Designer Bulletin Boards

1 materials Thanks to another niece’s birthday, I gathered supplies to make a gift. Since she’s a freshman in college, I researched some DIY ideas and chose to make designer bulletin boards. For the first time ever, I used a spray adhesive and bought four 12″ x 18″ pieces of colorful fabric for less than $2 each. To make this little project even more convenient, I bought a four-pack of 6″ x 6″ cork boards.

2 finished productsUsing my trusty piece of chalk, I outlined a simple pattern to cover the boards. Fortunately the day was warm since I wouldn’t dare use spray adhesive inside. I covered the surface of my portable metal drawer, which I keep outside, with newspaper and sprayed each board and its fabric, flipped the board and pressed down the edges of fabric as smoothly and quickly as possible. I set each one on the edge of a flower pot; so they dried in the sunlight.

They turned out beautifully. Now that she has two part-time jobs, my niece will have four stylish spots to post her schedules and all other important notes…providing she cares to be ol’ school!

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Violet Crown Hike

1 violet crown map I’d driven past this spot many times without once realizing there was a beautiful hike to be had. This part of the trail had been open since last August.2 trailhead sign How symbolic we all parked near a liquor store and walked over to the entrance since, after this hike, I was properly motivated for a drink!3 me at the river Unlike my last hike with this group, we had a bigger turn out. Plus, this hike was far more inviting.
4 graffittiThe sounds of traffic faded away after a few minutes, but we still came across signs of human activity.
5 graffitti At least the trail itself was nearly litter-free.6 graffitti What I thought was a cigarette butt, turned out to be an orange and white bike reflector that had fallen off. As challenging as that terrain was, some crazies upped the ante by biking it!

7 Mx restaurantAfterwards, a group of us went to a nearby Tex-Mex place. The service was bad, the food was pricey and mediocre, but the blueberry and pomegranate margarita hit the spot.  All in all, this place proved to me, once again, that Polvo’s is the best Tex-Mex place in Austin–STILL. Nonetheless, it served as a fueling station. I drove home, showered and took part one of my nighttime sleep.

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The sincerest lie about love is that it conquers all. Moralistic, preachy fairy tales lied to little girls about romance and true love. The only tale, in retrospect, that gives a clue about modern romance isn’t a fairy tale. Tarzan stories illustrate what modern women have to look forward to in romance: bringing civilization and intelligence to some king of the jungle.

Interpreting and managing his moody manspeak, “Arrgh, yrahg, raw, HUNGRY. Your-go, yawr-go, ragh TIRED. Huko, dak, haah, PUSSY.” We fearless Janes swing through the jungles with our Tarzan until the vine snaps.

The sincerest lie about family is that blood is thicker than water. It’s a literally true statement, sure enough, which makes it seem as if it should be true figuratively. Yet, compared to some of my blood relations, my daily supply of drinking water is far more beneficial to the quality of my life. Our common DNA doesn’t lead to much common ground. Despite how much we look alike, we don’t think nor act alike. As a matter of fact, we might as well be polite strangers.

The sincerest religious lie is only one true religion exists, which depends, of course, on the religion one was raised. If anyone wants to know universal truths or revelations about God, don’t study the Bible, Quran, Torah nor any other religious text. Study math. All things can be explained or predicted by at least one equation or inequality. Mathematical revelations exist whether humankind has discovered them or not, but once we do, we understand more about this wondrous world in which we live and use math to continue our understanding.

The sincerest employment lie is one can work hard and be successful. Very often, the one who works the hardest, gets paid the least. Everything the working poor buys costs more since they can’t buy in bulk nor buy long-lasting quality products. Everything takes longer to do since they cannot afford to pay more for convenience, be it transportation, nutritious food or high-quality health care.

Lastly, the sincerest half-lie is about the truth setting you free. You can tell the truth and your conscious will be relieved even if the system is designed to portray you as a criminal or incompetent, especially if someone profits from the false accusation against you. Yet to be truly free with your truthfulness, you either need money and/or position to back you up. You cannot be some marginalized member of society or low person in the social or workplace strata and expect your truth to trump some privileged person’s lies.

Lies, upon lies, upon lies. The best you can do for yourself is not imbibe the poison of self-deception and flee from those who are allergic to the truth.

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Middle School Field Trip

1 ANSC sign Perhaps the highlight of tutoring math at a local middle school was the day I chaperoned the 6th graders on their field trip to the Austin Nature & Science Center and Zilker Park.2 netting organisms One of the special ed teachers and I had a dirty dozen of students to keep track of while we toured ANSC. We sat on some logs, listened to our guide, who solicited a list from the students, of living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things that made up the surrounding ecology. Then, she gave every student a net and asked them to capture some biotic things.3 netting organisms Students loosely paired up, swinging those nets more wildly than the native fauna warranted. The guide incorporated some big finds into a jar. At the conclusion of the netting activity, students released whatever they had captured and returned their nets. Our guide talked about the animals, mostly insects and spiders, contained in the jar.4 reflecting pond In between activities, we waited near a relaxing pool of water that had a waterfall. How wonderful it was to witness students’ attention captured by nature rather than an electronic device. We then entered a circular room, sat on a carpet and discussed the difference between a food chain and a food web. We reviewed the ultimate source of energy, which is the sun. Producers, such as plants, capture solar energy and consumers obtain energy through eating producers and/or other consumers.5 hissing cockroaches The first consumers introduced were Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which some adventurous students petted.  I opted to feel my own fingernails since they were made from the same keratin as cockroach exoskeletons.6 frog Next, a frog, who was stereotypically jumpy, was passed around while remaining confined in his cage.7 turtle The turtle appeared comfortable enough to stay out of his shell as students touched it.8 quailThe quail remained caged although I would’ve loved watching its attempt to fly to freedom.
9 crawfish The last time I saw crawfish they were served up on a plate. At this point, I could’ve embedded myself into the food web.10 ferret As soon as the ferret was taken out of its cage, I smelled its signature musk.11 milk snake This beautiful milk snake had a protective pillowcase that matched its rich burgundy color. Talk about fashionable accessories!12 nature walk After reviewing what eats what in the food web, we entered the nature hike area.13 nature walk I loved how these 6th graders looked so at home in nature, which seemed to have a calming effect on them.15 nature walk Imagine stopping to literally smell flowers rather than check an electronic device.16 tadpoles At one point, we visited an aquatic habitat and some students captured tadpoles.17 dragonfly larvae One student caught this dragonfly larvae.18 scavenging for tadpoles Most, however, simply mucked around the perimeter.19 kite tree For the second half of the field trip, we ate lunch at Zilker Park.  Many of the trees had kites stuck in them from the kite day celebration the day before.20 kite trees 21 kite tree 22 kite tree 23 kite tree 24 kite tree 25 playing field Many students played soccer–or at least ran around kicking a soccer ball.26 rock playground Others amused themselves jumping around on the rocky outcropping.27 sand volleyballA few tried their hand at sand volleyball.

As much as we all enjoyed the outing, it’s a shame field trips such as these are rarities.

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Great Hills Hike

1 park mapThis marked my first outing with a new outdoorsy meetup group. I wanted to exercise my permanently injured ankle in a novel way; so I could strengthen it.2 fitness areaI gave the park’s fitness area the evil eye as we walked past. I’ll run on a treadmill and lift free weights, but I want nothing to do with other exercise equipment.
3 trailhead Our fearless leader lead the way although he’d never hiked this trail.4 Sierra Nevada St The first path we followed ended on a street. I love how a house peeked just beyond the trees rather than an animal.5 graffiti Following a different trail, we came across another human activity “dropping.”6 me in a tree I surrendered my camera to pose with this interesting tree. 7 creekThis was the first of several water crossings we traversed.
8 mini waterfall This miniature waterfall added some variety to the otherwise lazy, shallow river we loosely followed.9 best crossing This was the most sensible crossing we encountered. On the next one, I helped an older woman across since she was not confident in her footing on the rocks. I made a mental note to purchase a walking stick at Goodwill next time I plan to go hiking. 10 back again

We still ended up walking on a neighborhood sidewalk as part of our journey and circling back to the house we’d seen in the first ten minutes of our hike.

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Carnaval 2016: Texas! A Horse Opera

1 Briget Negro & me

Unexpectedly, one of my friends treated me to a night out–Carnaval 2016: Texas! A Horse Opera. As soon as we approached the front door to the venue, I saw my “cousin” and former capoeira teacher.2 Briget & me Fortunately, a third of my closet is dedicated to costumes. We both went as the entrepreneurial women from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”3 samba school For once, I was fully able to enjoy the samba school performance since I wasn’t working security as part of the capoeira group I used to train with.4 samba schoolSo, I danced samba to my heart’s content, recognizing the breaks, the rhythms and some of the footwork.
5 Negro n the mix At some point, an inebriated woman took me by the wrist and led me to the first inner samba circle.6 samba school The music and choreography blurred by wonderfully.7 samba schoolI was so happy to see familiar faces.
8 Antoinette wigsAnother big draw to attending carnaval was to appreciate other people’s costumes.
9 HEB deptsThe sheer imagination just blew me away.
10 HEB depts 11 Don't Mess w TX Then again, since the theme did have the word “Texas” in it, some revelers didn’t have to work too hard on their costuming.12 CM Briget & me We came across another capoeira teacher, wearing his usual carnaval attire.13 lampshade headdressThis magnificent headpiece was designed from a lampshade.
14 Leo & me Through the throng of people, another friend managed to find us.  Of course, I had to text him a picture of what we looked like.15 Leo & me 16 Leo & Briget 17 Briget Reggie & me Here was another capoeirista, who drove up from Houston, just to be a part of the celebration.18 spacewoman Not quite sure how this costume fit the theme, but I’m so glad she wore it.19 Briget buff guy & meThis guy, wearing the horse-head thong, definitely won the unofficial bare bottom contest. All the other virtually bottomless guys needed to find their pants.
20 CM & Nathan Another carnaval highlight was watching our group play capoeira.21 CM & Reggie Not too many joined the roda, but I enjoyed seeing them play.  During a lull in the game, I convinced my friend to play. We were the only costumed capoeiristas.

22 JackalopesI’d seen these jackalopes from across the way earlier in the night. I’m so happy they migrated closer by the end of the night. So many terrific costumes. It was like Halloween again.

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Bible Burial

former Bible

Toward the end of my junior year of college, Mom had the brilliant idea that I transfer to a less expensive school since The University of NC at Chapel Hill, AKA “Carolina,” cost more than sending both of my sisters to ECU. There was no way in hell I was going to transfer to another school; so I started selling Bibles. The plan was to train in Nashville, then relocate somewhere I’d never been before to sell Bibles and educational books door to door during the summer.

Ever the control freak, Mom enticed me with the offer of free room and board if I sold books in Fayetteville, NC. Since this was the time our relationship was at its most contentious, I acted as if I had to remain with the two young women whom I’d agreed to be roommates. They shared a downstairs room in my parents’ house while I rested comfortably upstairs in my childhood bedroom.

Mom didn’t really want to be a temporary landlady and was quite upset she couldn’t have guests all summer, but I’d wanted to leave home and thought it was fitting that she suffered for insisting I stay.

By the end of summer, I’d saved over two thousand dollars, mostly because I enjoyed free housing and food. At least my parents didn’t have to pay for my last year at Carolina. And as an extra bonus, I’d bought myself a Bible.

Although my parents raised me Baptist, ensured I had dutifully attended church nearly every Sunday, I believed in God but not religion. This was long before I knew anything about feminism or the patriarchy. All the conflicting beliefs and interpretations of The Bible, along with other religious books, didn’t clear up any confusion, especially when those so called religious beliefs touted that I was less than who I was because of my gender and race.

After graduation, I wired 12-inch miter saws on a non-moving assembly line. My coworkers teased me for being a Carolina graduate and ending up employed with them. I just smiled and took the ribbing in stride. Not because I had an even temper. I wanted to see how low their jaws would drop when they discovered I was paying off a small student loan and buying some things for my impending adventure to Tanzania as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I sat on that tidbit of information for 5 weeks. Afterwards, I had the cheek to give a week’s notice. The only reason anyone gives notice for a shitty job like that is to rub it in the faces of their coworkers.

I can’t remember whether I’d packed my Bible for that trip or not. As a matter of fact, my next recollection of that Bible was when I’d moved to Denver several years later. I’d scheduled a bona fide reading time in my daily itinerary. From the stack of material on my nightstand, I’d start off reading a passage, then a chapter from whichever books I had at the time.

In 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote, but not the presidential election, I put most of my things in storage and packed up the rest for a two-year teaching job in Alexandria, Egypt. I brought that Bible as a handy reference for life in the Biblical lands.

More significantly, however, I’d made a promise to God. My only surviving grandparent, Mama Bea, was in failing health. I’d vowed on New Year’s Day 2001 to read The Bible daily for a year and in its entirety if God spared her while I labored through this task.

My diligence paid off. Mama Bea remained alive for all of 2001, passing in January 2002. A few days after learning of her departure, I dreamt about her. She feared I would be late for work. Instead of simply telling me to get up, Mama Bea placed both of her hands on my torso and shook me as if rolling out dough. In my sleep, I argued with her to stop shaking me. I half woke up, looked at my alarm clock and complained about her waking me up a minute before it sounded.

Fully wake, I still shook. Or more accurately, the bed itself shook. I’d woken to an earthquake. Not as strong as the one that crumbled the famed Alexandria Lighthouse. Just strong enough to leave me with the eerie feeling that Mama Bea had come to me in form of an earthquake before reaching her final destination.

After teaching in Egypt, I moved to Mexico. Slowly, my Bible deteriorated from the outside in, starting with the binding. It’s tempting to say that the rough travels of being shipped from one country to the next shortened its life, but I blame the Egyptian customs agents. After all, when I’d optimistically packed up a class set of compasses to teach four different levels of math at a private school in Alexandria, I received my boxes only to find every compass metal point had been broken off. That should’ve been my forewarning.

My Bible suffered a torturous round with Egyptian customs. At least I still received it, unlike the two journals I’d written in nearly every day while living there. The only tangible memories I have of my time in Egypt are two photo albums and the long, descriptive letters I emailed to friends and family.

Over the years, my Bible’s leather binding shed completely, followed by pages from both ends. I recycled everything. When I noticed the decline increasing, I thought, “My Bible is dying.”

Absurd to personify a book, right? I chastised myself for being so attached to it, given my secular disposition. Yet, the thought of tossing the entire book into the recycling bin was unconscionable. I agonized every evening when I read a passage and more pages slipped away.

I went to a Christian bookstore to buy a replacement. The Bible selection was incredible: from colorfully illustrated children’s Bibles to the myriad of adult Bibles with their constellation of acronyms both familiar and exotic to me: KJV, NKJV, CEB, ESV, HSCB, NAS, NIV, NLT.

This didn’t even include the different publishers who had their own versions of these acronyms. With very little research, I selected the “latest” study Bible. It boasted of having over 8,000 study notes, along with QR codes and web links. I thumbed through it and read some of the passages, which were written in contemporary English.

Toting both Bibles, I placed the new one on the counter and asked the sales woman if they recycled Bibles as she rang me up. She cheerfully told me that they didn’t exactly recycle Bibles, but if I wanted to donate my old Bible…I held up my old Bible.

She stopped mid sentence. I told her the abridged story of how it came to be in that condition. Her eyes widened at the mention of “Egypt.” I told her I could recycle pages, but not the book itself. My eyes began to water. She smiled, handed me the new study Bible, which cost two weeks’ worth of groceries, reached for my old Bible and said they would recycle it.

new Bible

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Vagina Monologues 2016

1 Cast Badass

The last time I had to memorize lines for a stage production was nearly 15 years ago–around the same time I’d seen “Vagina Monologues” in Denver.  I’d just barely found out about the auditions the night before they occurred.  Despite being the last one to find out. I was among the first to audition since I had to dash off to host the Austin Writers Roulette.

2 playbill Unlike other stage productions I’d been a part of, this show was a fundraiser for Safe Place, which provides services for survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault as well as preventive, educational services. In addition to volunteering in this production, I wanted the opportunity to meet other creative, confident women. I was delighted to land the role of “The Little Coochie-Snorcher That Could” and started memorizing my lines as soon as the script was emailed to me, back in late November.3 playbill picture I didn’t know what the acting expectations were for VM. I figured since I’d received the script so early, I had to memorize my lines. Plus, there were only two scheduled rehearsals for the Monday cast, wonderfully nicknamed “Cast Badass.”

In mid January, I met the other women for the first time at a photo shoot.  That’s where I learned we didn’t have to memorize our lines. I also learned we could deliver our lines standing or sitting.  Up until that point, I’d rehearsed my lines while seated. After the photo shoot, I started rehearsing at home with more animation, movement and a folding chair. My claim to fame was doing a mini burlesque routine with the chair while reciting lines about a positive sexual encounter–complete with falling out of it on cue.

At our first rehearsal, I feared my acting was too over the top. Yet, I stayed true to my interpretation. Afterwards, other VM actresses complimented my performance and said I’d raised the bar.

4 interpreter

On the night of the performance, we opened to a sold out crowd. Four former coworkers and a fellow rouletter were among the audience members. Just before the show began, an American Sign Language interpreter, who signed for my part, came to the dressing room and gushed about how she loved my interpretation of my VM role. Although I thanked her, a small part of me worried if she’d just jinxed me.

Turns out, once I hit the stage, a welcoming wall of darkness cloaked the audience from me and the lines along with the movements flowed out of me. I didn’t flub or forget a single line. The audience response sealed the deal for me.

Afterwards, I only had one other part to play as a member of the orgasm choir who stood behind one woman who was seated in front of us. She recited about 2/3 of her monologue before we joined her on stage. I did the “black woman orgasm” by screaming “oh shit!” with three other black women. I also had the “tortured yogi orgasm,” where I made a protracted scream, which ended with a drawn out “om.”

With such a large cast, we had to come out on stage in several groups of four and then take individual bows when the director said our names. I did a full curtsey and enjoyed another fabulous applause.

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Braided & Knotted T-Shirt Necklace

1 the t-shirt Continuing my gift-making quest, the latest effort involved transforming an old, colorful T-shirt into a gift for one of my nieces.2 major cut I unfortunately have the habit of overthinking some simple things. I won’t even divulge how long I contemplated the best way to make the initial cut. Seems pretty straightforward, but I like to visualize things first before diving in, especially since I didn’t have a second bright blue T-shirt to sacrifice for the cause.3 measuring the strips Having already made this handy strip of measuring paper, I used it to make the chalk lines across the T-shirt.4 the lines At this point, I thought I was home free. Everything looked logically organized.5 the strips Only after I started cutting out the strips, which should’ve spooled into one continuous piece, did I realize my error. After screwing up about half of the effort and trying two other things, I finally corrected my cutting pattern to achieve one continuous piece.6 measured strips Despite my cutting challenge, all was not lost. I got back on track by cutting out the lengths of fabric I needed. Only a few of the strips had to be tied together with my fiasco pieces. 7 braiding Starting with the four longer pieces, I looped them, doubled them up and then braided them, using a clipboard to help keep the growing braid in place.8 1st row completed I braided two more rows onto the first row, using just a slight modification to the braiding technique. 9 final productThe moment of truth came when I tried the necklace on. I can never be sure how any fickle teenager will like anything, but I for one am very proud of the end product.

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How I Spent My Last Day at Work

Last year, I began teaching Adult Basic Education (ABE) classes in the evening, Monday through Thursday on January 5th. At the time, my nonprofit employer had just merged with an alternative, year-long adult education center.  As a result, my first day ended with a champagne toast. Of course, this had nothing to do with the fact I’d just completed my first day of work. Just terrific timing on my part.

1 me

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

So it’s rather fitting my last day of work dovetailed with another celebration: graduation. How wonderful I had the opportunity to mark my yearlong service in this way.

2 me

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

My last day at work also coincided with my second day of work at my new job, tutoring math full-time at a middle school. So, while my body still adjusted to working during the day, I had to rush home, eat, shower and dress up. I believe I pulled it off.

3 me on stage

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

My only real duty prior to graduation was making sure the photographer knew which shots we wanted him to take. I relished the opportunity to “help the photographer.” After all, how often do I get this gussied up on a Tuesday?

5 me on stage

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Of course, he arrived at the venue before me and had already received instructions on the shots we wanted. Nonetheless, I helped him get the exposure correct.

6.1 Ari & me

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Although we had a total of 55 students who’d successfully completed at least one of the four different educational courses we offer, I was especially proud of this particular student since she had originally been in my Chemistry class when I taught at an AISD high school.

7 Ari & me

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Back then, she’d “disappeared.” In 2015, she enrolled into our ABE program, followed by the computer skills course, Job Readiness Program (JRP), and completed all the requirements of the GED (General Education Diploma) program, which consisted of four rigorous exams that some college graduates would fail. All that accomplishment along with giving birth to her son!

7.11 graduates' hands

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Throughout the school year, which goes year-round, the students formed friendships and celebrated one another’s achievements. So, this graduation provided a wonderful sense of closure as they moved forward with the rest of their lives.

7.12 Dr. Pickles

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Our key note speaker was Dr. Patricia Pickles, who I’d met at a free women’s empowerment conference, sponsored at a local community college. She was one of three women who I’d invited to speak to my students. Her moving talk brought both tears and newfound motivation to my class. In my email, where I thanked her for speaking to my students, I attached the volunteer documents since I wanted her to tutor at least once a week since my students liked her so much.

I was highly surprised a few weeks later when I discovered that she’d joined the organization as an Americorps volunteer–a much bigger commitment than the one I’d previously hope for.

So, I was not at all surprised that she accepted the opportunity to speak to the graduates. As per her usual heart-warming style, Dr. Pickles related some of the struggles from her life with what the graduates were going through.

7.13 Clifford

Photo Credit: Anand Ragunathan

Although a handful of my students had advanced through another course, I had the opportunity to hand one of my students his certificate for ABE. He was my symbolic good bye to all my evening adult students. My colleagues respected my request not tell the students I was leaving. As a matter of fact, I’d written all my ABE students, in a personalized collaged card, a note of encouragement for them to continue working toward their educational goal, which was delivered the next night.

For a second year in a row, I’ve started the new year with a new job.  Let the games begin!

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