluation of the year’s activities – best albums, best books, best vacations, concerts, etc. This year I’m sad to report that I thought 2013 was ultimately pretty underwhelming. Perhaps we can blame the ever-unlucky #13 or maybe I’m just being extra negative as I’m wont to be every New Year’s Eve, contender for my least favorite special occasion aside from my birthday, but nothing about this year was particularly memorable, fun or special to me, and I’m okay with that. That’s the bright side of starting a New Year. I personally think that’s more worthy of celebration – the inspirational onset of Change and the Future. Therefore, getting plastered on the Eve of said Change only promises brutal hangovers and regret over half-hearted kisses on the first day of a fresh beginning. No thanks.

Like birthdays, I think New Year’s Eve is tainted with lofty expectations of dressing up and having the Best Night Ever, but in my experience, it’s always more trouble than it’s worth. Two of my good friends are hosting house parties and several others are attending various events at bars or music venues around the city, but battling the cold weather, paying exorbitant covers only to stand in line at overcrowded bars plus the added worry and hassle of ensuring safe transportation tonight are all effective deterrents to leaving my warm couch and ever-faithful sweatpants. Why on earth would I do that?

Before you bestow your piteous sympathies on me and wrongfully group me with those bitter anti-Valentine’s Day single ladies, you might be surprised to learn that my sentiments towards New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day are actually quite different. Sure, they are both considered “romantic” occasions, but Valentine’s Day is actually romantic. I love Valentine’s Day. It makes me happy every year even though I’ve been single for the past several. Some argue that it’s petty to celebrate Love because if you love someone you shouldn’t need a holiday to tell them and bestow thoughtful gifts and attention upon them, which is true. But c’mon – New Year’s Eve? Birthdays? At least Valentine’s Day celebrates the wonderful, special phenomenon of Love rather than the mere inevitable (somewhat depressing) passing of Time. And sure, you may or may not get a kiss at midnight, but if you’re single, more often than not you’re hoping you get one just to avoid feeling left out. I can’t think of anything more utterly unromantic and frankly, sad than searching for an equally lonely stranger to ring in the New Year with if you don’t have a significant other.

But don’t despair, readers: I will look at some of the brighter moments of the past year in a feeble attempt to lift your fragile spirits. Some of my favorite moments or proudest accomplishments did in fact, occur during this otherwise, boring year.

CHEERS

READING: I had a goal of reading 50 books this year, which in itself is essentially a stretch goal. That’s almost a book a week, which is near impossible if you have a full-time job and a social life. However, having this goal, unattainable as it may be, caused me to always, ALWAYS have a book. There was never a point in which I didn’t have a book on my nightstand or in my purse, and there was never a solo meal or gap of time in which I wasn’t reading, and that to me is fantastic. I hope I continue this rewarding good habit in 2014 and quite frankly, for the rest of my life.

I ended up reading 37, which is respectable and eight more than I read last year. Notable literary moments:

A Song of Ice and Fire

  • Biggest Accomplishment: This summer, I read the entire 5,000 some odd pages of the Song of Ice and Fire series in less than four weeks. This was easily my proudest and most fulfilling reading accomplishment of the year and ignited an unquenchable obsession for all things Game of Thrones and George R. R. Martin-related. It’s been years since I’ve been so enraptured by a series, comparable only to the seven Harry Potters in my personal experience, and I can barely contain my excitement and frustration about the upcoming books, whenever they may be published. A Storm of Swords was probably my favorite of the series, but shit gets pretty real in A Dance with Dragons too. The HBO series doesn’t hold a candle to its origin. No contest.

    Son of Poseidon

  • Most Fun: Don’t judge me, but over the Thanksgiving break, my 9-year-old cousin would not stop raving about the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Being familiar with the movies and a fan of Greek Mythology in general, my curiosity took over and I bought and read that whole 5-book series in 15 days. Sure, I purchased them in the “Chapter Books” section of the bookstore and they are very obviously written for 4th-grade level readers, but that didn’t detract from the adventure, humor and clever fun of the books and I’m excited to read the Heroes of Olympus Series in 2014.
  • The Classics: I read four Classics this year and enjoyed all but one. My favorite was Slaughterhouse Five, but I’m glad I finally read 1984 as well.
  • Most Influential: Reading Eating Animals propelled a major lifestyle change a few months ago. I’ve been more conscious about my diet and what goes into my body than ever before and I doubt I can ever reverse what I know about factory farming and animal products thanks to this book. Review here.
  • Favorite Book: The first book I opened in 2013 remains the best one I read all year – Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay moved me unlike any other novel probably has ever before. Not only was it my best book of the year, it might be my favorite of all timne. You can read my review here.

WEDDINGS: I attended more weddings in 2013 than I have in my lifetime combined. I suppose I’m reaching that age when all of your friends are getting hitched, and even though they’re expensive and sometimes stressful, it’s always fun and so, so special to witness your loved ones make a huge, monumental step in their lives. I traveled to Wisconsin for one, served as a dutiful bridesmaid in another and celebrated at all of them. I even have a celebratory marriage gathering back home this weekend, but by then it will be 2014 so doesn’t technically count.

JEERS

MUSIC: I think 2013 was severely lacking in good music this year. My friend Allison and I were trying to think of our favorite songs, albums and shows of the year, and struggled to come up with any. Maybe the industry’s in a slump or all of my favorite bands are hibernating and busy writing and working on their next big projects – but I found 2013 profoundly boring from a musical perspective. Sure, I went to a lot of shows and festivals and saw a lot of bands, but none particularly affected me in the way a genius album or an amazing concert typically can.

  • Best Performance: Atoms for Peace at ACL – I remember standing alone near the sound board, freezing in my flimsy festival clothes and being rendered speechless by the entire production before returning to reality and meeting up with my friends who saw Lionel Richie instead.
  • Best Album: N/A – I really can’t think of one that truly amazed me this year, but I will say Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, CHRVCHES and Daft Punk did not disappoint me.
  • Best Song: “We Sink” by CHRVCHES is probably the song I’ve listened to the most in 2013. From the energized, well-paced intro to the catchiest chorus ever, I think this song is perfect and I still listen to it a few times a day.
  • Worst of the Year: Lorde – I just don’t like this chick’s music and without fail will hear ‘Royals’ or ‘Team’ at least six times a day. I don’t deny her talent or lyricism, but there are just some artists and songs I simply don’t like – and in 2013, Lorde is my personal most overrated breakthrough.

FOOTBALL: The Dallas Cowboys, The Texas Longhorns and my Fantasy Football team all performed horrifically this year. I still love football and will watch the various bowls and playoff games dutifully for the duration of the season, but seeing all of your teams under perform and lose is understandably upsetting and disappointing. A tie for the worst game goes to:

  • The Romo-less NFC East Championship where Kyle Orton’s noble efforts actually produced a close game which ended in an interception, loss to Philly and the end of another typical Cowboys season.
  • The saddest Texas bowl game I’ve ever watched – Not only did the Horns fail to score more than once during the entire game, but getting royally stomped by the Oregon Ducks during Mack Brown’s last game was even more heartbreaking.

That about sums up my best and worst of the year. Regardless of whether or not you agree with my anti-New Year’s Even sentiments or my generally underwhelmed opinion of 2013, I hope you all have a great day off tomorrow and a safe and happy evening.

Love,
Alison

20131112-101334.jpgI’d challenge anyone vaguely familiar with the concept of “fun” to find a more appropriately named event than Fun Fun Fun Fest. This was my third consecutive year attending and every year it continues outgrowing the societal norms of your stereotypical music festival. Akin to all music festivals, Fun Fun Fun Fest hosts multiple stages, food vendors and an impressive lineup of diverse artists – for example, Cut Copy (Australia), MIA (Sri Lanka), Snoop Dogg (Compton) and MGMT (Connecticut?) were among this year’s headliners. But what you won’t ever see at your ACLs or Coachellas are things like an entire stage dedicated to established comedians like Sarah Silverman and Doug Benson, a huge half pipe where skateboarders and BMXers of all ages and skill levels come to play, a photo booth in a porta potty and a hydraulic cannon that shoots out tacos and tamales at crowds of hungry, excitable festers. After a few years of following the music festival circuit, I’ve found Fun Fun Fun the most refreshing. It’s still relatively young and small compared to its elders, but it always improves and grows without losing its youthful spirit. For instance, you won’t see many kids or parents who go merely for the sake of going. No one brings blankets. No one brings lawn chairs. People just come to party. People just come to Fest.

This year was particularly special to me because some of my best friends from Wisconsin came down for the weekend in hopes of seeing some great music and escaping the miserable snow that accompanies their sad existence during those unforgiving Midwest winters. They were greeted by sunshine, live music juxtaposed against a gorgeous backdrop of the Austin skyline and lots and lots  and lots of booze. Some highlights from this year’s festival include: A mechanical bull, a free after show with Twin Shadow, kimchi french fries from my favorite Korean food truck and exclusive access to a VIP tent sponsored by Jameson and Absolut. Here were some of my favorite snaps from the weekend:
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SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

As some of you may remember, a few weeks ago I read a powerful book about the atrocities of factory farming and the benefits of a vegetarian diet and decided to abstain from eating meat for a while. This isn’t necessarily a permanent change and I’m not labeling myself as a full-fledged vegetarian – I just simply made a personal decision to be more mindful about where my food comes from. I’m super proud of myself for trying to be a more conscientious and responsible citizen of the world, but I also chose the worst possible time to inact this lifestyle change!

Why, you say? Well, dear friends, this past weekend was Weekend 1 of Austin City Limits Music Festival – three fun-filled days of live music, sunshine and debauchery, and easily one of my favorite weekends of the year. Every year, my ACL weekend consists of enjoying live music, incurring credit card debt from $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys and without fail, gorging on delicious, decadent FOOD.

It’s common knowledge that music festivals spend a lot of time (and money) curating lineups of diverse talent to play their stages, but one of the greatest features of ACL is Austin Eats – a showcase of some of Austin’s best restaurants, eateries and food trucks that are a vast departure from the corny dogs and funnel cakes you’d normally find at a concert of sporting event concession stand. Every year, each Austin Eats vendor creates a small menu of tasty, reasonably priced dishes that are quick and easy for festival patrons to eat on-the-go, and since attendees spend 8 or 9 hours at ACL each day, it’s not uncommon to grab meals or snacks 2 or 3 times a day from this Holy Grail of an outdoor food court.

This was my first time experiencing a meat-free ACL and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Austin has always been a vegetarian-friendly, health-conscious city, so I knew there would probably be plenty of options for me to choose from. Since Weekend 2 of the festival starts tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorite vegetarian menu items for anyone interested. (Of note, I also included some meals I enjoyed outside of the festival this weekend in case you’re visiting Austin for the first time and wanted some additional recommendations.

And lest we forget, always stay hydrated. I’m proud to say, no animals were harmed in the production of the copious amounts of alcohol I drank this past weekend.

DAY 1

For starters, ACL could not have kicked off at a more opportune time because coincidentally – the first day of ACL just happened to be National Taco Day! What better way to celebrate than with some of Austin’s best breakfast tacos? My friends and I stopped by Tamale House East, a friendly neighborhood haunt that specializes in super cheap, but flavorful breakfast tacos among other tasty Mexican fare. Hidden behind some warehouses and train tracks east of I-35, Tamale House is a diamond in the rough – even Anthony Bourdain stopped by a few months ago!

Potato, egg and cheese breakfast taco and mimosa from Tamale House

I decided on two, no frills potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos with tomato topped with smoky Tamale House salsa. Of course, the tacos were accompanied by a refreshing mimosa to cleanse the palate. A breakfast of champions if I’ve ever seen one.

BONUS: While at Tamale House, we spotted the infamous Taco Cannon! For those of you living under rocks, the Taco Cannon made its debut at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year – a hydraulic, multi-chamber t-shirt cannon like apparatus that propels tacos into crowds of rowdy festival-goers. The Taco Cannon was a smash hit at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest –  but for whatever reason, last year’s taco vendor Torchy’s Tacos decided to opt out and create their own device for their own promotional purposes. According to the Austin Business Journal, in light of this treason, Transmission Events decided to take their business elsewhere for this year’s Fun Fun Fun and I’m glad Tamale House agreed to supply the ammunition. This taco arms race is getting out of control!

Magic Shroom from Torchy’s Tacos

After enjoying our lunch-time breakfast, we headed to Day 1 of the festival. After reliving some high school memories during Jimmy Eat World’s set and crushing on Houndmouth’s female keyboard player, we decided to refuel. The second meal of National Taco Day was coincidentally, another taco. Ironically, said taco was from the treacherous Torchy’s Tacos. Though I’d choose Tamale House in a Taco Cannon shoot out any day, Torchy’s is still an Austin mainstay that turns out pretty decent tacos. I decided on the Magic Shroom – a loaded, portabello taco on a flour tortilla that filled me up in time for Vampire Weekend.

DAY 2

On Day 2, I decided to branch out of my taco comfort zone and try some different delicacies. We started the day off with spirited chick rockers HAIM and laidback Swedish trio Junip, and my first meal of the day was of the Mediterranean persuasion. Tino’s Greek Cafe is known for their mouthwatering gyros, tabouli and falafel – so for meal one, I went with a hearty falafel wrap on warm pita with lettuce, tomato and tangy tzatziki sauce. Saturday afternoon featured some of my favorite musical acts – Grimes, Portugal. The Man, Passion Pit and Kendrick Lamar and as you can imagine, one works up quite an appetite after an electrifying Kendrick Lamar set – so my late night snack was an avocado and black bean torta from hip, modern Mexican restaurant La Condesa.

Falafel Wrap from Tino’s Greek Cafe

Avocado Torta from La Condesea

DAY 3

You don’t have to attend a three-day musical festival to feel the familiar Sunday hangover slash excuse to go to brunch and drink more, and just because the government shut down, it doesn’t mean that Sunday Funday has to stop. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday, probably the most beautiful we’ve had this year – so my friends and I unanimously decided on an outdoor patio to pre-game our final day of ACL. Hands down one of my favorite new spots in Austin is Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden – complete with 105 taps and an unbelievable selection of exotic sausage, bratwurst and meats, this place is a must for newbies. Plus, Banger’s resides in the heart of Rainey street, an adorable neighborhood of local bars outside of downtown. On nice days, families bring their dogs, polka bands grace the outdoor stage and friends eat, drink and be merry – for the super devoted, Banger’s will even pay for your tattoo if you agree to permanently mark your person with their logo that combines a beer stein, sausage and cowboy boot. I had my understandable misgivings about the brunch selection since the Banger’s menu is known for its pig roasts, venison and sausage. But to my pleasant surprise – there were great vegetarian options to choose from as well. Per my waitress’ recommendation, I went with the Veggie Benny – a poached egg on an English muffin topped with avocado, fresh tomato and crunchy chipotle-dusted shoestring potatoes.

BONUS: Though popular for their selection of beer, Banger’s features one of the best brunch cocktails in Austin – The Manmosa – one liter of bubbly orange juice goodness that guarantees the haziest day drunken delirium and/or restful afternoon nap. Naturally, my party of five decided to end the weekend like Grown Men – So cheers to the Manmosa and Cheers to Men! (They were so heavy, I could barely hold up my stein glass)

Veggie Benny from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

The Manmosa from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

Grown Men

Not gonna lie, heading to the festival after that feast was pretty rough – we were all uncomfortably full, but also blissfully content and filled with champagne-induced day dreams. But we all rallied like the Grown Men we are and embarked on the final day of ACL. Some of the best music was on Sunday – reliving high school again through Chris Carrabba’s new band, Twin Forks and chilling through folk songwriters The Lone Bellow – it turned into quite a beautiful afternoon. Later that afternoon, Divine Fits, The National and Tame Impala melted our faces off and before finishing off the night with Phoenix and super group Atoms for Peace, I decided on Indian cuisine for my ACL Last Supper. I went with a spicy Chana Masala wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Food, which was packed with tender chickpeas and flavor. I know this photo looks kinda gross, but the Chana Masala wrap was one of my favorite eats of the weekend.

Chana Masala Wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Foods

EPILOGUE

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention booze. After all, you can’t spell alcohol without ACL – so I’d be negligent if I didn’t talk about how to stay (de)hydrated during ACL. The aforementioned $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys were certainly a daily staple, but there were certainly other ways to add variety to your alcohol intake. ACL is pretty strict about what you can and can’t bring into the park, so pocket shots are a godsend. These miniature packets of whiskey, rum and vodka can be easily concealed in a purse, backpack or cargo short, so my friends and I stocked up on them for the weekend. You can buy them from most local liquor stores and they mix super smoothly with refreshing Sweet Leaf Tea.

Also, if your taste in beer is a little more refined than Bud Lite or Budweiser – right next to the Austin Eats food court, ACL housed a shaded oasis flowing with craft beer and huge projection screens that were showing the weekend football games. The Barton Springs Beer Hall had eight brews on tap for the same price as the canned Tall Boys sold around the park, so my crew alternated between craft and domestic. The craft beer obviously tasted better and the Beer Hall provided a welcome break from the relentless UV rays, but the Tall Boys were also easier to carry, harder to spill and more accessible since they were sold at multiple booths around the festival grounds. At some points, the Beer Hall was almost as popular as some of the ACL stages – especially during that soul-crushing Cowboys Broncos 99-point game on Sunday afternoon. *Shudders*

Pocket shot and Sweet Leaf Mint and Honey Green Tea

Barton Springs Beer Hall at Austin City Limits

Well, I hope that preview was sufficient for anyone planning on attending Round 2 of ACL this upcoming weekend. I’m still detoxing from last week’s shenanigans, so I’m planning on staying in – but it is only Thursday. Looking ahead, I’m not sure if meat will be in my future or not. But I can confidently say that this past weekend’s experiment showed me that I can still partake in delicious cuisine and destroy my liver without diluting my overall ACL experience.

For you Weekend 2 Attendees – Have fun and be safe. And most importantly, eat, drink and be merry!

“Wild animals, with true natures and pure talents. Wild animals with scientific-sounding Latin names that mean something about our DNA. Wild animals each with his own strengths and weaknesses due to his or her species.” 

-Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably my favorite Wes Anderson film; its humor, whimsy and perfectly cast group of voice actors comprise one of the most clever, heartfelt movies I’ve ever watched. Though it’s a PG-rated, animated film based off of a children’s book, the quote above has always stuck with me. In spite of himself, Mr. Fox is sly, wily and clever simply because he’s a wild animal. As a wild animal, it’s in his nature to hunt, sneak and steal in the same way it’s in rabbits’ nature to run, burrow and hop. It’s the same concept as the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog that Ryan Gosling so aptly retells in the movie Drive. The scorpion stung and therefore, killed his friend the frog simply because its his nature. Foxes, scorpions, leopards and their unchanging spots – How many adages are there in the English language that convey the message that animals act upon instinct, and animals behave the way they do because its just in their nature?

I bring this up because it reminds me of a particularly personal struggle I’ve faced for about six years. When I was a junior in college, I read a glossy pamphlet no larger than an index card that was handed to me by some grassroots, unshowered yuppie on a street corner. In summary, the literature touted the health, environmental and most obviously, animal welfare benefits to a vegetarian diet. Being not swayed, but fascinated by these arguments, I spontaneously decided to experiment with vegetarianism for a week.

I didn’t research the subject any further nor was I particularly compelled to stop eating meat for the rest of my life. I love meat. I always have. I love barbecue. I love burgers. I grew up frequenting a steak house my uncle was an accountant for during my formative years and was never unnerved by the hanging ducks and reeking fish that welcomed (and stared at) me when I’d regularly accompany my mother to the Chinese Super Market. I had no intention of removing meat from my diet for longer than seven days, and even doubted that I could abstain from it for that long.

However, the first week went by remarkably quickly. It was actually pretty easy – so easy that one week turned into a month, and eventually two years. I rarely craved or missed meat and never had trouble finding menu items at all of my favorite dining establishments. In fact, as a college student, being vegetarian was an ideal situation for practical reasons alone. Being less expensive than most omnivorous fare, saving those extra dollars for beer money was a welcome perk. And as someone who is notoriously unskilled in the kitchen, subsisting on primitive meals like cereal and grilled cheese was a pretty easy existence. Without holding any particular moral convictions against eating meat, living without it was surprisingly very doable.

I admit, every now and then I’d cheat during those two years – I’d crave the weirdest things. I’d rarely want a burger or chicken nuggets like I expected, but usually culinary oddities like sushi, lox and bagels or New England clam chowder – things that didn’t really have vegetarian equivalents in genre or texture. I was never that strict about whether my food was cooked in chicken stock or alongside other meat either – I just generally didn’t eat meat, and I was fine with it.

I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables either. People often ask if I lost weight during that extended dietary experiment, and in all honesty, I probably gained a few pounds – there is a surprising amount of food that contains no meat, but also next to no vegetables or anything of nutritious value – pizza, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cake, pasta, ice cream and candy to name a few. Whatever the reason, I considered myself 98% vegetarian with very few qualms or slip-ups.

After those two years, I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet. I could have stayed loyal to it if I only cared about my own well being, but eating is rarely a solo endeavor. The real reason I regressed was because it confused the hell out of my peers, and most importantly, my family. Watching my sweet mother toil and stress about what I could and couldn’t eat was painful and unnecessary, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I visited my folks, I would just politely eat whatever they prepared for me. Then after I graduated, I took a job that required me to travel and I subsisted on fast food and take-out almost every day, making it harder to survive solely on french fries and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

I’ve gone back and forth with these meat-free experiments ever since – my sister acutally finds it quite funny, and it is. For me personally, being a conscious eater and citizen of the world is much more about dramatically lessening my consumption of meat rather than eliminating it all together. If everyone only ate meat every other day, or perhaps even once a day – I truly think the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that level of societal change will never happen in our life time and Americans are getting unhealthier, fatter and greedier every day – so I’ve been internally faced with the dilemma of being against The Problem with no hopes of lasting impact or being part of The Problem because it’s a hopeless cause and meat is well, delicious.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer has been on my reading list for years; I loved reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything Is Illuminated  and have always found Foer’s wit, humor and style of writing very enjoyable. So now, nearly 4 years after it was published, I sat down and read the damn book.

This particular book struck quite a chord with me; rather than merely sharing statistics, facts and data about why we should or should not eat animals – the author looked upon the subject matter very thoughtfully and very personally. He too went back and forth between different dietary choices in his young adult years and never made a concrete decision on the matter. Motivated by the birth of his first child and having legitimate parental concern for what was best for his son’s health, Foer dove into multi-year research project to learn about how our food is produced, uncovering the ramifications of continuing to consume animal products at the current rate. Though this was a non-fiction book that was beautifully researched and meticulously edited, Foer truly made this work a story, which is probably why I identified with it so closely.

He discusses the culture, history, tradition and meaning of food and the social and emotional implications of sharing meals with friends and family members. Furthermore, he takes a philosophical approach on many issues that make readers second guess their beliefs. If Americans love their cats and dogs so much and give millions of dollars to the pet industry, why don’t we ever think twice about eating other animals? The thought of torturing said dogs and cats or eating them is abhorrent because they’re our pets. NFL quarterback Michael Vick even served time for his dog fighting escapades – but pigs and chickens can be pets too, and just because they just happen to be delicious, it’s okay that we eat them, and we don’t seem to mind that their treatment and slaughter is unsanitary, violent and sometimes sadistic beyond belief.

I think it’s important to note that this book is less about whether it’s wrong for humans to eat animals. After all, animals eat animals. If you really think about it, some animals technically eat humans. This book is more about unveiling atrocious factory farming practices – how this irresponsible system is destroying our planet, diminishing our health and not to mention, not only killing our animals – but making them suffer. Humans have engineered them into unnatural genetic mutations that produce optimal meat and lay the most eggs with limited amounts of space, light and feed. We rarely consider the terrible working conditions of employees in the slaughter house or the amount of pollution factory farming produces – quite literally, animal shit that gets sprayed into the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, but it’s the machine that is capitalism, which is why it depresses me when I think about it.

I think that’s the hardest part for us humans to grasp – we don’t think about it. We don’t think about how the animals we eat are raised, transported or slaughtered. We also don’t think about how deformed and disgusting they are in the current system; some chickens and turkeys can’t even walk because they’re so grossly overfed. Most factory farmed animals can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, which is probably the most sobering contradiction to evolution there is. Humans have literally altered some species to the point where they can no longer continue existing without our help. It’s like playing God in the Jurassic Park model – we have such control over other living creatures, yet act so indifferent towards their welfare.

My hope for the world is a sea change in how we control our intake of animal products. For example, Foer profiles several responsible, sustainable farmers who love their land, love their work and absolutely love their animals – even if they are raised for slaughter. Unfortunately, these heroes are the Davids to the Goliaths that are factory farming corporations, and unlike the Biblical tale, these underdogs are losing the battles. Being humane stewards of the earth is a principal almost all religious and political belief systems agree on, and the way our country raises animals is contradictory to all of the progress we’ve made. Factory farming is no longer about feeding the world; it’s about making money (and making people obese, asthmatic and allergic to things), and I’m having a hard time reconciling not necessarily my beliefs, but what I know is wrong with the food I love to eat.

Sure, it was easy being a vegetarian the first time around, but I’m not a college student anymore. I’m an adult and I live in a city with a flourishing food culture, and I love food. I love trying new restaurants. I love going out to eat with my friends. And *sigh* I still love meat.

I’m sure you’re wondering why my obsession with Fantastic Mr. Fox has transformed into an unexpected diatribe about my personal dietary dilemmas and the horrors of the factory farming system. Perhaps, it’s because I can’t quite determine whether humans are really that different from wild animals. Is it really our nature to tamper with nature? Is it natural to pump ourselves with man-made chemicals and hormones? And is it really in our nature to torture other living things that clearly have the capacity for intelligence, emotion and creating social hierarchies? We’re supposed to be intelligent and civilized, walking upright, speaking language and twiddling our ever-dexterous opposable thumbs. So if we are such evolved creatures, how can we consciously keep consuming animal products so thoughtlessly and irresponsibly? Or at least how can I after reading 350 some-odd pages of compelling truths about eating animals?

I’ve never been a radical – liberal yes, but never extremist. Sometimes, I associate PETA more with terrorism than activism in the same way I group pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics in a similar bucket. What I’m saying is – I will probably never completely stop eating meat. I highly doubt that I could ever go vegan. My mom would probably very easily talk me into eating her unapologetically greasy Asian stir-fry, and I couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving without watching the Cowboys with my dad followed by a wonderful tryptophan-induced nap. But I can tell you, I will always know in the back of my mind how disgusting my food really is and I can tell you that I’ve never had a harder time separating the source from the end product than I do now. For now, I’m going to focus on eating meat much less – perhaps, never preparing meat for myself or for others.

I don’t want to label myself as a vegetarian because I’m obviously going to be a terrible one. Again. But I do want to be a conscious, informed and socially responsible omnivore (or pescatarian or lacto-ovo what have you) – and I can only hope that one day my eating habits can influence the behaviors of others, or even the world, and lead to less guilt and regret.

As some of you know, I recently moved into a new place with my roommate and now that I’ve unpacked (for the most part) and gotten semi-situated, I’ve started the process of styling and decorating the space.
I wanted to start by reorganizing my bulletin board, which has more-or-less acted as a dumping ground for two-years worth of ticket stubs, receipts, photos, coupons, business cards, etc. Not only does it look messy and cluttered, but the pile-up ultimately buried valuable items like gift certificates and coupons, and also photos or cool images I originally wanted to display.
The biggest challenge was thinking up innovative ways to keep and display some of the things I collect. Since I’m a big fan of live music, I’ve grown very proud of the concert ticket stubs, wristbands and music festival collateral that I’ve collected over the years, but I’ve never been able to think of a tasteful way to display them. I was inspired by our friends at Young House Love and their creative ideas for making sentimental art. Here were some of my favorite ideas from Sherry and John:

Sending yourself post cards from your travels and display them in a tall vase via Young House Love

Collecting strips from photo booths in a glass via Young House Love

Saving keys from places you’ve lived via Young House Love

Solution #1: Paint Cans 
For my ticket stubs, I decided to store them in clear, plastic paint canisters that I bought at Michael’s for a few bucks. It’s an easy, neat way to collect and display my growing collection. I bought one paint can for all of my concert ticket stubs and another for tickets with more dynamic imagery. For example, some big sporting events print collectible or limited edition tickets that I wanted to highlight.
Solution #2: Frames
I also found a dual frame that was perfect for displaying pamphlets I kept from Fun Fun Fun Fest 2011 and 2012. I also incorporated the wristbands from each festival into the design.
Solution #3: Gift boxes
I also needed a solution for other memorable items that I wanted to keep, such as wedding announcements and invitations. These are obviously very sentimental and big moments in the lives of my loved ones, and I anticipate the collection will continue growing as I get older. Since a lot of these paper goods are double-sided, I thought it’d be a shame to collect them in a scrapbook or photo album. The same applies to music festival pamphlets and playbills from musicals that are fun to thumb through. My solution was simple – store them in a cute, tasteful gift box. This non-overt solution gives you the freedom to look through them whenever you want. So after a few months of being displayed on my fridge, baby announcements, Christmas cards and other memorable collectibles of that nature are still kept, cherished, but stored and out of the way.

Now my bulletin board is decluttered and can finally serve its original purpose of displaying colorful photos, stickers, business cards and a few commemorative concert/sporting event tickets. I’m pretty pleased with how my projects turned out. How do you like to display your sentimental memories?

Last night, a group of friends and I had a quiet and intimate dinner party and gift exchange before we all left town for the holidays. We made homemade Chinese dumplings, sipped cold sake and listened to our favorite records.
My favorite part about our little gathering was our “White Album White Elephant” gift exchange – a fun, creative spin on the traditional white elephant and I hope we make it an annual holiday tradition. Each guest was asked to bring one of their favorite albums, wrap it in white paper and write a lyric from one of the songs on the back of the package. Each person would choose two blank packages, silently read the lyrics on the back of each album and select the one they wanted to keep based on the lyrics. Then the guest would read the lyrics of their selection out loud so subsequent players could potentially steal their CD, but only based on the lyrics. This was such a unique way to share our favorite music and appreciate beautiful lyrics from our favorite artists.
Once we all settled on our decisions, we each opened our package one by one. The results were shocking – to the surprise of many, some of the most poignant and profound lyrics came from Metallica and Lupe Fiasco. To my personal surprise, I owned four of the resulting CDs, but only recognized lyrics from two of the bands. A lot of guests also shared why they chose the album they did and how they discovered their artist – what a great way to discover new music!
My contribution was Metric’s new album, Synthetica. It’s probably my favorite album of the year and I hope the person who chose it loves it as much as I do. All of the songs are terrific, but my favorite track is “Clone” which is where the poetic lyrics I wrote on my parcel were derived from. Listen to that and their main single “Breathing Underwater” below. What are your favorite albums from this year?
Metric – Breathing Underwater

Metric – Clone