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.

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.

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?

Cruisin’

It has been a while since this RoadBroad took off on an adventure. Recently, my friend, Sharon Gilmore, offered me the opportunity to take a cruise. I’d always wanted to go on one, but my family is not fond of the idea of being out in the open water. So, when Sharon said she could use a cabin mate, I jumped on the opportunity.

The Adventure of the Sea is a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and it is huge. Truthfully, I was amazed at the immensity of it, and how cozy it actually felt. In spite of having 14 decks and an expansive array of shops, food halls, show spaces, and assorted activities, the ship felt homy.

So what does one do on a cruise. Well, the center of the ship is taken up by the casino which seems like the place where most people hang out. There are great activities and sections for children of all ages to pass the time. But for the single adult travelers, the key activities revolve around eating, shopping, and watching shows. There’s also great spaces for taking in the sun and enjoying the sound of the water as the ship moves through it.

As a writer, I hung out a lot on the smoking deck with a cigar and my computer. I also enjoyed the wonderful food each evening. The chef prepares a thematic menu and on the final evening the kitchen staff come out and perform a dance. Coming back to our cabin was always exciting. You never could tell what towel animal was going to be waiting for you. We found a monkey hanging from a hanger and then there was this fellow lounging on my bed.

My ship stopped at Costa Maya and Cozumel. We enjoyed the beautiful beach, and did some major shopping. We had lunch at a local restaurant and indulged in a margarita at Margaritaville. Needless to say we took photos with locals dressed up for the tourists as indigenous Mayans.

The water in this part of the world is so beautiful. Crystal clear and blue the sound of it is so soothing. It felt so good to get out there and travel again. I am really looking forward to doing it again soon. For now, here are a few awesome pictures I took on the trip.

On Deadlines

As you all know by now, I’m very intense about scheduling. I balance a lot of things and so time management is key for me. This year, my main goal is to keep my writing front and center. To make it a priority and not let other things push it over to a back burner. After all, United Vidden — which is book 1 of Thyrein’s Galactic Wall series — released way back in 2020. Book 2, Gortive Offensive, is now late!

One of the things that I have done to work on this goal is set up times in my schedule for writing. But since I have used this strategy in the past and then re-assigned the allotted times, I knew I needed additional things to keep me on track.

Illustrators:

Continent of Vidden
Planet Jorn

So I reached out to my illustrators. With Araceli Casas, I have arranged for her to make two maps for this novel. Because the book is about the Gortive Offensive, I felt that giving readers a couple maps that show the movement of troops and where key battles take place would be a good idea. In order for her to have them done in time for the production of the novel, I have to have the rough drafts of the maps by February 15. Which means, I have to finish the book before then. This pressure helps me focus on getting the book finished.

Another way to push myself is by working with Arthur Doweyko, who made the beautiful illustrations of the Gortive for my book’s cover. I arranged with him to have illustrations of a jorse and a jippo in the book. A lot of readers like the idea of the AI horse and wish they could have a picture of what I imagine it looks like. Again, by arranging this with my team, I am pushing myself to get the book done.

Royal Crown of Auldivia
Planet Jorn

Editors & Readers:

Of course, the most important people on my team are my editors and beta readers. Max Regan is my primary developmental editor and writing coach, and he is ready to get his hands on the book. The subtle and yet persistent pressure of “When is that coming to me, Fern?” from him is a good motivator.

As is the gentle push from Rachel Connelly. Her input on the book as my second editor is super important to me, especially as she has helped me compile a cheat sheet of my universe as set forth in book one, United Vidden. This has been an invaluable assistance, because it helped me realize I had already given some characters names in that book so changing them in book two was a big no-no. Plus, it will be a great resource to offer my readers either in the book or as a separate giveaway piece that helps them keep track of the world with greater ease… it certainly is helping me do so.

Chief Lorgarn of the Pathos Gortive Leader; Planet Jorn

I also have some hard core fans who are awaiting the opportunity to read the pre-published draft and give me their opinions. These help me a lot to see how readers are experiencing the novel’s events. It is also great inspiration to me as I try to make my super fans love the work even more.

This Blog:

So, basically, what I am saying is, I have to finish Gortive Offensive by February 15th.

There. Now this blog is another tool to push me to get it done. I’ve declared it here and I am committed to meeting that deadline. You all now, dear blog followers, have become a part of the pressure campaign to keep me on track to make this DEADLINE!

Wish me luck!

I am a Writer

Before I was a writer, I was a writer. I wrote as a child, making up all kinds of stories and performing plays for my family. I even charged my mom 10 cents for the popcorn she prepared for us.

Later, I became a journalist, and worked in public relations. I wrote news articles about the cultural events in Houston. I provided a calendar for the Daily Bulletin of what was playing in the theaters, exhibited in the museums, and festivals that were coming up. Because I needed a job that paid enough to cover my bills, I became a teacher of reading and writing. Wrote with my students and modeled writing for them.

But I never thought of myself as a writer. It was something I did as part of being a kid playing, a journalist reporting, a person promoting some event, or a teacher guiding learning. It was never something I consider an essential element of who I was.

The day I realized that being a writer was my core identity was when I met and connected with the people of the Houston Writers Guild. I began the journey of discovering and connecting to who I’ve always been. I went to conferences and networked with people who were passionate about writing. I learned about the industry and about the varied paths a person might take to getting work published.

And then, one day, I understood that I was not only a writer at the very core of my identity — that my voice and the stories that sought to come forth from me were in fact who I am — but that I wanted to be a working writer.

You see, a working writer is a writer that is actively engaged with writing, seeking to bring forth into the world the projects that need birthing. So, I stepped out of teaching and focused on writing as a profession. Got side tracked with publishing other authors, but that was a critical part to understand the journey for my own publication process, and it is a very rewarding part of my life in many ways.

This year, it’s time to put my writing front and center; to prioritize working on my projects and getting my books out into the world. Today, I can, with the full confidence of knowing what I was born to do and the security of understanding who I am, move my life in a balanced way towards fulfilling my purpose as a working writer.

Towards that goal, I have spent the first two weekends in January doing an intensive retreat to kick off my writing year. I’m also ready to enjoy and learn at the Houston Writers Guild’s Love Your Writing Seminar. It will take place on Saturday, February 18. Check it out if you are a writer. It’s a great place to get started on the 2023 road to birthing a legacy in words. www.houstonwritersguild.org 

New Beginnings

As 2023 crests the horizon, it is a time to reflect on what has been working and what has not in our lives. For me, this week has been a time of recalibration. That is the word for the new year: RECALIBRATION.

Life has changed. The pandemic has brought with it new realities. We seem, as a society, to try to return to the way things used to be; to hold on to how things were. But they can’t be the same anymore. The pandemic changed the landscape of life, in business and in personal ways, and it cannot be ignored.

One of the most important recalibrations for me is in how I spend my time. Last year, for my January blog, I shared how I was adjusting my space to make it more useful, and how I budget my time, creating an effective schedule. This year the recalibration is at a much broader scale. I still have my ideal week programmed, but now MY WRITING has taken on a more prominent space.

My work with WITS and with Inklings Publishing will continue, but it has to take a back seat to my writing. Someone very dear to me asked a critical question: What do I really want to be — a publisher or a writer?

As the publishing house has grown, the amount of time and commitment it requires has increased. The pandemic’s economic setback, however, has made the company’s move toward a revenue stream which would allow me to pay salaried employees to run it unattainable for at least another two years. So, as we enter into the celebration of our 10th anniversary, Inklings Publishing will have a gear shift that will allow it to continue growing, but not eat up as much of my time as it had been taking up this year.

Instead, it’s time to focus on my books. United Vidden, which recently won the silver medal in the Global Book Awards, released in July of 2020. That is two years ago now. Getting Gortive Offensive, book two of the series, completed has been an uphill battle with all that has transpired. But it’s almost there. By mid-January, the draft of the book will head to my developmental editors — Max Regan and Rachel Connelly.

By April, it should be back on my desk for the final revision pass. The goal will be to send it off to copy editing in June for a release date of December 2023. At last book two of Thyrein’s Galactic Wall series will come out, and fans will see what has been happening with Verena and Amiel.

In the meantime, Love’s Call is ready to launch. February will be the release date for book one of The Dragon and His Kitten series. This story is part of Thyerin’s Galactic Wall and the Intergalactic Alliance but it is happening before the events of United Vidden on a different planet: Gelderant. There, Nichamir Vlanespor Linput struggles to gain the trust and love of the woman fated to be his mate. The events of this romance story will have a major impact on the final outcome of Verena and Amiel’s story.

So, as 2023 opens, I will be working on Love’s Flame, book two of The Dragon and his Kitten series. And in 2024, Nichamir and Denipia’s fate will be fulfilled, with Love’s Flame releasing in early Spring of 2024 and Love’s Legacy in December of 2024. And then, we’ll be ready to see the culmination of Verena and Amiel’s struggle in 2025.

This here then is my declaration of intention for the new year: to put my writing front and center while juggling everything else life is no doubt going to throw at me. Wish me luck!

Holiday Decor

It’s Christmas time! For many this time of year encompasses a different celebration. For me, being a christian, I celebrate Christmas. Needless to say, there’s much that can be written about that. We could discuss many deep and highly sensitive topics about this holiday. BUT… it’s not that kind of blog.

So today, I want to just focus on the fun of deciding how to decorate. There are so many cool options these days for festive Christmas time decorations. The Christmas tree is of course the number one focal point. That’s usually placed somewhere very visible in the house and all the presents sit there for however long waiting to be opened.

There’s some very elegant decorating options. I’ve always favored the idea of choosing a single color and then using white and silver to brighten it up. We’ve had red and white trees and some blue and white trees. I’ve always wanted to do a pure pink and white but we still don’t have sufficient ornaments in pink to fill up the whole tree.

Of course, ornaments are only the beginning. People can add ribbons as well. If I had the skill set to make ribbons on a tree look good, I would so do it. But my ribbons always look just awful. If you ever get a present from me, you better believe it will have just a pre-made store bough bow. There’s no way I can make nice bows. My mother has that skill, but it didn’t get passed down.

Now, there are some very fun versions of Christmas trees. I love this crazy idea of making the tree look like a woman’s dress. I’m not sure how to even begin to try to create something as cool as this, but if I could I so would. And, come to think of it, that might be the best option for my pink and white tree. I’ll have to devote some thought and planning to it for next year. Too late now to try to get all creative like this.

Garlands are another wonderful decorating option. Also, candle and statuary displays. We don’t have that many surfaces that we can decorate with such elements at our house. When you have tall, big dogs, you do need to consider the tail effect. Will the items survive a husky fluff tail swipe? Of course, cat owners might have to consider their pet’s penance for tossing things off surfaces. Hmm.… We’ll have to discuss that with Ellen.

Wreathes are yet another stylistic piece to add to the holiday decor. Outdoor and indoor varieties abound. I still like the idea of color coordination more than mixing up all the colors. But that’s probably because I am more OCD than I’d like to let on.

Well, here’s what we needed up with this year for our decorations. Not as cool or elaborate as the nice pictures we found on Pinterest huh? Well, it’s been such a busy year, frankly, it was a miracle we decorated at all. 

World Cup Fever

I’m not a sports fan. I don’t follow sports nor watch sports. The only sport I actually play is table shuffleboard (some might say that’s not even a real sport). Yet, every four years, I turn into the biggest soccer fan ever.

The World Cup tournament is the one time in which I go crazy for sports. The best of the best compete on behalf of their countries for the coveted FIFA cup. Americans seem to lack the deep appreciation for soccer that is true for the rest of the world. Many argue that it is random and just luck. Yet out of the many years of tournaments and the 34 countries that participate each time only 8 countries have ever won the cup, many of them several times over.

Soccer is a sport that requires incredible skill to control the ball and get it into the goal. When you watch the World Cup, you are seeing the world’s best players. Some amazing stars rise, but the teams that are real winners are those who work as a team.

The whole world plays soccer. The whole world participates in the cup. Unlike other “world” championship titles Americans like to proclaim as theirs, this one tournament is the only one that truly encompasses the world. Perhaps it is time the US take the plunge and really try for a true “World Champion” title.

Unlike other sports, soccer requires endurance plus foot control. It is a beautiful dance taking the ball across the field. Precision in passing as well as laser targeting to get it past the goalie are required skills. The human body is honed to a physical perfection unattainable in other sports.

The US ladies team has won the women’s tournament repeatedly. Yet, it is the men’s tournament that is still the focal point for the world. The women’s championship is still not as popular nor well attended by all the countries of our planet. This, hopefully, will change as the tournament grows.

As I watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup, I have my favorite teams. France, Germany, Spain, Argentina, and England are top of my list. The teams of Japan and S. Korea have joined these as well. But USA and Mexico are the games that become gut wrenching. If the other teams lose, well it’s sad, but not a tragedy. BUT when USA or Mexico lose, I’m in tears. These are MY teams.

The real star of the show is the ball. Watching it make its way down the field is a pleasure, but seeing goals, that’s the glory. Goals are beautiful. Each and everyone a majestic display of skill. And the goalies are the most important players. They have to guard their nets with amazing reflexes. At the level of the world championship, these men are the very best. Watching the ball pass through into the net is a satisfactory feeling when it’s your team scoring. When it isn’t, the pain is almost physical.

I suppose those who love and follow other sports feel the same tension, joy, and pain when they watch their teams. My biggest hope is that soccer can become a significant part of the American experience, just as it is in the rest of the world. One day, the US men’s team will hold up the cup and that will be the best day of my life — as a sports fan anyway.

Maybe that will be on the next four years round. The World Cup will be played here at home and with Mexico and Canada as well as US co-hosting. Houston will be a city where some games will be played. So don’t be surprised if you see me at the stadium in 2026!