Margaret Atwood Talk @ TX Book Fest 2015

1 political seats

I was the plus one on a special “friends pass” to hear Margaret Atwood in the Texas State Capitol during the book festival. I’d heard other writers speak at this venue before, but always from the nosebleed section.

3 roulette hatWhile rifling through her things to get notebook and pen ready, my friend dropped one of my business-card sized Austin Writers Roulette flyers out of her bag.  The solution? Decorate her hat with it!  If only I could make that a fashion trend.  After four years, some people have actually heard of my show.
2 MA from afar

Here’s what I learned from Margaret Atwood, who is also a teacher, a common trait among us writers that must stem from always reading, writing and wanting to shed light on the uninformed:

  • She has participated in many writing experiments to keep herself creatively challenged.
  • One such writing experiment: she sealed her writing in a box, along with a number of other writers and transported the box to Norway where trees have been planted. By the end of a century, the boxes will be opened and the paper to print it on will come from the trees that were planted a century ago.
  • She claimed that politicians make decisions without considering long-term consequences.  As a result, some laws have been reversed because they cost too much.
  • My favorite quote from her talk was: “Access to books and reading is one of the cornerstones of democracy.”
  • She wrote for “Zombie Run,” an interactive audio story where runners are encouraged speed up and slow down, according to the story.  Her episode of the story took place in Toronto. The government and hockey team have been zombified.
  • Her sage advice to a Literature and Composition instructor of a college freshman class who were loathe to read and were mostly business and engineer majors: have them write a business plan for how zombies and vampires can accumulate wealth over time.

4 w:MA

I guess one of the biggest take aways from hearing her interview was that I should keep my teaching license current in addition to creating my other art outside of teaching.

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Ch. 19 Painting: Food, Friend or Foe

Day 8

Up until now, I’ve always had plenty to critique about a newly completed painting. Yet, this canvas, despite whatever flaws my hypercritical eye discerns, makes me so incredibly happy I’ve continued this endeavor. Although the twins mostly look good because I used stencils, the faces are my all mine. And what faces they are! The expressions work; they look like identical twins; their hair is fabulous.

In the beginning, I’d sketched the unknown as a square in the middle of the bottom of the scene. That looked too simplistic. I knew I could step it up a notch. Give a little more motivation for the twins to make such intense eye contact with the unknown, which they’ve encountered in a jungle. They have cautiously approached to assess whether it is food, friend or foe.

All 19

Check out the display wall: like a six-year old with a missing a front tooth. The next painting will take its artful place by the close of a week. That’s a promise to both myself and this project. The chilly mornings have arrived. I now have to bundle up in order to paint. My hands must grow numb as I don’t have  a pair of painter’s gloves. Actually, gloves would make my hands feel as if they were in straight jackets and I certainly don’t need any more handicaps in that department.

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Ch. 18 Painting: Cyber Pimping

Day 9

Initially, I wanted to create a grid for the background with tape. The painting tape had other ideas. I went with it. Although I had no idea what “cyberspace” looked like, those lines reminded me more of sound waves. Yet, I chose a night sky blue with some shooting star action behind Infinity with the palest blue between her and the laptop screen. My favorite part was Negativa sprawling on the keyboard and hanging out.

In this scene, the twins have started their own online business. Infinity refers to it as a dating service, but Negativa cuts through the gloss, seeing it for what it truly is, cyber pimping. Despite Infinity’s insistence that dating algorithms are involved to match people, Negativa counters that rich people will pay for dates with poor people who will consent to sex as part of the date. Additionally, older men with money want much younger partners, male or female, whereas older women with money will date someone plus or minus five years their own age. When Infinity questions her sister about who young people with money will  match up with, Negativa quips that such people don’t need their service.

All 18I’m so excited to close in on the completion of this project. I’d like to start the publishing process at the beginning of 2016–only a year later than I’d originally planned due to finances and finishing these paintings.

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Halloween Celebration 2015

1 cleopatra

Unofficially, my Halloween celebration started on a Wednesday, a few days before my favorite holiday of the year. A local library invited the Austin Writers Roulette to perform in their monthly reading. Since I usually dress up to match the roulette theme, I had a myriad of costume choices since this occasion had no theme.2 group shot Three other authors joined me for the event. In a way, it was easier to produce this show since we’d all written bios, didn’t have to set up chairs and we’d all arrived by thirty minutes to showtime. The librarian who’d contacted me about this event was amazed. I told him I always asked my artists to arrive an hour before the event just so we could start on time. Besides, when a group of talented, creative people gather together, the quality of the conversation is so rich. We took our traditional group picture well before the show started.3 Donna Donna Dechen Birdwell opened the show, reading an excerpt from her speculative fiction, Way of the Serpent.4 MackenzieMackenzie Irick Milks read a short fictional piece about a granddaughter returning to the islands for her grandfather’s funeral only to learn the sordid details about his life.
5 Stephanie Stephanie Webb shared instances of her personal challenges of being a well-educated black woman marginalized in Austin.6 me reading I read three excerpts from my racy first novel, Tribe of One, about a single black women looking for love while still being a smart woman about the pursuit. One of the excerpts was about a one-night stand on Halloween and another was about the infamous “vibrator research” chapter. After reading that last one, I broke the news to the audience: the actual vibrator the main character decided to buy didn’t exist.7 Dinner @ Cenote Afterwards, we moseyed across the street to eat dinner. Fortunately, the restaurant offered 1/2 price bottles of wine! The intellectual conversation, which had begun before the show, continued. This was the kind of occasion I always say I’d like to participate more in, but never seem to organize. I’m so glad it just happened.8 my entre Truly a feast befitting of a queen: a well-seasoned and composed salmon sandwich on fresh bread with a side of potato salad.9 Donna w headress Donna couldn’t resist wearing the Cleopatra headdress!10 Arlana & me A few days later, I dressed up as “Soul Sistah #9” to attend a 70s pot luck and disco party. I borrowed a friend’s larger-than-life Afro wig and was happy to see the hostess and her husband were both sporting Afro wigs as well.10.1 me on sofa This red sofa had my name all over it; so this shot was inevitable.11 decorSince I arrived so early, due to the intermittent heavy rains, which did not delay me much, I entertained myself by taking pictures of the decor.
12 decor The party hosts had a room, separate from their house, dedicated to the 70s.13 decor In addition to vinyl, concert posters of my musical heroes decorated the room and doors.14 decor Looking at these artists, I wondered how many of the new entertainers today will enjoy such name recognition longevity.15 decorThey inspired me since, despite their success, they continued pursuing their passion.
16 decor 17 70s pants One partygoer modified a pair of pants with some 70s style flair. We traded costuming stories. Come to find out, she’s taught outside the States. I wondered if there was some connection between international teaching and costuming. 18 Karsten Speaking of costuming, we were all so happy John Travolta’s iconic “Saturday Night Fever” suit was in the house.18.1 dinner party Despite the torrential rains and flash floods caused by tornado watch conditions, many of us still turned out to share soul food 70s style. This meetup group has been growing in both size and creativity when it comes to its themes.19 disco scene After everyone finished eating, “we” (meaning other people while I sat and watched) moved the tables and chairs to the side to clear the dance floor.20 disco scene How wonderful was singing and dancing to every song that played!21 disco scene The only challenge was trying to remember all the 70s style dances.  No one knew how to do the hustle. I kept wishing my two older sisters had been there. They had been club-going teenagers during the 70s.21.1 disco party winners

As if this night couldn’t get any better, there were three contests: best costume, best dancer and best dish. We were all awarded with stereotypical 70s gifts: an ol’ school electronic football game, Simon and a lava lamp!22 Halloween dinner The following evening, one of my friends knocked on my door just as the first bowl of curried chicken and rice had completed warming up in the microwave. I immediately warmed up a bowl for her and made our white wine sangria. Actually, I’d chopped up the fruit and froze it hours prior; so they were like fruity ice cubes.23 waiting @ TraceWe arrived downtown prior to all the craziness–even too early to enter the Zombie Ball, our final party destination. While we waited for another friend to join us, we chilled out at a nearby restaurant.
24 pixie lashes Once she arrived, we saw we were wearing the same Pixie eyelashes. We chalked it up to a female capoeirista thing.25 group shot @ Zombie Ball The first thing we did was take a couple of souvenir group pictures.26 group shot @ Zombie Ball
27 SnP DJs The emcees dressed as “Salt N Pepper” to honor the headliners–although they were standing in the wrong order initially.28 burlesque dancer The most impressive female burlesque dancer of the night had an elaborate headdress.29 burlesque dancer At one point during her routine, she removed one of her plastic snakes.30 her snakeExcept this one was LIVE!
31 her snake I’m so glad she didn’t get at all freaky with that snake. As she danced, I thought about how snakes were the ancient symbol of female sexuality.32 bandA funk band that sounded and dressed as outlandish as Parliament and George Clinton performed.  They had their own dramatic dancers.
33 costume finalist My friends and I went outside to sit down. A woman approached me and gave me a ticket to be part of the women’s costume contest. For the first time since I’ve been attending the Zombie Ball, my poor little country mouse costume looked good enough to compete!34 vudu witch I truly didn’t care whether I won. I enjoyed getting future costuming tips, especially from this “Voodoo Queen” who was a finalist last year.  As a matter of fact, the voting came between her and another woman who had a guy chained to her as a gimp slave–she (and he) won.

26 big mouth zombie


I didn’t notice how gruesome this woman’s costume was until I got up close and saw the collar was made to look like torn flesh. Yet, she, like me, didn’t really know how to hype the crowd to sell our costume. I rely so much on emoting my words. 35 zipper zombie Zipper-faced zombie had applied an actual zipper in realistic fashion. Just the kind of make up costuming that I haven’t explored yet.36 wolf n sheepEven wolf in sheep’s clothing had awesome costume makeup.
36.1 Antoinette Zombie Marie Antoinette with Glinda the Good Witch behind her both were selected since they had very high headdresses–Voodoo Queen, who is a professional costume designer, clued me into the fact that people correlate “quality” with the height of a headdress. 37 male dancer In all the Zombie Balls I’ve attended, they never once had a male burlesque dancer.38 male dancer And a black one at that!39 male dancer I’m guessing this guy performed since Salt N Pepa were the headliners.40 male dancer(Author’s Note: That’s his HAND between his legs!)
41 aerial dancersThe dancing aerial group followed his performance.
42 aerial dancers I loved their little zombie sequence.43 aerial dancers They had to do the beginning over again since the music failed the first go around.44 aerial dancers Better a music fail rather than an equipment fail!45 aerial dancers Every time I see aerial dancers, I tell myself the same lie: I’m going to take a few classes, knowing full well I don’t like pain. Nonetheless, maybe once yoga heals my hips…hmm, sounds like I’m lying again.46 SnPThen, we, the audience, went back in time 30 years and enjoyed an 80s styled concert.
47 SnPThey even gave us a hip-hop quiz by playing the first part of an 80s song, abruptly turning off the music and allowing the audience to belt out the lyrics.

By the end of the night, we electric boogalooed out of there. Absolutely fantastic way to end a three-day Halloween celebration.

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Lurking Below

11 me

I am the thing lurking below your bed underneath your goody box of condoms, lube, porn and sex toys. What you don’t dare shove into your closet among a sea of skeletons gets secreted beneath the bed, adding to my power and causing you a fitful night’s sleep.

Every night, I seep into your head, your subconscious. You toss, turn, brew with unsettled conflicts emanating from me. My mountainous putrid manifestation denies you sleep.

You suffer my deathblow pummels nightly like a train that’s never late. Your futile efforts to protect yourself, clinging to the bedspread; however, the comforter brings no comfort. It is under my command, and with serpentine motion, slithers around your limbs, impeding your movement. Slipping around your neck, nocturnal noose apnea.

My gang of vicious dust bunnies marks out their territory amid the increasing density of things you hide under the bed. Burrowing through the festering labyrinthine trash heap of unresolved issues, each generation growing less empathetic, more adventurous, exploring additional dark lurking spaces to take cover. Laying in wait for you to forget they’re there and slip your hand unknowingly into their briar patch to retrieve some innocent thing that dropped and rolled under the bed. And fool that you are, you reach for it blindly. Oh, you got a flashlight, but you think you only need it for a power outage. Don’t you know things done in darkness recede before the light? Yet in the dark, long fangs of fear nip at your fingers.

Some of your demons have human faces. They lodge deep into your mind. I spring them free despite your eclectic collection of useless succor ritual: voodoo dolls, amulets, lucky charms, fervent prayers, sacred chants, mind-altering sleep aids. Everything but your most powerful mojo–standing up for yourself.

Until you do, you’re my little bitch. You wish you had insomnia. I’m something worse. I know your secrets. Your vulnerabilities. The things you don’t want said, I say. The things you want to forget, I remind you. I tap dance up and down your last nerve while pushing all your buttons.

Guess what? The cliché is true: you are your own worst enemy. You made me. You are too much of a coward to destroy me.

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Esquina Fundraiser 2015

1 group shot

One of the best things about having an outgoing personality is my ability to make friends wherever I show up. I’d arrived at the venue relatively early just to get a good parking space. I ended up getting a good table as well. However, none of the friends I’d hoped to invite to sit with me showed up.  All was not a loss. I simply made new friends.

rose petals 2We’d all taken dance lessons at Esquina at one point or another. So, we all had that much in common. Beyond that, most of us worked for nonprofits. Most importantly, they all came set with plenty of red wine to share.  How could we not become fast friends–at least for the night?
rose petalsBeyond wine-induced happiness, we all were surrounded by a festive mood, good live and recorded music and lots of dancing. We warmed up with a little tango, but the party really came alive when the salsa/cumbia band started playing.

bicep shotI’ve often regarded tango as a high-brow dance whereas salsa and cumbia were more for the ordinary folk. Plus, the rules change. Women don’t have to wait to be asked to dance like tango. I readily pounced on the opportunity to ask male friends to dance and made new dance partner friends as well.

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Painting #17: Symbolic Logic

Day 19Learning the lesson from the 16th painting, I used stencils for this latest effort. Again, what a difference stenciling makes–from saving time to enhancing the overall aesthetics. One day, I’ll be better at sketching and painting. Until then, it’s stenciling all the way! I wanted to strike the balance between spacing out the items and using the spacing between the items. Nonetheless, I think there’s a little too much unused space.

In this scene, the twins discuss the symbolism behind some popular chocolate candy. At first, Infinity is skeptical, but Negativa convinces her that chocolate can symbolize sexual/relationship preferences. For example, Kisses are for women who believe that size doesn’t matter and Dark Chocolate with Chili is for women who are into S & M.

All 17I had the hardest time taking a picture of all 17 paintings since my dining room light hangs menacingly in the shot. After shuffling some furniture around and lying on the floor, I captured all of them without the glare or obstruction of the chandelier. Only three more paintings can fit on this wall. The remaining four will hang on an adjacent wall. Hopefully, all 24 will be completed before it’s too cold to paint on my balcony.  Since I live in Texas, “too cold” is around 60 degrees!

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Free Museum Day 2015

Since “free” continues to be my favorite price, I visited three museums for Austin’s annual free museum day. Initially, I was disappointed a temporary installation had not arrived at the first museum. Nonetheless, I went upstairs and this sign rewarded my efforts. 1 Blanton A few months ago, I declared myself an adult fairy tale writer. Since then, I’ve been reading several critical works about the fairy tale structure, including my current thick book, which is Maria Tatar’s annotated collection of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. My “discovery” of this haunting collection felt like the fairies rewarding me for faithfully climbing all those stairs despite my initial disappointment.

I was the resident expert, giving a brief summary of some of the lesser known fairy tales that were represented such as “Six Swans.”2 AWR sign Catacorner to the first museum I’d visited was my second stop. One vendor’s table had an interactive artists’ board. They invited the public to write our favorite Austin thing on a rectangular swatch of cloth with a fabric pen and/or permanent marker. I used a silvery pen on my chosen swatch, adding my creation to the board. Then I toured the temporary exhibit about a failed French colony off the Texas Gulf coast.

4 AWR signEven though I enjoyed hearing the story of the La Belle via the short video lesson, my perfectionist thoughts about the unreadable Austin Writers Roulette sign preoccupied me. I finished viewing the special exhibits room then added more to my AWR sign. I’ll just see if that increases my audience.

At my third and final museum visit, I’d just missed the drumming, but still enjoyed the installation, which consisted mostly of broken tile mosaics on a box with some intact square tiles that had been painted on. The artist’s other works were wall-sized pieces, depicting racially charged scenes, involving law enforcement, minority males and white supremacy.

In another part of the museum, teens who had entered or who were at high-risk of entering the system were given the opportunity to write poetry, create songs, take pictures and make paintings to bring their narrative to the public. Juxtaposed with those creative works were annotated statistical facts about marginalized youth who had a higher probability of entering the system rather than a wraparound service during their school years.

All in all, I felt the day just reconfirmed my chosen path of combining my art with teaching.

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Genius or Madness

Geniuses are innovative thinkers who break from conformity, doing things no one has ever dreamed of doing before. Problem is, so are the mad. How to distinguish one from the other? Usually, it’s a matter of money. The rich are eccentric. The poor are crazy. Poor people live day-to-day in crisis mode while rich people live in fashion mode. And the only people who believe money can’t buy happiness are those who have it. FYI: poverty sucks. By the way, money buys happiness if you have the right set of priorities. Is that radical idea genius or madness?

Sometimes the distinction between genius and madness depends upon genitalia. The cry for an innovative social change focuses attention on an unjust situation or on the marginalized messenger. A woman’s legitimate grievance, time and again, has been trivialized, ridiculed or dismissed with a deprecating female hormonal or body part reference.

Yet a madman, especially a rich one, captures the world’s attention with his solutions to social challenges. Is there a Rosetta stone for his illogical mansplanation? Some linguistic strap-on to aid women through penile reasoning? A Dr. Doolittle to translate and transform the gender-biased belittle? Genius or madness?

It all boils down to privilege. And that’s a boil the privileged don’t want lanced. The most precarious of them all are the ones who’ve attained their positions of power not through any merit, but solely through privilege. Oh, they’ll go on and on about the benefits of a merit-based society, of cream rising to the top. Truth is, they secretly acknowledge they are not the cream. Any talk of leveling the playing field or doing away with institutionalized “isms” just sets off their fear, expressed in the form of anger. Angry because the nonprivileged have the sheer audacity, the highfalutin expectation to work hard and obtain the just rewards in life.

Ho, ho, ho, Santa Claus ain’t coming! We the nonprivileged aren’t expected to be good for goodness sake. We are expected not to disrupt the foundations of privilege. We are only rewarded as much as we help maintain the bonds that bind us. Anything else is just madness.

Freedom, equality, innovation…all the lofty ideals for those who can afford to luxuriate in self-actualizing. Everyone else is lower on the pyramid and the lower we are, the more our time is invested in maintaining the pyramid rather than achieving our own personal aspirations. We’re actually shamed for thinking in terms of rising to the top, which would make any incompetent, privileged person tumble.

Don’t you see? Any innovative solution that threatens those who benefit from the status quo isn’t wanted from those who maintain the status quo. Ever wonder why a simple, logical solution isn’t implemented? Because not everyone wants the problem solved. Why it’s madness, I tell you!

Can a free society only exist if there is a class of people who aren’t? They don’t have to be called slaves. They just have to be denied equal access, justified by any pseudoscientific explanation, fear-mongering logic, or hate-based religious belief. Any combination of those can severely hobble some category of nonprivileged people.

Genius, madness, insider, outsider, innovative, disruptive. How much cultural capital can you invest in promoting your own novel ideas?

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45th Labor Day Birthday Celebration

Very early in the morning on Labor Day 1970 in Okinawa, Japan, Velma Roberson woke up and alerted her husband, Karl, that their third (and who turned out to be last) baby was coming. Rushing to the hospital, they saw the MPs (military police) and stopped to ask them for an escort to the hospital. 

Sirens blaring, they arrived at the military hospital in record time where nurses waited with a wheelchair for Velma. About 30 minutes later at 5:56 AM, Velma birthed Teresa Yvonne, three days before her own 30th birthday.
And the adventure continues!

Saturday: Dinner & A Play

1 Jonathan & me

My mother sent me a small package with a long black dress and a fancy colorful top a few days before my 45th birthday. Wonderful! Now I didn’t have to decide what to wear for two out of three days of my long weekend birthday celebration.  Of course, I wore my tiara all three days.2 pasta cabanara On the first night of celebration, I invited friends to meet me at a small theatre/bar complex, which rented space to a most delicious Italian food trailer.  Don’t let the paper plate and plastic cutlery fool you: this food was ridiculous!  I braved the “coddled” egg. The creaminess of a raw egg made risking salmonella worth it.3 Jon Rob & me Two friends met for dinner and of all things we could have talked about during this festive occasion, I chose to regale them with some factoids I learned from Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death. Perhaps the greatest unknown fact to me was that the British carried over 15,000 American slaves back with them when they lost the revolution since they’d promised them freedom for fighting with the red coats.4 Lisa & me Another friend showed up, but only for the one-women show. Even though she’d missed dinner, she bought me a second goblet of Malbec.  I’m not sure if the venue always pour that much or we were fortunate to have a heavy-handed bartender that particular night, but I had no complaints!4.1 Jon & me after show We waited after the show, to congratulate the one-woman performer herself, who’d blown us all away. Granted, she’s the three time national female slam poet. I informed my friends this would be the last time we’d be lucky to see her perform for a mere $10.5 Ebony & me

Of course, I had to take a picture with the artist herself. I want the world to know I knew her before they did! I congratulated her for much deserved success. It’s challenging enough to live through what she had and another thing to invite family, friends and strangers in to witness a poetic summary of it.

Sunday: Open Mic Night

6 1st pair of bc glasses Several of my poet friends participate in a Sunday open mic from 7:30 to 10 PM. One friend in particular, carries a small bag of reading glasses. I told him I was officially ready for my first pair of “cheater readers,” as my latest eye doctor called them.7 2nd pair of bc glassesAlthough both pairs made the print world easier to read, I thought these were less birth control looking than the other pair. The best part was these fit comfortably over my regular glasses when my eyes tire at home.
8 3 meat trio pizzaI certainly didn’t need corrective lenses to see this gorgeous meat trio pizza and glass of Malbec. Yet another Italian dish for the second celebration of my birthday.
9 dedicated song This young singer dedicated a Beyonce song to me.10 bd song Then another poet friend and the open mic hosts led the room in singing “Happy Birthday” to me. The hilarious part came when only 5 people knew my name.  The hosts had been referring to me as “Birthday Princess” the whole time up to that point.11 ying-yang cake Another friend split the infamous “ying-yang” cake with me, which was a chocolate-rich and creamy dessert one should only eat once a year.12 me reading Wearing my princess tiara and mother-gifted girlie top, I read one of my infamous classics: “How Men Blow Fellatio.”13 Joe & me dancing

Afterwards, I back led another poet through a slow dance while a saxophonist played.

Monday: Detox & Retox

14 Allyson Lauren & me I only had three brave friends who said they’d detox with me on Labor Day at the free 10 AM bikram yoga class prior to brunch. Merely one friend had arrived by the time we posed with the instructor for a “before” picture.14.1 after yogaHowever, everyone was present for the “after” picture.
15 brunch Joined by two more friends, a fabulous all-you-care-to eat buffet and the most impressive collection of tequilas, we had a terrific time retoxing.15.1 Suli & meWe started with a mimosa, two of which, came with our buffet. I’d eaten brunch here several times before, but I’d never known there was an option of three fruity flavors: orange, cranberry and pineapple. I started out with pineapple and followed up with cranberry.15.2 Allyson's tequila flight One friend, who arrived by bus so she could fully enjoy the whole retox experience, ordered a tequila flight.16 dessert I’d saved a tiny bit of room for dessert: a churro, ice cream and cherry cobbler.17 bd shotAfter dessert, our server asked me if I liked “sweet” and “chocolate.” Of course I answered “yes” to both questions. Moments later, she brought out a chocolate infused tequila. At that point, my friends sang “Happy Birthday.”
18 bd danceOne friend followed up with Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday;” so I chair danced to it.
19 drinking poseFinally, I got to sip my drink. That’s right, sip! I’d lived in Mexico for three years and never once saw a Mexican shoot tequila. They sipped and enjoyed their drink like cultured people. (I love how the guy in the background does not look the least impressed.)

The Aftermath

20 whiteboardI’d written this message on my white board, alerting my Adult Basic Education students to the fact that school was closed on Monday. Although most people assumed Labor Day had given us the long weekend, my students were privy to the real deal. When I returned to school on Tuesday, I had a post birthday wish. As much as I love having a day off, the rest of the week was thrown off.  Thank goodness the weekend wasn’t too far away.

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