I met up with a new friend yesterday for coffee, and she brought two bags of Stella's PopKern (hee!) for us to snack on while we coffeed. You may not know this about me, but popcorn is one of my favorite foods. It says so right there in my bio. So, I may have been overly excited. And then I tasted it, and now I want to live inside the truck. Right inside. Failing that, I can always live underneath it.

Listen. I know all you big-city people out there have seen so many food trucks that probably you have food truck fatigue. But this small-town girl is new, and excited about it. Also: ZA'ATAR-flavored popcorn? What is za'atar? I don't know. But I know it's delicious, and that I want it on my popcorn at all times, and that I would eat said popcorn for every meal if I could.

I am pretty sure this also means that I'm going to have to do research on more delicious food truck options for y'all to know about. It's going to be really sad and hard for me.

Speaking of DC, there are still a couple of DC mini-design camp spots left. Maybe I'll bring Stella's for you, who knows?

Follow Stella's PopKern on Twitter so you can know where they are at all times. I certainly am.

AuthorAB Chao
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I went to the park. There are leaves there!

1. I've been in DC for over a week now, and I have only become homesick once. OK, twice. But since someone has promised to mail me tasso and a boudin-stuffed chicken, that feeling has been somewhat assuaged. It helps that I have my own car and can find my way to the grocery store without a map (but not home, for some reason? Going backwards is hard.). Before, when I would visit, it always felt like vacation. Now, it feels like a life. Or, at least, the beginning of one.

2. I find myself inspired on a daily basis. Possibly because everything is brand new. But also because there are places to go! Things to see! The BIGGEST ESTATE SALE MAILING LIST I'VE EVER SEEN. It is BIGGER THAN THIS WOLMORT. I'm not saying that there weren't things to see in Louisiana -- there certainly were -- but I grew up in the town I just left, and I sometimes felt like I couldn't make anything new again. Does that make sense?

3. Things I miss about Monroe: The weather. Here's my favorite kind of August: hot as shit. Sweltering, humid, 90-degrees-at-night, hot. And it's kind of unseasonably cool here already? On the other hand: jackets and coats! I am going to be forced to buy some cute coats. FORCED. Also, I miss shrimp po-boys, Enoch's, and my red chairs. Oh, and my people, most especially my teeny tiny baby. Who starts college next week and doesn't miss anyone at all.

4. Things I love about DC: All of the foods. Do you people know how many foods you have? Also: I can get sushi delivered to me? OKAY THANK YOU I WILL HAVE THAT. Running without fainting and/or dying from sweating. All of the new-to-me plants and flowers. Lunch with new friends. Driving around, getting lost, and finding my way again. Coffee shops. Decorating new spaces (more on this later). This girl I know.

4. I mentioned this before, but I am taking clients again! I'm so excited about it I cannot see straight. I also have a couple of other projects in the works that I will tell you about soon. SOON! Right after I go to another coffee shop.

AuthorAB Chao
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This post is brought to you by Illume Candles.

A couple of weeks ago, over the weekend of my Minneapolis mini-camp, I was invited to spend a day at the Illume Candles headquarters. Look! They made me a sign, y'all!

The creative team and actual candle-making factory are all contained in one building, so I got to see lots of exciting things, starting with their shelves and shelves of already-made candles. I accidentally stole them all.

The creative team's offices all look like this. I am not sure how they became so cool, but I was not asking questions. I was mainly gawking. 

"Oh, I think I'll just play with some watercolors here on this table, trying to come up with some ideas for next year's designs," said a cool person who knows how to use watercolors.

Don't you wish your inspiration board were baller like this? I do.

After a little tour and a few minutes drinking coffee and walking around meeting everyone -- yeah, I met the CEO of Illume Candles, we're best friends now -- it was time for a tour of the factory.

First up: the Burn Room. The Burn Room consists of about a million candles all going at once, and all being tested for something different: flame height, something called mushrooming, vessel temperature, smoking, burn time, and fragrance throw (there's cold throw, which is how the candle smells when it's not burning, and hot throw, which is how the candle smells when... it IS burning. I am now a candle expert.)

There was one room dedicated to all the different fragrance oils, powders, and pigments. And there were wicks! So many wicks, you guys. Did you know that the wick is chosen depending on the particular candle? Now you do.

Something is happening above which I do not remember, but which I do know looked super cool. I was tempted to pocket those awesome wooden squares, but I did not, because my outfit didn't have pockets.

Then we went to the back of the factory, and all of a sudden I was in an episode of Breaking Bad. I was assured that there were no meth-making products on these shelves. Allegedly.

Making candles: it's kind of like baking with Crisco. Each candle has its own individual recipe, and everything has to be measured and checked off extra-carefully to ensure identical quality across batches. This is just one of the vats that the candles are mixed in. I resisted the urge to taste it.

Wick-holder-downer thingers! These are for safety, so that when one's candle burns to the bottom, there is still a little wax left and no one starts a fire. Also they are for looking really cute in large barrels.

The wick machine, which -- you guessed it! -- attaches the wicks, is apparently very fancy. It's German, from whence many fancy wick-machines hail.

These gorgeous pillar candles are made in something that resembles a springform pan. See? Candle-making: it's a lot like baking. Except, sadly, you cannot eat the end product. 

Here is an Essential Jar candle, from start to finish. Please also note Jenny's cool rings.

And, suddenly, the tour was over. I was a little sad, because I could have stayed in that factory all day watching and learning. To assuage my sadness, Jenny (my Illume contact, tour guide, and other new best friend) had planned something called Crafternoon, during which time the creative staff all sat around a big table eating chocolates and mod-podging fabric onto trays. Apparently they do something like this every week. Um, WHAT? Hi, I work here now.

We got the tray idea from Martha Stewart, and the fabric from Josi Severson (in whose adorable shop I held my camp!).

Since the people at Illume are basically the sweetest people in all the land, they sent me home with lots of candles. The ones you see below are their Coconut Milk Mango pillars, and, along with smelling super-dreamy, are the perfect shade of pale pink. I've been really into pink lately.

Jenny encouraged me to burn several candles at once to make up a WHOLE NEW SCENT, and...y'all, she is kind of a genius. Below: Garden Sage Starlight Tin, Amber Dunes Essential Tin, and Coconut Milk Mango Essential Mini Tin. The combined scent smelled like butterscotch and summer. I'm still sitting here, right now.

Thank you so much to everyone at Illume for such a fun adventure! I hope to burn your candles for many days henceforth. I'll be back next week for Crafternoon.

I had a camp recap (PS, why haven't I been calling them "recamps" all this time? DAMN IT.) post all ready to go, and then I somehow closed out all of my photos without saving them, so then I cried, and now here it is 9:00 on a Wednesday evening and I have nothing to show for it. So, here are some feelings and emotions.

First of all: Today the police came over for a little visit, because I walked through the house from the back porch to the front porch to check the mail, and the front door was wide open. Which it never is. Ever. So, like every dumb girl in every dumb movie, I grabbed the knife from my desk -- the exceptionally dull one I use to open mail, because I am smart -- and went to CHECK THINGS OUT. And that was when I heard the back door slam shut. OH OKAY THAT IS NOT SCARY HI I AM PUSHING THE POLICE PANIC BUTTON ON THE SECURITY SYSTEM NOW AND HAVING ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

Y'all, the police came! And they were very nice! And they walked into my house with their guns drawn! And they yelled, "MONROE PD!" And it was all very exciting/scary and there was no one in the house and nothing was missing, so that was good. Except now I would like a lobotomy.

Also: Next week I am getting in my car and driving to Washington, DC, to live there, because long-distance relationships suck, and I am having one right now, for, oh, eight-ish months or so? Just thought I would mention that. So... what's the deal with DC? Do you live there? Do you like it? Do you want to be my best friend?

I have some thoughts about moving: 1. I'm really sad to leave my house, and the people/animals inside of it. 2. I'm excited to see what life is like outside of Monroe. 3. Can I hire someone to parallel park for me? 4. I am concerned about the seafood situation. 5. I do not own any pantsuits.

Other concerns: What are the best neighborhoods? Where are the cutest places to get coffee? How does one use the Metro? Do you call it the Metro, or some secret slang term like "the trainway"? I need to know these things, because in Louisiana we get mad if you don't understand how we say "muffuletta," or "Tchoupitoulas." 

Most importantly: We are keeping the house, so don't be trying to get all up in my front door and get your mitts on our belongings.

PS: Hank, the alleged Rottweiler, did not bark once. Not even when the policemen were all trolling the house, looking for intruders. He was all, "Hello! Would you like a tour? I can show you some very nice wallpaper here in the hallway!" Jerk.

To recap: Our home contains no burglars. Security systems are awesome. I am moving to DC. Hank is dumb.

AuthorAB Chao
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Photo: Meredith Pardue

Perhaps you have seen certain paintings on this site, or heard me talk about my friend Meredith Pardue. Perhaps you have loved, admired, yearned for one of her beautiful paintings. Well, you are in luck, reader, because she has just announced two new shows, for your viewing + purchasing pleasure!

1. EDEN: Opens October 4, 6-9 p.m. @ Bryant Street Gallery, in Palo Alto.

2. THE ELYSIAN FIELDS: Opens October 12, 6-9 p.m. @ Laura Rathe Fine Art, in Dallas.

Go! Go! Go! Wait, where are you going? It's not until October.

AuthorAB Chao
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Hey, did anything interesting happen in the past few days? Heh. Just kidding.

I want to thank you all from the very bottom of my everything for the sweet, supportive, overwhelmingly positive responses to my coming out post. It is really scary to basically flay your chest open and expose your soft, delicate insides for the world to see, and every one of you made it clear to me that it was worth the risk. I cannot thank you enough, and I will never be able to explain properly how much that meant to me.

One exceptional side effect of last week's post -- and one I didn't at all see coming -- is how many of you would write and open up your own fragile selves to me. Your words were a gift I wasn't expecting, and the honesty with which you shared your stories laid me out. We are all in this together, and as much as y'all have got my back, I have yours just as hard. I'm holding you all in my humbled, grateful heart. Now let's go out there and kick some ass, shall we?

AuthorAB Chao
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Photo: Ben Corda

Hey, y'all. Remember, a few weeks ago, when I wrote about being open and honest on this site? About how to live a life, and how often life is messy? Well, settle in, because this is a big one.

It feels like everything I've done and experienced recently has been leading up to this moment, but that is not really true. The truth is, this is something I have been struggling with for a long time, and I think that I am finally ready to talk about it with you, both because I feel like it needs to be said, so that I can be open and honest with you -- but more importantly, so that I can be honest with myself.

I've recently written about a few things that have been happening in my life, like Madeleine's graduation, and her leaving home and my feelings about those events. But I haven't said much about my personal life, and the main reason is because I have been afraid. I'm afraid of the reaction I will get from my friends, and my family, and even from perfect strangers on the internet. I have been worried about sharing this with you, my readers, and I still am. When you're sharing your life with the world, you want everyone to be happy with everything you do, which is basically impossible in this medium. And yet, here I am.

If you follow me on any of my various social media accounts, you may have noticed that there's been something…off. And that subtext is fairly obvious to anyone who's been paying attention, so maybe this post is just a clarification. If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, carry on reading. If you DO know what the hell I'm talking about, yay for you! You're a perceptive detective.

I'm just realizing as I write this that all of the hints I've been dropping on Twitter and Instagram were my way of taking the easy way out -- hoping that people would guess and make it easier on me. But how many times have I told you people to "Be Brave"? A lot. So here I am, being brave.

Wait. First. Are you sitting down? You should probably sit down. Just for a second. Here goes:

Y'all, I am real gay. For ladies.

I know. I KNOW. It was a surprise to me, too. In fact, it was a surprise to just about everyone. I've spent the past year-ish coming out: first to Vince and Madeleine, then to my closest friends, then to my family, then to my not-as-close friends, then to pretty much everyone else. It's true, what they say: the first time is the hardest, but it does get easier as you go. At some point, you even begin to enjoy it, because the relief in the telling becomes something exhilarating.

This news means, of course, that Vince Chao and I are no longer a married couple. And here is where everyone opens their eyes really wide and starts getting sad. I get it -- a lot of people are very fond of my family as a family, and it's hard to comprehend that this seemingly happy relationship wasn't what they thought it was. And it is sad, on its face. But the thing is, Vince and I were happy. We haven't been a romantic couple for a long time, if you know what I am saying, and I think you do -- but we were and still are a team to be reckoned with: two people who have been in the other's lives for over twenty years; who know each other better than anyone else; and who love one another more deeply than I can describe here. However, we all deserve a chance at living our best lives, and that is definitely not what we were doing. Thankfully, this story is not about us not loving each other or supporting each other or being a family anymore.

I've described coming to the realization that I'm gay as having a void in my life, not knowing what it was, and trying to fill it with everything I could find: writing, decorating, career paths, expensive jeans, all of the bourbon. And then, one sunny fall day, getting on a roller coaster, careening down to the stomach-dropping part of the ride, and finally, finally understanding, "Oh. THIS is what that was." It was difficult, because although my path wasn't exactly chronologically paved (having a baby in college, getting married afterwards, etc), it certainly played out the way I thought a good Southern girl's life should: get married, have a family, make a home, attend dinner parties, keep your head down, don't rock the boat. So that is what I did, for a long time. In what I see now as a thorough lack of self-reflection, I figured, well, everyone has marriages with intimacy problems. Everyone has daydreams about a different life. Everyone wants to kiss girls sometimes (this, I have learned, shockingly, is not something that everyone does.). And then I fell for someone, things suddenly became super-crazy-extremely real, and everything changed.

I've received varied reactions to my news. Most, I am happy to report, have been incredibly supportive. In the beginning, I reached out to a few people I knew in real life as well as online, and their support kept me going through some incredibly tough times. Some of my favorite moments have been the funny ones, like this one-liner from a friend, who simply responded to my revelation:

But I thought lesbians don't have good design taste? How is this possible?

Then he asked me something about a toaster. Just kidding.

On the other hand, some reactions have been confused, worried, angry. I've endured great sadness as friends have fallen away, or felt that they had to choose sides. I've been overjoyed as they have come back to me after taking a little time to get used to the idea. I've watched with profound anguish as members of my family cycled through the stages of grief, like there'd been a death. The specter of their disappointment hangs over everything I do, and sometimes the pain of that is breathtaking.

We'd all like to think things like this are going to be an After School Special and everyone's okay at the end of the hour, isn't like that. Vince and I have had a lot of therapy about our relationship and separation and how to deal with the fact that we will always be tied together because of our love for each other, and our love for Madeleine. We have learned to be as honest and open with each other as we can, and that has helped tremendously. We are all adjusting. This is new to all of us. We have all had long talks about what this means for each one of us, and where life will take us from here. It's been difficult at times, obviously. But there is also great happiness in coming clean. Despite the difficulties, we are all very excited about our respective new life paths; we are all doing as well as we can and loving each other the best we can, and we are always going to be a family no matter what.

I am gay. It took me a long time to be able to say those words without shame, or embarrassment, or feeling like a fraud. It should be a happy thing, though, no? When I think about this journey, I'm reminded of my friend Sarah's favorite phrase: Learn it, live it, love it. That has been hard to do, but I am trying. And my little family is trying too: they somehow still love me, which in my mind is a miracle, because I was so afraid to lose them. Incredibly, it's brought us all closer, and in that sense, I couldn't have asked for a better outcome. I am so, so fortunate to be surrounded with their love and support.

Most of all, I am thankful that I can give the people I love the most the love and support they need in return. And I am so excited to finally be able to share who I actually am -- a real, whole person over here, living, making mistakes, finding love, figuring out what it means to be honest and present and happy. It has been incredibly hard at times -- but so incredibly good, too. I am grateful in equal parts for both. I am also thankful to be a part of a growing chorus of people who are stepping up, and out, to tell our stories. It makes me proud to be a member of this community.

I realize I'm throwing a lot of plot at you, dear readers. I am here, as ever, to answer your questions. As far as boundaries go, I have heard it all. Nothing anyone says really throws me these days, which is one of the ways I knew it was time to write this post. At the same time, I'd like to respect my family's privacy, so I won't be answering specific questions about their lives -- those are their stories to tell. I hope you understand, and thank you so much for listening.


AuthorAB Chao
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