XO from TX

James Turrell’s SkySpace, an art installation on the Rice campus. You can gaze at the color-changing canvas from two decks.

Every now and then, driving around the pot-holed streets of Texas, I’ll catch my reflection in the rear-view mirror and think: Whoa. This is me/my life now.

I mean, I look the same (+ 12 unfortunate pounds of stress weight). I act mostly the same (+ the occasional hangover). Behind these sleep-deprived eyes, though, there’s been a sea change in my soul – in the deep well of emotions that dwells within me. A week ago, I would’ve told you that graduate school was everything I wanted it to be. I spent 45% of my time drinking Topo Chico at the grad-student-run bar, 23% working out, 15% thinking about my grant proposal, and 38% failing to understand statistics. It was luxurious. Now, though, shit is getting real. Deadlines, projects, exams, fears of failure, are piling up.

Before I completely get sucked into the abyss, however, here’s what I have learned in my first month of living in Houston.

My building on campus borders beautiful outdoor spaces and houses the art gallery.

Pros

  • My ‘hood. My house. My roomies. Everything about my living situation is lovely. I’m located in the hip “gayborhood” of Houston, which, compared to the SF Bay Area, is pretty tame — but it’s still got lovely little pockets of counterculture, trendy stuff, shady shit, etc. It reminds me a lot of Long Beach. My apartment, too, reminds me of the craftsman home I rented in Berkeley: creaky hardwood floors, floods of natural light, and lots of character. My roommates are like-minded and kind… and we’ve got the sweetest pup in the house.
  • My program. My cohort. My friends. They say the people make the place. Fortunately, I’ve very quickly found my community at Rice. They’re my family here. (I have actual family here, too, which is nice — but they’re not the ones putting up with my stressed-out shit on a daily basis like my labmates!)
  • The weather. Some may hate the humidity, but it’s been pretty manageable for me. Then again, I’m the kind of person who likes to sit in a warm car like a cat sunbathing in a windowsill. Anyway, I get to wear sundresses and sandals all the time, which has been doing great things for my psyche and wardrobe (less so for my wallet).
  • Tacos and Tex-Mex. I now understand the difference between Baja Californian cuisine and… Mexican food that is not that. I’ll never forsake El Chavito or Alerto’s back home, but there’s something to be said for the artery-clogging hybridization of Texan and Mexican food here.
  • Valhalla. My friends and I basically congregate at this aforementioned on-campus bar every week. Nothing is nicer than sitting underneath the willow trees with a drink after a long day at lab.
  • The social scene. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I no longer have a significant other (a story for another day, or maybe never?). This has drastically changed my lifestyle. Since being here, I’ve been so, so social. I’ve “crashed” a Taylor Swift concert, walked late nights along the Buffalo Bayou, went dancing super-drunk, hosted wine and taco dinners (a far cry from my elaborate SF parties, might I add), closed down coffee shops, and loitered at countless bars. In other words: I’ve had a lot of freedom and fun.

Houston sunsets can be pretty magical. Also: please ignore the fact that I totally took this picture while driving.

Cons

  • The weather. Again, though I can put up with the heat, this does result in a few unfortunate side effects. I thought I was impervious to mosquito bites but, um, definitely not. It also means that I can’t really enjoy the surprising number of green spaces in Houston. Outdoors isn’t really a “thing” until winter. (This is fine, however, considering that my options leaving California were the arctic Midwest, untenably expensive East Coast, or Texas. I’d still pick the latter, even now.)
  • Transportation. This is no San Francisco. I definitely miss walkability and consequent accessibility. Luckily, I’m enjoying driving more than I thought I would (especially after 5+ years of biking and taking MUNI/BART). Blasting hoodrat music while swerving around the streets makes me feel 17 again/like a true Houstonian. However, when I’m not driving, I have to Uber — and, embarrassingly, I’ve had to call for one whenever I’ve had one too many beers (which is, um, exactly one beer).
  • Urban planning. Houston is the wild west. Warehouses can pop up next to houses next to restaurants with abandon. It’s a jumble of glitter and grit: Pottery Barn blocks away from the projects. The streets that thread through these areas are pockmarked with potholes and brushed over with faded lane dividers. It’s workable, but pretty shabby if you compare it to the charismatic beauty of my previous location.
  • The social scene. Though grad school has helped me find my tribe, Houston still has a pretty different demographic from my West Coast roots. Every time I find out someone is from California (and especially from OC or SF), I feel an automatic, unbreakable closeness with them. I’ve become intensely aware of how strongly I identify with my home state — how much it has shaped me. As they say, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
  • School. Oh, right. That’s why I’m here.
  • Time management. I hardly have time to eat food, let alone cook/document my meals and write about them here. Which brings me to an important point…

My favorite place to study on campus: a glass-walled cafe.

I’m guessing that the format of this blog is going to change quite a bit. I’ve even considered putting yoursjulie to rest — it is so entrenched in a life that is no longer mine. I look through the posts and feel like I’m looking into someone else’s experiences. There’s a deep disconnect between the girl who spent entire weekends baking cookies and the bedraggled grad student who furiously codes on her laptop at a picnic social.

All the same, this blog has been such an outlet for me. I can’t abandon it. I will obviously not be posting as often, and definitely not about elaborate days-long baking projects, but I’ll still be here.

I can promise you, too, that despite the radio silence, I am doing just fine. Sure, I am a homesick Californian. Yes, I am a poor graduate student. Yup, I’ve got barely any time and even less money. However, there are countless moments when my heart brims with gratitude and contentment. When I walk out of my lab after an afternoon shower and see the trees dripping with rain, the sun lighting up each translucent leaf. When I roll into my lab late with a (not basic at all) chai latte in hand, having had the entire morning to myself. When I grab last-minute late-night milkshakes with my friends, so delirious and happy I forget about the impending stomachache. Even, amazingly, when I stay five hours after class to work on stats, because I’m trading snacks and stories with my lively and lovely cohort the entire time. As my adviser likes to say, I’m working hard and playing hard. Somewhere along the way, Houston has started to feel like home.

My food photog skills remain A+.

P.S. The one food photo I’ve managed to snap: kolaches, a beloved Houstonian treat, are a Czech pastry that come filled with sweet or savory ingredients. This here is a boudain (Creole sausage) version from Mornings Kolaches. Dangerously good.

hi, again.

Hi. I’m alive… I think (??).

I’ve obviously completely forgotten to update this blog since I’ve been back. When you have an international trip and cross-country move on your mind, these things tend to fall on the wayside. I’ve been trying to think of the best way to summarize my past few weeks, and I believe I’ve hit upon it.

Places I’ve Cried in Public

Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’d said goodbye and was walking through the security check, turning around every few often to see a slowly-diminishing figure through a blur of tears. I walked around confusedly sobbing before mustering up enough energy to buy a cup of noodles from an airport cafe. I was actually pretty impressed at my ability to function/eat. It sounds melodramatic in hindsight, but it broke my heart.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. We were sailing through craggy, mossy islets at sunset. I watched the sky turn unimaginable shades of warm pastel, throwing the silhouettes of local fishermen into sharp relief. The air was warm and the waters calm. I wanted, more than anything, to turn to someone and exclaim, “God, this is beautiful, isn’t it?” — but I was alone on the deck of our junk boat. Intense sadness and happiness, in equal measure, spread through me as I accepted that this moment was, really and truly, all my own.

San Francisco, California. I sat on the bus headed for my parents’ home, watching familiar landmarks pass by: my friends’ apartments, my old neighborhood, the gently sloping hills and glimpses of ocean. This is the last I’ll see of SF in a while, I thought to myself. I imagined my loved ones, only a few miles away in their homes. I yearned to wrap them all up, and the entire city itself, in one big, all-encompassing, eternal hug. I then put in my headphones and listen to the below song on repeat, feeling so truly that I belong to you, California.

Tucson, Arizona. On our road trip to Texas, I’d planned a stop at the famed Pizzeria Bianco. My mom balked at ordering more than one pizza, which somehow initiated a total meltdown of the sitting-there-and-silently-tearing-up variety. So many hormones and so many mixed-up feelings: grief, at leaving California; anxiety, at moving to Texas; irritability, at how much my mom reminded me of myself; and lost-ness, at the state of my entire life. My poor family sat uncomfortably as I dabbed at my eyes with a napkin. Eventually recovered enough to eat a bunch of pizza.

Houston, Texas. Once again, I found myself at the airport — this time, to drop off my gurlz. I clung to my mom, so teeny-tiny in the circle of my arms, before my sister came over and wrapped us up in an extra-big hug. I tried not to lose my shit and squeaked by with a reasonable amount of tears. I got back into my car, attempting to watch them walk through the doors, but it was futile. I drove off into the literal thunderstorm of my new city and ~into my new life~.

So, um… A lot has happened. The good news is that, beyond these experiences, I’ve been mostly even-keeled and self-aware during these past few months. In the thick of the most radical change I’ve ever undergone, I have somehow managed to assume the pose of a zen master. This was even true last weekend, when I found out that I’d had $600 stolen from me in debit card fraud & that someone had mistakenly served me a court summons in San Francisco. I’m cool, y’all.

An update on my Actual Life in Texas to follow. Good news: I kind of love it so far.

Friday finds

(Yup, not the least bit punctual… but here it is!)

A few weekends ago, my mom visited me in San Francisco, loading up her rental car with most of my worldly possessions before she drove home. This weekend, we’re packing up the remainder of my things and driving it down an hour south to my aunt’s. From there, my family will ship my miscellany for me: shoe boxes, adjustable barbells, an air purifier, an alarming number of windbreakers, etc. What would I do without the generosity of my relatives? What would I do without my pack-rat habits? I know it’ll be easy enough to live out of my suitcase for the next two weeks. How is it, then, that I manage to accumulate so much extraneous stuff? Quel mystère.

Besides a trip to the South Bay (with a requisite stop by their Mitsuwa marketplace for Santouka’s ramen), my weekend is looking nice and leisurely. I’m getting my fill of Bay Area life: attending the final installation of brunch club and catching up on Silicon Valley.

Above: I made Grass Fed Girl’s tapioca pudding, adding in cardamom for kick and apricot for sweetness.

This home. Are you kidding me?

Getting me excited for my SEA trip! Should I take it a step further?

I’m an unabashed reality TV show watcher and thus can’t wait to get into this.

Will this get me closer to my goal of becoming Beyonce? (I’m already moving to her hometown. Fingers crossed.)

And for the weekend: this.

Friday finds

This weekend, I’ll be attending an engagement party (congrats K&D!), having a date night (one of our last in San Francisco), and indulging in donuts and pizza (with my dearest K, who else?). All in all, a well-rounded weekend. Only three more to go in this fair city…

* This date night will consist of going to see an Actual Movie in Theaters. The last time Jay and I went to the movies, we were totally taken aback by how many people were still out when it was done… at the ripe old hour of 9 pm. Weren’t they tired? We’re basically grumpy old folks. Anyway, that’s all to say that only a true guilty pleasure could draw us out of our lair.

Kalief Browder’s story is so fucking important.

Little Caesar’s, obviously.

I quite enjoyed this.

Reading always makes me happier. U?

It doesn’t feel like summer in San Francisco at all, but this helps:

Stockholm: to do

Nine people, six days, one house in a foreign country. Sounds like the premise of a new reality television show, no?

Fortunately for me, my friends are more Real Simple than Real Housewives. The most dramatic thing we did was book the trip itself in the fall. One serendipitous day, our little jetsetter A received an alert about cheap direct flights on Norwegian Air. An hour’s worth of breathless emails later, we were officially Stockholm-bound!

Knowing next to nothing about Sweden before my trip, I imagined a fair land full of fair people. This, it turns out, isn’t far from the truth. Stockholm is full of blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauties, many of whom ride bike around the city with effortless grace (often while wearing black cocoon coats and wood-soled heels). The Swedes truly own their aesthetic, including beyond fashion. Stockholm itself has very clear architectural identities, capitalizing on their gorgeous natural setting. At times, I felt like I was on a Disney set; the streets were so clean, the parks so green and the buildings so chic. It nearly felt sterile, in a way that made me miss the diversity and nitty-gritty of American cities. Soon enough, however, I found myself warming up to Scandinavia’s prim, proper charms. As an American, I felt welcome; as an Anglophone, I had no trouble communicating. I studied the simple design elements around me, from pot lids to cafeteria seating. I enjoyed the mild weather, which mirrored Northern California’s quite closely. “I could get used to this,” I thought to myself… and then, of course, it was over.

I now find myself back in the mists of San Francisco, dreaming about my week of spring in Sweden.

Continue reading

Friday finds

Coming soon: my post on Stockholm!

Let’s ignore the fact that I’m posting this (backdated) Friday finds on the following Wednesday, shall we? Had I been more responsible, I would’ve said something like…

Happy weekend! This weekend is the first of June and one of my last in San Francisco. I’m going to begin the terribly unpleasant process of packing up my many, many possessions. It’s insane how things just accumulate the longer you live at a place. I really want to start practicing the life-changing magic of tidying up… though I am much too sentimental to be too austere. Balance!

In the name of balance, I’ll also be counteracting my chore-filled days with a day trip to Santa Cruz. Happy birthday, S! Can’t wait to walk the boardwalk and stuff our faces with fried potatoes and popcorn.

Congratulations, San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza.

I’d like a pet judgmental tree frog, please.

Will your job be done by a machine?

The speedy Proust questionnaire.

Confessions of moms around the world.

I wanna be a part of Rihanna’s girl gang.

My niece’s future holiday presents.

Getting me a bit more excited: Bun B eating his way through Houston.

All the best parts of using using AirBnB.

Soundtrack: my man, forever n ever.

realness.

If we’re being perfectly honest, it’s been a little hard for me to find the time or emotional capacity to write here lately.

I’ve never wanted this blog to be some meticulously curated, rose-colored vision of life. I’ve struggled with representing myself here genuinely — between providing consistent content (light-hearted anecdotes, poorly-photographed recipes) and capturing the true breadth and depth of my experiences. Most of the time, I’m happy to keep my inner life private: to selectively share the cheerful, on-topic bits while holding tightly onto the dimmer and sadder parts. Lately, however, I’ve felt it difficult to continue the charade, so to speak.

Every day, I wake up and question what I’ve done and how I’m feeling. Why am I giving up everything (my home, my relationships, my happinesses) in pursuit of my PhD? Is this truly what I want? Am I fixing what’s not broken? This entire process has exposed my vulnerabilities, neuroses, and fears. Now more than ever before, I am afraid… of the unknown, of failure, of loneliness. Lately, these three demons follow me every step I take, whispering worries into my ear even as I sleep.

One year ago, my life was bright and full of contented attachments: date nights, dinner parties, workouts, Whole30s, CSAs and cooking. Simple, fun, and only a little bit unfulfilling. I had been living in the Bay Area for nearly five years. I’d built communities with whom I could watch The Bachelor, escape to Russian River, hike on the weekends, wait in line for brunch. I’d built a comfortable home with my partner, who anchored and grounded me. I’d come to know and love San Francisco, sinking my roots into my surroundings and drawing strength from the rich, wet earth.

And yet? I found myself wanting more. I’d stare despondently out of my office window, watching the omnipresent gray mists of Land’s End, and wonder what I was truly doing with my time. My existence was happy, yes… but I wanted to be more than just happy. I wanted it to be whole and meaningful. I needed to challenge myself and achieve meaningful goals. At first, I struggled with this desire, trying to neatly compartmentalize it, afraid of disrupting my idyllic lifestyle. Soon enough, though, I stopped fighting it; I let my dream expand and take shape. I respected my ambitions, knowing I’d regret never acting upon them. I gathered as much information as I could, applied to graduate school, made an informed decision. I am now poised to begin that journey to self-actualization.

I should be excited. Is this not exactly what I wanted?

Standing at the edge of the precipice, I need to remind myself of a few important things. California, my beautiful home state, isn’t going anywhere. My people, those beautiful beings who I love and who love me back, will always be there for me. I can always cut my fall short. I have a safety net, now and always.

Now: to jump.

Friday finds

My dear friend S scooped me up for a mid-week picnic at Devil’s Teeth Bakery (see: the edge of one amazing peanut butter choolate chip cookie at the bottom of the photo!).

Weekend’s here and I’m flying off to Sweden, Stockholm, with eight of my closest friends! I can’t wait. We’ll be exploring the city and having fika (the beloved Swedish equivalent of a leisurely coffee break or tea time). Be back soon!

Some beautiful (and very relevant) advice I received recently.

Yay for inclusive dolls!

In undergrad, I taught a class on Mad Men. It was so fun thinking critically about the television show, as this piece does with one of the series’ shockers. Less serious but still fantastic: Mad Men, millenial.

The modern day yuppie.

Growing up black.

More on Myers-Briggs personality types — love!

The real cause of addiction.

The genius behind Google Brain on life and careers: “I think that “follow your passion” is not good career advice. It’s actually one of the most terrible pieces of career advice we give people… So when I think about what to do with my own life, what I want to work on, I look at two criteria.”

Entrepreneurs on doing what they love.

Soundtrack: it could only be Robyn + Royksopp.

Friday finds

A sweet brunch at b. patisserie.

As much as I prize my lazy weekends, it looks like I won’t be getting another one for a while. In a few hours, I’m hopping on a plane headed home. My little sister is graduating college (hooray!), and I can’t wait to celebrate with her. We might even get a little crazy while I’m there. Stay tuned…

How not to deal with the fact that gurlz run the world.

Awkwafina’s NYC.

A day in the life of Pinterest.

Square meals.

What do you think Alice Waters makes her kid?

Life in Slomo. Just beautiful.

A somber story on Palo Alto suicides.

Can’t wait to change my life by tidying up.

The sweetest personal ad.

This summer, I’m (in a sense) quitting my job to eat my way through SE Asia.

Lots of good articles on love this week: The one that got away. The truth behind being single. Marriage rates, mapped. Choosing a life partner.

Did you know I love Miley? I truly do. She’s so phenomenally talented. This cover, in particular, blew me away. As much as I wish I could hate on the tacky costumes and Ariana’s plywood-like personality (as my dear friend K so eloquently put it) — I’m helpless against the beauty of these two voices.