Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Traveling

I love traveling and I miss it. All my life as poor as we were my parents believed in traveling. My father may have criticized my mother for her frequent trips to Montemorelos and El Cercado, Nuevo Leon, but he didn't think anything of planning a trip cross country to California. We made the drive at least three times when I was a kid and we flew a couple of times on my sister's American Airlines tickets. So I guess you can say I inherited my parents' wanderlust.

Trips with my family to Mexico, California and Nevada, via Arizona and New Mexico, Florida, via those states in between. I remember standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon as a teenager with my best friend Vicki and just being in awe of how big the world really is.

All these trips prepared me for the big one. My first trip to Europe when I was seventeen. My parents agreed to let me go with my older sister and one of my best friends Cynthia so we set out on our journey. Five countries in two weeks! We flew into Frankfurt, Germany and after a day or so there we proceeded to Paris, France. From Paris we went to Madrid, Spain, from Madrid to Granada, then Nice, Carcassonne, France and then into Italy. We visited Rome, Florence, Positano, and Pompeii. I was in love. From Italy it was up to Switzerland and then finally back to Germany to fly home. It may have been a crazy trip with too many countries in too little time, but it offered a wonderful sampling of each country and I found out which countries I wanted to go back to and really get to know.

It was the best graduation present my parents could have ever given me. It was not only a vacation, it was an education on life. Years later when I read a chapter from Maya Angelou's "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now," where she talks about how wonderful it is to travel and how it opens your eyes to all the differences in the world, I could totally relate. That is exactly how I felt on that first visit abroad.

I didn't return to Europe for six years but in between I visited Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and the Napa Valley. Europe haunted me. For my freshman English class in college we had a written exit exam. We didn't know the word we would be given until the day of the test. I couldn't believe my eyes when they wrote the word on the board. The word was "travel." I wrote one of the best essays I had written that entire year comparing three off the beaten path places to travel in Europe- Carcassonne,France, Granada, Spain and Positano, Italy.

When I finally returned to Europe as a young woman of twenty-three I realized how much I had missed at seventeen. I saw things differently. I noticed things I hadn't seen before. This time it was a trip revisting Italy with two girlfriends. We went everywhere and we saw literally everything. It was a whirlwind adventure. My sister was stationed in Sicily at the time so we went as far South as Sicily on the train. Always the train. I love traveling across Europe by train and I'd never do it any other way.

After Italy I revisited Spain three times. I love Spain. What is there not to love about Spain? Going back to Spain with my girlfriend who had been visiting a guy for a couple of years was yet another experience. She introduced me to Salamanca, the Austin of Spain. Salamanca is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe and students from all over go to study there.

I went back to Italy for a third time for my honeymoon. That was a good long trip. We spent 10 days traveling from Milan to Rome, Florence, Pompeii, Venice and back out of Milan. We took our time and really got to see the country.

My last visit to Spain was six years ago for that same friend's wedding to that same guy. This time I visited with my husband, brother and sister-in-law. Rey and I went in via Paris. We had an adventure getting there and we ended up flying into Paris and taking an overnight train into Madrid. There's nothing like waking up early in the morning in a sleeping car to the rocking of the train, going into breakfast in the dining car, and watching the countryside pass you by as you eat breakfast.

Since that last trip I've had two kids. My traveling days are over for now. Yeah we've taken a couple of trips to New York, Los Angeles and locally, but nothing compares to that long trip across the ocean knowing that you're headed toward some adventure.

A couple of years ago we started going to the Texas Wine Country between San Antonio and Austin. We've been at least twice and the last time was two years ago. I've been wanting to go back recently but Rey said that we should wait. We have so many things we need to do to the house.

I was in Austin for a business a few months ago and I had forgotten how beautiful it is. I'd go as far as saying it rivals some places in Europe. It's our Salamanca.

You can imagine my delight when we received an invitation to my cousin's wedding in a couple of weeks. I hadn't expected an invitation because I knew he was planning something small, but when I found out we were invited I was happy. It's an opportunity to get away overnight without the kids and to kick back with my husband if my mother-in-law comes through and agrees to stay with the kids.

Austin may not be Europe but in my book it counts as traveling and that's all that matters to me! Where's my suitcase?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Meme Again

Borrowed from Gwen, yet again. I like these. They’re fun.

I AM: sleepy

I WANT: to go to bed soon, but I was hoping to have some quality time with the husband since the kids are both asleep. But Xbox got him first.

I WISH: I could finish writing my book and that an agent and publisher will just love it.

I HATE: mean girls, unless they are really funny too.

I MISS: being a kid with no responsibilities and my mom. Always my mom.

I HEAR: Lori McKenna’s CD, “Paper Wings and Halo” playing in my head because I’ve already burned out my husband from hearing it too.

I WONDER: if my kids will turn out good.

I REGRET: not sticking to Creative Writing or Journalism.

I AM NOT: as crazy as some people think. I’m actually quite normal with just a lot of passion.

I DANCE: like nobody’s watching.

I SING: terrible! One time my step-daughter told me that I sang like I was talking. That bad!

I CRY: at every sad movie and some not so sad ones but touching ones. I cry every time I watch You’ve Got Mail and I see that scene where she remembers her mother twirling her.

I AM NOT ALWAYS: a calm nice person at work. Sometimes I get really irritated with people and I lash out.

I MAKE WITH MY HANDS: creative memories scrapbooks when I have time.

I WRITE: stories, blog essays, memes, emails, work proposals, and too much other crap besides my book.

I CONFUSE: cars. I never know what car someone drives unless it’s a red Porshe Carrera.

I NEED: to get busy renovating my sad sad house. This will be the year now that I’m debt free and feeling very adult.

I SHOULD: Finish my book so I can try and sell it.

I START: To sit down to write all the time but I never finish because someone or something interrupts me.

I FINISH: Work stuff and photo albums.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Melancholy Musings

I’ve been feeling melancholy all week. Not depressed. I just have a touch of something that I can’t completely describe. I wonder if the feelings are being prompted by the Lori McKenna CD I’ve been listening to all week. I also saw a very sad movie.

I discussed the feeling with one of my best friend’s today. We talked about how we feel when we listen to music that makes us sad or melancholy. Her husband has asked her if she doesn’t find some of the music that she likes depressing. It’s not that. I know what she means. Sometimes listening to sad music feels good. It makes you think.

I feel the same way when I see a really sad movie that grabs hold of me. I can’t stop thinking about it. I remember feeling that way after I saw “The Green Mile.” My mother felt the same way. She even dreamed about the movie. She told me, “I dreamt about that little mouse last night. I dreamt that it was healing me.”

My mother died shortly after watching that movie and since then I can never watch it again without having a good cry. The kind of cry that is cleansing and makes you feel good.

There are songs on this CD that are very melancholy. Some songs talk about forlorn love and strong feelings. I love the lyrics to “Don’t Tell Her.” “Don’t tell her that I drink tea and not coffee. I’d prefer it if you didn’t talk about me…. Well, what if we meet on some cross-town street and you’ll introduce us and we’ll finally meet and I’ll be alone when you’re walking away and I’ll be wondering what she’s going to say.” (Lyrics by Lori McKenna)

Sad songs make me remember sad times. It’s not that I’m still sad about something necessarily, it just reminds me of a time when I felt exactly that same way that the singer is describing in a song.

When I watch movies that make me think or I listen to music that makes me stop and listen I think that I want to write like that. I hope that I can haunt people with my words. I hope I can make someone’s week melancholy.

Lori McKenna

I have to say this because I've been listening to her CD all week. I ordered Lori McKenna's first CD, "Paper Wings and Halo," and I received it a few days ago. I love so many of the songs on there, but "Paying the Price" is my favorite so far. It's a beautiful song and what I got from it was that she's talking about her songwriting. I could totally relate to the lyrics. Beautiful!

If you want to hear a sample of her music go to her website, lorimckenna.com and go to Music. You can hear 3 sample songs. I really like Stealing Kisses. I think Faith Hill recorded that one too, along with Fireflies. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the lyrics to Fireflies. What a great song about dreaming!

I can't wait to order some more of her CDs to hear more of her music. I think I've become a fan. I have a girl crush!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

YAM

Or, Yet Another Meme, stolen from Gwen, (gwenworld.com) who stole it from her friend, along with the acronym.

5 snacks I enjoy:
1. Cheese on Wheat Crackers
2. Peanut Butter Crackers
3. A bowl of Special K berry cereal with soy milk.
4. Sugar-free Ice Cream
5. Banana with peanut butter

5 things I would do if I were a millionaire:
1. Remodel our house.
2. Buy my family nice houses or give them the cash.
3. Buy a piso in Spain so we can live there part of the year.
4. Write, write, write, full time of course.
5. Buy lots of clothes and shoes (OK, very superficial, but this is my list!) for me, Rey and the kids.

5 bad habits:
1. Biting my nails occasionally
2. Talking way too loud.
3. Interrupting others.
4. Clipping my finger nails and toe nails in bed. (Rey loves that!)
5. Spending way too much time reading on the Internet.

5 things I like doing:
1. Eating lunch alone while reading a good book.
2. Going on long weekend trips with my husband to cool places like New York or the Texas Wine Country (we need to do that again!)
3. Buying books online.
4. Watching really sad movies that I know are going to make me cry all over again.
5. Going to art museums and reading all the little plaques that tell the story about the paintings or artists. (Rey walks ahead of me because I take so long!)

5 things I would never wear, buy or get new again:
1. A Mitsubishi Montero Sport
2. Stirrup pants from the early 90s
3. Poet shirt with big ruffle collars and puffy sleeves.
4. Denim shorts (I own the last pair I'll ever wear)
5. Flat shoes unless they're tennis shoes.

5 favorite toys: (all when I was little)
1. Baby Alive (I loved her!)
2. Raggedy Ann
3. Banana seat bike
4. Barbie
5. My headless doll when I was around 3

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Great Example of Gentrification

This article reminds me of my blog entry,"Shabby Chic is In." It's from the Houston Chronicle archives so you will need a sign on to view it. Registration is free. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2006_4097105.

It's a very sad article and it makes me feel really guilty for being so happy that this Target is opening so close to town.

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's Never Too Late

It’s Never Too Late To Be What You Might Have Been- George Eliot

When I was a little girl I was raised by two wonderful parents and four sisters. There were a lot of advantages to being the youngest child, and the late child at that. It was great having the love of so many people, so many parents, and so many cheerleaders. There were also a lot of disadvantages too.

Thankfully I survived pretty much unscathed and with a lot of good qualities. But there is one negative trait in particular that I inherited that I have not faced until now that I’m an adult and that’s the “it’s too late syndrome.” I call it the “it’s too late syndrome” because ever since I was a child my family had this attitude that it was too late for anything. Basically, the attitude was that that ship had sailed and that there would never be another opportunity.

Example, I was a little girl of six watching the 1976 Olympics and I’m watching Nadia Comaneci making history, becoming the first gymnast to ever score a perfect 10. At those games she received 7 perfect 10s, 3 gold medals, one silver and one bronze. I remember telling my sisters that I wanted to become a gymnast and I was told that it was too late. That basically I needed to have started when I was three or four, because that’s when gymnasts began their training. I find out now as an adult that Nadia Comaneci began gymnastics at the age of 6.

The point is this, I didn’t want to become an Olympic winning gymnast necessarily. All I wanted was to take gymnastics. Maybe we were so poor that my sisters told me that so I wouldn’t dream for something I couldn’t have. Maybe that was their way of protecting me. Whatever their reason it was one of many times that I was met with that attitude or I heard that kind of negative language.

I loved ballet and I was told the same thing. In defiance, I took a summer ballet class when I was eleven. I was told by my sisters, that if I wanted to dance ballet I should have started when I was younger. Besides, they said, I was too fat. This negative behavior wasn't even my sisters' fault either. It was learned behavior from several generations back, passed down to ours. It was a family trait.

I’ll never forget the first time I found stretch marks on my body as a pre-teen and the look of pity and disgust I saw on my sisters’ faces when they found out. I felt like I was ruined. I might as well hang it up. I could never show my naked body to my husband because I was flawed. That was the message they sent to me, even if it wasn’t what they meant. (It wasn’t until that I was older that I saw stretch marks on my friend’s thighs that I realized that some people just get stretch marks.)

So I went the other way. If I was going to be a failure at my weight and my body I was going to become a winner with my mind. I was going to become educated and successful and therefore I wouldn’t need a husband to support me. So what if I was fat? Therefore the more educated I became the more weight I gained. I took on the attitude that I was self-sufficient and that looks didn’t matter. But it did. Health wise it was the worse thing for me, but no one ever put it that way to me.

Now that I am married and that I’m a mother I find myself working so hard not to transfer that negative attitude to my children. I have to fight so hard daily to not have that, “oh well, it’s too late anyway,” attitude about things in my own life. Little things that can add up to big things. Like weight loss. Like writing. Like getting things done. When my little girl tells me she wants to become a fire fighter, a doctor, a mother, I don’t tell her, “no.” I tell her she can be anything she wants to be because she can. We all can.

We are all waiting for the perfect time to do this or to do that. We’re waiting until the kids go to school, or the time changes, or until we retire, to do what? To start living and to do the things we really love?

My writing is not perfect, my blogging is not perfect. I just write for the sake of writing, like musicians play for the sake of playing, and artists paint to paint.

But I keep waiting for the perfect time to finish writing my novel. I keep waiting for one open day a week when I can go away by myself, or for the kids to go to sleep, or any excuse to write. And I know I just have to write and to finish it! Let the chips fall where they fall. That’s what editing is for. To fix all the imperfections, but at least I got it written. This is the “it’s too late” demon I must fight. What's yours?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Inspiration

I have a confession to make. I really have a soft spot. I cry at movies and I cry when I hear really inspiring stories. I cry when I hear a speaker that really strikes a chord in me and makes me feel something inside.

I felt that way when I saw Lori McKenna on Oprah a while back. I think I wrote about her back then when I saw her but since that time I’ve bought one of her CDs and I’ve heard more of her music.

The Oprah show chose to take the “dreams come true” angle. This woman is a song writer and they sent some of her songs to Faith Hill. Faith Hill had just finished recording her album and after she heard Lori McKenna’s music she stopped everything and decided to record three of the songs for the album. Not just that. She named made the title song of the album one of Lori’s songs, “Fireflies.”

It was a nice show and it did make the point that dreams do come true. Lori McKenna is a mother of five, she’s been married since she was really young, and she writes songs. They showed Lori and Faith meeting for the first time and Faith sang “Fireflies,” a beautiful song!

At one point Oprah talks to Lori McKenna about one song in particular that she wrote after watching Ruby Bridges on her show. Ruby Bridges (rubybridges.org) was the first Black child to integrate an elementary in New Orleans. It is such a wonderful song and Lori sang it. She has a beautiful voice. (To learn more about Ruby Bridges go to her website. Amazing story!)

What Oprah didn’t point out was that Lori McKenna has been writing for a while (I can’t remember how many years) and that she has a band and she plays in public. When I Googled Lori McKenna I found all this out. I also found out that I could order some of her CDs. I recently did just that. I ordered “Paper Wings & Halo” because it has “Ruby’s Shoes” on it. It’s a great CD! Beautiful soulful songs!

Lori has a journal (or blog) on her site (lorimckenna.com) that she updates periodically and recently I read something that really hit me. She writes about writing songs with her co-writer Liz Rose for a week and how they did this with children around them. This is straight from her website.

“We had the babies with us the whole time - which always makes for an interesting experience. Liz mastered the art of entertaining a 23-month old while spitting out killer lyrics. I’m pretty sure that only another mom would put up with this kind of torture. The baby also (as I may have mentioned in the past) has a great arm and will throw ANYTHING and everything - usually at your head. We almost had to leave the Olive Garden during lunch because of all the bread sticks he threw across the restaurant. Regardless, we wrote 5 songs in 4 days.” – lorimckenna.com

Isn’t that amazing? Women writing songs, creating art, with babies around them? And then I think of myself and my excuses. I say I can’t write unless I have quiet or unless I have one writing day a week when I can go away by myself. Yet I write essays and blog with all the chaos around me. So am I just making excuses for myself?

JK Rowling started writing in a cafĂ© with her baby in a stroller next to her because she was so poor she couldn’t afford to heat her flat. I know of single mothers who are raising their children, yet they write. They find the time and the energy to go their day jobs and then to come home and write.

Yanier Franklin Donald Moore (Blak) an African American writer started writing while still dealing drugs. He would sit and write and would stop to sell and then would go back to writing. Yet he wrote! And of course he stopped dealing drugs once he became a published writer.

People are always doing extraordinary things despite obstacles. They are my inspiration. I know I can do this. I know I can finish my novel.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Maid's Daughter

My mother had a few careers during my life with her. When I was one month old she started selling Avon. She told me that she told my father that she needed a job where she could have me with her, because it wasn’t my fault that she had me late in life. She was thirty-nine and my father was forty-six.

So off I went with her on Avon calls. I often think that she’s the reason I went into sales because of her early influence in my life. I also know that my mother had a great influence on my drive and my desire to do better in my life, more than she probably realized. I’ll never forget the first and only time I heard someone call me the maid’s daughter and the feeling that that invoked in me.

When I was around seven or eight my sister convinced her to take a job cleaning a woman’s house. My sister wanted a summer job so my mother agreed to take her to this woman’s house to clean it. Every week my sister and my mom would make the drive, that seemed very far at the time, to Bunker Hill. When the summer was over and my sister had to go back to school my mom found that she liked the money and she kept cleaning for Mrs. Sears.

This was the first of many customers that my mother would take on. Soon my mother’s business grew. I never really thought of my mother as a maid. I thought of this as her business and these were her customers. My mother, the daughter and sister of businessmen treated it exactly that way. When one of her customers told her that she had a friend who also needed a cleaning lady my mother didn’t just say yes. She had to think about it, weigh her schedule, and figure out how she would work another house in.

Before she knew it, she was doing two houses a day and she had to take someone to help her and would pay her a portion. She had made this a business with an employee now. She had Mrs. Sears, Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. King, Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Drake, Mrs. Colins, among others. These are just the names I remember.

I’ll never forget the first woman’s name, Mrs. Sears, for a few reasons. First because I always thought of the store and second because she died. Soon after, Mr. Sears married his neighbor and one of my mother’s other customers, a Latina.

My mother wasn’t particularly fond of the new Mrs. Sears. She was demanding and would ask my mother to do difficult jobs that the other Mrs. Sears and the other customers, didn’t ask for. I seem to remember one of those was for my mother to get down on her hands and knees to scrub her floor. There was some tension between them and one day my mother moved a decorative seashell on the bathroom vanity and it was broken.

I don’t remember the details exactly, but when my mother told Mrs. Sears about the broken shell she either acted like she didn’t believe my mother or told her outright that the shell wasn’t broken before my mother had cleaned the house. My mother was extremely offended and it became a matter of principle for her. It was the beginning of the end with Mrs. Sears. The situation culminated with my mother telling Mrs. Sears she couldn’t work for her any more. She also told her in Spanish that she had worked for many “Americanas’ and had a much better relationship with them. She told her that it was sad that she couldn’t work with a Latina.

I’ll never forget Mr. Sears calling my mother at the house and asking her to please reconsider. My mother told him that she was sorry it couldn’t work out. Although she really liked him and had really enjoyed working for him these years, she could not work with his new wife.

That was the end of that and it taught me a very important lesson. No one should put up with unfair treatment from any one, no matter who that person thinks they are. We all own our own business, the business of our self, and it’s up to us to decide what we will and will not put up with.

Another one of the women my mother cleaned for was Mrs. Fisher. She was a thin red headed woman with three children, two teenage boys and a little girl my age. I loved cleaning this woman’s house with my mom during the summer because I got to play with Cheryl and her friends. I also got to clean Cheryl’s room when Cheryl was away, at camp I think, and I loved looking at all the things she had. She had the perfect girls room with all the pretty furniture I longed for and all the games and toys. I would spend a long time dusting, arranging and rearranging her things.

One day I was in her room “cleaning” and her brother walked by with some friends on his way to his room. I saw them glance in to Cheryl’s room and they saw me. I heard one of the boys ask who I was and the brother answer, “Oh that’s the maid’s daughter.”

I remember standing there realizing they were talking about me. I was the maid’s daughter. Up to that point no one had ever verbalized that. I mean, I knew I was the cleaning lady’s daughter, but no one had ever actually called me that, especially not one of the kids of the homes where my mother cleaned.

Mrs. Burns and Mrs. King were always telling my mom to send me with a bathing suit so I could swim in their pool while my mom cleaned. My mom only let me do this a handful of times. A couple of times their own kids swam with me. One day when Mrs. King’s teenage daughter had a few friends over and they invited me to swim with them and layout. I hadn’t brought a swimsuit but Mrs. King insisted that I borrow one of her daughter’s suits. When Cheryl’s friends came to visit Cheryl invited me to play with them. I knew I wasn’t one of them but they made an effort to make me feel welcome. Up to that time in my life I didn’t have any White friends at all. I felt awkward and like I didn’t fit in.

The moment I heard that boy call me “the maid’s daughter” was significant in my life. I think it shaped a lot of what I thought and as I grew up it probably drove some of my ambition.

My mother continued to clean houses until I was eleven and my uncle died. She then quit to help my aunt with my uncle’s bakery. After that she became a tortilla sales rep when she inherited the tortilla route my uncle had left their cousin Juan. Juan had decided to move his family to the Valley so he passed the “ruta” on to my mother.

Even after my mother took on this new career she kept one customer, Mrs. King. She and Mrs. King had developed somewhat of a boss-employee friendship over the years. Maybe it was because Mrs. King was always the one who gave her a raise and continued to give her raises every time my mother said she couldn’t work for her any more. They did this dance for a few years until finally my mother’s health became a factor and she had to quit.

I never told very many people my mother had been a cleaning lady. A couple of years ago I was talking to a co-worker and I asked her where she grew up and she told me Bunker Hill. That was the first and only time in my life that I’ve ever met anyone, outside those homes my mother cleaned, who lived in Bunker Hill. I laughed and I hesitated then I told her about my mother’s cleaning lady career. I felt funny telling her that I had been the maid’s daughter but at the same time I found it funnier that I had hesitated and felt the same tinge of embarrassment.

How was this possible? Why should I feel embarrassed because my mother had owned her own cleaning business? It seemed ridiculous that I should feel this way, now that I thought about it logically. Besides, who cared if I was the maid’s daughter? This was a part of whom I was and that had shaped who I had become as an adult.

The other day one of my very good friends and I were talking about this experience and she said, “You should write about it,” and I thought, “I should.” In retrospect it was a wonderful experience. My mother was the example of running your own business, of standing up for yourself, and of what type of employment awaited me if I didn’t get an education. It also gave me a glance inside the lives of wealthy people, wealthy as compared to me. It taught me how to interact with people in a different social class and I know this served me well later in life. It especially helped me as I entered a new middle school, outside of my neighborhood, and met other White girls who became very good friends.

I hadn’t thought much of Bunker Hill until that day my co-worker told me she had grown up there. I often drive down I-10 but I never think of driving into Bunker Hill. One day I decided to drive that direction. I saw how large the houses and the properties are. I was also surprised at how close to town Bunker Hill really is. It doesn’t compare to how far the suburbs are. I thought of my mother and her career here as a cleaning woman and I wondered how much these homes cost. Maybe, just maybe, one day I can afford to live in Bunker Hill and maybe I won’t choose to.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Shabby Chic Is In

12/3/92

Where I Lived
By Loida

I hated that we didn’t live in a big house,
Like some of my friends.
In a neighborhood with sidewalks
And paper boys on bikes,
Like Henry, Beezus and Ramona’s friend.

Instead the neighbors all put their junk out
In piles
On the street
Or in the “cul de sac” or as we called it,
“the circle.”
And it stayed there for weeks
Or maybe months
Because the trash people never came
To pick it up

Then as I grew up
I realized
How unimportant sidewalks are
And how great ditches are
For swimming in.
Wondering if a crawfish
Might bite me on the toe.

I’d run barefoot on the hot black street
Often cutting my feet,
And I’d run home for Mama to wash it
And pour sangre de chango on it.
I can’t remember how many times I did that,

Or how many times I ran home exhausted,
With the sweat on my face,
Going home
When the street lights turned on
To hear my mother yelling
That I smelled like a dead dog.


I wrote this poem in 1992 and I came across it recently. I thought about it again the other day when I had to cut across the back streets of downtown towards my house. I had to go through some of the lower income neighborhoods. Those kinds of neighborhoods where the houses are close together, paint peeling, holes in the small porch and people sitting outside on a sofa drinking beer. I drove down one of these streets and looked out at the people and they looked back at me in my SUV. One older man waved and I waved back. He didn’t seem surprised to see me driving through.

Houston’s inner city has become so much more diverse these days and residents in predominantly Hispanic or Black neighborhoods are seeing different faces in their neighborhoods.

When I drive my kids to their babysitter’s house every morning I pass by my dad’s house in the neighborhood where I grew up. It isn’t much different today and it’s one of the areas that hasn’t become diverse and probably won’t. This isn’t a neighborhood with big new structures going up. The street that leads to my babysitter’s house has some prostitutes walking early in the morning looking for business and one of those corner stores with all kinds of shady characters hanging out.

The funny thing is I don’t feel unsafe leaving my children with her. I turn down her street, the one with the “Jesus” sign in big red letters on white, and there are several modest but neat homes in a row. You see children playing outside in their yard or on the street with a basketball hoop. My baby sitter’s house has a tall iron fence and I know that the children play within this fence under the watchful eye of the sitter, an older Mexican woman originally from Tabasco, in her early 60s. She has been a great caretaker and almost like a surrogate grandmother to the children. .

You see, I grew up in a neighborhood just like this one and I turned out just fine. I truly believe that a psycho can walk into a home in Suburbia just as easily as they can in this neighborhood. I also believe that kids from the suburbs sometimes get into drugs and alcohol more often than city kids because they grow up sheltered and without seeing what that life can do to you. I grew up in a neighborhood where a lot of people gave in to those vices and therefore I knew what I didn’t want to do. I had living examples of pregnant teens in my neighborhood instead of just posters in my nurse’s office at school.

My husband and I didn’t even give it much thought when we bought our home. We knew we wanted to live in the city and that we’re not suburban types. Some of my high school and college friends bought homes in the small neighborhood where we ended up buying a home too. It’s an old 1940s house with hardwood floors and two extra attic bedrooms upstairs. In fact, almost all the houses in our neighborhood are this same style and were constructed in the ‘40s.

It’s a charming little neighborhood with a lot of character. The Houston Chronicle once did a very flattering feature piece on it when they were covering different neighborhoods in Houston.

When I tell a workmate where I live he says, “I looked at a house in that neighborhood but I didn’t like the neighborhoods around it.”

Yeah, that would be the area two blocks from my house to the left. Or it would be the Corner Bar, on the other side of our neighborhood. We aren’t surrounded by the best neighborhoods, but we like our small area and we love our old homes. We love being so close to so many different freeway entrances and perfectly centered in town.

Suddenly in the last few years there’s been a big exodus from the suburbs to the city. I crack up when I drive near downtown. I see these super expensive three story town homes and luxury apartments going up everywhere. They’re built right next door to old decrepit buildings and houses. It’s become shabby chic to live in bad areas.

Having grown up in a poor area, I think it’s hilarious that this generation of homebuyers finds it cool to live in rough areas. I wonder if any of these residents ever even drove into neighborhoods like these before deciding to move into these huge homes off W. Gray or Washington. If they didn’t, then I’m glad they’re here now.

People who may have never grown up in poor areas now get to see how most of Americans live. They can see this as long as they don’t close their eyes to the homeless people in the park across the street from their $500,000 town home when they steer their BMW into the driveway. All they need to do now is open their eyes and take a look around them. Hopefully, if they aren't doing so already, they can find ways to help their community.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Another Amazing Day




Okay, last post that seems "journaly." I have to tell you about today. I had another incredible day at the Book Festival. I had an opportunity to be the facilitator again for Alisa Valdes Rodriguez today.

The last session of the day was a Women's Roundtable speaking to women in the arts and the line-up was a cast of brilliant women. There was Deborah Santana (Santana's wife, author of Space Between the Stars), Esmeralda Santiago (My Turkish Lover and many other great books), Sonia Manzano (Maria from Sesame Street), Cathy Areu (Founder and Editor of Catalina magazine) and Alisa.

This was such a cool line-up of Latina authors. It was incredibly exciting to see all these awesome women together on one stage and to hear them speak about their art and what inspired them to write. Very cool!

As I sat there in the audience listening to them and thinking about my own writing and how I have to get off my butt and write, I also thought about my daughter and how women like these are leaving such a wonderful legacy for our young women. I can't thank them enough for doing that and for encouraging women to do more with their lives and to read. I love that they pointed out the importance of reading in order to become a writer. Having grown up in a house of readers I really believe they go hand in hand.

Thank you to all the authors who were with us this weekend and I look forward to reading more of your words. And thank you to my sisters and my mother who were such great role models of strong women who read!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Women Who Inspire Me

I had the most incredible day today at the Edward James Olmos Latino Book & Family Festival. Not only did they have the most awesome line up of Latina authors but I got to meet three of them in person in the last two days.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet both Maria Elena Salinas and Alisa Valdes Rodriguez.

When I met Maria Elena Salinas I felt so melancholy thinking of my mother. I was sitting in a conference room with some journalists listening to her speak and I was thinking about how my mom used to watch her on the news every day for years. I was thinking about how this was one of those moments when I really missed my mom because it was something that I wished I could share with her. When we finished and said goodbye I called my baby sitter and shared my experience with her. I got the same kind of response from her that I imagined I would have probably gotten from my mother. My mom was in the same age range as my sitter.

I can't believe Maria Elena has been doing the news with Univision for 20 years!!!! Amazing! Her book is, "I Am My Father's Daughter."

Later the same day I met Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, for whom I was a facilitator at the book fair today. I drove her to her reading at Barnes & Noble last night and then back to her hotel. I really admire her guts and her fire to have published the books that she has and for always speaking her mind. Her new book is "Make Him Look Good."

The first author I heard today at the book fair was Jackie Guerra. She was one of the most incredible motivational speakers I have heard in a long time! She was fantastic!! For those of you who don't remember, she's the actor who played Suzette, Selena's sister, in the movie Selena. She spoke about making a difference, walking into a room like you're Elvis, knowing how unique you are, and following your dreams passionately. I can see her running for office one day. She is super smart and very very funny. I loved her line, "Because I'm MexiCAN, not MexiCAN'T." Her book is, "Under Construction-How I've Gained and Lost Millions of Dollars and Hundreds Pounds."

A couple of things really struck me about Jackie Guerra. When I went up to her and introduced myself she said, "You're the reason I'm here!" just because I'm the one that told her about the fair and put her in touch with Tony Diaz. That was really kind of her. Then the second thing she said later after speaking was, "So have you finished your book?" I was so awed that she remembered that about me. That was really motivational!

I also visited local author, Houston's Gwen Zepeda. She read parts of her book, "To the Last Man I Slept with, and All the Other Jerks Just Like Him," and she has two new books coming out in the next year. She always impresses me so much and I think she is so funny! She also inspires me because I think she is so awesome working her day job, raising three boys as a single mom, and then publishing her writing. How cool is that?

Thank you ladies for being so motivational and great role models for young women.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm Still Alive & Change in Format

A long time ago when I started this blog and my old website on iVillage I wanted to write meaningful essays and I did at the beginning on iVillage. When I joined Blogger I did that sometimes, but for the most part this became more of a journal of my life and the challenges of getting healthy and being a working mom.

I've decided that I'm going to go back to my original plan of making this more of a platform for more serious, and sometimes not so serious, essays. What I mean is that I need to refine my writing and use this as an opportunity to do that.

That said, you may not see me as often. Hopefully you'll see me less but when you see me here it will be with a well written essay. In addition to that, I think I'm ready to tackle my novel again and finish this first draft so I can get started on the editing and rewriting process.

On a side note, and speaking of essays, if you haven't picked up the latest issue of Texas Monthly do. My cousin Oscar Casares has a great article in the May issue about his dog Flaco and reminisces about his old dogs "Mingo." Check it out!