Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I've Found My Name-Song

While I'm happy for him, I have to admit, I've always been jealous of the fact that Elton John wrote a song about my husband, Daniel. And you know what, while we're making confessions here, I've got to say I've often felt a slight tinge of envy over the fact that Bob Dylan composed a seven-minute ballad for my sister, Johanna. Even my college roommate, Kelsey, had a band called Metro Station singing her praises on the radio a few years back.

And look, while in reality I understand that these songs weren't actually written in honor of these people I know, I still can't help but think of them every time I hear their corresponding name-songs.

♫ Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane.... ♫

♫ These visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn... ♫

♫ I'd swim the ocean for you, oh, Kelsey... ♫

I've heard somewhere that everyone's favorite word is their own name, and if that narcissistic factoid is true, it explains why I got so excited when I found out that there is a song out there called "Christy". Before this, the closest I'd ever come to the whole "this song is about me!" front is probably Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." But let's be honest, isn't that song basically about all of us? I mean, if over half of the population has brown eyes, and half of the population is made up of women, doesn't that mean that the description applies to roughly a quarter of the entire world's population? (Is that how math works?)

Anyway, as of this week, it seems as though my luck has changed in the name-song department. My sister, Johanna (the one Bob Dylan was having all of those visions about) introduced me to a track by Natalie Prass called "Christy", and folks, it's perfect. It's this hauntingly beautiful melody set to baroque, orchestral sounds, and well, I'm just in love with it. And it's not because it has my name in it (but guys, it totally has my name in it).

Take a listen:

♫ Christy, a name that isn't too short or too sweet...

♫ There's a shadow of a smile in your eyes, Christy...♫ 

If you pay close attention, you'll note that the Christy that Prass is singing about here exactly an awesome person. It's kind of like a Jolene situation -- you know, the one where Dolly Parton pleads with a woman named Jolene: "I'm begging you, please don't take my man." (Damn, I love that song so much).

But while that characterization is not necessarily on-brand for me, I still dig my new name-song. After listening to and falling in love with it, I wanted to see if there were by chance any other Christy songs out there that I'd missed. And oh my, YouTube delivered.

♫ Christy, yeah, she's gonna break your heart again♫ 

Apparently, Christy is a name that is associated with heartbreak. Who knew? But anyway, this poppy, punky anthem from 2001 is by a group called Tina & The Total Babes, which...hang on...IS THAT NOT THE BEST BAND NAME EVER? I Wikipedia'd them and it turns out they ultimately changed their name to Trashwomen, which in my opinion, is a total downgrade, but whatever. I still dig this song. The Christy in this tune is less of a seductress with ill-intent and more of a bad ass lady who doesn't trust men, applies red lipstick at midnight, and is "too cool to care" about her torn stockings. Plus, it seems she's also a total Hottie McHotHot, so of course, this song gets my stamp of approval.

I'm sure there are other songs out there called "Christy", but as you can see, I'm quite satisfied with the ones I've got right here. I'll probably play them while giving myself positive affirmations in the mirror each morning. Kidding, I don't do that (but if I did, it would probably look a lot like this).

And since I found my name-songs, I figured I might as well pay it forward. Here's all of the songs that I can think of off the top of my head that invoke a woman's name, so if any of these apply to you, you're welcome:

If your name is April... try April by Simon & Garfunkel.

If your name is Amanda... try Amanda by Boston.

If your name is Julia... try Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard by Simon & Garfunkel, and just pretend he's just mispronouncing your name.

If your name is Maria... try Maria from West Side Story, OR if you're feeling a bit down on yourself, try How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? from The Sound of Music. Or I guess you could try Ave Maria, but you know, don't be weird.

If your name is Beyoncé...try Yonce by Queen Bey.

If your name is Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, Jessica, Angela, or Pamela...obviously you should try Mambo Number 5 by Lou Bega, and then you can proceed to curse the day that you ever heard that song because it's the worst and it stays in your head forever.

Meh, I've run out of steam on this charitable endeavor. Sorry about that. But still, I'm dying to know...

What's your name-song?

Friday, June 19, 2015

How to Use Airbnb Like A Pro

If you frequent this blog, you may know that I have a well-documented love for Airbnb. Through this wondrous network of home-away-from-homes, I've been able to snuggle up in cabins in upstate New York, attend Alt Summit without having to share a room with five other women, and even find affordable accommodations for my recent trip to Europe. I've also regularly used Airbnb for when I have visitors here in NYC because, for some reason, my parents don't want to sleep on my IKEA sectional couch (I mean, seriously, what's that about?).

If you ask me, Airbnb is the best way to go when it comes to finding the right place to stay. It's cheaper, it's homier, the hosts are wonderful, and it's just a convenient, solid system for making travel easier. I use it so regularly that I actually can't remember the last time I stayed in a hotel.

That being said, since I've been around the Airbnb block a few times, I thought I'd share with you today some of my tips and tricks for booking the best possible experience. Let's do this.

Know what you want

Do you want the whole place to yourself? Is it important for you to have a washer/dryer? Would you like to stay in a treehouse or a riverboat? If you have specific requests, Airbnb does a good job of helping you sort out the listings that just aren't going to work for you. After entering in your dates and location, you can always choose the More Filters option. From there, you can click through a series of checkboxes or even plug in a keyword (e.g. king size bed, beachfront, movie theater on site). Pro tip: If you are traveling somewhere woodsy, wifi is not a given, so filter your search to make sure that you don't end up in a cabin somewhere without any access to Orange Is The New Black.

Don't dismiss private rooms

In terms of room type, you probably know that you have three options to choose from: Entire Place (you get the whole kit-n-kaboodle to yourself), Private Room (you stay in a room where your host will be on site), and Shared Room (you share a room with another human being). As a certified introvert, I always swore that I would never choose any option besides Entire Place. I just didn't like the idea of someone else being around while I hung out in their digs. But while booking a trip to Salt Lake City, I noticed that there were a lot of private rooms available for crazy cheap (like $30 a night) that looked really great. I booked one, and man oh man, it was fabulous. My host was a dream. She didn't ask overly personal questions, walk in on me in the bathroom, or hover over my bed a la The Exorcist. She just chilled and answered my questions whenever I had them. I had a private entrance, so it was basically like staying in a hotel room, only super cheap and actually much nicer. All of that to say: even if you're a total loner, a private room might still be a good deal for you.

Read the fine print

Some hosts go to great lengths to describe their listing. Some don't. I often steer clear of the ones that don't because I like to be well-informed of what I'm getting into. But I also look for certain red flags, too. For instance, when a host says, "We LOVE making new friends and we hope you will take some time during your visit to sit down with us, have a scone, and tell us your story" -- that's a big ole NOPE for me. If you're into that sort of thing, go for it, but for me, that's just not my bag. Instead, I look for a host that says, "We enjoy hosting our guests, and while we are always available to answer questions, our aim is to respect your privacy." Sign me up for that. Also, be aware of their cancelation policy or if they have weird house rules (A curfew? Am I 17?).

If your dates are flexible, be flexible

Just like a hotel, Airbnb listings often have a high and a low season, so rates are subject to change depending on the month or even the day of the week. Take a look at the calendar on listings to see the availability and cost of each day. You know, be smart.

Read reviews

Reviews are at the heart of what makes Airbnb great. For one, they hold hosts and guests accountable. Knowing that you are subject to a review process makes you far more likely to be on your best behavior. But for another, they give great insight into what's really going on. A host description could be like, "I have the best house in the world. Two bedrooms. Two bathrooms. Close to shops. No ghosts or ghouls of any kind, I swear" but then you read the reviews and they are like, "The toilet was broken the entire time I was there, and dude, there were SO. MANY. GHOSTS. If that's an issue for you, don't stay here." (For the record, this is just an example, but man, I kind of wish it were real). Take interest in what a host says about their place, but put your trust in reviews.

Introduce yourself

When you've found a place you love, reach out to the host to say "hello" and make sure they have availability. Be nice, complementary, say what your travels plans are, use proper grammar -- just be a decent human being. Many hosts run their Airbnb listing as a business, but at the same time, they are also welcoming perfect strangers into their home which can be a vulnerable position to be in. Put their mind at ease by showing them you are a considerate person, and you will be far more likely to be approved.

Be a superstar guest

Hosts aren't the only ones who receive a review on Airbnb. Guests do too. Think about that before you clog someone's toilet or crank Metallica at 3 AM. In my most recent experience, my hosts only approved people with one or more reviews, and they said they were most impressed with the ones I had received. Not to brag, but I'm kind of the perfect guest. I tidy up, I say please and thank you, I don't scream in my sleep. I basically just act like a decent human being and all seems to go fairly well. Do the same thing and hosts will be far more likely to trust you to take care of their homes.

Have you used Airbnb? What are some of your tips for having the best possible experience?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's Been Three Years

Three years ago, my husband and I arrived in New York City, our Ford Focus packed and overflowing with things that only very young married couples own – plastic drawers from The Container Store, old camp T-shirts, a Swiffer Wet Jet. Since we only had one month to prepare for our move, we were starting off our New York life in a unique living situation. The plan was to sublease an apartment for the summer while the owner was away at a yoga retreat, and in exchange for caring for her three cats, we would pay a reduced rent of $1,000. It was the best deal we could find by a mile.

However, that day as we circled the block looking for a parking spot in Ditmas Park, our new Brooklyn neighborhood, I remember feeling a deep sense of uneasiness. What if this was all some sort of scam? What if we got to the apartment and no one was there to greet us? What if there was no apartment at all? Or worse, what if there was an apartment but inside it lived an ax murderer waiting to chop us to bits and steal our Swiffer Wet Jet refills? Maybe we had been too hasty in deciding to sign on to a Craigslist sublease. Maybe we had been too hasty in deciding to move at all.

But as we walked into what would be our new home for the next three months, my fears subsided. The apartment was real and as far I could tell there was not a murderer in sight. Every inch of the place positively reeked of cat urine. It was a cluttered mess, but it was real. This was going to work, at least for a little while.

As I look back on these past three years, that hoarder’s nest of an apartment stands out as a metaphor for my life here. New York is a place that always feels like a sublease. You can’t quite own it no matter how hard you try. Even though my husband and I have since bought an apartment here in Brooklyn, there is still this sense that it doesn’t quite belong to us. Everything here belongs to history, to the millions of people who have come together over hundreds of years and collectively declared, “Let’s all live on top of each other on this tiny island! Let’s spend way too much money, work way too hard, and get our asses handed to us on an almost daily basis! Let’s deplete our savings accounts, question all of our major life decisions, but still, let’s somehow find beauty in the small threads of hope this city dangles in front of us.” Just like that cat-filled subleased apartment, New York often fills with me anxiety, it smells vaguely of pee, but dammit, it’s home.

Daniel and I in front of our second NY apartment, but just pretend it's our first.

And for better or for worse, this place has changed me, irreversibly so. It’s made me tougher, more vulnerable, more suspicious, more appreciative of small kindnesses. It’s made me a better sharer, a more intent listener, a faster walker. At times, this city has made me radiate positivity and hopefulness. Other times, it’s made me a petulant child crying on the B train. I have been my best and worst self in this place, as in BEST-best and worst-worst-worst-worst.

And I’ve got to say, through it all, despite how Carrie Bradshaw-esque this is of me to say, I’m still in love with this city. After all, it’s the one I chose. In my life, I’ve had three important relationships with cities: my hometown of Helotes, my college town, Waco, and now New York. I look at my hometown as though it were a dear family member whose quirks I cherish and whose cooking makes me feel safe. I look at my college town like I would a friend who makes me laugh hysterically every time I see them. But I look at New York with romance. I see New York as the one I pursued, the one I decided on even though it continually rebuffed my advances. I’m stupidly, crazily in love with this city.

And it’s been that way from the beginning. For proof of this, please enjoy this excerpt taken from my journal the first week I moved here, dated May 28, 2012:

Every day here is like a small battle, but I’m kind of falling in love with it. New York summer is going to be uncomfortable, possibly more so than Texas. I get sticky everywhere I go. My feet are already hideous. Today is the first day I’ve worn eyeliner since I got here. I feel like I am getting tough, and I adore this.

And if that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Now, look, folks -- I have no idea what my future here entails. I’ve already told you that, and don’t press the issue any further because I’ll get all sweaty and develop hives on my neck and it won’t look all that dignified. But in the meantime, while I'm unsure of everything, I’m taking this time to look back. It's been three years since I moved to this weird, wonderful town. My life was one thing back then, and now it’s something else, and maybe that’s all I need to know to move forward.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Adventures in London and Paris

This week, I'm back from a beautiful, lengthy, and probably totally undeserved European vacation. Did you miss me? It's cool if you didn't. You had a lot going on, I'm sure.

But in case you happen to care even a little bit, just know that my hubs and I had a crazy good time. It truly was the best trip of my life, unforgettable in so many ways, and yet now that we are back, it feels like it was all a dream. Did we really just spend eleven days drinking wine, eating cheese, and putting our eyeballs on some of the most beautiful architecture and art this world has ever known? Did we really walk over 100 miles across Europe in shoes from Payless? Did we really eat pig's feet and LOVE it?

We really did, folks.

Going into this trip, we really had no expectations because -- and don't be mad at us for this -- we didn't exactly make any plans. Besides booking the sites of our AirBnb residences in London and Paris, we really didn't come in with any sense of what we were going to see. We didn't learn French. We didn't buy a guidebook. We just sort of...winged it.

Wait, sorry, that's not entirely true. We had a lot of helpful suggestions from our friends. Like, A LOT actually. Shout out to Jess, Jo, and Aaron (who made us an interactive MAP! I mean, are you kidding me, bro? Talk about generosity). We basically would have mistakenly wandered into brothels had it not been for you three. Instead, we knowingly wandered into places like this:

But apart from our friend's suggestions, we wanted a sense of spontaneity to our trip. Here's how things went down: we flew into London (Gatwick Airport, to be specific), stayed there for about three days, took a train to Paris, stuck around there for about four days (plus a quick jaunt to Versailles), and then traveled back to London where we stayed for another three days. We lived in AirBnbs, sometimes with hosts, sometimes without. We did some touristy things. We did some less touristy things. We consumed a hearty English breakfast, various cheeses, onion soup, crepes, croissants, baguettes, wine (SO. MUCH. WINE.), beer, tea, fish, chips, curry, crumpets, finger sandwiches -- every expected Parisian/English dish imaginable (along with several unexpected ones). We went to museums, parks, cathedrals, and gardens. We saw famous paintings, landmarks, and places where famous dead people are buried.

Anyway, you get the idea, folks -- we did the damn thing.

And now that it's all over, I'm left with the daunting task of detailing the wild tales of our European adventure. In fact, the first thing one of my friends asked me upon our return was, "Did anything crazy happen to you?"

And the honest answer, and potentially disappointing depending on what you're expecting, is that nothing all that crazy happened to us. Things went smoothly (save for one tense moment upon our arrival at the London Bridge station when we couldn't figure out which train to take and the wind was whipping us around and I wondered if the weather in London was always like this Mars hellscape nightmare and if we would ever make it out alive). Really, we just enjoyed ourselves. And each other. And all of the locals. And ALL of their food.

But while I can't offer you a thrilling account of us scaling the side of the Eiffel Tower with our bare hands or meeting Mr. Bean at a nightclub, what I can provide is categorical observations of things we loved throughout our trip. Think of it as an awards ceremony for our vacation. Here goes:

Most jaw-dropping view (London): Sky Garden

Sky Garden is located at the top of 20 Fenchurch, which sorry London, but that building looks like a giant melting toaster oven. At the top, however, it's absolutely breathtaking. I mean, hello, it's a the sky. But actually, don't get too excited about the garden portion of it. It's basically filled with a bunch of nondescript plants that you could find in any mall in America. BUT the views are seriously top notch. Just magical, really. Thanks to our London-based friend, Jo, who gave us the heads up about this place (aaaand who basically planned the last half of our trip for us)!

Most jaw-dropping view (Paris): Pompidou Center

Of course, the Sacré Coeur, which is clearly visible in this photo taken from Centre Pompidou, also has some insane views. Basically, there are plenty of places to get high in Paris.

Tastiest dish (London): Okra Fries at Dishoom

I haven't been able to get these out of my head, and I WILL have them again.

Tastiest dish (Paris): Quiche at L'Eté en Pente Douce

I didn't take a picture of this because I ate it. Quickly. After walking the steps up to the Sacré-Coeur on our first night in Paris, I was famished, hangry, and ready to eat my own thumb. Then I was served this quiche, and who even knows if it was actually any good, but at the time it was the best thing I'd ever eaten.

Favorite area (London): Shoreditch

When we told our AirBnb host that we were going to spend the day in Shoreditch, she laughed. She said that she typically has two types of guests: people who go to Piccadilly Circus and people who go to Shoreditch. For the uninitiated, Piccadilly Circus could be compared to a place like Times Square and Shoreditch could be compared to some trendy neighborhood like Williamsburg. But man, this place kicked it up a notch, hipness-wise. Every single storefront we passed was just so. damn. cute. We especially loved coming upon the above bookstore on a BOAT!

Favorite area (Paris): St. Martin Canal

This was our hood in Paris, and man, I'm so glad it was. Definitely off-the-beaten path, away from tourists and full of beauty and local flavor. Also, restaurants on boats. I'm finding that I really like when businesses are on boats.

Happiest surprise (London): The availability of prawns

First, a linguistics lesson: in England, they call shrimp "prawns." In retrospect, I have no idea what word they use for our version of prawns. Probably "wigglies" or something similarly whimsical. But anyway, you can straight up buy precooked prawns (or shrimp, AKA my favorite food) as a snack for next to nothing. It's like getting a small container of grapes or celery sticks or crackers only it's SHRIMP, and it's delicious. This was the first thing I ate at Gatwick Airport upon arrival at an establishment reminiscent of a CVS, and my brain basically exploded. I feel like Americans need to get over our unwarranted fears of expired shellfish.

Happiest surprise (Paris): The people

Whenever I've heard people accuse the French of being rude, I have always rolled my eyes. I am of the belief that shitty people and wonderful people exist EVERYWHERE (I've met both wherever I've lived) and that they are not simply relegated to certain areas. That being said, as a person of pride, I must confess that I was a bit worried that my theory wouldn't hold up. Rest assured, though, that the people of France were positively lovely to us. As I fumbled through limited French, no one ever made me feel like a jerk. I received smiles and help whenever I needed it. Lay off the French, guys.

Best overall metro system: Paris

It was hard to go back to the freaking MTA here in NYC after my experience in both Paris and London. But I've got to give it up to Paris for its ease, comfort, and lack of a rush hour.

Best overall goats: These goats just looking for some shade at Luxembourg Gardens

Sorry, London. Paris won this one too.

Best best BEST thing overall: Versailles

I mean, look at that, guys. This place was heaven. I won't even try to dignify the experience of Versailles with fruitless words. Here's more pictures instead:

City I would choose to live in: up...

Probably neither, honestly. I'd miss drip coffee too much. But man, it's fun to dream.

I honestly haven't even begun to scratch the surface here, and perhaps this warrants a future blog post, but you get the picture: we had fun. Copious amounts of fun. And now I'm home, and I just wish I could go to my local deli and pick up some prawns.

Are you dreaming of a big, fat vacation?
Where would you go if you could travel anywhere right now?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guest Post: Lessons Learned From Road Trip Mishaps

If you are a regular reader, you may or may not have noticed that things have been rather quiet around here over the last couple of weeks. Not to worry, however, because the reason for my sudden silence is a good one. I've been traveling. Like, really traveling, y'all. Over the last ten days I've been on the longest and best trip ever to London, Paris, and back to London once again. For proof of this adventure, please see the above picture of me looking rather dignified while sitting on a canal at the Palace of Versailles.

Anyway, because I'm still out and about galavanting across the globe, I asked a travel expert to take over my blog this week. Ashley, who writes a blog called Under The Ash Tree, is here today to talk about some lessons she's learned through America's favorite form of travel: road trips. Take it away, Ashley!

Road Trip Mishaps:
A Guest Post from Under The Ash Tree

There are few things I love more than starting a Road Trip. As a kid from a big family, road trips were our jam. Each summer, the ten of us (yes, ten!) would pile into our 12-seater van, our dogs jumping from seat to seat, our luggage crammed into any available space, an audiobook (usually Harry Potter) playing to keep us entertained, and we would drive somewhere for a week. My sister, Ally, and I always took the back, because then we’d each get two seats, we’d sit with our backs against windows, our feet stretched out alongside each other and we’d grab as many pillows as we could and create a giant, pillow-y bed, to nap or read. Eventually, one of our brothers would get jealous of our extra space and start complaining. Names would be called, tears would spill, and our mother would outlaw talking for the next hour. This would be repeated for the remainder of the week.

As an adult, road trips have remained my favorite way to travel. The smells of summer and vacation are sunscreen and gasoline, and to me nothing beats the exhilaration of putting together the perfect playlist, buying mass amounts of unhealthy road trip snackage (Corn Nuts & Beef Jerky, anyone?) and heading out on the road knowing that anything can happen.

Then again, that’s one of the main problem with road trips. Anything can happen, unlike planes and trains, in automobiles no one is in charge of your trip other than you. If your flight get cancelled, you call Delta, but if your car stops working or you run out of gas, there is no one to blame, but yourself...or your your road trip companion. Luckily, I made a list of a few road trip mistakes I’ve witness/made so now you don’t have to!

Know What Day Your Are Getting To Your Destination

In 2011, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. It was a dream semester and I while I was there I managed to convince my parents to come visit. My parents aren’t the most adventurous humans. My mother hates being lost, so when she does travel, she has to know every second of the itinerary. Sometimes it’s helpful, usually it’s annoying, but I wanted them to come so I let her make the plans. She planned a road trip from Rome to Venice to Florence, which was pretty unlike her as driving in foreign country is not something she does. But she told Dad if he got an automatic car with a GPS she would be okay with it.

My mother is also a bit paranoid of flying (sometimes I wonder how we’re related) and—long story short—my parents don’t fly together just in case something unspeakable happens. My dad always gets in first, so I met him at the Rome airport 5 hours before my mother landed. We decided it made the most sense to go get the car so that when Mom arrived, we could go explore immediately. My father gave his name to the attendant so she could check him in.

She typed, stopped, typed again and looked up at him:

“Sir, you rented the car for yesterday,” she said in a thick Italian accent.
My father looked at her and said quite calmly, “No, I rented it for today.”
“No.” She said curtly, and motioned for the guy behind us to come up to the desk. I felt frantic, but Dad stayed calm pulling out his phone, switching on the WiFi and checking.
“Oh” was all he said.
“What?” I snapped at him.
“I booked that car for Saturday.” I stared at him and we looked back the lady who was ignoring us now.
“Excuse me, Mama” Dad said politely, “There was a misunderstanding, is the car we rented still here or if not can we make a new reservation”
“Sir, this is Easter in Rome. There are no cars.” Both us had forgotten that it was the holiest day in Italy. Now, we were both frantic. We bolted from stand to stand asking for a car, any car at any price. None of it mattered to Dad, he just wanted a car and he wanted it before mom got here and realized his mistake. Finally, we found one. It was three-times as expensive as the one Dad had pre-ordered online, it was older, it was manual and it had no GPS. But he didn’t care. He threw his credit card on table, signed the paperwork and headed out.

“Just don’t tell Mom.”

Ask Someone for Directions

On the same trip to Italy, in the same five hours before we had to pick up Mom, my dad and I decided to take a mini-road trip around Rome before she got in. We were stressed from the car insanity and just wanted to get away. We decided to try and find the Colosseum. It took about an hour to get away from the airport and another 20 minutes to find a gas station with a map, but with three hours to spare, we set out on the one main highway that circles around Rome. It was beautiful: the vast Italian mountains, the small towns, all on the outskirts of the major city. There was some traffic it was Easter after all, but we kept driving looking for the exit that would get us to the center of the city. Forty-five minutes later, we stopped to get gas and take pictures. I went inside to grab a coke and, as I was paying, I asked the shopkeeper (in my limited Italian) where the Colosseum was. He looked confused, so I took the map out and pointed to the highway and pointed to the Colosseum. He shook his head and pointed to Vicovaro, a small town about 40 miles outside of Rome.

“No we’re headed to the Colosseum” I said in English.

“Yes, but you are in Vicovaro.”

I froze for a moment, paid for the coke and ran back to the car.

“WE HAVE TO TURN AROUND!” I yelled as I jumped in and Dad and I sped back towards the airport, our Colloseum dreams vanishing. We showed up an hour late to the airport between my jet lagged dad and my cranky mother, I immediately regretting having them visit. It ultimately ended up being a blast, but that first day was a disaster.

Keep Up With Car Maintenance

I learned how important oil changes are the summer of 2010. My family had just moved back to New York, and I was spending the summer in Ohio, working. My parents had four cars and had driven two of them back east, but they wanted to get the other cars back as well. So Brandon and I volunteered to drive them in trade for getting to keep one of the cars for the summer. We decided to extend our trip, road tripping up to Maine and then back to Ohio, since Brandon had never been so far east before. After we dropped the other car off in New York, we began our trip. It was pretty easy-going for the most part; we spent our days driving around from Cape Cod to Boston to Maine, we slept at janky motels and ate more lobster than was probably good for us. On the last day of trip, we decide to push through the night. We were going through in Erie, PA and only had about three hours left in the trip when we heard a loud pop and Brandon realized our tire was flat.

We pulled over on the pitch-black highway, called the cops so we’d have a little bit of light, and Brandon, the car guru, went to change the tire. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled it, kicked it, and finally got the cop to give him a sledge hammer which allowed him to yank it off. He changed it, but our dummy tire wasn’t going to cut it for nearly 200 miles, so we found a hotel and decided to go to a shop for a tire change in the morning. The next morning, though, was a Sunday and the only “mechanic” open was Walmart. On our way, our engine started making a funny click, we were a bit concerned, but figured it was something to do with the tire. At Walmart, the guy gave us a new tire and then told us our other front tire was weak and would probably go flat. He had the same troubles getting the wheel off as Brandon had had the night before, but this time he was completely unable to get it off. He told us he didn’t think it would make it back to Columbus. I called my Dad and he suggested we spend one more night in Erie. We also decided to get an opinion on that clicking sound. Everything seemed to be running fine so we hoped it was just something minor or a part that was rattling loose.

It wasn’t. The next day, at an actual mechanic, we learned the wheels were not the main problem, but that the engine noise was, in fact, the end of our engine’s life. I cried and called my dad and he promised that I wouldn’t have to move to Erie. They ended up completely replacing the engine and keeping the structure of the car, B and I ended up spending a week in Erie while they found a decent engine and fixed everything which actually turned out pretty fun. However, if we had just gotten our oil changed a few weeks earlier, we probably could have just gone home. 

Plan For Traffic

Brandon and I were road tripping up from North Carolina back to Westchester to spend the fourth of July with my family. We probably should have left earlier, but we were convinced we could do the drive in one day and make it back in time for fireworks. After all, who goes on a road trip on the 4th of July?

As it turns out, lots of people do. That night, we sat in 4 hours of traffic on the Manhattan bridge, not moving, cranky, and sullen because my family was all together and I was here in a car. The sun set, and the fireworks began. We sat in the car on the Manhattan Bridge watching the fireworks of Fourth of July, both horrified that this was how we were to spend our holiday and a bit happy because no one could get as close to these fireworks as we were in that moment.

How do you plan ahead for a successful road trip?

For more from Ashley, check out her blog, Under The Ash Tree!

Friday, May 1, 2015

What I Learned By Playing 'My Idol'

Man, guys, this world is an amazing place. I mean, think about it. Here's a list of awesome things that this spinning, watery orb has to offer:

-Crab cakes
-Those restaurant mints that melt in your mouth
-The Marvel Universe
-Bras with front clasps
-Twinkle lights
-Food samples
-Toddlers wearing glasses
-The peach emoji 
-Wrap dresses
-Pastry chefs
-Munchkin cats
-Kristen Wiig

And speaking of wondrous things that this world has to offer, can we talk about the My Idol app? Because, seriously, guys, it is everything I love about living on Planet Earth. 

If you haven't heard of My Idol (you have, though, because it's been everywhere), it's an app by Chinese developers that creates strikingly realistic avatars. It's pretty much what dreams are made of, and by dreams, of course, I mean nightmares. Feast your eyes upon this:

If it is't plainly obvious at first glance, that's me. And if you are quite familiar with my appearance, you'll note that this avatar really looks like me. I've seen a lot of pictures of myself in life and I look in the mirror just about every day, and I have to admit that this creepy as all hell app got it totally right.

I first heard about My Idol whenever my sister sent me this article from Buzzfeed last week. Without it, I'm sure I would have been completely lost because as you may have realized by now, the entire app is in Chinese. Sadly, I've been putting off learning Chinese for a while. My bad.

Anyway, the way it works is that it constructs your avatar based off of an image. And it doesn't even have to be a particularly good image. Here's what I started with:

Ignore the crazed expression and hair. I was trying to get my bangs out of the way so that my avatar didn't look like it had random strands growing out of its forehead.

From there, the app constructed an image for me. For some reason, it seemed to guess that I was female, but I've heard stories of ladies ending up with guy bodies and the other way around. Here's what my avatar looked like at first: 

I'm rocking a giant head and a significant thigh gap just like I do IRL, obvi. 

Of course, there are tons of ways to customize these things. Here I am as a cowgirl:

Here I am in a dignified red suit:

Here I am as some kind of giant, sexy ram:

It's shocking enough to look at a still version of my avatar, but it's downright terrifying once these things start moving. Here I am jubilantly distributing pills out of a giant suitcase, because of course:


Here I am chilling with my surfboard while still being genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of others:


Plus, there's a million other things My Idol lets you do such as sing Chinese pop songs, ride a motorcycle, be a zombie, pole dance -- pretty much everything you've always wanted to do. The app used to have a feature in which you could dance to a Justin Timberlake song, but I'm pretty sure they didn't have the rights to it, so it has since been replaced. Sorry, I guess your avatar can't bring sexy back.

As I was using My Idol, a thought occurred to me: what would it look like if I tested this whole thing out with my celebrity doppelgänger? By the way, if you're new to this blog, let me catch you up to speed. My celebrity doppelgänger just so happens to be the #1 person on your mom's celebrity sex list: Josh Groban.

If you're not sold on this comparison, that's fine. Still, the similarities have been pointed out to me by friends and strangers alike ever since I was in high school. When I look at pictures of Josh Groban, that part of my brain that signals that I'm looking at a picture of myself fires like crazy. I see the resemblance, for sure, but I figured My Idol would be the perfect arena to test this out. Here's how it went down:

Test #1: Turn Josh Groban into myself.

I grabbed this picture of J-money from a good ole Google image search.

After a significant makeover, here's the Christyfied version:

I'll be the first to admit, it's not great. He looks more like a terrified Zach Braff with no eyebrows (no idea how I did that). Of course, I didn't want to put anymore effort into finding a better picture of Grobes, so I just did the next logical thing:

Test #2: Turn myself into Josh Groban.

I think we can all agree: I nailed it. 

So after all of this time spent on My Idol, what have I learned? Well, for starters, nothing. I learned absolutely nothing. But if I had to make something up, I guess I would say that --

1) Chinese fashion is ON POINT. I legitimately want that cat sweatshirt, like, now.
2) Regardless of how many times I've watched myself aggressively rapping in Chinese, this game has yet to lose its novelty.
3) The uncanny valley is a real thing.
4) I am not my own idol.
5) I look really cool on a motorcycle. I should get a motorcycle.

Also, before I go, please enjoy this "Early Morning" version of myself that I created by taking a selfie just as I was waking up:

She keeps me grounded.

Have you played My Idol? What was your experience?

UPDATE: Josh Groban has since confirmed that I did indeed nail it. 
The Internet is a wonderful place.


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