Posted in Life, Random

“Winter” “Woes”

[Why are both words of the title in quotation marks? Because it’s not really winter, and these aren’t really woes. I mean, technically, it is winter, according to the calendar, but it’s a woefully weak one so far. And these are woefully weak woes to be experiencing during a woefully weak winter. But let’s get on with it.]

Today, at 11:00AM, I slathered myself in sunscreen, put on a lightweight t-shirt and shorts, packed a bottle of water, and went for a walk at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one of my favorite places. Nothing about this excursion sounds unusual until I remind you that this was TODAY: December 30th.

It’s a balmy 78 degrees in Austin, Texas, today. I’ve experienced warm winter breaks before, but this one takes the cake. Austin is currently wrapping up its hottest December on record and, as an added bonus, the city is topping off the record heat with a more than generous sprinkling of cedar pollen. The cedar count here yesterday was 24,875 grains per cubic meter. Not sure what that means? Let me put it in perspective for you. Cedar is considered in the HIGH range at 500.


“So…” you may be asking yourself, “…WHY did you go for a walk in nature if the cedar pollen is in a range best described as ‘MURDEROUS’?”

Good question. The answer is because I listen to fortune-telling objects more than people.

Yesterday, I asked my Magic 8 Ball, “If I take a walk at the Wildflower Center tomorrow, will I die of cedar allergies?” And Magic 8 Ball replied, “My sources say no.”

Who (or what) the Magic 8 Ball’s sources may be is a mystery for another time. I was satisfied with my answer. Although, when I shared my plans with friends, they passionately tried to talk me out of my mission, overusing shocked-face emojis and lamenting my imminent and impending doom.

I mostly ignored them. However, on their advice, I did wear a face mask to filter out at least some of the vile allergens.

The mask– along with my t-shirt, shorts, and whole self– was drenched in sweat within just a few minutes. Austin knows how to do humid. Plus, there’s just something about warm weather in winter that makes it seem stickier than usual. It’s like the temperature is mixed with a layer of betrayal.

I ran across this sign on my sweaty walk and had to laugh.

Despite the heat, I felt pretty smug about my decision to take a hike until I came face to face with one of the offending trees and, letting curiosity get the best of me, poked it.

This is when I realized I may have made a mistake.

WARNING: This video may cause sneezing in sensitive viewers.

Thankfully, I am not as allergic to cedar as most of my friends (sorry, friends) so I did not actually die from my excursion through cedar country. I did, however, see this hearse on my way home.

If you gotta go…

I’m glad to know that if someone did succumb to the cedar, they had a sweet ride waiting for them.

After I got home, showered, used my neti pot, and took some medicine, I was totally and completely fine except for a little sneezing and some brain fog and a general sense of remorse. And a headache. And one itchy eye.

So, in conclusion, the Magic 8 Ball is always right, cedar pollen is the devil, and warm winters are just weird.

Posted in Life, Writing

Acting the Fool in 2015


Last night at midnight, my husband and I got out my collection of fortune-telling paraphernalia and did a quick “What does the new year have in store for us?” assessment. We each compiled a reading based on the following items:

* One store bought fortune-on-a-stick
* One homemade fortune-on-a-stick
* One question for the Magic 8 Ball
* One question for my homemade fortune journal
* One card from the homemade Tarot deck from my cousin
* One card from the Poet Tarot (which the hubby gave me for my birthday)
* One card from the scary Labyrinth Tarot deck my dad bought for me at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo in New Orleans
* One card from my Halloween Tarot which I love and which always tells me some version of the truth

So what does my future hold?

The first fortune stick told me I would be more charming than usual. It was pretty much downhill from there. The second stick said CHANGE EVERYTHING. The Magic 8 Ball told me I will not get paid for my writing. The journal showed me a picture of a frowny face. Cousin Kelley’s Tarot card said ANARCHY. The Poet Tarot gave me John Donne, who represents fatherhood (which I’m not interested in) and leadership (or a lack there of) and finding the balance between organization and chaos. The scary Labyrinth Tarot gave me the Nine of Wands which means “going back to the start, expectation of difficulties, deception, inactive time.” Yikes.

I saved my beloved Halloween Tarot card for last, hoping against hope that it could somehow turn my future around. Then I flipped it over and saw… The Fool.

Of course.

The description of this card begins, “The Fool, playful clown that he is, juggles merrily, not noticing he is about to step off a steep precipice!”


But the more I read, the more I understood that playing the part of the fool isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, it denotes naiveté and some amount of unawareness, but there’s more to it than that. The book goes on to say, “The fool lives moment by moment, facing whatever he stumbles across without judgment or preconception. He is not tainted by artifice or ego—the only ‘baggage’ he carries is the bag of tricks he keeps beside him. The skull and crossbones symbol on the bag shows that he accepts the idea of death, along with everything else, without fear… The Fool represents pure potential, and the card tells us to explore life’s possibilities, take risks, live in the moment, and shuck our rigidity.”

Now, that doesn’t sound so bad. The absence of fear and ego? Accepting without judgment? Those sound like some pretty good qualities to have, especially when starting over, changing everything, not making money, and facing anarchy.

So I embrace my role as The Fool. This year I will take risks, live in the moment, and accept the difficulties that come my way while happily juggling all aspects of my life. Here’s to pure potential in 2015!

(Although, if you see me dancing too close to the precipice, please give me a polite nudge in the other direction. Thanks.)

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[Note: The good news is that my husband’s fortune included growth, pay raises, cleverness, success, and fun. The only things he has to watch out for are too much arrogance and being betrayed by someone wearing purple. So hopefully we’ll still be okay this year even while I’m bumbling around exploring life’s possibilities and causing charming chaos.]

Posted in Poetry, Teaching

My First Guest Speaking Appearance (And a Few Hilarious Misspellings)


This past Friday, I drove up to the Harmony Science Academy of North Austin to be a guest speaker in an eighth grade poetry class, and it was a blast. I’d never been a guest speaker before. I’d hosted guest speakers in my own classroom and been to see plenty of them at bookstores and libraries, but actually being a guest speaker was new to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun being back in the classroom but not in the role of the teacher. I had the freedom to talk about whatever I wanted (within reason) and behavior problems (of which there were none) were not my responsibility.

The students were polite as I introduced myself, read some of my poems, talked about my writing process, and led them in a short activity on found poetry, but they were also sleepy. It was eight o’clock in the morning, after all, a time when kids needs more than a few lines of verse to wake them up. I knew this going in, so I brought along something to help: my Magic 8 Ball.


The kids were not immediately enamored with the Magic 8 Ball, but they warmed up to it eventually and got bolder with their questions. At first, to get them going, I allowed them to ask their questions silently and then gave them the answers. In retrospect, this might not have been a good idea, as some of the boys got very mischievous looks on their faces when they said they had their questions ready. Luckily, the Magic 8 Ball was really on its game today and answered most of those boys with, “Better not tell you now” or “Cannot predict now.” I told them that meant their question was probably inappropriate and the 8 Ball refused to answer.

Some of the questions the students asked the Magic 8 Ball:
– “Am I going to be a millionaire?” (Reply hazy try again)
– “Am I going to end up in detention this year?” (Outlook good)
– “Am I ever going to pass the STAAR test?” (Yes definitely)

Some of the questions the students asked ME:
– “How do you rhyme so easily?”
(I asked him what made him think it was easy? I told him how much work goes into rhyming poems and how much I rely on rhyming dictionaries to help me.)
– “Does your cat have a human personality?”
(I told him if my cat Toby was a human, he would be a clingy toddler.)
– “What age do you want to die?”
(I told him that was a very strange question but probably a good topic for a poem and that I prefer to be surprised.)

All in all, it was a good experience. I hope the kids got something out of it.

*           *           *           *           *

When I got home from being a guest speaker and collapsed on the couch for a nap (because, after two years out of the classroom, teaching just one class exhausts me) I let my mind wander back to some of my favorite poetry-teaching moments with my seventh graders. It landed on three infamous instances of misspelled words, and I woke up laughing.


The first two are fairly common actually, but they still make me laugh. The last one is my all-time favorite misspelling.

1) Sometimes good spellers write too fast and leave out letters on accident. Sometimes they are very smart, very sweet, very innocent girls who would never in a million years write something inappropriate on a paper. Sometimes the letter they leave out is the letter R and the word they leave it out of is SHIRT. I once had a very sweet, very smart girl in my class who wrote a poem about a spill and how she had to wash her sh*t.

2) I once had a boy write in his “Where I’m From” poem, “I am from dancing and raping when no one is around.” I asked him, rather hopefully, if perhaps he meant “rapping.” Fortunately, he did.

3) My all-time favorite misspelling came from a boy I taught in 2009 who actually became one of nine students in my class that year to have poems accepted for publication.

Z was a smart guy and a good poet, and, thankfully, he also had a good sense of humor. In his “Where I’m From” poem, which was not the one he got published but was still very good once he corrected his errors, he wrote, “I’m from my childhood swing set, where I once hung suspended by my witty titties.” ? Honestly, I just didn’t even know what to do with that.

I called Z over to my desk and asked him quietly, “Um… what does this say?”

Z looked at the line and said, “where I once hung suspended by my whitey tighties.”


At that point, I had the pleasure of telling him, “Ok, well you’ve got some misspelled words here. First of all, this word is ‘witty’ not ‘whitey’ and this word here, well this word rhymes with witty.” It took half a second for the meaning to sink in, and then Z’s face blushed to purple. He fixed his mistakes and went back to his table, and a couple of minutes later I was happy to hear whispering and then laughter. If you can’t laugh at your own mistakes, life will be dull indeed.

I still can’t think about Z and his witty titties without smiling.  🙂

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I want to express my gratitude to the Harmony Science Academy for inviting me to speak to their poetry class and to the Austin Poetry Society for being the gateway to my first guest appearance in a school. I sincerely hope it is not my last. I also want to thank every student who has ever brightened my day with a hilarious poetic misspelling.