Sunday, March 31, 2013

And since it's Easter . . .

Here's something I wrote around Christmastime, but it's just as true at Easter: I Believe in Christ.

Family Wards

It's been nearly a year since I attended church at a family ward.  Today, though, I went with my parents to church, and I noticed some things I hadn't paid much attention to before:
  • It's extremely cold.
    In my opinion, all public buildings are cold, but because there are old people and pregnant women aplenty in family wards, I think those buildings are especially cold.  I had to borrow my dad's suit jacket the whole time . . .  So much for putting effort into my outfit; no one could even see it with the jacket on!
  • It's extremely loud.
    Everyone knows young single adult wards are quiet, but not a lot of people realize that branches are also fairly quiet, especially when it's a branch with a dearth of young families.  I spent most of my life attending that kind of branch, so family wards are louder to me than to other people, I think.
  • People are not especially welcoming.
    This makes sense to me.  Most family wards cater to the needs of families with young children because by and large, that's what comprises a ward -- young families.  Parents are so consumed with successfully rearing their children that they become very insular.  This is understandable, of course, but markedly different from the openness and friendliness of young single adult wards, where gregariousness and extraversion seem to be the ideal personality traits.
  • Sunday school lessons are about the basics.
    In a young single adult ward, you can expect that nearly all of the members are there because they really want to be, and not only are these members present, they are remarkably on top of things.  Many are enrolled in school or working full-time and generally seem to be smart as whips.  In family wards -- and especially in family branches -- members are all over the board in terms of their commitment to the gospel and the Church.  Some are there for the welfare program; some are there because they're teenagers and their parents make them go; some are teeny-tiny kids who don't know how to read yet; and some are old and can't hear much or stay awake for very long.  Consequently, lessons are often about the essentials of the gospel.  People in family wards just don't have the time or mental energy to devote to discussing the details of the gospel.  It's an interesting balance to me -- I mean, on one hand, I like sticking to gospel essentials, but on the other, I like lively discussions that deepen my understanding of the gospel and give complexity to my testimony.

In about five months, I'll attend a family ward full-time.  (I should be there right now, actually, but I have my reasons for staying in my local young single adult ward.)  I'm not scared to go.  I may be a bit anxious, as I think it'll be harder to make friends . . .  But mostly I will be sad, I think -- sad at the prospect of finding a place in a world where there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for unmarried folks.  I'll keep you posted, of course, on what happens.

For now, I'll be on the lookout for Sunday-worthy coats and jackets.  :/

Thing I'm thankful for: Cadbury Creme Eggs!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Proust Questionnaire

The Proust Questionnaire* is a questionnaire about one's personality; it's supposed to reveal a person's tastes and aspirations.  There are countless variations of the questionnaire, and apparently, around the turn of the 20th Century, answering such questions was popular among English families.  Contrary to popular belief, though, Proust did not create the questionnaire; he just happened to take a version of one and answer enthusiastically.

In the 1970's, -80's, and 90's, French television host Bernard Pivot asked his guests to answer the Proust Questionnaire, and James Lipton, creator of Inside the Actors Studio, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, followed suite.  He adapted the questionnaire for his celebrity guests and asks them the questions at the close of each interview.

I'll answer them now, and hopefully one day, when I interview my own guests (I might have somethin' in the works for this here blog . . .), I'll think of my own signature Proust Questionnaire.

  1. What is your favorite word? love
  2. What is your least-favorite word? my name, when it's spoken in a condescending way
  3. What turns you on? writing
  4. What turns you off? arrogance
  5. What sound or noise do you love? thunderstorms
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? yelling fights
  7. What is your favorite curse word? Don't have one.  (I'll probably skip this one in my version.)
  8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? surgery
  9. What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in? accounting and finance
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? You did good, kid.  You did real good.

*Incidentally, I only recently learned that Proust is pronounced "proost."  I always thought "prowst" never sounded quite right.  :)

Thing I'm thankful for: hoodies

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bats on Campus!

I just got this e-mail from the University:

Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of the Vice President for University Operations want to remind you that Austin has a significant bat population. Bats are considered a high-rabies risk species and like all wildlife, should never be touched.

If you find a live or dead bat in a building or a live bat outside that cannot fly, please call Environmental Health & Safety's Animal Make Safe program at 471-BATS (2287).

Please remember to shut all windows and doors especially in the evening to help keep bats and other animals from getting into buildings.

Only in Austin . . .  :)

Thing I'm thankful for: conversations with Melissa Smith

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homemade Bread

It was foolish of me to think I could start making bread at 11:00 at night and still be in bed before 2:00 am.  Granted, I had a few other things to do as well, but really, I shouldn't have even let myself start something so late at night.  You can all laugh, too, and say, "But Sara!  You always go to bed that late; why is it a problem now?"  Because it is, that's why, and because I've been trying really, really hard (and somewhat successfully) to get in bed by 12:30 every night.

But that's another post for another day.  For now I'd like to tell you that about two weeks ago, I decided to forego buying bread from the store.  It's just not delicious enough for my taste, and consequently, I never go through an entire loaf before it goes bad.  Plus, I like baking a lot.  Plus, I want to master the art of bread-making.  Plus, baking bread makes your living quarters smell good.  Plus, homemade bread makes a good gift.  Plus, a thick piece of bread and a tall glass of milk is a perfect meal.  To me.

Anyway, just know that every week, I will be making bread.  (I intend on making mostly wheat bread 'cause it does a body good.)  If you are nice to me, I might make you some.  :)

Pictures forthcoming?  Maybe?  I dunno . . .  I mean, is bread really worth looking at?  (It might be, when I get a Pullman Loaf Pan.)

Thing I'm thankful for: Nikki, for introducing me to the wonders of butterscotch baking chips.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Personal Best

Sometimes I like bragging about my siblings because I think they're so great.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of my sister Lexia's video she created for the Manhattan Stake 2006 Lingos Festival.  It stars her friend Brigham and a couple of awesome songs.  Check it out: Personal Best.

Thing I'm thankful for: sunny 60-degree weather

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Food Advice from the Stars

Gwyneth Paltrow, to be exact.

I actually like Gwyneth Paltrow for some reason.  I can't quite put my finger on it, and no, it's not because people tell me I look and sound like her.  (I still don't fully buy such a compliment, but I'll take it.)  It's probably because I think she cares about personal improvement.  She seems to have a "good head on her shoulders," anyway, and I appreciate that quality in a celebrity.

I don't, however, think she's super-accessible.  I mean, she doesn't have a girl-next-door quality the way Emily Blunt does, for example, and I'm not into her clothing style lately . . .  But I like her, just the same.  And so.  It pains me a bit to say that I didn't like what she said in the April issue of Self Magazine:
A couple of years ago, I got really run-down. I had to sing at awards shows, which was fun but stressful. I'd have a Guinness and a beta-blocker every time. I also was constantly getting on airplanes, trying to knock myself out with sleeping pills and wine, waking up, trying to sweat it out with exercise and a steam, and then working really hard all day. Eventually, I had a panic attack. My body was like, "What is happening?"

My doctor, Alejandro Junger, recommended that I cut out basically everything: dairy, sugar, gluten, anything processed. I was like, "What the f--- am I going to eat now?" That's why I made the book: to stop eating brown rice out of the fridge because I didn't know what else to eat and it was demoralizing.

So let's pretend she didn't use an expletive and just look at the content.  Seriously???  She was running on sleeping pills and alcohol, but she put all the blame on dairy, sugar, gluten, and processed foods?  I mean, I know eating tons of sugar is not healthy and depending on your tolerance for particular foods, eating dairy and gluten can be unhealthy as well.*  But to just go straight to blaming food -- and not addressing the alcohol consumption -- is a disservice to humans everywhere.  Granted, this quote is taken out of context.  I have no idea what she said just before or just after or whether Self omitted something important, but it seems to reflect a general trend in pop-health discussions.  "No sugar!" they say.  "No gluten!"  "No processed foods!"  I, for one, would like to see celebrities say, "Cool it on the alcohol.  Try to get enough sleep.  Follow the CDC's dietary guidelines.  Eat a little less.  Cut back on the soda."


*I left processed foods off of this list on purpose, and here's why:  I really have no idea what people mean when they recommend eating unprocessed foods.  Do they mean "organic" foods?  (As though there is such a thing as non-organic.  Ha.)  Do they mean, you-grew-it-yourself foods?  Do they mean unpasteurized foods?  Foods without preservatives?  Water without flouride?  Milk not fortified with vitamin D?  Foods that aren't canned?  "Processed foods" can refer to a lot of things, and I for one, really enjoy some processes.

Thing I'm thankful for: my momma.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SXSW Tips from a Third-Year

Before I end it for good, here's one last post about SXSW.  It's a list of tips I thought would be helpful for future SXSW-goers and for me, in case I have the chance to attend another one.  So I'll just get to it, then:

  • About two or three weeks ahead of time, listen to music.  Find out who is new, whose sound you like, and who has generated buzz lately.  I always trust Paste Magazine's list of who's-who, and NPR usually publishes a list of the top 100 bands to watch out for.  Let this be your guide to who you plan to see.
  • About a week or two ahead of time, start RSVP-ing like crazy.  Paste Magazine, The Fader, SPIN Magazine.  Do a lot of Internet research!  Google "SXSW secret shows" or visit the Rolling Stones Web site.
  • Pick a handful of bands you really, really want to see, and schedule your week around those.  Then just mosey around and be spontaneous.  Apart from those select bands on your must-see list, be flexible.
  • Don't forget about the films!  Often, the filmmakers are there to answer questions after the screening.
  • Wear sunscreen!  (Don't forget your scalp!)
  • Wear comfortable shoes; you will be walking -- and possibly dancing -- a lot.
  • If you don't have a badge or a wristband, get to venues at least an hour to an hour and a half ahead of time.
  • Park at the 10-dollar garage on 2nd and Brazos.  (Or better, ride a bike!)
  • Park at Whole Foods for shows at Waterloo Records.  Be prepared for mob-like crowds.
  • Day shows are usually free.
  • Try the venues that are far away from 6th Street; they often have lots of free stuff (e.g., bags, aluminum water bottles, t-shirts, foodstuffs, etc.)

Do you have any useful tips for SX?  What have you learned that others should know?  (Feel free to disagree with my tips!)

Thing I'm thankful for: validation in the form of Facebook likes.  :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

SXSW 2013, the End

The last night of "South by," as the locals say it,* was an interesting one.  It started with dinner at Phil's Icehouse, maker of my favorite burger in Austin, and ended with The Smashing Pumpkins.  As you can see, it was book-ended by two good things.

Here's what happened in between, though:  I paid twenty bucks to see a band I didn't know I didn't like.  I forked over the cash because that's what you do when you're with a group of people and want to be friendly and try something new, right?  But I think I was wrong.  I should've just stayed outside and people-watched -- 'cause that's part of what makes this festival so interesting, anyway.  The streets are filled with thousands of people wearing bizarre clothing and doing bizarre things, but you can stroll along with your hands in your pockets and the breeze in your hair while you watch people spill out of bars or file in long lines to catch a good piece of music.  I love that.

That sounds lovely, right?  Well, instead of doing that, I stayed to listen to a band I wasn't fond of.  I can't pinpoint exactly what it was I didn't like nor can I explain why I wanted to be out of there so much, but that's how I felt.**

Thank goodness for The Smashing Pumpkins.  We didn't get inside the gates of the outdoor venue, but we were able to listen to them from across the street.  I saw Billy Corgan's bald head and the lights from the show reflecting off it, but that's all.  And I guess that's really all that mattered, anyway; it was just fun to go back to the sound of 1995 for an hour and a half.  I felt like my brother Blake was gonna pull up in his gray Nissan Stanza at any moment.  :)

*I refused to say it this way for a long time, but this year, I gave in.  It rolls off the tongue so much easier than "South by Southwest," especially when you say it several times a day.

**Carousel played first, though; they were alright.  Actually, I liked them pretty well.  They also reminded me of my brother Blake.  :)

Thing I'm thankful for: fun concert buddies

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SXSW 2013, Day 3

This was the best part of SXSW today:

Catching up with friends from Georgia.  I hadn't seen them in years!  Years!  Back then, they weren't The Smiths.  They weren't even dating!  One mission, a long-distance relationship, and some time in Texas later, and they were married.  Yay!

The second-best part of the day was eating brunch with some friends at this place: Magnolia Cafe.  A 24-hour breakfast place?  Don't mind if I do!

The one show I went to was The Flaming Lips, who played for this year's free concert at Auditorium Shores.  I don't wanna throw The Flaming Lips under the bus, but I'll do it, anyway.  It was a less-than-stellar show.  They only played two oldies, and frontman Wayne Coyne talked too much.  The most exciting part of the night was when he invited Justin Timberlake to come up on stage and sing "Do You Realize?" with him.  (It was rumored and then confirmed that JT is indeed in Austin this weekend for some secret shows.  It's truly unfortunate that I didn't know about this two days ago.)  But it was all a mean joke.  Some other guy (who I guess is famous?) sang with Coyne instead.  And I do believe the entire audience was disappointed.

Anyway, the good thing was that the weather was nice, and I was surrounded by fine people.  Otherwise, I would've either gone home or loitered on 6th Street.

Thing I'm thankful for: pre-mixed peanut butter and honey.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SXSW 2013, Day 2

Well, it's Day 2 for me, anyway.

Here's a picture of Hermes, the messenger god, er goddess.

These four guys are The Wild Feathers, from Nashville, Tennessee.  They were a rock 'n' roll jam band.  They definitely had the Southern Rock sound goin' on.  I liked them alright.

Krystian enjoying the show.

Nathan enjoying the show.

Krystian and Nathan getting Luden's throat drops?  People dress up and give away the most random things at SXSW.  I got lotsa free stuff today.  It was fun.

Lianne Le Havas was a surprise for me.  She is 23 and has SUCH a great voice!  She and her band has kind of a funk sound, but also an indie rock kinda sound.  I dunno how to describe it really.  She's just good.  (I did not like her pajama dress thing, though.  What is up with that?)

Later I saw ANOTHER good show!  San Cisco is a really young band from Australia.  They've been playing since 2009, but each member is probably 19 or 20 years old.  They definitely don't have a polished stage presence, but their sound is kinda beachy and definitely rockin.'  It was my favorite show of the day.

"Hi, how are you" signs are all over Austin.  From sidewalks to t-shirts.  I'm not sure exactly where it started, except it has something to do with music . . .  And there's a mural of it on the UT campus.  I walk by it nearly every day.  :)

Here are some other things:
  • I got more sunburned.
  • I saw Delta Rae and Josh Ritter; I thought they were both just okay.
  • I got a free taco.
  • In a crowd of thousands, I ran into three friends.  I love running into friends.

Thing I'm thankful for: freshly-made, warm tortillas.  (Thanks, Brooke!)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SXSW 2013!

Every SXSW I've been to has been a little different.  The first year, I went to a lot of films, mostly because I didn't know there are so many free shows.  (I did know about the free Strokes show, though!)  The second year, I carefully planned all the concerts I wanted to catch and unexpectedly found out about a few gems (Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes).  This year, it's a whole new experience because there aren't that many bands or shows I'm familiar with, so I'm sort of flying by the seat of my pants.  Heck, I even listened to a hip hop band today!  (See?  It's totally unlike me!)

Here's what happened so far:
  • I got a sunburn.
  • I saw a girl with what looked like barbecue sauce around her mouth.  (We were not near food.)
  • I was as close to being crushed by a crowd of people as I'd ever like to get.
  • I saw Tegan & Sara, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and The Shout Out Louds.
  • I got a pair of free sunglasses, and this:

Classy, huh?  Those are my friends Nathan and Rachel.  We decided to play it cool for the picture.  I think we pulled it off.

(Also, I look A LOT like my brother Blake in this picture.  We could be twins.)

Thing I'm thankful for: crowds of interesting people

Monday, March 11, 2013

Usability at Work: Instant Oatmeal

A lot of people ask me what I study in school.  Usually, I just say, "Web design."  But that's not quite right.  What I should start saying is "user experience research."

What is user experience?  Everything.  It's about how you experience the world around you, and for my part, I like to find out how.  How do people use things?  How do people use Web sites?  How do people find information, and how do they process it?  Why do people look for certain information in the first place, and what are they expecting to get out of it?  Are there problems with the way a particular product is designed that makes people frustrated whenever they use it?  What could make the experience better?

Those are the questions I ask in my research, and those are the questions that bleed into nearly every part of my life.  So when I opened my new box of Quaker Instant Oatmeal (maple and brown sugar, thankyouverymuch), I immediately noticed that people had been doing their user experience research.  Do you see the 3/4 cup fill line at the top of the packet?  Quaker turned the natural affordance of a folded piece of paper into a piece of user experience brilliance!  IT'S A CUP!  A cup for people who don't have a measuring cup lying around!  A cup for people who don't want to use their cup for measuring water!  A cup for people who just don't want to bother!

It's products such as this that make me smile.  Maybe I'll apply for a job at Pepsico, maker of Quaker Oats.  :)

Thing I'm thankful for: Don't Make Me Think.  It changed my life.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Arise and Shine Forth: Art by Mormon Youth

I was blown away by this painting!  The Mormon youth who painted it is Samuel Burton, and he's only 15!  Here's what he said about it:
The hymn “Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy” best tells this story: “"Dark the night of sin has settled; loud the angry billows roar. Eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore." That is the moment I tried to capture. The lighthouse represents the light of the gospel and of the Savior that we all hold and can use to guide people to their Father in Heaven. The storm and rough waters represent the trials we go through in life. The red of the coat worn by the sailor on the right symbolizes the Savior, showing that Christ is with us, and that if we let Him, He can be the captain of our boat to point us toward the lighthouse of our Heavenly Father’s love and mercy.

Art is such a wonder to me.  That people can create such meaning with paint or clay or music is just amazing to me.

Check out the rest of the youth exhibit, which was sponsored by the Church History Museum: Arise and Shine Forth.

Thing I'm thankful for: hands that work

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Masterminding: Not Just for Geniuses Anymore

Today, LinkedIn pushed some articles into my inbox.  The title of one caught my eye: 20 Powerful Action Verbs to Kick Your Resume Up a Notch.  It seemed like a worthwhile read.  I've known for some time now that using precise action verbs on a resume is essential to explain previous work experience and to catch potential employers' eyes, but it's always useful to add new words to your resume toolbox.

So I went through the list and was actually quite impressed with the author's creativity.  I mean, these are good words: championed, formulated, leveraged . . .  And then:


Masterminded?  Really?  Have I ever actually masterminded anything?  Is that common?  Is "masterminded" even a real word?  (Yes.  Yes, it is.)  Don't masterminds usually tap their fingers together and laugh wickedly?  I guess one could be a helpful mastermind, but I think the word typically carries a negative connotation.  Am I wrong?

Maybe I'll start masterminding things, so I can put it on my resume.

Thing I'm thankful for: a job that allows me to stay home when I'm sick