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The 78704 Roundup: News, Reviews, & To-Dos for South Austin, Texas

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A friend of mine recently moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico into my garage apartment here in Austin, Texas. Excited to show my city off, I made him a list of great places he simply must visit, and things he should do, all within the awesome 78704. I quickly realized that I should expand this into a series, so that’s what I’m doing:

Welcome to The 78704 Roundup, a collection of news, reviews, and to-dos for people in and around South Austin. Even if you’re not new to the area, Austin is full of hidden gems, and there are always new (and old!) things to be discovered. Where are the best places to grab breakfast tacos? Where are the entrances to the greenbelt? When are the farmer’s markets? Where can I grab a drink without fighting the downtown crowds? And most importantly, I’m going to write features on some of the awesome people that make this zip code so unique (starting, of course, with my friends.)

There’s a bumper sticker out there that reads “78704: We’re All Here Because We’re Not All There”… I guess this series will serve to illuminate who, and where, we are 🙂

California Dreamin’

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Last week I was lucky enough to travel to California! My parents arranged the trip a while ago, and kindly invited my brother and his girlfriend Jesi, me, and my boyfriend Steve along for the fun. It was a sequel to our amazing vacation together last Christmas in Mexico. We stayed in a house a block away from the beach in Venice, and rented bikes to ride up and down the coast and through the cities. It was an absolute blast. I haven’t gathered all the pictures from everyone yet (and most of the photos of all of us are on dad or Harry’s camera) but I couldn’t wait to share some of the beautiful snaps I took while I was there.


Venice beach is full of weirdos, but much like Austin, they accept this fact with pride. Of all the funky, cool establishments and architecture 10554170_1512198842342573_287659371_nwe saw in the neighborhood, the one that stuck out to me the most was a building across the alleyway right behind our house. It was painted a deep purple, enclosed by Gothic gates and smothered in artwork, gargoyles, and other miscellaneous oddities. It had a spiral staircase up to a rooftop with tables and chairs, so my mom and I assumed it must have been some sort of establishment. It wasn’t until our last day there when we wandered around to the front of the building that we saw a plaque reading “Private Residence” on the gated front entryway. Awesome. Someone lives here. Which begs the questions “Who?” and then, more interestingly, “…why???”

10520348_424632074343399_251972312_nAll the sunshine and fun considered, California really wins my heart with its food. America’s so-called “salad bowl” really delivers. Our very first Saturday we went to the farmers market in Santa Monica to stock up on fresh, ripe fruits and unpasteurized cheese (yummm….) The area was littered with coffee shops, farm-to-market restaurants, and cold-pressed juice shops. My favorite of these was a cafe/juice bar blend called Kreation (the fresh rose water was to die for, and the “50 Shades of Green” juice as well). Another cool coffee shop we stumbled upon was Tom’s– yeah, the same Tom’s that makes those canvas flats. I had no idea they did coffee, or eyeglasses either, but apparently their flagship location in Venice does it all. It had a great atmosphere and the cold brew coffee was excellent. Even the corner store in Venice had a fresh produce section, along with the biggest papaya I’d ever seen. But the highlight of the trip, at least food-wise, was a little joint called Flake that Jessica found. Aside from having THE best breakfast sandwiches ever, it was a super cute place decorated with vintage kid’s cereal boxes and a sense of humor. So good. My folks and I went back for more a few times before we left.

We also got to meet up with our cousin Noah, who lives in LA right now and is a comedy writer. He’s worked  on Workaholics and Kroll Show, two of me and 1941176_1538728219684234_1885090805_nSteve’s favorites! He even got a cake thrown in his face by Zach Galafianakis– which is pretty much the coolest thing anyone can put on their resume. Larry had expressed interest in hiking up to the Hollywood sign, and as it happened Noah lives right beneath it and
offered to be our tour guide. Larry and I drove to meet him on our last day. We walked more than half an hour through his neighborhood, which was beyond gorgeous with beautiful houses and colorful flowers and fruit trees everywhere. Then we started the hour-and-a-half long journey up the hill. It was a relatively clear day for LA so we could see out over all of the city, and the ocean and mountains in the distance. It was quite the workout, and my calves are still sore many days later, but it was so worth it. Here’s our view from the top:

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Team Wendy!

I’ve been a die-hard South Park fan ever since my best friend Melissa encouraged me to watch my very first episode (“Rainforest Shmainforest”, April 1999). I fell in love with the show because its hilarious, satirical, and always an equal-opportunity-offender. Thirteen years have passed since then, and I have both Melissa and South Park to thank for molding my sense of humor into what it is today. (It should also be noted that hardly anything offends me anymore, haha!) Last week’s new South Park episode, “The Hobbit”, was so amazing I just had to write/gush about it. Reprising Kanye “Gayfish” West was more than enough to earn this episode a five star review in my book, but the story and it’s message make me wish I could give it way more stars than that.

410375South Park has received some criticism over the years for it’s lack of female characters, and I get that. It is true the four protagonists (and majority of the peripheral characters) are male, but there are three reasons I don’t take any issue with this (aside from the “diehard fan” thing mentioned above). First of all, Trey Parker and Matt Stone deliberately created the world of South Park to reflect on their own experiences growing up in Middle America, as boys. The best writers write from experience, and I think their intention was to do just that. The second reason I don’t find the lack of female characters bothering is that when gender issues do come up, South Park always sides with feminism, while still managing to convey the depth and complexity of the subject (see: “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset”).

Wendy TestaburgerAnd finally, the third and most important reason I couldn’t care less about the gender gap in South Park is that one character makes up for it all: Wendy Testaburger. She may be the token girl in South Park Elementary, but she’s no cookie-cutter archetype. She’s called “bossy” and a “bitch”, but she’s also Stan’s feminine love interest. She’s a “good girl” who studies hard and does the right thing, but also tough enough to beat the shit out of Cartman if need be. Wendy is just the best.

This episode took on the issue of unrealistic beauty standards put forth by the media, and the effects it has on young girls’ self esteem and body image. They looked particularly at Photoshop, the tool used by the media to craft images of unrealistic perfection. Viral videos and campaigns aimed to demonstrate the powers of photo-manipulation have been popping up everywhere these days (check out a great one here). South Park recreated one of these time-lapse Photoshop scenes in the episode to great effect.

I won’t break down the plot for you here– I highly suggest watching the whole episode— but basically Wendy, saddened to see her peers suffering with poor self-image, sets off on a crusade to expose Photoshop images as fake and take away the power it has. Her plan backfires, as her peers only seem to like Photoshop more. Wendy then gets labeled as being both “jelly” and a “hater”. (On a side note, hearing Mr. Mackey use the term “Jelly” definitely made my night).

The most striking moment of the episode to me was at the very end. There have been a handful of South Park episodes in the past which could be described as melancholy, but rarely if ever has an episode ended with such a sad scene. Wendy, having fought a futile war, gives up against Photoshop. But she also loses a battle with herself. Despite how opinionated, dedicated, and strong Wendy Testaburger was, in the end even she could not withstand the pressures coming at her from every direction. She puts her own picture in Photoshop, and after a few mouse clicks no longer recognizes herself. With tears in her eyes, she sends the photo. I won’t lie– this made me tear up. If you want to shed a tear for Wendy too click here to see a clip of the ending.

I related to Wendy in this moment. For the other girls in her class, having a highly-edited photo of themselves was a boost to their self-esteem. For Wendy, giving in and manipulating her photo was a blow to her self-esteem, and her self-respect. Wendy valued herself not by her outward appearance or how other people saw her, but on the quality of her character. I feel like I’ve been caught in this dichotomy in my own life. Many times in my life I have felt, and complied with, the pressures in society to look or act a certain way. Every time I give in, I stop myself and say “Come on, Katie, you’re too smart for this!” It’s a pattern of me criticizing my appearance, and then being harsh on myself for doing so because I “should know better”. But as Wendy learned too, society can get the better of us sometimes no matter how smart or aware of it we are. This world’s a tough place to be a little girl– hang in there, Wendy!

And on an unrelated but completely awesome note, there was also this:

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My First Ever Vine Video!

I’m in love with funny Vine videos. Joke all you want about the digital generation’s short attention spans– I think imposing limitations is what makes creativity thrive. The less you have to work with, the more creative you have to be. Six seconds isn’t a very long time to get someone to laugh– you’ve got to get innovative with your comedy, or be lucky enough to capture a genius moment. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out this or one of the many other vine compilations out there. You will laugh your socks off.

So, I finally downloaded the app and signed in. Luckily it links with Twitter automatically, which is my social media of choice these days. I love how the videos are embedded, and run in an endless loop. I made my first Vine the other day. Don’t worry, I didn’t try to be funny in it. Its just of me crocheting one of the squares for my afghan out in the daylight. I thought all of the colors looked pretty together. Here it is:

I finally finished the afghan– it’s so huge, soft and comfortable and I am SO proud of it. It’s the first project of any magnitude that I both completed, and completed well. I can’t wait to post it up here, but I have to take some good pictures first.

Katie: A Life-Long Book Worm

At the end of June, I declared a blogging resolution– that I am running this blog for myself and will do what I want with it. Powerful stuff, sure- but I never quite specified what it was I wanted to do. Though I’m not sure of all the directions this blog will eventually wander in, book reviews are a thing I have intended to add for a while now. Literary critiques are extremely subjective/biased forms of commentary. Two intelligent and well-respected critics can hold completely opposite views on a particular title. This means when looking for good reviews, knowing who the reviewer is can really matter. Since I will only be reviewing the books I want and choose to read, you might want to know a little bit about me as a reader, and my particular taste in books.

Hello, My Name is Katie & I’m Addicted to READING

I have been a book worm since the day I was born. My parents read to me constantly as an infant, and as soon as I learned the skill myself I was unstoppable. I was that kid who brought a book to the dinner table. My first ever act of defiance as a toddler was to sneak out of  bed after “light’s out” to retrieve a book from my closet and continue reading by flashlight. I never got away with this, but my mom was always more amused than annoyed when she caught me. She was especially tickled one morning to find me asleep in bed, with The Velveteen Rabbit still propped open in my hands.

c4041In my middle school years I read at school, in between classes and during lunch. I was lucky to have a few good friends who did the same.My idea of after-school fun was to ask my parents for a ride to the local bookstore- and beg them not to pick me up until they closed. By the time I was 15 I had read my way through the entire YA section and my interests began to wander. My most fond memories of reading during that time of my life were at summer camp. Every summer before heading up to Echo Hill, it was tradition for my dad buy me a stack of “camp books” to take with me.  

angusOne year, after I had carefully made my selections for camp, my dad insisted I take this other book too, because some bookstore clerk had highly recommended it. He bought it for me and I begrudgingly agreed, lugging the hard-bound book with me to camp along with all the ones I had chosen. I read every one of my books before I finally got around to the one dad had made me bring. I examined it skeptically- it was a kid’s book, with a juvenile cover, and the font was way too big for me! (I believe my thoughts at the time were, “Whatever, Dad!!!”)

 imagesBut then I finished all my other books. And with nothing left to read, I opened up the silly kid’s book anyway- and that was the moment Harry Potter entered my life. It immediately became my favorite series of all time. I became a real fan- short for fanatic. Just ask my parents- who shortly thereafter received a letter from their little daughter at camp, who was DEMANDING that the second book be mailed OVERNIGHT to me at camp, OR ELSE. They obliged (thanks mom and dad!)

Harry and I were both 11 years old when his first book debuted. When he was 13, I was also 13. But as the years between each book release grew, I slowly became older than Harry. It all culminated on the night of my 21st birthday. Rather than celebrate I sat at home, slowly savoring the final tome The Deathly Hallows with tears in my eyes. I wouldn’t have spent that birthday any other way– and the series could not have had a more perfect, beautiful ending. 

200px-River_Out_of_Eden_CoverAside from the final Harry Potter books, I found myself completely over fiction by the time I was in college. Stories were stories- and after a while, the narratives began to repeat themselves. An old story told in “a new, fresh way” is still the same old story. I became somewhat burned-out on all the make-believe. So as a curious, liberal-arts student with an insatiable desire to learn, I abandoned fiction entirely to focus on facts. I started reading more books on sociology, history, anthropology, and my favorite of all, the sciences. These books were no longer the same old stories- they contained knowledge and wisdom. New things that people are learning and discovering. Different ways of thinking about common concepts and ideas. Academic insight into past and present cultural events. Non-fiction books left me with the satisfied feeling that I had learned something- and I like learning things. 

philip-k-dickAt the end college and in the one year since, I have broadened my horizons a little bit. I’ve slowly I allowed fiction back into my life- with a strong inclination toward that of the “science-fiction” variety. I have also expanded my “non-fiction” repertoire beyond just hard sciences with everything from sociology and psychology books to memoirs and comedic non-fiction. My biggest broach back into the realm of storytelling has been the Game of Thrones series- which I have been thoroughly enjoying and will definitely write about here. Watch this space!