Patio Furniture

The latest leasing agent staff has let me know I’ve worn out my welcome. Perhaps many of us long-time residents have. I’ve not kept an accurate account of how many times the entire staff has turned over, but I think they’re at least the fourth group to come in and they apparently have the most critical eye.

Ever since moving here, I’ve viewed my patio as my art studio, especially for painting. Granted, none of them have probably seen me out there painting, but what they have seen, they haven’t liked. The first email I received months ago, listed all the “acceptable” things that could be on the patio, which were short list of furniture and plants, real or fake.

As far as I’m concerned, I only had three things on my patio, which weren’t clutter nor trash; so I ignored their email. For months. Until the monthly email became aggressive about having the maintenance guys remove the offending things from my patio at my expense. I took the above picture and attached it to an email in response to their escalation, asking which of the three items was “inappropriate.”

Of course, I never heard back from them. I forgot about the email until the second month I received it. In a huff, I wheeled my portable drawer of oil paints to the corner, put the flower pot underneath the drawer, threw an old sheet over the whole thing and placed my hideous clay sculpture of a nude lounging woman over it.

With such a fine concession, I figured this was the most creative thing I’d done on the patio in a while; so the aggressive emails should end, right? Nope. Got the same threatening email the following month.

Next time I hand-carried my rent check to the office, I politely-as-possible inquired about the email. One of the nameless staff members informed me that everyone receives the email. I turned on my heels and calmly walked out, all the while scheming how long it would take me to save up enough money for a down payment for my own place.

Not too soon after, I quit my old job, where I’d dead ended after a year, but had to remain a few months longer until I lined up something more lucrative. Now that I’m in my final week of independent health agent training with ACA open enrollment right around the corner, I’m looking forward to an increased call volume and working six days a week for those six weeks.

Thanks to blanket threats, regardless of whether I’m in violation or not, I’m more motivated than ever to get the hell up at of here. I know bullshit exists wherever I go, but it’s time I start earning equity to mitigate that bullshit.

At least my patio situation was easier to remedy than one of my neighbors. They must now drive around with a canoe on their SUV since it can no longer hang neatly from their patio.

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Stormy Nights

Most of my “dark and stormy” takes form as reoccurring anxiety dreams, independent of the actual weather. Adding flavor to the nightmarish experience are sleep apnea and teeth gnashing.  Like everything else, these dreams have evolved.

My earliest recollection of a reoccurring anxiety dream was when I was a child prior to being school age. I’d dream that one of my grandmothers lie supine on a circular metal slab that rotated. As it began to move, sharp automated synchronous blades sliced her like a pie. I’d wake up, run to the bathroom and vomit. One time, I took control of the nightmare and stopped the blades from chopping her up. That was the last time I dreamed about it.

When I was a young child, I had a funny digestive track and couldn’t mix my food while eating. I had to eat all of one thing on my plate, then the other or else I’d throw up. Eventually, I outgrew that digestive problem.

Then as a Peace Corps Volunteer in my early twenties, my reoccurring nightmares involved my teeth falling out. The worst one was when my teeth had fallen out and a variety of bugs swarmed out of the sockets. Those ended as soon as I finished my Peace Corps service after nearly two and half years. In addition to stress, the malarial prophylaxis I took contributed to “changes in sleep,” as warned on the label.

The latest and most long-lasting genre of anxiety nightmares involve me frantically looking for something: my car keys, my car, a missing shoe. In those dreams where I’m looking for my keys or a shoe, I’m usually in some fancy hotel, going down an endless series of hallways, never quite retracing my steps to find what I’m looking for.

Now, you’d think in those dreams where I’m looking for my car, the setting would be a parking lot, but I’ve yet to have that dream. Instead, I’ve parked my car on some sketchy street and the farther I walk, the more apocalyptic the neighborhood becomes. And it’s always nighttime. Sometimes, I’m walking down a craggy hill or through the forest. Other times, there were some not so friendly-looking clowns walking all around me or chain-wielding thugs.

Occasionally, I even find my car, but I’ve never been able to get in it and drive away. It’s always in some visible state of disrepair where I have to get a tow truck at that time of night, in the middle of an apocalyptic event and my cellphone doesn’t have reception, so one of those sketchy-rapey thug-clowns volunteer to escort me to a bar, but when we get to there, it’s one of those darkened out, dilapidated places with broken out/boarded up windows, no one inside for apparently years as evidenced by all the cobwebs and dust, but allegedly has a working phone.

So, that was the worst of those looking-for-my-car nightmares since during that dream, I declared, “Fuck this!” and not dreamt it since.

Obviously, the moral of these nightmarish anxiety dreams is that once I face the fear in the dream, they no longer reoccur in the same fashion, but there’s always something for me to worry about.  The week before I quit my latest dead-end job, I had a beautiful baby girl in my arms and I was frantically looking around for her parents. Clearly, that little girl did not represent any maternal instincts on my part since I’ve never desired having children and I’m blissfully past child-bearing age. I believe she was a metaphor, either representing my inner child or creativity.

Since I resigned from teaching, I’ve had a series of jobs where I’ve enthusiastically thrown myself into and hit a dead end within a year since none of them have held the intellectual challenge and creative outlet that teaching allowed me until the combination of oppressive high-stakes testing and asshole administrators, ie the anti-educational Texas two-step, motivated me out of the classroom.

I remember years ago when one of my friends declared that people just needed to do their self-actualization on their own time and when they’re on the job, just work. After all, she reiterated, that’s why it’s called “work.” This is the same friend who’d also confessed in an unrelated conversation that her inner child was dead.

Well, my inner child is alive and still creatively curious and energetic about the world. At times, my mind is so stimulated about pursuing a new project or worried about something that I need to strategize my way out of, I can hardly sleep or when I do, I pick up on a new genre of anxiety nightmares like tuning into a new season of American Horror Story.

Here’s the latest one since starting my new job: the setting is one of those big multilevel houses horror movies just love. For some inexplicable reason, I’m one of the chaperones of a children’s birthday party in this dimly lit house. The woman of the house, who’s also the only other adult besides this creepy-looking maid, comes to me in a panic about some of the children having wandered off and she wants me to go find them since she suspects they’ve gone upstairs unsupervised.

I recruit four kids to go with me and we all hold hands as we walk upstairs where the lighting is even dimmer. As we get to the middle of the staircase, I notice a doll version of the creepy maid with her back against the wall, slowly sliding down just above the banister. Before she goes past us, I quickly grab her and run to the kitchen.  I have the doll by her throat and I partially wake up at this point to slow down the progression of the nightmare to consider my options.

Then I go back into the dream. I still have the doll, clutched by the throat in my left hand, and I use a kitchen torch burner to set it on fire, but then I rewind the dream. Instead have the doll clutched by the throat with metal tongs so I don’t burn my hand when I light it on fire. I rewind the dream again. I have the doll clutched by the throat with metal tongs, but before I set it on fire, I gesture a cross with my right hand over the sink full of dishwater, saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I bless this water.” Then I set the doll on fire, burn it to a crisp and plunge it into the water I just blessed. I was determined not to have that demonic doll return in another anxiety dream! She represented the doubts I had whether I’d make enough money as an independent health insurance agent.

Why, it was absolutely delightful the next week when I dreamed that my sandals had disappeared when I’d slipped them off while attending a meeting. That anxiety dream was joyfully clown-, thug-, and demonic doll-free. I did the prerequisite searching under skirted tables, looking for my sandals before I took control of the dream. I declared during that dream, “I’m going to reach into this bin, pull out my sandals, put them on and walk out of here.” And so I did.

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Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities Meeting at HT

Months ago, Mayor Adler formed a task force in order to address institutional racism. This was far overdue, especially after stories started circulating years ago about how Blacks were leaving Austin, which was the reverse trend, compared to  other growing cities around the US. Normally, Austin is revered as the Live Music Capital of the World; so this embarrassment had to be eventually addressed.

Fortunately, I found out about this meeting a few days before it took place last Sunday afternoon at a nearby historically Black university, Huston-Tillotson. In addition to Mayor Steve Adler, the other panelists included Huston-Tillotson President, Colette Pierce Burnette, AISD Superintendent, Paul Cruz, City of Austin Diversity Officer, Brian Oaks and moderating the discussion was Austin American-Statesman Senior Editorial Writer, Alberta Phillips.

Given my proximity to the university, I’d allowed enough time to get there, but had no idea I’d have to park so far away and walk across an unpaved parking lot in the blazing sun and across the campus, which I’d had the foresight to locate on a campus map prior to leaving home. I joked to myself that this was my mini-freedom march, which I wouldn’t dare say out loud because people before me have actually risked their lives to march for freedom, the recognition of which humbled me and chased away any complaints I may have had about the parking situation.

Since this task force meeting was in collaboration with the League of Women Voters (LWV), there were plenty of signs guiding the way to the chapel where the meeting was held. Indicative of the LWV, a check-in table and refreshment table awaited those of us who’d trekked to be in attendance. I’ve attended LWV meetings before and have always enjoyed how organized, respectful, and informative they were. This meeting was no exception.

Despite being a few minutes late, I found a seat near the front among the large audience. I’d missed most of the student speakers, but caught LWV President Cinde Weatherby’s overview of the league’s activities. I especially appreciated that she gave us a brief history of LWV, acknowledging that  the group originally concerned itself with white women’s vote when it was formed in 1919. I loved that mention since it set the tone for why we’d all gathered there in the first place: to unpeel the layers back from institutions and organizations and reveal how people of color have been marginalized from full participation. She also made the appeal to everyone who wanted to get voter information should text 42828. Plus, anyone who wanted to become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar (VDR) should speak with a LWV member after the meeting.

Mayor Adler shared with us the he’d received many calls after forming this task force, saying that they thought it was a good idea. In the same breath, they asked, “Could you call it something else?” To which he said that they had just proved his point.

Here are my takeaways from the discussion that ensued, which I wrote down on my ever present notepad:

  1. AISD has 60% poverty students and pays the most into recapture as far as tax money is concerned.
  2. AISD is closing “Black schools” on the east side of Austin while building “White schools” on the west side of Austin.
  3. In 1928, Austin divided the city and invested differently into the east and west sides of town–a legacy that still manifests itself today.
  4. Officer Oaks stated that the city shouldn’t show up with all the answers, but should have conversations with the community because the people closest to the problem are also the closest to the solution. Suggested three things: 1) normalize racial equity; 2) organize around equity with the community actively involved; 3) operationalize equity by taking positive action.
  5. President Burnette stated that the fact that we’re having this conversation is the direct result of the task force. Systems don’t change until people do. When leadership changes, then change can take place. Then she gave some examples to identify if someone is part of the problem: a) you don’t call out a racist joke; b) you look around and remain silent about the lack of diversity in the staff; c) you feel that bad things always happen in another part of town and doesn’t affect you.
  6. Mayor Adler pointed out that homelessness should be dealt with through intervention programs rather than jail.
  7. Superintendent Cruz said that the first step has to be training leaders to tackle institutional racism since they have to change the way things are done.
  8. Moderator Phillips stated that Obama was who America wanted to be, but Trump is  who America is.
  9. AISD’s suspension policy changed because students of color were being suspended a lot for minor things.
  10. All panelist agreed that students of color should receive reparations in some shape or form.
  11. We need a root-cause analysis about housing to see which solutions to implement (co-op, intergenerational housing, and so on).
  12. There needs to be accountability around the percentage of housing that’s affordable within new development. In reality, less is set aside and often there’s complicated and prohibitive bureaucracy involved to discourage participation.
  13. Gentrification improves property, raises property value and displaces low economic status people, but who’s responsible for these displaced people?
  14. Gentrification also involves the environment since investment in property mostly serves people with money, but property where poor people live must also have positive investment.

 

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AWL Resignation Letter

Dear Team Jedi Leadership

No longer drinking the Kool-Aid, not even a sip

Although my work was diligent

I received little compensation for my talent

Just an increasing bullwhip

 

If there’s truly an angel among us

She’d be S. Thomas

Such positivity and support

Even when she was in my cohort

Having her as my TL was definitely a plus

 

Yet TLs have limited power

Having very few options when the team starts to sour

To upper management (UM), they can suggest

Things that would incentivize their agents best

But UM reacts with such dour

 

Mass exodus of agents who felt daunted

Here are the incentives that we wanted:

More products, higher commissions, quarterly raises

NOT decelerators, punitive LBs and hipchat praises

Instead of feeling appreciated, we felt taunted

 

Even after going the extra mile

Earning a P&C license, ‘cause that’s my style

I was denied my dream

Of transferring to a more lucrative team

To languish in a situation I found vile

 

So I researched a new Plan B

Since a dead end is no place for me

I’m less productive when bored

A new opportunity I’ve scored

For success glass-ceiling free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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47th Birthday Celebration

So my celebration began the day before my actual birthday. I normally work from home, but once a month, we all gather into the office to work, receiving additional training. This in-office training was special since our team leader had baked two birthday cakes: a chocolate one for me and a traditional Italian family recipe for a coworker.

As if that wasn’t enough, she’d also brought us a gift bag. I figured my gift bag was mainly to conceal the boxed Malbec inside. I had a lackluster sales day, but a wonderful start to my celebration.For my actual birthday, I slept in, took the 10AM Bikram class, then ate at a nearby restaurant to re-tox. One of my good friends met me there.For the first time, I tried their toasted coconut margarita. It was tasty, but would’ve been better with actual coconut cream.As part of my birthday treat, the restaurant gifted me “good karma guacamole,” made fresh right at the table. Then I ordered two tacos: steak and bacon-wrapped shrimp–all meats that I don’t normally eat.

The restaurant also gave me a complimentary dessert: an ancho brownie sundae.  Unfortunately, my friend has gluten sensitivity; so I stuffed most of that delicious brownie into my gut.

I returned to work on Friday, but it was the second Friday in the week and lovely.  I took my usual Friday afterwork swim.

After a Saturday afternoon Bikram class, I met another friend at the same conveniently located restaurant. This time, we caught the tail end of their ever-so-delicious buffet and reconnected. The best thing about meeting one friend at a time for lunch is brainstorming and venting many ideas in a short space of time.

Sunday, which was Mom’s 77th birthday, I hosted the Austin Writers Roulette, which is always a creative and worthy way to round out the weekend, much less my birthday. Our theme was “Ol’ School Soul Food.” I recounted all the delicious foods from my childhood, including the butter!

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It’s All about the Butter

“Life teaches you how to live it if you live long enough.” –Tony Bennett

I’ve lived and traveled around the world as an international math and science teacher for 11 years, starting as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania straight out of college since I didn’t want to get a real job, then as an ESL teacher in South Korea after not readjusting well in the States, then again for the 8 years during Dubya’s presidency. So, I taught in five different countries and visited about 20 more. Despite the wide variety of experiences, I ate my way through every one of them.

I’ve never been accused of being a picky eater, but living in developing countries challenged that. Everyone should try it. I don’t mean “visiting” a developing country for a few days or a couple of weeks. I’m talking about living there for at least a year or longer, on a reduced budget, where you have to re-strategize your how you obtain nourishment.

If you have enough money to maintain your normal feeding habits, then it doesn’t really count, especially when you can afford to pay ten times as much for authentic bottle of American ketchup.  There’re bottles of red condiment to be found in practically every country, but it’s not the same. In Tanzania, they had Peptang. I credit Peptang for breaking my taste for ketchup.  Not that I found it delicious. Just the opposite. I’d much rather eat my food without any condiment besides a little salt, than to use a ketchup imposter. To this day, you’ll find several varieties of hot sauce in my refrigerator and no ketchup.

When I saved up my money and wanted a gastronomic splurge, I bought a very waxy chocolate or cheese. Perhaps it was a mild cheddar, but it was just called “cheese.” I’d never learned the Swahili word for “cheese” since the people who sold it all spoke English.  And there were two choices: having cheese or not.

Next stop: Seoul, South Korea. The smell of rice hung in the air. I ate rice at least once a day even though I had the money to eat at American chain restaurants. I’d mostly broken my American eating habit, but the one food I paid premium price for was Quaker Oats. How lovely were the mornings I woke up and made a bowl of hot, steamy oatmeal with sugar, cinnamon and a nice pat of Korean butter. I don’t recall Korean butter tasting much different than American butter. But I assure you, a little butter makes everything better.

The only fats my grandmother ever cooked with were butter, lard, fatback, and vegetable oil. I never saw a bottle of those fancy oils in her kitchen such as olive, sesame, grapeseed, or sunflower. My grandmother never even made rice for a savory dish, preparing it solely for rice pudding.

Once I got to Alexandria, Egypt, I should have outgrown food cravings. After all, I’d lived and traveled around the world for years, but every country offered a different twist. In Egypt, I could only get alcohol at major hotels and other places that catered to tourists, but could smoke all the flavored tobacco to my lungs’ content. Foraging for alcohol became one of my new hobbies. When I visited the States during the summer break, I bought a flask; so I could always have a mixed drink no matter which restaurant I visited.

Yet, there was something about Egyptian butter. I couldn’t quite wrap my taste buds around it until one day I found myself reaching for the salt. I hardly ever salt my food, but when I butter a biscuit, my mouth has the expectations of salted butter. I cannot say that I craved salted butter, but I began mixing salt into my butter before using it.

By the time I moved to Mexico, I hadn’t eaten pork in six years. I’d given up red meat before moving to Egypt, but started eating beef again. Pork wasn’t available there or if it was, it was harder to find that alcohol.

As soon as I moved to Monterrey, I noticed premade sandwiches labelled “cheese sandwich,” which clearly had a slice of ham, as if the concept of a “sandwich” implied ham along with two slices of bread. I avoided pork when it was obvious, so my first pork poisoning came in form of a frozen burrito labelled “res.” In my basic understanding of Spanish, “res” meant “beef.”

People tried to convince me that I must have food poisoned, but after living in Tanzania and Egypt, I knew what food poisoning felt like.  This wasn’t that. This was stomach cramps without fever or diarrhea. My poor small intestines, which hadn’t made enzymes to digest pork in nearly six years, scrambled to breakdown that swine.

The second pork poisoning came a few months later, when silly me thought it was a good idea to eat a gyro, not realizing that the meat spinning on the vertical spit wasn’t lamb nor goat.  It was so delicious, I should’ve known it was pork.

I grew up in the South where every cooked green vegetable was flavored with bacon grease, lard or actual strips of bacon. Real bacon bits on salads. Somehow, Mexicans had out porked even my family. My grandmother had mixed pork brains in scrambled eggs, fried chitlins, and prepared something I’ve never tried since it never appealed to me, pigs’ feet. Nonetheless, Mexicans would’ve made my grandmother proud in all their inventive ways of incorporating pork.

Finally, I reworked pork back into my diet just so I wouldn’t have to suffer pork-poisoning stomach cramps again. I didn’t have to actually prepare it at home—just order practically any savory food and I’d just about be guaranteed to consume something that had pork.

With the continued evolution of my palate, I surprised myself after moving to Honduras. All I could think about was grits. I’d mentioned grits so much that one of my American colleagues brought me a canister when she visited home. I was a little embarrassed that I’d talked about grits that much, but of course, I readily took my comfort food and prepared it the way I loved it the best: a pat of butter and sugar and with a side homemade salmon cakes. (Salmon cake side bar: last time I took my homemade salmon cakes to a dinner party, a woman wanted to eat the partially eaten cakes off my plate rather than get up and serve herself seconds! Now you know that’s serious.)

Sometimes I went to as many as three different grocery stores to get all the ingredients I needed to recreate a dish I was craving. I explored the world of baking quiches, made Indian and Caribbean curries and above and beyond everything else, I’d fill half my shopping basket with fresh produce. At last, I’d arrived at a place where not only was the food fresh, but inexpensive, especially if I steered clear of prepackaged American foods and condiments.

Since relocating to Austin, I no longer have food cravings, which were probably more related to homesickness than anything else. My diet still mostly consists of produce, freshly ground spices, seafood, and poultry. And every now and again, with my childhood favorites, just a little pat of butter.

 

 

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Hurricane Harvey

I’d had such a stressful week that the warnings about Hurricane Harvey washed over me. Despite the evacuation images I saw on TV and the scrolling flash flood warnings at the bottom of news broadcasts, I’d burned the candle at both ends, scrambling to work on too many projects at once. I’d temporarily forgotten how close I lived to the impending disaster.

By Thursday, reality had finally sunk in that a natural disaster neared my doorstep.  Coupling that with my inner turmoil, my nightly prayer included a plea for God to dissipate that hurricane. I repeated that same plea on Friday night. Yet Hurricane Harvey kept thrashing the coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico.

During my weekly Saturday morning call to Mom, who lived in NC with Dad, she confessed the irrational belief that since Dad’s Uncle Harvey was a gentleman, she didn’t think Hurricane Harvey would do much harm.  We both laughed at the silliness of it. Plus, I’d been wishfully thinking the same thing.

Yet, my experience with Harvey began with a cooling relief of the triple-degree weather, starting around Wednesday. Then a constant rain on Friday night and into Saturday, which continued on Sunday, causing flash floods around town. I’d ventured to one or two places during the day, but absolutely stayed home at night.

One of the silver linings to being near an impending natural disaster was hearing from long-lost relatives and friends. A few just texted me to confirm that I was OK. One friend who I hardly ever hear from except around Christmas, called and we gave each other updates, but it could’ve been just yesterday when we last spoke.

Another friend had invited me to watch the Game of Thrones season finale at her house, but as a consolation prize, we actually TALKED on the phone. How retro in this day and age of social media and texting!

Nothing close to the widespread devastation of Houston occurred in Austin. Besides the flash floods, which dried up after a few days, I recently noticed cars lining up at a gas station. At some stations, they’d run out of the cheap gas and prices sharply rose due to a shortage and Labor Day weekend.

Just a few weeks prior to this hurricane, The States had reacted against white supremacist violence Charlotte. In contrast, we here in Texas show the true spirit of being Americans by helping one another during these struggling times. Amidst all the talk of removing Confederate statutes, some have suggested replacing them with the contemporary heroes who have helped Hurricane Harvey survivors.

I’m not sure about any of that, but I’m so happy that far more of us believe and act upon cooperating and helping one another rather than acting out in hate and violence.

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All-Knowing Goddess

Essentially, the other me is an all-knowing goddess. Yes, with a lowercase “g.” Kind of like how Batman is a superhero, but his superpowers are having lots of money and cool, high tech gadgets.  Well, my cool gadgets are books. As a matter of fact, I read a wide variety of things and feel a little anxious when I don’t have time to get a daily dose of everything in my reading pile, which I’ve started limiting to four to six things since reading merely three different things seems too sparse and more than six, unrealistic except on the weekends.

Whereas Bruce Wayne lives in a bat cave, I live in a creative cave. Full of books and reliable high-speed internet because whichever project I’m working on, I want to know as much as possible about that subject to move forward with my project.

The difference between being an all-knowing goddess and a bookworm or nerd is in the attitude. You have to have confidence when you’re a goddess. And being an all-knowing goddess isn’t the same as being a know-it-all. If I knew everything, I’d be a goddess with a capital “G” or a teenager. I remember knowing EVERYTHING when I was 17, not being the least bit aware of the things I didn’t know.

As a seasoned all-knowing goddess, I embrace the fact that I cannot possibly know EVERYTHING, but I can access up to the limits of public knowledge. I fiercely and boldly wield this superpower. Besides, I don’t need to know it all to be successful, especially now that facts come in a variety of alternative forms and words may or may not retain their meaning, depending on how much political clout you have and how much money there is to be made in the ensuing confusion. Who could have predicted years ago when spelling was de-emphasized in school that we’d come to point where the meaning of words would also be de-emphasized?

I don’t claim to be a clairvoyant goddess, but I predict that if the integrity of the meaning of words disappears, then my archenemy, Ignorance, prevails. Once we stop respecting the meaning of words, Ignorance will no longer have to ban or burn books.  We’ll do that ourselves.

For me, reading continues to be a revolutionary act. Imagine my slave ancestors who weren’t legally allowed to learn how to read. Then my relatives who lived during segregated/Jim Crow America where they didn’t have access to certain books in their section of the library and were educated with outdated, dilapidated and often egregiously biased textbooks. Now the very words we read, write and speak are under assault. Ignorance has moved beyond trying to block access to literacy and books, finding it more efficient to attack semantics.

Just like when millions of Americans protested when the word “freedom” was being erroneously used to describe “not having federally-subsidized health insurance,” we must guard against the twisting of words, especially when there are so many ways words are disseminated from the Tower of Babel to confuse the masses. If they ever manage to coordinate their splintered narratives through their verbal sleight of hand, then I will have to increase my reading intake to build up my superpower of knowledge, especially building my vocabulary.

Regardless of whether you see yourself as an all-knowing god or not, empower yourself with the true meaning of words. Read from a variety of sources. Gather firsthand experiences of the power of words. Enrich your vocabulary. Articulate your own personal narrative.  Defeat Ignorance.

 

 

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Peatross Family Reunion 2017

Since both my money and paid time off aligned this summer, I attended a reunion on my father’s side of the family.  I hadn’t seen them in nearly ten years. I’ve only consistently reunited with my immediate family who were in attendance, but it was strange to see them since it was not Christmas.I’d decided to attend at the last minute, which is why I’m the only one without a family reunion T-shirt.
I made sure to take my father’s picture with his two sisters. I didn’t know if we were going to take any formal group pictures and wanted to get as many as I could.When I look at long-established married couples like my parents and one of my sisters and her husband, they seem like generations from a by-gone era. One of my cousin’s wife had her first novel for sale. Reminded me of the time back in 2011 when I took my first novel to the reunion on my mother’s side of the family. Much later after the fact, I discovered that one of my uncles didn’t like the fact that I’d sold my book at the reunion. Soon after most of us had finished eating, we made the tremendous effort to get everyone on stage to take a group picture.Then, we took cohort pictures, starting with the 70+ age group.Next, the 60s group took their picture. The 50s group started making too much noise, led by one of my sisters, as they made their way to the stage.For some inexplicable reason, once my group, the 40s, made our way to the stage, only two of us were present in the room; so we had a good time, like the childhood friends we’d been growing up.Throughout our photo shoot, we kept yelling for another cousin who we knew was in our age group, but was probably outside smoking. We made the most out of “waiting” for him.Finally, three other cousins joined us.The 20s group were far too cool to show out, not having to prove their vitality, but rather show they were no longer children. Then the teenage and younger group all sat in front of the stage. They should have been the most energetic, but they were pretty subdued as well.Then, to put the puzzle pieces together in yet another fashion, we took “immediate” family pictures. So, here are the immediate descendants of my parents, starting with our “getting ready shot.”Followed by the “we got our shit together” shot.Here are the descendants of my Uncle Earl and Aunt Florence.Next up, Aunt Carmenta’s descendants.Here is Aunt Roventa’s family.And I can never have too many pictures with my sisters with some cousins thrown in.Here’s perhaps the most sacred picture of them all: the surviving children of Mama Rose Peatross Roberson.

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CJ’s Visit

I’d looked forward to my nephew’s cooking since he’s a vegetarian. He first made boiled Brussel sprouts and broccoli, seasoned with salt, pepper and a pat of butter. That was delicious, but his baked chickpeas was the truly exciting dish, seasoned with a fresh ground dry spice mix.He brushed the canned chickpeas with olive oil.Baked them for nearly an hour.Then coated them with the spices he ground by hand. Saturday morning, we hiked the Slaughter Creek Trail, which was one big, level circle, dotted with informative placards along the way.There wasn’t much tree cover along most of the way, but we enjoyed the little shade we had.We were the only ones hiking; so we got this picture, thanks to some people who had taken a break from biking along the trail in the opposite direction of those of us who’d chosen to walk.Once we regrouped at home, I took CJ to the Carver Museum to see the outdoor Emancipation installation and the permanent indoor Juneteenth installation.On another fine afternoon, we went to Zilker Park, so he could do some parkour exercises on the rock.He did a little bit, but not too much to justify another shower since we’d already done Bikram yoga.We took a mini tour of Austin proper, which included posing with one of the most famous graffiti in the city.  We’d patiently waited for a turn until the group who were next didn’t have their act together. I pushed CJ into position to take our own pictures instead.Next stop: my favorite costume shop. Even CJ had to admit that he’d never seen such a spectacular display of costumes and accessories all under one roof. Then we visited Graffiti Park, which was far more overrun with plants than the last time I’d visited earlier this year. I let him explore a little on his own since he wore closed-toed shoes, and I had on sandals.When we visited the State Capitol, I asked him to stand in front of Miriam Ferguson’s portrait. Not merely controversial because she was the first female Texas governor, but also her husband, a former Texas governor himself, was no longer eligible to run again due to his illegal activities. His political enemies feared she was his proxy.My big treat was seeing the African American Emancipation Memorial. I’m not sure if the memorial stood on a spot where a confederate statue once stood, but I loved seeing it in front of the state capitol, which was built by slave labor. After Bikram class, we ate at one of my favorite retox restaurants next door.Next on the daily workout list: capoeira! I made sure in advance that my “cousin” taught that night. He took us through one of his famous, grueling warm ups before we ever got to the actual capoeira training part. Gave me a beautiful reminder of why I stayed in such terrific shape when I was training.  (I need to pick up my personal work out game when I’m in the fitness room.)Even though CJ didn’t get a chance to spar, at least he had an opportunity to do kick and dodge drills with someone much faster than his aunt.For our last dinner together in Austin, we ate at a nearby vegan restaurant. Neither one of us were adventurous enough to sample the vegan cheese plate. He’d tried some distasteful vegan cheese in the past and I heeded his caution. For dessert, we shared a buttermylk pie with raspberry sauce. Now, when I say “shared,” I mean he grudgingly took one bite at my insistence and I ate the rest. Afterwards, we took an evening stroll along the Lady Bird Lake trail, starting at the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue.

We smelled Congress Street bridge a few feet before we got to it. Silly me thought a 16-year old boy would find the largest urban colony of bats in North America cool. Ha! As soon as he told me that he’s seen lots of bats before in Batman movies, I ridiculed him for nearly the rest of the trip over his lack of enthusiasm, regarding 1.3 million Mexican free tailed bats.

He told me that one day, I’d realize that he’s cool. I responded, “Yes, because in a few years, you’ll actually BE cool.” Hopefully, our brief time together on this visit, with all of our wonderful one-on-one conversations, added to that!

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