Each weekday morning, I exit the freeway east of downtown and turn left just after the second light onto a one-way street. It’s 7:15. Under the overpass, a man to my right makes his bed, folding three or four blankets, stacking them neatly on the sidewalk. Sometimes I catch him urinating. I try not to notice. On the opposite side of the street, a person sleeps in a makeshift shelter made of an overturned shopping cart and cardboard boxes. Sunshine or rain. 73 degrees or 32.
The homeless weigh on my mind throughout the day. After work on my drive home, I meet others with cardboard signs. “Houston, help. I’m hungry.”
Sometimes I have a few dollars. Sometimes I mouth, “I’m sorry.” My “Sorry” is often met with a wave and a sad smile. People seem to appreciate being seen either way.
I don’t have the solution. I wish I could say I’m doing more. I know people scam, but I witness people who don’t. I’ve heard the advice: “Don’t give on the street. Give to the shelter.”
In a lovely little chapel on the campus of Houston Baptist, I received kind words, a pen, and a pin. This was the last Friday night in May. I had taken the classes, put in the work, and completed requirements for my MFA.
Now, I hear Frank McCourt in my head, and he says, “Stock your mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it.” I notice his two polysyllabic words and the strength of his monosyllables. Now, I will work with my tools, read books, study language, and hone my craft. I will put my bloody manuscript in a drawer and let it rest. Same for me, sans drawer, just rest. I’ve learned that good art takes time.
Even though my angel mother grew up in the Baptist church, the “B” in HBU filled me with trepidation. I leaped with faith anyway. God played a role in my story, and I wanted to do Him justice. Still, I never imagined I would find my tribe of like minds at HBU. Now, I see God’s plan. I’ll be forever grateful for these people—my cohort and professors. They became my friends and family, encouraging and inspiring me with their ideas and insight, persistence and growth, love and prayers. All of this without judgement. Even their criticism was kind.
At HBU, I’ve learned to make time and space for my writing and for me. And I’ve realized we all feel like imposters sometimes. I’ve learned to be scared and do it anyway. And I’ve realized the power of continued progress. Anything is possible with belief and persistence. I’m still learning trust and patience in God. At the same time, I believe He is using my story in a way I never could’ve imagined.
One Friday in April, I found myself home alone with time on my hands. I hopped in my car on a quest for murals. If you’ve been reading recently, you might guess that I Googled locations first, and you would be correct. With the first address in my phone map, I stumbled upon a little pot of gold. I ended up in EaDo, also known as East Downtown Houston. I can’t believe I’ve lived here nearly five years and had never seen this revitalized neighborhood. It’s vibrant and thriving, and I’ll be back. Meanwhile, I photographed the opportunity.
Thank you so much for supporting today’s A-Z Challenge post. After a year at home, I wanted to mix it all up a bit and thought surely someone would like a suggestion or two, maybe even twenty-six. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action. Some are mental feats. Some are physical. Others spiritual. Some I practice already. Some I haven’t attempted in years. Others never. Your guess is as good as mine whether I can keep it up for ten more posts. Links below to my first fifteen:
For Week Three of my Less is More Thirty-Day Challenge (Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, Day Three—get rid of three things, and so on), I hoped to make it into my garage to continue my purge, but ya’ll it’s freaking freezing in Texas. 63% humidity intensifies the chill. Thank goodness I had a 61 item surplus over my goal for Week One and Week Two. This week I collected a few more for give away, throw away, recycle, or sell (I’m not much of a salesperson)—6 items of my clothing and 32 of Kody’s, 9 outdoor items, 25 decorative/Christmas, and 5 candles which I burned to the bitter end (candles below still hanging in there). That adds up to 138 items for Week Three. 12 over my goal of 126 for Week Three. Next week. The garage.
Speaking of my candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water (without pressure), and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Answer:Grocery shopping during a Texas winter weather event mid-pandemic.
But as bad as that looks. I found frozen flounder and Ahi Tuna, chicken sausage links and ground pork sausage. Jasmine rice and pinto beans. Loads of veggies. We are warm, safe, and fed.
“Texas leaders failed to heed warnings that left the state’s power grid vulnerable to winter extremes…
Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. brought on by snow and ice storms. Limited regulations on companies that generate power and a history of isolating Texas from federal oversight help explain the crisis, energy and policy experts told The Texas Tribune…
Energy and policy experts said Texas’ decision not to require equipment upgrades to better withstand extreme winter temperatures, and choice to operate mostly isolated from other grids in the U.S. left power system unprepared for the winter crisis.
Policy observers blamed the power system failure on the legislators and state agencies who they say did not properly heed the warnings of previous storms or account for more extreme weather events warned of by climate scientists. Instead, Texas prioritized the free market.
‘Clearly we need to change our regulatory focus to protect the people, not profits,’ said Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, a now-retired former director of Public Citizen, an Austin-based consumer advocacy group who advocated for changes after in 2011 when Texas faced a similar energy crisis.
‘Instead of taking any regulatory action, we ended up getting guidelines that were unenforceable and largely ignored in [power companies’] rush for profits,’ he said.
It is possible to ‘winterize’ natural gas power plants, natural gas production, wind turbines and other energy infrastructure, experts said, through practices like insulating pipelines. These upgrades help prevent major interruptions in other states with regularly cold weather.
In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said…
Texas politicians and regulators were warned after the 2011 storm that more “winterizing” of power infrastructure was necessary, a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation shows. The large number of units that tripped offline or couldn’t start during that storm “demonstrates that the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds,” regulators wrote at the time. More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented the outages, the report said…
Texas’ grid is also mostly isolated from other areas of the country, a set up designed to avoid federal regulation. It has some connectivity to Mexico and to the Eastern U.S. grid, but those ties have limits on what they can transmit. The Eastern U.S. is also facing the same winter storm that is creating a surge in power demand. That means that Texas has been unable to get much help from other areas…
Rhodes, of UT Austin, said Texas policy makers should consider more connections to the rest of the country. That, he acknowledged, could come at a higher financial cost — and so will any improvements to the grid to prevent future disasters. There’s an open question as to whether Texas leadership will be willing to fund, or politically support, any of these options.
Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.”
Back to the candles, they served me well this week. We spent twenty-four hours at my house without electricity and forty-eight hours without water. My candles provided light in the darkness and a little aromatherapy. Now we have water without pressure, and the city of Houston has issued notices to boil our water. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful. Millions of Texans have gone days without power or heat in subfreezing temperatures. What’s wrong with Texas? Explanation below. But first, I made a run for groceries yesterday. Do you know what’s worse than grocery shopping in a pandemic?
Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.
This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.
Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.
About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.
And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.
And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.
The morning of August 27 began with two feet of water inside and out of my house. That was two years ago, but the memory is unforgettable. (You can read my first ever blog post about our Hurricane Harvey evacuation by clicking here.)
When I meet Houston locals and reveal my fairly recent relocation, the conversation usually goes something like, “How do you like Houston?”
“Well, we made it here just in time to flood and lived in a La Quinta for ten months.”
“Oh, Man! I’m sorry to hear that. Welcome to Houston!”
I always exhale that monosyllabic Ha! “I know, right? Thank you. It’s okay. Other than that, I really like Houston, except I do miss my friends. We were in Dallas for over twenty years.”
Anyway, if I’ve ever given Houston a bad rap, today I count my blessings. Welcome to Houston!
While living in the La Quinta, Kody and I dined out for almost every meal, often eating at restaurant bars, making friends, and changing up the conversation. In this way we met Moriah Alise, an up-and-coming, young local artist/former high school art teacher with the drive and determination to open her own District Art Gallery. Moriah invited us to her gallery opening, and her artwork Silence spoke to us. I needed the calm, and I feel blessed to know Moriah and share this piece of her [he]art. Did I say we brought it home? (Well, technically many months later when we finally moved home again).
While returning to District Art Gallery, we’ve enjoyed getting to know another top nationally-known emerging artist, Shawn Artis. All of his pieces have stories, he’s a storyteller, and the one above spoke to me.
Elevation 80 ft., Houston is the most populous city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest in the United States. We have a large and growing international population, a Chinatown, a Mahatma Gandhi district, and an estimated 1.1 million residents born outside of the USA. Houston is a cosmopolitan destination with world-class shopping and award-winning dining at every turn, and there’s always something to do, even for free (Wikipedia and me).
This is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. I probably stumbled across a photo on Instagram one day and then Googled with intrigue. For followers of Hinduism, the Mandir is a place of worship and prayer and a house of God. No matter your views, you will feel His LOVE and ACCEPTANCE, PEACE and HOPE in this place.
Welcome to Hermann Park Conservancy, Houston’s 445-acre urban park, situated at the end of the Museum District. This past spring, I chaperoned around 400 high school students here for a day of freedom and a break from school at the park. You might think that would be a problem, but everyone made it back to the busses on time and unscathed. Our kids explored the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The Hermann Park Golf Course is right there, too. Then there’s a reflection pool and a recreational lake with pedal boat rentals and a train and picnic areas and statues and walkways and gardens galore. You can kill a whole day here, no problem (Wikipedia and me).
Then there was that time when my Alma Mater’s symphony came to Houston. I’m a sucker for the symphony, a blessing indeed.
And there was that time when the Indigo Girls came to town and the Houston Symphony accompanied. Um, WOW, and I may or may not have almost been kicked out for not-so-covert, banned recordings.
And speaking of concerts, we attended a couple of more this year. Matt Heckler is a banjo/fiddle-playing genius, who opened for the Lost Dog Street Band in an intimate, standing room only venue upstairs at White Oak Music Hall on Mother’s Day. We returned to the White Oak lawn for Texas songwriter Shakey Graves just a few nights ago, and what a performance! If you don’t know these guys, give them a Google or click here for Matt and here for Shakey.
Then there’s the theatre: high school, college, or professional musical theatre. So many performances, so little time.
So I love the arts. One of my all time favorite outings here in H-town includes feeding my soul at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. ProTip: Thursdays are free. (Oh, and photo cred to Wikipedia for museum façade below).
My friend Misti accompanied me to Van Gogh earlier this summer, and it was amazing, but crowded as the exhibition was grinding to a halt. Now I know. Don’t wait. Go early. Besides Misti and I had a mini-road trip planned to Galveston, just an hour from Houston for beaches, relaxation, more feeding of the soul, and Mexican food for our stomachs.
Then there are professional sports, which I don’t really do, but we have the Astros and Texans and Rockets and Dynamo. And there’s the rodeo, which is sort of a big deal with big name concerts every night for the month of March. Tickets are already on sale for 2020. And there’s NASA, maybe I’ll check that out one day.
It’s the morning of August 27, and today I’m thankful for so much. Welcome to Houston!