I’m a reformed crotchety Christmas-hater. I’m learning to give into the magic of the holidays, and shooting holiday photos is helping me in this winter-time journey! It’s hard to be a scrooge when you’re around family who love each other. I had a blast being the fourth wheel to the Tovars as we strolled around downtown Round Rock. Their little princesa was a natural in front of the camera!
A couple of weeks ago, I received a media invite to try Maze Room and I was excited! I had always wanted to try one of those escape rooms but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Maze Room, hailing from California, just opened a location in Austin a month ago. I formed a team of friends, all of us new to the experience and not sure what to expect, a couple of us skeptical.
Upon arrival, one of the owners sat us down and explained the rules to us. We had 60 minutes to escape the room with 5 hints available should we choose to use them. No smartphones were allowed. The story was that we had an hour to snoop in an alleged Russian spy’s apartment to determine his true identity. Seems simple enough right?
Nope, not at all.
We were escorted to and locked in a tiny kitchen. We were underwhelmed at first sight. How hard can it be to escape this tiny room? As we investigated, we discovered clues, keys, and nonsensical codes. It did not take us long to figure that the space we inhabited would expand, giving way to another room and that this was not a simple game!
I don’t want to give anything away but a couple of my friends who attended that night are still talking about how much fun they had. When I was younger, my favorite part of children’s museums were the hands on make believe exhibits. I loved going to a fake grocery store and buying supplies and pretending I was a grown adult. This experience of escaping the Spy Safe House conjured up the same glee I experienced as a child. I think my favorite part was seeing my grown friends in their 30s, a couple of them not easily impressed, squealing every time a key unlocked, or a room opened, or a code cracked. Childlike joy!
We managed to get out with just 3 minutes left on the clock and used up our 5 hints. I left feeling invigorated and happy. It’s not often that grown adults can engage in an exciting game of make believe that is also challenging. Maze Room is a place for adults to play like children. I recommend Maze Room for your next group date or team building exercise!
Question: Have you ever experienced a puzzle room? Tell me about it!
I started July with a middle of the week visit to one of our creeks in Austin with Sugarface and his pup. Every time I find myself doing something fun during normal work day hours I make sure to be grateful for one of the perks of unemployment. We then drove eight hours to Arkansas to spend Fourth of July with his family. It was a perfect few days spent barefoot in our bathing suits and eating amazing home-cooked meals.
My friend Treavor came to visit me that next weekend and gifted me early birthday presents to add to my home library. We talked really late into the night, watched Magic Mike XXL, which we both really enjoyed, and worked to find work in coffee shops.
I joined Sugarface during one of his work outings. Again, as I sat under a tree with him in the middle of a Tuesday, I thought to myself that this could have only happened while I’m in between jobs. Along with the lunch dates we’ve had.
July really had wonderful weekends. The third weekend I spent in Chicago with girlfriends. I went with my current roommate, a former roommate who now lives in Florida, and a friend I often travel with. In Chicago I met up with my friends who live in Chicago, one of whom was a former roommate! I could start a sisterhood of lovely women I’ve had the pleasure of living with. There was a moment in time prior to this trip where I wondered if it was prudent of me to go on a trip while unemployed. I’m glad I went! It was mostly paid for by the time I was laid-off and it produced such sweet memories. We went with the purpose of eating and singing along with Taylor Swift. I wish I could show you how excited my roommate was when Taylor surprised us with Sam Hunt.
The last weekend I spent with my girlfriends again. Stephanie picked me up bright and early with breakfast and treated me to great conversation while floating on stand-up paddle boards. My roommate and I hosted our monthly brunch, our theme being “Totes Toast”.
I ended the month turning another year older, feeling very loved with the gifts in the mail and cupcake and plant deliveries. On the actual day, Sugarface made me my favorite breakfast. I met up with my old coworker who was also laid off and we applied to jobs. I had lunch with my best friend and then dinner with Sugarface at my favorite restaurant. It was a quiet day and made me very happy.
Vancouver is now my favorite city. It used to be New York for all its glorious nooks and crannies. Then I temporarily gave the number one spot to San Francisco. Only temporarily because I figured, I will grow tired of SF and that’s something I couldn’t foresee doing with New York. It is now Vancouver and I cannot wait to go back.
Hailing from Texas and freezing at anything lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, I didn’t think I was an outdoorsy person. In Vancouver, I loved being outside. The weather was cool and the scenery is perfect.
I was gawking at the gorgeous views of blue and green in Colorado from photos of a friend’s recent vacation but knew in my heart, I love urban living too much to ever be passionate about the pretty lakes and greenery. Vancouver is the compromise between my need for skyscrapers and city lights and fanciful desires to admire natural landscapes. A city nestled amongst ocean and mountains.
The sushi here is phenomenal. And much cheaper than in Austin, Houston, and Dallas Texas.
I walked around downtown at night and sometimes by myself and never felt like I should be running to my destination with my phone pre-dialed to 911 or a key ready to gouge out eyes.
Regarding chains: Surprised to see a Dairy Queen in Vancouver! Also had my first Fatburger experience. There’s tons of Starbucks. I usually look for an H&M when I travel in the states but didn’t do that for Vancouver. Was giddy with joy when I found our hotel was 2 blocks away from an H&M.
Alan could not get up for the early morning departures for neighboring cities, like Victoria. So this only means, I have to go back to Vancouver and see it on my own while he does his thing for a day or go with a few girlfriends. Maybe, I’ll do it when I go to Seattle!
I love Canadian hospitality and accent, eh!
The Asian population in Vancouver is astounding.
I’ve never seen so many parks just walking about in a city. It seems every 2-3 blocks there’s a darling park with inviting art, benches, fountains, interesting seating, just beckoning passersby to lounge.
Question: What’s your favorite city and why?
Post Update: I scheduled this post to publish early on the weekend but must update you on my hometown. Vancouver may be my favorite city to visit, but Austin is where my heart is. Central Texas is burning, the biggest fire being in Bastrop, TX, just 30 minutes away from Austin. If you can spare a few dollars to donate to the Red Cross, it can help go a long way. Last I checked, the biggest fire is 6 miles by 16 miles big. 250,000 acres have been charred. Here’s a facebook image of Austin’s capitol building for some perspective.
It’s a happy day in Austin, Texas. We have been so dry and dying for rain that yesterday’s late night storm was received by joyous tweets. I tweeted that I loved that rain was building community in our town. And it really has. Here’s just a small sample of Austinites tweeting about the happiness that is rain.
@stetted: The thunder scared me awake last night because I forgot what it was.
@lindaeatsworld: @stetted Love how being deprived of rain has made the prospect of rain& rain itself noteworthy. It’s almost like it’s building community.
@stetted: @lindaeatsworld I think rain has been taking marketing lessons from Steve Jobs.
@atexastwist: AM truly thankful for the rain. Not so much for the power outage, subsequent surges, and the not going back to sleep that followed. Ugh.
@gardens123: I stayed up to see the glorious rain. So sleepy, but I don’t even care.
@FranishNonspeak: Whoot! Woke up to rain drops clinging to the windows. Looks like we got a decent soaking overnight.
@jkru: rain… it’s like a free lawn watering service.
@caeseroct: How do I know it’s raining outside? Because it’s raining inside my apartment too. #leakage
Last week, campus was pretty dead with all the students gone in between semesters. I had a slower day at work and my usual convenient lunch of Wendy’s was unavailable due to their closing down in between semesters. I yelped around for something within walking distance and decided on Hai Ky Cafe. I’ve been to Hai Ky in a rundown shopping center on Oltorf several years ago and I believe this is their swankier version nestled on Guadalupe (dubbed the “Drag” by Austinites). I had walked by it when eating at Tap House the day before.
Inside Hai Ky. There is also tables along a long cooridoor not pictured that looks pretty cozy and intimate.
When I enter a Vietnamese pho restaurant, I rarely get anything else but pho. I just always crave pho over the rice plates or vermicelli bowls in general when at a Vietnamese pho place. That aside, I haven’t had a vermicelli bowl in over ten years. The last one I had I don’t think I was even in high school yet and it was my mom’s. I don’t eat a lot of fresh vegetables or salads, and I prefer my meals warm and not cold/room temperature. Vermicelli bowls are chopped grilled meat and or chopped egg rolls tossed in cool vermicelli noodles and lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers, and carrots. (My mom used to chop up mint leaves in hers.) It’s very much like a salad, and as someone who does not usually crave salad, I just don’t bother with vermicelli bowls.
After a long stint of eating unhealthy foods with no color (save brown), I usually start craving veggies just to detox my system a little bit. It’s kind of like a halfass measly reboot of my diet. So for the first time in over ten years, I had a Vietnamese vermicelli bowl. I had mine with chopped egg rolls and it surprised me that it hit the spot! I will admit it has wet my appetite for this traditional dish a bit that maybe I won’t wait another ten years to have another one.
This is the prettiest vermicelli bowl, I’ve ever seen. (Though I’m not a big VB eater, I’ve seen my fair share as it’s a popular thing to order at pho restaurants). That dipping sauce is an essential part of the dish.
Mix it all up and dive in!
It was quite fresh, light, and tasty. Priced at $6.50, it’s pretty economical lunch. I must say $6.50 is about how much Hai Ky charges for a bowl of pho too. It’s a little steep in terms of Austin pricing for pho but when you factor in convenience for the UT student or staff member, that’s not bad. Maybe next time I’ll try it.
Last week, I had dininer with my good friend, Jamie at Chen’s Noodle House. A new place for both of us. We wondered about Chen’s Noodle House when we tried out Asia Cafe which is pretty much caty corner to Chen’s. Chen’s Noodle House has a very very modest and humble looking storefront. Inside, there’s maybe 8 little card tables that seat maximum 4 people each. Who needs the fluff of decor and fancy signage when your food speaks for itself?
To start, we ordered steamed dumplings and onion pie. Sometimes I find the dumpling wrappings to be too thick and starchy for my liking but Chen’s steamed dumplings were just right for me. I thoroughly enjoyed them. Jamie likes her dumplings fried so she wasn’t as big as a fan as me. The onion pie is now the best onion pie I’ve had (beating out Coco’s Cafe in Austin and Fufu’s Cafe in Houston. Not as doughy as Fufu’s and not as greasy as Coco’s. Chen’s the winner!
Noodles in Bean Paste
I loved this dish and would come back JUST for this dish. So comforting, so savory. There is ground pork in it and slices of cucumber. I loved the slices of cucumber in it. Kind of unexpected but completely works. Noodles were super fresh.
Stir Fried Noodles
Jamie ordered the stir fried noodles. It was pretty good, I probably wouldn’t order it again since the noodles in bean paste sauce completely beat it out for me.
I was quite pleased by my experience here and I’m definitely coming back to this hole in the wall restaurant. Thank you, Jamie for being my dinner buddy!
I tried Horchata for the first this past weekend. I didn’t even know what it was before Nisreen explained.
What is Horchata?
Horchata or orxata is the name for several kinds of traditional beverages, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley or tigernuts. (Taken from Wikipedia.)
The Horchata I tried was at Juan in a Million. I went with Nisreen and Katambra after we did some dress alterations for Nisreen’s upcoming wedding. I was pleased to introduce Katambra to Juan in the Million and in turn, Nisreen introduced me to Horchata, Mexican style, which consists of rice milk and cinnamon. It was delicious. It reminds me of Christmas because of the cinnamon and it was nice and cold which is perfect for Texas weather. Maybe one day I’ll try making it!
I met up with Dave today for a short catch up. He introduced me a coffee shop started up by one of his colleagues called Bennu located on E MLK Blvd, not far off from I-35. Upon walking in, I was already a fan as I noted they’re open 24 hours. There’s not enough coffee shops open up 24 hours these days. Also, it’s the biggest coffee shop I’ve been to in a while with MANY seats, many tables, and many outlets. I could also tell instantly, that this place is a popular place. It has a very Austiny feel.
I wanted to try their green tea smoothie but their blender’s broken. The last few places I’ve tried to order a smoothie have declared their blender broken. I’m starting to think it’s me. I opted for my usual order, an iced chai latte. It’s not as good as my favorite at Sodade, and it has an odd color, but it was a’ite. There’s a credit card minimum of five dollars so I ordered a cheese danish. Yum. I need to gain back some of the weight I lost from being sick.
Often times, I want to meet up with someone to study or read and we leave our apartments at 9 with many places closing down at 11. I now have a quaint and cozy place we can steal away to and let time escape us. How exciting.
Odd Color Chai
Davey brought me some tea to take home. He always brings me little presents and treats. I like that grandfather clock.