Pandemic Road: A Place To Park Art

Inside Pavilion at Smither ParkLast Saturday I spent a good bit of time outside, which was surprising since the weather has turned quite warm. However, I met up with some of my WiVLA (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts) sisters in the pavilion located at Smither Park on Munger Street. This park is an ongoing living, breathing and growing art installation. WiVLA has been working on a design for a small part of the wall. We hope to design in the summer and actually create it in the fall (hopefully with cooler temperatures). All materials used in the creation of artistic pieces in this Park are made with recycled and found materials.

Below are some samples of different sections of the Art Wall:

Art Wall at Smither Park

Art in Smither ParkThere are also 3‑D and life sized pieces of art to enjoy. Rumor has it if you sit down at this table, the nice couple will actually talk to you while you enjoy a refreshing beverage. While we were there enjoying the scenery, a couple of artists were working on some on-going projects. I can’t wait to see what WiVLA comes up with for their section of the wall. In the warehouse next to Smither Park, I think I saw some folks working on an Art Car for next year’s Art Car Parade. So much color and so much creativity.

I even managed to get a selfie of sorts while I studied my reflection in a large mirror. This is located in a second pavilion where music plays and if you stand in the right spot you can hear echos. How do I look? I feel quite Picassoesque. If you look closely you can actually see my feet and maybe a hand. My face is there somewhere. See if you can find it.

Right next to Smither Park is the Houston art institution known as the Orange show. It was actually began by a local mail carrier in a lot near his home. As the name implies, oranges were his favorite fruit so expect to see a lot of the color orange while you visit there. Again, there are many pieces of art that utilize recycled and found pieces.

Art from the Orange Show

Between both of these art installations, there’s plenty of shade, so it is easy to visit even during the summer. Just take some water and plan on spending a few hours strolling the grounds on Munger Street.

The same Art Patrons that keep these two locations open and growing also manage the historic Beer Can House. But that is located in another part of Houston and will be the topic for a future blog.

Thanks to Margo Toombs and WiVLA for coordinating this Saturday morning in the park!

Until next time.……

On Busy Seasons

2022 planner book

There are certain times of the year that get very hectic. Times when several things seem to collide all requiring your attention at the same time. The end of the academic school year is one of those seasons.

WITS work is coming to an end and, as I shared in my previous post, I’m compiling student work in an anthology collection for my own classes as well as helping other writers with theirs. This in addition to the final lesson visits is already a crazy load, to which I am now adding a road trip. Book Fair Event

I have been offered the opportunity to spend four days in Beeville, Texas, teaching for WITS a fun, intense set of lessons to six graders. Of course, the following Saturday I have Copperfield Book Fair. So, after a week of out of town teaching I will return to help sell books at this fun event.

All of this in addition to just the regular work load of running Inklings Publishing and my volunteer work as head of the Houston Writers Guild. It’s a miracle I have time for me or my own writing and, in truth, this month will see the least amount of writing for sure.

Never-the-less, I love my life. I love the work with the students, the work with the authors, and the fast paced world I have created for myself. It amazes me that I am able to juggle so much. In truth, I seldom feel tired from the actual work load. When I feel down, it is nearly always due to emotional strains of a more personal kind.

When things get crazy like this, I like to build in moments of quiet to still my mind and refocus my energy. It can feel like a bad idea, what with so much calling out to be done, yet I have found that if I don’t make the space for a 5 or 10 minute meditation here and there, my ability to function suffers. Sometimes the down time I give myself is to free my mind with a meditation. Other times, it’s about resting with a movie or listening to some music, or even scrolling through social media just for fun.

A thing I always ask myself as I take on projects: Is this a productive use of my time? Will this help me attain the bigger picture goals? Will it help me attain a short term goal? Will it have a return on investment of the time I give it in some meaningful way?

These questions, and the increasing strength to say no to that which would not be affirmative responses to them, have helped me narrow my self down to the most effective, albeit heavy laden, use of my time.

2022 planner bookSpare time? Does that even actually exist? My schedule is of my own making so I suppose I need to take responsibility and make some spare time for myself. Now, where can I squeeze some out?

Pandemic Road: Hauntings and Echos From the Past

In the middle of all of the sad, depressing and aggravating news that is floating around the internet and air waves, I have one piece of really good news. In August of 2021 I ordered a Witch’s Hand Candle Holder that was sure to arrive in time for Halloween. Pandemic was still going strong and I needed a good Witch’s Hand to cheer me up. I ordered it through Amazon. There were many stories about supply chains and shortages. Who knew all that would disrupt my Halloween happiness? It never arrived. Amazon closed the order. I was bereft and forlorn.

Just for fun and whimsy, I tried ordering it again in March 2022. Excitement of all excitement it arrived today. This is quite fitting since we have reached the halfway point to Halloween 2022. Time to start decorating and getting all of the skeletons in their festive positions. Of course for those of you who know me, understand that I never really took down all of the decorations from last year.

In addition to this wonderful arrival today, I also went for a brief tour of downtown Houston. It was interesting in some parts and sad in other parts. I walked past all of the restaurants I used to enjoy when grabbing a quick meal before the Ballet or a play at the Alley. I’m still live streaming many performances so dinner is now dependent on my kitchen and my cooking skills. Ugh.

I also spent some time walking around the Market Square section of downtown Houston. It is a very historic section,. Many of the original buildings still stand, but have been repurposed several times. Many of these buildings are known to be haunted and I love to research those stories. Since I am working on a story that involves Market Square and ghosts, I am particularly interested in which buildings are still original and which ones floated away during the big flood in 1935. The Majestic used to be a popular movie theater back in the day. Now it is event space up for rent. It might have been called The Ritz once upon a time.

There are several spots where you can see a blending of the old and new buildings. I hope some of the older buildings stay even if they get renovated and change owners several times. It’s the older buildings that are the most haunted. If all of the old buildings get torn down, where will the ghosts have to go? Maybe they’ll come and visit me for Halloween.

The ghosts of the past never really do leave us. Their stories continue and hopefully we learn some lessons from them. Who will be the ghosts that will haunt us in the future?

Until next time.……

On Formatting

Writers in the Schools

As the school year closes, my placements in the couple schools I work with are wrapping up. Among the many things I do is work for Writers in the Schools (WITS) Houston. This great organization pairs working writers with local classrooms. Once a week you go in and do a one-hour writing class to help students experience authentic writing practices that are not tied to any specific curriculum or testing needs.Writers in the Schools logo

Part of the job includes compiling anthologies at the end of the year of the children’s work. Formatting them can be a grueling process of fighting word to keep the pictures included from moving. Or, sometimes, trying to figure out how to make Scrivener compile in a way that doesn’t add the little scene break icon when you actually don’t need it.

Our Worlds book coverIt is fun to work with the kids and to see how they begin to integrate the skills and lessons you’ve taught them into thier writing pieces. One thing that frustrates me is having the selected sample for the anthology be less than a page long, including whatever artwork the student wishes to have go with their piece. If the goal is to get students to write and to write more abundantly, limiting the showcase piece to a single page feels counterproductive.Our Worlds book cover

Since COVID, the anthology compilations have not been hard copies, but rather digital pdf files of the books. This has opened up the possibility of having longer pieces in the book as the page count doesn’t matter as much; no one is going to go broke printing 300 page books for the students. It also means coming up with much more exciting covers.

Before when we did the anthologies, the covers had to be a black and white picture because the book was not going to be printed in color. With the digital book option we can make really beautiful covers for the books… and, by extension, the students’ s artwork will also be scanned in color.

Our Stories book coverThe downside to all this is that the books get longer and harder to compile. Plus, the celebration of its publication lacks the cool element of the kids signing each other’s copies on the pages where their work appears. You know like a real writer giving out autographs.

No matter the method, compiling the work is of course a big chore. As the writer in residence, I serve as the developmental editor and copy editor of the book and do all the work of putting it together. It can be frustrating and tedious. But… it’s also very worthwhile to see the kids faces light up when they open their book and see their writing within its pages.

Well… my friends… having written my post about this awesome part of my life, I must now return to the grind of actually getting this year’s anthologies put together for my students. Wish me luck!Our Stories book cover

Pandemic Road: Bluebonnets and Coffee

Question: What kind of Texas blogger would I be if I did not include an annual picture of some Bluebonnets. Forget budding trees and warmer temperatures. It is the blooming of the Bluebonnets that hearkens the official arrival of spring.

Of course most people find time to drive out into some part of the Texas Hill Country to find pictures of fields full of the traditional spring bouquet. This year I only had to go as far as the Houston Arboretum. When you reach the part of the trail near the big pond with all the turtles, snakes and at least one alligator, the walking trail is aligned on both sides with the little blue blossoms. It has now become a social media tradition for everyone in this state to post bluebonnet pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

This year, while strolling the Arboretum, I found a most unusual sign. No, I don’t consider it a sign from the Universe, but an interesting sign to be sure. In case you can’t read this, it says, “We Are Using Prescribed Fire To Manage This Landscape”. I have never seen this sign before during all of my nature strolls in this lush landscape. I have to admit it was a lot cuter when they brought in goats to trim some of the wild growth around the area. Goats draw crowds of walkers, hikers, and families. Fire is not so cute, but apparently necessary. I only worry that this is a sign that Houston is flirting with drought conditions and we are preparing for possible wild fires within city limits. My, what interesting times we live in here in 2022.

To calm my worries and anxieties, I went to my new favorite coffee and tea spot. It’s called 7 Leaves and it’s located in the strip near the corner of Richmond and Weslayan across from the Costco. This delightful beverage is a large Sea Foam Black Coffee with an added shot of espresso. Yum! They also serve Vietnamese coffee, Thai green tea and macaroons. Every table is close to an outlet so all of the students and young professionals can plug in their laptops or tablets or whatever. At this point I have been going there a couple of times a week. Service is great, staff are friendly and java is delicious. What more could I ask for?

This is the eye chart that is hanging on the wall. It definitely spells out the vibe of the establishment. Why don’t you go to 7 Leaves and let me know what you think?

Be the change!

Until next time.….

Musings on Pets

You know our pets join us during our journey through life. Their time with us is shorter, so we have the opportunity to enjoy meeting many of them. For them, we are their whole lives. For us, they are a brief companion who teach us so many things, not least of which is how to let go… and welcome something new in.

My first pet was a a Netherland dwarf bunny. Her name was Georgina (for those who might try to use this information to hack me: I never use my pets names in passwords. Foiled you!), and she was absolutely adorable. I bought the best crate so she wouldn’t have her feet on wire all the time and could still poop to her hearts content. At the time, we lived in Meyerland and had a home with a beautiful atrium that was fully enclosed. We would let her loose in there to run and enjoy. Sometimes we would watch her pirouette.

I dated a guy who loved tarantulas. Though I was scared of the creatures at first, I primed myself to like them, visualizing myself holding one in my hand. Eventually, he gave me one as a pet: Twinkle. She was a gorgeous Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula. Beautiful and peaceful, she would live in her terrarium and wait for food to rain down from heaven. When I misted the space to keep up the humidity, she glittered like a rose-colored diamond. Tarantulas can live up to 30 or so years in captivity, and she was with me a long time — way longer than the guy who gave her to me.

Eventually, I got a dog. I always wanted a dog, but my mom was scared of them so we were not allowed to have them growing up. Arwen Undomniel was my first dog. I found her at the SPCA cowering in a small kennel. When I took her into the get to know you room, she moved quickly to a corner and shook there, head hanging low. She wouldn’t play or sniff me or anything. I took my ‘shy’ girl home and with lots of love she became the most audacious and independent little dog ever. She was a German Shepherd/Labrador Mix. Her ears eventually went pointy from her puppy ears. She and her littermate, Ella, were my brother and I’s babies.

Later, I got my now, ex, husband Grace. She was a pure-bred German Shepherd and absolutely gorgeous. A bit of a dumb blonde, Grace often got scared of her own shadow, but she was a sweet girl. Some time towards the end of my marriage, we adopted Merlin, a Great Dane/Lab/Bloodhound/Possibly other mix boy. He has been a fun dog to have because of his sweet personality and energy.

When I lost Arwen, we met Arya. She’s my Husky. And boy is she everything that breed pretends to be. Hair all over my house, vocal talking back, but super loyal and sweet. Beautiful with her big blue eyes, she is the newest delight that life has brought to me. 

Though I have lost many of these beautiful beings, I have learned much from them and they have filled my life with joy. Some people lose a pet and never get a second. I can’t be okay with that. I miss each and everyone of them and each and everyone is irreplaceable. But I also know that we all must die, and letting go while being open to new things is a huge part of the grieving process. Loss is grief. But a new adventure awaits, with new furry friends.

Thanks for reading about my pets. Share with me your pets on my author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fernbradyauthor/?ref=pages_you_manage

Pandemic Road: Easing Into Spring

As I walked around my neighborhood the other day, I was struck by one of the very first signs of spring, besides enjoying all of the wonderful pollen in the air. There is a certain tree that, when the time and temperature is right it becomes a home for hobbits and fairies. During the warm months the little town grows, includes bridges and water features, and any number of the little magical creatures. Since several of my short stories of late have involved Leprechauns, butterflies, fairies and such, I always find this tree as a small stop along my walk that provides inspiration. Soon, I will put aside all of the short stories and get back to a much longer story that involves many grim reapers, ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

Several days later, I walked around Hermann Park. This is another location where there are many signs of spring renewal. Although there are also a lot of signs telling me what I can or can’t do wherever there is grass. For starters there is a big hill next to Miller Theater where folks can attend musicals and shows while sitting on the hill side. During the day when there isn’t a performance, the hill is just a nice place to sit, relax and enjoy your time in the great outdoors.

I was amazed at all the unauthorized uses of grass on the Miller Theater hill. As a brief example, one may not use glass containers, litter, use a scooter or skateboard, hunting definitely not permitted (there are a rather large number of ducks wandering around the park) and one cannot remove or molest any of the plants. Also, you can never ever improperly park any vehicle. Whew! I did manage to enjoy myself, but I was very careful about all movements. The bottom of every regulatory sign I saw stated in large letters at the “Enjoy the Park”.

Finally, I am making small movements back towards the wonderful fine arts offerings in this city. I am still enjoying the Houston Symphony via a live stream. That is also how I am enjoying some of the plays at the Alley Theater. Last week, I actually ventured out in person to see the latest production at Stages. The play was held in a small theater on a Wednesday evening (smaller crowds than weekend nights) and when I purchased the tickets, I talked to the nice gentleman about getting seats that were socially distanced. I still wore my mask and noticed that about half of the audience members wore them. Even though I am vaccinated and boosted, I still prefer to wear masks anytime I am indoors and wish other folks felt the same. Oh well. The play was great and I recommend it to everyone. I believe this is the last weekend it will be showing.

I am hoping by May or June conditions will continue to improve. There are a couple of movies I want to see and I still have not been back to enjoy the Houston Ballet. All in good time.

Until next time.….

Guest Blog: Rachel Connelly

Road Outside of My Own Head

My mom likes to say that I was literally born anxious. The nurses said I was the only newborn they’d met who already had separation anxiety, and they had to keep me with my mother at night because I was disturbing the other babies.

At the ripe old age of six, I had to be homeschooled because my anxiety was so severe (and was rapidly morphing into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

At age SIX.

(I struggled with severe anxiety and OCD from a young age.)

Over the next several years, with the help of my wonderful parents and an incredible therapist, I reached a point where I was confident enough to return to normal school in fourth grade, but I still didn’t know how to be me. I was still painfully awkward and socially anxious.

I was still lost inside of my own head.

Then, two years later, I was cast in a school play.

Technically, I was an understudy, but I took it as seriously as if I was the star of the show.

I still don’t know what made me go for it, maybe because I knew my mom used to do theatre and I’ve always wanted to be more like her. But I put myself out there, and unknowingly set myself on the path that would shape the rest of my life thus far.

(The script from 1984, the first show I was cast in.)

Because one day before the show opened, someone dropped out, and at eleven years old, I got my first little big break. The next twenty-four hours were a whirl of costuming and memorizing lines and blocking and fight choreography and feeling like an impressive and valued part of something for maybe the first time in my young life.

And the next evening, as all four-foot-eleven of me walked onstage in front of an audience for the first time, full of sweat and adrenaline, I finally felt it.

Even though I was pretending to be someone else, I was finally myself.

For the first time in my eleven years, I wasn’t Anxiety. I wasn’t OCD. I wasn’t Awkwardness and Shyness and Silence.

I was just me.

And I was powerful.

I’ve returned to this moment a lot in the years since. I’m an adult now (supposedly) and in the time it took for thatto happen, I’ve felt both more powerful and powerless than I could have imagined in that moment. I’ve been broken down and I’ve picked myself back up, because that’s what life is.

But if there’s one thing I’ve been able to count on no matter what, it’s been theatre. Whether I’m physically standing on a stage or sitting in a room full of the friends I’ve met while doing what I love, I know exactly where to look when I feel like I’ve lost myself.

I step foot inside a rehearsal room, or I get a hug from one of my actor friends, and just like that day eleven years ago, I feel it again.

I am found.

I am myself.

Rachel Connelly is a freelance developmental editor, born and raised in Houston. For as long as she can remember, writing and reading and storytelling have been her passions. As an editor, it brings her so much joy to help others bring life to the stories inside their heads. Outside of work, Rachel is a local community theatre actress, avid painter and crocheter, and mom to four ridiculous cats.

Rodeo Houston

I have lived in Houston since I was a junior in high school. Yet, I have never attended the rodeo. My family was never into that kind of entertainment, and none of us had much interest, or even mild curiosity, about what it all entailed. Each year, I gave a nod to the fact that it existed by dressing in a western wear outfit to go to school with my students.

This year, however, I had someone invite me to visit the rodeo twice. Wow! What a show! I had no idea it was such a huge and truly fun event. The first visit we did, I got to see the piglet races. OMG, they are too adorable for words. The little pink guys go into the racing gate boxes and come out running. Occasionally, one seems to forget they’re supposed to be racing and just meanders about. The names they give the piggies are super cute. This year there was a Britney Spareribs; a Kim Kardashiham; and, of course, Kevin Bacon.

Speaking of pigs, I got to watch the hog competition. I was astounded at the complexity of factors these judges take into account for determining which hog places first, second, third, etc. There’s how they stand, and how they walk, and their width when you look upon them from above, and just soooo many other pieces. Honestly, they all look the same to me.

The second visit, I got to see the sheep herding competition. Three sheep are released into the arena and a sheep dog works with his/her handler to herd them through an obstacle course and into a pen. The handler uses a whistle to issue commands to the dog. Some dogs keep all three sheep in a nice tight group and move them along swimmingly. Other dogs have to go after one or another sheep that strays away. Occasionally, the sheep will turn and stare down the dog. I am not clear on whether dogs lose points when these things happen, or if there’s room in the judging to account for the difficult sheep situation. Is it a sheep issue or a dog issue? Hmm.….

The rodeo also includes a carnival. There are several Ferris wheels, and other rides, scattered about the carnival area. Now, I’m not a fan of roller coasters or dealing with heights. I was happy when we chose to ride the merry-go-round cause that’s not overly crazy. The first time, I did go on one of the Ferris wheels and my companion chose to rock the basket a bit. I was already a petrified from being up so high, but I managed to maintain my composure. The second time, he cajoled me onto the Tilt-a-Wheel. It wasn’t so bad, though more oof an adrenaline rush than what I need in my life. What turned out funny was that he ended up being the one that got sick.

And that was just the livestock and carnival portion of the event. The rodeo itself is amazing. There’s the calf roping, the buck horse riding, the barrel racing, the cattle wrestling, and it all culminates with the bull riding. Why anyone wants to ride an angry bull is a mystery to me, but…

There’s events for the little ones, where five and six year olds are bundled up and put on the back of sheep. Then they ride the sheep, holding on as long as possible. It’s adorable.

Now that I have discovered the awesomeness of the rodeo, I think I will definitely need to go again next year. There were so many events we didn’t get to as the whole thing takes three full weeks.

Leave us a comment on your favorite part of the rodeo.

Pandemic Road: One More Holiday for the Skeletons

To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know much about St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t know who St. Patrick is or why any of us should care about him. I know there is a holiday that involves the color green and Leprechauns and a bunch of wee folk. In my youth I must admit I drank my share of green beer, but that was really a long time ago. Now I am just as happy to put green whipped cream on some alcohol free Irish Coffee. Yes, my life is now just about that dull. However, I have skeletons that live in my house who enjoy dressing up for all of the holidays. It started out that they would just dress up for Halloween. To be honest, that is still their favorite holiday. However, over time we have branched out to other holidays such as Thanksgiving, Hanukkah/Christmas, Valentine’s Day and now St. Patrick’s Day.

As you can see, the skeletons enjoy reading ghost stories. Now almost every holiday involves scary stories that involve various different creatures from skeletons, witches, wild banshees, ghosts, etc. Tonight I am reading a story I wrote, of course with the help of the skeletons, at the Archway Reading. It is still being presented via Zoom, but that just means that my friends can attend.

After St. Patrick’s Day, there really aren’t any good holidays for dress up. Summertime is too much about swimming. So the skeletons will rest up until fall. As soon as Labor Day arrives, we’ll start planning for the Halloween extravaganza! Who am I kidding. We have already started planning. I can’t wait until the fall arrives.

Until that time comes, I will have to keep myself entertained with hiking through historical cemeteries. Sabina and I have one planned for this coming Saturday. I promise I will take good pictures that I can share with you.

Until next time.….