Ramen Noodles 2.0

Rediscovering that inexpensive college favorite, ramen noodles, has been an amazing culinary journey. I started quite innocently  sautéing garlic, red chilies and red onion in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Then I scooted them to the side, cracked an egg and scrambled it quickly with a wooden spoon until it was beautifully fluffy. Next I doused the skillet with a glass of water, turned the dial from “medium” to “high,” dissolved the flavor packet, brought the water to a boil and added the noodles.

I took the above process up a notch the day I substituted toasted sesame oil for EVOO. Originally, I’d bought the toasted sesame oil to make a dip. As that oil sat untouched for months after making the recipe once, I grabbed it to sauté some veggies for ramen noodles and I’ve not looked back since.

The incredible flavor and depth toasted sesame oil brings to ramen noodles just hasn’t grown old for me. I’ve tried it in many more different combinations than I have presented below.  Usually, I’ve just not bothered to take a picture of my plate before digging in.1 Asian veggiesFor this version, I used frozen Asian vegetable mix with baby corn, edamame, red peppers and string beans and of course a scrambled egg. The orange slices frame the meal as a dessert.
2 broccoli & cauliflower For a rare moment in my diet, I actually had both broccoli and cauliflower! They must have been on sale for me to have bought them that week.3 mango I know for a fact mangoes were on sale the week I bought them. After moving to Austin from Honduras, I boycotted buying these “expensive” fruits, which happen to be my favorite, since I had to pay more than a few pennies/nickels/dimes like I’d paid for them in Tegucigalpa. I rounded out my vegetable bouquet with my usual kale, red onions and carrots. As dark as this dish appears, I must have used a few tablespoons of peanut powder to add a more pad thai flavor to the dish.4 peaches & red cabbageAround this time,  small Texas peaches were in season. I love how their color contrasts with the red cabbage.5 oranges & red cabbageYes, another picture with red cabbage…a lesson learned: buying even the smallest head of cabbage means I’ll be eating it for nearly a month! I originally bought it to make a curried vegetable stir-fry for a potluck, but only ended up using about 1/4 of it for that delicious dish. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve had a wonderful time putting it in many other dishes along with my ramen noodle 2.0 creations, especially with these chopped navel oranges.

 

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One of Dad’s Life Lessons

I normally reflect about the many reasons I love, honor and respect my dad on Father’s Day. Yet today, amid all the recent controversy surrounding race relations, I feel compelled to incorporate one of Dad’s life lessons into this year’s Father’s Day tribute.

After many weeks of thunderstorms, usually on a Friday afternoon, the only time in my busy schedule when I can swim and relax afterwards, I finally knocked out ten laps at a free neighborhood  swimming pool, then sat in my lawn chair under a huge, shady tree  while reading a book and taking notes for my third novel. I breathed in the fresh air, absorbed the heat, humidity and fertile conversations in different languages and among multiple generations, thinking, “Ahh, summer has officially begun.”

Three days later, the McKinney pool video astonished me. The camera phone has evolved into a pivotal civil rights instrument, capturing, as so many artists have tried to in words, sculpture and  other art forms, what continues to challenge our society. Some view protest art as society’s mirror, which reflects questions and sparks conversations. Now, with the onset of portable recording devices, raw moving images and sounds are uploaded, ripping away the pretty, waterproof, bandages and exposing our wounds.

There’s the racism that affirmation action and a black presidency were supposed to cure. There’s the intolerance that demonizes all black teenagers because some made a poor decision. Check out the over-the-top response of one out of 12 cops played on a continuous loop.

Ever the optimist, I thought, “Hey, at least no one was killed and 92% of the responding officers acted in a manner that did not warrant them to be suspended.”

And then a misguided soul entered The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined their Bible study for about an hour before shooting and killing nine innocent people.

The first time I’d heard of white supremacists was in the mid 70s while sitting at the kitchen table. The alliteration of their name first caught my attention as the TV news reporter articulated something, which I can no longer remember, but left me with the understanding that there was an organized group of whites who hated blacks.

That got me riled up. My immediate response was to hate them right back. My six-year old chest swelled and neck muscles bulged as I passionately outlined a plan about how all black people should get together and build a fabulous kingdom for ourselves and keep all the white people out. I said we should call ourselves The Big Bad Blacks because I wanted an alliterative name for our group as well.

My father, who was sitting at the table with me and patiently listening to my rant, slowly shook his head. He gently explained to me that we all needed to learn to live together and get along with one another. Those few soft-spoken words sucked the venom of hatred out of me.

Even now, as some clamor for the death penalty, which is state-sanctioned murder to show murderers that murder is wrong, I still say that life without parole is the strongest sentence that should be given for egregious acts. And the added bonus in this case will be that a young man, who proclaims to hate blacks will spend the rest of his life incarcerated with an overrepresented population of blacks. Additionally, as the decades tick by, he will witness his unemployed, high school dropout fantasy of a race war NOT breaking out, but rather the maturity of a country learning to live together just as my father said we would.

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Injury Reunion

Every physical trauma I’ve experienced in my younger days have returned to reminisce in my middle-agehood. Blissfully forgotten skinned knees and elbows, deep wounds embedded into my bones, muscles and joints, aging me from the inside out. I may not look my age, but I feel it with every mysterious new pain. The faint echo of wilder, faster times and fearless adventures.

Growing up, I climbed every tree in the immediate vicinity. Queen of the monkey bars. I played hard and I played loudly. Mom never had to wonder where I was. She only worried when things suddenly became quiet.

And I never walked anywhere when I could run until I outran my left knee—at least that’s how my ten-year old self saw it. The doctor referred to the prominent lump on my left shinbone just below the knee as “Osgood Schlatter.” He tried cheering me up, by telling me that many professional athletes suffer from this condition. Yet I wasn’t a professional athlete. I was a prepubescent girl who loved to run, but the doctor only saw a “puny” girl who needed to start taking a children’s vitamin.

(I was so skinny, Mom had to buy me the “slim” version of whichever size I wore and then take them in.)

Next the doctor announced the most devastating news: I had to stop running for at least a year. Although there are many therapies to help athletes strengthen their quads until the condition goes away, the doctor didn’t think that was important for me.

“You’re trying to ruin my reputation,” I told at him. Mom just laughed at me.

You see, once again, her baby had uttered another ridiculous thing, not realizing its sexual connotation. Like the time for inventors’ day in the fourth grade, I took apart a wire hanger and shaped it into a crude capital Y. I hypothesized that by striking the hanger against an object, I could distinguish the material it was made of based on how much the hanger vibrated. Of course, I named my invention “The Vibrator.”

But I digress.

In eight grade during an afterschool gymnastics club practice, I was doing mad pull-ups at a good clip on an improperly grounded portable high bar. As the bar tipped backwards into the bleachers, I managed to let go of it except for my left index finger, which became the first bone I’d ever broken. About twelve years later, I broke that same finger, blocking a kick with my hand in hapkido. To this day, if I ever were in a fight, I wouldn’t dream of blocking a kick with my hand rather than dodging.

Around the same time, I suffered my first serious fall, doing something remarkably pedestrian, walking down rain-moistened steps. I injured my left hip and elbow. Since I was teaching in South Korea at the time, my insurance covered acupuncture. Although I would have preferred not to fall, the results from my first acupuncture treatment amazed me. I went from not being able to hold anything in my left hand, to regaining full use of it.

From South Korea, I moved to Colorado. Who can resist hiking around the mountains? In Boulder, just a little over an hour north of Denver, I hiked around all that rugged terrain and managed to twist my left ankle on flat land when I tripped over a rock. Despite the interesting feeling of stretching rubberbands in my ankle as I tumbled over in slow motion, it swelled until I had another acupuncture treatment.

Not to be outdone, the right ankle had its rubberband stretching experience years afterwards when I’d finished diving in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Egypt to see the remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I was walking down some dilapidated stairs that had been covered with astroturf, camouflaging the extent of the damage. Although a group of us had used those stairs, I was the unlucky one who tripped.

Around this time, I began to suspect my ankles were cursed. A few years after that, while decorating my science classroom at a private American school in Honduras, I became so absorbed with the process of hanging up stuff on the wall, I temporarily forgot that I was walking on a countertop, which had sinks. Well, one of my feet unexpectedly sank in a sink and I ungracefully flipped onto the floor, injuring the left side of my body from the hip downwards.

A good masseuse realigned the fascia in my lower left leg, but I unknowingly learned to walk with an altered hip, locked into the wrong position. The body is an amazing thing. For several years I managed to bellydance, dance salsa, tango and samba, even play capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts, which people mistake as mere dancing, all on a locked hip.

Until, in the middle of carnival, pain radiated from my left knee in all directions. I bought a knee brace in order to walk. A week later, I had my first chiropractic appointment. That bone magician performed his snap, crackle, pop magic and poof! the radiating pain instantly stopped and he handed me my knee brace with a confident smile, saying I no longer needed to wear it.

Three years later, I wished I only needed a knee brace. Instead, a capoeira sparing accident landed me in a clinic with a broken fibula. Normally, one needs to stay off the ankle for at least 6 weeks. But I got the full experience since the bone displacement was greater than 2mm. Six metal pins and five weeks later, my ankle recovered faster than my orthopedic surgeon had anticipated. I started referring to myself as “bionic.”

For someone who was a running fool as a child, being on crutches angered me. I always thought people on crutches were in a bad mood due to pain. That may be true for some, but it was the marathon of mundane movement and loss of freedom that got me. Everything I needed to do took at least three times as long. Plus, I had few things I could do.

The only hidden benefit of being on crutches was isolating my core muscles. So as the weeks whiled away with my left leg muscles atrophying, my abs got a terrific work out!

Now that I go to yoga four times a week, I’ve been working through all the injuries life has hurled my way. Remember the left index finger I’ve broken twice? Thanks to yoga, I can no longer predict the weather by it. Also my hips are more even, but there’s still a ways to go with the lower left side of my body. No matter how injured I’m feeling from one moment to the next, I remember Mom’s sage advice: Always take the time to stand up erect. To some degree, walking around with your head held high improves your posture and reflects that the trainwrecks of life will not keep you down.

 

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Amazon Gender

 

Some say the word “Amazon” derived from Greek, meaning “without breasts.” Others prefer to derive “Amazon” from Armenian, meaning “moon-women.” Of course, I didn’t know any of that when I was six and wanted to be an Amazon when I grew up. I was fascinated by their strength and fighting skills. A few years later I was crushed when I read that Amazons only existed in myth.

Yet there are experts searching enthusiastically for archaeological evidence that Amazons existed just as there are experts equally enthusiastic that Amazons exist only in the realms of popular myth. Real or myth, political or religious, there are common elements to the Amazonian legends that are intriguing to us women who live outside societal expectations of what it means to be a heterosexual woman. Proving the existence of Amazons is as elusive as it once was to prove that women have a G spot or are capable of ejaculation.

I remember when I was a child watching a TV commercial for a popular cheap perfume where a sexy woman sang about bringing home the bacon, frying it up in the pan and never letting him forget he was a man. My child’s curiosity wondered, “If she could buy and cook her own food, why did she need the man?” As an adolescent, I heard about the modern myths of the “career track,” “the mommy track,” and the looming “biological clock.”

In my early twenties, I figured I must not be a “real” heterosexual woman since society repeatedly told me that such women wanted to get married, have kids, wear makeup 24/7, and wear so-called sexy, uncomfortable clothes and shoes. And starting robustly with my generation, there was an assumption that women would do all that and pursue higher education and a career. When and how were real heterosexual women going to accomplish all that? Even if we did, that would not be a guarantee that we’d be respected, especially if one is a woman of color.

Just like my favorite slave heroine, Sojourner Truth, who lamented in her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech about the notions of womanhood since she labored like a beast of burden and bore 13 children and occasionally the lash yet was never invited to stand upon the pedestal of femininity.

Amazons reportedly lived in all-female societies where they only sought sexual interaction with men once a year. The female babies were cherished and raised to be the next generation of Amazons. Some myths state that Amazon girls had their right breast removed at age nine so it wouldn’t interfere with their archery skills. Other myths say that Amazons wore a leather restraint over their right breast or that the massive buildup of their back and shoulder muscles just made it appear that their right breast had been removed. And the fate of the male babies born to Amazons? According to the various myths, newborn sons were either killed, maimed so they wouldn’t grow up to overpower women and kept on as servants, or returned to their father.

Despite this annual mass impregnation of Amazons, they considered themselves to be virgin warriors because men could not claim Amazonian vaginas as their property through marriage. If you think that’s a strange way of defining virginity, think about the myriad of virginity definitions swirling around today’s society. Is she a virgin if she’s only had oral sex and/or anal sex? Is she still a virgin if her hymen is no longer intact after a nonsexual activity? Is she still a virgin if she never consented to sex but was raped? Is she still a virgin if she’s only had female lovers? Does the word “virgin” also apply to males? Now, after looking at some of the shaky assumptions we currently make about what constitutes a virgin, the only thing that’s curious about the Amazonian definition is that women defined it. If they actually existed, that is.

For his 9th task, Hercules had to steal the Amazon queen’s girdle. Hippolyta’s girdle was a snake made of metal or leather and signified female sexuality, suggesting that female sexual power was deadly. The loss of Hippolyta’s girdle meant the loss of Amazonian independence. The defeat of the Amazons was the start of another myth, the Dorian Invasion that displaced the ancient Greek goddess and nature worship with the Greek classic patriarchy. In a classical Greek wedding ceremony, the groom loosened his bride’s girdle to signal the end of her virginity and the beginning of her fertility to her husband. Since Athenian women had so little freedom during classical Greek times, the Amazonian myth is speculated to have been created to show that an all-female rebellion had already occurred and had ended in the female warriors’ defeat.

Yet, aren’t we women still fighting battles to secure our vaginas? Couldn’t we consider Senator Wendy Davis a modern-day Amazon, who instead of wielding a bow and arrow, came armed with a back brace and powerful words to fight with conservative male republicans? After all, some conservative male republicans don’t even want the word “vagina” uttered in their presence, but they’ll surely agree to heavily regulate them.

After being raped by Poseidon, Medusa’s beautiful hair was replaced by venomous snakes that would turn an onlooker to stone. One modern interpretation is that no man could gaze upon or handle such powerful uncontrolled female sexuality on display.

As daughters of Ares, the god of war, Amazons were women who fought for their autonomy. Whether there was a bona fide Amazon society no longer concerns me. “Sex” has been defined as what’s between one’s legs and “gender” has been defined as what’s between one’s ears. Amazons are among us. I accept myself for who I am. A modern-day Amazon.

 

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Bloody Mary Research Addendum

22 Casino El CaminoAfter “concluding” my Bloody Mary research at a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar with a group of friends a few months ago, rumors had it that I’d missed a good spot on 6th Street. I wanted to pick a time to invite friends to hit this dive burger bar when all of our schedules coincided.

Turns out, thanks to one of many ubiquitous street festivals that take place here in Austin, I convinced some other festival-goers I’d met that day to go with me.

We were going to get a burger along with drinks, but the wait-time for food ran about an hour. I figured since a Bloody Mary is like a meal in a glass, especially when properly garnished, then I’d still satisfy both objectives.

When the bartender asked how hot I wanted it on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the hottest, I figured I was being both adventurous and cautious by saying 8. After all, I didn’t want to pay nearly $10 for something bland. She warned me that it would have ghost peppers. I threw caution to the wind, thinking it would only be a dash of ghost pepper since I’d requested an 8.

That bartender, who had already demonstrated her snarkiness with other customers, did her damnedest to teach me a lesson, I’m sure. I tolerated the cocktail’s heat as long as I had some of the garnish (bacon, celery, pickled jalapeño, green olives) to eat along with every sip. Once the food was gone, that drinkable fire was overwhelming.

I auspiciously spied a leftover order of fries on a couple’s adjacent table. That couple had ordered two hamburgers, which came with fries and an extra order of fries.  They’d stacked up their burger boats and had stopped paying attention to the other fries. I leaned over and politely asked if they were done with their fries, startling them with my request.

The guy shrugged, looked at his woman and she nodded she was done. He handed me the rest. Salvation! I dipped those fries into my beverage and managed to consume two-thirds of the bartender’s revenge.

The combination of the ghost pepper and the gory over-the-top Asian martial arts movie the restaurant showed on all the TVs started to turn my stomach. At the end of the movie, I said my good-byes and walked as quickly as I dared through the art and music festival crowd.

Once inside my car, the blast of AC helped, but I prayed traffic wouldn’t delay me from my porcelain throne. What an amazing experience.  It’s not every day I can trace the presence of something throughout my alimentary canal. I could’ve sworn that ghost pepper pushed its way throughout my digestive track, bullying everything else in its wake.

All in all, it was a decent Bloody Mary.

 

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Bad Saturday Night

bad Saturday night copyWhen opportunity lands on my doorstep, I have to seize the moment. In this case, I went out onto my balcony to retrieve something from the storage closet and saw this intriguing scene in the parking lot. How could the fiction writer in me resist? Everyone has a history, comprised of many “remember when moments.” The key is to make the story as entertaining as possible.

I don’t know the gentleman sleeping in the car, which may or may not be his, with the detached bumper,  discarded beer on the ground, open driver’s door for ventilation, and parked skewed onto the handicapped ramp, but I’d like to come up with the parameters of his story, based on the early Sunday morning evidence.

The Bumper: Starting with what appears to be the most obvious, the bumper detached after he careened the driver’s side front tire into the curb and the car bounced back. Since the passenger’s side front tire is propped up, the driver’s side front tire is even lower than usual. That’s merely a consequence of Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every action has an equal but opposite reaction.

Yet a more interesting explanation would be that he pulled into the parking space, not realizing the passenger’s front tire rode up on the handicap ramp and braked gently, not causing the bumper to fall off. Instead, an angry woman, who was riding shotgun, abruptly got out of the car, slamming the door. When he yelled at her, she responded by telling him to go fuck himself, kicked the bumper, causing it to fall off and ran into her apartment when he hopped out of his car.

He swaggered to the front of the car, saw the bumper on the ground, raised his hands to the heavens, cursed her name once more, sat back in his car to finish the last of his beer and passed out.

The Beer: Alcohol is a must-have in just about any series of miscalculated risks and bad decisions. This guy bought a 24-pack of bottled beer; so he, and perhaps a friend or two could have good time. He may have been tailgating somewhere on the outskirts of a game or, better yet, at a nearby park where one of many free festivals or happenings were taking place.

A twist on the obvious is if this guy actually has very little alcohol in his system due to the presence of some other drug. The beer may have merely whet his whistle in between smoking a combination of recreational drugs.

The Car: Despite its outward appearances, this car is his pride and joy. This guy has experienced a lot of highs and lows that life has thrown his way, but for the past six years, this car has seen him through it all. He will be devastated when he awakes and discovers “Preciosa” with her front bumper off. His eyes will tear up as he lovingly works her bumper back on with the care a parent takes rotating his child’s shoulder back into its socket.

Alternatively, this guy wakes up, rubs his eyes, scratches his balls, belches a stale beer mini-cloud and when he’s awake enough, he’ll wonder where he is, how he wound up here, and most important, why he’s sitting in the driver’s seat of someone else’s car.

The Guy: This is the most challenging aspect of this writing exercise because he could be virtually any guy, especially if this isn’t his car–an idea I really like since it has more possibilities.  Otherwise, this car shows that he’s working class to middle class at best. Since drugs and alcohol are the great equalizers among men, this guy may have found himself in this situation as a fluke or it may be habitual.

Going with the odds, at least one woman is part of how he wound up passed out in a slightly damaged car that may or may not be his. Did she lock him out? Did he mistakenly drive to the wrong apartment complex? Was his intention to stay with a relative who lives here, but he made it as far as the parking lot and figured that was close enough?

The only thing I know for sure, when I returned from my yoga class around 12:15, the car, its bumper and the guy were gone–the discarded bottle of beer remained in the parking space.

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The Forgotten Queen

You all know the fairy tales about the good or evil queen, the good or wicked witch, the evil stepmother, the poor mother, the absent mother, the good daughter, the fair maiden, the bewitched maiden…but what about the forgotten queen?

You may not have noticed her since she never sat on an official throne. Yet you’ve heard the whispers about her. Remember that saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world”? Ah, yes, that expression is about the forgotten queen.

She isn’t the one with the smallest foot or longest hair or in need of a princely kiss or has some business all alone in an enchanted forest.

It is she with eyes in the back of her head, monitoring the sounds of her children while performing some everyday phenomenon like cooking, who knows when to turn around and give the Mother stare, which rips through her guilty children as a warning to stop the offending behavior or else.

It is she, who sacrifices sleep, time, and a quiet dinner to tend to her children, including a temporarily regressed significant other.

It is she, who, in case of an emergency, walks into the middle of a riot and slaps her child out of it to save his life.

She is the kisser of wounds; the teacher of lessons, moral and academic; the general medical practitioner; the judge and jury.

She is the infuser of strength and common sense, sending her children out into the world, separation anxiety be damned.

She is the giver of unconditional love, occasional tough love and timely, sometimes unwanted, free advice.

Her standards are her children’s everlasting measuring stick when judging the cleanliness of their room, the appropriateness of their attire or hairstyle and the worthiness of their current love interest being introduced to her.

Her honor is fought for when another mother’s child dare utters a vicious “Yo Mama” insult.

Her thoughts are worth more than a penny, her true financial compensation values more than a CEO of a fortune 500 company and her services are priceless.

Her power of creation extends beyond fertility to innovations in all domains of knowledge to make the world a better place for her children and future generations.

No league of superheroes can hold a society together more securely than the superglue that is the forgotten queens, the collective mothers of the world.

For all these things and infinitely more, I honor the mothers of the world whose individual names may never appear in a history book, but whose positive attributes will be successfully carried forth in the DNA of every surviving child.

 

 

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Steampunk Vampire Slayer

1 slayer

All I need is the opportunity to dress up and I dive in. The latest cosplay inspiration was for a fundraiser at work.

2 slayer

Although the theme was “steampunk,” I find any excuse to carry my sword; hence my vampire slayer character.

3 slayerI searched two Goodwill stores before I found something that looked like a corset. The silver clasp and chains I bought to bling it out cost as much as the top itself!

4 slayerAnother must-have accessory were the aviator’s goggles. I could have also gone with a top hat, but I love taking my dreads to new heights, which caused them to bump into walls since they took up so much space.

5 slayerTo create the multilevel skirt, I modified a long, flowing black skirt and safety-pinned it to the outside of a short, ruffled black skirt. The sacrifice of the long skirt was justified since I’ll wear this costume at least two more times: once while hosting the Austin Writers Roulette and again for Halloween.

6 slayerOne of the best features of this costume, other than how little it cost to put together, was how comfortable it was to wear. One of my coworkers sported a beautiful corset, but it prevented her from sitting comfortably and made driving a challenge.

7 LCCT brochuresEveryone who could, reported to the venue around 8:30 am to decorate for the adult spelling bee. Other than helping to unload things, my job was to fix up the bee decorations and place them attractively around the venue.

8 Courtney & meWe reported back to the venue an hour and a half earlier than we expected participants and guests to arrive. Of course, I took advantage of that time to have a mini photo shoot.
9 tequila shot

And just to prove that I work at one of the coolest non-profits, we ended our brief, pre-event meeting with a tequila shot!

10 the bee-yoncesFor this adult spelling bee, there were 14 teams, including the Bee-yonces, who won the costume contest.

11 dell diamondsThe Dell Diamonds were the returning champs, but took 1st runner up and won the spirit award this year.
12 Lord of the Bees

The Lord of the Bees spiced up the evening since one guy had a scandalously skimpy costume.

14 the spellcasters

Another creatively dressed team was the Spellcasters, sporting their Harry Potter inspired costumes.

13 Courtney Meg & Grayson

The youngest and cutest little bumblebee was only a few months old.

15 Austin Babtist WomenProfessional performance group, Austin Babtist Women (intentional misspelling of “Baptist”) brought even more fun to the evening. I loved how one guy didn’t bother shaving off his mustache.
16 spelling bee teamsThree tuba players joined the spellers on stage. My role as “beekeeper” was to give spellers their numbered name tags for 1st, 2nd and 3rd speller order; seat them in a predetermined numerical order on stage and on time; make sure they were ready to approach the mic during their turn; and escort them off stage when they were not “saved” or after they were “stung.”

As I learned throughout the evening, saving and stinging were the fundraising highlights of the evening. If someone misspelled a word, then an audience member could save the team for $250. A team could be saved up to four times with an increasing cost of $500 the second time, $750 the third time and $1000 the fourth and final time. At any time, another audience member could out bid a save by stinging the team. Once a team was stung, they were escorted off stage.

Those teams lasted much longer than I thought they would through a combination of terrific spelling and saving. Only a few stings took place. Once only two teams remained, we had an intermission. Afterwards, the Austin Babtist Women performed again and then the two teams battled it out. There was a lot of back and forth since both teams had misspellings. There was no clear winner until the very last word was spelled.

As soon as a team member spelled a word correctly, we all cheered. I immediately started breaking down those chairs on stage. I’m so happy my coworkers had already taken down the decorations outside the theatre. We all made quick work to get everything loaded up and out the venue.

At the end of the night, I took home a half full veggie tray and our fundraiser made $87,000 to help low-literate adults and their families!

 

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Art & Eeyore

1 st art fest

For the third year in a row, I volunteered at the biggest art festival held in Austin. Unlike last year, I had the second shift in the “Artist Hospitality” tent, which meant I didn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting nor any set up. I just strolled into the tent, located much closer to the entrance than last year, and immediately started booth sitting so an artist could take up to a 30-minute break.

2 canvases of wisdom

Although volunteering for a 3-hour shift qualified me to receive a free pass to look around at the various art booths, I saw nearly everything, walking to and from various booths to sit. I especially liked the mini-canvases of inspirational sayings. Even though this was not the artist’s main thing, her pithy sayings meant more to me than everything else I saw. If I had to pick a favorite saying, it would be “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do.”

3 art of relaxing

Perhaps my favorite booth to sit turned out to be the last one.  I reported to the “swinging chairs” guy, who, unlike the other booths, didn’t even have a number. Yet, I had no problem finding his location.

4 art of relaxing

He had two different styles of swinging chairs, but my favorite was the lounger. I spent most of my time kicked back and swinging once he reported to the artist VIP lounge. Despite the peculiarity of a patio furniture seller being at an art festival, the innovative designs can be considered artistic. Plus, at 90 degrees, the temperature motivated people to sit in the shade and test out the swinging chairs.  I handed out the double-sided flyers with prices.

5 percussion circle

And just to prove that I live in Austin, yet another major festival took place on the same day: Eeyore’s Birthday. This music-, drink-, and food-filled festival was the most hippie-ish festival I’ve ever attended, complete with legal and illegal drugs and nudity. Everything pretty much went on and the police just regulated traffic. Most of the food booths were sponsored by various groups in order to raise money and the closest parking cost $15 as a donation to the park.

6 percussion circleAlthough I was supposed to enjoy the festivities with a meetup group, I came later than they did; so I missed the rendezvous. I walked upon a drop-in percussion group and spotted several people I knew. I stayed for about an hour and a half until my boxed wine called me home from the party.

On the way home, I used a $10 gift certificate to get a beef and lamb sandwich with a side of falafel. Since my latest Netflix DVD was waiting for me in the mailbox, I had a wonderful way to wind down from an art and music festival Saturday.

 

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Adult Fairy Tales

I’ve been struggling with my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity and Negativa, for the past five years. Along the way, I’ve experienced some powerful insights.

The first came when I concluded that I didn’t have the means to pay a graphic artist.  My solution? Paint the beginning of each chapter, which always began with the title characters, exploring some mathematical-logical or physics topic.

The second insight occurred a few weeks after the first. Like a woman taking the longest time to birth her first child, the first canvas took the longest to complete. As a work around to my sense of perfectionism, which had prolonged its completion, I reasoned that the main character, Nuru, was the artist rather than me. This distancing silenced my inner critic and added another dimension to Nuru.

The third insight woke me up one Saturday morning. Since my first novel, Tribe of One, had romantic elements, I’d self-identified as a romance writer. I’d even joined both the national and local chapter of THE romance writers’ group. This particular morning, I realized Adventures was not a romance. I had a clear vision of exactly which changes needed to be made in order to advance the narrative. This insight led to the first major “slashing” (too brutal to be called a mere “editing”) of the manuscript. Although I stopped self-identifying as a romance writer, I continued my membership with the national group since I enjoyed the informative articles in their monthly magazine about craft and the publishing industry.

The fourth insight ushered in the second major slashing where nearly all the minor characters were eliminated. Not only that, all the fabulous dialogue, transitions and descriptions, which were no longer relevant all bit the dust. Stripped to the bones, the manuscript had quicker pace, but little richness. At least I added the true antagonist, Lauren/Lolli.

The fifth insight stopped me from painting.  I’d been completing canvas after canvas at a pretty good clip up until I painted myself into a corner. The problem was, each successive painting looked markedly better than the last; so I couldn’t reorder the opening of the chapters since that would cause me to reorder the paintings. With the first fourteen chapter openings set on canvas, I could only tighten up that writing although I could completely change the rest of the chapter, which I did with total abandonment.

The sixth insight guided the rearrangement of chapters fifteen through twenty-two. At some point in my writing career, I’ll learn how to outline a novel. Until then, I’ll continue writing by the seat of my pants, acknowledging that the occasional major chapter shuffle must take place.

The seventh and latest insight occurred at a recent writers’ workshop. The workshop explored feminism in fairy tales. Our facilitator introduced the topic by giving us a brief background about fairy tale structure. I went pie-eyed. I stopped myself from jumping up and shouting “Eureka!” What a profound revelation for me. The discovery that I write adult fairy tales.  Even Tribe had elements of a fairy tale.

The facilitator suggested a short reading list, which I added to my never-ending book list. Then, I did online research and discovered a 31 fairy tale structure checklist. Adventures satisfied nearly all of them. At the end of that blog post, the author had a bibliography, which rounded out my fairy tale reading list.

One good thing I have going for me is my nonbelief in “writers’ block.” Every time my writing productivity wanes, an experience which some writers attribute to the dreaded “block,” I see it as the result of stubbornly writing along without analyzing if what I’ve written advances the narrative with integrity. Each flash of insight has dutifully reported after I’d honestly asked myself, “Where am I going with this?”

To regain direction, I resort to the same ritual. I hit “caps lock,” select “bold” and type all my think-out-loud thoughts about the characters and plot. Without any judgment and barely any punctuation, I work through what needs to be done. Sometimes, it’s chapter rearrangement. Other times, rethinking of the plot or a listing of things that need to be researched. I consider it writing mediation, bringing out the best in the narrative and advance it to a close–or at least close enough to make it worth my while to pay for a professional editor.

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