Glady’s Porter Zoo

Giraffes are my favorite animals.

When I was a child, every summer my mother enrolled us in the Summer Safari program at Glady’s Porter Zoo. I loved going there and learning about the animals. We would do many different activities and walk the zoo. It was literally the best part of my childhood.

The Glady’s Porter Zoo is in Brownsville TX. It is considered one of the best zoos in the country. The zoo has a strong conservation program and they have seen the birth of many wonderful animals over the years, helping grow endangered species’s populations.

The aviary lets you walk among the birds. Scary.

One of the best parts of the zoo, is the way that the animals are housed. Unlike many zoos, Glady’s Porter designs the enclosures to mimic the animals’ natural habitat. The zoo has a large spread of land which it can use and has been given more by the city.

As a child, my favorite part of the zoo was the giraffes. I still love giraffes. I don’t know why they are my favorite animal, but they are. I love wolves and I love sharks and others as well, but the giraffe is the best. They are so peaceful and tall, and ungainly. You wouldn’t think they were beautiful when you look at the oddness of their body shape. Yet they have grace and poise and kind faces. Maybe, thinking about it now, that’s why I connected with them.

This is where we hosted one of my birthdays growing up.

Glady’s porter has an aviary. It’s kinda frightening going in there. All those birds, flying free, all around you. Very Hitchcockian. But it is also pretty cool. I don’t know how recent the changes have been, but they added a butterfly enclosure. Filled with flowers and free flying butterflies, it is kind of like a wonderland area. They also added a new activity center where they display some fossils that were excavated in the Rio Grande Valley area. It even hosts a playground zone now.

Since my birthday is in July, we had several parties at the zoo. As I walked it during my recent visit, I stopped at the area where we would have the celebration. It is still an eating spot.

I was sad to see that the polar bears are gone. I don’t know why. I remember one summer, as we walked past their enclosure, we caught them swimming. I have always been a fan of bears. Though they seem cuddly, they are actually very dangerous. The dichotomy of it appeals to me.

Glady’s Porter has a strong conservation program to help breed endangered species.

I didn’t see the elephants during this visit. I recall that the zoo had some issues when I was younger with the male elephant. He apparently had tried to kill the baby that was born to them. I remember seeing how they had built a wall to separate him and how the female and baby would come lean against it while he was leaning on the other side. There’s something about that which stirred me and even recalling it now gives rise to sadness.

My biggest regret is that my family moved to Houston during the summer of my sophomore year in high school. This meant no more summer safaris. But more than that, it meant not being able to be a part of the conservation side of the zoo. Only the junior and seniors who participated during the summer, and even during the school year, got to be in the baby zone and work with the staff on that part of the zoo’s program. Wish I had been able to stick around for that. But, I can enjoy going back and seeing all the work the zoo has done. If you are ever in the area., you definitely should visit the Glady’s Porter Zoo.

The zoo is spread out over a large area of land which allows it to form beautiful enclave habitats for the animals.

Fairy Doors and Halloween Lifestyles

I have heard that there are some people who think that I go a little over the top when it comes to Halloween. However, I can assure you that I do not. It is not possible. I have spent years cultivating Halloween Culture that is good 365 days a year. Yes, I have decorations up all year. There is my large collection of witches, skeletons, and grim reapers. Of course if I am going to have a large selection of skeletons, then they must have a wardrobe that can adjust to the various holidays and weather conditions. As you can see in this picture, sometimes the skeletons just like to relax and chill out indoors. The witches have their own hutch and an ample supply of books and grimoires. They don’t go out much preferring to spend their time developing spells and potions.

Yet, every so often, I cross paths with another creative person who gives me exciting ideas for taking my Halloween lore to another level. Have you ever heard of Urban Fairy Doors? While attending the monthly WiVLA (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts) meeting this week, I heard a fascinating presentation by Elissa Davis. Apparently there are fairies that set up shop around the city. Sometimes they are accessible from a public street and sometimes they are located inside businesses. This door was made by Elissa and remains in the neighborhood where she lives. The fairy who lives here is seldom seen, but does communicate with folks by exchanging notes and trinkets.

There are even Facebook pages devoted to these Urban Fairy Doors. It is not unusual to find pennies on the door steps left for the magical inhabitants. In case you are wondering about size, this door is 1/12th the size of your average front door.

Elissa discussed how she was developing ideas for helping the fairy decorate for various holidays. That’s when my mind started clicking and whirring. How many different ways can one decorate an Urban Fairy Door for Halloween? I have started my list and just have to make a door for my own magical fairy so I can add little skeletons, witches and pumpkins. I have a solid project for this coming October. I will compare and review notes with Elissa since she is the local expert on this subject.

After reviewing several pictures on this topic, I realized that I had walked past an Urban Fairy Village right in my own neighborhood. Every time I strolled past, I was fascinated at how the different aspects of the Village would change. Sometimes little creatures were added and sometimes another door appeared.

The possibilities of developing Fairy Doors in conjunction with my overall dedication to everything Halloween is going to keep me busy for a while. And I don’t need to worry about finding Elissa when I need her advice. She can always be found running the library inside the Jung Center. I can only imagine what Jung himself would say about Fairy Doors, Villages and such.

Thanks Elissa!

Until next time.….

Brownsville Trip #2

During my last blog post, I wrote about the quick trip I took down to Brownsville with my parents. The weekend after that visit, I returned having booked a nice Airbnb to stay there for a long weekend. It was a time of refreshing, healing, and writing.

I headed out onto the highway on Thursday. Of course, I had all manner of snacks along with me. It isn’t a legitimate road trip unless you are eating a bunch of junk food along the way. At least, that’s my philosophy. I have a strong bladder from having been a teacher all my life, so I made only one pit stop at Refugio. I was met there by a seagull who was most upset when I told her I had nothing to offer her.

Back on the highway, I drove along singing loudly in my car. You absolutely must have a good playlist when on a road trip. I have one I labeled as Karaoke and it is great for in car singing. The trip from Houston to Brownsville takes almost six hours without stops.

Arriving at the little studio I rented, the first thing I did after lugging the five hundred suitcases and bags I brought with me — okay maybe it wasn’t THAT many but it sure felt like it — into the space was take in the view. In Brownsville, the Rio Grande river has left behind during its lifetime pockets of river that have been cut off from the main flow over the years. The locals call these resacas. One of the prime real estate assets for property down here is if it has a resaca in the backyard. This little studio did, and it makes for a fantastic view.

This church is on the edge of Refugio. As a child when we would drive by it, I always imagined I might get married here some day.

I spent the first day in the studio. I enjoyed morning reflection and coffee with my cigar outside with that relaxing scenery. I bathed, put on one facial mask and some strong conditioner on my hair. I spent time just reading and reflecting on the very hard situations I’ve been dealing with for the past 3 years. After some time, I took those products off and put on a renewing facial mask. I used the time while it worked on my skin to list out all the people and situations that have been hurtful these past few years and any that came up even from before.

Sometimes you think you’ve processed something but it pops back up, so you have to deal with whatever lingered. After my final bath, I was ready for my Friday night writing group. It was lovely to catch up with everyone and set some intentions for the writing I was planning to do that weekend. Most of it centered on getting out emotions and viewing situations so that I could make better sense of where I was and where I am going. But I didn’t plan to just stay in doors and process feelings the whole time.

The view from the studio of the resaca. Sitting out on the patio to smoke my cigars and take in this natural beauty was a major part of the refreshing effects of this trip.

I made my preparations to head to the zoo and to the beach while I was there. I’ve run out of words in this post to share those experiences, but you can come back when it’s my turn again to post and you’ll find out about my zoo and beach excursions and about the writing and resolutions I came to during that weekend. See you next time!

Brownsville Trip Part 1

Me as passenger enjoying not having to worry about anything.

This past weekend, my mother, dad, and I drove down to Brownsville, Texas. This little town on the very tip of the state, bordering with Matamoros, Mexico, is where I grew up. We moved here when I was five years old.

Growing up in a small town has a certain degree of charm. It can also be a nightmare. For me, it was more of the later. I was always a chubby little kid. Early on, I had to have glasses for my eyesight which I inherited from my father. And then we added braces to fix the bad teeth I inherited from my mother. All of this lead to an awful lot of bullying in my childhood.

It was generally there throughout my early years, but in fourth grade, it got intense thanks to a very bad teacher, Ms. Doyle. She was single you see and my mother befriended her and thought to pair her up with a gentleman friend of our family. Sadly, the match didn’t take. This created a tension in Ms. Doyle. I was too young to realize this was happening.

One afternoon, she asked me if I had completed my math homework as I and my mom walked past her during carpool. I told her yes, that it was in my notebook. ANDHAD. To this day , I can recall the page of carefully written math problems. But the next morning, it wasn’t there. Now, she had a habit of making us stand up if we didn’t do it, so I did ’cause I couldn’t find it. She came roaring around the desk, towered over me as I crumbled crying on the floor, telling me I was a liar and humiliating me in front of the whole class.

After that it was open season on me. If the teacher humiliated and ostracized me, then the other students felt justified in doing it too. In fact, when we were graduating form 5th grade and the school invited us to a pool party celebration, the bullying had become so intense I begged my parents to let me stay home. I felt that if I went, they would drown me.

The second placemat that has been used forever at this restaurant.

In the midst of all this, there was a solace. My family and I attended Pastor Gene Loya’s church, Centro Cristiano Shamma. Here I found God’s love and acceptance. Most importantly, the pastor’s mother, took me under her wing. Her advice and comfort was a part of my life that I will always cherish.

Mrs. Loya is 103 years old now. She is the most beautiful lady and her fire and love for God is still burning bright. Her mind is a s sharp as ever, though her body has become frail. We went to Brownsville to visit with her and to take a time with Pastor Loya, whose advice in the midst of so much going on was a balm to my spirit.

Thanks to its port, Brownsville offers the freshest seafood ever!

Of course, we went and had dinner at The Oyster Bar. One thing about small towns… they don’t change. The same place mats that have always been there are still being used. I put them here because they are really cool.

Oh No, I’m Late!

Well folks, it’s been a busy few weeks over here and unfortunately, I got my dates mixed up and did not manage to get my post written and up on time. Oops!

But, I do have a lot of fun updates!

Someone get me one of these bad boys. Really climbing the ladder of success all the way to the top over here.

First and foremost, after [redacted] months of searching, I have finally landed myself a job. It’s a long term temp position, but I’m finally starting to feel like I’m back in the swing of things, and it feels great. Admin work isn’t the most interesting, but I’m putting on pants every day again and leaving the house to go do something I’m really good at, and that counts more than anything.

It feels really nice to have my brain up and working again, and getting to interact with other people. I’ve been doing my editing work all this time, but it’s definitely not a social job, so I’ve been missing human connection.

Wow. Someone tell antisocial 11-year-old Rachel I just said that. She would be horrified.

Speaking of things I’ve been up to that my antisocial preteen self would have hated, I also went to my first concert in almost eight years!

My best friend and I saw Jukebox the Ghost perform at the Karbach Brewing Co. Love Street Music Fest, and it was such an amazing time. I haven’t 

Me and my best friend!! He’s known me since we were 8, he could tell you all about what a little grouch I was. And he WOULD tell you. With great joy.

been to a lot of concerts to compare it to, but they were really fantastic. 

It’s so funny. When I was growing up, there was nothing more I hated than loud

noises, big crowds, being outside in the heat, and standing up for a long time. This was, of course, all of those things at once, and I had a BLAST.

I really couldn’t say when I changed and started to get over those things, but it’s crazy how different I am from the person I was growing up.

Only in the best ways of course.

I still value the same important things, and I love the same hobbies. I’m still kind and caring and funny and smart. I’m just so much less complainy and grumpy about things. Maybe it’s just me growing up and maturing, but it’s such a relief to be able to have FUN now. I’m able to have so much fun and do so many fun things that I never would have opted into as a kid.

I’m still complainy and grumpy of course. But, like, a LOT less.

Hermann Park Prepares for Earth Day

Here is your first warning sign that you should notice when going to Hermann Park in the second half of April. It’s close enough to Earth Day that all the schools from all over everywhere bring gaggles of children to appreciate nature. Yellow buses line the streets.

It appears as though the children gather in packs. Each group is identified by their colors. Is this similar to a bunch of gangs? I did not get close enough to find out. The group in this picture is heading for Miller Theater. I could hear music playing until all the munchkins got seated for some type of program.

Another batch of gaggles also were observed heading into the Museum of Natural Science. This picture was taken from the top of a hill in the park. I made sure to keep my distance, in order to ensure my safety. I did not venture anywhere near either the theater or museum. Fearless adults communicated with all of the multicolored T‑shirts by bullhorns. That was very brave of them and I think worthy of combat medals.

This is the mountain I climbed up to view the hordes while staying out of harm’s way. There were even safety rules for this vantage point. They included: No bicycles. No swinging from the rails. Please stay off the plants, and most important for today situation: Mind children and dogs. On the way up, I did not see many other people so when I reached the top, I could bask in the fact that it was a cloudy day, and did not swelter in bright sunshine. I didn’t even need to wear my sunglasses.

Walking the trail that wound around this mountain was quite pleasant and since there was a waterfall on one side, much of the noise of the school-age gremlins was literally “drowned out”. This worked for some time until some other grownups discovered my sanctuary. It was at that point that lots of people showed up who actually had the audacity to enjoy a fun-filled conversation amongst themselves. How rude. My silent haven then turned into a party venue and I decided it was time to move on back down the hill. More and more people were heading up to the top of the hill and I apparently made my escape just in time.

There was one last sign that should have clued me in. Even the ducks were aware of what was going on today. These two are far from their normal pond habitat. I found them trying to hide amongst the bushes and trees so the children would not find them and chase them.

In the end, I escaped safely and am able to write this blog. I wonder if my next ghost story will include groups of ghost children in matching t‑shirts marauding around the park at midnight under a full moon. That’s a story idea with possibilities.

Until next time.….….

Bluebonnets and Poetry

I guess I can no longer deny it. Spring is here. The vernal equinox has come and gone. Everyone who celebrates anything during this time of year has celebrated. What more is there to say? While most folks get very excited to welcome all of the pretty flowers and warmer days, I do not. What excites me is that April is halfway to Halloween! Now that will get me excited! However all of my skeletons are resting right now, so I am giving you my annual obligatory picture of Texas Bluebonnets. There are lots of them this year and they actually bloomed early. While temperatures have reached daytime highs in the 80’s, here where I live, Becca, my niece in South Dakota is still dealing with lots of snow.

April is also known as National Poetry Month. I write very little poetry myself. My muse occasionally inspires me to write Haiku, but that’s about it. However, I own many books of poetry. One of my favorites is Devotions by Mary Oliver. And there are any number of poetry readings and festivals around town all month long. The Women in the Visual and Literary Arts (WiVLA) is holding their annual poetry reading on Saturday, April 22nd. It’s called Poetry By The Bay and takes place at the La Porte Library from 11:00 a.m. — 1:00 p.m. If you are a member of WiVLA, there is still time to sign-up to read your own pieces. Or you can just plan on attending this event to hear the wonderful work created by other WiVLA members. I look forward to seeing you there.

For your literary pleasure, here is a quick poem by Mary Oliver that is called We Shake With Joy:

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

However, if you are like me and are excited that we are halfway to Halloween, I will leave you with this picture. Hopefully scenes like this will hold us over until October returns. I’m already working on plans and stories for the annual Haunted Holidays reading event that will be held in November. I know I am looking forward to it. How about you?

The Socially Anxious Actor

I was eleven years old when I performed in my first “real” play. I’m twenty-three now, meaning we’ve officially passed the “more than half my life ago” mark, which I’m realizing now for the first time and it’s blowing my mind a little.

George Orwell’s “1984”, a terribly cheery introduction to the stage. Look at that tiny little baby on the left. She has no idea what adventures she’s got coming.

For my entire childhood, I was plagued with severe anxiety, so the fact that I would A) voluntarily choose to be onstage in front of several hundred people, and B) enjoy it as much as I did, was shocking to anyone who knew me.

At the time, I didn’t understand it either. All I knew was that the second I walked onto that stage, I felt more at home and in my element than I maybe ever had in my life. Looking back now, I think it was the first time my brain was truly silent in a room full of people.

It seems contradictory, to be a person with social anxiety who loves getting up and performing in front of crowds of strangers. It’s not nearly as bad as it was in school, but I still have a very hard time letting myself be seen and fully letting loose or expressing my emotions in front of others (at least, not without overthinking it for the next 3–5 business days). But to me, the stage is a safe space to do exactly that.

The single greatest picture of me ever taken, as Ma Strong in Urinetown with Art Park Players in 2021. Talk about not being afraid to be ugly.

When I’m onstage, I’m playing a character, and the things I do are directed by someone else. So I can be loud, or messy, or ugly, or imperfect, and subconsciously, it feels safe. My social anxiety quiets down and steps out of the way because it can hide behind the idea that it’s a performance, and I can let myself do and be these things because even though everyone is watching me, they’re seeing a character.

And the thing is, it’s not that I didn’t ever want to be those things. In fact, growing up, I wanted desperately to just once be the life of the party somewhere, and have everyone think I was fun, and cool, and laugh at my jokes, and want me to be around them.

It wasn’t even that I was bullied, or was made to believe I couldn’t do that, but social anxiety convinced me that I had dug myself into a “quiet weird girl” hole, and any attempt to break out of that would be met with instant ridicule and judgment.

And that’s why theatre appealed to me. Because more than anything, I wanted - and really, needed — to be seen. I needed some way to let the world know that this other girl, the dynamic, fun, loud, emotional girl, existed somewhere within me, even if I had to shield her behind the invisible fourth wall of a plywood set.

Fast forward twelve years, and I’m an adult now with a pretty active social life, full of friends (none of whom I would have met if I hadn’t joined community theatre after high school) who make me feel that level of safety even when we’re not performing. I’m able now to go to parties and join conversations and laugh and be loud and a little messy and feel more loved than I ever thought was possible, and do all the things I was too afraid to let myself do when I was growing up.

I still struggle with reminding myself that I can be that vulnerable of course, although I’ve reduced the overthinking time to about 1–2 business days, which is definite progress. But I don’t think I would be anywhere near where I am today if I hadn’t put my name on that audition sign up sheet twelve years ago.

Ensemble in Bonnie and Clyde with Stageworks (2018). My first community theatre show as an adult and the start of everything wonderful in my life today. I love this picture more than anything.

Theatre has time and time again given me the opportunity to safely shut off the anxiety noise and openly explore parts of me that have spent so long locked away. With every show I do, every bow I take, another bar is removed from that girl’s cage and it’s just a little easier to bring her to the surface.

I have always been that dynamic, fun, loud, emotional girl. She just needed some stage lighting to guide her way out.

Hidden Treasures

It always amazes me when I discover parts of Houston that I never even knew existed. There is so much happening in this city and I feel like most of us live secluded in tiny corners unaware of the breadth and depth of opportunities.

Take downtown for instance. How often do most of us go there?

For me the answer is nearly never. In the past, when my dad used to work downtown at the federal courts, I would go have lunch with him occasionally. Most of the time, I drove up to the building and picked him up. Then we headed over to a nearby hotel, usually the Double Tree since they validated your parking, and we would valet for lunch.

A few times, I was called in for jury duty and of course I experienced the area of downtown around the state courthouses. I even got selected for Grand Jury one time and that was fun. But, again the excursions were simply to attend the courthouse in question and, for lunch, I mostly brought my own or bought something at a nearby coffee shop or deli.

I was aware, vaguely, that there was a downtown tunnel system, but I never had occasion to venture there.

Now, my brother works at the federal courthouse. We decided to have lunch together. Instead of driving up and going to some eatery, he told me to park in the garage and we would get food at the tunnel. This peaked my interest.

I arrived and met him downstairs so I wouldn’t have to go through security. We then set out across the street to the building over one block which had the access to the tunnels. This made sense that the courthouse would not have an way to enter the tunnel system. It could be a dangerous access point for the building.

Once in the tunnel we walked a ways. I felt a slight concern being aware of the fact we were walking under ground and all. The tunnel is wide enough for many people to walk in both directions, but it still felt a little tight for me. Then we arrived at a juncture.

Before us lay a wide expanse of tables and chairs around which an array of eateries had storefronts. It reminded me of the mall food courts of my childhood years. There are maps posted at certain intervals. Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of them since I, at that moment, hadn’t thought to write up the excursion for the blog.

We walked further and found an area with loungers and sofas, ping pong and corn hole, and even a table shuffleboard option. Sadly, they had no wax, so we couldn’t throw any weights. Plus, it is a short version and not the 22 foot long that is the official length for serious shufflers.

As we passed this area, my brother pointed out a wide white wall and explained that during the World Cup Soccer, they projected the games there so people could come and watch while sitting in the comfy loungers and sofas. Eventually, we selected a food choice and took it to go. We went back to his office and ate there. If you go to a courthouse, by the way, don’t take scissors or lighters. They confiscate them and store them for you until you leave. Yes. I know from first hand experience.

Anyway, if you are curious and want to enjoy a fun adventure, head over to downtown, park, and do lunch in the tunnels. Buzz me and we can make a day of it. I’m not sure which building uses these Star Wars inspired elevators, but I plan to find out on my next outing.

Oh, PS. this is a picture of me and my brother. Isn’t he cute?

Galveston Beaches and Cemeteries

I’m one of those who has been very hesitant about getting back out there since the pandemic. I’ve been moving slow. Still haven’t gone back into the movie theaters; thank goodness for streaming services. Anyway, when my friend Sabina Gartler decided to take a weekend away at Galveston to look at cemeteries and tour some of the sights, I decided to go. I used to go to Galveston all the time. This was my first visit in three years.

As you can see, my time there started out a bit foggy. This is the view from my hotel room. Seawall Boulevard is just down below, but it is barely visible. Unlike some of my sun-worshiping friends, I really enjoyed these low lying clouds. It gives the city that air of mystery and charm. I sat on the balcony one afternoon and watched the fog roll in and slowly cover everything in a grey mist. Of course then I was ready to go on a tour of Old City Cemetery. Well, we went the next day after the fog had lifted.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the Old City Cemetery, it is one of the oldest in Galveston and actually is made up of seven different cemeteries that were merged into one. It is at least 200 years old, but I suspect older since I saw one gravestone that was dated in the 1700s. After the Hurricane of 1900 when so much of the city and the coast was destroyed, the ground of the cemetery was raised as was the entire sea wall. That’s one of the reasons why some of the graves go down three burials deep. Families were given the chance to move loved ones before the ground was raised. Most loved ones took advantage of this, some did not.

Some of the graves are new and spotless and some do show their age. It is obvious that surviving hundreds of years and several hurricanes since 1900 takes its toll on grave markers. But I think they are kept up as well as any other historical cemetery I have seen. Several years back I took a ghost tour of this cemetery at night around Halloween. I didn’t see any ghosts, but still found the stories of the inhabitants fascinating. As one can imagine, Galveston is one of the most haunted cities in America and there are many ghost tours scheduled throughout the city.

Later when the sun came out, I did venture down for a walk on the beach. I collected some shells. Why? I don’t really know why. I collected 5 of these marine specimens. Is there some gene within the human body that compels us to collect shells whenever we are at the beach? This must be true for me.

But I also found this creative structure on the beach. It fascinated me and I studied it for some time. How was this made? And by whom? My first thought was that this was a Galveston version of Stonehenge. But what genius mind did this? In no order whatsoever, here are my guesses for the builders: Architects, Engineers, Pagans and/or Aliens.

What’s your best guess? Whoever built it knew what they were doing. I looked at this for a long time to see if the solstices and equinoxes would make themselves known. But apparently, I am not as smart as any of the aforementioned categories of geniuses. Okay, I must go back and check to see if this structure is still there. Maybe I should go for the Spring Equinox next week. What do you think? 

Until next time.……