Redemption Coupons

“Redemption” means “being saved from sin, error or evil” and it also means “getting the possession of something in exchange for payment or clearing a debt.” So thanks to the craziness of the English language, Jesus redeemed all Christian souls through his sacrificial blood in a related manner that customers redeem coupons. Granted, one deal was far more tremendous than the other. Or, if you’re an atheist, one deal exists and the other doesn’t.

Yet “redemption” transcends religious belief in all people who are willing to act in return for the possession of something. People work to possess everlasting life, a clear conscious or a depreciable good. But, what good does any of it do?

Given the fact that the sense of “redemption” is a human construct, it’s no wonder the religious and atheist alike share this notion. Part of being human is to inevitably make mistakes. And it’s also human nature to love getting something for less than what we usually pay.

Now let’s say, you’re a stand up, normal person aware of his or her faults. Your first impulse is to right the wrong or at least provide some semblance of “paying for your sins.” Does that smack too much of religion? Then let’s say, you want to “make it up” to someone. That’s merely swapping one monetary analogy for another.

And to extend that analogy, what I’m suggesting are redemption coupons. I’m not talking about some prefabricated, Hallmark greeting card “Oh I’m so sorry” type thing. Nor something that’s legally binding and “take it to the judge” kind of thing because if you’ve done something that bad, the law’s eventually gonna catch up with you anyway. Neither am I talking about a ritualistic ceremony where you must consult with a holy person to perform a symbolic redemption.

Envision, if you will, those colorful enticing coupons that come within the Sunday paper. They’re written in bold, simple words and usually they have an attractive image printed on them. That’s how your redemption coupons should be, figuratively speaking. Now, you can actually make a coupon if you want, but the spirit in which you offer someone a redemption coupon should be a declaration in bold simple words of how the recipient can redeem it and obtain the attractive possession, which is what you’ll do to clear the debt of your wrongdoing.

When you offer someone a redemption coupon, you must honor it or else you’re guilty of false advertising. On the other hand, if they refuse to accept your coupon, then it’s time for negotiation. The first rule to negotiating is to listen to what the other side wants. Depending on your situation, you may discover that all the other person wanted was to be heard.

You must never offer a coupon that has a greater value than the possession. Think about it: even when a business offers a coupon for something free with no purchase necessary, in the long run, they will still make a profit. The profit you make off your redemption coupon will be a clear conscious.

Your coupon should never expire. Putting an expiration date on your redemption coupon signals to others that they must forgive you on your time rather than theirs. Any manipulative, ultimatum strings just invalidates your coupon. For redemption to work, you must offer your amends, then step back. Everyone has his or her own time frame. Even those businesses that publish their coupons in the Sunday paper know that not every customer will rush out to redeem them at the same time. Most businesses even show how good they are by honoring expired coupons.

Finally, the most important person who must accept your redemption coupon is yourself. If you deem yourself unworthy of forgiveness, then you have no reasonable expectation that anyone else will. Past transgressions cannot be undone just like harsh words cannot be unsaid. What you can do is take a deep breath and begin again.




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Farewell to 2014

my outfit


I boldly limped into you

With the ambition to end a few things…

My second novel

My horrible job

My insomnia

My doubts

I painted novel scenes

Climbed Machu Picchu

Worked from home

Worked out of my comfort zone

Derailed my train of thought

Blurred my lines

Dangled my participles

Argued against Oxford commas

Obeyed the Laws of Physics

Removed myself from the machine

Became a new part for an innovation outside the box.

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Cowboys v. Redskins

1 playing field For the second time ever, I attended a professional football game. One of my sisters had graciously invited my other sister, her son, our father and me to use four of their Redskin season tickets.2 playing fieldNormally, my sister cheered for the Redskins…except for when they played the Cowboys.  I’d attended my first pro football game in Dallas over ten years ago. I can’t remember who the Cowboys had played. Or even if they won.
3 in the locker room Since I’m not a sports fan, I truly didn’t care who won. Just being there was a terrific, novel activity. Rarely do I watch sports on TV. Being there in the flesh made the game enjoyable.4 cowboys on the playing fieldThe teacher in me didn’t like how the Redskins fans booed when the Cowboys came on the field.
5 fellow sports fans We’d arrived much earlier than necessary since luck was on our side as far as traffic and parking were concerned.6 Jesus hates cowboys Of all the fanatics around, the guy with the “Jesus Hates the Cowboys” T-shirt was the closest to us. 7 start of the game

Once the game began, the stadium rapidly filled, the rain began to drizzle and the Cowboys beat the Redskins 44 to 17.

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Xmas Paintings

Back in June, I visited Peru and bought everyone in my family a pair of alpaca socks for Christmas. As thrifty as I am, I knew simply giving everyone a pair of socks was a little lean. Yet, buying for 9 people adds up very quickly.

I’m not sure when I got the brilliant idea to paint everyone a 4 X 5″ canvas from pictures, but I pounced on the task within a week. I ordered 9 canvases from a local art supply store since they did not have the total amount I needed. In the meantime, I selected and cropped the pictures I wanted to sketch on each canvas.  I’m so glad I did myself the favor of not putting any background. This allowed me to use white paint to correct some mistakes. Other mistakes were lack of skill! 1 CJ The picture I selected for my youngest nephew predates his mohawk, which he’s had since he was 5. We were checking out of the hotel after spending the weekend at our annual family reunion. He’d hopped on the luggage cart for a ride.2 Maya My youngest niece had participated in teen pageants. She ended that phase after two years and had her crown.3 Jasmine Last time I’d visited, I teased my oldest niece about always being on her phone. Apparently she still had a good sense of balance since she’d recently been accepted to VCU’s honor program.4 Alec When he was 16, my oldest nephew visited me in Honduras. We stayed in hotels with swimming pools. At one point, I looked over from reading poolside and discovered a rat was treading water around him. I snapped the picture, then told him to get out of the pool so the men could take care of the rodent.5 Carla One of the few times I visited my parents’ house for Christmas, it snowed. After the second snowfall, Mom made snow cream, which was the only thing good about it snowing. Here, one of my sisters ladles out her serving. 6 Renee My other sister has a passion for hats. I knew any portrait I painted of her, she’d be wearing one. Although I didn’t capture the exactness or details of the hat in the picture, this was close enough for my purposes!7 Carl I was limited in my choices for my brother-in-law’s canvas. I thought this pose, minus the rocking chair, did well.8 Mom I’ve documented all of Mom’s home remedies in an essay; so, this canvas captures one of her latest: eating nine gin-soaked golden raisins for the arthritis in her knee.9 Dad

Finally, for Dad’s canvas, I chose a picture from when I’d returned home for Christmas and it snowed. Here, Dad measures how much snow has fallen on top of his car.10 xmas tree After a cancelled flight and 6-hour campout at the airport, I had a good night’s rest and the wrapped gifts. Magically, more gifts appeared under the tree, which were overflowing by the time Christmas Eve rolled around.11 sleeping Maya For the second Christmas in a row, my nieces and nephew got up late. This one was awake enough to cover her face when I came in to check on her and her sister.12 sleeping Jasmine My other niece was oblivious.13 CJ's awake My nephew, the youngest, had been awake for hours, but hadn’t led the pack to kick off the Christmas present unwrapping. 14 Maya's awake Of course, the big sleep-in had to do with no longer believing in Santa–except for snarky T-shirts!15 sobrinos & tree They’d finally got into present-unwrapping position. A few were grumpy we’d eaten breakfast before opening presents, but all we adults told them they’d missed the before-breakfast opportunity. I hope it’s the start of a new tradition.16 Carla's socksOne of my sisters was the first to open her gift from me. Even though people caught on they were getting a pair of Peruvian socks and a canvas, it was still entertaining to see their reactions to their portrait.
17 Carla's canvas 18 Dad w:dogtags Dad had let me borrow his Air Force dog tags for one of my spoken word and poetry shows. I surprised him by putting them in his gift bag along with his socks and canvas.19 Dad w:socks 20 Dad w:canvas 21 Maya w:canvas I’d always teased one of my nieces for being a redbone. The complexion on her canvas showed a serious tan, but she liked it.22 Alec w:poster I think my nephew was far more impressed with the racy mini poster of the all-female rock band than he was with the canvas I’d painted for him. It was all I could do to have him put it down and get the other gifts out of the bag.23 Alec w:canvas 24 Jasmine w:TshirtOne of my nieces had spent a week with me in Austin. She’d survived a beginner’s capoeira class as part of her visit.25 Jasmine w:canvas My other niece immediately recognized the shirt her sister wore in the canvas. Here I thought I’d fudged it so much that it had become my own design.26 Jasmine w:socks 27 Renee w:socks 28 Renee w:canvasThe complexion of my other sister’s canvas was also much darker than she is in real life, but she loved the hat.
29 me w:money Usually, my sister and her husband gave gift cards as our stocking stuffers.  This time around, they’d misplaced them and gave us cash instead.  Worked for me!30 Carl w:socks 31 Carl w:canvasMy brother-in-law claimed I didn’t give him enough hair in his portrait. Ironically, this picture cut off his head.
32 CJ w:canvas 33 Mom w:canvas 33.1 Mom w:socks 34 Renee & Carl afghan Despite my exotic and sentimental homemade gifts, Mom topped me with her personalized Afghan of my sister and her husband about 30 years ago.35 Mom Dad & Alec Originally, I’d wanted to get a picture of Mom and Dad’s new smiles, but Dad claimed he wanted to keep his smile “top secret” until all his dental work was completed.36 senior citizen napAnd no Christmas story would be complete without a shot of Mom and Dad napping with the TV on after all was said and done around noon.

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Xmas in the Poconos

This vacation started off a bit rough. The mid-morning flight I’d booked to fetch me from Austin to DC had been cancelled by the time I arrived at the airport. I only had three options to arrive in DC much later on the same day. This began my warped sense of time. Once I reached my sister’s house, the kids were already in bed and we adults were too tired to be sociable.

Much too early, my sister knocked on the door, gently announcing it was 5:10. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such an early wake up call. In retrospect, that would’ve been back in June when I was trekking to Machu Picchu. This special occasion was to attend my nephew’s track meet. I dutifully got up, got ready and warmed up something to eat in the oven.

One thing I always teased my sister about whenever I visited was the family’s “hobby” of hoarding material and edible things. So, I had no challenge finding food. As a matter of fact, my Herculean task was not to binge eat from the time I woke up until minutes before going to bed. That plus dealing with the avalanche of stockpiled things. Case in point: plastic bags.

I’d opened a drawer to get aluminum foil and couldn’t close it again. Try as I might, the drawer kept getting stuck. Due to the earliness of the day, I repeated the same useless motion more times than logically necessary before opening the small cabinet door below the drawer. Out tumbled a few plastic bags. The drawer still wouldn’t close. Being in an all-or-nothing mood, I took great joy pulling out a dozen plastic bags, one handful at a time.
1 plastic bags I’m sure my fascination with the bags was a combined reaction to the sheer number that had been jammed into such a small area and the fact I no longer stockpiled my own since the single-use plastic bag ban in Austin.

After dropping my nephew off at his school, my sister, brother-in-law and I went to the venue where the track meet was held–far too early! We sat in the parking lot for about half an hour where I took the first of several naps. 2 CJ @ track meet By the time we entered the facility, the place buzzed with energetic students and sleepy-eyed adults. I kept looking for my nephew’s mohawk, which was the best way to pick him out of a crowd. My sister and I got good seats on the concrete bleachers away from the door and in front of the finish line. My brother-in-law reported to the floor to be one of about 30 other adults who’d volunteered to be timers.

My sister didn’t realize her son’s first event would be the long jump despite the fact I kept telling her he was standing in line to jump. Too bad I couldn’t get a picture of him in mid jump, but that event occurred at the far end of the field and my butt was already frozen to the concrete bleacher.4 CJ @ track meetThe only good picture I took of his 55m dash was after the fact. 3 CJ @ track meetI liked the blurry picture I took of his 300m race since my mind had become just as blurry. We collected him after that race and returned home. Even though we arrived home a little after one, I felt it was much later in the day. I ate and took another nap.
5 CJ @ track meet Believe it or not, we still made the 4-hour drive to the Poconos! I napped several more times in the car. Normally, I enjoy reading on long-distance trips, but the sun had already gone down by the time we had hit the road. About half past eleven, we arrived at the welcome center to get our keys to the condo. The receptionist apologized upfront for the darkness where our condo was located. Yet, he’d said nothing about entering from the back door.

When my sister originally tried the front door, we were shocked it was chained from the inside. None of us liked scary movies and there we were standing in near darkness on the porch when occupants may have been inside our condo. I strained my eyes, looking through the window for movement and knowing full well had I’d seen any, I would have had a near heart attack.

Despite this, I suggested trying the backdoor. My brother-in-law shot that idea down, reasoning if someone was inside, we wouldn’t want to surprise them. He tried calling reception, but couldn’t get a signal. Then my sister suggested trying the backdoor.  I accompanied her. The key worked and the door was unchained. She called out a greeting and turned on the nearest lights. I picked up a flashlight, conveniently located just near the door, thinking any weapon was better than none.

As we called out some more, we made our way to the front door, unchained and unlocked it.  Not seeing any evidence of personal items, I still ran upstairs, flashlight in hand and checked out the two bedrooms. All clear.6 Compton's Pancake House Even though we wanted to have an active Sunday, all we managed to do was eat, starting with brunch at a famed breakfast place.7 Compton's Pancake House The warm atmosphere, including the buttery smells, welcomed us in. Reading the menu, we were overwhelmed by exotic pancake and omelet choices. We began buddying up to share two dishes we were most interested in tasting, knowing full well we’d all sample one another’s plates. Although I declared no two people should get the same thing so we can sample as many things as possible, my sister and one of her daughters both ordered the garden omelet. My nephew and I split a bacon Belgian waffle and New York cheesecake pancakes–the most delicious combination that hit the table!

By the time we finished brunch, half the daylight hours were down. We shopped a little at a local chain we could have visited anywhere in the States and parts of Mexico, then visited another local food favorite.8 Popcorn Buddha If there were too many choices at the breakfast place, the popcorn place was even worst! The employees enthusiastically asked the mob of customers who needed help next and brought out samples of popcorn choices two at a time. We mainly stuck with sweet or savory choices, not trying any “fruity” flavors or any of the homemade fudge until our second visit the next day.9 Popcorn flavors Most of the savory choices, especially those that were advertised as “spicy” tasted too salty. Yet, we walked away with some good selections and we all received a small bag of buttery popcorn. Instead of eating my free bag, I added it to my mother’s Christmas bag since she’s a popcorn enthusiast.10 tubing preview By this time, there were only a few hours of daylight left. Yet, we wanted to drive by the slopes, mainly to find out where it was. We’d become lost going to nearly every destination, only to be rescued by GPS after a couple of attempts to reach a particular destination. As a matter of fact, we’d accidentally entered New Jersey twice just to pay a $1 toll to escape.

After seeing the slopes, we returned to the condo, making plans to eat breakfast at home in order to get an earlier start and hit the slopes the next day. Of course, we all reported to different rooms in the condo to relax. I favored the upstairs, which had such intense heat, I’d awoken with a slow nose bleed the first morning. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed reading up there until dinner.11 Alaska Pete's This restaurant had a smorgashbord of choices: BBQ, Mexican, pasta, seafood, soups, salads and red wine! That should have been our first clue that they couldn’t have been experts in all dishes.12 Alaska Pete's At least I captured my three sobrinos in a moment where no two of them were bickering–not that they were too enthusiastic about taking a picture with Frosty.13 Alaska Pete's The one thing I wanted was seafood pasta, which was no longer on the menu. Instead, the waiter, who’d obviously had a recent cigarette break, suggested to order the “Captain’s Platter” over pasta. Looked better than it tasted.14 preparing for tubbing Next morning, everything ran like clockwork. We all suited and booted up.15 preparing for tubbingSome of us tripled up on socks and other articles of clothing. Thanks to my snowsuit, I had to suck in my stomach to raise my leg and put on my boots.
16 preparing for tubbing We walked across the bridge. I could barely walk with all that clothing on.17 preparing for tubbing I was somewhat comforted by the name of the restaurant at the slopes.18 Shawnee MtnWe quickly filled out our release forms, waited in line and had our little hearts crushed. Apparently, the 11 am tubing only happened on the weekends.
19 Shawnee Mtn So close to tubing! Yet we had our forms filled out, our tickets and another plan to make it on time for the 1-3 pm tubing.20 snow machineBefore we returned to the condo, I snapped a picture of the technology making it all possible: the snow machine. We’d seen evidence of natural snow, piled up in the corners of parking lots. Fortunately for me, there wasn’t more snowfall while we visited.
21 ready to tube Third time to the slopes was the charm. We marched to the tubing area, missed the initial instructions, but that activity had such a low learning curve, the biggest challenge was keeping one’s temper while waiting in line.22 Renee ready to tube

Although there were three lanes, the only difference I experienced among them was how fast the line moved. Once again, I was happy to be childless. I’m sure some teacher looks seeped out. I straight up told two teens they may be prohibited from riding if they continued to throw snowballs at one another. Throwing snowballs was against the rules, but I wasn’t sure what the actual consequences were. My sister and I were the top winners for making the most runs.  There was only one time I waited in an exceptionally slow line.  The only consolation was speaking Spanish with a Cuban woman who’d never tubed before.

23 Inti Peruvian restaurant

For our last ethnic meal in the Poconos, we dined at a Peruvian restaurant.  Before we arrived, I had warned them against eating guinea pig, but it wasn’t on the menu.  Neither was alpaca, which is tasty meat.  We ordered a carafe of chicha morada, a spicy purple corn drink.  Everyone except my nephew liked it. We ordered a variety of meals, each one satisfied the palate.

For our final breakfast before returning to VA, we all enjoyed the leftovers from all the places we’d eaten. I laughed inwardly at how we’d managed to recreate the food hoarding for the brief time we were there!

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Typical Austin Saturday

One of the deciding factors to relocate to Austin when I completed my 8-year self-imposed exile from the US was the mild winters. That paid off once again this past Saturday. Low 70s weather in mid-December found me outside, participating in a marimba demonstration. 1 playing marimba I’d volunteered to work the Sustainable Food Center’s information table at the Cherrywood Art Festival, which I knew would be a wonderful experience since I’d be surrounded by art, music, food and a creative buzz all around.2 playing marimba I hadn’t counted on participating in a marimba demo. As usual, my coordination challenged my playing ability. My dancer’s ear was my only saving grace. Once I let my body move with the groove, I could play the rhythm the real musicians had taught.3 playing marimbaAfter a few minutes, I’d worked up a sweat. For the brief time I played, the group of us actually sounded pretty good while we amateurs held down the rhythm.
4 playing marimba Even though I volunteered for four hours, I was starving by the time I got home. Typically, I took a power nap after eating a late lunch (or what my parents would refer to as “dinner”). I cleaned up my tiny apartment, read and got cleaned up myself to attend an art opening.5 posing w:paintingWhat an incredible collection.  I’d seen several of the artists’s work before. Moreover, I met some interesting people and became entangled into a couple of good conversations. Of course I gave them my card. My ulterior motive for attending such events was to recruit for the Austin Writers Roulette, regardless of whether they were writers, musicians or just enthusiastic audience members.

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Good Hair

A woman’s hair is her crowning glory. So said my Primitive Baptist grandmother, Mama Bea. My crowning glory has graced several different cultures and transformed from frivolous to practical.

I attended one of those high schools where every day was a fashion show. I dutifully permed my hair about once a month and styled it, using the latest fads: teased, crimped, flat-ironed, gelled around the edges and shaved along the neck and temples with plenty of humidity-defying hairspray. Just about everything but artificially coloring it since I liked the colors of my naturally sun-bleached hair.

All that fashion show crap went out the window when I attended college. No time to be cute. Plus, looking a little “granola” was the “in” thing, which meant I’d even stopped wearing makeup and ironing my clothes on a daily basis. I used to roll my hair at night, but discovered a ponytail would do for most days and the curling iron worked for those special occasions. Besides, fashionable hair didn’t make me any smarter.

In my senior year, I suddenly realized that the collegiate gravy train was just about over. Not wanting to get a real job nor enter graduate school, I applied to the Peace Corps. On my application, I wrote that I wanted to go to French-speaking Africa. Basically I wanted a payoff for studying that language for six years. When Peace Corps told me I’d have to wait nearly a year for such a placement, I agreed to go to an English-speaking African country since I could leave the States much sooner.

When I arrived in Tanzania, an East African country, I stayed with a host family for the first two months during my training. As I showed one of my host sisters some pictures from home, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the African American!” They had heard one black person was among this Peace Corps training group. Of course she could hardly tell I was black. My hair was freshly permed and in a French roll. Also I was very light-skinned compared to the average Tanzanian. As a matter of fact, when I walked around the community, some Tanzanians yelled, “Half-casti, half-casti, half-casti!” (half-caste), which I found a little strange since both of my parents were black.

I assumed since Tanzania was an African country, I’d easily find suitable hair care products. Well, yes and no. They were available, but very expensive, for both the average Tanzanian and Peace Corps Volunteer.

For the first time in my life, I discovered how precious freshwater was. I developed a preoccupation with it. For drinking, bathing, washing my clothes and hair, and cooking. I visited one beauty salon during training to get my hair washed, dried and braided as a work around for securing freshwater.

Once I moved to my permanent site, I’d either wear my hair in twists or have one of the housegirls to braid it. Yet, I never justified spending a small fortune on a perm. The real fortune in freshwater was more costly. One time, I washed my hair during a bucket bath and rinsed it over the toilet in order to flush it. Water was in short supply and I needed to accomplish both things.

A few months later, I started my dreads. Suddenly I was free. With a low-maintenance hairstyle, I didn’t have to perm it, use a lot of water washing the perm out, curl it nor worry about blow-drying it straight. This gave Tanzanians something new to shout at me: “Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman!”

While vacationing in Kenya, one enthusiastic guy yelled out extra loud, “Rasta Woman!” By this time, I was so used to ignoring obnoxious screaming that I showed no outward reaction to what he’d said. A few seconds later he said much quieter, “Rasta man?”

Granted, I was looking pretty Peace Corps shabby by that point. I’d bought one of those oversized cloth caps to tuck my dreads in and sported worn-out mostly clean pants with oversized T-shirts. So, I could understand his confusion about my gender.

When I returned to the States, one of my sisters lovingly pruned my dreads, cutting out all the knots. They had never looked so good. Despite this, all my female relatives who were at least thirty years older than me hated my hair. They collectively harassed me worse than excitable Tanzanians. They offered to cut them off, reverse them, pay for the trip to the salon, and some even referred to them as “nigger naps.”

In their younger days, these women had been subjected to the vaudeville stereotypical depictions of blacks. They had been rewarded by racist, including intraracist, society to look as white as possible. Hair was not to be worn naturally, unless as a short Afro for men or pressed with a hot comb to appear straight for women. Even the notion of “good hair” meant a black person did not have nappy hair.

The two worse culprits were Mom and Mama Bea. Mama Bea took me aside at one point and confided that she’d never told me while I was growing up that she thought I was her prettiest granddaughter. Adding to the guilt trip was the look she gave me as she shook her head over my insistence to wear dreads.

Mom persisted for nearly twenty years, trying to convince me to undo my locks. Part of her argument was I just kept them out of spite. Granted, we had clashed when I was growing up since our personalities were too much alike although she never acknowledged it. Just kept wondering aloud where I got my attitude from. She’d offered to reverse my locks herself with the help of detangling shampoo and conditioner, not really appreciating what “locked” meant.

After a while, everyone else in the immediate family was on my side and told Mom that she needed to get over it. Then, Mom announced that I’d agreed to cut them off if she’d stopped nagging me. I told her that she must have been dreaming. Given the fact that no one else had witnessed this so-called conversation, she was finally convinced it hadn’t happened.

While Mom nagged away about my dreads, I continued traveling and teaching around the world. My next teaching assignment was in Seoul, Korea, where I looked so exotic, most Koreans assumed I was Filipina. At least there was no aggressive heckling, just a lot of “wah!” as I walked by. Yet, I felt somewhat empowered since a stern teacher’s look would silence them to look away, nervously giggling.

For this teaching assignment, I had a new set of adult conversation and writing classes every month. On the first day of class, I used to allow all of my students to touch my locks. I met my lifetime quota of that after about three months.

The fiercest Koreans were the ajumahs, the grandmothers. These older women were beyond the age of giving a damn about personal space or social graces. Foreign men, who towered above most Koreans, walked through crowds with both hands protecting their family jewels since they knew the probability was high an ajumah’s elbow would strike them if these men were in her way. These same women showed no restraint to cop a feel of my dreads if I sat in front of them on public transportation.

I often visited museums and art galleries. If I stayed in one spot too long, looking at something, a small crowd of Koreans would form around me as if I was on display with a few ajumahs slowly reaching up to touch my hair.

At one of my lowest points of living in Korea, I had been waiting at a bus stop. Instead of zoning out, I happened to look up at the people on the bus in front of me, all staring. Starting with the back of the bus, I made eye contact with each of them while giving them the finger, a meaningless gesture in that culture.

Yet, I got my comeuppance some time later while walking around an unfamiliar shopping district. I turned the corner and jumped back with a scream. Standing before me was a mirrored building, reflecting my own image. I laughed then understood how jarring it was to come across me among a sea of Koreans.

Afterwards, I moved to Denver, CO where more white people had dreads than black. I’d never lived in such a dry climate before. Previously, I’d had an illusion that dreads were indestructible. I learned too late that when they’re not properly moisturized, dreads thinned out like ropes. For the first time I had to chop them down to one-third their length. Looking back at pictures of myself from that time, I looked attractive, but I remember how ugly and ashamed I felt over the loss of my hair. I’d finally internalized Mama Bea’s crowning glory belief. Of course, Mom couldn’t resist telling me I should cut them all off.

When Dubyah stole the 2000 election, I went into exile by getting a teaching job in Egypt. My Egyptian students just knew I’d be the laid-back math teacher since I had dreads. They confided to another foreign teacher that people with dreads smoked marijuana; so they’d all have A’s in my class. Imagine their disappointment when I turned out to be one of their strictest teachers. I guess no one had told them that most math teachers were almost as exacting as equations.

Then I moved to Monterrey, Mexico. My blonde blue-eyed principal marveled at how well I handled all the attention. I laughed and told her that that was nothing compared to the attention I’d received in all the other foreign countries. No heckling, no over-the-top animated nonverbal actions, very little copping a feel although they always went for the hair in the back. I guess the logic was if I didn’t see them doing it, then I wouldn’t know they were doing it. This despite the fact that my hair is attached to my scalp.

In the three years of living in Mexico, the only Mexican who managed to piss me off was at a book fair—of all places! When I’d finished looking at a group of books on a long narrow table, I walked off, not realizing that she had reached across and entangled her curious fingers into my mop of hair. I screamed, more out of shock than pain. Once I recovered my hair, a swell of other shoppers had come between us. I gave that woman a deadly look as she nervously smiled at me, waving in a friendly manner. I turned on my heels and stomped away.

Following Mexico, I taught in Honduras for three years. I hardly ever walked anywhere among the general population. At that time, Honduras was the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. There was preoccupation among my rich students and my colleagues about being robbed. My American principal assured me every week that I’d eventually be mugged if I kept walking the three blocks from my apartment to school. After two months, I’d saved up enough money to buy a reliable used car. I immediately got the windows tinted. It’s amazing how I used money to sequester myself, but I swear it was only for safety. I don’t think anyone would have mugged me because of my dreads, but my watch, cell phone and money were different stories. The only mildly annoying reaction my dreads caused was some parents referring to me as “Jamaican.”

Finally, I moved to Austin: the land of tattoos, piercings, unnatural hair color, mohawks, flattops, unisex bald heads, where women dressed up to go out and the men simply rolled out of bed. Honey, I’m home!

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Anthem of the Sun

1 band setting upAbout two and a half hours before showtime, I learned that one of my younger cousins was in a rock band, playing less than ten minutes from where I live.

2 Vincent the door guy The door guy was about to charge me an entrance fee when I told him that my cousin was in the band. When he asked which one, I burst out laughing. I said, “Believe it or not, my cousin is the other black person with dreads!”3 Heather Trav & me

I got to see my cousin Travis for the first time since the summer.4 Anthem of the Sun shirt Although it was the first time they’d all played together at an gig, they had some cool Tshirts.5 start of the show Three out of five of the band members were new.6 Trav playingTravis was the latest addition.7 band playing Afterwards, he said that this was the most professional band that he’d ever played in.8 band playing Interesting, as a recent college graduate with an electrical engineering degree, his first jobs were working at a retail tech store and playing in a rock band!9 band playing I’m wondering how long it will take for him to get a “real” job.10 band playing At the same time, I’m so happy that he’s making the best of his life.11 band playing Here’s the part where I tried to get all “artsy” with my picture-taking. Out of several shots, this was the only one that came out decent.12 Trav's family After their show ended, Travis’ parents and older brother finally arrived from Killeen. On this particular night, three bands were being showcased; so everyone only got about 45 minutes to play.13 Trav w parents At least they’d arrived safely after coming breakneck speed to Austin.14 cosmo One unexpected treat: I received one of Travis’ complimentary drink tickets. 15 Sherita Trav & me Of course I went for a girlie drink, the cosmo.

16 band group photoI took advantage of all the photo ops. Or as I like to think of it, blog content!17 @ pizza joint I convinced my cousins that the pizza place just across the street was delicious and our best, closest option. Nonetheless, someone, who shall remain nameless (but you can figure out who by the picture) had to debate both sides of eating there.18 family @ pizza place After we’d finished eating, there was one more “family reunion” at the pizza place just before we left.19 Jr's ride Since I’ll probably never visit him at work, I took pictures of his cruiser–not sure if that’s actually what it’s called.

20 Jr on the jobAnd what a portable office! That’s nothing like the TV dramas.


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Adult Orphans’ Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving since I’ve lived in this fine town of Austin, there’s been a “fun” run.  Actually, people around here find any reason to run–rain, shine, or sleet! So, I left for yoga a few minutes earlier than usual for the inevitable traffic delay. Other than a clueless runner disregarding the crosswalk sign at an intersection not closed off for runners, I had absolutely no delay getting to yoga a whopping 35 minutes ahead of time. I pulled the door and nearly hurt my fingertips. I double-checked  the posted holiday schedule. Sure enough, for the first time ever, I arrived so early they hadn’t unlocked the door yet!1 yoga thxgvg scheduleThe class was refreshingly full. So many out-of-towners made our bikram class part of their vacation experience. One of the best things after  practice was the surprising number of text messages, wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. I waited until I baked my “famous” cornbread, fortified with sharp cheddar cheese, hot green chilies and sweet corn. I sent along a picture of the cornbread with my return Thanksgiving texts.
2 cornbreadJPG Although Thanksgiving dinner was mere minutes away, finding the actual apartment within the complex damn near took longer than the trip there.4 appetizersA delicious spread of appetizers awaited, but I wanted to save my appetite for the main meal. As soon as I placed the cornbread on the table, I whipped out my Austin Writers Roulette 2015 business card-sized flyers.  I don’t even resist the temptation to recruit new people to the show. Our hostess had invited a variety of adult orphans to this dinner. At one point, she asked for a volunteer to carve the meats. When no one stepped forward due to lack of experience, I announced having experience dissecting fetal pigs.  All agreed I was the most qualified.5 carving turkey Fortunately, I didn’t have to battle with an intimidating whole turkey nor ham bone. Just a series of straight cuts. For the first time ever, I longed for my own set of knives! Seemed a little awkward to do that much knife work without my own knives.6 carving ham The easy part was cutting up the cornbread. I politely stepped aside to let the other guests serve themselves first. Once again, the racial stereotype was true: without the bold Black person to get the food line started, nonBlack people will out polite one another by not serving themselves. I shared that observation with them in between laughing and sipping wine on the couch. Finally someone bravely started the food line besides me.7 dinner spread Predictably, the lively pre-dinner conversation slowed down. The hostess had been reluctant initially to start dinner since all the guests had not arrived. I said that if the guest in question was a Black or Latino, then he/she would not mind us starting without him/her. An Indian guest threw in his opinion that if the missing guest were an Indian, he/she wouldn’t mind us starting either.  With three major cultural passes like that, we all began.8 zometools I didn’t have any traditional board games although I was tempted to bring my Go board.  I decided in the end, that it was better to bring something we could all enjoy. I merely enticed two other people to join me making geometric shapes out of zometools.9 wineAs we all sporadically filed out, everyone prepared a to-go plate. The hostess even encouraged us to take home a bottle of wine. I lovingly shoved my parting gift of red wine into my runnur, impressing everyone with my utility “purse.” With food balanced in one hand and the case of zometools in the other, I couldn’t possibly carry a third thing in my hand.  I managed not to overeat, but wasn’t good for anything else and drove straight home to finish writing out nontraditional Christmas cards to beat the rush.

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Bloody Mary Research

1 Frank This impromptu research all started because one of my cousin’s sent me a picture of her Bloody Mary; so I had to go to the same restaurant and see for myself.  Sure enough, their standards were consistent. Every Bloody Mary came decked out with a full strip of crisp bacon and a skewer of cheddar cheese, a jalapeño, and a green olive.2 Abel's North For fun, I went to a professional happy hour and ordered a Bloody Mary. I showed the bartender the decked out Bloody Mary with the bacon and other adornments and asked if he could make one as good as that.  He shook his head and said that he could make one, but it wouldn’t come with bacon. Then, he deferred to another bartender, who got the senior-most bartender, who actually made the drink. It originally came with a pickle, a jalapeño, and a green olive. The first bartender who’d waited on me had visited the kitchen, cubed some cheese and added it to the drink. Not bad for going the extra mile (for them) to satisfy the customer. The effort was reflected in my tip.3 MoontowerBy the time I approached the third place a few weeks later, I informed the bartender that I was conducting research to find which place served the best Bloody Mary and showed him the picture. Again, bacon was off the table, but I think he tripled up the green olives and doubled the lemon wedges so his version would’t look so “naked.” After this, I’d heard of a restaurant that had a Bloody Mary bar buffet on the weekends from 11-4.
4 hot sauces & salts I arrived at 10:45, thinking that I could take pictures of the Bloody Mary buffet before other customers could mess anything up.5 mothering sign Yet the buffet was already open and a guy was embellishing his cup of vodka. I greeted him and told him that I was there to take pictures of the Bloody Mary bar. I didn’t want him to be alarmed at my picture taking.  He joked about being used to women taking his picture. After about 5 minutes of maneuvering around him, I politely let him know that I wanted my pictures without him in the shot!6 the spread So the Bloody Mary buffet consists of various pickled veggies and pepperoni, four different mixes, celery, salts and hot sauces.7 the wheel & spreadWith so many choices of practically everything, I figured the rookie mistake would be to put too much stuff in the cup and ruin it.
8 the food ingredients Yet the one thing I did not find, but ordered to go on the side was sliced avocado. After all, my palate sought things that would go with spicy tomato juice.9 mixes & celery My waitress recommended the house Bloody Mary mix. 10 mixes map Technically, if one uses clamato, then it’s a Bloody Cesar. And if one uses tequila instead of vodka, it’s a Bloody Maria.11 straw supply As promised in my mass email to friends about this Bloody Mary research, I’d cut up straws in order to make hygienic samples of other people’s drinks.12 straw cup I set some of the straws in a cup for convenience. Plus, as a former secondary teacher, I thought it would be prudent not to have the whole stash out all at once.13 F-ing cucumber vodka I also went with the waitress-recommended choice of alcohol: F-ing cucumber vodka. Not the flavor of vodka I’d drink straight, but it definitely worked as a Bloody Mary base.14 My BM Here’s the first version of my Bloody Mary: F-ing cucumber vodka, no salt, Freddie’s Bloody Mary Mix, dashes of Cholula and worcestershire sauce, pepperoni, green olives, cherry peppers, banana peppers, avocado. This was absolutely the best Bloody Mary–of course since I made it exactly the way I wanted it. 15 My BM I could hardly wait for my burger to eat it along with my drink.  I plopped the dill pickle into the Bloody Mary. By the time I got my cell phone camera ready, the pickle had dunked itself into Bloody Mary awesomeness.16 My BM I propped it back up to pose for a good picture.17 Christina's BMThe first friend showed up and made her Bloody Mary: F-ing cucumber vodka with salt, pepperoni, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix, pickle, olives, garlic, garlic salt, celerity salt, chili lime salt. Salty-savory, but still yummy!
18 Donna's BM The second friend arrived. Although she just wanted to sip the vodka, she complied and made her Bloody Mary: Tito’s vodka, no salt, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix, celery salt, tabasco, lime, olives, celery.  It had a strong celery taste. Nonetheless, I still thought it was yummy.19 Sam's 1st BM By the time the third friend showed up, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix was temporarily out. Nonetheless, he made a very tasty Bloody Mary: Tito’s vodka, clamato, olives, cherry peppers, celery salt, pickled okra (which, in my haste, I didn’t even know was up there!), horseradish, lots of celery salt (since he didn’t realize it was a flip top).  No surprise that it had a pronounced celery taste, but no spicy kick.20 Sam's 2nd BM For his second one, he used Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix and the same ingredients as the first one. I think the second one tasted better and definitely looked prettier, which goes to show that practice does make perfect!21 Liz's palomaThe fourth friend who showed up ordered a paloma (tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice and salt rim)! When questioned about showing up for a Bloody Mary research and NOT ordering the featured drink, she just shrugged her shoulders and said that palomas were good. Of course, I still sampled it and found it as delicious as ever.

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