July 30th, 2015

ootd // favorite shorts.

I love cloth shorts — they tend not to cling in the unflattering way that denim sometimes does, although they do wrinkle more. These are my favorite pair at the moment. They are effortless to style, I just pair them with a basic tank top and boom! ready for a quick jaunt to town. I am still hunting for places to take outfit photos in my new abode, but I like the lighting in this photo, so perhaps the search is over. I do enjoy taking “outfit of the day” photos and I am trying to get back to a twice a week blogging schedule. I think it will be easier when I am actually getting dressed every day for work (summer problems).

Shirt: Loft // Shorts: UO // Boots: Vintage // Jewelry: gifts

July 28th, 2015

this is 29.

I turned 29 over the weekend, in a beach house on the Texas coast. I didn’t feel particularly contemplative about the transition, perhaps a little sad. Everyone talks about the magical, redemptive essence brought on by your 30′s, but I can’t shake the feeling that 29 is an epilogue, a final chapter in this tumultuous period of my life — which is both exciting and scary. This past year — it was so wild, unforgiving and varied that I simply cannot categorize it. I had so many new experiences that I eventually lost count. I got married to my favorite person, took an international trip alone, lived in San Francisco and then in Texas, finished my graduate school coursework (I graduate in August, something I wanted to do before turning 30), quit one job & got another, I visited places across America that I’d never been before and embraced nature with my arms wide open. Sitting on the porch of the beach house with my husband, my dog and our friends, I thought it was a pretty great way to start the year. I can only hope that 29 provides me with half the sponteneity and adventure that 28 did.

July 23rd, 2015

ootd // black jumpsuit.

I was initially quite hesitant about jumpsuits. Like, wait, aren’t those what prisoners wear? How will I escape it to use the bathroom? Pretty sure it’ll make my hips look huge. But once I bought my first one, there was no looking back — I now own three. This Lou & Grey varietal is both versatile and comfortable. I kind of want to buy everything on Lou & Grey’s website, then disappear to Mexico for a week.

Jumpsuit: Lou & Grey // Sandals: Birkenstocks

July 21st, 2015

book talk // swamplandia.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is a book about the alligator-wrestling Bigtree clan living, essentially alone, in the Florida swamps. Chief Bigtree, who is not a native-American at all, runs a fairly successful tourist attraction called Swamplandia! where his wife, Hilola Bigtree, is the star — each night she dives into a pit of alligators (whom they lovingly call “Seth”, or “the Seths”) and emerging, unscathed, at the other end of the pit. However, when Hilola dies of cancer, she leaves behind her legacy: three children, Ossie, Ava and Kiwi, along with a slightly delusional husband who thinks he can somehow resurrect the now defunct Swamplandia! in a way that he could not save his wife.

Separated from any children their own age, the story delves into the imaginary world the Bigtree kids create for themselves — a survival tactic that holds the tenuous threads of their understanding together. Ossie begins to retreat further and further from reality and begins “dating” ghosts that she calls up from her homemade Ouija board and a creepy old book. Kiwi considers himself a genius and, with a letter composed of Thesaurus-laden adjectives, he departs Swamplandia!, defecting to their competition, World of Darkness, to save money for his family. When the Chief leaves and Ossie runs off, Ava is left in charge of trying to hold the family dreams together. With a Bird Man as her guide, she departs on a haunting and harrowing journey. The narrative switches between Kiwi’s (third-person) story of real-world problems with lousy paychecks, not having a high school diploma, and constant teasing from his co-workers and Ava’s (first-person) supernatural one. In many ways, his story is the more accessible. Ossie’s story, however, isn’t developed wholly after her disappearance (and I found myself irrationally angry at her selfishness, even though Ava never was), the reader can make logical inferences regarding the missing pieces, but Russell doesn’t fill in the gaps; instead, it’s Ava who truly acts as the book’s guiding compass, and her story diverges dramatically from her brother’s “mainland” experiences in night school, eating at fast food restaurants and learning curse words — Ava’s journey is a bit of Through the Looking Glass meets The Inferno, only swampier.

I think this book can be read in a variety of ways — a coming-of-age novel, magical realism or a parable using the Florida swamp as a mythical archetype. There are far too many references to hell (the World of Darkness is a hell-themed amusement park, the visitors referred to as “lost souls,” constant references to Ossie’s “underworld,” and the Bird Man who acts as Dante’s, I mean Ava’s, guide to hell) to not consider the archetypal implications. It’s a coming-of-age / loss-of-innocence novel for Ava especially, but also for all of the Bigtree children. Ava’s realization is the most drastic, and her enigmatic red Seth acts an important talisman for her experience.

It took me a while to read this book, not because it isn’t unique and enthralling — it is — but because I only wanted to read it in small pieces, to savor the setting and consider the characters. Russell’s use of time in her book paralleled my own reading of it in a way. Kiwi’s life on the mainland lasted for “weeks and weeks,” while Ava’s journey took mere days. At first I thought this disjointed timeline may have been due to bad copyediting, but the more I thought about it I realized that real life, when one is struggling to survive, feels like an endless journey with no true destination. On the other hand, Ava had a place in mind, a purpose, and her childlike (and perhaps naive) belief kept her cocooned in a dis-reality. Ava had no school, no friends, very few hobbies — her world was an endless twilight. Whereas Kiwi, with his myriad “adult” responsibilities, had a stricter schedule. I suppose childhood seems to many of us like a lost twilight and I believe Russell captured that in her novel. Additionally, prior to reading this book, I doubt I would have described the Florida swamps as “magical,” but I might do so now.

Essentially, Swamplandia! is based around an improbable ghost story, but really it shows a family struggling to cope with changes in their lives and how they manage to stay together and survive. Also, this is the second novel I’ve reviewed (Night Circus was the first) that centered around an amusement park / magical realism theme, I guess that niche genre speaks to me for some reason?

Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: fans of magical realism, gothicism or teen angst, lovers of mosquitos, questioners of time

July 16th, 2015

twenty-nine palms.

Our decision to leave San Francisco was a drawn out conversation with a quickly punctuated conclusion. Suddenly, it was mid-June and time to leave. We left the city at six AM, chasing the sunrise, knowing we’d only lose time as we crossed the country. We pulled away from the curb, leaving behind a mattress that I can only assume was snatched up and now resides in the homeless encampment a block away. We never bought a bed, that mattress was a large part of our world for over a year. I was a little sad to see it go. We drove 8-hours into Southern California, with a specific destination in mind.

You have no idea how much you could love places you never intended to go until you get there. Take Joshua Tree for example — two years ago, I had no idea where Joshua Tree NP was, let alone would I have endeavored to camp there. As it turns out, I loved the rarified landscape so much I just had to go back this summer when we made our final ride from San Francisco to Texas. There is no sunset like a desert sunset, and I wanted to soak up a few more. Camping, however, was out of the question in the 100+ degree heat. We stayed at an inn, and used the time to recharge, like solar cells in the desert sun. So, we swam, read, listened to live music and ate some really good food. The only stressor was our car’s a/c going out as we crossed the Mojave Desert. In a lightly humorous way it harkened back to forgetting our tent and sleeping in the car on our first Joshua Tree sojourn — it’s all part of the adventure.

I’ve been so busy it’s taken me a while to compose anything about the past month, but, even now, I am still conjuring up images of golden sand, cactus gardens and jackrabbits dotting the barren landscape. My recollection of this scene suffuses me with a comfortable warmth that I want to hug to my chest forever.

July 14th, 2015

a nerd in harry potter world.

I’ve been absent from the Internet for a week whilst exploring Orlando based theme parks with the unwashed masses, and my family. Of course we went to Disney World, however, pre-Disney I had the rarified opportunity to obtain a VIP experience at Universal Studios. I just happen to know a guy who knows a guy, and it was his birthday, so he took his friends and family to Universal. The innocuous VIP pass appears, at first, to be simply an inoffensive piece of monogrammed plastic, but its implications are both magnified and multifaceted. First, we were allowed to skip ahead in all the lines — I felt moderate guilt as I jumped ahead of a multitude of wide-eyed children, thankfully it wasn’t a lingering guilt as I literally did not wait in one line. Our group could re-ride rides, explore the backlots, eat free food, and we had a tour guide (Kendra) who ushered us around, peppering us with interesting park facts all day. Finally, and most importantly, this line skippage also applied to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — coincidentally, the only place in the park where you can’t use your (overpriced) expedited tickets — and this experience came with a complimentary Butterbeer tasting. I acknowledge that this was a once in a lifetime experience, unlikely to every be replicated, and it was awesome.

We visited Hogmeade first. The snow-capped rooftops looked particularly out of place in the sweltering Florida heat, but a storm rolled in mid-afternoon which provided an adequately moody backdrop. Once oriented, I hopped straight into Ollivanders with a single purpose — to find my wand. The rest of the group was not as enthusiastic at the prospect of wand shopping and I went solo through the stacks. While browsing, I discovered that some of the wands are interactive! How did I not know this before? The interactive wands come with a map of spell casting locations and the proper wrist-flicking combination to cast each spell. I chose a 15″ reed wand because the description spoke to me: “Reed wood is associated with scholarship and knowledge. Reed people are good with words, and steadfast in their beliefs. They are deeply rooted and extremely flexible. Reed people should trust in their ability to adapt to new situations without ever losing sense of who they are.”

Wand in hand, I set off to ride the Hogwarts Express to Diagon Alley. I only though Hogsmeade was impressive, Diagon Alley actually blew my mind. I tripped because I was blatantly gaping at the carefully created setting, every minute detail intended to spark both memory and imagination in the mind of any HP fan. Predictably, Escape from Gringotts was my favorite ride — because, dragons. I get motion sick fairly easily, so I didn’t enjoy the virtual broom flying ride inside Hogwarts (sorry Harry). In the inevitably awkward ride picture, I was leaning against the side of the cart looking particularly green — and it wasn’t from Gillyweed. Eventually, the rain started up in earnest and I retreated back to the Hogshead tavern where I procured another frozen Butterbeer (although they do have Firewhiskey as well), and then de-camped to Honeydukes for some chocolate frogs. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but if you like Harry Potter (the books or the movies) even a little bit, then this is a must-visit destination. Now, if I could only make it to Mordor…

July 2nd, 2015

accidental country girl.

I never intended to live in the country. Growing up in the suburbs, I always felt displaced and assumed that I needed those bright lights, late nights and the constant entertainment that only the largest of cities could provide. Then, I went to college in a small town, home to a prison and a university and not much else. The late night activities I had imagined for myself transpired instead over cheap beer on a friend’s back porch, huddled around a fire pit after finals or driving down random dirt roads, our laughter ringing through trees rather than bouncing off buildings. So, I graduated, I lived in big cities (some of the biggest in the world), and then, somehow, ended up back on a dirt road.

Almost immediately my stress melted away. Yes, it’s hotter in Texas, so there’s a possibility I could actually be melting, but I believe it’s attributable to the simplistic, authentic environment present here. Mostly, I didn’t realize how much I furrowed my brow and clenched my teeth, how I walked with my muscles constantly engaged to ward off any unneccesary attention (the kind women inevitably get on the streets of a big city). I’ve lost my anonymity entirely. I also didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to procure things I (and most people in the 21st century) took for granted: Internet. We now have satellite Internet, with a data cap. We can’t get DSL or cable, and were legitimately offered dial-up as an option — I laugh-cried in response. So, my desire to stop Netflix-binging and to cut myself off from always being “on” has been (unintentionally) realized. I’ve cut my own hair and made fried green tomatoes and catfish, fresh-caught by one of Jared’s family members. I’ve bought “mud boots” for mucking about in the yard and I’m very close to convincing Jared to build me a deck and a chicken coop. I’ve reconnected with friends and family and bought snowcones from the stand that’s only open in the summer and picked tomatoes, then turned them into salsa, and drank homemade beer. Although we’ve agreed not to pretend we’re definitely staying put forever, it’s an admittedly good life, this accidental country one I’m living.

Sooner or later I will get back to positing outfits (surprise, I still wear clothes), and maybe some pictures of our (really, awesomely) epic road trip adventure, oh, and that whole wedding thing that happened (spoiler: it was amazing) and maybe something about (finally) finishing graduate school, but this has already been a BIG summer, and I need a moment to process all of it myself.

June 23rd, 2015

imposter syndrome.

For the past three years, Jared and I have been living like nomads. We settle for a while, plant seeds, see what grows, always saying “this might be it.” Of course, it never is. I remember last year, before we moved to San Francisco, my dad told me: “You’ll be somewhere else in a year.” I took immediate offense, assuming he meant I couldn’t hack it out West. “What do you mean?” I inquired. “Well, have you ever stayed anywhere for more than a year?” I started to protest, but realized that any defense I could mount was ultimately futile. I’ve been from Texas to South Korea to San Francisco, with more Texas in between. Actually, at 13 months, San Francisco has been one of my longer stints I’ve spent treading water. And yet, here we are at the end of another year, bags packed, eyes set on the horizon.

I have imposter syndrome. I never feel wholly settled in a place, and San Francisco never felt like home. For me, as for many other people, San Francisco was a transitory city. Everyone I met there was on their way to somewhere else. It was temporary, a band-aid, while necessary skills were acquired. My experience in SF was very similar to South Korea in that regard — there, I knew anyone I befriended was most likely on a one year contract of some sort, as I was. But, I did make friends in SF, really good friends, friends I might consider staying for — and yet, my heart is no longer in it. I don’t hate San Francisco, it’s given me so much, but the tech industry that makes me feel like I’m constantly living inside the Internet, the yuccies who oppose gentrification but support artisinal donuts, and the astronomically high cost of living (especially for a teacher and an artist) all contribute to my feeling adrift.

During this process of recalibration, I’ve found I like quiet. Leaning out the window at three AM to hush the loiterers who, for whatever reason, congregate on my street corner drinking IPAs and loudly arguing about startups is not a life that feels authentic to who I am. However, leaving the city limits of San Francisco to go kayaking, camping, snowshoeing has given me a new opinion of what I’m capable of and what matters to me. Joining a few wine clubs has been an equally edifying experience. Nature, quiet, wine — I like these things.

But I always find myself homesick. I grew up in Texas and, despite traveling and working different jobs and living in different places, I am still a Texan. So, when Jared and I had a recent bout of simultaneous homesickness, we said “screw it” and I sent out resumes, then found myself hired by a high school in small-town Texas. Some people might question why I would give up the convenience, diversity and luxury of cosmopolitan and population-dense San Francisco for a (very small) Texas town — but, to me, it doesn’t feel like a failure or a compromise, it feels like another adventure.

I drove through Texas recently. Green hillsides dotted with perfectly dispersed hay bails, like a carefully planned art installation, high, muddy rivers, thick with the recent rainfall, that cross the state in circuitous paths, and those perfect sunsets that transform the landscape into something else entirely, golden and expansive. I am happy. I am home.

May 20th, 2015

book talk // hausfrau.

Hausfrau by Jill Essbaum is a book about Anna Benz, a deeply unhappy expatriate housewife with three children living in Zurich. She is alienated by the language, her husband is cold, her mother-in-law distant and her friends few and far between. In an attempt to regain some control over her life, she reaches out to a Jungian psychoanalyst, takes German classes and engages in extramarital affairs as her life begins to spiral.

I was first drawn to Hausfrau‘s beautiful cover, some of my favorite books were initially picked up due to interesting cover art. Then, a Goodreads review likened Hausfrau to Madame Bovary, one of my favorite classics which I’ve read twice since first encountering in it a college lit class. And, while I can see the comparison, in retrospect, I believe Hausfrau to perhaps be the more poetic — which makes sense as Jill Essbaum is a poet and this is her debut novel. There are definite echoes of The Bell Jar.

Hausfrau drew me in with the first line: “Anna was a good wife, mostly.” Boom. I immediately wanted to read more. I am strongly drawn to unlikeable protagonists, especially of the female variety. I noticed other readers claiming Anna’s character was too difficult to like, but I perhaps enjoyed her more because of my own resistance and hesitance toward finding her endearing. I mean, for all intents and purposes, Anna is a narcissist and generally what society would deem a bad person. “Some women collect spoons. Anna collected lovers.” [Also, fair warning, the extramarital sex is often and rather graphic.]

The book is not humorous, fast-paced or light — it’s a heavy read, laden with tragedy and Jungian anecdotes. At various points in the novel, conversations with Anna’s doctor are intermixed with the ongoing narrative of the story. This gives the reader a deeper insight into what’s really going on in her mind. And, although I found myself reading past, present and future on the same page, the asides never felt out of place — it simply made for a more enlightening character study.

Additionally, Essbaum succeeds in playing with language in beautiful ways that had me highlighting line after line. I believe Hausfrau veers sharply away from Madame Bovary by accessing the precision of words. Throughout the book Anna queries various people about their opinions on spiritual and psychological matters, but also on the meanings of words (labyrinth vs maze, for example). Essbaum also draws continuous metaphors between Anna and language, her German classes being one of the tenuous threads holding her to the real world. “With Anna it was all verbs. She was sloppy in her conjugations, reckless in her positioning. She confused tense with mood and relied too often on the passive voice.”

Overall, I found this to be one of the smarter books I’ve read in a while. The language bordered on lyrical and there were many passages which I found psychologically astute. As I mentioned previously, the first line of the book grabbed me immediately — the last line did the same thing, but on a different scale. I won’t spoil it, but really, the whole book is beautiful.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended For: people who like their drama with a side of psychoanalysis, lovers of language and poetry

May 18th, 2015

ootd // thrifted frock.

This thrifted Free People dress is still one of my favorite finds of all time. It’s a style I wouldn’t normally choose for myself: buttons, drop waist, straight silhouette — but I love the fabric and the pockets, so I wear it quite frequently. In this instance, I wore it to a champagne brunch at the Cliff House (and checked that off the bucket list). We scheduled the outing weeks ago, unaware that Bay to Breakers was also taking place on the same day, so the parking and pedestrian situation left much to be desired — but at least the people-watching was top notch. The brunch itself was heavenly; my champ glass was diligently refilled any time it even threatened to near half-full. The food was decadent — I ate everything from mussels and smoked shrimp with wasabi noodles and roe to butterscotch pudding, piped carefully into an eggshell and topped with candied citrus rind. A harpist set the mood with live background music while we watched the blue-grey Pacific lap hungrily against the rocky coast below; it added an extra layer to an already enjoyable sensory experience. Highly recommend!

Dress: FreePeople (thrifted) // Sweater Tights: H&M // Shoes: Ross