Dear Representative, Save Us.

Dear Representative,

With the utmost respect, we need you to change. We are dying.

I was not yet eight when two deeply ill adolescents murdered fifteen, including themselves. I was not yet eight when KPRC Channel 2 News taught me what “Columbine,”  “massacre,” and “suicide” were. Since then, I’ve witnessed, from a distance, more than forty notable mass shootings.

I was not yet 16 when I learned college was lethal. Virginia Tech. 32.

Not yet 17: Dekalb, Illinois.

Not yet 18: Binghampton, NY.

Freshman, Southwestern U: Ft. Hood, 35 minutes from my new home. College is dangerous.

Senior: Gabrielle Giffords. One of yours.

My generation carries the distant, shared trauma of thousands of lives lost to a gun violence epidemic. We carry Lifetouch flashes of slaughtered children, glimmering portraits of queer brethren, and facsimiles of swollen-faced baccalaureates deep and persistent in our memory and identity. We’re record breakers; we’ve smashed the score for Deadliest Shootings in the United States not once, but twice! Every day, I rise to death.

Sixteen shining faces peer into my sorrow, windows still dark from the fading dawn.  In the dim, I plaintively explain, “Every Monday we discuss current events.  Last night, an active shooter killed 50 people and injured 400 more in Las Vegas.” The carefree shimmer of being twelve evanesced from the desks before me.

This is the seventh time I have relayed massive, national tragedy to a room full of students. Transmitting the horror of Newtown will never leave me. In my first year teaching, days before Winter Break, I shared the news with insecure pallor.  There, I spoke to myself, an unsuspecting girl, not-yet-fifteen, learning of evil; fearing the next day.

However, you and I both know this experience pales in comparison to the daughters with no fathers. The mothers who lost sons. The lovers suffering on. An evident epidemic ravages our nation. We need to face transition and change bravely, knowing the outcome provides a better future for everyone we know and don’t know yet. We need to face gun regulation with fresh eyes, unclouded by donation, lobby, or passion for sport. No reason for static or relaxing gun legislation is worth a single one of the lives stolen since Columbine awakened me to the violence that ravages my nation.

I am tired of telling twelve year olds about tragedy. When will you bravely go forth and reform our laws? Is the death toll worth it? Is the money? What are you doing to normalize peace?

I urge you to hear my story, and the stories of those who have lost far more than me. Increase gun control now. Prevent mass murder. End American acceptance and fetishization of firearms before it’s too late–again. My generation grew up being told the future was in our hands. It’s not. It’s in yours. Act now for humanity.

 

With hopeful regards,

Lauren Lansford
7th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Williamson County, Texas

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Georgetown, TX: Give it a try.

Since I moved to Georgetown in 2009, it’s been famous for two things: a giant Del Webb retirement community and tough cops. Despite an impeccable historic town square, liberal arts university, and sprawling nature trails, it’s struggled to appeal to the young and the hip. For years I’ve believed in the charm of Georgetown, and I can finally confidently deem it daytrippable (and not just because Chet Garner lives here).


A recent boom of new boutiques, food options, and public art have truly improved the vibe of the infamously elderly and Republican city. Largely on “The Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas,” the new shops add diversity to downtown Georgetown. Once a rundown block with dusty antique stores and boarded windows, The Square now offers the holy trifecta of cool: beer, live music, and art.


Furthermore, a booming farmer’s market and new transit line help make Georgetown a livable place for Millennials. The recent progress gleans a promising future for the seat of  Williamson County. While still missing a few qualities that make surrounding cities so attractive (safe bike lanes, liberal climate, and affordable housing, for example), Georgetown remains a viable option for Austin ex pats. Give us a visit and see for yourself!

Roadtrip Georgetown

AM: Take a hike (or bike!)

There are more than 9 miles of hike and bike trails connecting Georgetown’s beautiful city parks, and they can lead to Lake Georgetown’s more strenuous hikes as well. A favorite is the 5.5 mile out and back hike to Crockett Gardens & Knight Springs starting at Cedar Breaks Park. If hiking’s not your style, grab a bike from the Visitor’s Center and bike along the paved routes of San Gabriel Park.

Late Morning: Coffee Break

Yes, we have four Starbucks locations, but we also have two fantastic artisan coffee spots right downtown. My personal favorite is brand new Je Suis Coffee, right behind the Georgetown Art Center. Served from an adorable little trailer, the nitro cold brew will amaze you.

Mid-day: Lunchtime

Just down the street from Je Suis Coffee is a Georgetown gem: 600 Degrees Pizzeria. Located in a historic bakery, seating is tight, but it’s worth it for the best pizza crust you’ll taste. With over 20 specialty pizza options, giant slices, and a modest but solid craft beer selection, you can’t go wrong. Not into pizza? The pork shanks will blow your mind.

Afternoon: Take a stroll

Take a beer to-go from 600 Degrees or stop by Mesquite Creek Outfitters to pick up outdoor gear and a shopping beer to help with the post-purchase guilt you’re about to feel. Brazos Avenue Market, Sincerely Yours 1848, and the Monument Market all offer adorable high quality gifts and apparel.

Evening: Tour the town

The Belford Historic District and University-Elm St Historic Districts are some of the most gorgeous in Texas. Wind through the streets and see a variety of historic homes from craftsmans to Victorians. Historic markers adorn the curbsides, indicating the significance of many homes. On the east end of historic downtown is Southwestern University, the oldest university in Texas. Formerly the Fighting Methodists, the Southwestern Pirates have a campus that welcomes visitors scoping out the architecture. Be sure to visit the Cullen building (right on the corner of University and Maple St)  and the Chapel.

Easy-Going Craft Beers to Finish Up the Summer

Or, if you’re in Texas like me, revise the title to “Beers to Get You Through the Remainder of Hell.” By this point in the season, most everywhere in North America is reaching peak summer temperatures, school is about to begin, and we’re heading into the holiday-less desert of August. While most any beer will do at this point, I’ve narrowed down a handful of craft brews perfect for a toasty summer using the following criteria:

  1. Affordability – While they’ll probably cost more than a Lone Star, none of these brews will break the bank.
  2. Pool Ready – Whether your community pool doesn’t allow glass, or you need to coozie up to keep your habit hidden from the neighbors’ kids, all of the following beers come canned.
  3. Easy (enough) to Find – You won’t need to go to an obscure mini-mart to find ’em.
  4. Cooling Factor – These beers are light, crisp, and won’t weigh you down. They’re “porch pounders,” if you will.

 

Blanche de Bruxelles

Brasserie Lefebvre
Quenast, Belgium

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Image via Urban Honking

I don’t know if it ever actually gets hot in Belgium, but these guys have their summer beer situation on lockdown. Many Belgian-style beers are light, but not wimpy, and that certainly describes the Blanche de Bruxelles. The lively carbonation and lemon zest finish make this ideal for the summer, without any of the overwhelming body that some unfiltered beers offer. Be prepared for some light, balanced spice on the palate as well. There is nothing full-bodied or heavy about this beer, and with a 4.5% ABV, it pairs with those long days by the river quite nicely.

 

Redbud

Independence Brewing Company
Austin, Texas

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Image via Independence Brewing

Texans know heat and Central Texans know watering holes. Thus, it makes complete sense that Independence Brewing Co. out of Austin, TX has produced the Redbud: a tart, extremely well-balanced Berliner Weisse you can even give to your friends who don’t like sours. That doesn’t mean it’s weak or dumbed down: the Redbud packs a punch, but offers easy malt flavors to even out the initial acid. Under the brutal Texas sun, this is exactly the kind of beer I want to be drinking, and the stylish can is exactly what I’d like to be seen with.

 

Otra Vez

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, California

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Image via Girls Who Like Beer

En Tejas, Shiner is ubiquitous. While I love their Prickly Pear seasonal, it’s still a little too heavy for a 100-degree day. Alternative? Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez, a gose-style ale with prickly pear, grapefruit, and lime flavors. Like a cucumber, prickly pear cactus feels hydrating and refreshing, and the light grapefruit and lime citrus keeps the bready malt buoyant. I feel like this is the beer-quivalent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: complex with a fresh, light “zing.” Like the Redbud, less adventurous drinkers need-not be wary of the “gose-style” label: it’s smooth, finishes easy, and has the body to back up the zest.

Watermelon Dorado

Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits
San Diego, California

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Image via Beer Street Journal

Previously unavailable in cans, Ballast Point has smartly released the canned Watermelon Dorado, safe for pool and beach consumption. A summer beer that is 10% ABV but doesn’t feel that way, Ballast Point’s Watermelon Dorado is a post-5:00 get-hella-drunk summertime beer. Despite mixed reviews, I am a huge fan of the Watermelon Dorado. It doesn’t feel heavy or syrupy as many watermelon beers do, and isn’t the watered-down variety of flavoring either. BP hit the nail on the head with this one, somehow perfecting a douple IPA for the dry (so, so dry) warmth of a San Diego summer. While certainly bitter, it’s balanced out perfectly by the floral and melon aromas and flavors. IPA-heads tend to think this is a fault, but I think it’s an intelligent and refreshing take on the typical uber-bitter, uber-heavy imperial IPA.

 

Hemingway’s Guide to Wine; Or, the Problem with American Wine Drinkers

Despite working in the industry, I still garner a nervous sweat when approaching a well-crafted wine menu. I clam up at blind tastings. Shoot, I even sink during guided tastings! Anxieties ranging from etiquette woes (am I  jerk for dirtying up this glass by wearing lip gloss?) to pronunciation pains (Vacqueryas? Beerenauslese? Rías Baixas? WTF?) zap all the fun from drinking in public. I’m an old maid now, drinking alone with my cats, trapped in the awkward realm between confident expertise and impregnable ignorance. I should know more, yet I don’t. Why do I feel this way? Maybe it’s a self esteem issue; maybe it’s just my anxiety; or maybe I really do need to invest a couple thousand dollars more in my wine education. Or, maybe everyone drinking wine with me is just a snob.

To assuage my viticultural grief, I put my English degree to use and sought out Hemingway as my guide. I believe, for once, that Hemingway comforts me the most in this circumstance: “we thought of wine as something healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.”

Huh. Drinking wine isn’t snobbism? Since when? Can this Moveable Feast passage please be posted as a disclaimer on every issue of Wine Spectator and printed on every banner welcoming every drinker into American vineyards? Surely readers will trust a Nobel Prize winner, right? Hemingway, an American oft in Europe, understands the fault we have as wine drinkers: we’re snobby. Maybe it’s because we had to fight for global wine recognition, or maybe it’s because we have Mommy issues and fetishize the Old World. Regardless of cause, there’s no other way to put it: American wine drinkers are complete, inexcusable snobs.

So many people fear wine, yet the whole point of wine is for sustenance, enjoyment, and to complement food. As members of a community of practice—from sample girls to sommeliers—it is absolutely our social and professional responsibility to foster a welcoming environment for newbies. Create easy-to-follow wine lists. Use simpler synonyms. Don’t fool yourself that anyone is impressed by your unique knowledge of wine, because you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to have those ideas. I say this not to kill a spirit of exploration and sharing, but to deconstruct walls and help people (i.e.: me) be less sweaty in our establishments.

There’s this wacky human idea that more knowledge = more formalities, and that more formalities can’t = more fun. None of that makes any sense, unless your idea fun is to be an inaccessible prick (for some that’s true, and I kindly request that you keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself forever and always until you find yourself in a special part of Hell alongside Jeffrey Steingarten). If you have $1300 to spare, dine at Alinea and experience relaxed expertise for yourself. They present some of the most intellectual food out there, yet the service is relaxed and instructional, and, most importantly, fun. The service is, of course, perfected, and is proof that landmark institutions can do better than be assholes. Assholes get $1 tips on $12 cocktails. Authentic interactions from servers who want to share their expertise get 3 Michelin stars.

The wine industry can learn so much from Hemingway, Alinea, and even public schools. A teacher myself, I understand the need to differentiate instruction, scaffold lessons, and act as an encouraging, motivating coach to my students. Public middle schools are the last place where pride is appropriate, and I feel like that’s our best strength: being humble. No matter your industry role, you can use these skills to spread the joys of wine to others. Don’t compare a human’s worth to their knowledge of wine or which certification path they choose. That’s not what it’s about no more than teaching literacy is about “worth.”

For our industry to grow, American wine professionals need to grow too. That might mean visiting France, or it might mean cultivating a new friendship with someone who doesn’t have time for your shit. Either way, I challenge you to find your path and try to not impress a single person for a week. After that week, assess. See what mental mechanisms you used to block or change your rhetoric. Be more forgiving of your patrons for ordering Kim Crawford, and don’t feel the need to emphatically confirm “Chianti” after they’ve said, “shi-NOT-ee.” It just isn’t necessary. Hop on board with the Heming-way, and we’ll be better in the long term for it.