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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

2012 was a big year for PR and advertising. With the Presidential Election and the 2012 Olympics, I can’t imagine the exorbitant sums of money spent on this year’s marketing campaigns. I decided to round up some of my favorite commercials from this year. I chose these based on a mix of criteria – the innovation and creativity involved, overall look and feel, and most importantly, what emotions were invoked.
A lot of these will probably look familiar to you. I don’t watch a lot of regular programming, and when I do it’s normally a DVR’d show that I fast-forward through. However, I do tend to absorb a lot of ads when I watch sports games or news segments that occur in real-time. So here goes:
My favorite commercials of 2012:
Funniest: Guinness – Round Up Your Mates for St. Patrick’s Day
I discovered this gem on FastCompany’s list of the 15 Best of Ads of 2012, and I loved it! I don’t think this was a US-based ad, but it’s so clever, cute and light-hearted.
Best Sports: Tie between Adidas Is All In and Nike FuelBand Presents: Counts
Nike and Adidas are arguably the two most popular sports brands out there and I’ve always been impressed by both of their products and their marketing strategies. Both of the commercials below evoke a palpable “cool” factor and what I love about both of these campaigns is how they incorporate a multitude of people and activities that don’t necessarily involve sports, but demonstrate athleticism and high energy. Adidas compiled a super rad music video timed to Justice’s hard-hitting “Civilization” featuring everyone from David Beckham to Katy Perry. Nike simply captured memorable iconic moments like OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again” music video and scenes from our favorite films.
Favorite Olympics: Proctor & Gamble: The Best Job and AT&T’s The New Possible
Ads during the Olympics are such a treat; it’s like watching the best ads of the Superbowl, but on a worldwide scale that lasts a few weeks. I love both of these ads for different reasons – the innovation behind AT&T’s “The New Possible” campaign was super impressive. Incorporating real, record-breaking Olympic results seamlessly into the ads was such a smart way to showcase AT&T and celebrate big Olympic wins in the U.S. Check out how they did it on FastCompany. On the flip side, the P&G “The Best Job” ad is one of the most touching commercials of the year. I love how it includes different sports and different cultures, but portrays how universal a mother’s love and dedication is. Though no products were prominently shown in the commercial, it still beautifully represented P&G and its family of brands.


Best Competitive Edge: Samsung – The Next Big Thing is Already Here

Samsung took a huge risk by choosing to capitalize on the hype and buzz surrounding the new iPhone 5. Rather than sitting back and letting the new Apple launch dominate headlines, Samsung proactively inserted itself into the conversation and made a bold, splashy statement. It’s not a secret that Apple users are uncharacteristically loyal, and Samsung not only made some question the supposed “greatness” of the new phone, but also made Apple fans look ridiculous for waiting in line for something competitors already make. I am a reasonably satisfied iPhone user, but I haven’t been blown away by any of the company’s recent launches. Samsung won’t ever convert the diehard Apple fans, but they are successfully targeting people like me who like their iPhones, but don’t think they’re light years greater than other alternatives.

Best Message: Expedia Find Yours

Expedia also chose to make a bold statement, but in a different, much more meaningful way. Documenting the story of a dad’s emotional and deeply personal journey to find his understanding regarding his daughter’s same-sex marriage, the message was poignant, sweet and incredibly moving. I’m glad companies like Expedia and Oreo are openly endorsing same-sex marriage and I consider this commercial a huge win in the fight for same-sex marriage and equal rights. Not too long after that ad ran, Expedia created a “Find Your Strength” commercial sharing the heartbreaking story of a young cancer patient who found strength in her best friend who she met at St. Jude’s. This one’s a tearjerker, but an uplifting, inspirational one. In response, Expedia is matching donations to St. Jude’s on its website.

A few weeks ago, I was watching some terrible Food Network Thanksgiving special that featured an interesting trivia factoid before commercial break: Did you know during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt officially moved Thanksgiving to every fourth Thursday of November to grant consumers an extra week of Christmas shopping? It sounds capitalistic, but the extra week actually boosted revenue for a number of struggling businesses and took the economy out of the red and back into the black (hence, Black Friday).
In spite of the strain on my checking account, I love gift giving and happen to be really good at it (my repertoire of satisfied gift recipients could probably attest to this). Therefore, I decided to share my wealth of knowledge for those of you struggling for ideas this holiday, especially if you’re buying for members of the opposite sex. As a disclaimer: I realize I’m single and by no means an expert on the male species. However, I do know these are gifts my male friends would probably like and if I were a guy, I would probably want these things too. The girls’ list was much easier to compile – jewelry and Ryan Gosling are fool-proof keys to a woman’s heart.
For Him
For Him
1. Stormwalking iPhone case via Society 6
2. USB Robot Flash Drive via USBGeek
3. Izola “To My Health” flask via Stag
4. Whisker While You Work Mug via ModCloth – Though Movember is over, this coffee mug can remind all the clean-shaven men that facial hair is not only a statement, but also a respectable look.
5. The Grantland Quarterly collection – Don’t be alarmed. These thick hardbacks are not novels, but rather cool compilations of articles and graphics from the sports and pop-culture blog, Grantland. These would make great coffee table books that double as more durable and collectible magazines.
6. Original Ray-Ban Wayfarer in “Music” Rare Print
7. Metallic Lego iPod Speakers via Speakhype – A rad stocking stuffer, but I don’t believe they’re compatible with the iPhone 5’s yet. Sorry, bros.
For Her
1. The Cats of Friends Sweater via ModCloth
2. Love Bunnies ring holder via Urban Outfitters
3. OliveYewJewels Gold initial necklace via Etsy
4. Feminist Ryan Gosling by Danielle Henderson via Barnes and Noble and
5. Colour Me Good Ryan Gosling coloring book by Mel Simone Elliott via Urban Outfitters – Hey girl, Ryan Gosling will make your Christmas wishes come true.
6. “Man with the Golden Gun” nailpolish from OPI Skycall collection: In honor of the Skyfall movie, OPI released a series of James Bond themed nail polishes. The limited edition “Man with the Golden Gun” polish contains flecks of 18K gold leaf. Treat yo’self.
7. Donni Fly scarf in Tangerine via Donni Charm – Bitches love scarves. They’re versatile, inexpensive and trendy fall/winter staples. Its hard to go wrong with a scarf. Also, by buying her a scarf, you’re avoiding the potential disaster of buying her a garment that’s too big or too small. If it’s too big, she’ll be offended that you assumed she was bigger than her actual size. If it’s too small, chances are it will end in tears. Scarves are an easy one-size-fits-all all solution, so I’d recommend playing it safe.

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.

Pro
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.

Con
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.

Pro
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.

Con
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.

Pro
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.

Con
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.

Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, but it’s definitely the most fun. Halloween is youthful, funny and creative and even when I don’t dress up or celebrate, I still enjoy seeing kids, animals and grown adults in costume – however cute, scary or offensive they may be. Fortunately, I did celebrate over the past few days and here’s a quick recap of my activity:

House parties
I miss a lot of things about college – I miss the freedom, I miss the meal plans, I miss having ample amounts of free time and I really, really miss house parties. House parties are a dying breed in my social life, presumably because a lot of my friends have moved to different cities or possibly because we’re gainfully employed young adults who can afford to go to bars rather than drink watered down kegs of Keystone Light via the iconic red Solo cup. Whatever the reason, I just don’t go to house parties very often – and I genuinely miss them. There’s a certain charm about house parties – the ridiculous drinking games, the playlists that can be changed on a whim, and of course, the watered down kegs of Keystone Light. I had the fortune of going to two this past weekend.

Whitman music video extras

Beer pong winners

On Friday, local band Whitman performed at an illustrious house party that doubled as a shoot for one of their upcoming music videos. Not only did I pound Miller High Lifes (Lives?) and play Tetris on Nintendo, I was a valuable music video extra! Can you spot me? Hint: I’m the tallest person in the room.

Mario, Luigi, Tim Lincecum

On Saturday, I rolled with a group of Super Mario characters to yet another house party. This party highly encouraged costumes, so obviously, I went for the cheap, comfortable and easy solution of being Tim Lincecum, relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. Comfortable and clever as my costume was, being Tim Lincecum was a little frustrating because most people confused me with your average Giants fan, which I am not. I am, however, an individual who strikingly resembles Tim Lincecum – hair and everything. Retrospectively, I understand their misunderstanding and most of my fellow partiers really dug my costume after they realized I wasn’t your average Giants fan and was, in fact, Tim Lincecum. I avoided future mix-ups by introducing myself as Tim Lincecum right off the bat and that really helped.

Found fellow pitcher, Brian Wilson

Halloween Traditions
On Sunday, I understandably took it easy considering my consecutive nights of house parties on Friday and Saturday. I lived on the couch watching football and cringing at Tony Romo’s remarkable consistency when it comes to throwing interceptions and disappointing his loyal fans. Sunday night, my friends and I decided to have a laidback, yet festive evening of carving pumpkins, brewing apple cider spiked with whiskey and watching AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

Radiohead pumpkin, Batman mouth, Brian Wilson again

I’ve never carved a pumpkin before. This is a racist statement, but I think it’s a white people activity. My parents would never condone the idea of buying pumpkins, making a mess in the living room and playing with knives for the sake of home decor. Though I was an apprehensive rookie pumpkin carver, I got surprisingly into my creation. My friends opted for Batman mouth and Brian Wilson (which provided a great opportunity to use the SF Giants hat that I’ll never wear again). My Radiohead pumpkin is far from perfect, but I’d say it’s pretty impressive for a first attempt.

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
I remember buying these tickets the day they went on sale about 6 months ago. I’ve been wanting to see Justice for years and they rarely tour in the States, so imagine the anticipation and excitement I felt yesterday leading up to the show. These guys were incredible, it was an hour and a half of booming beats and schizophrenic lights. They kicked off their set with hits, Civilization and D.A.N.C.E. they ended their second encore with a crowd surf that some would mistake for a zombie apocalypse. Wanting to celebrate the spirit of Halloween, but still wanting to wear a comfortable and breathable ensemble, I decided to accessorize as Rufio from Hook with red hair extensions, gobs of black eyeliner and feather earrings. Bangarang!

Justice – Austin Music Hall, Oct. 30

Rufio

Rufio and the Lost Boys

Crowd surf/zombie apocalypse

Spooky Songs
I spent a good half an hour compiling this playlist of Halloween-themed music on Spotify. No, it doesn’t include the Monster Mash. Yes, it does include Monster by Kanye, Big Bad Wolf by A-Trak and Zombie by The Cranberries.

Happy Halloween, ya’ll. Have a fun, safe holiday!

How appropriate that the impending Halloween season and the return of The Walking Dead have, resurrected, if you will, my WordPress. The past three months have extracted almost every ounce of energy out of me. So in true unoriginal, lazy fashion, I thought I’d provide a quick photo reel from my Instagram feed for you to feast your eyes upon. Enjoy!

ACL 2012 wrap-up post coming soon, I promise.

I went on a cruise.

One of my best friends got married.

I went to Madison, Wisconsin.

And Chicago, Illinois.

I went to four Texas football games.

And four tailgates…

I went to ACL.

It rained.

I ate a lot of barbecue.*

And drank a lot of alcohol.

The end.

*Barbecue in order from top to bottom from Franklin BBQ, Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew, The Salt Lick and Uncle Billy’s

Fall might be my favorite season. I love summer, I love sunshine and I love seeing people walking their dogs and paddle boarding on Town Lake, but I think Austin autumns still trump Austin summers (glorious as they may be) for two operative reasons that both start with F – Football and Festivals.

Though I’m not a student anymore, I still equate opening weekend for Texas football games with Christmas. The long-awaited season finally arrives, beers are cracked and the entire city is blanketed in an unmistakable shade of burnt orange.

My friends and I have attended every home game thus far; I believe there have been three. Two excellent wins and one devastating loss against West Virginia, the newest addition to our humble conference.

In addition to college football and the beautifully tolerable weather, the fall season beckons in Austin City Limits – quite possibly my favorite weekend of the year (SXSW doesn’t count since that encompasses a full 10 days).

Though it’s almost been a full week since ACL 2012, I still haven’t recovered from the exhaustion and euphoria of watching fantastic live music, tasting some of Austin’s best food cart offerings and pounding Bud Light tallboys. This was my third ACL and it certainly lived up to its predecessors, exceeded them even.

I’ll dedicate the next few posts to my ACL activities – lots of photos and (mostly) positive reviews of the bands I saw, so stay tuned. Until then, throw on a scarf, grab a cliche’d pumpkin flavored coffee and enjoy the most wonderful season of the year.