Twenty-five

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  • Life

I did this a year ago, so let’s again. A lot’s changed, a lot hasn’t, and maybe I’ll be saying the same in a year. Or, maybe, I’ll be building on where I am now.

Austen completed her Masters at KU Leuven, and we moved back to Texas. Departed Brussels on July 31, and eventually arrived in Austin on August 1. We already had a lease, a bed, a mattress, and other essentials. We’ve since filled out the apartment, and added two young cats. The apartment isn’t yet home, but is increasingly comfortable.

Austin itself feels like an old pair of shorts. I fondly remember that they fit, but trying them on again even only a year and a half later, they no longer fit the same. I’m nostalgic for when they fit, and I don’t know how to bring that previous state into the present. And, like the shorts, I’m aware that the change was in myself — not Austin.

In the last year, other parts of my life have changed. My parents sold the house I grew up in, and are moving into a new house of their design — I’ll be helping to move in their furniture in just two days, and like a vulture, scavenging through the remains. There are already two Corbu lounge chairs and a pony lounge in my storage unit, but we don’t currently have the floor space. However, the dining table that was my paternal great-grandfather’s will soon find a comfortable home in my apartment. He used to butcher chickens on it, and now we’ll be eating veggies, seitan, and everything not-meat. Times change.

Moving is stressful, and on top of that, I’m spending most of the day in the Zello office. The days feel too short, and the time that remains to me after work for my own projects, the apartment, and hobbies feels increasingly lacking. I want to work out, meditate, and read when not at the office, but I want to do more than I’m able to make time for.

This will improve with time, and it’s reassuring that unlike in Belgium, we’ll have enough Winter light in Texas so as to have reasonable days in the coming fall and winter months. The Texas heat will lessen while always looming over the horizon, and everything will become easier.

Lisboa

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I briefly rode the writing wagon. I fell off it. The last I wrote was in January, and now it’s May. I’ve scribbles, but nothing took root and blossomed. Following the start of this year, we’ve enjoyed the remainder of the Belgian Winter. Like the country’s power grid, it was nuclear — or, at least to a Texan. So, on Friday January 25th, after a few weeks’ revisions and exams, Austen and I escaped the weather for sunny Lisbon. We made our way to Porto on Monday the 28th, to Amsterdam on Thursday the 31st, and then back to Leuven on Saturday, February 2nd. We started tropical, and planned to ease ourselves back into the weather to which we’d return — instead, Porto was a wet, cold mess, but enough of one that Amsterdam was refreshingly crisp.

After Christmas with our families, and the Near Year with our friends, it was relieving to take time for ourselves. The new surroundings coupled with Lisbon’s bright pastels and warmth certainly didn’t hurt.

In fact, the first thing I noticed when disembarking our flight was the warmth and humidity. If we hadn’t been planning to shortly find ourselves in Amsterdam, I would’ve regretted most of our packing.

We caught a cab into town, watching most of golden hour from the car windows. Despite having been forewarned, I forgot to tell our cab driver that our Airbnb’s address was shared by two other buildings in very different parts of the city — so we received a veritable and accidental tour of the city.

Monday in Brussels

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  • Photography

New Year’s came and went, and now I’m back in Leuven, trying to reestablish routine. This is difficult when the sun waits until 8 am to rise, and it’s below freezing until later in the morning — often, noon. Thankfully, Friday and continuing through this coming week, we will take four days in Lisbon, three days in Porto, and then three in Amsterdam before returning home. I haven’t had the easiest time in reestablishing routine, but hopefully the travel and warmer weather will breathe new life into my cold bones.

Soon to travel, I’d be remiss to not post December’s Brussels photos. If I didn’t, I doubt I would later, and the second half of Winter Review would be lost.

Let’s start with context. Before returning to Texas for the holiday, I had to replace my laptop battery. I planned to go without the laptop for two to three days — even though the repair was, to my surprise, complete the day-of — and on a Monday morning, arrived at the Apple Store in Brussels at 10 to deliver my laptop. With me, I had my iPad for work, and my camera for the rest of the day’s exploration of Brussels. These were taken over the day’s walk and following morning that my laptop was in for repair.

I walked from East to West, starting with The Hotel Brussels’ bay windows, overlooking Park Egmont. The small cafe in the park serves well to bisect the otherwise green, but sparse area.

Winter Review

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I arrived in Austin at midnight on the 23rd, after having been in Europe long enough to see Fall’s leaves shed their way into Winter. Returning to Texas after having previously departed in August bookends this trip nicely. Austen and I have lacked last Spring’s volume of travel opportunities—in retrospect, we replaced day trips with a single great time in Prague, and the occasional event in Brussels and Antwerp. This created a unique problem and opportunity: Leuven now truly feels like home, and that creates a burgeoning complacency that I must offset. Otherwise, the longer I’m somewhere, the more I find my creativity and motivation diminished.

Traveling more and further would be too easy of a solution, so I’ve turned this problem inward. How can I regularly see Leuven with fresh eyes, rather than allowing them to glaze over with routine? I started addressing this with weekly photo walks around town, and going further on foot than I had previously. The following photos come from a few different purposeful walks in September and October, as well as regular errands around time where, of course, I always carry my camera.

I took this opportunity a step further. I’d previously found my shooting limited by fear of subjects’ reaction. Now, with little to lose, why not snap folks more obviously? In taking social photos, the photographer assumes and asserts an intimacy with their subjects—and if I want to document the lives around me, I need to make that leap.

Building Home Away from Home

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I lived near Austin, Texas for most of my life. Not in Austin, but only twenty miles north, and often visiting. Before university, the most time I’d spent there were two years of middle school near the downtown—a fifteen-minute walk from my house of the later two years of my undergraduate. The following four years of high school saw a turnaround, driving 50 miles in the opposite direction to Temple while still living only twenty miles from the Capitol. I lived in Austin during the four years of my undergraduate, taking only a semester’s intermission to study in Lyon. Despite Austin not having been home by the strictest of definition—rather, a landmark amidst the Central Texas suburban sprawl—the city became home.

Four Days in Praha

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  • Travel
  • Photography
Prague Castle
Spoiler alert: this is in Prague. The castle, from Karlův most.

Back in September, I opened my birthday present from Austen. Out of the bag, I took a set of imperial measuring cups, and a set of teaspoon measures. Very convenient—I’m still unaccustomed to baking by mass, rather than volumetric measures. Underneath were two thick, folded papers, which were illegible until unfolded. The first was an Airbnb confirmation, and the second was a receipt for two Brussels Airlines tickets to Prague.

A month and one day later on October 20th, we caught the train to Brussels Zaventem, and—my fault—narrowly made our flight. The flight itself was uneventful; we watched the finale of Mad Men’s Season 6, In Care of, and we arrived at a reasonable 11:10 am. We’d continue our Mad Men watch-through at a later time.

Summer Preview

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  • Photography

Download the wallpapers.

I’ve finally finished processing all of my photos from May through August, and these three are particularly well-suited for mobile wallpapers. I don’t want to post too much before I publish a full retrospective on this summer’s travel, but this should at least be an appropriate sample.

Twenty-four

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  • Life

In thinking about the passing of time, I return to the idea that time-based change isn’t an active process. Aging isn’t something you do; it’s something that happens to you. You are the receptacle, target, and object, of aging.

I turn 24 today. For the first time in the last eight years, I find myself somewhere very different from where I expected. I’ve lived in France and Belgium since February, even though a year ago, while planning and expecting to move here, I lacked clarity in believing that I would move from Texas. Maybe this literal change in place and setting contributes to the unease in which I find myself. Alternatively, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to slow and think, before chugging into the following year’s cycle.