JUST FYI - I know everyone was DESPERATELY waiting for Storytime Wednesday, but I'm putting this writing on hiatus while I adjust to the time commitment of my new job. Thanks for understanding!
A couple of months ago, my friend told me she had been gifted a free box of food from Hello Fresh, a meal delivery service similar to Blue Apron. Upon receiving her free box, she was granted free boxes to send to friends, one of which she sent to her husband. They took the free boxes, canceled their subscriptions, and were emailed with a code for 70% off to entice them to come back. In all, I think they paid something like $50 for six boxes of food. So, naturally, I asked for a referral code.
I am NOT the kind of person to sign up for a service and then cancel - it seems like a lot of work to get free shit. However, in the meal delivery service world, the free shit is a week's worth of food (and y'all know how I feel about free food), and canceling is super easy (you don't even have to talk to a human! And talking to humans is the worst!). Thus, I've spent the last two months subsisting on my media dinners and free trials of delivery services.
I've found I really enjoy the meal delivery services. Honestly the biggest problem for me, other than some recipes that sucked, is that I'm often not home for dinner enough to make the food. I love to cook, but buying an entire bottle of rice wine vinegar when I only use two tablespoons is annoying, so the portioned meals work well for me. Having the food delivered directly to my door is also a huge plus, and as a #sadsingleperson, the two-serving size means I have lunch for the next day (I am terrible about lunch). I also get to try recipes I might not ordinarily make.
But what I enjoy even more is the FREE-ness of it all. So, here are four delivery services you can try for free (or very cheap!) and what I think of them.
1) Hello Fresh
How to try it for free: 1) Check with friends - after your first box, you get four referrals to give away 2) Walk around Austin - I've seen Hello Fresh people at The Domain and Downtown and I bet they will give you a free trial.
Cost if you want to continue: $59.94 for 3 meals (2 servings each)
The Verdict: 6/10
The first delivery of HelloFresh that I got showed up covered in some kind of mysterious juice - I think the chicken got punctured somehow - and for sure this colored my perception of them forever. I called and they sent me a new box the next week, but that was kind of a big fail on their part. The next box was a big fail on my part - I just wasn't home enough to make all the food. So my third attempt I actually paid for, but HelloFresh is pretty cheap.
The food is basic and simple - a little too basic, if you ask me (like the names of the dishes - holy fuck can you not?). I mean, I get it, Americans love chicken + starch but seriously, enough with the couscous. Even though they were simple, these meals took longer to make than the recipe called for. Granted, this is a factor of the menus I chose, but idk, the other options didn't seem super appealing (meatloaf? pass.). The chicken orzo dinner was great, the cod and the jammed chickens (which are basically the same recipe), less so. Also, if you want steak ever, that's a "premium" option. That said, I did pick up some things (like how to make craveable roasted broccoli) that have stayed with me.
So, after the wonder of having food delivered to my door subsided, I felt pretty meh about HelloFresh.
2) Sun Basket
How to try it for free: For half off, you can use Google ads, Instagram ads, maybe this link
Cost if you want to continue: $74.93 for 3 meals (2 servings each)
Recipes I tried: Sesame chicken, Black Bean Chilaquiles, Italian Sausage and Peppers with celeriac mash
The Verdict: 6/10
The huge appeal of Sunbasket is they have food to accommodate all dietary needs (Paleo, Gluten Free, etc.) and the produce is organic, non-GMO, and super fresh.
Now, if only the food could taste good.
Admittedly, this was likely a problem on my end. The sesame chicken on udon just did not turn out - the udon was slimy and there was too much of it. Sausage and peppers was...fine...but it turns out I definitely do not like celeriac root, and did I really want to pay $11.50 for that? That said, the black bean chilaquiles were BOMB AS HELL.
Looking at the menu now, it seems really delicious and there are lots of options, so it's definitely worth trying, especially if you have special dietary needs. But it's a little bit more expensive than the others and I probably wouldn't recommend it if you're just starting out, as the recipes can be a little tricky.
3) Blue Apron
How you can try it for free: Your friend who gets Blue Apron gets FOUR free boxes to give away with every order, so hit them up. Otherwise, you can get half off your first box.
Cost if you want to continue: $59.94 for 3 meals (2 servings each)
The Verdict: 8/10
I found out about different delivery services from this BuzzFeed article, which ranks them all, and did not think highly of Blue Apron. Plus, it seemed, I don't know, super basic of me to have Blue Apron delivered.
OH MAN WAS I WRONG.
That Persian-Style chicken is not something I would cook normally but turned out SO DELICIOUS. Toasting half the rice for a crispy element? GENIUS! The pasta sounded plain but turned out FABULOUS. I felt incredibly fancy and also well-fed.
So, I was eager to try my next round of Blue Apron. I checked the menu (there are like eight options to choose from each week)...and checked, and checked. I didn't see a weekly menu with three options that I wanted to cook for over a month. So, definitely make sure that you choose a week that sounds appealing to you.
4) Marley Spoon
How to get it for free: I got half off my first two boxes from an Instagram ad, and then got two free boxes to give away. I'm sure you can find similar!
Cost, if you want to continue: $61.50 for 3 meals (2 servings each)
Recipes I tried: Pollock in Tomato Broth, Chicken and Butter Bean Salad, Sirloin Filet & Potatoes; Fried Chicken on a Biscuit, Whole Wheat Noodle Salad
The Verdict: 8/10
Marley Spoon is Martha Stewart's meal delivery service. And let me tell you, Martha got it wrong the first week I ordered. The Pollock in Tomato Broth was weird and the chicken was fine but boring (no complaints about the steak though!). I was mildly dreading my second delivery, when our girl came through in a pinch.
Y'all. I made (tasty!) biscuits in 5 minutes. I couldn't believe it. I also FRIED CHICKEN, which I've never done before, and it turned out AMAZING. Then the whole wheat noodle salad? I wanted to forward the recipe to all my friends. I'm sad I'm not eating it right now. Another huge plus - the recipes weren't overly fussy, and came together in the time on the recipe card.
My one minor complaint with Martha is some of the necessary ingredients weren't included. Like, yeah, luckily I had enough oil lying around to fry chicken, but you'd think it wouldn't be too hard for her to send some of that. And when you call for half a stick of butter, that shit should be in my box too.
The biggest lesson from all of this was how much you're at the mercy of the recipes (and how boring chicken can get). If you look at a weekly menu and there aren't 3 recipes you're excited about, DON'T ORDER IT! Going forward, I will likely be alternating between Marley Spoon and Blue Apron on an "every now and then" basis - my life is just too hectic to try to account for three meals at home in one week (which is kind of sad).
Have you tried meal services? Which ones do you like?
While staying in Siracusa, I took a short day trip to Noto for the sole purpose of trying some gelato that was described as, "a taste of Sicily in your mouth" by my guidebook.
I talked with my B&B, and they advised taking the bus to Noto, since the train station was far outside of town. So, I woke up early in the morning, walked to the bus station in Siracusa, and was met with an abandoned building. Train it was.
I bought a round-trip ticket, and when I arrived in Noto I was glad I did. The station only had one track in either direction, and there was no ticket machine at the train station, no people working in the booths, no NOTHING - except a schedule taped to the window, which put the last train out of Noto at 17:00. But even this was scratched out and, in pencil, 17:30 was written in its place. If it had been in pen, I would have believed it, but since it was in pencil I decided I should show up at 17:00 and see what happened.
I walked 15 minutes to get into town, and generally enjoyed my day in the tiny city - though unfortunately, I committed the fatal error of ordering the mandarino gelato when the guide had recommended the sorbetto, so I will never truly know what Sicily tastes like. It was gray and misting when I arrived, but by the time I headed back to the train station the sun was shining and I arrived to quite the pastoral scene. There was absolutely no one around, the station overlooked a field dotted with flowers, a dog was sleeping on the tracks, and the sun warmed my shoulders. I sat, drinking in the experience and feeling at peace.
I arrived at 16:45, and at 17:00 I began to suppose that the penciled-in time had been correct. Suddenly, I heard water running. This was quite alarming, as I had been sitting at the station for a significant amount of time, assuming I was alone. A grizzled-looking man stepped out from what I assume were the bathrooms and paused in front of me. He didn't look overtly crazy or homeless, but I was very confused as to what he'd been doing in the bathrooms for 15 minutes. "Ah, you are waiting for the train from Siracusa?" he asked me in Italian.
"Yes,"I replied defensively.
"Lo sai che non arriva per ancora trenta minuti." You know it doesn't arrive for another 30 minutes.
"Yes, I realize that now."
"Ascolta, ti piace trombare?" Listen, do you like to trombare?
I looked at him blankly.
"Sai cosa vuol dire?" Do you know what that means?
"No, I don't."
"Ah, okay." He walks away.
That was weird, I think to myself. I go back to enjoying the idyllic view, dog continues sleeping on the tracks, a gentle wind blows, etc. Fifteen minutes go by.
Fifteen minutes before my train, the man returns.
"Ancora aspetti il treno?" You are still waiting for the train?
"Lo sai che ci sono ancora 15 minuti." You know there are still 15 minutes.
"Yes." I am irritated with him at this point.
"Ascolta...ti piace scopare?"
This word I knew. I was in Italy to teach English at a high school, and on the first day, I had chaperoned a field trip for a class of all boys. One of them used a word around me and the rest looked at me, frozen, expecting to be disciplined, but I didn't know the words. Upon realizing that I didn't know the parolacce (curse words), they immediately started writing them all down for me. They didn't know how to say, "What do you like to do?" but they definitely knew how to say, "Fuck you." And they taught me that scopare, which literally means "to sweep," also means "to fuck."
But, scopare sounds like a bunch of other words. Scoprire, for example, which means "to find." I made a face at him.
"Sai cosa vuol dire?" Do you know what it means?
"I think so...it's a bad word, right?"
"No noooooo... non e' una parolaccia." No, it's not a bad word!
"Ah, then I don't know what it means."
"OK. Mi fai un pompino?" OK. Will you give me a blowjob?
That word I knew, and there was no mistaking it. I looked at him with a mixture of shock, disgust, and confusion. "NO!"
"Eh, ho provato." Eh, I tried. And with that he left.
When I returned to Milan and told people this story, they laughed at me. They said that he was a crazy person, and they told me not to go to Sicily by myself. And I laughed too, because I didn't know what else to do. When I first told this story, I'd tell it like it was this big joke, like it was so funny.
But it's not funny. I had to sit there, at the train station far outside of town, where no one could hear my screams, for fifteen minutes of pure, elongated terror, praying the man would not come back. I was so scared that I was shaking, nonstop, my phone clenched in my hand with the emergency number dialed. But what could they do? Could I even relay my situation in Italian, could the police get there in time?
This was the second truly dangerous situation that happened to me in Italy, and the same thing happened when I was assaulted - the people I told laughed, they told me I should have known better. I'm really lucky that nothing happened, but remember - I speak the language. I was living there. I'm not some tourist with a fanny pack on.
People have a tendency to romanticize Italy, and I absolutely agree that it's a beautiful place, but I always fight them a little bit to try to make them understand it's not perfect, and I think this is why. La dolce vita has a lot of problems: bureaucracy, the mafia, an older population, and a lack of modern methods. But it also has a big problem with aggressive men, and it's something I repeatedly felt threatened by during my time there with a frequency I've never felt in the US.
So no, this story is not a joke. It wasn't fucking funny.
I did a third lap around the streets of Siracusa, since trying to find a place open for dinner on a Sunday was proving to be difficult. All the places listed in my trusty guidebook were closed, at at this point I was just stalling the inevitable of having to eat at an unknown and therefore terrifying place. On my final trip through the same streets, a restaurant proprietor called out to me, "Hey, I've seen you walk by three times. Do you like mussels?" I didn't, but he offered me bread, wine, and mussels for 10 euro (in Milan, where I was living, this was the price for approximately two pieces of lettuce), and, not wanting to think about dinner anymore, I acquiesced. We exchanged the usual pleasantries as he seated me on the patio outside, and when he brought over the bread, he pointed to the man two tables over from me, "You know, he speaks English."
I ended up talking to this older stranger (given his gray hair, I'd put him around 45), speaking loudly across the two tables until he moved his seat over to me. He spoke English pretty well, had the owner bring over some good wine, and as far as I was concerned he was my new best friend for the evening, which had taken a significant turn for the better. During the conversation, he mentioned how I should come live with him and teach him English in exchange for rent, but I was used to Italians saying a bunch of shit they don't mean, so I brushed it off. He said he was meeting with some friends for pizza the next day, and we exchanged numbers to meet up. The part that I did find creepy though was when, as we were walking out of the restaurant, he asked me what my sign was, and then said, "Ah, a Gemini! Your sign is trouble... my exgirlfriend was a Gemini - she was about your age (22), too." Yeah, OK, weird that you had a girlfriend who was so much younger, but whatever.
The next day, I went to Noto for the SOLE REASON that I heard there was a gelateria there that was, "a taste of Sicily in your mouth," but more on Noto in the next chapter of this tale. Suffice to say, I came back from my journey a little shaken, and was glad to not be on my own for dinner this night.
My new friend had texted me the pizza location, and mentioned that he would be with people who spoke English. I arrive at the pizza place and find: 1) The Italian man I met the night before 2) His Italian friend, who spoke no English 3&4) Two women from the Czech Republic, who speak great English. I thought it was pretty crazy that there were Czech women living in Sicily, but whatever. There was a very odd group dynamic here, but I couldn't quite figure out what was going on - my "friend" is shamelessly hitting on the women, who are married - suggesting a romantic walk around the Old City after dinner. I find myself mostly talking to his friend in Italian, who seems a bit moody since he can't join in the conversation. After we finish our pizzas, the two men go outside to smoke, and I ask the women how they met the guy who invited me. "Oh, we just met him today, walking around the city." I'm very innocent and a little incredulous as I realize that he's creeping on married women, but they say they know what he's trying and they're playing the game to get free food but they are, y'know, married, and have no desire to let anything further unfold.
So now I'm wondering how I came to befriend and agree to dinner with the town's skeezy foreign-woman Casanova, and I'm trying to think of how to get myself out of this extremely awkward situation, when the guy comes back and says - in Italian so the women can't understand - "Erin, we're going to take a walk around the city now...but just the adults, ok?"
"FINE BY ME!" I say, and get the hell out of there, chuckling to myself at how these dudes are about to strike out big time.
I leave very early the next morning, and shortly after my train pulls out of the city, my phone starts blowing up. It's my "friend," saying that I am so beautiful and he never should have let me leave Siracusa and how I should come back because he was serious about me living with him and that he would take me on a motorcycle ride through the countryside of Sicily and blah blah blah. He kept calling and probably sent me 20 texts to this effect, as if he had not dismissed me to hit on some married women less than 12 hours earlier. I politely declined the first text, and then deleted the shit out of everything else.
I think my new favorite phrase lately has been hoo-boy. As in, "Hoo-boy, it's been a while since I've done a recap, so buckle in for some readin'." Highly underused phrase.
I have a lot going on with work-work, which leaves little time to produce #content/write for free on my blog. I'm really glad that I have a job where I'm using so much of my brain though, even if it is a little scary that someone put me in charge of stuff.
Plus, per usual, I'm avoiding my problems. But, since it's been a good eight months since I bared my heart on the page, probably time to change that. Working on it.
THINGS I PUBLISHED "RECENTLY:"
How/Why I Moved to Italy
In case you were wondering
Why My Mom is Amazing
Just in time for Mother's Day, awww.
8 Spots to Cool Off With Frosé in Austin (Eater Austin)
This one blew the fuck up, because - who knew? - people like frozen pink drinks.
Where to Sip Cocktails Poolside in Austin (Eater Austin)
Equally important to staying cool this summer.
Where to Work Out and Drink at the Same Time in Austin (Eater Austin)
I recently went out with someone who hadn't heard the phrase "detox and retox" before lololol we're all alcoholics. Anyway, go read because I WORKED REALLY HARD ON PUTTING THIS TOGETHER.
Your Guide to the Best Happy Hours in Austin by Neighborhood (Austin Way)
HINT HINT for anyone who would like to take me out for a drink, for whatever reason.
5 Austin Brunch Spots for Every Mom on Mother's Day (Austin Way)
My family went to Jacoby's, which is not on this list, but was pretty darn good (though WHERE DID THE BUNNIES GO???).
Book Your Next Staycation at Any One of These Luxe Penthouses in Austin (Austin Way)
Ever wondered what the inside of penthouses look like?
8 Irresistible Frozen Cocktails to Keep You Cool This Season (Austin Way)
It's hot. Drinks are frozen. Simple solution.
Oh, and I was on the Feedbak podcast talking about dating. You can listen to me laugh nervously and tell inappropriate stories here. There's also a video somewhere. The good news is, no reading required! Hooray!
(Also, if you signed up for my Tinder guide - which you should do - I will also email you this recap so you can click from your inbox instead of from my webpage. Also, my Tinder guide isn't done yet - sorry! - but I will send it out once it is, plus look at all this great content you can enjoy in the meantime!)
INTERESTING THINGS FROM OTHER PEOPLE:
A GoFundMe Campaign Is Not Health Insurance (The Nib)
Sometimes, it makes me angry that we actually have to specify this.
The Writer's Process (The New Yorker)
"My experience of writing is a giddy, pleasurable one, and does not feel like being trapped inside a cage that is on fire."
When Your Child is a Psychopath (The Atlantic)
Not that my parents ever needed this...right mom and dad? RIGHT???
My Family's Slave (The Atlantic)
I'm sure everyone read this already, but incredible story worth reading again. The Atlantic killed it last month.
OBLIGATORY RANDOM PICTURE OF ME:
Last year, I went to the W Hotel's pool party and it was the absolute greatest. So when they announced that they were doing it again this year, I could not WAIT - and the party did not disappoint. I started the day with a class from The Barre Code (I work out 3 or 4 times a week and I was expecting some ballet-based class to be a walk in the park but THAT SHIT IS HARD, YO), then we had brunch (DUCK CHILAQUILES. I REPEAT, DUCK CHILAQUILES), and then finally, the party, where this glorious moment was captured by A Taste of Koko (which, PS, read her article about how much it costs to be a blogger):
The first vacation I booked while living in Italy was a trip to Sicily by myself. I ignored warnings from my students that it wasn't safe because I was told they have the best desserts in Italy and I have an infinite capacity to consume sweets. My first thought when planning the trip was that I'd take the long, romantic train ride through Italy to get to Sicily, but once I found out I could fly there for half the cost and 1/10th the time, I opted for the more modern route. I booked a flight on Air Italy, which none of my Italian friends had ever heard of, so I showed up at the airport unsure if there would be a flight or if this was some kind of elaborate hoax. Luckily, I got on a plane that whisked me off to Siracusa, the subject of my next blog post, and then I took the train to Catania before flying back to Napoli on the main land. This is the story of Catania.
As I mentioned, everyone had told me I was totally insane to go to Sicily by myself, and having more or less confirmed their fears at this point, I was a little on edge. For this part of the trip, I had booked a hostel, which is totally unlike me due to a scarring hostel experience to be addressed later, but, like me, I booked a single room all to myself. The hostel itself was totally awesome - it was right in the city center and had built an underground restaurant in a natural grotto, complete with a small stream running through.
The hostel was next to a fish market, meaning the surrounding area stunk to high heaven. While it was kind of cool to see things like this:
It was slightly more disconcerting to see things like, a guy carrying A QUARTER OF A COW through the market ON HIS SHOULDERS.
Or to see/smell the leftovers at the end of the day. (Though it did make it easy to find the hostel - just follow the stench!)
Given the surrounding grossness, I more or less arrived in Catania, dropped my bags, and left immediately to spend the day in Taormina. I returned to Catania close to nightfall, and despite being painfully (PAINFULLY) shy, decided I should go have a drink. My first attempt was at the hostel grotto bar, but I got too nervous being there by myself and left before ordering anything. Armed with a map labeled by the hostel concierge, I decided to just walk through the city until I found a bar.
I walked for about ten minutes until I arrived at the area by the university, but there were no bars to be found. At this point it was night, and I was wandering through the streets of Catania alone, holding a map - you know, like the locals do. After a few minutes, I realized a man was following me. He was probably in his 40s, with graying hair. I crossed the street and kept walking, not necessarily knowing where I was going. The area I was walking into started to have more and more dead ends, and I noticed that most of the streetlights were out. The man continued to follow me, and I started to panic. I decided a drink was wholly unnecessary and quickly walked back in the direction of the hostel, but then the man yelled at me to stop.
"What are you doing?" he asked me. I replied that I was just walking around, and he stopped me and said, "Are you crazy? Catania is not safe at night for a girl by herself. All those streetlights that were out? The mafia does that." At this point I was shaking and close to tears - he saw that he was scaring me and asked where I was from. I told him I was in Catania on vacation and had wanted to find a bar for a drink but now I just wanted to go home.
"You want to have a drink? I will take you to have a drink."
I thanked him for his offer (which was more hospitable than creepy) but explained that really I just wanted to go back to the hostel (also I didn't want to have a drink with someone old enough to be my dad). He insisted on following me back to my hostel to make sure I got home okay, and at this point I trusted him enough to do that. Once I was safely deposited at the door, he waved goodbye and I retreated to my room, locked the door, and left the next morning.
You may be shaking your head at this point, thinking to yourself that I've got this backwards, that a man following me through the pitch-black streets of Catania couldn't possibly be the least creepy Sicilian man of the trip.
Yeah. More to come next week.
A major problem that has followed me throughout my life is that my mom is infinitely cooler than I am. She has impeccable music taste, an endless capacity to solve people's problems, an uncanny ability to stay current, and - not that this matters - but she's absolutely beautiful. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of my high school friends really just hung out with me to spend time with her.
So, for this Mother's Day, I'd like to share my some of my most memorable Mom Quotes from over the years, plus a bonus quote from her mother, my grandmother. Enjoy, and I love you, Mom.
5. Sassy Mom
My mother majored in German and minored in French at UT Austin, though she claims to have forgotten all of it. She actually spent a summer living in Germany doing the 1960s version of study abroad, which turned out to be a month as a scullery maid (she is now an expert at peeling potatoes). After her job ended, she met up with her boyfriend, who was doing the same in a different German town, they bought a VW Beetle, and spent the rest of their time driving around Europe. Yeah I know - I told you she was cooler than me.
When I was younger, she taught me how to count to ten in German, and one time while driving I asked her if she remembered anything else. She responded with, "Denkst du daß, ich bin eine dingbat?" which translates to, "What do you think I am, a dingbat?" This remains the one (very useful) German phrase I know.
4. Punny Mom
My mom HATES puns. My father and I have subjected her to far too many over the years, and she tries to pretend they aren't happening, to no avail.
As a child, my long, thick hair and time spent outdoors meant I contracted lice a couple of times, periods when my mom come very close to murdering our entire family. Using the special shampoo on all of us, combing my thick hair with a tiny comb as I whined, washing everything I'd come in contact with, and of course, the idea that there were bugs living on her daughter's hair, was all a bit much for my mom. So imagine her delight when one time, she noticed my scratching my head and discovered I had lice - while we were on vacation.
So, we had to perform all of the above steps, but from some cabin in the woods where she was supposed to be relaxing. As we were packing up to leave, my mom turned to us and said, "Well, that was a louse-y vacation."
You'll never live that one down, Mom.
3. Wise Mom
When I was in college, I spent a good amount of time dating someone who wouldn't fully commit to me. After he graduated and went to medical school in another state, my parents were the opposite of pleased to find out that we still talked every day and I made plans to go visit him. On that first visit, he asked me, "Does it bother you that I don't love you?" which broke my naive little heart.
And of course, who do you call with a broken heart but your mom. I was telling her a seemingly insignificant marriage joke I had made to him that he had shot down, and my mom stopped me with the most poignant relationship advice that stays with me today (even if I am too hard-headed to take it sometimes): "Erin, you shouldn't be with someone like that. You should be with someone who jokes about marrying you."
2. Stupid Fights With Mom
My mom debated for a long time about whether or not to join Facebook. I was extremely against this idea, as I had all of my college drinking pictures online. When she finally pulled the trigger in 2009, the first thing she did was send me a message saying, "will not ask to be your friend!" So, I thought that was that, and continued living my life in Italy.
During our scheduled Sunday Skype calls, I could tell that my mom was pulling away and seemed upset with me, but I couldn't figure out why. Finally, my dad clued me in that while SHE would never ask to be my friend, she was upset that I had not asked HER to be my Facebook friend. I wish I could say the story ended there, but I was 24 and extremely stupid, because she HAD PROMISED. But finally, after a lot of untagging, we became friends. And now she hates Facebook and never uses it.
BONUS GRANDMOTHER STORY
My grandmother was the sweetest Southern lady you could ever imagine. The strongest language I ever heard her use was, "Durn!" which she would say as I mercilessly beat her at card games while flagrantly cheating (yes, I was an only child, why do you ask?). I stayed at her house every other weekend, and she'd spoil me with McDonald's, popsicles, chocolate chip cookies, and blueberry pancakes (and somehow I don't have diabetes).
One of her quirks was that she would always hum to herself, and when my mom asked her about the tune, she said, "Oh, I didn't realize I was humming at all!" This sent my mother into a quiet panic, as she thought my grandmother was coming down with early dementia.
When my grandmother was tucking me in during one of our sleepovers, I asked her what she hummed. "Oh, I just hum little tunes. You know, I'm aware that I'm humming - and I only do it to drive your mother crazy. Let's keep this our little secret."
1. Unconditional Love Mom
When I was very young and still trying to figure out right from wrong, I asked my mother what they would do if I committed a crime. "Well, honey, we'd be disappointed with you, but we'd still love you."
"But what if I killed someone? Would you still love me?"
"Of course we'd still love you. We'd find the best lawyer in the country."
Luckily, lawyers haven't been a major part of my life (yet), but it definitely taught me the extent of unconditional love. I'm so lucky to have that in my life.
Thank you, Mom.
It has come to my attention that I am largely known as "The Tinder Girl." While this was initially a little frustrating for me, because who wants to be known as the single girl that's an expert on dating apps, eventually I decided it's better to embrace it than fight it.
So, I wrote a guide on how to set up a Tinder profile that doesn't suck - and trust me, a lot of you need this. I'll also send very occasional emails about what I've been writing, so it's a good way to stay in touch. If you are one of those "normal people" in relationships, you should still sign up for the guide to 1) Advise your clueless single friends 2) Receive updates on what I've been writing 3) Laugh with over a glass of wine with your significant other about how terrible the singles have it.
Fill out the form below and I will send it over when it's finished! Hope you enjoy!
My natural state does not have the "say yes to everything" mentality that seems to be so popular these days. Some of my more extreme type-A friends (and my mother) may argue this point - Erin, didn't you go full-time freelance and figure everything would work out? Don't you go on vacations by yourself and figure everything will work out? Didn't you move to another continent assuming everything would work out?
Well, yes. But there is someone who taught me to be like that: My best friend from college.
KT is someone for whom it does all work out. Don't get me wrong - she works hard for her success, but she also has this crazy, positive, say-yes-to-adventure attitude that I've always admired. In fact, she moved to another continent first, studying abroad Australia and regularly calling me drunk before my 9am summer school math class in the States. I think her secret is that even if things don't go the way she has planned, she shrugs it off and parties on, and this zeal for life makes her the kind of person everyone wants to be around - leading to even more escapades for KT. She lives her life out loud, and is the embodiment of this idea that saying yes amplifies your life.
I'm naturally more of a cynic. I'm in my own head a lot (hey, it's an interesting place), and I'm overly responsible. I'm the one who never gets so drunk she loses control, never forgets obligations, never forgets people watch when she dances. I do put myself out there on occasion, especially now that I'm older and give fewer fucks, but when I was younger, letting go required a lot of effort. And I think people could see that, so as much as I wanted to be like KT, I never quite shone light like she does.
It was time to leave Italy. My boyfriend had cheated on me, my parents missed me, and I was tired of the constant dreariness in Milan. It was a period of my life where I was forced to say yes out of loneliness and necessity - you can't exactly move to a new place and build a life from hermiting yourself away. But it was wearing on me. I planned one final (solo) exploration of Europe in my last months as a resident, and I wanted the exact opposite of Milan - so I chose Santorini, an island in Greece. The only flights available on my shoestring budget were atrocious - arriving in Athens around 9:30pm and flying to Santorini at 5am. Getting a hotel for those precious few hours seemed silly, and online research promised that lots of people spend the night at the airport. Though this sounded horrid to me, I tried to embrace the KT spirit on this trip. I was still brokenhearted and trying to generate any positivity I could.
As people gradually stopped filing onto the plane from Milan to Athens, I had the blissful optimism that I would have a row to myself. Then, minutes before we pulled away from the gate, two men in disheveled suits came blustering aboard, speaking rapid-fire to each other in a strange language and, of course, squeezing in next to my window seat. The man next to me was the burlier of the two, a bit older than me, with short curls falling around his face. After arranging himself in his seat, he asked me in English about the book I was reading, which I soon put away because this was clearly the kind of seat mate who was going to give me his life story.
He explained that he and his friend, who clearly did not speak English, had just come from doing business in Germany. They were from Athens originally, and he expounded upon all the virtues of his city, like visiting the Acropolis at night, with only stars overhead. When I shared that I was sad to be spending the night in the airport, he seemed actually offended. "No, that will not do," he said, and after a short burst of words with his friend, "You will come with us. We will make it a night to remember!" Thinking of KT, I said yes. I wanted that kind of night.
We continued talking for the rest of the flight, with him excitedly describing the things we could do for my one night in Athens - where we could go drink wine, what streets to explore, and how no one would sleep until he dropped me safely, and punctually, at the airport. I found out he had a daughter with an exgirlfriend, and he told me bits and pieces of their relationship while I conveniently glossed over the transgressions and impending doom of mine, to demonstrate that I was a taken woman. I started becoming a little uneasy at the degree of intimacy this conversation had garnered, and the number of times he called his exgirlfriend crazy. Shortly before the plane landed, he turned to me and said, "You know, with your curly hair, you remind me of my exgirlfriend." And that was what ended the magic for me.
I realized I didn't know this man, and I had just agreed to spend an entire night under the shroud of darkness with him, in a city I did not know and he knew very well. They waited for me as we disembarked, his silent friend who had seemed leering before now felt like more of an ally than this man who thought I looked like his crazy ex. I started to sweat. I was worried about being impolite - He was so nice! He had offered to show me his city! - and missing out on an adventure with locals. I wanted to say yes. I made it out to the parking lot, with the man's constant chatter telling me how his friend would go home, and we would go to his house to shower, and then he would show me the city, but when we arrived at their car and they started loading their suitcases, my sense of self-preservation kicked in. I was not getting in the car with strange men. I was going to say no.
I said it many times, in fact, as I was backing away from them and apologizing. "Erin!" he called after me, "Are you sure?"
Despite the fact that I did not get one wink of sleep while uncomfortably positioned on a coffee shop booth, one hand locked protectively around my suitcase in case the group of Danish girls that I should have been making friends with were more sinister than they seemed, despite the fact that I am fairly sure KT would have gone with them, and despite the fact that I might have missed out on those rare, magical nights making an innocent connection with someone in a beautiful city, I have zero regrets. I am absolutely sure I made the right decision to stay alive, and sometimes, it's okay to say no to protect that.
When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (not that I do now). I had majored in biosciences, because I thought it looked better than English, which was "too easy" (lololol). Apparently, you were supposed to have your shit figured out by first semester junior year, and after my summer working with tigers, I pretty much nixed the idea of doing anything with my degree. So, while my friends had already received their signing bonuses at Bain and JP Morgan, I graduated (barely - story for another time) with a BA in Biosciences and no clue.
So, I decided to move to San Diego.
I'd always romanticized California - most of the colleges I applied to were out there, but expensive - and it seemed like nothing was holding me back from finally making the move. I flew to San Diego and found an apartment and a job in four days, then flew back to pack my worldly possessions for a cross-country move with my trusty Honda Civic Si, Pearl.
On the first night of my drive to San Diego, I stopped in El Paso. I was super paranoid about my packed car since, again, it held my entire life, but luckily I could see my parking spot from my room. I spent most of the night glued to the window. When a coyote trotted into the parking lot (the first I'd seen!), I ventured out and put the leftovers from my room service salmon out for him. Finally, I figured I should actually sleep before an 8-hour drive, but I checked my email one last time before bed and found a mysterious message from Italy.
The answer to any question regarding my decisions when it comes to Italy is, "I have no idea." I studied Italian for three years in college (God knows why I chose Italian), and my last semester, our teacher told us about an internship in Italy that I applied to (no clue why I did this). I don't think I even understood what the internship entailed, something about cultural exchange. I had almost completely forgotten about it, however, this mysterious email was telling me there were 20 internship spots and I was #21, so if someone dropped out, I would be called up. Yeah, sure, but what kind of idiot is going to turn down a paid trip to Italy?
Well, me, as it turns out. By the time I got to San Diego (the day before I was supposed to start my first job, in fact) I had another email from the Italians - they had expanded the internship to 25 people, so congratulations, I was in! The internship, it turns out, was through the state of Lombardia - I would be the on-site native English speaker for a school.
I had just moved my entire life across the country to my favorite city, but here was an opportunity to move across the globe. I sought the counsel of my mother, who basically advised me that unless I stayed at my first job for at least a year, no one would ever hire me again. With these considerations in mind, I wrote an email to the Italians saying that I greatly appreciated the opportunity, but I wouldn't be able to accept the internship that year and I hoped to apply again the next year.
I hit "send" and was immediately awash with, "OH GOD, WHAT DID I JUST DO?"
Luckily, no one in Italy spoke English. The response I got was, "I'm sorry, I don't understand - does this mean you want to start your internship in January?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I meant," came my immediate response.
And so, in January, I was in Italy.
According to my records I have not done a recap since February. Oops! I have written a lot of #content since then! Some of it was good!
Most of my time lately has been focusing on working out a lot. I've gained some weight since the new year so I'm trying to be more committed to making the good kind of #gainz, plus, there's something about my body's looming mortality (it's all downhill from 32, right?) that makes me want to appreciate its strength while I still can. Yesterday I did a weights yoga class, then this morning I went on a 2.5 hour hike with friends (my first on the Greenbelt, despite the fact that I'm from here), followed by a soccer game in the evening. Super excited to see how that feels tomorrow.
Here's a funny/sad story: I can't really do headstands in yoga anymore. I mean, I can do them if I'm against a wall - I don't touch it, but it helps knowing that the support is there if I need it. I used to be able to do them fairly consistently, if shakily - the first time I ever did one, I drove directly to my exboyfriend's house to show him and make him take a video of me going upside-down. But then we broke up.
When I finally took a break from staring at the ceiling and silently crying, I dragged myself to something that made me happy: yoga. I went to a packed class with my favorite teacher, and about 10 minutes in she asks us all to get up into a headstand. I'm feeling surprisingly confident, so I get upside down, but something is off and I lose my balance. I come crashing down and knee myself directly in the face. Everyone in class is staring at me and my teacher is kind of laughing, because people falling down is funny, and I just run to the bathroom and completely lose it from the pain, frustration, embarrassment, and general breakup misery. My nose didn't break or bleed and I slunk back in to finish the class, but I haven't been able to do headstands since then. I know it's totally a mental block - I'm much stronger now - and I look forward to taking back ownership of that part of my mind again. Even if I need a crutch for a while.
THINGS I PUBLISHED "RECENTLY:"
22 Austin Hot Spots for the Perfect Girls Night Out (Eater Austin)
Go have some lady fun!
14 Best Upscale Boutiques in Austin (Andrew Harper)
For when you need to take your fancy fashionista friends shopping.
How to Eat Pizza for Every Meal in Austin (Eater Austin)
Breakfast pizza? Lunch pizza? Happy hour pizza? Late night pizza? I HAVE COVERED ALL THE PIZZAS.
6 Austin Influencers on the Future of Their City & What They Love Most about It (Austin Way)
Gaze into the future of Austin through the eyes of these various awesome people.
Your Guide to Dining Outdoors in Austin This Season (Austin Way)
Enjoy the weather before the outside air becomes 50% mosquitos and burns like hot fire!
6 Austin Restaurants Serving Up Insane Cheese Plates
Reference for people who need to take me on dates.
Where to Get the Best Eggs Benedicts in Austin
For when you're tired of breakfast pizza, for some reason.
Best Places to Hold Every Type of Meeting in Austin
This was written as a "where to meet up during SXSW" guide but has other uses too!
Austin Manses with Lush Gardens & Greenery Perfect for Springtime
Sadly my condo did not make the list, despite the fact that I have an aloe vera plant outside that I have kept alive for a record 1 year.
Austin-Based Wedding Experts Discuss This Season's Top Trends
Vocabulary that I learned from writing this article: "invitation suite."
7 Things You Need to Know about SXSW Before You Go
I guess this article is kind of moot now, but if you are a TRUE FAN of my writing...
INTERESTING THINGS FROM OTHER PEOPLE:
The Sense of an Endling (Longreads)
I keep thinking of this haunting essay about last-of-their-kind animals.
Honestly, I think the best way to understand me is this sentence: "We are social beings, and to no small extent, we define ourselves by whom we touch and whom we let touch us."
This is Almost Certainly James Comey's Twitter Account (Gizmodo)
If you are like me and consider cyberstalking a fun pastime, here is some next-level shit for you to learn.
Mosquitoes, Get Ready For Your Close-Up (The Atlantic)
Some of my favorite essays are interviews of people talking about random shit they are super interested in, and this is a great example of that.
OBLIGATORY RANDOM PICTURE OF ME:
Did you know my cat is approximately 1000x better at modeling than I am?
We all have that one friend who vehemently defends his stupid ideas, even when he himself does probably not believe them. These people are fools, and they must suffer.
One night in college, probably after a few adult beverages, a heated discussion emerged when a friend insisted that any two foods that are good separately are even better together. My friend KT, who is sane, pointed out that this could not possibly be true, giving the example of meat and cake together. Insane Friend said that sounded delicious, and we decided to call his bluff.
We made a night of it. KT spent a lot of time making an extremely elaborate meat cake - to a base of Betty Crocker Chocolate mix (with frosting, obviously), we added ground beef, cut up hot dogs, and I'm pretty sure there was some bacon in there. We topped it with a fried egg.
We cut a piece and put it on a plate for Insane Friend (because #manners). I would not like to thoroughly describe to you what ground beef looks like poking out of a chocolate cake, but it definitely resembles worms. We all watched this spectacle with bated breath and turned stomachs.
Insane Friend didn't even hesitate, digging right into his slice. We didn't have to wait long for the verdict: "Oh MAN this is good!" he said, mouth full of meat cake, reaching for another forkful. He kept eating the cake while KT and I turned steadily greener, and eventually tried to get other people to sample the... (dessert? food?) "creation." One of his friends finally took him up on the offer, and insisted that it actually wasn't bad, but KT and I declined to sample for ourselves.
Years later, I attended a Copper & Kings dinner at Freedmen's BBQ, where the dessert was a red velvet cake made with brisket fat. The smokey, fatty flavor was a delicious undertone to the sumptuous dessert. Kind of makes you think...maybe I should have tried the meat cake.
I realize that, despite my best efforts, I might as well change the name of "Storytime Wednesday" to "Erin's Hilarious Encounters with the Opposite Sex, Usually Involving a Language Barrier." But delving into why these stories are the ones I remember is a topic for another day. This is about Málaga.
Having absolutely loved visiting Barcelona, I wanted to explore another part of Spain, despite the elaborate pantomimes necessary as I clearly do not speak the language*. I was advised to see Málaga, and I highly recommend for those who haven't gone: there's fascinating architecture (it's one of the oldest cities in the world!), a lovely beach, and vibrant colors everywhere. It was the last night of my trip, and I decided to make it a "treat yo' self" evening.
One of the things the Spanish and I do not necessarily agree on is food. I don't really understand why dinner happens SO LATE and many of the more prominent flavors - sea insects, garlic, olives - are not my cup of tea**. I usually end up just getting tapas and calling it a night, and, to bring things full circle, I decided to revisit a cafe I'd been to on my first night in the city.
I was initially paired with a waiter who, upon realizing I didn't speak Spanish, ran away terrified and was replaced by a waitress who spoke halting, but good, English. I sat on the patio by myself, ordered some tapas and cava, and then dessert and, what the hell, some more cava. It might be worth noting that I am a ridiculous lightweight, particularly when it comes to sparkling wine, so with two glasses of cava I was having myself a little party. As I relaxed, stuffed from the meal and pretty tipsy, the frightened-rabbit waiter came out and started speaking to me in Spanish, which I obviously didn't understand, so he enlisted the aid of the waitress once more.
"A boy," she said, "would like to offer you a drink."
This remains the only time in my life this has happened to me, so I was actually pretty intrigued. "What boy?" I asked.
Obviously indicating that she was supposed to keep it a secret, she replied, "I don't know! A boy!"
I really did not want anything else to drink, but temptation of free booze was too great, so I got another glass of cava. Having already finished my entire meal and dessert, I just sat there, sipping awkwardly and looking around wondering who the culprit could be, until a several minutes later "the boy" sat down across from me and started speaking to me in Spanish.
This man was WAY too old to be talking to me. I was 25, and based on the white and grey in his beard, I would guess he was at least 20 years older, and not in the sexy George Clooney kind of way. He had apparently missed the award-winning charades display I had put on earlier in order to understand the menu, so when my response to his rapid-fire speaking was a completely blank, gape-mouthed fish-face, he managed to eke out some English. I would put his vocabulary at a maximum of 10 words, creating the rare situation of him speaking less English than I speak Spanish. We proceeded to stumble through the most awkward, stilted conversation of my life. The only part I clearly remember is him saying he thought I was Nordic, which still wouldn't explain why he thought we would be able to understand each other.
After what seemed like an eternity, he clapped his hands together and said that he had paid for my dinner, and that he would like me to join him and his friends at a bar across the street, something I would rather be lobotomized than do. I don't know what part of our - and I am using this word VERY loosely - "conversation" indicated to him that spending more time together was a good idea.*** I bought some time by saying I had to go to the bathroom, and was literally pacing inside, trying to figure out if the window was too small to escape through.
Finally I emerged and ran into frightened-rabbit waiter. "Did he really pay for my dinner?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, "And the back door is that way." Thank you, rabbit waiter.
I don't know if sober Erin would have been so bold as to do this, because I still have that terrible girl complex that I "owe" someone if they buy me things, but treat-yo-self, three-cavas-deep Erin literally sprinted the fuck back to the hotel, where I spent my last night in Málaga holed up, blissfully alone.
*For those of you who say Italian and Spanish are basically the same: Yes, but also, NO.
**That being said, I will eat the shit out of some jamón.
***We couldn't even communicate basic thoughts like, "Why are you doing this, you creepy old man," or "Why do you stupid Americans come to other countries without speaking the language."
The tooth fairy was very generous in my house. I know some kids would get quarters under their pillows, but I got cool coins like half dollars, Susan B. Anthony dollars, and even $2 bills. So, losing a tooth was an exciting experience and something that I was maybe a little overeager to do, sometimes.
(Though now, the worst nightmares I have, and I have them often, are that my teeth are falling out. Why is this so common?)
When I was in third grade and probably close to my last rounds of losing teeth, I had a wiggler that was being stubborn. I was watching TV with my parents, fiddling with it, until finally I decided I'd had enough and went to the bathroom to yank it out. Big mistake. It immediately started gushing blood, so I fled to my mother to fix it, as eight-year-olds are wont to do.
At this point, I would like to assure you all that my mother does not drink TOO much, something I wrote on a "What I'm Thankful For" card for a class project elementary school, which thrilled both my mother and my teacher. But, despite her badassery in the modern business world, she's still a bit of a Southerner at heart, so her response to my mouthful of pain was to assume that third grade was definitely time to start on the hard stuff. She handed me a capful of Jack Daniels and told me to rinse my mouth out with it.
Now, as a kid, this was a huge deal. Sure, I'd had sips of their margaritas, but your parent handing you a shot of whiskey is obviously an important rite of passage for any Texan. I felt very mature for getting such a privilege while still in elementary school. I ran to the bathroom, super excited, with my shot of whiskey. It smelled amazing. I tipped it into my mouth, swished, and...
SPAT ALL OF THE BURNING LIQUID OUT IMMEDIATELY. What the hell was that??? Why did adults like this? My confusion mounted as I frantically tried to rinse the taste away with water, which somehow only made it worse. I don't remember my mother's response - I want to say she was sympathetic, but also kind of laughing at my extreme reaction to a half shot of whiskey.
I spent the next 15 or so years avoiding the stuff, which was not a problem while I lived in San Diego and Milan. However, within literally weeks of moving back to Austin, I was out with some friends and said to myself, "You know what, I could really go for a Whiskey Ginger right now." I don't know if my Texan genes were kicking in or just that enough of my tastebuds had died so I could appreciate it, but bourbon is one of my go-tos now.
This whole experience taught me a valuable life lesson that I still use to this day: if you avoid your problems for years, you can totally overcome them.
This is going to be a short one, because I'm crazy busy at the moment, but I have a stock of stories for later.
Once while I was walking down the street in Milan, a vaguely creepy (not Italian) man was walking in the other direction was staring at me. Normal, for Italy, used to it. But then, when our paths crossed, he said, "Ma mangi solo la crema?" (But do you only eat cream?)
I still have no idea what that means.
My students in Milan had told me that breakfast in Sicily was golosa - gluttonous, rich - but a must-try indulgence. Despite the rush of traveling, I parceled out time to stop for breakfast before departing Catania, putting aside dependence on my beloved guidebook to stop in a nondescript bar by the bus station. I ordered what one must in Sicily: an almond granita and chocolate brioche.
As with most food in Italy, breakfast is subject to a bizarre but ironclad set of rules, and accepting them without meddling in details like “scientific facts” is key to enjoying the culture. Italians define their morning meal less by food and more by espresso beverage. Eggs are considered unthinkably heavy for morning, yet cake is a regular occurrence and the cream cheese brownies I made my first host family were served as breakfast. But a brioche AND a granita? That radical indulgence is reserved for those gluttonous Sicilians.
A granita is essentially a more refined snowcone. Using the simple ingredients of water, sugar, and flavoring, the western part of the island freezes and scrapes the mixture to keep a granular, icy texture, while the eastern side, where I was staying, uses a gelato machine to ensure smoothness. Eaten as a dessert, snack, or yes, for breakfast, granitas are essential to staying refreshed in the unrelenting heat of Sicilian summers.
I never saw another person order a granita and brioche, despite its supposed tradition status. Granted, my mental setting of vacation-mode meant I generally arose just in time for the tail end of breakfast at my hotels, so I wasn’t regularly partaking with locals. But even on this, my last morning in Sicily, when I dragged myself into the bar something far less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I got strange looks from the waiter as I placed my order at the bar. He brought out a still-warm chocolate brioche and set a small coupe of almond granita next to it, the judgment clear on his face.
After one taste I did not care. The American granita I was used to had an icy, grainy texture to them, but this was cool silk. I exhaled the nutty, floral notes in a reverent bliss before taking a bite of the brioche. As flaky morning pastries require a great deal of skill to make, most bars in Milan relied on an Italian version of Sysco, meaning the same standard, stale brioche were found at every bar. This was different. I felt the warm chocolate smear on my face, but in my sugar rush there was no time to be a delicate lady. I alternated between the impossibly creamy granita and the flaky, gooey pastry until there was no more.
Satisfied, I leaned back from my feeding frenzy and the barman slid a napkin dispenser towards me. I touched my face in horror: it was like I had gone bobbing for apples in chocolate. The sticky mess covered my mouth, chin, cheeks, and nose - the napkins were futile and the barman laughed at my attempts. I finally gave up and headed to the bathroom to wash my face and salvage some of my dignity.
When I returned to the bar chocolate-free to collect my suitcase and head to the bus, the barman commented, “Goloso, eh?” Even he thought my breakfast had been wretched excess. “Si,” I replied, thinking of the 10 minutes I just spent shamefully cleaning my face in the bathroom, how my jeans already felt tighter, and, wistfully, all the mornings wasted eating cake at a hotel when I could have had granita, “Ma se vale la pena.” It is worth it.
The worst drink I've ever had in my life is when my Rice friends came to visit me in Florence and, not understanding the Italian labels, made cocktails of pineapple juice mixed with what they thought was vodka, but was actually anise (licorice flavor + pineapple = "GET IT OFF MY TONGUE!"). But this next story is a close second.
When I should have been old enough to know better, I met two of my friends near Sixth Street for dinner and afterwards we opted to hit the bars. If you are not familiar, Sixth Street in Austin is where 21-year-olds go to drink carefully crafted cranberry vodkas, and generally is a place where bad decisions are made. We made our way inside Barcelona, a basement locale with sticky floors and pulsating EDM music. I texted another friend to come share the joy of this experience with us, and for some reason he agreed and said he would be over soon.
Satisfied with this development, my friends and I headed to the bar and ordered drinks, when one girl realized her parking meter was about the expire. My other friend agreed to accompany her to her car, leaving me alone at the club, holding all the drinks we just ordered, in case the person I invited showed up. So here I am, awkwardly standing alone at the bar, with three drinks, in a club full of people too young to know what hangovers even are, and the bartender comes over and says, "You need a shot." Who am I to disagree?
So he puts a bunch of stuff in a shaker, does bartender stuff, and pours a shot for me and one for himself. We say cheers, and then I throw down what I immediately identify as the most horrible shot I've ever had in my life. It tasted like purple cough syrup gone horribly, horribly wrong. Like a grape Jolly Rancher had been mixed with Windex and been left to marinate in the sun for a while. DJ Screw would have spit out this shot. Unable to even try to conceal my displeasure, I turned to the bartender with, "What the hell is this?"
"Statutory Grape," was his response.
Can we all agree that:
1) That is a horribly inappropriate name for a shot, in general
2) It is definitely an inappropriate shot to give a girl BY HERSELF AT A BAR
3) Why are you giving rancid Dimetapp ("grape")-flavored shots to someone who is 30
4) Seriously, why are we making jokes, much less drinks, out of statutory rape
I took my armful of drinks and escaped far, far away from that bartender.
In what would turn out to be one of the only high points of the year, I decided to splurge on a lavish tropical vacation for my 30th birthday (booked before both the loss of my beloved car and one of my traitorous organs). All I wanted was to sit on a warm beach and relax, maybe get some writing done. I settled on the Dominican Republic after being influenced by two of its countrymen (Junot Diaz and my exboyfriend), and opted for what I thought was the best of the island for my trip: resort-heavy Punta Cana and actual city Santo Domingo.
I knew basically nothing about the country except what my exboyfriend told me, which was that there were places where you could snorkel and see starfish for miles (essentially fulfilling all requirements I had for the trip, which were: 1. must have beach 2. see point #1). I booked a round-trip flight to Santo Domingo, thinking that, since it was an island, it was probably small and navigable. So imagine my surprise when I found out that the two cities I chose to visit were actually something like three hours apart. I changed my flight in to arrive in Punta Cana, and figured that surely the Punta Cana - Santo Domingo route would be traveled frequently and there would be easy transportation between the two cities.
I arrived in Punta Cana and despite the fact that I was definitely the only non-honeymooner at the resort and heard, "But you're here...by YOURSELF?" about a hundred times, I had a truly wonderful stay.
The night before I was due to leave, I talked to the concierge about my travel needs, and he seemed to think that there was a bus I could take to Santo Domingo. Great, no problem.
Morning comes, and I visit the concierge desk again to check out and finalize my transportation. This concierge, who speaks much better English than the night concierge, indicates that there might be a problem and spends the next hour on the phone trying to find a way to get me to Santo Domingo. It turns out, I would need to take two buses which, given I was a solo female traveler with toddler-level-at-best Spanish, was too daunting of a prospect for my taste. We tried to arrange a taxi to the second bus station, but then realize there's a strike in that city and I can't take the bus. The only viable option is to take a taxi the entire three hours to Santo Domingo, which, after much haggling by my concierge, would run me about $200. Well, crap.
(The concierge also transforms himself from friendly to creepy at this point by telling me that he wishes he could transport a beautiful lady like me to Santo Domingo himself, foreshadowing the rest of my experience in the city. But that is neither here nor there.)
So I get in the cab with the taxi driver, and due to language barriers we quickly realize communication is going to be stilted, which is always fun for a long car ride. After about ten minutes of leaving the resort, we start driving through these insane dirt roads with no signs of any kind, pedestrians inches from the passing cars and extremely burdened mopeds with laundry, livestock, etc. Every intersection was some elaborate game of chicken, and though my driver was flying through with extreme skill and speed, I was cowering in the backseat actively reassuring myself that I was not going to die. Finally, the dirt roads turned paved, and then suddenly we were driving down a modern multi-lane highway like we had never passed a moped precariously burdened with two people and four dining room chairs. With the threat of death lowered, the taxi driver visibly relaxed, then began to flip through some CDs. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to listen to, and I said he could choose.
To practice for my upcoming trip and get used to hearing Spanish, I had been listening to the Latino radio station in Austin. My strategy absolutely did not work in terms of helping me with any kind of useful language, but still, I was excited to hear what was on the radio in the DR because I might know some of the songs.
With one last look in the rearview mirror, the driver pulls out a CD and pops it in. After my stay at the extremely whitewashed resort, I was ready to hear some bachata, some merengue, and see if I could pick out some words. But I was absolutely dumbfounded when a familiar flute sound started flowing sweetly from the stereo. Was that..?
Oh yes. And when the ending notes of "My Heart Will Go On" (seriously) turned into the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar," it became very apparent to me that my driver had chosen his "white people mix." It was surreal to hear the soundtrack to a 20-year-old movie while in a tropical country with palm trees flying by, but not wanting to offend his musical sensibilities, I didn't say anything. Until we were about 30 minutes outside of Santo Domingo, when the CD restarted and when "My Heart Will Go On" started playing again. I lost it. The driver noticed me laughing, and asked, "Ah, te gusta esta musica?"
"NO!" I choked out, unable to even pretend.
He was genuinely surprised at this, and I explained as best I could that I had been expecting actual music in Spanish, like I listen to at home. He started making outraged noises and said I should have told him, and I realized we'd spent the majority of the trip listening to songs we didn't like out of politeness for the other person. After a good laugh, he played me some bachata for the brief remainder of the car ride, before dropping me safely at my hotel in Santo Domingo.
Welcome to 2017 everybody! I assume you didn't start without me, right?
As mentioned, I rang in the new year watching fireworks on the beach in Rio de Janeiro. It was my first time in South America, and despite the fact that I have an entirely new appreciation for air conditioning and I still am not convinced Portuguese is a real language (it sounds like Martian to me and I kept laughing uncontrollably every time I heard it which is, as you can imagine, not very conducive to making friends), I had an amazing trip. If you thought you would get through this without pictures, you were wrong.
Next up I am headed to San Francisco and San Diego to really make use of my time as a member of the funemployed (Shiloh is very supportive of my joblessness but does not appreciate when I am gone).
In other news, I got a new computer. I was working with a 2010 MacBook Air which was riding the struggle bus pretty hard (we're talking 10+ minutes to open my email sometimes), but since it wasn't broken and I do not have a regular source of income, I was having a hard time committing to such a big purchase. Ohmygod, greatest decision of my life to finally take that plunge. So pumped to make some changes to this website now that my computer is faster than my phone.
THINGS I PUBLISHED RECENTLY:
I hope you guys are enjoying Storytime Wednesday! Here are things I published on other outlets.
19 Spots to Indulge in Wine and Cheese (Eater Austin)
Useful information for dates, girls' nights, or just general joy.
Inspired by my trip to Api's over Thanksgiving which was honestly one of the best meals I've had in a while. I'm going to their new pizza offshoot, Sorellina this weekend and I am super pumped because you can never have enough pizza.
Romantic Ways to Celebrate New Year's Eve in Austin (Austin Way)
OK, so maybe this isn't relevant anymore, but I wrote it and if you are a true superfan of my writing you should read everything, right???
If you can't go to exotic tropical destinations like me, the spas on this list probably the next best thing.
Again, this whole article was an excuse to write about my love for Flower Child at The Domain. Also, if you have diet restrictions, you should definitely check out Citizen Eatery - I had a soup there that is the absolute perfect thing for cold weather, not that we ever get that in Texas.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD??? READ AND FIND OUT!
INTERESTING THINGS FROM OTHER PEOPLE:
I've been trying to read more of...those things...you know, with the paper? Books! Yeah, that's what they're called. Started off on an intellectual strong point with Dave Barry's Best. State. Ever. (but like, actually, it's kind of incredible the amount of reporting that go into his stories about, say, a search for the Florida version of Bigfoot). I'm also really liking Olive Kitteridge, a tapestry of stories in a small Maine town - plus, it's apparently an HBO miniseries now. On a recommendation, I read The Other Side by Lacy Johnson (Rice professor! Go Owls!) in approximately four hours because I was so hooked in the (true!) story of her kidnapping by an abusive ex-boyfriend.
OBLIGATORY RANDOM PICTURE OF ME:
Because why break tradition?
(Programming note: Storytime Wednesday took a break last week since I was in Brazil. Not sorry bout it.)
It was a typical weekend in college and I was participating in wholesome activities with my friends (beer pong). I noticed an attractive gentleman at the other end of the table that I hadn't seen before, and after engaging in coy conversation over Solo cups filled with Miller Lite, I found out that he did not attend my university, and in fact was in only town for the weekend visiting someone I knew and trusted. He was very nice and very cute and I was very interested.
Our flirtation led us to team up and play a game of beer pong together, which we lost shamefully due to his complete ineptitude at the valuable skill of throwing ping pong balls into cups. Somehow he was attractive enough for the insanely competitive part of me to overcome this and keep talking to him. I'm sure you can see where this is going: Our sparkling conversation led us to sneak off and find somewhere to make out.
We ended up in a room in the basement of my dorm that had been furnished with couches, but could be accessed by anyone who lived there. After briefly making out on the couch with my suitor, I got up to turn off some of the lights to really enhance the "dorm basement" atmosphere. When I turned back around from this task, I was surprised to find the guy lying on the couch Burt Reynolds-style, completely naked.
Honestly, I have to respect the superhuman speed at which he freed his body of clothing, but given that 1) The door to this room definitely did not lock and 2) We had made out for like one minute and 3) I was still fully clothed, my first response to finding a completely naked dude on the couch was to blurt out, "We are NOT having sex!"
"Ohmigod," came his response, as he shifted into a position I associate with teenage girls talking on the phone (lying on stomach, chin in hands, legs crossed at the ankles). He continued, completely seriously, "I'm so glad you said that. Are you a prude? Because I'm a prude too!"
EPILOGUE: We continued to have a conversation about prudes and sex while he stayed completely naked and I internally stressed about our clothing inequity. Noticing that I was not touching him, he finally dressed and we returned upstairs and parted ways. The end.
NOTE: Yes, he probably was the inspiration behind The Naked Man on How I Met Your Mother, though the incident happened years before that episode and the strategy obviously did not work out this time. Someone is stealing my life stories and owes me a LOT of royalties.