I think we all had a great time in Texas, even if it was an unorthodox vacation for us. Normally we go someplace and there’s a mission or an activity to be accomplished; this can be anything as stupid as get to the beach before noon or as complex as be in the lobby by 8 for the bus to St. Peter’s Square. There’s a plan, and we try to follow the plan. For this vacation, we had a destination, we had friends to see, and we had a vague notion of things to do, but most of the enjoyment for me was just coasting from day to day. As such, this review is going to wander all over the place, because I don’t remember exactly what happened when, and that’s kind of a good thing.
The house Jen found for us was absolutely perfect. Set on the east side of the city, we rented a mod little cottage set back from the road in a stand of trees. It was cool, quiet, decorated tastefully, and within walking distance of several restaurants that served great coffee. I made it my job to rise early and bring back breakfast for the three of us to slowly get our days started. We had the luxury of having the house to relax in, and actually spent a fair bit of time there just enjoying the cool quiet by ourselves. It was clear they’d spent time designing it with sunlight in mind; each wall was sprinkled with small windows set high off the ground for maximum privacy. All the surfaces were reclaimed wood, and the floor was poured concrete.
Jen had ideas sketched out for each day. Our first day on the ground, we pulled beach towels and swimsuits out of our suitcases and drove to Deep Eddy, a cold spring-fed community pool that was very quiet for such a hot day. We lucked out and found a parking spot right out front, paid our tickets, and were able to immediately wade into refreshing water with a very slippery bottom. Being spring-fed, it took me a while to get up to my waist, but it was worth it to see Finn wade right in and make some new friends.
We spent Friday hitting some of Austin’s best thrift/vintage stores; they take their thrifting seriously down there. We started at a place called the Leopard Exchange, where I found a vintage Budweiser delivery shirt that fit like a glove. Around that shop were about five others, each with their own vibe. The level of curation at these places is beyond anything I’ve seen in Baltimore—there are a few vintage clothing stores I’ve been to here but nothing like the selection and pricing we found there. I looked long and hard for a good western pearlsnap shirt but came away empty handed—the closest I got was made of heavy polyester and wouldn’t be comfortable for a day’s wear. Finn took us to an alternative store and picked out a corset with Jen’s help; she found a way to relace it and wore it for the next couple of days.
On Friday I posted a picture of a Scout I saw on Congress Street to Instagram and the local IH community said hello; I’ll write more about that elsewhere. We walked the length of the street and found some great artwork, as well as spending time in a store called Lucy In Disguise with Diamonds, which was full to the rafters with interesting costumes for Halloween and from feature films. After stopping at Guero’s Taco Bar for some dinner, we hiked down the hill to the Congress Street Bridge, where a crowd had gathered to watch the bats fly out to hunt at dusk. It was incredible; thousands of bats following in trail down the river and out over the city, enough to show up as a dark blot on the horizon.
When the main swarm had left, we rented scooters and rode them back up the hill to our car, which was one of the better ideas we had all week.
We spent Saturday and Sunday hanging out with Linda and Cam at their house, and they took us to a couple of their favorite restaurants in the area. It was great to catch up with them and relax.
Monday we drove to Barton Springs, another naturally-fed community pool, and spent a good bit of the day swimming in the cool water under the skyline of the city. It was a perfect way to spend the day—just wading in and out of the water, with noplace to get to and nothing else to do. When we started getting hungry, we reluctantly dried off and drove to a restaurant called Chi’lantro, where Jen and I ordered Kimchi Fries, a dish Linda has been talking about for years. We were not disappointed. Then we checked out some more stores featuring local art, hoping we’d find something good. It was hit and miss.
On Tuesday we did some shopping for our neighbors, who helped us with housesitting, and who always bring back interesting things from their travels. We hit a store called Uncommon Objects, which featured an incredible collection of curated antiques and oddities, including some artwork we loved but couldn’t afford.
We don’t have an Alamo Drafthouse by us, so we thought we’d take in Thor: Love and Thunder on our last night in town. We had a lot of fun, and Finn loved the movie. I think the thing I remember most about that experience was a music video they played before the show which was equally disturbing and hilarious.
Wednesday morning we hustled back to the airport, turned in our little Buick (review: nice little car, but abysmal visibility past the B-pillar) and sailed through security in record time. The flight was uneventful, and we got back to our house by 4PM. All of the pets were happy to greet us except for Bella, who remained asleep on my pillow, and we collapsed into chairs, tired from the trip.
I would happily return to Austin anytime as long as they can stave off Gilead; it was a great city filled with great people and a vibe I remember from the early 90’s in Baltimore when it was weird and full of artists. I’d love to transplant a bunch of that energy here.
I haven’t been writing much here in the last couple of months. It’s partially because my focus has been on grinding through work, and the spare time I’ve got has been either being with family o throwing myself at the truck for mental heath reasons.
I’m really good at organizing information, structuring it visually, and making it presentable to the audience—thirty years of experience have taught me how to do it in my sleep. Currently, I spend all of my available time at work writing email to move things from point A to point B and meeting with people to follow up on the emails moving things. It’s been rare that I get to make or design anything. I knew that taking this temporary role on, and I’ve accepted it, but it’s very hard for me to leave work feeling like I did anything useful or worthwhile. I think I’ve mentioned previously on these pages that I’m a task-oriented guy, so open-ended threads stretching out for weeks or months with no resolution short-circuits my brain.
So I push away from my desk at 6PM, spend some time with the girls over dinner, and then head out to the driveway to put wrenches on the truck in the hope that I can continue making forward progress. I’ll drag stuff out of the garage and work until it gets too dark to see anything, and then come inside to put Finn to bed. By the time I sit down to relax I don’t have a whole lot to say or any desire to write. Most of what I am writing is a recap of work to the truck (mostly to keep track of what I’m doing and the progress I’ve made) so I can keep my thoughts organized.
I’ll be stepping back to my regular role at the end of June, which will help my mental health immensely, and hopefully then I’ll have some brainspace to post here more frequently.
I got an invitation from Apple to join their new Savings account, tied to my Apple Card, and thought I’d give it a try, as it’s got a higher rate than pretty much any other account I have open besides my index funds. I had to update my phone and then head into the Wallet app, where I was surprised to find I’d already amassed a decent amount of money through the cash back program. I read the disclosures, approved the account, and now I’ve got a savings account earning 4.5%. I’ve been very happy with my Apple Card since I opened it, using it for gas stations and larger purchases I wanted buyer protection on, and it’s been super easy to manage and use. I’m going to keep funneling the cash back balance into the savings account and see how much it grows.
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I’ve gone for hours sitting through meetings as Acting Co-Director for the last few months tethered to my computer, and I figured it was time to spend $15 to be able to move around every hour or so. I bought a pair of cheap earbuds from Amazon during a lightning deal. These earbuds put into stark contrast just how good my AirPods Pro are. Just the noise pass through function alone is worth the money. Using these earbuds as a microphone is annoying after years with a more superior product; it’s like having a conversation with your hands planted over your ears. The bass response is negligible. But for the money it’s a small price to pay for the freedom to get up and stretch.
When I was a kid in New Jersey we had six channels to watch: the three main networks, the Fox affiliate (FOX 5, before it was Nazis, home of the Godzilla creature feature at Halloween and It’s a Wonderful Life at Christmas), Channel 29 (home of Star Blazers and M*A*S*H reruns), and PBS. One day I caught a show on PBS that had a guy dressed in odd pseudo-military clothing who taught kids how to draw, and the first time I saw it I was VERY interested in watching the rest of the shows. Unfortunately it never followed a schedule that made any sense and so I wound up only seeing a handful of episodes.
Fast forward to college, when my friend Tim and I were talking about random stuff and shared a common memory from youth: the drawing show on PBS. Turns out it was produced here in Maryland by MPT, and turns out he was a guest on the show as a kid for one of the episodes!
Fast forward to last night,when the same subject came up and I was talking about it with my sister-in-law. I had to find it, and the Internet provided: a series called Secret City, where the host tought kids to draw all kinds of different things. Enjoy:
The church Jen has been attending since Finn was a baby is very progressively Presbyterian, and they’ve been doing a lot of outreach with other churches and religions in the area. They recently organized an Iftar dinner with a local mosque and sent out invitations to the congregation. I haven’t been to church in a long while, as responsibilities and life have gotten in the way (and frankly, I prefer to spend my spare time elsewhere) but we were all intrigued at the idea of fellowship with members of a different religion and learning more about Ramadan.
We got cleaned up and walked across the street before sunset, and sat in the sanctuary while the Imam and our pastor gave a quick overview of Ramadan and Easter, respectively. Then we waited while the muslim congregation got up to fill their plates (as they’d been fasting since sunrise) and followed them in line. They’d set up tables with slips of colored paper next to each plate; this was designed to invite mingling of the two congregations. Jen and Finn found two seats at one table and I split off to another, where I was seated next to a couple and their brother. We listened to the call to prayer and ate delicious food. Our table got along well, and I learned about the country of Turkey, Istanbul, world architecture, and Turkish baklava—which I now prefer miles above Greek baklava—made with incredibly flavorful pistachios. I very much enjoyed our evening and we were some of the last to leave—after helping break tables and chairs down we waddled home and pretty much went right to bed.
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On Saturday Jen and I ran some errands in the morning after getting breakfast with the dog, and picked up some new paint for the blue bedroom. That room has been due for a refresh for years now, and the girls picked out a shade of coral to mix things up. I put a quart up on the wall to see how it works, and everything is much brighter in there now. So I’ll finish with the wall color and then repaint all the trim, finally repair a poorly-fitted board on the threshold, and get it ready for new furniture.
Sunday I picked up my brother-in-law and drove down to Lexington Park where we were tasked with getting the bathroom closer to being finished. I brought a new medicine cabinet and light down in the car, and we installed both of those on the wall. I’d sandblasted and painted the original A/C register so we put that back in, finished off the baseplate, installed a new marble threshold, and hooked up the sink supply and drain. Both original valve bodies began leaking almost immediately, so the next time I’m down there I’ll have to replace both of those. But the whole thing is much further along and nearing completion.
Saturday we decided to get out of Dodge and do something fun as a family. I’ve had the green couch in the living room since my house in the city, and it’s served us faithfully through the years in the living room as our main seating area, but it’s super long in the tooth and doesn’t fit our style anymore. It’s been under a brown cover for years because the original IKEA upholstery is stained and torn. Jen bought new legs for it and had me put them on last fall, and that made a visual difference but raised it up off the ground too much to be comfortable. So we started looking around for alternatives.
There are several wholesalers online that have generous return policies but we really wanted to be able to sit on something and look at it before we bought it, so we drove down to DC to 14th Street and hit up a long line of houseware and furnishing stores. Used to be you’d go to the mall for that kind of thing; funny how those stores have all closed. It was lovely to go back to the Big City and walk down the block to see the sights.
We started at a place called Joybird, who have beautiful Midcentury Modern designs with contemporary fabrics, and tested out a couple of couches with a salesman who was extremely helpful and patient. When we’d settled on a loveseat that we liked, we then spent about a half an hour worrying over fabrics. Deciding to think it over, we got our salesman’s card and continued up the street. There were a bunch of homeware stores available, and after some Shake Shack for lunch we hit the West Elm, where shades of white or off-white seem to be the only color choices. After looking on both floors, we came down to where Finn was waiting for us, Jen sat in a leather chair next to her and immediately said, “Ooooh! This is comfortable!” Looking it over, we both tried it out and realized it was pretty perfect for what we want to do with our room. So we took notes on that and continued on our way.
After stopping for a drink at a beautiful bar/restaurant, we crossed the street and hit a small shop next to the Black Cat called the Outrage, which is a combination storefront and meeting space for social justice/racial/feminist events. So many cool things there. Jen bought a couple of T-shirts and Finn got a ring from some local artists. By that point it was getting late and we needed to get back to the dog, so we hit the road and headed home.
This morning we both took advantage of the President’s Day sales and we’ve got a couch and two chairs coming; this marks the first time we’ve bought major furniture for the inside of the house since the yellow couch in the den. It will be great to make big changes to the living room—more on that to come.
On that note, I think the built-in shelves are done. Well, there are two small areas along the bottoms that need to get patched up. And then it’s done. I spent most of Sunday actually finishing the install process; I’d started screwing the two side units into the wall on Thursday night but had to place the two top shelves, mill down the side pieces, tack in the moulding, and then nail everything into place on Saturday. With that done, it was a lot of caulking and painting and painting and adjusting and painting; then I had to run out to Columbia to the only Lowe’s in the area that sells the toekick moulding I needed to finish off the edges. But that was just an excuse to get a couple of good hours in the Scout, which ran like a top and put a smile on my face.