Front Porch Blog

Feet on the front porch rail

 For Mother’s Day, Kendra got me a really amazing gift called StoryWorth. Every week, they send me a question and I answer it by email. At the end of the year, they’ll put all of my answers, including photos, into a book. Since I haven’t written much on this blog lately, I thought maybe I would just put a bunch of the questions and answers here. I put my heart into every one of them.

I’m Old

I am old. Every time I say that I am old, I am met with “You’re not old” or “No, you’re not” or “You don’t look old” or “Don’t say that” (I never really understand this one. If I don’t say it, then is it not true? And does it work the other way around?) or even “You’re not that old.” Every time I say I’m old, someone tells me, in one way or another, that I’m wrong.

So why do people tell me those things when I say I’m old? Because being old is thought of as a negative thing, as something no one would ever want to be. Think about it. If I said, “I’m ugly,” you’d tell me I’m not. If I said I’m a terrible person, you’d tell me I’m not terrible. If I said I’m really stupid, you might tell me not to say that about myself. Or maybe that I’m not that stupid. And it’s the same with old. But why? Why is being old thought of in the same way as being ugly, terrible, or stupid?

Old is an achievement of sorts, but no one thinks of it that way. And yes, I know that, when people say that I’m not old, they mean it as a compliment. But that’s the problem. Being old is not bad. Being “not old” is not good.

“As we age, we grow more aware of our place in deep time,” says Mary Pipher. I agree with that statement, and I think that only people my age or older can really understand that. That sense of deep time, and of being part of an interconnected web of ancient times, my present time with seven billion others, and all the span of the future, comes with age, late in our lives. Knowing that, feeling it in every place in my mind, heart, and body, brings profound sorrow and deep joy.

I cannot say it better than Mary Pipher so here are her words:
“Fate and choice intertwine to create the person we are. We can clearly see the role luck and chance play. From our vantage point, we can see our lives as braided rivers with many strands coming together and interweaving. We can see the gentle turns and the oxbows, the ice jams, and the spring flows. We can begin to understand what is the riverbed and what is the river, or what is long-lasting and what is ephemeral. This view affords us inspiration, joy, solace, and practical advice. Examining our pasts add depths to relationships, helps us understand ourselves, and allows us to feel deeply connected with people from our past and present times and the future, long after we are gone.”

I am old and, even with the aches, pains, dryness, memory loss, limitations, and marginalization of being old, I am happy with the increased patience, the deepened love, the unexpected bliss, the unique comfort, the sweet awe, and the constant illumination of being at this place in my life — of being old.

Sixteen Days

January 16, 2019, started like most Wednesdays for me. I had nothing on my calendar except for a Houston Paralegal Alumni Association board meeting, which would be at my house that evening. I planned to get a manicure and pedicure that morning. James was out of town. It would be a lovely, laid back day.

But no. At 9:30, I got a call from Cindy. I knew right away that something was wrong because it was a call and not a text. Cindy said that the school had called and Miles was sick. She asked if I could pick him up from school right then. I said yes, mentally rearranging my day. She asked if I could then take him to the pediatrician and then keep him until Sean got off work. More mental calculations, but of course, I would make it all work. After I got him, took him to the doctor (double ear infections) and got his prescription filled, we went home and watched Coco. Sean was also not feeling well, so he left work early and got to my house at 3:00. He and Miles left just after 3:15. I thought I would lie down for a few minutes. I was wrong.

I got a text from Kendra at 3:20 that stopped me from doing anything other than looking at my phone for the rest of the afternoon. She had been at work in San Francisco when she got a call from Ocean Shore School that Andrew was sick. He had been fine and he started having a bad headache. She left work to get him and, when she got to OSS, a fire truck and ambulance were there. Andrew did not recognize her and, although he seemed conscious, he did not seem to be really aware of what was going on around him. We would later find out that this was a kind of seizure. At first, though, when she texted me, it was to say that she was at the ER with Andrew. She said that Andrew was moaning a lot, which he’d also done at school, and that he seemed almost like he was sleepwalking. She asked him his name. He thought about it for a long time and finally responded, “Jack.”

The doctors did tests. They took blood and a chest X-ray. They got urine to do a drug test. When I heard that, I thought, “Yes, let it be drugs” because his symptoms sounded much scarier than a drug reaction, which was something we could fix. About an hour later, they did a CT scan of his head. Then, just two hours after Kendra’s first text to me, she texted to say: “Brain cancer. OMG. It’s in an area of the brain that’s operable. That’s all we know.” The doctors, along with Kendra & Chris, decided that Andrew should be transferred to UCSF. It took a couple of hours, but he got to UCSF and began seeing doctors there. He got an MRI, which gave them a whole lot more information. It was the scariest day. I let family and friends know, and the next morning, I started a Caring Bridge for Andrew.

I have written so much on the Bridge about all of this and I’m not going to repeat all of it here, but surgery went well, and although it will take a little time, we expect that he will make a full recovery. Andrew’s attitude has been more along the lines of, “Great, I’ve been wanting to get rid of these headaches” and not at all along the lines of “Brain tumor — oh no, I’m so scared.” A lot of the credit for that goes to his astonishing parents, who have held their own anxieties under wraps while being both straight and positive with Andrew about everything that’s going on.

Both Andrew and Jack have had headaches, but Jack’s have been more frequent and more intense. Because they are identical twins, that has been a big concern. The doctors said that they haven’t seen a higher incidence of this kind of tumor in siblings or twins, but the fact that he has intense headaches and his genetically identical twin has a brain tumor is reason enough to get an MRI. Jack had the MRI last Tuesday. The results came in on Wednesday while Andrew was in surgery. There was no sign of anything abnormal in Jack’s brain. Huge relief.

On Thursday, January 17, Kelli had surgery. The surgery had been scheduled for quite awhile. She had cosmetic surgery to help her get her pre-baby body back. She’d done everything she could on her own and, although no one would think she needed surgery, she thought she did. And she was the only person who mattered in that equation. She had the surgery and everything went well. They spent the night at a hotel and went back to see the surgeon the next day before going home. Even though things went well, it was major abdominal surgery and the whole family was concerned about her. She went home and was starting to recover, but was unable to sleep. She could not get comfortable and, as the days passed, her pain seemed to get worse instead of better. Five days after her surgery, she was in so much pain, and was so undone by the lack of sleep, that she was shaking uncontrollably. She was afraid that she could not get through the night. She told Danny to call 911 and get an ambulance. It was his first time to call 911. She went to the hospital, where she spent the next seven days fighting a MRSA staph infection in the hospital. She’s finally home, as of three days ago, but she’s still taking antibiotics, fighting the infection.

On the same day that we got the news about Andrew, Tom got his own bad medical news. His urologist told him that, during a procedure to check on his bladder cancer, they found a lot of aggressive cancer cells right outside of the bladder, up into his ureter, leading to his kidney. The cancer cells have penetrated muscle layers already. He has an appointment with MD Anderson next week and I plan to go with him.

I cracked a rib sometime that week. I didn’t even know it when it happened. I was really sore the next day and I figured I’d just pulled something when I did yoga. But it got worse instead of getting better so I went for an x-ray on Monday. The doctor also doesn’t think I should fly on any flight longer than 90 minutes because of the possible effects of pressurization on a broken rib. So I’m essentially grounded from going to San Francisco for a few weeks.

Sean and Cindy had a consultation with a psychologist about doing an evaluation on Miles for his attention problems, speech and language delays, anxiety, and maybe autism. The school is going to evaluate him first. Then they hope to return to this psychologist for an additional evaluation and therapy.

Last Saturday, I was teaching a Legal Writing Class at UHD when I got a text from James. He said that he was going to a medical climic to see if they could give him an antibiotic or something to help him feel better. He was in Corpus when he started feeling sick on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he was too sick to drive home. On Thursday, he probably should not have been driving, but he wanted to get home after we got the news about Andrew. He was still feeling awful on Saturday. An hour later, I got another text from him saying that he was going to the Methodist Hospital ER. He was diagnosed with a bowel obstruction and he spent the next two days on “bowel rest” in the hospital.

It has been like some horrible medical vortex these last 16 days. I hope it’s over now and everyone just takes a little time to heal. Nobody wants another 16 days like this ever.

The Blue Wave: the Midterm Elections of 2018

In 2016, our country elected, as President, the most uninformed, uncurious, stupid, authoritarian, childish, greedy, liar, sexual predator showman in its history. That has changed everything about the country in the last two years.

Trump has done immense damage to our country in just two years. Here is a list of some of the damage he has done:

1. He settled a lawsuit by paying 25 million dollars to students of Trump University who accused him of fraud.
2. He rolled back a law designed to reduce electricity made from burning coal.
3. He loosened standards on how companies discard coal ash.
4. He froze mandates that require that cars use less gasoline and pollute less.
5. He cut the limits on the release of methane gas by companies.
6. He rejects the science on climate change.
7. He rejects the science that shows that some pesticides make people sick.
8. He has rolled back more than 80 environmental regulations designed to help the environment.
9. About climate change, he said, “I like good climate.” He does not know the difference between climate and weather.
10. He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which 184 countries have ratified.
11. He withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, blowing up six years of negotiations.
12. He entered into a trade war, imposing tariffs, hurting U.S. farmers and industries, claiming that “trade wars are easy to win.”
13. He calls the press “the enemy of the people” and encourages violence toward the press.
14. He has decreased the number of acres of federal land protected from mining and drilling.
15. He refuses to read his Daily Intelligence Briefings, claiming, “I am, like, a smart person.”
16. He makes policy announcements on twitter.
17. He announces personnel changes on twitter.
18. He publicly shames and belittles cabinet officers he appointed.
19. He issued a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
20. He put more than 5000 military troops at the southern border of the US because he claimed that a caravan of thousands of “middle easterners” and “bad dudes” and “hardcore criminals” were headed to the border to commit violence. It was a lie and he knew it. When about 100 people ran toward the border crossing at Tijuana, US Border Agents shot canisters of tear gas at them, including babies and toddlers.
21. He lies every day that he speaks in public.
22. He appointed a Secretary of State who had no experience in either government or diplomacy, but had a good relationship with Russia’s President Putin.
23. His economic team is all men and all white.
24. He did not divest himself of his business interests when he became president.
25. He refused to make any of his tax returns public, as all prior presidents have done.
26. He refers, on twitter, to Intelligence Agencies as “Intelligence” Agencies. When DOJ does something he doesn’t like, he calls it the Department of “Justice.”
27. He appointed his son-in-law to a top White House post in violation of federal anti-nepotism laws passed in 1967.
28. He lied about, and ordered others to lie about, the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
29. He wants to have military parades, against the wishes of the military, both leadership and rank-and-file.
30. He declared his inauguration day to be the “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.”
31. He canceled a CDC Climate and Health Summit in Atlanta.
32. He threatened to send federal troops to Chicago, citing false claims about the crime rate.
33. He mandated that EPA scientific studies be reviewed by his political staff before their release.
34. He announced that, although we would take many fewer refugees than in the past, preference would be given to Christian refugees.
35. When the acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed the Justice Department to not defend Trump’s Muslim Ban because it was unconstitutional, Trump fired her.
36. He calls any unfavorable news “fake news” and he admits that criteria for what constitutes fake news.
37. He described Frederick Douglass as still being alive.
38. He promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from engaging in political activities in order to keep their tax-exempt status.
39. He ordered his female staffers to “dress like women.”
40. He frequently violates ethics laws by denigrating or promoting various companies on twitter.
41. He picked a friend of his to be US Ambassador to Austria because the friend “is a big fan of the Sound of Music.”
42. At a rally, he made up a lie about a terrorist attack in Sweden to explain his anti-immigration policies.
43. He created a new office in ICE called VOICE (victims of immigration crimes engagement) and moved money set aside to help undocumented individuals to VOICE.
44. He got a tax bill passed that gave huge breaks to corporations and the top one percent of individual taxpayers, but very little to the people who really need a break. The bill saved him millions on his own taxes.
45. When a court overrules some policy or executive order he issues, he personally attacks the judge, sometimes referring to the judge’s heritage, and more often calling judges names, and saying they are “Obama judges” or “Bush judges” or “Clinton judges.”
46. He nominated a man, who sexually assaulted more than one woman, for a position on the US Supreme Court. That man now sits on the Court.
47. He mentioned a terrible ice storm in a tweet, followed by “whatever happened to global warming?”
48. He threatened the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a ruling that his asylum ban was unconstitutional.
49. He does not believe the conclusions of the U.S. Intelligence community if it doesn’t fit with his narrative.
50. When citizens showed up in Congressional district town hall meetings to express their disagreement with the Republican agenda and the repeal of Obamacare, he blamed Democrats.
51. In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, he made 61 statements of fact. Fifty-one of them were false.
52. He fired James Comey, the FBI Director, and then admitted, in a televised interview, that he did it because he was not happy about the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
53. He asked the Justice Department to charge Hillary Clinton with crimes connected to her emails, seeking to jail his political enemy.
54. He accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, with no evidence.
55. He kidnapped thousands of children from their parents, sometimes literally pulling them out of their parent’s arms, when they crossed the border into the US seeking asylum. It’s been nearly six months since public outcry and the courts forced an end to this inhumane policy and, still, nearly 500 of the children have not been returned to their parents.
56. When he ordered these unlawful separations, he took no measures to keep track of the children. There was no plan for reunification of the children with their families. Some parents were deported without their children.
57. He deleted LGBTQ categories (sexual orientation and gender identity) from the US Census.
58. He added a citizenship question to the US Census, which is antithetical to the purpose of the Census.
59. He made his daughter, Ivanka, a federal employee.
60. On Equal Pay Day in 2017, he signed an order doing away with Obama-era regulations that protected women workers.
61. He cut all funding to the UNFPA, a UN program that focuses on maternal health.
62. He removed climate science from the Environmental Protection Agency website.
63. He said that the system of checks and balances we have is “a really archaic system” that “is really bad for the country.”
64. His EPA dismissed five scientists from a major scientific review board and replaced them with representatives of the industries that the EPA is supposed to regulate.
65. He called several African countries “shithole countries.”
66. He pulled an Obama-era grant to a group called Life After Hate, which is dedicated to countering Nazis and White Supremacy groups.
67. He attacks Republicans on Twitter. After they failed to repeal Obamacare, he personally, by name, attacked the Republicans who voted against repeal. He also said that Republicans “look like fools” and that Democrats “are laughing at Rs.”
68. He pardoned one of the most lawless, degrading, racist, sexist officials in the country: Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He did it on a Friday when a hurricane was just offshore of the Texas coast. Asked about the timing of the Arpaio pardon announcement, he said, “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would normally.”
69. He took away the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan because Brennan was a harsh critic of Trump.
70. Instead of a normal morning briefing, he requires aides to prepare a folder of good news, which staffers call the “propaganda folder.”
71. He said that he “fell in love with Kim Jung Un” after the two authoritarian leaders met.
72. When asked, on a Thanksgiving phone call broadcast to US Troops, what he was thankful for, Trump responded that he was thankful for “the tremendous difference” he’s made for the country.
73. When Nazis and White Nationalists carried torches and marched in Charlottesville and an anti-fascist was killed by a Nazi, Trump blamed “both sides” and refused to speak out against the Nazis.
74. He referred to himself as a Nationalist, which was widely seen as a nod to his own racist views and those of others.
75. He backed a child predator in a special Senate election in Alabama.
76. He dismissed a federal advisory panel for National Climate Assessment.
77. His nominee for Secretary of Agriculture said that being “LGBT behavior is a choice” and that legalizing same sex marriage could lead to “legalizing pedophilia.”
78. He imposed sanctions on Venezuela, but exempted one company, Citgo, from the sanctions. Citgo donated $500,000 to his campaign.
79. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, he said that people should not have gone out in boats in Houston to watch the hurricane come in. He repeated this more than a year later when he held a campaign rally in Houston to help Ted Cruz.
80. He instructed the Centers for Disease Control to not issue any statements to the press or even speak to reporters, “even for a simple data-related question.”
81. He started his first speech to the United Nations by talking about Trump Tower: “I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you.”
82. Through his DOJ, he demanded private information on thousands of anti-administration Facebook users in three separate search warrants.
83. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people (the worst mass shooting in the US, up to that date), Trump said that the law enforcement response was, “in many ways, a miracle.” Trump refused to call the white shooter a “terrorist,” but said that he was a “very sick man” and “demented.” The first bill Trump had signed as President revoked an Obama-era gun check for people with mental illness.
84. He allowed CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, to expire, leaving nine million children uncovered.
85. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, he appeared not to understand that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. He also said, while in Puerto Rico: “We’ve saved a lot of lives. If you look at the — every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundred and hundred and hundreds of people that died. And you look at what happened here with really a storm that was totally overpowering. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”
86. He rescinded 72 Department of Education special education policy documents outlining the rights of students with disabilities. DOE said the special education guidelines were “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.”
87. He pulled the press credentials of a veteran CNN reporter after a contentious exchange between the reporter and Trump.
88. His EPA announced that it will reverse an Obama-era rule that requires hard rock mining companies to pay for the costs of cleaning up when they finish mining.
89. He rolled back an Obama-era policy that required trains carrying highly explosive liquids to install pneumatically controlled brakes by 2021 to help prevent fiery train wrecks.
90. He took down “We The People,” which was a popular online site, created under the Obama Administration, to create online petitions. Petitions that garnered more than 100,000 signatures required a response from the government.
91. He scaled back the use of fines for nursing homes who have been found to have harmed residents or placed them in grave danger.
92. He fired everybody on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
93. He capped the number of refugees the US took in 2018 to 45,000, down from 85,000 during the Obama administration.
94. He canceled five-year grants to Planned Parenthood and eight other organizations aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, in the middle of the terms of the grants, with no explanation.
95. Seventeen people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. A Trump official called it “a distraction or a reprieve” from the negative news the administration had been receiving during the week prior to the shooting. The next week, Trump’s campaign used a photo of a 17-year-old Parkland survivor, surrounded by her family in the hospital, in an email soliciting campaign donations.
96. In 2017, admissions of Muslim refugees to the US dropped by 94 percent, from 50 percent of all refugees to just 10 percent.
97. He called for stronger immigration policies, saying of undocumented immigrants, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
98. He tweeted that Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada is “very dishonest and weak.”
99. He said, of Kim Jung Un, the dictator of North Korea, that he’s a “strong head,” and, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
100. He withdrew the United States from its position on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

When I started that list above, I thought I would list maybe 20 things. Limiting it to even 100 things was very difficult. I’ve given short shrift to anything to do with the Russia-Trump Investigation, which has driven so much of the every day of this administration. And I haven’t said nearly enough about the Family Separation at the Border policy. I will do that soon.

That long list was really just prelude to the topic of the 2018 midterm elections. Ever since Trump’s surprise election, with help from Russia, James Comey, Wikileaks, and White Nationalists, Democratic focused on the 2018 Midterms. Because Senate elections are staggered with the two Senators from each state being elected in different years, it was always clear that Democrats would have a very difficult time taking the Senate. But in the House of Representatives, everybody runs for election (or re-election) every two years. We needed to flip 23 congressional districts from Republican to Democratic in order to take the House. More women ran for Congress than ever before. People who had never run for elective office, ran. More people of color ran. Muslims ran. Immigrants ran. They ran for Congress, but not only for Congress. They ran for state legislatures and governor and state and county judgeships. It was an exciting time all over the country.

In Texas, it was even more exciting. No Democrat had won a statewide election in more than twenty years. But because of one man, Beto O’Rourke, people thought it might happen. Beto is a phenomenal man and an extraordinary candidate. He hired no political consultants or pollsters. He refused corporate and PAC donations. He had a progressive platform. And he was the first Senate candidate to visit every single county in Texas. But no Democrat had managed to get even 42 percent of the vote in decades. I believed in Beto and I worked hard for him in every conceivable way. I wanted to be able to say, on election day, that I left it all on the field. I did everything I could have done. James became a voter registrar. I became a poll watcher. We were both intensely involved in the campaign.

On Election Day, Democrats picked up enough seats in the House to take it over. We actually have picked up 39 seats (one election in California still has not been called), far more than we needed. We picked up state legislature seats. We picked up governorships. It was a Blue Wave. Beto lost his Senate race in a very close contest.

People immediately started reaching out to me to see how I was doing. I had been so depressed after Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016. People know how much of myself I had poured into Beto’s campaign. They were worried about me. I appreciated the concern. The truth was that, as sad as Beto’s loss was, I was not at all surprised by it. If there was a surprise for me, it was how close he came to winning. Nobody who has followed Texas politics for as long as I have predicted a 2 point margin. Harris County, and other urban counties, voted for Beto by huge margins. But there is, as Molly Ivins called it, a big “Bubba Vote” in Texas. There are people who are guided by fear and people who are guided by their traditions and people who just really like Ted Cruz (just kidding about that last part). Look at the results of Texas races since Karl Rove and GW Bush beat Ann Richards in 1994. This margin of defeat for a Democrat in a statewide race in Texas is an astounding, joyful miracle that only Beto could have achieved.

Usually, when high-on-the-ballot candidates win, we talk about their coattails — how many down ballot candidates owe their victories, in part, to that candidate. I honestly cannot remember a race where the losing candidate had coattails. But Beto did. We picked up seats in the Texas Lege. We picked up judges galore — 59 new Democratic judges in Harris County alone, 19 of them black women. And yes, they were excellent candidates who ran smart campaigns, but would the blue energy have been there in Texas without Beto at the top? No.

James and I gave a lot to Beto’s campaign. We gave our energy, our time, and our money. We turned our home into a Pop-Up Office for Beto, welcoming strangers into our home for 12 hours a day for four weeks. We had uncomfortable conversations with voters. We trained other people to leave their comfort zones to have those conversations. Yesterday, I spent all day poll watching, which was equal parts of frustration, fun, and enlightenment. Because we gave all that we had to this effort, my heart is filled with joy, peace, and pride. We gave everything and we have no regrets. Together, we can change Texas over time, but not overnight.

In any disaster, no matter the horror, there are always moments of joy and reasons to celebrate. There was a blue wave last night and that is worth celebrating. Looking around the country, there are more reasons to celebrate than to mourn. We have work ahead of us, as Texas Democrats always do.

. I am happy for the many victories on election night and that happiness outweighs the disappointment. Beto is not done. The energy and the magic that his campaign created is not done. What he has created will hold a special spot in the political history of our state and our country. I’m so grateful to have been part of this.

The Blue Wave of 2018 is one for the history books. It is a turning point in the Trump Administration because now the House can investigate. The federal budget will come from them. They can pass gun control bills, greater environmental protection, and green energy bills. They can protect the Affordable Care Act. They can get Trump’s tax returns. They can pass immigration reform. They can help make the list of Trump’s atrocities shorter next year than it was this year. The future of the Democratic Party was in this Blue Wave — and Beto is an important part of that.

In 2016, our country elected, as President, the most uninformed, uncurious, stupid, authoritarian, childish, greedy, liar, sexual predator showman in its history. That has changed everything about the country in the last two years.

Trump has done immense damage to our country in just two years. Here is a list of some of the damage he has done:

1. He settled a lawsuit by paying 25 million dollars to students of Trump University who accused him of fraud.
2. He rolled back a law designed to reduce electricity made from burning coal.
3. He loosened standards on how companies discard coal ash.
4. He froze mandates that require that cars use less gasoline and pollute less.
5. He cut the limits on the release of methane gas by companies.
6. He rejects the science on climate change.
7. He rejects the science that shows that some pesticides make people sick.
8. He has rolled back more than 80 environmental regulations designed to help the environment.
9. About climate change, he said, “I like good climate.” He does not know the difference between climate and weather.
10. He withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which 184 countries have ratified.
11. He withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, blowing up six years of negotiations.
12. He entered into a trade war, imposing tariffs, hurting U.S. farmers and industries, claiming that “trade wars are easy to win.”
13. He calls the press “the enemy of the people” and encourages violence toward the press.
14. He has decreased the number of acres of federal land protected from mining and drilling.
15. He refuses to read his Daily Intelligence Briefings, claiming, “I am, like, a smart person.”
16. He makes policy announcements on twitter.
17. He announces personnel changes on twitter.
18. He publicly shames and belittles cabinet officers he appointed.
19. He issued a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
20. He put more than 5000 military troops at the southern border of the US because he claimed that a caravan of thousands of “middle easterners” and “bad dudes” and “hardcore criminals” were headed to the border to commit violence. It was a lie and he knew it. When about 100 people ran toward the border crossing at Tijuana, US Border Agents shot canisters of tear gas at them, including babies and toddlers.
21. He lies every day that he speaks in public.
22. He appointed a Secretary of State who had no experience in either government or diplomacy, but had a good relationship with Russia’s President Putin.
23. His economic team is all men and all white.
24. He did not divest himself of his business interests when he became president.
25. He refused to make any of his tax returns public, as all prior presidents have done.
26. He refers, on twitter, to Intelligence Agencies as “Intelligence” Agencies. When DOJ does something he doesn’t like, he calls it the Department of “Justice.”
27. He appointed his son-in-law to a top White House post in violation of federal anti-nepotism laws passed in 1967.
28. He lied about, and ordered others to lie about, the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
29. He wants to have military parades, against the wishes of the military, both leadership and rank-and-file.
30. He declared his inauguration day to be the “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.”
31. He canceled a CDC Climate and Health Summit in Atlanta.
32. He threatened to send federal troops to Chicago, citing false claims about the crime rate.
33. He mandated that EPA scientific studies be reviewed by his political staff before their release.
34. He announced that, although we would take many fewer refugees than in the past, preference would be given to Christian refugees.
35. When the acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed the Justice Department to not defend Trump’s Muslim Ban because it was unconstitutional, Trump fired her.
36. He calls any unfavorable news “fake news” and he admits that criteria for what constitutes fake news.
37. He described Frederick Douglass as still being alive.
38. He promised to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches from engaging in political activities in order to keep their tax-exempt status.
39. He ordered his female staffers to “dress like women.”
40. He frequently violates ethics laws by denigrating or promoting various companies on twitter.
41. He picked a friend of his to be US Ambassador to Austria because the friend “is a big fan of the Sound of Music.”
42. At a rally, he made up a lie about a terrorist attack in Sweden to explain his anti-immigration policies.
43. He created a new office in ICE called VOICE (victims of immigration crimes engagement) and moved money set aside to help undocumented individuals to VOICE.
44. He got a tax bill passed that gave huge breaks to corporations and the top one percent of individual taxpayers, but very little to the people who really need a break. The bill saved him millions on his own taxes.
45. When a court overrules some policy or executive order he issues, he personally attacks the judge, sometimes referring to the judge’s heritage, and more often calling judges names, and saying they are “Obama judges” or “Bush judges” or “Clinton judges.”
46. He nominated a man, who sexually assaulted more than one woman, for a position on the US Supreme Court. That man now sits on the Court.
47. He mentioned a terrible ice storm in a tweet, followed by “whatever happened to global warming?”
48. He threatened the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after a ruling that his asylum ban was unconstitutional.
49. He does not believe the conclusions of the U.S. Intelligence community if it doesn’t fit with his narrative.
50. When citizens showed up in Congressional district town hall meetings to express their disagreement with the Republican agenda and the repeal of Obamacare, he blamed Democrats.
51. In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, he made 61 statements of fact. Fifty-one of them were false.
52. He fired James Comey, the FBI Director, and then admitted, in a televised interview, that he did it because he was not happy about the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
53. He asked the Justice Department to charge Hillary Clinton with crimes connected to her emails, seeking to jail his political enemy.
54. He accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, with no evidence.
55. He kidnapped thousands of children from their parents, sometimes literally pulling them out of their parent’s arms, when they crossed the border into the US seeking asylum. It’s been nearly six months since public outcry and the courts forced an end to this inhumane policy and, still, nearly 500 of the children have not been returned to their parents.
56. When he ordered these unlawful separations, he took no measures to keep track of the children. There was no plan for reunification of the children with their families. Some parents were deported without their children.
57. He deleted LGBTQ categories (sexual orientation and gender identity) from the US Census.
58. He added a citizenship question to the US Census, which is antithetical to the purpose of the Census.
59. He made his daughter, Ivanka, a federal employee.
60. On Equal Pay Day in 2017, he signed an order doing away with Obama-era regulations that protected women workers.
61. He cut all funding to the UNFPA, a UN program that focuses on maternal health.
62. He removed climate science from the Environmental Protection Agency website.
63. He said that the system of checks and balances we have is “a really archaic system” that “is really bad for the country.”
64. His EPA dismissed five scientists from a major scientific review board and replaced them with representatives of the industries that the EPA is supposed to regulate.
65. He called several African countries “shithole countries.”
66. He pulled an Obama-era grant to a group called Life After Hate, which is dedicated to countering Nazis and White Supremacy groups.
67. He attacks Republicans on Twitter. After they failed to repeal Obamacare, he personally, by name, attacked the Republicans who voted against repeal. He also said that Republicans “look like fools” and that Democrats “are laughing at Rs.”
68. He pardoned one of the most lawless, degrading, racist, sexist officials in the country: Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He did it on a Friday when a hurricane was just offshore of the Texas coast. Asked about the timing of the Arpaio pardon announcement, he said, “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would normally.”
69. He took away the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan because Brennan was a harsh critic of Trump.
70. Instead of a normal morning briefing, he requires aides to prepare a folder of good news, which staffers call the “propaganda folder.”
71. He said that he “fell in love with Kim Jung Un” after the two authoritarian leaders met.
72. When asked, on a Thanksgiving phone call broadcast to US Troops, what he was thankful for, Trump responded that he was thankful for “the tremendous difference” he’s made for the country.
73. When Nazis and White Nationalists carried torches and marched in Charlottesville and an anti-fascist was killed by a Nazi, Trump blamed “both sides” and refused to speak out against the Nazis.
74. He referred to himself as a Nationalist, which was widely seen as a nod to his own racist views and those of others.
75. He backed a child predator in a special Senate election in Alabama.
76. He dismissed a federal advisory panel for National Climate Assessment.
77. His nominee for Secretary of Agriculture said that being “LGBT behavior is a choice” and that legalizing same sex marriage could lead to “legalizing pedophilia.”
78. He imposed sanctions on Venezuela, but exempted one company, Citgo, from the sanctions. Citgo donated $500,000 to his campaign.
79. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, he said that people should not have gone out in boats in Houston to watch the hurricane come in. He repeated this more than a year later when he held a campaign rally in Houston to help Ted Cruz.
80. He instructed the Centers for Disease Control to not issue any statements to the press or even speak to reporters, “even for a simple data-related question.”
81. He started his first speech to the United Nations by talking about Trump Tower: “I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you.”
82. Through his DOJ, he demanded private information on thousands of anti-administration Facebook users in three separate search warrants.
83. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people (the worst mass shooting in the US, up to that date), Trump said that the law enforcement response was, “in many ways, a miracle.” Trump refused to call the white shooter a “terrorist,” but said that he was a “very sick man” and “demented.” The first bill Trump had signed as President revoked an Obama-era gun check for people with mental illness.
84. He allowed CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, to expire, leaving nine million children uncovered.
85. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, he appeared not to understand that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. He also said, while in Puerto Rico: “We’ve saved a lot of lives. If you look at the — every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous — hundred and hundred and hundreds of people that died. And you look at what happened here with really a storm that was totally overpowering. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people.”
86. He rescinded 72 Department of Education special education policy documents outlining the rights of students with disabilities. DOE said the special education guidelines were “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.”
87. He pulled the press credentials of a veteran CNN reporter after a contentious exchange between the reporter and Trump.
88. His EPA announced that it will reverse an Obama-era rule that requires hard rock mining companies to pay for the costs of cleaning up when they finish mining.
89. He rolled back an Obama-era policy that required trains carrying highly explosive liquids to install pneumatically controlled brakes by 2021 to help prevent fiery train wrecks.
90. He took down “We The People,” which was a popular online site, created under the Obama Administration, to create online petitions. Petitions that garnered more than 100,000 signatures required a response from the government.
91. He scaled back the use of fines for nursing homes who have been found to have harmed residents or placed them in grave danger.
92. He fired everybody on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
93. He capped the number of refugees the US took in 2018 to 45,000, down from 85,000 during the Obama administration.
94. He canceled five-year grants to Planned Parenthood and eight other organizations aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, in the middle of the terms of the grants, with no explanation.
95. Seventeen people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. A Trump official called it “a distraction or a reprieve” from the negative news the administration had been receiving during the week prior to the shooting. The next week, Trump’s campaign used a photo of a 17-year-old Parkland survivor, surrounded by her family in the hospital, in an email soliciting campaign donations.
96. In 2017, admissions of Muslim refugees to the US dropped by 94 percent, from 50 percent of all refugees to just 10 percent.
97. He called for stronger immigration policies, saying of undocumented immigrants, “These aren’t people. These are animals.”
98. He tweeted that Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada is “very dishonest and weak.”
99. He said, of Kim Jung Un, the dictator of North Korea, that he’s a “strong head,” and, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
100. He withdrew the United States from its position on the United Nations Human Rights Council.

When I started that list above, I thought I would list maybe 20 things. Limiting it to even 100 things was very difficult. I’ve given short shrift to anything to do with the Russia-Trump Investigation, which has driven so much of the every day of this administration. And I haven’t said nearly enough about the Family Separation at the Border policy. I will do that soon.

That long list was really just prelude to the topic of the 2018 midterm elections. Ever since Trump’s surprise election, with help from Russia, James Comey, Wikileaks, and White Nationalists, Democratic focused on the 2018 Midterms. Because Senate elections are staggered with the two Senators from each state being elected in different years, it was always clear that Democrats would have a very difficult time taking the Senate. But in the House of Representatives, everybody runs for election (or re-election) every two years. We needed to flip 23 congressional districts from Republican to Democratic in order to take the House. More women ran for Congress than ever before. People who had never run for elective office, ran. More people of color ran. Muslims ran. Immigrants ran. They ran for Congress, but not only for Congress. They ran for state legislatures and governor and state and county judgeships. It was an exciting time all over the country.

In Texas, it was even more exciting. No Democrat had won a statewide election in more than twenty years. But because of one man, Beto O’Rourke, people thought it might happen. Beto is a phenomenal man and an extraordinary candidate. He hired no political consultants or pollsters. He refused corporate and PAC donations. He had a progressive platform. And he was the first Senate candidate to visit every single county in Texas. But no Democrat had managed to get even 42 percent of the vote in decades. I believed in Beto and I worked hard for him in every conceivable way. I wanted to be able to say, on election day, that I left it all on the field. I did everything I could have done. James became a voter registrar. I became a poll watcher. We were both intensely involved in the campaign.

On Election Day, Democrats picked up enough seats in the House to take it over. We actually have picked up 39 seats (one election in California still has not been called), far more than we needed. We picked up state legislature seats. We picked up governorships. It was a Blue Wave. Beto lost his Senate race in a very close contest.

People immediately started reaching out to me to see how I was doing. I had been so depressed after Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016. People know how much of myself I had poured into Beto’s campaign. They were worried about me. I appreciated the concern. The truth was that, as sad as Beto’s loss was, I was not at all surprised by it. If there was a surprise for me, it was how close he came to winning. Nobody who has followed Texas politics for as long as I have predicted a 2 point margin. Harris County, and other urban counties, voted for Beto by huge margins. But there is, as Molly Ivins called it, a big “Bubba Vote” in Texas. There are people who are guided by fear and people who are guided by their traditions and people who just really like Ted Cruz (just kidding about that last part). Look at the results of Texas races since Karl Rove and GW Bush beat Ann Richards in 1994. This margin of defeat for a Democrat in a statewide race in Texas is an astounding, joyful miracle that only Beto could have achieved.

Usually, when high-on-the-ballot candidates win, we talk about their coattails — how many down ballot candidates owe their victories, in part, to that candidate. I honestly cannot remember a race where the losing candidate had coattails. But Beto did. We picked up seats in the Texas Lege. We picked up judges galore — 59 new Democratic judges in Harris County alone, 19 of them black women. And yes, they were excellent candidates who ran smart campaigns, but would the blue energy have been there in Texas without Beto at the top? No.

James and I gave a lot to Beto’s campaign. We gave our energy, our time, and our money. We turned our home into a Pop-Up Office for Beto, welcoming strangers into our home for 12 hours a day for four weeks. We had uncomfortable conversations with voters. We trained other people to leave their comfort zones to have those conversations. Yesterday, I spent all day poll watching, which was equal parts of frustration, fun, and enlightenment. Because we gave all that we had to this effort, my heart is filled with joy, peace, and pride. We gave everything and we have no regrets. Together, we can change Texas over time, but not overnight.

In any disaster, no matter the horror, there are always moments of joy and reasons to celebrate. There was a blue wave last night and that is worth celebrating. Looking around the country, there are more reasons to celebrate than to mourn. We have work ahead of us, as Texas Democrats always do.

. I am happy for the many victories on election night and that happiness outweighs the disappointment. Beto is not done. The energy and the magic that his campaign created is not done. What he has created will hold a special spot in the political history of our state and our country. I’m so grateful to have been part of this.

The Blue Wave of 2018 is one for the history books. It is a turning point in the Trump Administration because now the House can investigate. The federal budget will come from them. They can pass gun control bills, greater environmental protection, and green energy bills. They can protect the Affordable Care Act. They can get Trump’s tax returns. They can pass immigration reform. They can help make the list of Trump’s atrocities shorter next year than it was this year. The future of the Democratic Party was in this Blue Wave — and Beto is an important part of that.

What was your childhood bedroom like?

My bedroom was always the best among the bedrooms of my group of friends. None of this was really my doing. My parents pretty much took charge of my room from the start.

They may have asked me about a color preference but, in my memory, my bedroom redecorating was always done as a surprise, usually while I was spending a weekend with my cousin or at a church camp or Girl Scout camp. I had a twin bed, a bookcase (which I still have now, in my tea closet), a chest of drawers, shelves on the wall. My room was only 9×12 so that was plenty of furniture. All the furniture was painted, so a color was selected and every piece of furniture was painted that color. So were the walls. My dad did all the painting and always without stripping or sanding so it was possible to literally peel down through the layers of paint to see how many colors, how many coats of paint, there had been. Then my mother would change the curtains and bedspread and rearrange the furniture. It would be this entirely new room when I walked in, eyes closed, with one parent holding each of my hands, waiting for my reaction. I never faked it and I never disappointed them. I always loved it. Those were always huge events.

There were two unusual bedroom transformations that stand out. One was when I got to move into the attic. That sounds bad, but it was amazing. I have a picture of the room so you can see the part of the room of which my dad was the proudest. The room had these plank-like things between the walls and the ceiling. They were around 8 inches wide. Look at the photo. Anyway, my parents were doing my room in orchid and then my dad had a brilliant idea, which was to use a different color for every other plank. By the way, these planks were made out of asbestos, I’m pretty sure. Anyway, the effect was really cool. The other color, my dad would want me to say, was amethyst. He loved the name of the lighter color. It was a fantasy girly room.

The other big change was that my parents bought me (from Montgomery Ward) a mahogany bedroom suite: bed, dresser with a big mirror, nightstand, and chest of drawers. My mom wrote a big note that said: “Happy birthday for years, Merry Christmas for years, Happy wedding! This is it!” It was the first grown up furniture I ever had and I think it was right before I started high school that they got it for me. And they painted my walls white. It was beautiful. Like the whole of my childhood.

My Hands

On my hands are rings that I love. Each one means something special to me. My nails, thanks to manicures every three weeks, look perfect. But –

There are days when I look at my hands and I don’t recognize them. They are so old. Veins are starting to bulge. The surface is inhumanly leathered. Freckles have given way to full-blown age spots. The skin is so thin that it lets blood through even when it has no visible opening. I’ve thought more than once lately about how much I hate these old hands. But –

Today, I was looking at them and seeing the age in them, when I started thinking about these hands and all they’ve done. These fingers once curved around my mother’s fingers, knowing I would never be lost as long as I held her hand. These hands made mud pies and works of art for the refrigerator. They drew hopscotch boards. They withstood awkwardly applied nail polish. My fingers learned to play the piano when I was only eight years old and now, more than fifty years later, I still have the pleasure and pride of being able, with these old hands, to bring the keys to life and fill the house with music.

These hands learned to twirl a baton, write in cursive, hem a dress, braid hair, take a photo, type, plant a rose bush, knead dough, put on eyeliner, hold a protest sign, cup a face, and drive a car. I have promised my hand to three men, making commitments for a lifetime. Both my hands and my commitment still belong to all three.

My hands have created, destroyed, comforted, pounded, protested, praised, applauded, waved, shook, steadied, made love, made fists, made food, and made beauty. My hands have held flowers, diapers, law books, computers, manure, iPhones, pencils, fabric, and furry dogs. My hands have held the faces of my children, my grandchildren. My hands have held their tiny toes.

These hands held newborns as they took their first breaths. My hands held my youngest baby as he took his last breath.

My hands are my life. Dried, scarred, veined, bruised, lined, wrinkled. Yet beautiful, full, abundant, strong, wise, magical, and filled with the work and the joy of my life.

Who did you go to prom with?

Like most high school girls, I looked forward to prom for years. The reality was different from the fantasy or the movies. The only thing I remember about prom was that it was disappointing. I remember thinking “now what?” when I was at prom. I went to prom with Lonnie Vara. I don’t remember any details about the prom itself — not even where the prom was held. Prom was not the big deal that it is now. Not even close. No one did elaborate prom proposals or rented a limo or anything like that. Lonnie picked me up in his car. He got me a nosegay. At least, that’s what I asked him to get me. It was more like a bridal bouquet. But that was really cutting edge. Everybody else had a regular corsage or a wrist corsage, but I wanted something different. There was an after-party, but I don’t remember where it was held. I remember I had a navy blue minidress for that, but I have no idea where I changed clothes. Lonnie’s mom was very involved in the PTA and she was a chaperone for the after-party. We drove her home after the party, which is when I first met her. I asked Lonnie what she was like, when he told me I’d be meeting her. He said, “She’s a mom.” I tried to press for more details. Is she nice? Is she mean? Is she strict? Is she tall? Is she short? Is she skinny? Is she fat? He said, “She’s really nice and she’s not fat or skinny. She’s just, you know, mommy-fat.” Memory is a weird thing. I cannot remember a single detail of my prom, but I never forgot this small, random conversation I had with Lonnie when we’d been dating for four months.

How did you get to school as a child?

As a child, I went to Lora B. Peck Elementary school, located on South Park, which was later renamed “Martin Luther King Boulevard.” I lived a long block from school and I mostly walked to and from school. If it was especially cold, or especially hot, my mom might pick me up from school, but usually, I walked.

After I was sexually assaulted in my fifth grade summer, I continued to walk to school, but unbeknownst to me until many years later, my mother would call the school when I left home. Then the school would call my mom when I arrived. I usually stopped at my best friend, Jean Kelly’s, house on Arvilla, in the mornings. The police sent a patrol car to drive around the neighborhood every school morning. Plus, my mother or the school were supposed to call the police if I was late. But, as I said, I did not know any of that was going on at the time.

When I got to Stonewall Jackson Junior High, now called Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School, located at 5100 Polk, I was in a carpool with Betty Williams, Donald Rainwater, and two other kids I don’t really remember. During my sophomore year in Austin High School (it was 10th, 11th, and 12th grades then), located at 1700 Dumble, my dad dropped me off at school in the mornings. I honestly don’t have a memory of how I got home, but it was probably my mom. In the summer before my junior year, we moved to an apartment (The Beautiful Marlin Apartments at 1617 Marlin, number 12) that was less than a block from the school. So, for my last two years, I ended up walking to and from school again. It was great.

Did you join a sorority in college?

Yes, I did. I went through rush just before my freshman year. I pledged Delta Zeta. What I liked most about them was that they sang a lot during rush parties, and they seemed like a very close knit group. Going from the coziness of my group of friends in high school to a huge campus at UH, I was really excited about being part of DZ. I immediately got a “big sister,” which was something I’d always wished to have. Her name was Cheryl and we did a lot of fun things together throughout the fall semester. I loved the many traditions and rituals of Delta Zeta.

The first time I thought maybe it was a mistake for me to be in a sorority was when I found out about the dress code. You’d think that, in college, there would not be a dress code, but you’d be wrong. It was pretty strict. We had to wear skirts or dresses. We could wear “pants suits,” but only on days when the temperature went below 60 degrees. And even then, only if the top of the pants suit was the same color and material as the slacks. The top also had to come to the bottom of the fingertips when your arms were flat against your sides. No jeans ever. No tennis shoes ever. I got a part time job when they opened a new store called “Target” near my parent’s house. The DZ sisters did not like that because I wasn’t as available as I might otherwise be. We had to pay $35 a month in dues, which was a lot back in 1969. So I was becoming a little more disillusioned each day, even though I was determined to make it through the pledge year.

In November, I was “pinned” to Lonnie Vara, now known as SodaPop. The hierarchy of dating, when you were in a sorority, was “dating,” which conferred no special status, “dropped,” which meant that the guy gave you a necklace with his fraternity Greek letters and you were dating exclusively, “pinned,” which meant a guy was in a committed relationship with you and gave you his fraternity pin (or if he was independent, meaning that he was not in a fraternity, then UH had its own similar pin), and then engaged to be married. When a sorority sister got dropped, pinned, or engaged, there was a candlelight ceremony. We all (about 50 of us) stood in a huge circle, usually out in front of the sorority house. Someone started passing a lit candle and we sang. The person who just got dropped, pinned, or engaged, blew out the candle when it was passed to her. If it was during the first time the candle went around the circle, then she was dropped. If it was the second time around, she was pinned. So when Lonnie and I got pinned, I had a ceremony and it felt so special. I still remember the dress I got just for that ceremony.

In October, I had been elected as the sweetheart of the pledge class of Sigma Nu and SN’s pledge class came to my house and serenaded me. But then I was expected to limit my dating to Sigma Nu, which was odd because I had been dating Lonnie since high school. I did not intend to date anyone else. So we got pinned in November.

No one said anything to me about dating Lonnie, or being pinned to him — except for congratulating me a lot at the candlelight ceremony.

In January, we were to have this big Delta Zeta Winter Ball. I had my formal dress and Lonnie had already rented a tux and ordered my corsage. Three days before the Ball, the executive council of DZ asked to meet with me. They told me that I had to separate from the sorority. They said that my work schedule interfered with too many activities, and I seemed to balk against some of their rules, so I was out. They told me that I had to go talk to the Dean of Women at UH to say that I wanted to drop out of the sorority. They told me that I was not allowed to give her the real reason and that it had to appear to be voluntary. Looking back, I don’t know why I went along with that, but I did.

Weeks later, DZ was planning a mother-daughter tea for April, and a DZ alum who was heading up the committee called my mom to see if she would help with something. Apparently, no one had told this woman that I’d been kicked out. So my mom told her that I’d been kicked out. As soon as she said it, the alum said, “Oh dear. Now I remember. She was the one who was dating a Mexican. You know — no one minded that she was dating him and they even tolerated her being pinned to him, but when we found out that she planned to bring a Mexican to our Winter Ball, well, we just could not let that happen.” So that was it. No Mexicans at the fancy dance. After that, I was glad they’d kicked me out — and that I could wear jeans to class any time I wanted.

In the photo below, it’s not easy to see, but I’m wearing the pin, right over my heart, that indicated that I was pinned to Lonnie.

What was something you were surprised to learn when you moved out of your parent’s house?

I was 19 when I moved out of my parent’s house. I moved into an apartment on Broadway, near Hobby Airport. I felt SO grown up, but I was astonished at how little I knew about “keeping house.”

First, I was surprised that, when I moved in, things like condiments, butter, ketchup, sugar, flour, and popsicles were not already there. Of course, I wasn’t really surprised by that. My brain knew better, but I’d never had to shop for those things. They were just always there.

Second, I had no idea how to mop a floor. I honestly did not even know how to wring out a mop. I remember calling my mom while standing at one end of my kitchen with about a half-inch of water sitting on the floor, asking what I’d done wrong.

Third, I learned about shelf paper.

Lastly, I learned that bathrooms, refrigerators, carpets, furniture — none of those things are self-cleaning. When had my mother done these things without my ever seeing her?

I learned a lot when I first moved out from my mom and dad’s house, but most of all, I learned how they had given me the perfect combination of roots and wings.

What do you loved most about your job?

The job I have now is teaching the Paralegal Certificate Program at the University of Houston Downtown (UHD). It’s the exact same job as the one I had at the University of Houston Main Campus for the last eleven years before switching to UHD earlier this year(2017).

Teaching the paralegal program puts my wildest professional dreams to shame. It is so much more than I could ever have imagined.

I have always loved to teach, ever since I was a little girl. When my friends “played school,” I was always the teacher. I took piano lessons and would teach friends what I learned. The same was true with baton lessons, and tap and ballet. I loved the teaching role. Inspired by my junior high choir directors, Paul Ofield and Christine Dean, my career plan was to major in music education in college and become a teacher. Once in college, I started teaching piano lessons, which I enjoyed. In my fourth year of college, when I did student observation at Bellaire High School, I decided that I did note want to teach in a school. It was a good decision for me. I had one child already and knew there would be another child soon. When my children were growing up, I became a teacher of sorts to them. I was also a substitute teacher in Pasadena ISD. I also taught Red Cross classes for babysitters. And I ended up as a Childbirth Educator, which led me to more adventures helping women with their births. In some ways, I have taught people throughout my life.

Then I decided to go to law school when I was in my 40s. I made it through in two and a half years and became a lawyer. I used to say that the best part of being a lawyer was just getting to say, “I’m a lawyer.” And I still always think it’s a pretty badass thing to be able to say. The best part of being a lawyer, though, is what I do now. It’s teaching people about the law. That’s the best part. I enjoyed the practice of law, and especially the work I did for people with disabilities, but I am so glad that, through a serendipitous convergence of events, I ended up with the opportunity to make a great living by doing something that I love so much. I love the law and I love teaching. Being able to put those two things together is magic.

In 2005, the Continuing Education Department at UH decided to offer a paralegal program. They did not know anything about the course except that it was a popular course in other schools and it would make money. They got a paralegal and a woman who worked at a bookstore and had gone to law school, but did not pass the bar, to teach the course. It was dismal. They took turns reading from the pre-law text book all morning. In the afternoon, they watched movies about the law like true crime dramas or Grisham books that were made into movies. Although the class was supposed to last from 9:00 until 5:00, the class always got out by 2:30. They learned no skills. All of the students complained, including Mary Truman, who was a court reporter for me for my hearings at the City of Houston. She told UH to get lawyers to teach the class and gave them a list of seven attorneys. I was on that list. All seven of us taught the next course, starting in February of 2006. It was better, but still a disaster. I taught the first day about the foundations of the law and I taught employment law later in the course. But there was no homework and no testing. I asked ProDoc to provide training in their software for the students and I started assigning homework so they would get some practical skills. I would go to UH to pick up the homework, grade it, and return it to the students. At the end of that course, the students complained to UH again, but this time, they told UH to hire me to do the whole course. I did not know about that in advance, but UH contacted me, asked me to start from scratch and write the curriculum, and teach the whole course. I was working fulltime at TIRR/ILRU by then so this would mean working seven days a week, but I decided to do it. I loved it from the start. The program was very successful, both in terms of student satisfaction and in making money for UH. They kept giving me raises. I eventually quit my job at TIRR/ILRU in 2010 and decided to teach more, introducing weekday classes. I was working hard, loving it, and making more money than I ever dreamed of making.

My favorite part of teaching the paralegal program was, and still is, changing the way people think about everything in their lives, which ends up changing their very lives. It is the most powerful feeling to know that lives are changed by taking my little course. And each life is like a pebble in the pond in terms of the ripple effect of the change.

After teaching the program at UH was eleven years, suddenly UH made the decision to close the entire Continuing Education Department. I was unexpectedly out of a job. At first, I was in a panic because, at my age, finding a job as an attorney would be nearly impossible. Plus I just loved teaching with all my heart. My friend, Guy Felder, helped me a lot with my stress when he told me that another school would take my program and he’d help me market it. But then, a sort of miracle happened. The head of UHCE contacted the head of UHDCE and told him about my program. There were two really successful CE programs at UH: Paralegal and Project Management. UHD wanted both programs and asked me to move the paralegal program there. The structure for pay was very different. I would get a percentage of the registration fees, rather than an hourly rate. This completely changed how I approached getting students for the program. Before, I wanted to teach as many courses as possible so that I was teaching a lot of hours at $200 an hour. At UHD, I shortened the course from 20 classes to 18 classes. And I offered only three classes a year so that there would be a lot of students in each class. So now I make about the same amount of money per class, but I’m teaching only three classes a year, rather than the six I taught at UH. I reduced my salary by half, but I’m also teaching less, which is a good way to semi-retire now that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

My program has an excellent reputation in the legal community, which I treasure. I have changed the lives of more than 1200 students, with more to come. Two of the careers I’m proudest of are Cindy Brennan’s and Danny Vara’s. They took my class and are happily and gainfully employed in fulfilling legal careers. Many of my students have gone on to law school and become attorneys. And even students who ended up going into some other career, have told me that I changed their lives by teaching them how to write, how to cope with stress, how to act in the workplace, how to question the news you hear, and how to be a responsible citizen. Just this weekend, my 56th paralegal class graduated. One student was an attorney in Nigeria. He’s been in Texas for less than a year. He told me that he thought this class would be easy for him because he already studied law. Now he thinks that everybody should take my class — not only those who want to be paralegals. He said I opened his eyes to everything in the world around him. I gave him a love for the law that he had never had. It was deeply touching and yet, he wasn’t the only student to say such things. I hear from students even years after they have taken my class and they tell me how much it still means to their everyday lives, and how often something reminds them of me.

I know how fortunate I am to have a job that I love so much and to be shown such gratitude and love from my students. What I learn from my students is so much more than what I teach them.

Are you more like your mother or your father? In what ways?

I love this question because I’ve never thought about this before. Still, I really am a blend of the two of them. Physically, I’m more like my dad, for better and worse. I have some of his facial features and his fair skin, and his tendency to high blood pressure, although the meds they have now are much better now. I have my mom’s love for, and ability to, teach. In a different time, my mother would have gone to college and become a teacher. She always said so. Yet she found other ways to teach — teaching her kids, teaching Sunday School to little kids all the way up to adults, and teaching her grandkids. They both had generous spirits, so I was lucky enough to get a double dose of that from them. They were devoted to their children and wildly, completely smitten with their grandchildren, as am I.

There is a song I love, whose lyrics I slightly modified, but it really does reflect what I believe about the magical childhood my parents provided.

They married back in ’39.

They were young and love was fine.

And the feelings grew days at a time

Between the two of them.

When work grew scarce and times got bad,

The hope would chase away the sad.

And hope was sometimes all they had

Between the two of them.

The 40’s came and the 50’s went

A mortgage note replaced the rent.

They made the most of each day spent

Between the two of them.

Their children all turned out just fine.

He retired at 65.

Left with oh so little time

Between the two of them.

Today I braved the graveyard rain

And placed a rose between their names.

Now that’s the most that ever came

Between the two of them.

And though I miss them both so much—

His crooked smile, her gentle touch,

And the pleasure of just growing up

Between the two of them.

What stories have you been told about yourself as a baby?

All children love hearing stories about when they were born. I was no different. My parents told me this about the story of my birth:

While my mom was pregnant with me, the family moved to the home where I grew up at 4901 Winnetka in Houston 21, Texas. (This was in the days when, for the postal service, Houston was divided into zones. Years later, “zones” were replaced with “zipcodes,” and ours was 77021).

On September 16, 1951, which was a Sunday, the family was getting ready to go to church and my mom decided to stay home that morning. My dad took Danny and Pat to go to Sunday School and the church service at Central Park Church of God. My mom went into early labor while they were gone. When they got home, my mom was ready to get to the hospital. They dropped my brothers off with friends and went to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

By the time they got there, my mom was in labor only a couple of hours before they took her back to the delivery room (no men allowed then in either the labor or the delivery room, and it would be another 20 years before that would start to change). The nurse eventually came out to the waiting room to tell my dad, “Congratulations! You have a girl!” Again, back then, no one had any idea, in advance, what the gender a baby would be. After two boys, my dad was thrilled, of course. When he was allowed, he went to see my mom. He told her that she’d had a girl (women were routinely given “gas” and essentially not conscious for the birth) and she wanted to see me. She somehow didn’t believe that I was all right. This was a pretty common thing back then since women were gassed for the birth. My dad went to the nursery and could not find me. The doctor said that I was in an incubator just as a precaution to make sure I was all right and I was getting a little oxygen in the incubator. My dad went back and told my mom. She was really upset by this because it just confirmed her fears, which had then become a fear that everybody was lying to her instead of telling her that she’d lost her baby. So my dad went back to the nursery and demanded to see me. They finally let him see me and the first thing he checked was whether I had eyebrows. He was fair-skinned, fair-haired, and although he always had eyebrows, they were difficult to see with the light hair against the light skin. Satisfied with my eyebrows, he started to go tell my mom that I was fine and beautiful, but realized that she would not rest until she saw me. Mothers were not allowed to get out of bed for 48 hours (although she was allowed to dangle her legs on the side of the bed after 24 hours). So he begged the nurse to please take me to my mom. The nurse struck a bargain with him. She bundled me up and got me out of the incubator because the incubator was not even on wheels. Then she carried me to the door of my mother’s hospital room. My dad went in first and left the door open. My mom was crying. She looked up at the door and I was there. From the door, the nurse said, “This is your baby. She has all of her fingers. She has all of her toes. Now please tell your husband to stop bothering us.”

I was out of the incubator the next day. My dad always told me, and this was the part of the story that I always loved the most, “You were always in the front row, center, in the hospital nursery, because that’s where they put the most beautiful baby.”

Children were not allowed to come onto the maternity ward so my dad brought my brothers and they stood outside my mom’s window during one of the times that she had me in the room (just 4 20-minute visits per day). She held me up to the window and waved and blew kisses to her sons.

My mom and I were in the hospital for a week because that was the normal thing back then. The bill for me being in the nursery was six dollars, basically a dollar a day and they did not count the first day because it was about 5:00PM when I was born. The bill for my mom was $14, billed at two dollars per day. So the total that they had to pay was $20.

I don’t remember a lot of other stories from my baby days. When I was having babies, I remember asking my mom if she considered breastfeeding me. She said that she never even considered it, and neither did any of her friends who were having babies, because companies had started making formula, which was advertised as being better for babies. She did tell me that, of course, her milk came in after each of her babies, and her most vivid memory of her own mother’s help after her babies’ births was of her mother wrapping warm binding around and around and around her breasts, which helped so much with the pain and swelling from her milk coming in.

When I asked about how I got my name, my parents said that they let my grandmother, my dad’s mother, name me. Since she named her only child Jack, I guess it was inevitable that she would name me Jacqueline. Ann was a very common middle name in the 1950s. More than half of my friends growing up had that same middle name.

My mom said that, as a baby and foreverafter, I was a Daddy’s girl.

All children love hearing stories about when they were born. I was no different. My parents told me this about the story of my birth:

While my mom was pregnant with me, the family moved to the home where I grew up at 4901 Winnetka in Houston 21, Texas. (This was in the days when, for the postal service, Houston was divided into zones. Years later, “zones” were replaced with “zipcodes,” and ours was 77021).

On September 16, 1951, which was a Sunday, the family was getting ready to go to church and my mom decided to stay home that morning. My dad took Danny and Pat to go to Sunday School and the church service at Central Park Church of God. My mom went into early labor while they were gone. When they got home, my mom was ready to get to the hospital. They dropped my brothers off with friends and went to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

By the time they got there, my mom was in labor only a couple of hours before they took her back to the delivery room (no men allowed then in either the labor or the delivery room, and it would be another 20 years before that would start to change). The nurse eventually came out to the waiting room to tell my dad, “Congratulations! You have a girl!” Again, back then, no one had any idea, in advance, what the gender a baby would be. After two boys, my dad was thrilled, of course. When he was allowed, he went to see my mom. He told her that she’d had a girl (women were routinely given “gas” and essentially not conscious for the birth) and she wanted to see me. She somehow didn’t believe that I was all right. This was a pretty common thing back then since women were gassed for the birth. My dad went to the nursery and could not find me. The doctor said that I was in an incubator just as a precaution to make sure I was all right and I was getting a little oxygen in the incubator. My dad went back and told my mom. She was really upset by this because it just confirmed her fears, which had then become a fear that everybody was lying to her instead of telling her that she’d lost her baby. So my dad went back to the nursery and demanded to see me. They finally let him see me and the first thing he checked was whether I had eyebrows. He was fair-skinned, fair-haired, and although he always had eyebrows, they were difficult to see with the light hair against the light skin. Satisfied with my eyebrows, he started to go tell my mom that I was fine and beautiful, but realized that she would not rest until she saw me. Mothers were not allowed to get out of bed for 48 hours (although she was allowed to dangle her legs on the side of the bed after 24 hours). So he begged the nurse to please take me to my mom. The nurse struck a bargain with him. She bundled me up and got me out of the incubator because the incubator was not even on wheels. Then she carried me to the door of my mother’s hospital room. My dad went in first and left the door open. My mom was crying. She looked up at the door and I was there. From the door, the nurse said, “This is your baby. She has all of her fingers. She has all of her toes. Now please tell your husband to stop bothering us.”

I was out of the incubator the next day. My dad always told me, and this was the part of the story that I always loved the most, “You were always in the front row, center, in the hospital nursery, because that’s where they put the most beautiful baby.”

Children were not allowed to come onto the maternity ward so my dad brought my brothers and they stood outside my mom’s window during one of the times that she had me in the room (just 4 20-minute visits per day). She held me up to the window and waved and blew kisses to her sons.

My mom and I were in the hospital for a week because that was the normal thing back then. The bill for me being in the nursery was six dollars, basically a dollar a day and they did not count the first day because it was about 5:00PM when I was born. The bill for my mom was $14, billed at two dollars per day. So the total that they had to pay was $20.

I don’t remember a lot of other stories from my baby days. When I was having babies, I remember asking my mom if she considered breastfeeding me. She said that she never even considered it, and neither did any of her friends who were having babies, because companies had started making formula, which was advertised as being better for babies. She did tell me that, of course, her milk came in after each of her babies, and her most vivid memory of her own mother’s help after her babies’ births was of her mother wrapping warm binding around and around and around her breasts, which helped so much with the pain and swelling from her milk coming in.

When I asked about how I got my name, my parents said that they let my grandmother, my dad’s mother, name me. Since she named her only child Jack, I guess it was inevitable that she would name me Jacqueline. Ann was a very common middle name in the 1950s. More than half of my friends growing up had that same middle name.

My mom said that, as a baby and foreverafter, I was a Daddy’s girl.

Did you embrace any fads while you were growing up?

Did I embrace any fads while growing up? Why, kid, I was the very embodiment of fads while growing up.

I am positive that I cannot remember every fad I embraced, but here are some I vividly remember from the 1950s and the 1960s.

Candy cigarettes. Yes, parents bought, for their small children, compressed sugar in the shape of cigarettes, with a little pink color on the end (the ember), and they were in small cardboard boxes that looked like packs of cigarettes. We pretended to smoke these because, you know, smoking was so cool and tasted like sugar.

Hula hoops. These were a big fad and I was great at hula hooping as a little kid. I could do all the tricks and was definitely the best among my circle of friends. I once hula hooped for an hour and 57 minutes without dropping the hula hoop. Check out the photo of me hula hooping below.

Saddle oxfords. Saddle oxfords were kind of a must-have in the 50s. They were stiff and heavy and not at all comfortable, but we wore them religiously, and usually with bobby socks. The next big shoe fad was penny loafers. That was followed by weejuns. Weejuns were, far and away, my favorite shoe fad (until Tieks, 50 years later) — and no socks were involved.

Boomerangs. I could never make these do what they were supposed to do, but I had one, anyway. Same with yoyos and harmonicas.

Poodle skirts. Big, circular skirts were definitely a fad. I had a skirt with a poodle, but equally popular were skirts with other things — different animals or scenes, and holiday-themed ones. Check out my Valentine circle skirt below. Oh, and we had petticoats to make the skirts stand out. There was even a fad of a petticoat with a little innertube in it that we blew up, according to how much we wanted the skirt to stand out.

Sock hops. Sock hops were school dances in the gym. Shoes were not allowed on gym floors so everyone danced in their socks. HISD stopped allowing sock hops once racial integration became mandatory.

Hair. When I was a preschooler, the hair fad was home permanents. I’ll never forget the smell. The main maker of home perms was Toni. When I was in elementary school, the big hair craze was ponytails. Also popular were buns and french twists. If your hair wasn’t up, then it was probably in a pageboy.In junior high, hair was a lot bigger. People “teased” their hair to make it stand up higher. Lots of hairspray was required. Another popular style was called a “bubble.” I think Connie Stevens started that fad. If you wore a bubble, you probably had a little velvet bow in front that matched your clothes. Later, by the time I was in high school, straight hair was popular and girls would iron their hair — and I’m not talking about a flat iron or a curling iron. We used a clothes iron to iron our hair. And lastly, there was a fad born of “social necessity.” In high school, we went to the mall (these were not even the covered malls that became popular later) on Saturdays. All girls would wear their hair in curlers (you’ll probably have to look up what these are) with plastic stick pins in each one. Then we wore huge hair nets that had decorative ruffles to cover up the curlers. You might be wondering why we would do such a hideous thing. If you did not have your hair in curlers all day on Saturday, that meant that you did not have a date for Saturday night. And that was something that, however true, no girl wanted to admit in the mid-1960s. I’ll put a bunch of my hair photos below.

Baton twirling was a big fad and something you rarely see now. Nearly all girls took baton lessons. And the biggest bonus by far of baton twirling was getting to wear majorette boots. See my Spinnerettes photo below.

Beatlemania was obviously a big deal and The Beatles stood the test of time. They really changed music and culture. And yes, I had a photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo in my room and I may or may not have kissed them each goodnight every night.

Bell bottoms were a craze and, later, low cut bell bottoms with halter tops. Miniskirts were a fad in the 60s and I wore a lot of miniskirts. I got send home from high school many times because my skirt was too short. I remember Miss Kimball, the gym teacher, asked me, “Did you father see you before you left for school this morning?” Of course. Skirts were supposed to touch the floor when you knelt. Not stylish at all.

GoGo Boots were a big trend, too. I really loved my GoGo boots.

Ear piercing was a fad when I was in junior high and it was popular for friends to pierce each other’s ears. I pierced the ears of a lot of friends, using ice as local anesthetic and using guitar strings in the needles. I don’t recommend it.

There were a lot of dance fads. I took ballroom dancing in 5th and 6th grades, as did most of my peers, so that we could do the foxtrot, cha-cha, and waltz. We also learned to square dance. Really. Of course, as music changed, dancing changed. I was on a local TV dance show called Larry Kane in the 1960s. By then we were doing the twist, watusi, mashed potato, the swim, the frug, the shake, the stroll, fais do do, and the hitch hiker. And lots more that I can’t remember.

Tiedye was a fad. It consisted of taking an item of clothing like a shirt and them bunching up small sections and putting a rubber band around them. Then you’d dye the whole thing. The results were a mixed bag, but the fad was very popular.

 

What do you consider one of the greatest achievements of your life?

I have been fortunate to have had great opportunities in my life and, because of that, I’ve done a lot of great things. Great achievements, though — that implies something more than just doing things. It implies hard work and commitment, with the goal of achieving a certain goal. I’ve raised kids who have become caring, respectable, kind, smart, empathetic, civic-minded, brave, hard-working adults, but that’s more their achievement than mine. I adopted children with disabilities, but that wasn’t exactly an achievement. I became a lawyer later in life, which is an achievement of sorts, I suppose. But my greatest achievement? That has to be A Simple Thread, and its progeny.

In 2008, I was reading “Street Lawyer” by John Grisham. In one of the early scenes, a group of lawyers is taken hostage by a homeless man. He asks each of them, “What have you done to help poor people?” The lawyers mention checks written and charity galas attended, but the homeless man keeps saying, “But what have you actually done to help a poor person?” I closed the book, asking myself that same question. In that moment, the idea for A Simple Thread was born.

It was, and remains, a very simple idea. Many organizations help homeless people by providing shelter or a meal or job training or housing assistance. We wanted to do something more “street-level” where we would have direct interaction with homeless Houstonians. The idea was that we would create small kits of items that people often do not have when they are homeless and then distribute those kits, directly from our hands to theirs. They would not have to fill out a form or meet some qualification or prove their need or even give us their names (although many of them introduce themselves to us).

I gathered a group of friends to be the Board of Directors and, within a couple of months, we got together to put kits together and go out to distribute them. From the start, we knew we were filling a need in the homeless community. We decided to operate with zero overhead — no salaries, no offices — with an all-volunteer staff, so that every penny that was donated to A Simple Thread would be used to purchase items for the kits.

Nearly 30,000 kits have been distributed from our hands to theirs in nearly ten years of helping, in simple ways, homeless Houstonians. Everyone who has ever been involved in our organization agrees that we have all gotten more than we’ve given during this labor of love.

A Simple Thread has so many stories from our countless hours of delivering kits. One of my favorites is from about three months ago. We ran out of kits, as we often do. As we were getting back into our cars, a man approached us. We were about to tell him that we had no more kits, but he greeted us and then said, “I just want to say thank you. For eight months, I lived right there in that spot on the sidewalk. I didn’t have anything. But you guys were here to help. I needed everything you gave. You never asked for a thing in return. Now I have a place to stay. I have a job. I even have an old car. I come out here now to help people. But I don’t forget that I was out here on that sidewalk for eight months. I am here now because you were here when I needed you. Thank you.”

A Simple Thread has done more, and helped more people, than I ever imagined it would. I love how involved my family has been. James has been on the Board since the start. Later, Sean, Cindy, and Colin all accepted Board positions. So many groups have joined us for distributions. We get more donations every year from people I don’t know than from people I do know. We’ve even won competitions for fundraising. We have had lots of great publicity. And other projects have used our model to help lots of other people in a variety of circumstances. My experience with A Simple Thread made the decision to do other projects — like our Little Free Library and Little Free Pantry — much easier.

I love the way A Simple Thread started and the way we’ve grown. We had a single vision and, every day, A Simple Thread exists to do that one thing. Definitely my most important accomplishment.

How did you vote in Presidential elections?

I have voted in every Presidential election since I turned 21, which was then the minimum age for voting.

Even before I could vote, I always cared about the Presidential elections. I watched the conventions from when I was a little girl, and I still do. My parents were Republicans when I was growing up, which was unusual in Texas back then. They voted for Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, for Nixon in 1960 against John Kennedy, for Goldwater in 1964 (I even wrote a term paper in junior high about his campaign called “I’d Rather Be Right Than President,”), and for Nixon in 1968. Then they changed because of the Vietnam War. In 1972, they voted for George McGovern, and from that election, until they died, they always voted for the Democratic candidate.

My first vote was in 1972 for George McGovern. I turned 21 just before the election. The vote had actually been extended to those 18 and older by then, but I had turned 21 so never got to benefit from the 26th amendment. Getting the 26th amendments passed was a big deal, though. The main argument, since 18-year-olds could be drafted to fight in VietNam, was “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Pretty hard to argue against that.

I attended lots of rallies for McGovern. I had yard signs, bumper stickers, and pins. I demonstrated. I got to meet his running mate, Sergeant Shriver, because I attended a reception with my brother-in-law, Richard Vara, who was the treasurer for the McGovern campaign for Texas. I cried on election night when McGovern lost. The loss did not discourage me. If anything, it increased my resolve.

That was a great time to be politically involved because, two years later, after articles of impeachment were passed against him, Nixon resigned in disgrace.

In 1976, I voted for Jimmy Carter and he won. This election signaled a real break in how the office of the presidency was run and how it was viewed by the public. There was much more transparency, post-Watergate. It started with the inauguration procession when the president’s limo stopped in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Jimmy and Roslyn Carter stepped out of the car and, hand-in-hand, walked down the street, greeting the gathered crowds. It became an instant tradition and is now expected. But they were first.

Kendra with then former President and Mrs. Carter

In 1980, I voted for Jimmy Carter again, but Ronald Reagan beat him. I was crushed.

In 1984, I voted for Walter Mondale, who might be one of the most decent men in politics. He had been Carter’s Vice-President. I was disappointed, but not especially surprised that Reagan beat him. Mondale would have been a really good President, something Reagan played, but never was.

In 1988, I voted for Michael Dukakis and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro — the first woman on a major party presidential ticket. He lost to George H.W. Bush, but he was not a great candidate and I could see that loss coming.

And then came 1992. You should be seeing the heavens open and hearing choirs of angels and trumpets. Bill Clinton. He was the most charismatic politician ever to seek the presidency. And for me, it was the first time that someone of my generation would become President. The whole campaign was thrilling. I fell in love with Hillary Clinton, and I have never fallen out of love with her, not even for a minute. Bill Clinton and Al Gore won a decisive victory. When the race was called, Tom and I literally went out to dance in the streets. There was never such an ebullient election night for me. To me, it wasn’t just that Clinton won. It was that America won.

Megan with our Clinton Gore sign.

Paul holds the headline.

Sean and Colin show off the sign we hung the day after the election.

In 1996, I proudly voted for Clinton-Gore again. And again, they won. And again, Tom and I danced in the streets. During this term, Kendra was a White House Intern and I’d gotten a private tour of the White House and a private note from President Clinton.

Kendra and me outside the White House portico.

Kendra and me at the Press Secretary’s podium in the White House Press Room.

Bill Clinton poses with White House Interns, including Kendra.

In 2000, I voted for Al Gore. He ran against George W. Bush, who had been a disastrous governor of Texas, replacing the best governor Texas has ever had, Ann Richards. I could believe that Bush had tricked the people of Texas, but when he got the presidential nomination, I was relieved because I thought he could never possibly win. I underestimated stupid people and Karl Rove. It was the first time that the winner of the election was not known on election night. It took weeks because it came down to Florida and there were lots of voting irregularities. A recount of the Florida votes started, but was eventually stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision that decided that Bush won. It was horrible. Al Gore won the popular vote, which everywhere else in the world, would have meant that he won the election. But not here. Bush became president.

In 2004, I was determined to not let the country repeat this mistake. I thought that the terrible policies, the lies he told to get us into a war in Iraq, the lack of going after the country where almost all of the 9-11 terrorists came from, the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the downward spiraling economy would be enough to get Bush booted. I votes for John Kerry. I worked hard on the campaign, even traveling to Arkansas to volunteer when it looked like that state might be in play. I took the loss hard.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton ran for the nomination, but Barack Obama barely beat her, vote for vote, to win the nomination. I always liked Obama, but I was most definitely not for him until the Convention where he got the nomination. After that, I worked hard to get him elected, especially in voter registration drives. It was very exciting when he won decisively. I walked alone onto Rusk, and danced in the street, a sort of tradition at that point. The last vote my mom cast was for Obama for President, but she did not live to see inauguration day.

In 2012, I proudly voted for Obama again. My plan for the future was 4 more years for Obama, 8 years for Hillary, 8 years for Michelle, 8 years for Chelsea, 8 years for Melia, and 8 years for Sasha. Best laid plans. I worked for his re-election and it was not a close one. He had been such a good President in every way. I was visiting Kendra, Chris, Jack, and Andrew in Pacifica, California on election night. When the election was called for Obama, it was still relatively early there. Kendra and I took the boys out into the street and we joyfully danced in a circle shouting our excitement about Obama’s win.

It is difficult for me to relive, even in this small way, the 2016 election. I did legal work, lots of legal work, for the HIllary campaign. I spent countless hours as part of a group of lawyers called “Victory Counsel,” reviewing every lawsuit that had ever been filed by or against Donald Trump. There were tens of thousands. They painted an accurate portrait of Trump, but Trump painted a pretty accurate portrait of himself during the campaign. He did not hide his lies, his vileness, his sexual assaults, his racism, his sexism, his misogyny, his stupidity, his violence, his lack of intellectual curiosity, his lack of even a fifth-grade level knowledge of how the government is organized and how it runs, his lack of cognizable positions on any important issue. People did not care. I voted for Hillary. I have never cast such an emotional vote. I never dreamed I would ever have the chance to vote for a woman for President. I was never so confident that I was voting for the next President when I cast my vote, while holding my youngest granddaughter, Rye. It was her time. It was our time. And then it wasn’t. Against all odds and all predictions and all polling, with the help of the Russian government, and of FBI Director James Comey, and through no fault of Hillary, Trump became President. Again, Hillary won the popular vote, known everywhere else in the world as “the vote.” I have never been as devastated by any election. I am still devastated. I’m part of the resistance and I’m doing what I can to fight this tyranny. And although we may have had our last truly free presidential election in 2012, I will work hard in 2018 in the midterm elections and in the 2020 presidential election. I will always fight for equality, reproductive rights, justice, universal healthcare, civil rights, empathy, voting rights, and science.

I’m still with Her.

What games did you play when you were young?

I played so many games when I was young — board games, card games, pretend play, athletic games, and made-up games.

Board games I remember are Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Clue, Scrabble, Yahtzee, and Monopoly. I played a lot of Monopoly — games that would go on for days.

Card games I played when I was very young were Old Maid, Battle, and Go Fish. A little later, I learned Solitaire. My mom and I played Canasta a lot. I remember, during Hurricane Carla, when we had no electricity for several days, we played Canasta by candlelight. It’s my best memory of Hurricane Carla. As a teenager, I played Spades with my friends nearly every time we got together.

Pretend play was my favorite. When I played with neighborhood friends, and Kay, from the time I was really little, most of our game started with “Let’s play like.” Then the person would set out the scenario. Let’s play like you’re the mom and I’m the dad and these are our kids. Let’s play like we’re in a desert and we have to figure out how to stay alive. Let’s play like we’re on a cruise ship. Let’s play Gone With The Wind. Let’s play like we are in school and I’m the teacher. Endless improvisation. In fact, we used to have a name for this whole genre of games. It was called “Plike.” A combo of “play” and “like.” I will confess to being in the leading role for almost all of our plike games. I would be the mom or the teacher or the doctor or the ship’s captain or Scarlet O’Hara or the boss or the queen. I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about this part of plike. Maybe it was because most plike games were at my house. I’ve asked Kay about it and she says that it just seemed like the natural order of things.

Other pretend play games were with dolls and paper dolls. I had baby dolls when I was little. The best ones were Tiny Tears and Betsy Wetsy. Betsy Wetsy literally had a hole in her mouth so you could give her a bottle with water and then a hole in the bottom of the doll’s torso where the water would come out. Genius. Chatty Cathy was another doll I had. She had a cord in her back and, when you pulled it, she would randomly say one of seven phrases like “please carry me.” Later, I got a doll house and the dolls were called “Slipperies.” I got a basic set — dad, mom, baby — to start. Then every time we would go to Foley’s downtown (the only Foley’s there was, at that time — and then they were in every mall and now they are nowhere), we would get another Slipperies or another piece of furniture. I had that dollhouse for a long time. When I was in early grades in school, I played with paper dolls. They were dolls who were just on a piece of paper. You’d cut them out. Often, but not always, the dolls themselves were on something a little sturdier, like thin cardboard, but the clothes were always paper. There was a women’s magazine called McCall’s and it came in the mail every month. It had a page devoted to Betsy McCall, who was a paper doll. A new outfit would come every month, on that magazine page. It was a big deal to me back then. We also made our own paper dolls and paper doll clothes. And then came Barbie. Once Barbie came out, all other dolls were discarded. I had several Barbies and Kens. My friends and I would “play Barbie,” meaning that, through our dolls, we pretended to be teenagers. Good times.

Athletic games we played included hopscotch, Hollywood hopscotch, red light/green light, Red Rover, Mother May I, outdoor hide-and-seek, chase, kick the can, kickball, dodgeball, and wiffle ball. We’d play outside until way after dark, with lightning bugs around us. I’m not a person who decries “kids these days” using electronics instead of the simpler games of my childhood. They’ll have different memories of “the games they played” and those games will seem old-fashioned to their own grandkids. I’m glad, though, that I grew up during the time I did, playing the games we played back then.

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Who had the most positive influence on you as a child?

Many people had positive influences on my life when I was a child.

My grandmothers were both positive influences on my life. My older brothers also were positive influences when I was growing up. Violet Allen introduced me to the music within me. Gloria Henze, Muriel Herring, Paul Ofield, Christine Dean, Paula Getty, Bill Sloane, Miss Greenhill (who had also taught my dad), Robert Brownlee, Laura Rothstein, Joe Sanders, Robert Schuwerk, and Mark Rothstein were all teachers who had positive influences on me. Many of my friends had positive influences on me when I was a child, including Donna Gore, Donna Glasscock, Terry Sharp, Johnny Walzel, Karen Andrews, Greg Jolly, Candis Davidson, Nema Frye, Donna Rogge, Paul Daigle, Jean Turner, Sherry Lewis, Thomas Babbin, Patti Wimberly, Kristie Flower, Carol Cole, Harry Hallows, and of course, Lonnie Vara.

All of those warm, wonderful, influential people of my childhood, though, pale in comparison to the two people who had the most positive influence: my dad and my mom. They gave me the best possible childhood. They shaped my values. They showed me the importance of hard work and of giving to others. They showed us love all the time. They showed each other love all the time. They never told me that there were things I couldn’t do. They were patient with me and with nearly everybody (the exception being bad drivers). They helped their kids in every possible way. If you were lucky enough to have either of my parents in your life, it is very likely that they were among your favorite people in all the world.

Their greatest gift to me was that they used correct grammar all the time. That probably seems like an overstatement, but it isn’t. I have appreciated, and used, that gift every day of my life. With language development in children, it is really difficult to change the mistakes you learn early in your life. If your parents use bad grammar, you probably will, too. It doesn’t sound wrong to you. My parents provided the opposite example and, because of them, even if I don’t know the applicable grammar rule, I know what sounds right. I trust that. And I’m never wrong. And that’s all Jack and Doris Brennan. They positively influenced me in millions of everyday ways, each and every day.

What was one of your most memorable birthdays?

One of my most memorable birthdays? When you’re as old as I am, there is no way to narrow that down to one. So here are some of my most memorable birthdays.

When I was a kid (which is, admittedly, the most boring way to start a paragraph), the only place any kid ever had a birthday party was at home. I always had fun parties as a kid. We’d play “pin the tail on the donkey” and “hollywood hopscotch” and “red rover” and “duck duck goose” and “gossip.” I’d get presents and we’d have cake and ice cream. The cake was always homemade, and it was always a layer cake with candles on the top. I’m sure that I must have seen bakeries in grocery stores that had decorated sheet cakes, but I have no memory of that.

When I was in fourth grade, I had the usual, in most ways, party. The two things that really distinguished this party involved the cake and my name.

My parents had decided to splurge on the cake and get a store-bought, from Lewis & Coker, decorated cake. It said, “Happy Birthday, Jackie!” on it and it had pink trim and pink frosting roses. I was proud of it and happy about it, of course, but apparently, I was not proud enough or happy enough. My mom told me, after the party, that she had been expecting a much bigger reaction than the one I gave. I didn’t disappoint my parents very often and, even though it was like 55 years ago, I still remember it so well.

At my party, there was a younger girl named Gabriella Nessen. Gabby was only four-years-old. She lived a block away and I would go over to her house and we would play for a couple of hours nearly every day in the summer. I thought of myself as her babysitter because her mother would sometimes give me two dollars for my help. I was never left in charge of Gabriella or anything like that. Looking back, I realize that her mom, Ursula, used that time to do things that were easier to do without a four-year-old, like cooking, cleaning, and taking the occasional nap. Ursula was German. She married an American GI who was there after the war. He died (I always assumed, as a child, that he was killed in war, but I now realize that this was an incorrect assumption) when Gabriella was a baby. Ursula’s family was in Germany, but she wanted to raise Gabby in the U.S. I loved playing with Gabby and reading to her. At my party, Gabby brought a present with a card. The card was addressed to “Jacquie.” My name was always spelled Jackie before that day. The day after my birthday, my parents were talking about how pretty it was and how feminine it was. I agreed. We decided that, from then on, my name would be spelled “Jacquie.” That became the spelling of my name, all because of my friendship with a little girl.

On my 16th birthday, I had a party at our house at 4901 Winnetka. It was the only house I’d ever lived in, up until then. It was a great party. I had a live band. They were called the Rubber Band. It was Bruce Allen, Mike Reinschmidt, Ray Huckabay, and Patrick Reinschmidt — all friends of mine. Bruce had been my first boyfriend when we were five-years-old. The Reinschmidts lived down the street. And Ray was a friend at Austin High School. I’m attaching a photo from that party. It was my only teen-age party at my house.

After that, I didn’t really have too much in the way of actual birthday parties. Of course, we always celebrated my birthday and I always loved celebrating my birthday.

The next real birthday party I had was for my 50th birthday. Kendra was in charge of the party, with underwriting from James and Lonnie. We had it in the backyard of the Meadow Joy house. Pappasito’s catered it and they just came in and sort of transformed the backyard. We had a bartender and karaoke and great food. We were helped by very pretty weather, and hurt by too many mosquitos as dusk descended. It started out as a surprise party, but I found out about it way in advance. There was some talk of canceling the party because it was on September 16, 2001, just days after the 9.11 terrorist attacks. Everybody was more or less glued to television and there was a national lull in shopping, banking, sports events, concerts, and really, just all activities. I wasn’t sure how many people would be there and whether anyone would be in a mood to celebrate. As it turned out, though, people were really ready to celebrate. It was a good party and I appreciated how much trouble everyone went to in order to be there to celebrate.

Because of how much fun that party was, I decided to start having birthday parties for myself every year. I invited women I liked and these parties were called “Chicks Before Dicks Tea Parties.” We had tea and wine and good food. We always had David Borg giving chair massages in one room. In the other room, we had tarot card readers or palm readers or psychics or handwriting analyzers. I asked for no gifts, but I gave a gift to each person who attended. I did those parties for several years, and they were always so much fun.

For both my 60th and 65th birthdays, I had the very best parties ever. We rented out this place called Joystix for both of those parties. It’s a place that sells and rents video games, from classic games like PacMan, Ms. PacMan, Newspaper Boy, and Frogger to brand new games. It’s a huge space with wall-to-wall pinball and video games. It’s housed in an old building on the edge of downtown and it’s connected to a gorgeous bar with big screen TVs, a beautiful bar, and plush leather sofas and oversized chairs. Kandy has catered both parties, which means delicious food that everyone enjoys. I haven’t had a drink at the bar or played a single game or even enjoyed the good food. But I’ve never had more fun at a party than I’ve had at those two parties because everyone around me was having so much fun. Kids are always running around while parents and grandparents are having a great time with the arcade games. I always have a photographer and the parties are just the best. Not many people have a 65th birthday party at Joystix, but then again, I’m not “many people.”

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How is life different today compared to when you were a child?

Life is different in so many ways from when I was a child. The two biggest ways, and the first two that came to my mind when I read the question, are equal rights for minorities (which encompasses so much) and the internet.

I was born into a white, middle-class family in 1951. We had a house in what is now “inner city,” but what was then “way out on the edge of town.” It was a split-level and, after my dad, Jack Brennan, finished out the attic, it had four small bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. It had a detached two-car garage. Corner lot with lots of yard. Picture windows in front. It was at 4901 Winnetka, on the corner of Belvedere and Winnetka. All of my memories of living at that house are good memories. We lived there for about 16 years. When we sold it, it was for $14,500.

It was an all-white neighborhood and pretty much every neighborhood was either all-white or all-black. Actually, when I was a kid, we didn’t used the word black to describe race. We said Negro, if we were being polite. It seems impossible to think back on that now. Everything was segregated. I never went to school with a black person until my senior year of high school, when one black guy, Paul Washington, went to Austin High School. I remember “colored only” water fountains and restrooms in public places. I remember a section at the back of the bus for “colored only.” I was in elementary school at Lora B. Peck Elementary when a judge ruled that the concept of “separate, but equal” was unconstitutional. This meant, among other things, that schools would have to be integrated. That year, HISD announced that there would no longer be school dances or school May Fetes because it might encourage, or even require, that white children would dance with black children. Yes, that was a public statement. But Texas decided that we would integrate gradually. They proposed that, the next year, Kindergartens would be integrated. Then the next year, first grade, and so on. So it would take 13 years for the schools to be integrated completely. They did it that way for a few years until another judge ordered that to stop. The Supreme Court had said that schools had to be integrated “with all deliberate speed.” Texas thought 13 years was deliberate, if not speedy. But schools were zoned, meaning that your school was decided by the neighborhood in which you lived. So if you lived in an all-white or an all-black neighborhood, then you were in an all-white or all-black school. That’s why magnet schools were created. So that is one way in which things have changed for the better.

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, under President Lyndon Johnson, it changed everything. Sometimes society will drag law makers along and force new laws to be created (as in same sex marriage), but it also happens that government will drag society along by creating new laws. One thing we do not do, is put civil rights laws up for a vote. If we did that, women would still be fighting for the right to vote. And certainly, minorities would not have equal rights. I’m not suggesting that, even in 2017, minorities are treated equally, even by our governments. But they do have equal rights under the law, and that happened in my lifetime.

In terms of equal rights, I have to also write about women’s rights. When I was in elementary, in my class, there was only one child, Donna Gore, whose mother worked (we didn’t yet call it “working outside the home”). Donna’s mom was twice divorced, with three kids, so she “had to work, poor thing.” But that was it. There was not another working mom among my classmates or even that I knew. Women stayed home and raised kids. Dads worked. For women who worked, before marriage, of course, there were limited roles: teacher, secretary, cashier, waitress, maid. There were no female firemen (which is what they were called before they were called firefighters) or policemen (before they became police officers). There were very few female doctors, lawyers, judges, pilots, construction workers, engineers, ministers, political office holders, or heads of companies. It was lawful to refuse to hire or promote a woman on the basis of her gender. It was lawful to sexually harass women, to comment on their body parts, to require sexual favors in exchange for employment, and to even touch a woman in a sexual way in the workplace. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin, was being debated in Congress, there was massive opposition. One Congressman who opposed the Act thought he had come up with a surefire way to sink it. He added a prohibition on discrimination based on sex. He said that no one would want to vote to protect the rights of women, especially women in the workplace. The Act ultimately passed, which was the biggest thing to happen in terms of women’s rights since 1920, when women got the right to vote.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act planted the seeds of the modern Feminist Movement and that has changed life completely for every person on Earth.

The other thing that is so different about life now, from when I was a child, is the existence of the internet and the supporting and accompanying technology. Entire books have already been written about this topic so I’ll try to keep this brief. It’s been fun to live through the technological advances I’ve seen. When I was young, we had landline telephones only and, most often, only one phone per household. I’ll never forget the Christmas when I was 13 and I got a princess phone for my room. It was just an extension of our house phone, but it was glorious to have a phone in my room. When I was young, we had a black-and-white television set in the living room. That was it. And there were four channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, and local PBS. When color TV was invented, we were the first family to get one. Friends would come over just to look at it. When computers were invented, they weren’t home computers. They were huge things that would take up entire rooms and they were used by businesses only. We read a lot, which usually involved going to check books out of a library. That was about the extent of our technology.

Unlike lots of people my age, I have always, and still do, embrace new technology (except, oddly, DVR — don’t get me started) and I tend to get new technology as soon as it’s available, often even before my kids get it. I’m a big fan of Apple products and have some product from every line they have: iPod, iPad Pro, iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac, Apple TV, AirPods, and Macbook Air. I love technology (like the technology involved in taking my StoryWorth ramblings and turning them into a book). It has made life easier in nearly every way. It makes staying connected with other people easier and it increases communication. I recognize that there are negatives in terms of information overload, false information, and privacy concerns. For me, though, they don’t come close to the multitude of advantages. I’m not one of those old people who long for the good old days, because back then, there was no internet, no email, no facebook, no mobile phones, no streaming, no — well, you get the idea.

I love that I have gotten to witness so many changes and I love the fact that we have all these changes. Life is better than it’s ever been.

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What is your favorite joke?

Since the question uses the present tense “is,” we are talking about my favorite joke right now. This is tough because I don’t really tell what I would call “jokes.” I don’t think I ever preface anything with “let me tell you a joke.”

I do have a few favorite funny lines. If someone asks me why I’m vegan, I say, “I started out doing it for health reasons. Then after some research, I was doing it for moral and environmental reasons. Now I do it mostly to annoy people.” If James says something especially annoying or wears something weird, I’ll say, “No, no, girls. Back off. He’s all mine.” When people talk about how long they want to live, I say, “I plant to live forever. So far, so good.” If someone says they were scared half to death, I ask, “What happens if you get scared half to death twice?” If people ask how James and I met, I may or may not answer that question, but I always include this line: “He repeated something back to me that I’d said weeks earlier. That’s when I fell in love with him. I felt like I’d been transported to the Planet of Men who Listen.” When the Nobel Peace Prize is handed out, I say, “I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.” When someone complains about how old they are, I respond, “I have stuff in my refrigerator that’s older than you.” Any time porn comes up in a conversation, I always say, “I don’t like porn. I mean, sure, the money was good, but I just don’t like it.”

Lots more “lines” like those are part of conversations. I made up some, but mostly they are just things I heard and remembered, I think. They really aren’t jokes, though.

I do remember the first “joke” I every made up that made someone laugh. It was like magic to me — that my words could make someone laugh. The joke was “What’s the most welcomed sight in East End? A caboose.” The thing is, 60 years later, that joke would still kill in East End.

My favorite jokes when I was young were definitely plays on words. One particular stand out (and I’m not sure now whether I made it up or heard it) that I told a whole lot over the years was this: Baseball catcher Joe Torre was in the middle of a game when he stopped trying to catch the pitches. He started putting his hands up to just deflect the pitches or falling down flat so the pitches would go over his body. He eventually started literally running away from home plate to avoid the pitches. The manager walked up to him and yelled right in his face: “What’s the matter? Are you chicken, catcher Torre?” I realize now that it’s a terrible written joke because it depends on you hearing the words and also lots of people probably haven’t even heard of the dish called Chicken Cacciatore now. Also, do people even use the word “chicken” to describe being afraid? So you’ll just have to trust me that people thought it was hilarious back in the day.

This now seems like a pretty sad post, instead of a funny one. If my grandkids are reading this, they might even feel pretty sorry for this woman and what she thinks is funny. I’m telling you, though, if you ask most people who know me right now whether I’m funny, they would say I definitely am. That probably sounds like something a person who is not at all funny would say, but I swear I am. Yeah, I should just stop writing now.

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How did you feel when your first child was born?

When Danny was born on February 4, 1974, I felt so many things. Physically, I felt exhausted and exhilarated in equal parts. Mentally, I was fatigued, but also stimulated, taking in so much new information. Emotionally, I felt pure love. And pride in bringing this beautiful boy into the world.

When I was pregnant with Danny, no prenatal testing had been invented that involved being able to see inside the uterus, or obviously, to stick a needle inside the uterus. I wished every day, especially toward the end, that I could have a window in my belly just to be able to see inside for a minute a day. I ached to hold my baby. We did not know the gender of the baby and when people asked what we wanted, we gave the expected answer of, “We don’t care, as long as it’s healthy.” And since it was our first, Lonnie and I really didn’t care. His family wanted a boy for sure.

Because it was my first baby, I did not know much about pregnancy or childbirth. My mother had some advice like, “let them knock you out because you don’t want to see the baby until they get it cleaned up and smelling like a baby.” I thought that was odd because “smells like a baby” really meant “smell like baby lotion and baby powder.” Lonnie’s grandmother, who had been a midwife, told me not to wear pantyhose during pregnancy because they baby’s head would be misshapen. My mother prohibited me from seeing The Exorcist, which was a very popular movie at the time because it would “mark the baby.” So yeah, tons of old wives tales and misinformation.

Danny was post-mature. Back then, there were not great ways of making sure that the due date was correct. It was basically done according to what you told the doctor as the date of your last menstrual period. Now, they have great ways of determining the actual due date and most doctors will not let the birth go more than a couple of days past the due date. It’s very unusual to hear about a post-mature baby now. They first said I was due on January 17. In December, they changed it to January 10. Danny wasn’t born until February 4.

On February 2, I was spending the night at my parent’s house because Lonnie was working at an event at the Shamrock where he moonlighted as a banquet waiter. No one wanted me to stay alone, in case I went into labor. Early on the morning of February 3, I discovered that I’d lost my mucus plug. I told Lonnie and my parents, and then I called the doctor, who said to go to the hospital. I got in the shower so I could shave my legs. My mom was really upset. “Nobody shaves their legs when they’re in labor.” But there was no big rush. We all went to the hospital. At that time, they had started letting fathers come into the labor room (it would be another two years before they were allowed in the delivery room). So Lonnie and I just hung out. We talked. We played cards. I was starving as the day went on because I hadn’t eaten since the evening of February 2. All they would let me eat was jello. They did an x-ray at some point to make sure that there was enough room between my ischial spines for the baby to be born vaginally. They determined it would be tight, but probably ok.

The whole day passed. That night, I started having mild contractions. By midnight, they were much harder. Lots of pressure and I thought I’d just split apart. Although they were hard contractions, they were still far apart. I couldn’t really sleep. I was exhausted and hungry. Not until the afternoon of February 4 did the doctor finally say that it was time to go to the delivery room. It was coming up on 2:00 PM when we went into the delivery room. I had a 2:00 appointment with the doctor. When I saw Dr. Feste, I told him that I’d be late for my appointment. He asked what I wanted. I knew he meant “boy or girl.” But I said, “Pizza.” Then we kept joking around like that for a few minutes while they got me, and everything else set up. I started pushing, but was too exhausted to be very good at it. The nurse asked if I wanted to watch the birth (they set up a big mirror for moms to watch) and I took my mom’s advice and said, “no.” Dr. Feste said, “Yes, she does. Position the mirror.” He gave me what he called “the granddaddy of all episiotomies” and used forceps to get the baby out. I watched, and was so grateful to Dr. Feste for his order about the mirror. It was the most miraculous, most beautiful, most moving thing I’d ever seen.

It was faster than I thought it would be, but also was like slow motion. Once the head was out, the rest came out without even a push. The nurse said, “It’s a boy.” I said, “Danny boy.” They showed him to me and he was clearly the most beautiful baby ever born. And then they took him to the nursery and took me to my room. I will never forget a moment of my first baby’s ordinary, amazing birth.

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Do you have any particularly vivid memories of your grandparents?

I have several particularly vivid memories of my grandparents, especially my grandmothers.

Branton Anderson Durden, Sr was my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was absent, by his choice, from my life, except that my Aunt Hazel (my mom’s sister) took me, along with my cousins, to see him three or four times when I was little. He lived on a small farm in Cleveland, Texas. I remember the farm more than him. He had lots of farm animals and they were all just named for whatever animal they were. I thought that was strange at the time, but of course, they weren’t exactly pets. He did have a dog, though, and his name was Dog. He also had a little fawn and this is my only really vivid memory of the guy I called Grandad. He was sitting in a rocker on the porch and, looking back, he must have been tired, and maybe especially tired of me asking for the names of every animal. I just thought of it as a sort of silly game — asking the name of each animal, “What’s the name of that chicken with the black patch on top?” and knowing the answer would be “chicken.” And on and on and on, the way kids will do. But when I asked him for the name of the fawn, he surprised me. He said, “Baby. Her name is Baby.” I remember just staring at him in speechless disbelief. Then I called Baby and held out my hand. She came over and sniffed me and let me pet her. I think my hatred of deer hunting started at that very moment.

My other grandfather, Daniel Patrick Brennan, aka Papaw, pictured above, was an important part of my life until he died, when I was in kindergarten. I know, from family stories, that he doted on me and spoiled me. I wish I had more memories of him. My most vivid memory of him is one of us both laughing with abandon. There was a popular song at the time called “Green Door” and then theme of the lyrics was that there was this place that had a green door and the singer could hear that they were having fun in there, but he could not get in so he didn’t really know what was behind the green door. Papaw had a folding green plastic door between two rooms in the apartment he shared with my grandmother. They actually owned these two apartment buildings at 26 Greenwood. One was a brick four-plex and the other was a big second floor apartment on top of two apartment units below. They owned all of it and rented out all the other apartments. Anyway, he got on one side of that green door and I was on the other side. And he would try to get “behind the green door” and I would shut it. I know it doesn’t sound hilarious, but it is the only definite memory I have of him. Other memories are things I’ve seen in movies or heard in family stories. But that’s my very own memory of him. I also remember clearly when my parents told me he died. He was always very afraid of having lung cancer. They used to have these mobile chest xray units that would set up outside of stores and, for 50 cents, you could get a chest xray and they would read it for you right then. He did those all the time. The day he died, he’d gone to get a chest xray at the mobile unit outside Lewis & Coker grocery store, near our house at Palm Center. While inside, getting ready for the xray, he had a heart attack and died. I didn’t know about any of that, of course, until later. My parents took me into the living room after I woke up early the next morning after he’d died and told me that God needed someone to help him take care of all the animals in heaven, so he took Papaw to heaven. I can still remember everything about our surroundings that morning, when they told me. And I remember their words and how it didn’t make sense to me.

My grandmother, Lillian Brennan, aka Big Mamaw (pictured above with her only child, my dad, in the early 1950s) provided many wonderful vivid memories. When I was a little girl, my dad worked for Houston Lighting and Power Company (later called Reliant and now NRG). Actually, he worked there until he retired in the 1970s. But when I was a little girl, he worked at their Magnolia Park location, which was on Canal, directly across the street from Big Mamaw’s house. I loved being at her house and watching for my dad. I would run to meet him, once he crossed Canal and he would pick me up and swing me around. At some point during the day, he’d usually take me to his office and let me run the adding machine and talk to the people in his department, which was called “Stores Accounting.” I don’t know his office phone number, but I know his extension was 762 because my mother would call him at least once a day and when the operator answered, she would say “762 please.” But those are more like Dad memories.

Big Mamaw would take me downtown to shop at Foley’s. Back then, we did not have malls (actually, by the time my grandkids read this, malls might be gone again), but we did not have big department stores except downtown. Big Mamaw didn’t drive so we took the bus. It was the only time I ever got to ride the bus and it was always so exciting for me. We would go to Foley’s, which had nine floors and even had a basement, called the Bargain Basement. Big Mamaw always bought me some clothes and shoes on the 6th floor and then we went to the Girl Scout Department, which was really cool because they had tons of scout things. One time, we ended up getting a whole lot of things and we almost couldn’t carry all the bags on the bus. I remember Big Mamaw saying that we spent $35! We would always eat lunch at the LC Cafeteria on these trips downtown. One time, when we got back to her house, we walked up the stairs to her second-floor apartment. The stairs were outside of the building. She was unlocking her door and I was behind her. She lost her balance and we both fell all the way down the stairs to the ground. We were both ok. We had sort of broken each other’s falls.

My parents never gave me an allowance, but Big Mamaw gave Pat, Danny, and me five dollars a month for our allowance. It was more than anybody else I knew got for an allowance.

Some of my favorite hilarious things that Big Mamaw said. She saw a story on TV about how people in China would take family photos in Red Square and she said, quite seriously,”Why do they take photos when they all look exactly alike?” She would fall asleep while watching TV all the time. When she’d wake up, she would always say, “I’m so sleepy. I wish I could fall asleep during the day, but I just can’t.” One time, my dad turned on a football game and Big Mamaw said, “I wonder why they show football on TV. Nobody ever watches it.” My dad said, “Well, Mama, now somebody must watch it.” But she insisted, “No. Nobody ever watches football on TV.” Some woman was singing on the Ed Sullivan show and Mamaw said, “I can sing better than she can.” I didn’t understand that she was just trying to insult the person so I kept begging her to sing for me. She watched the moon landing, like everyone else in 1969. She remembered that she’d seen that exact same footage in some SciFi movie ten years earlier. She was upset with the news people trying to pass this off as the actual moon, but when she saw Walter Cronkite (a very trusted news anchor at the time) saying that we landed on the moon, she was depressed for days. She never thought that Walter would lie to her, but she was sure he did.

The end of Big Mamaw’s life came while I was pregnant with Danny. She had only once ever been to a doctor in her life and that was when she gave birth to my dad. Other than that, she did not visit the doctor (“they’ll just tell me I’m sick and I wouldn’t go to the doctor unless I was sick so why would I pay for that?) and she did not go to a hospital (“no one ever gets out of there alive”). But two or three weeks before she died, she was feeling so bad. My dad talked her into going to a doctor, and they put her in the hospital immediately. She had cancer that involved several organs. They were pretty sure that it was ovarian cancer, although finding the source wasn’t all that important at that point. This wouldn’t happen today, but they kept her in the hospital and provided palliative care there. My dad got round-the-clock sitters for her. It was a really stressful time for him. I’m sure Mamaw must have been getting lots of meds. I went to see her every day. She was at Methodist Hospital and she would tell me, every day, how horrible it was to be in the hospital. She claimed that, at night, the whole wing of the hospital she was in would be flown to Vietnam. She was so convincing in her claims, that her doctor actually asked us if she had spent time in Vietnam. I explained to her that Methodist Hospital was one of the best hospitals in the country and that I would be having my baby, her first great grandchild, there. She would not hear it. She advised me to make sure that I wasn’t in the Vietnam part of the hospital. I did.

My longest-lived grandparent was my grandmother, Bessie Lukie Winslett Durden, aka Teeny Mamaw. She’s pictured above on the right. That’s my uncle, Branton Anderson Durden, Jr., in the middle. On the left is my mother holding me.

My first memories of Teeny Mamaw were at her house at 10 Adams Street. She had lots of glass knick-knacks. I loved playing with them. I was so careful. I spent most of my time at her house playing with her glass figurines and her vast salt and pepper shaker collection. People actually collected those back then. I even had a collection of them. I also remember that, in her house, she had a party line. One time I picked up her phone and listened. That’s the only time I remember her getting angry with me.

I remember when she and Uncle Bant moved to Briefway. She had a great yard on a corner lot. My cousin, Kay, and I would spend the night with her and play out in the yard, catching fireflies way into the night. She also got a single toy for us to play with — a stuffed animal that was Smokey The Bear. I really loved that bear and always looked forward to playing with it every time I went there.

Teeny Mamaw was well-known for her country cooking, especially her delicious biscuits. She was also a deeply religious person. She helped to found the church that I grew up attending — Central Park Church of God. She read her Bible every day and, when her eyes got too weak to read, she opened her Bible and recited the words from memory. She also had a green thumb. Her flower gardens were glorious.

For many years, when my mom was working, I would pick up Teeny Mamaw and take her to the church, where she was part of a quilting bee. I’d pick her up two hours later. I was a mother by then. I really enjoyed those car conversations we had every Tuesday. And I loved her quilts.

Four generations. Bessie Durden, Doris Brennan, Jac Brennan, and Kendra Vara.

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Have you ever won anything?

That’s a very broad question. Yes. I’ve won lots of things. I’ve won a few of those random things like drawings or door prizes, but never anything major. Never won more than two bucks in the lottery. But I’ve won lots of honors and awards over the years, in recognitions of things I’ve done or been. I’ve also won talent contests, spelling bees, speech competitions, popularity contests, piano competitions, drama competitions, twirling contests, and lots of writing things. You can’t really tell it by this short paragraph, but words are my craft, and when a competition focuses on writing, I have a good chance of winning it.

I’ve also “won” in lots of things that weren’t contests or competitions. I am a winner in love, having fallen in love three times with three men, all of whom I still love dearly, and with whom I’m still close. I was a big winner in terms of parents. It was such a privilege to grow up with so much love between the two of them. I definitely won in the kid department. I gave birth to four of the finest human beings I’ve ever known, and then adopted five kids, each of whom has blessed me in many different ways. Grandkids? My grandkids would win any competition, whether for brilliance, beauty, strength, compassion, creativity, or general joy-giving. This question makes me realize that, every day, I feel like a winner, like I’ve swallowed a star.

swallowed a star.

Article in ABA Journal. Piano competition in college.

Twirling contest.

I won a makeover and even a new suit when I wrote an essay for “Why My Wife Deserves a Makeover” with “Tom Roach” as my pen name.

FFA Sweetheart in high school.

Mother of the Year Honoree in 2011, an award from the CF Foundation.

Singing competition with a junior high folk singing group I started called “The Soalins.”

See? I really am a queen.

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What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

If we accept that bravery involves making a voluntary choice, as opposed to being thrust into a situation involuntarily and dealing with it bravely, then the bravest thing I ever did was going to law school.

The decision to go to law school was made easier by my naivete. Tom wanted to retire when he turned 50. He had hated his job ever since he started it, the day after he graduated from high school. I had the luxury of mostly being a stay-at-home mom because of all the kids we had. I usually had part time jobs, but nothing that could sustain a family. Tom’s retirement income would barely cover our house payment and electric bill. I decided that, because he had done this thing he dreaded every day in order to provide for our family, I needed to find a way to pull that cart for awhile.

All I knew about being a lawyer was what I saw on LA Law, a popular television show at that time. Lawyers made a lot of money and they did dramatic things in the courtroom. I knew one person, Jane Joseph, who was my age and was just finishing up law school. I asked her for advice and she said, “Don’t do it. It’s so hard and so time-consuming that you cannot possibly do it with so many little kids still at home.” Luckily, I did not take her advice.

A prerequisite for law school is an undergrad degree. I had nearly completed it before Kendra was born, but once I did the classroom observation part, at Bellaire High School, of my music education degree, I decided that teaching school was not for me. I had completed everything except student teaching when I left college. So before I could apply to law school, I had to finish that undergrad degree. Fortunately, even though my credits were nearly 20 years old, UH let me keep all those credit hours. They had added more requirements to the degree program. I had to take four semesters of a foreign language, psychology, algebra, a cultural history course, another music course, and a journalism course. Although it was a hassle to have to finish my degree, I believe that it worked out better in that I was able to reacquaint myself with an academic environment before the shock of starting law school. Danny was a student at UH and we were even in the same class. We took psychology together, although I was a front row student in the large auditorium and he was more of a “closer to the door in the back” student. It took me two semesters plus the summer (when I took two semesters of Spanish at San Jac) to finish my degree. I especially enjoyed my journalism course. The professor assigned 14 writing assignments on the first day, with due dates throughout the semester. I completed all 14 assignments before Spring Break. I got an A on every assignment. The professor asked me to stay after class the day after Spring Break. He told me that there was no real need for me to attend class anymore, and that he’d never had a student to whom he’d said that. I asked him if he would write a letter of recommendation for me for law school. He did, but not before trying to talk me into going into journalism. During that year of school, I took the LSAT and did well enough on it that it was possible that I might get into UH Law Center, even though my undergrad GPA was average.

Tyler came into, and went out of, my life during that year of finishing my degree and applying to law school. He was born on November 9, 1994 and he died on January 6, 1995. His life was wonder-filled, and far too short. When people tell you that losing a child is the worst thing that can ever happen to you, believe them. I was destroyed. What got me through, and maybe prevented me from an all-consuming depression, was that I had eight other kids who needed me. When I made it through Tyler’s death, months later, I realized that the gift he had given me was a sense of invincibility. If I made it through that devastation, I could do anything. That helped me so much as I faced law school.

I applied to all three law schools in Houston — UH, TSU, and South Texas. I was first accepted to TSU. I was excited because I knew that I would be a lawyer. South Texas sent my acceptance and even offered me a scholarship. I had to wait two more weeks until I got the acceptance packet from UHLC. I was over the moon. There was never any doubt about where I would go to law school.

My law school section.

In my mid-forties, with nine kids (I would never leave out Tyler when people asked me how many children I had), I started law school in the fall of 1995, with no idea about what I was facing. As it turned out, I loved law school. I planned to be at the top of my class and to make Law Review. That did not happen. I did a little above average and, when I saw that Law Review was out of reach, I started an underground paper called Flaw Review, that became really popular with both students and faculty. I started working as a law clerk at Williams Bailey at the start of my second semester. I later became the first female Head Law Clerk there. I worked throughout law school. I had two internships — one at Advocacy, Inc, where I later served as the Managing Attorney, and one at the FDA in Washington DC. I was active in extra curricular activities, belonging to several student organizations. I mentored a group of 1Ls during my second year. I was asked to be a research assistant to Laura Rothstein in the Health Law Institute. I served on the Student Honor Court as a justice, and then as Chief Justice. I took classes in the summers and intersession courses during Winter Break. I made life-long friends, especially Kevin Johnson, Heather Peterson, and Marc Waters. And I completed the three years of law school in two-and-a-half years, in December of 1997. I took the February 1998 and was licensed on May 1, 1998.

Becoming a lawyer, under the circumstances of my life at that time, was for sure the bravest, most badass thing, I’ve ever done.

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What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

Anything I ever had that was cooked by Logan Ely. Period.

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What was the first major news story you can remember living through as a child?

 

Two major news stories happened during my elementary school years, both of which I remember vividly. One was a local story and the other was national and international.

The first story was known as the Mad Bomber. On September 15, 1959, Paul Orgeron brought his son, Dusty Orgeron, to Poe Elementary School, which was in the neighborhood near Rice University. They were both carrying suitcases. The dad told the school principal, Mrs. Doty, that he wanted to enroll his son. But the dad had no birth certificate or immunization records for Dusty. He also could not even provide his address. Mrs. Doty said that Dusty could not enroll without the documents and information. The dad said he’d come back to enroll Dusty. A few minutes later, the dad and son showed up on the school slab, which was we called a big asphalt slab that served as the school playground at most elementary schools back then. There were 125 second graders who were at recess on the slab. Two second grade teachers, Jennie Kolter and Patricia Johnson, were with the kids on the slab. Ms. Johnson sensed something was wrong as the dad approached her and she sent a student to go to the office and get someone. The dad handed Patricia Johnson a note that said that he had a bomb in the suitcase and all he had to do was push a button and lots of people would be killed, including his son. The school custodian, James Montgomery, and the principal, headed toward the slab to see what was going on. Ms. Johnson shouted a warning to the custodian to stay back. The dad was balancing his suitcase on his foot because there was a button on the bottom of the suitcase that would detonate what turned out to be several sticks of dynamite. As the custodian lunged toward the dad, the dad pulled his foot out from under the case and there was a big explosion.

Lots of people were injured in the blast, with many students losing fingers, arms, hands, or feet. Six people were killed: James Montgomery, the custodian, Jennie Kolter, a teacher (both of them have since had HISD schools named after them), two second-graders named James Fitch and Williams Haws, along with Dusty Orgeron and, of course, the dad who became known as the Mad Bomber.

This happened on the day before I turned eight. I was in second grade, in what was called high-second. I was what was called a mid-termer. Now, when you start school, you have to have turned five before September 1 to enroll in kindergarten. But back then, and for many years in HISD, if your birthday was between September 1 and January 1, you started school in January. So in 1959, I started second grade in January and that first half of second grade was called “low second.” Then in September, I was in the second half of second grade called “high second.” My brother, Dan, and I were both mid-termers, with our September birthdays. So when the bombing happened, I was in second grade at Peck Elementary. The Superintendent of HISD was John McFarland. On the day that the bombing happened, police did not know the name of the bomber or whether he was even killed. They later found his hand in a nearby bush and use his fingerprints to identify him. He was an ex-convict. But because no information was available that day, Mr. McFarland put my school, and all HISD schools, on what would now be called lockdown. We were not allowed to leave our classrooms until school was out, which was at 2:10 for second grade. We had no idea what had happened, of course. I was told about it by my parents later that day. I don’t remember being afraid, but I do remember my parents saying that nothing like that would ever happen at my school. Of course, it could have, but they were right. It never did.

November 22, 1963 was the date of the other major news story from my childhood. I was in 6th grade, which was still part of elementary school back then. My teacher was Mr. McAdoo, the only male teacher in the whole school. I don’t remember the exact time, but I know we had already been to lunch. I remember so many other details about the moment, though. I remember what I was wearing — a yellow sleeveless dress. I remember what Mr. McAdoo was wearing and what my friend, Melanie Bailey was wearing. I know that we were working on a freshly mimeographed (he probably ran it off on the mimeograph during lunch) worksheet and I remember the smell of that. A fifth grade student appeared at the door of our classroom, which opened directly to the outside. I remember her dress, too, and how the breeze was blowing her black curly hair. She was upset and she said, “Mrs. Ashmore is — please come.” Mr. McAdoo left us working on the worksheet. When he walked back into the classroom, a few minutes later, he said “President Kennedy and Governor Connelly were shot in Dallas.” Apparently, Mrs. Ashmore had found out about it when she turned on the radio in her classroom. She fell apart, which is why one of her students came to get Mr. McAdoo. We were all upset when Mr. McAdoo told us. Melanie was crying more than anybody because, she said, Governor Connelly was her cousin. I’d never heard about that before, but he turned out to be a distant cousin and she’d never met him. I was comforting her. I’m not sure how much time passed, but it didn’t seem like it was more than 30 minutes. The principal, Mrs. Whitworth, came on the loud speaker to tell us that Governor Connelly was not badly hurt, but President Kennedy had been killed. We did not do anything else in school that day. I will always remember when the 3:00 bell rang for us to leave. It was usually a noisy time, with students rushing out of the classrooms and loudly talking and shouting goodbyes to each other. That day, it was completely silent. There was no noise. Not a sound. Everyone walked out of the classrooms wordlessly. I walked home. The whole way home (about two blocks), I did not hear any noise. There was little traffic. Even though it was a pretty fall day, no one was outside. When I got to the house, my mom and my brother, Pat, were in the living room, with the TV on, watching the coverage of the assassination. No one said a word, as I opened the screen door and came into the living room. I didn’t even put down my books. I simply dropped to my knees and sat back on my heels (oh, to be able to do that again) and sat in front of the TV. We basically sat in front of the TV the rest of that day and all day Saturday. We watched as the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald was announced and details about him emerged. We read the “EXTRA!” editions of the Houston Press and the Houston Chronicle. On Sunday morning, we went to church. Usually, all of us went to church together every Sunday, but my Dad stayed home that day. I remember that, in Sunday School, my teacher said that there were other things going on besides the assassination of a not-so-great President. When we got back home, my dad met us at the back door to tell us that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot and killed by Jack Ruby. Monday (I think it was Monday, but that seems quick) was a National Day of Mourning and the funeral of President Kennedy was televised. I watched as little John-John saluted as his dad’s casket passed by, pulled by six white horses. I watched as Jacqueline Kennedy walked with the funeral procession, so elegant and so sad. I watched as they lit the eternal flame at his grave. I will never forget the feeling of 11/22/63 and the days that followed.

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What were your favorite subjects in high school?

My favorite subjects in high school were English and Music. The answer would be the same if elementary school, junior high school, or college were substituted for the word “high school” in that first sentence.

I always loved words, reading, and writing. I am a logophile. I was part of book clubs at the local library (which was called the Alice Young Branch) when I was in elementary school. I had a “library” of books in my attic, stored in an old wardrobe that had been part of my nursery, and I loaned books to neighborhood friends. My favorite books were biographies, when I started picking my own books. My mom read “Bobbsey Twins” chapter books to me at bedtime. I wrote a lot of stories and I wish I still had some of those. I made greeting cards and bookmarks and all kinds of things where I could merge my very limited artistic talents with my unlimited love of words. In junior high school, I started doing writing competitions within, and between, schools. It was called “Ready Writers” and it was all about impromptu writing.

I always loved English classes in high school, and I had one terrible teacher and one excellent teacher. The terrible one was Sadie McLean. She was very old. She was long past the age when she should still be in the classroom. We tricked her in awful (although we all thought it was hilarious at the time) ways throughout 10th grade. She did not do much actual teaching, beyond diagramming sentences, which I secretly still do in my head all that time. She would, instead, just have us read aloud. And she would go in order around the room and just randomly call out “next.” To achieve the goal of doing other things, or nothing, in this boring class, we would just agree that one person would do all of the aloud reading for a class. When Miss McLean would say “next,” then the “next” person would just look down and move their lips, having no idea where we actually were in the reading, but the reader would continue to do the actual reading throughout the whole class. Sometimes the reader would read from a history textbook or even a novel, rather than the English text book. Miss McLean didn’t know. We had tons of gags like that at her expense. The worst, by far, happened one day when she went to the restroom during class. Our classroom was on the third floor, facing the front of the school. One of the guys in our class went down to the front of the school and lay down on the grass, as if he fallen. He was face down. We were all standing at the windows, looking down at him when she walked back in. We told her he jumped. She looked, saw him, screamed, and hurried down to the second floor office to report what happened. Of course, the guy then ran back up to the classroom and we were all seated looking at our English books when the principal and Miss McLean came back a few minutes later. We all pretended that we had no idea what either of them was talking about and insisted that we’d just been sitting there reading, waiting for her to return from the restroom. I can’t believe we did that, and it definitely was not done with malice. It was just a prank that we talked about freely. As far as I know, no one in the administration of the school ever found out.

After that year of Miss McLean, when we had some say in selecting teachers for our classes and making our class schedules, I opted for the English teacher with the reputation for being the most difficult and demanding. After a year of not learning anything in English, I was ready to be challenged again. Her name was Mrs. Getty. I think her first name was Paula. She taught, and I mean actually taught, English. The class was less about grammar and writing (although there was certainly some of that) than it was about reading the classics. I had never been exposed to those works and it was good for me. I was also able to hone my writing schools under her direction, particularly during my senior year. When I started classes at UH that fall of 1969, I took English. There were about 35 people in the class. In the second week, we were given a writing assignment. When the professor handed them back at the beginning of the next class, I got an A. He said, “If you got an A or a B, you may leave class for the day.” Only three of us got to leave. I walked straight to my car and drove to Austin High School and went to Mrs. Getty’s class to thank her. She wanted to see my paper and she scolded me when she saw my only mistake. I had misspelled “Shakespeare.”

Music was my other favorite subject. Music has been part of me from as far back as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of going to Grace Allen’s house for Rhythm Band. Mrs. Allen and my mother were friends. The Allens lived on OST, just a block from us. Bruce Allen and I were friends from when we were toddlers. And we were in school together until we graduated from Austin. We still keep in touch now and then. He is a psychologist in Arkansas. Rhythm Band was a two-mornings-a-week thing where a group of preschoolers gathered and we had all these rhythm instruments. Mrs. Allen would play classical music and we would play along with our instruments. We sang songs and did some rhythm movement things like marching in time or clapping to the beat. It was so much fun.

When I was 8, I started taking piano lessons from Miss Mary Starr. It cost five dollars a month. I sang in choruses throughout elementary school. We had some competitions for district-wide choruses and I always made it. From 5th grade on, I accompanied (played the piano for) at least one choir in every school I was in, and always played for church choirs, too. Playing and accompanying are very different skills. I was proud that I could do both.

I sang, and played, under Paul Ofield at Jackson Junior High (now Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School — renamed because Stonewall Jackson was a Confederate hero) who later was promoted to be in charge of music programs for all of HISD. In high school, the music teacher was Bill Sloane. I thought he was really gifted at teaching. He was gay at a time when no teacher would dream of coming out. He was also maybe 20 years older than I was. Many gay men of his generation never came out. He was a good teacher, a creative choir director, and he helped me with the decision to get more serious about my piano skills. He helped me enter competitions. He was instrumental in my decision to major in music at UH, where I started with voice as my “instrument,” but switched to piano after my first semester.

My Yamaha and me. This was in college.

Photo of Butch Reid and me in our “Austin Chorale” (the mixed choir) green jackets.

Ron Connor, violist, at his senior recital at UH. Me, on piano.

The two photos above are of me in a musical we did in high school called “Good News.” In the top photo, it’s Janice Moody, Gary North, me, and John McCraw.

Photo of a folk group I started in junior high called “The Soalins.” I’m on the end, across from Donna Glasscock, the guitar player.

The Rubber Band. The guy smiling next to me is Bruce Allen.

This was at my Senior Recital at UH. I’d never felt so much anxiety or so much relief (when it was over) in my life. 1975.

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50

Ten years ago, I got an email that would change my life. It was from Lauren, a woman who worked for UH Continuing Education. She said that they had just started a paralegal program at UH. Since my gmail doesn’t go back to early 2006,  I don’t remember for sure what the email said, but I do know what was going on with the program then. UH had decided to offer a paralegal program and, as instructors, they got a paralegal (who was a great guy) and a wonderful person who had finished law school and taken the bar exam, unsuccessfully more than once. The book for the class was a sort of pre-law textbook. The instructors went through the textbook chapters with the class in the morning and then, in the afternoon, they watched some law-related movie and then discussed it. There was no homework. There were no tests, except for a multiple choice final that everyone passed. Not surprisingly, although the students were glad to get their paralegal certificates, they did not graduate with any paralegal skills. Serendipitously, my then favorite court reporter had taken the class. After it was over, she went to Lauren and Guy, who was a student worker at that time, to point out that she had paid a lot of money for a class that did not prepare her to be a paralegal. Lauren asked her for suggestions and the court reporter gave her the names of seven attorneys she thought would be good at teaching the class. I was on that list. Lauren’s email went to all of us and I believe 6 or 7 of us agreed to teach the program. That was my first class, which started in February 2006.

The same pre-law book was used and Lauren wrote down the names of the chapters, like “Introduction to the Legal System,” “Employment Law,” “Criminal Law,” “Contract Law” and so on. She asked each of us to pick a topic or two that we knew well. I know I picked Employment Law and something else. After we all picked, Lauren sent out another email showing what each of us were doing and then she wrote: Does anyone think they could make “Introduction to the Legal System” interesting? I volunteered, which is how I came to be teaching on the first day of class. I was teaching only on three different days, but right away, I saw a problem. These students really wanted to learn how to do what paralegals do. As lawyers, we were all approaching teaching as if we were teaching a topic we knew well. None of us had been told to teach any paralegal skills. I contacted ProDoc, which was then owned by Tom Schoolcraft, and talked to him about sending someone to introduce ProDoc to our students. The students got free accounts and the ProDoc rep came out to the next class that I taught. I started giving the students homework from ProDoc — drafting letters, pleadings, motions, and discovery. I would come and get it on Saturday mornings, grade it, and bring it back the next day, even though I was technically not teaching on those weekends. This class was still frustrated by not learning more actual skills. A group of them complained to Lauren and Guy. The group suggested that I teach the whole program. Lauren and Guy brought me in, talked to me about it, asked me to write a curriculum, and basically put me in charge of the next class.

I was determined to make the curriculum “skills based.” At the time, no paralegal program in town was offering that. Guy Felder and I worked together on completely overhauling the program. We used an actual paralegal textbook, a paralegal workbook, and of course, since about 85 percent of entry level paralegal jobs are in litigation, an O’Connor’s Civil Trials book. We determined that, to build the reputation of the program, this could not be a program in which students could just sit in class all day and get a certificate. We changed the length of the program from 16 classes to 20 classes, each of which was eight full hours of instruction and hands-on skills practice. There would be homework every week and a test every day of class. There would be grades. A student would have to have a passing grade to get a certificate and there were attendance requirements. There would be a limit of 25 students in each class. And we would have guest speakers. I knew a lot of lawyers and I would beg them to volunteer their time to come speak to the class. I asked and so many of them came through, instantly transforming the UH Paralegal Program into the best program available.

For the students, my second class was far more difficult, and far more relevant, than the class that had gone before. I loved sharing my passion about the law. I have always, since I was a little kid, lived by a maxim I never even heard until this year: Learn something, teach something. I would take piano lessons when I was 7 and then I would teach other kids in the neighborhood what I learned. I always loved to teach people things — to see the light turn on in their minds. So being able to teach people about the law was just the perfect job for me.

At that time, and for the next four years, I was teaching at UH on the weekends while I worked full time for the Disability Law Resource Project. At first, we did three programs a year at UH, but it quickly went to four programs and there were always long wait lists. We tried doing evening classes twice, but it really did not work out well with the schedule I had. As the only instructor for the program, the number of sessions we could offer in a year was limited by the number of weekends. Once we took out all of the weekends with holidays and winter break, I could do only four programs a year. Still, with my full time job during the week, there were no other options. In2010, I resigned from my full time job and suggested to UH that we do a weekday program that would be exactly the same as the weekend program, but on Mondays and Thursdays. I think most of the decision makers were not really sold on the idea. Paralegal had been a weekend program to appeal to people who worked full time already. But I knew the students and I knew that a lot of them did not work full time. And a lot of them had difficulty with child care on the weekends, or they were working at restaurants and bars and had trouble getting time off on the weekends. Still, I think UH let me give it a try with a lot of wariness. But it quickly became a very popular option. With this new program, it was possible to offer six or even seven sessions each year, and we were filling up every class.

I tell my students that every class is just a little tougher than the one before because I keep thinking of things to add, but there is seldom anything I want to drop. The class is challenging by design. If it was easy, everybody would do it. Most students say that it’s the most difficult class they’ve ever taken. And the sense of accomplishment at the end is something every student appreciates. Twenty former students have become attorneys. At least eight more are in law school right now. We’ve had married couples, sisters, cousins, parent-child, and sisters-in-law. Students who met in class have become roommates. One couple who met in class are now engaged. Hundreds of students have formed lifelong friendships. More than 1000 students have earned their paralegal certificates. And the UH Paralegal Certificate means something in the legal community, as our graduates have built the reputation of the program.

Tomorrow is my 50th class — my 50th first day of a new class. I am excited and a little scared  — not for myself, but for my new students because they always tell me that’s how they feel as they wait for that first class to start. This is a milestone that I certainly never envisioned ten years ago when I got that first email. Our program is wildly successful. There are so many people who support this program — from the attorneys who provide internships to the attorneys who refuse to hire from any program but ours, to the guest speakers who never say no to me, to the UHCE staff who take care of the things that make the class possible. I dare not mention them by name for fear of inadvertently leaving someone out. I’m grateful to each of them. I am so lucky to have a job that I love with all my heart.

Happy 50th!

June 3, 2016

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Birthday Letters

My birthday was last week, so two or three weeks ago, my four oldest kids — Danny, Kendra, Colin, and Sean — started asking me what I wanted. This is what I ended up telling them:

My birthday is next Wednesday so I’m pretty sure all of you have already shopped for me and have my present all wrapped and ready to mail, if you’re Kendra, or bring over, if you’re Danny, Colin, or Sean. On the off chance, however, that you haven’t already found that perfect gift for me, I have an idea.

First, I have so many things right now. In a few years, I’ll be selling the house and doing some serious downsizing. So even though I like pretty things, I don’t need more pretty things. 
Second, I have a lot of money. You guys are all struggling financially at different levels. What kind of mother would I be to demand that you spend your money on gifts for me?
Third, what I love the most in the world (not counting people) are words. So the gift of words would definitely mean the most to me (assuming you can’t give me the gift of young skin because I’d really love that). I would love it if each of you could write me a letter about good memories from your childhood (if you had any; if not, make some up) or things I’ve done right as a mom. The older I get, the more I think about the legacy I will leave someday. This is normal — ask any old person. It would be a lovely gift to hear about your memories. Unless they’re all bad memories. If that’s the case, then go buy me an expensive bottle of champagne. 
Love you. 

So that’s what I got. I got four very dear, very meaningful, very different, and very well-crafted letters from my oldest children. Here they are.

From Danny:

I would’ve liked to hand-write this, but I also would like it to be legible. 

I’m trying to think of my earliest memories, but not a whole lot comes to mind before my days on the Mets in baseball.  I guess that’s not a bad thing that nothing traumatic happened to me when I was a baby in your arms or a baby out of your arms.  I do like looking at old photos of me with you.  You were always smiling and I always looked happily at ease. 

I remember walking with you when I first got to wear my Mets jersey and we were walking into a toxic dump site to play 5-Pitch.  I remember you and Mamoo putting on a birthday swim party at her house and there were cupcakes in the shape of gloves. Man, I don’t know who all came, but that must’ve been a far drive for my teammates! Did you make those cupcakes or Mamoo?  I remember lots of baseball times with you and you always writing the recaps for the South Belt Leader that not only made me, but everyone, sound like they were a part of greatness in wins and played hard in losses.  I remember you driving me to practice with the Phillies one day and “Blue Moon” came on and I pictured our whole team singing it and I told you about it.  You always let me play in my head, but not with my head (no football!).

The last couple of years have been great to me.  I became an insta-parent and I find myself thinking everyday WWMD – What Would Mom Do.  I might need to change it to WWLD – What Would Lollipop Do because the other one sounds too close to WMDs, but I digress.  I guess the more things change the more they stay the same because Leo has my Star Wars bedsheets, Star Wars lunch box and he wants a remote control Millennium Falcon.  I’ve told him countless times about how I wanted a Millennium Falcon and it was 500 points.  I’m sure I’ll get him and his sister on the point system someday.  Kelli is probably tired of hearing me start sentences with “my mom did this” or “you know what my mom used to do that I liked?”  Never mind the fact it was something, most likely, at the time I thought was mean or worthless.

I walked Leo to his first soccer practice the other day and it was threatening to rain and it made me think back again to you walking with me to the fields on my first day.  I remember it having rained and there was a lot of mud and Lord knows what else on the ground.  The more things change…  Leo got his jersey and he was so proud that he immediately asked to wear it to bed.  I remember how proud I was to get my jersey every year and you made that happen. 

I don’t think a child can ever thank a good parent ever enough – not when he’s 5, not when he’s 45.  After all, I don’t remember all the many, MANY sacrifices you made along the way and still make every day.  I can say “thank you” and “I love you,” but you still won’t get a sense of how much you mean to me.  I think what I can do is show you. I don’t mean show you with my big paycheck (if that was actually the case) or a big house or the fact that I have the fastest, shakiest hand in the West.  I think maybe for some moms that can be the way to show them how much they helped their kids.  I think for my mom the best way I can show you how much you meant and mean to me is to strive every day to be the parent to Leo and his little sister that you were to me.  If I can show you that I can make them smile and teach them and love them then I think you’ll understand, at least a little bit, how much you passed on to me and how much I love you.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take my beautiful wife to the doctor to look at your next beautiful grandchild.  What a lucky grandchild she’ll be.  She wouldn’t be here without you.  I wouldn’t be here without you.  Thank you.  I love you. 

Happy birthday Mom.

From Kendra:

I read through all of my diaries to help me remember what it was like to be a kid and, although a lot of what I wrote is about what food I ate that day, it was also really clear how much I looked up to you.. 

We didn’t have a lot of money, but we were a foster family. What an incredible experience that was for us kids! Sure, I may have told Channel 2 that I had to share a room, but I can’t imagine what I’d be like if I’d never met Michael or Shantell or even Paul and Brigid Brennan. You did that. I got to go to Northern Ireland and then spend a whole summer with Grainne and Cathy. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to go to Iceland at 15 if I hadn’t seen them do it. You did that. You made the entire Iceland thing happen. More than any other single experience I had in my childhood, that shaped me. I really don’t know who I would be if you hadn’t found that amazing opportunity and pushed me toward it. 
You were my best friend and got me through every single horrible breakup I ever had. I know I would not have made it through my 20s without your willingness to sit on the phone with me and listen to me cry about some idiot I was sure I was going to marry. You even sent me those Dr. Phil tapes when I thought I really needed to fix something in me so that Lewis would love me more. After having Ellie, I can imagine it would be frustrating to see your daughter so upset over someone who treated her so badly, but you never made me feel like you were disappointed or frustrated. You just listened and loved me and took me to psychics when I asked.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Jack and Andrew wouldn’t be here without you. That was such a hard time, but you never stopped believing in me and those boys. You came out here and took care of all of us and I just hope I’m one day able to make them understand what you did.
And now we have our Ellie. She’s going to be your favorite, no doubt, and you’re going to be her Mamoo. She’s going to have so many secrets that she shares with only you and I promise to try to be ok with that. 
Thank you for making me who I am, Mom. I love this life that I have and I know it’s all because of you. Happy birthday.
From Colin:

It’s not as easy to come up with a specific story as it is just moments, when I’m “trying” to think of a story, that is. When I’m not trying and I’m just living my life, certain things happen that bring me back to my childhood. When I think of my childhood, the first person I think of (other than Sean) is my Mother. Many of the memories become comparisons in my mind to the way things are today, and the way things have changed, and the way that we’ve changed.

I really think that my favorite story recently came from when Mike Fiers was on the verge of pitching a no-hitter, I thought about you instantly. Of course, I couldn’t tell you about it while it was happening, because that’s blasphemy in the world of baseball. Even the announcers never said the words “no-hitter” until it was over. So I shared that memory over Facebook about Darrell Kyle pitching a no-hitter. And, you waking me and Sean up to tell us about it (I have a feeling that you liked that story so much that it’s part of what gave you this idea of a gift of words). You did that a few times to tell us about things, and I can’t remember if you woke us up at like, 10:00pm at night, when it wasn’t too late. Or, if it was in the morning when you were waking us up for school and you wanted to go ahead and tell us good news for us to wake up with. My memory tells me it’s the former, but my logic is telling me that it’s most likely the latter. I remember you coming into our room then waking us up to tell us that we traded Robert Horry for some guy named Sean Elliott. None of us liked it, but we were cautiously optimistic. Then I remember, either the next day or couple days later, you woke us up to tell us that Sean Elliott didn’t pass his physical, so the trade didn’t go through. We were all excited! It’s weird how I was too young to put the feelings of the players in the correct perspective. Like, I didn’t think about whether Robert Horry would be mad. Luckily he wasn’t. 
As far as other memories and stories that didn’t have to do with sports, those memories exists and I do treasure them. Like, the great feeling I’d have during your rituals, “Merry lean meet, marry me part, Mary meet again”. And, when I sobbed in your arms over Carvis (The first heartbreak isn’t the most painful, but it is the first time ever feeling any pain like it). But, for some reason the sports memories mean more, and are closer to my heart. Maybe it’s because you were the one in the household keeping up with us on sports, and getting us into and involved in our leagues. 
My cool Mom, who kept score at the baseball games. The Mom who went to our basketball games and new what a zone defense was. WAIT!
*lightbulb*
I just thought of a story. Here goes nothing:
Of course, when I was a kid, I don’t remember exactly what age I was when I wanted a skateboard. 8 maybe? Maybe you remember, I’m not sure though. Anyway,  when I think back now, I always think of how odd it was that we went to church every Sunday and I went to Sunday school. And that I was taught stories from the Bible and you never told me that anything I might be learning in Sunday school, could be something that I don’t have believe. I’m extremely thankful for that though, because I know that it was my own thinking that brought me to asking myself the necessary questions in my own mind and coming to the conclusion that I didn’t believe in God when I was just 12 years old. And, I remember asking you about God, if you believe in God. I was prepared to argue with you, but you told me that you didn’t believe in God. I was excited, but still a bit confused as to why we went to church. Anyway, sometimes you went to such great lengths to let me believe. Maybe to you, it was kind of like Santa Claus. You knew one day I would find out, but for now you liked that I believed. Because, you would never let me have a skateboard. And I prayed every night to God to let me have a skateboard (I always knew the best use of God’s time). Then I asked you why God wouldn’t give me a skateboard? I had been praying every night for one. I don’t remember what your answer was or if you even had one. But, not too long after, you got me that green Gumby skateboard. Of course, I had to wear on my elbow pads and kneepads and look like a nerd. But, God answered my prayer. God always love me. Little did I know the whole time that my Mother was God. My Mother was God, she was Santa Claus, she was the Easter bunny, she was Saint Nicholas, and she was part time the tooth fairy. Momoo, was also the tooth fairy many nights.
Of course, there are so many stories that I can remember and from now on when I do, I’m going to try to write them down for you and for me and for everyone. I love you Mom! Happy Birthday.
– Colin 
From Sean:
Momma, You are my hero, my idol, my mentor, my guidance, my security blanket, and everything that I strive to be. I know that I am not the best at letting you know these things but you remind me of them constantly. Because of your guidance, I am the man that I am today. And the man that I will become in the future will be even greater because of what you’ve instilled in me: hard work, dedication, loyalty, and compassion.
Now that I am a parent, I think about the future and the past way more often. I think about going to Miles soccer/basketball/baseball games and then I think about my beautiful mom at my games. I can vividly remember running off the field to talk to you about a goal I scored and getting my orange slices before running to sit on my momma’s lap. I think about elementary school and the holiday celebrations. I know that there’s a negative story in there that people always remind me about but that’s not how I remember it. I remember you making rice krispy treats the night before and getting to school the next morning telling my friends that my mom was coming for the party. I can remember the excitement of staring at the door the whole day because I knew that my mom was going to be opening it up soon. I can only hope that Miles and Skyler will be as excited to see me as I was to see you.
Just last week I was telling Cindy that I can’t wait til the twins are old enough for us to just cuddle in our room with a big bowl of popcorn to watch TV. I loved our special TV/Movie nights where Colin and I would fight to see who got to sit between you and Dad. These are all small things but they are some of the many memories that arise while parenting.
Cindy’s experience growing up was so different from mine that I am constantly trying to recreate those happy moments not only for our kids but for her. I’ve found that the easiest way to recreate my childhood for them is to love my kids as hard as I can because that’s how I grew up. I grew up loved so hard by my mom that I could feel it. I could feel your support when I needed it most. I could feel your pride when I tried and failed. I could feel your pain when I hurt. But no matter what I always felt your love. Thank you for always loving me,
Your Son
This was my favorite birthday. Yes, it was partly because of the surprise luncheon created by my Pass & Provisions family. And it was partly because James got me a blue box. And it was partly because I was spoiled by my dearest friends. But it was mostly because I got to read these words and see into the hearts of my children. There has never been a greater gift than the gift of these words, unless it’s the gift of these children.
September 23, 2015

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Marriage Equality

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. It is so ordered.”

And with those words from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a 5-4 majority, same sex marriage became legal in all 50 states. It was just two days ago. At the moment that the opinion was released, I almost couldn’t believe it. I remember that, during my very first paralegal class, a student asked me if I thought gays would ever get the right to be married in Texas. I said, “Maybe someday, but not in my lifetime.” I’ve never been so glad to be wrong.

I hope for a time when no one says “same sex marriage” anymore — when it’s just marriage. I hope for a time when my grandchildren will stare at me in disbelief when I tell them that it was once illegal for people of the same gender to get married. I wonder if I’ll even tell them that, in my adult lifetime, it was actually a crime to engage in same sex sexual activity.

I have long argued against the — well, against any argument that would obstruct access to marriage equality for all people. For many years, the main arguments were that it was against God and it was bad for children. These were the same arguments used back when many states prohibited interracial marriage, before such laws were abolished by the Supreme Court in a case called Loving v. Virginia. Lately, the main argument has switched from “gay people are bad” to “it should be up to the voters of each state to decide.” In fact, all of the current Republican candidates for the presidential are saying that exact thing.  I’m always a little astonished when I hear this. Before the ruling this week, same sex marriage was already legal in 36 states, plus DC. The U.S. is the last developed country to allow same sex marriage. But the right to marry is a fundamental civil right. When have we ever taken a vote on such things?

The backlash against the Supreme Court’s decision was swift. When the Supreme Court stopped the counting of votes in a single state and decided a freaking presidential election in a per curiam 5-4 decision in 2000, conservatives were proclaiming that “the Justices have spoken and long live SCOTUS!” But now that the Supreme Court has decided that we must have same sex marriage in every state, conservatives are up in arms (see Second Amendment) because “five unelected judges have trampled the Constitution and degraded our society (run for your lives!) and they should be impeached!” 

Although Kennedy’s opinion is filled with more quotable and poetic passages like his last paragraph posted above, my favorite part is when he talks about why this issue should not be put to a vote, state by state, as so many have urged. I’ve long argued this point. We don’t vote on fundamental rights, on civil rights. What if we had taken a vote on whether to allow interracial marriage? What if we had taken a vote on whether to allow women to vote? What if we had taken a vote on whether to end the policy of “separate but equal” (even when separate was never equal) schools and public accommodations? We don’t take votes on fundamental civil rights and this is why (from Justice Kennedy):

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution “was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.” West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 638 (1943). This is why “fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”

It’s been only two days since the decision and there have been many celebrations and weddings. But there have also been condemnations. Fox News and conservative politicians, in particular, are scaring people about how ministers will be forced to perform same sex marriages, even though the SCOTUS decision specifically says that the ruling does not even apply to religious organizations. They are saying that wedding cake bakers and florists will be forced to bake cakes and arrange flowers for same sex weddings, even though the SCOTUS decision says no such thing. In fact, discrimination against individuals who are gay or lesbian is still legal. Businesses can refuse them. Employers can fire them. Apartments can evict them. All of that is still legal. There is still work to do.

The SCOTUS has made same sex marriage legal in all the states where it wasn’t already legal. It also says that people who were legally married in another state are now legally married in all states. That’s it. Already, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have said that county clerks who don’t want to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples,  because of the clerks’ religious beliefs, don’t have to do it. So there are counties where same sex couples still cannot get married. State Senator Rodney Ellis has asked the U.S. Attorney General to monitor implementation of the SCOTUS decision in Texas because, obviously, the officials in charge of our state are not going to do what they swore to do, which is to follow the U.S. Constitution, which provides what the U.S. Supreme Court can do. The next few weeks will be interesting. I’m glad to be here to witness all of this. It is astonishing to see how far we have come — and how far we have yet to go.

June 28, 2015

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Facebook catches a thief.

On January 12, 2015, I got a text from James that said, “We had a thief.” I was on my way home from teaching at UH and I looked at the text, but really thought he was making a joke about one of the dogs taking something from the house outside. But it was no joke. James was in our home office, which is at the back of our house, when he saw something on the computer screen that shows our security cameras. He saw a man taking a big box from our porch. He ran (“ran” is a relative word for James) to the front of the house, but the guy was long gone. Luckily, though, the video was still there. This is a photo of the guy approaching the porch:

10178108_596223753843860_4640890614283428735_n

And here is the video:

I posted the video and the photo on Facebook on Monday afternoon. By Tuesday afternoon, it had been viewed 13,000 times on Facebook, thanks to my friends sharing it.

What was in the box? Of course, there was no way for the thief to know it, but the box was full of sweatshirts and sweatpants that I had ordered for A Simple Thread. I imagine he was pretty disappointed when he opened it up because it was a big box. It could have had something really good in it. And don’t you know that I feel just awful to think about his disappointment?

Back to Facebook. The theft happened on a Monday and we reported it to HPD. On Tuesday, Channel 11, KHOU, called and said they wanted to do a story on it. They came out and interviewed me and this is a link to that story. Channel 2, KPRC, also did a story. On Wednesday, I had a facebook message from a person in the Constable’s Office. He saw the video on Facebook and he recognized the thief. His name is Jaime Esparza (KHOU story about his arrest). We took the video and photos to the Constable’s Office. On Thursday, they got a warrant for his arrest. The next Tuesday, they arrested him. He is charged with a Class B Misdemeanor. He made bail the same day and it is expected that they will reach a plea deal. He’ll probably be sentenced to 60 or 90 days, and he will serve 1/3 of that. I wish him well and I hope he will stop stealing packages off of people’s porches. The sweatshirts were not recovered. This is a photo of Mr. Esparza, age 25:

635573787493097470-Jaime

Without the video and the Facebook sharing of it, there would never have been an arrest. Facebook nailed this guy. A Simple Thread came out a winner because we got a lot of donations that amounted to much more than the sweatshirts that were stolen. We also got a lot of publicity. The other big winner? D-link cameras! We bought five more cameras for our home, and countless friends and neighbors have asked us about the cameras we use because the quality of the video was so good. So chalk this bit of justice up to cameras, James (without whom there would have been no cameras installed) and Facebook friends.

January 31, 2015

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A lot can happen in six months.

I can’t believe it’s been six months since I’ve written anything here. Two things have prevented me from posting: life and heat. First, a lot of things have kept me really busy. Second, it’s been too hot to sit on the front porch.

As far as the heat goes, right now, it seems like it will never be hot again. It was 80 degrees two days ago, but then this polar vortex swept across the country, starting with Alaska. Does anything good ever come from Alaska? Anyway, for most of the country, it’s really horrible misery. But here, it is a gorgeous day. I hope our Christmasolkwanzakkah Breakfast has weather just like this. It got down in the 30s last night, but right now, it’s 59 degrees on my front porch. I’m cold, even in jeans and a sweatshirt, but not uncomfortably so. Happy weather.

As far as life goes, well, like I said, it’s been busy. I won’t bore you with too many details, but here are the highlights. Miles and Skyler were born on June 10, at just 31 weeks. They were little and had to be in the NICU at UTMB for a few weeks, but now they are healthy, happy little five-month-old babies. They are really into smiling, laughing, and “talking” right now. They look completely different from each other, but each one looks exactly like one of their parents. Miles is a little mini-me of Sean. And Sky is the very image of Cindy. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with them, which has been so great. I like having grandkids living in the same town, for a change. Between lots of trips to Galveston to hang out with them in the NICU and then getting them settled in at home and then keeping them during September when both Cindy and Sean had to return to work, I just never even thought about my little Front Porch Blog. I was too busy updating their caring bridge page.

October was planned as my catch up and get ahead month. I was teaching only on the weekends, so it seemed like the perfect time to catch up on things that I had let slide, and to get ahead because I knew November would be rough because I’d be teaching four days a week plus trying to get ready for the holidays, especially the breakfast. October didn’t really turn out that way, though. We got some tough news. Danny was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. James and I were on our way to Austin to visit Paul, Brigid, and Megan when I got a text from Danny that said he was at the neurologist and had tremor dominant Parkinson’s. He said he was ok, but just trying to get his head around it. I knew he’d had a hand tremor, but always just thought it was related to either alcohol or caffeine. I was wrong. It has taken some time to wrap our collective head around this news. We’re starting to come out of disbelief now and are moving into action.

Also in October, James quit his job at Hunting and has started a new job. So there’s been some stress around that, especially as other job offers have been coming in. Tom was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but they caught it early and he’s just about through with his treatment.

And now it’s November and my “to do” list has been growing each day. This week, though, I have just gotten everything done. Posting on the Front Porch Blog was the last thing on my list and I’m just about done with that, too. I am ready to start enjoying the holidays, starting with a huge family dinner at The Pass & Provisions on November 25 as we get an early start on Thanksgiving. Right now, I’m content to sit with my feet up on the front porch rail for a few more minutes before the sun goes down.

November 12, 2014.

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I Sure Know How To Make An Exit

I had my knee replacement on February 18 and it really could not have gone better. I was up and walking that night and I left the hospital the next morning. All my PT prep paid off. I did exactly what the doctor said to do and it mattered. I never even needed an assistance from the walker or cane to walk. By the second week, I was on the stationary bike for 30+ minutes a day. At the eight week mark, the only pain I had was when I walked normally down stairs. And even that was getting better. And then this happened.
So on May 3, last Saturday night, we went to the Hunting Art Prize Gala, which was fantastic. We were waiting for the valet to bring our car. There had been a little bit of a line and we were next. We saw our car approaching. We were standing on a curb cut, so no curb for either of us to worry about. Well, the car went past that spot, probably so other cars could be pulled up behind. They had about 30 valets. Anyway, when our car passed us by and stopped, we had to turn to go off the spot sideways. Where I stepped off is right where that curb cut ended so I took a step thinking it was level but it was down just a bit. If I had known it was there, I’d have stepped on my strong leg. But I was on the bad leg and there was a drop and I just went down directly on that knee. It wasn’t a real fall where you trip and stick out your hands and roll over and all that. It was more like just suddenly kneeling hard. The fall itself didn’t lay me out. I laid myself out because I wanted to immediately get off that knee because I knew right away that it was badly hurt.  Maybe if I hadn’t been wearing heels for the first time in like six months, I’d have been ok. I don’t know.

There was a military medic right behind me in line and he took such good care of me. He covered it with his hand at first and pressed hard. He said he knew it hurt but he had to try to stop the bleeding. There was so much blood. He was asking people for stuff. One woman gave a handful of tissue, which was soaked in a minute. Then another woman had a wad of mcdonald’s napkins. A police officer who was directing traffic had a first aid kit with sterile gauze. With replacements, infection can be a huge deal, as you know. In fact, it can kill you. Even if I have dental work, I have to take antibiotics because if some bacteria got in my blood stream, it could cause an infection around the implant. Anyway, so a first aid guy from inside the building came out with a better kit that had a compression bandage. When he changed the gauze was the first time I actually saw it. At that point, it looked worse than it felt. The power of adrenaline.

Going back at bit, as soon as the medic saw the gash, he told people to call for an ambulance. I said, “Do I need an ambulance?” He and James practically screamed at the same time “Yes!” But nobody called. Everyone thought someone else had. So after a few minutes, they really did call. I have no idea how much time elapsed, but not a terrible amount of time. I was wearing a top that was like a wrap top. Standing up, it was modest and fine. Sitting, you just have to check to make sure it’s ok. But when I fell. it fell wide open. Luckily, I’d gone with a matching pretty lacy bra instead of a more utilitarian one. =) I really wanted James to just take me to the hospital in the car, but the big concern was that, if I bent my leg, it would open even further. The medic said to me at one point, “I hope you won’t think this is strange, but you have the softest legs I’ve ever touched.” Then when he wrapped the bandage around my leg, he said, “I’m not getting fresh, but I have to put my hand between your legs.” We joked a lot. I was sitting on the pavement where I fell this whole time and the blood was pooling. It was all over the medic’s shoes. A firetruck arrived before the ambulance. They were all nice, but not much help until they stood me up to get on the gurney once the ambulance got there. They decided (this place was off I10 near Katy) to take me to Methodist in Katy, mainly because my surgery was at Methodist in the med center. I didn’t care and I had no idea what hospital to go to anyway. It was about a ten minute ambulance ride. I called Dr. Lionberger on the way to the hospital and the answering service put my call right through to him. He said to just go to the hospital and they could take care of me, and that they could call him if they had any questions. It was a good place. Not terribly busy so I got seen quickly. X-rays showed nothing was broken and the replacement was still in place. Seventeen stitches. Got out just before midnight. So about a 3-hour ordeal. I took pain pills for the first twelve hours but I hate the way they make me feel so now I’m just using Aleve.

Other random things. I put a pair of comfortable sandals in the car, knowing that my feet would be killing me. I sent James to get those while I was still sitting on the pavement. I just wished I had another top to put on. But once the ambulance arrived, they gave me a sheet so that was helpful. I wasn’t in terrible pain until after I got to the hospital when the adrenaline wore off. Then it was bad. The worst was the local anesthetic for doing the stitches. I’m also really bruised all over the knee. I did win the prize for “coolest injury of the night,” according to the ER docs.  Right now, I’m using a cane to get around. I can’ believe how much it still hurts. I saw the surgeon yesterday and he said that the replacement is still perfect. The big worry at this point is infection so I’m on antibiotics and taking extra precautions. Anyway, I definitely know how to make an exit! =)

IMG_5181

May 8, 2014

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This was taken when we got to the hospital emergency room. When the doctor removed the bandage, I said, “I have to get a picture of this.” He took it for me and told me, “I bet this will be going on facebook.” He was right.

Knee

In about 59 hours (but who’s counting?) my right knee joint will be gone and I’ll have a brand new one in its place. My knee gave me 50 great years and ten good years, but it has really struggled to do what it was supposed to do these last couple of years. I have been busy rearranging my life so that I can spend nearly three weeks flat on my back in bed with my knee elevated above my eyes. I’ve also been busy doing pre-surgical conditioning physical therapy, seeing different kinds of doctors, and gathering all the things that the surgeon recommends. Custom leg brace, walker, cryo cuff, knee lift wedge, tens unit, sleeping pills, knee pain pills, narcotic pain pills, nausea pills, the list goes on. I’ve even rearranged my room for my recovery. My point is — I’ve been busy doing things to get ready. And now that surgery is almost here,  well, I’ve started thinking.

The main thing I’ve been thinking is: what the hell am I doing? This is crazy, right? They are going to knock me out, put a tube down my throat, cut out my knee joint, and replace it with an artificial joint, and then sew it back up. That very same night, they will get me up and make me walk, learning how this prosthetic knee works. The next morning, if I can walk 100 feet, they will send me home, where I’ll spend the next three weeks mostly lying flat in bed, except for the torture of physical therapy three times a week.

It seems that every person I know has either had a knee replacement or knows five people who have had one. Everyone says they are so glad they did it. They are all walking unassisted in a couple of weeks. Or less. They all assure me that I’ll be fine. What do they know? People are constantly reassuring people that they will do one thing or another, with absolutely no basis for saying such a thing.

What I really want is to have them put me under on Tuesday morning and then wake up in three weeks. Yes, I know that would be bad in a million ways. But I’m a little freaked out about both the surgery and the recovery. I just want to be one of those people who nods knowingly when someone complains (when you’re in your sixties, everybody you know complains about health stuff all the time) about a bad knee. “You should have a knee replacement,” I’ll say, “and don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

February 15, 2014

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Christmas Surprise

It’s no secret that I love this season. A lot. And we’ve had a great holiday season. It started with Thanksgiving. For the first time in a really long time, we were all together for Thanksgiving — all the kids and all the grandkids, plus Dan, Fran, Nicole, and Pat. It was a lot of work, but a warm and wonderful day of hanging out together. The very next day, the decorating began. We got the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had, from Buchannan’s, and, with Kendra’s help, the house was all decorated by the end of the weekend. Kendra and Chris went back to San Francisco, but the boys spent the week here. And what a week it was! I was still teaching the weekday paralegal class, plus I was getting ready for the big Happy AllTheDays breakfast! I was watching the weather forecast closely. We have never had terrible weather for the breakfast and I sure didn’t want to break that long record. But they were predicting frigid temps and freezing rain. They were only half right. It turned out to be a cold, but beautiful, morning. We rented outdoor 7-foot tall propane heaters for the porch and that turned out to be a great idea. We had our biggest crowd ever — nearly 200 friends and family. My long-time friend, Joe Bontke, was the best Santa Claus ever. Delicious food. Heartfelt conversations. Lots of hugs. Photos here.

The breakfast is always the high point of the season for me. Exhausting, but so much fun that I forget the exhaustion. We raise money for A Simple Thread, too. The 18 days between the breakfast and Christmas were busy, but not as busy as the 18 days before the breakfast. We had our traditional Christmas Eve at Dan and Fran’s, but it was a much smaller crowd than usual because Sean and Cindy went to Cindy’s family’s celebration, Kendra, Chris and the boys were in Atlanta, Richard and Janie were in Santa Fe, and Megan, Jeremy and Casey were in Austin. No little kids made for a more quiet evening, but it was a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve. James and I exchanged gifts later and I got three Tiffany boxes. So pampered. Christmas morning was at our house so I was up really late getting everything laid out. It almost felt like the Christmas mornings when the kids were little. Everyone came over at 10:00 on Christmas morning to see what Santa left and then we had a big breakfast planned for 11:00. The kids had all given me presents, but I had not opened anything because I was so busy with breakfast.

I was in the kitchen cooking when Sean came in and asked me if I could come open a present from Cindy and him. I was busy, but I stopped to go in the dining room. On the way, I tapped Sean on the shoulder and when he turned to me, I said, “Are you?” He knew what I was asking, but he turned around and kept walking. I was expecting an announcement that they were pregnant, but instead, he handed small gift boxes to me, to Tom, and to Lonnie. He told us to open them. It was a cute onesie than said, “I love Lollipop” on it. I said, “You ARE!” and I ran to hug them. I was overjoyed. During the hugs, I remembered that I had put together a basket for this moment. It was a basket of baby things, preggi pops, stretch mark cream, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and Dude, You’re A Dad books. I ran to my room to grab it and came back and presented it to them. They were so surprised. But they weren’t done. Sean gave a sweet little speech about how much it meant to have the support of everybody in the room and how they would need our help. He said that the person he wished was there, though, was Kendra because she was the one who really understood what they were going through. I was a little puzzled by that since half the people in the room were experienced parents, and then they said the words that surprised me to my core. It’s twins! I honestly don’t even remember what I did or said for a few minutes after that. It was surreal. I do remember saying, “How lucky am I?” A Lollipop with TWO sets of grand twins! I’m still, a week later, just astonished. And speaking of things that are astonishing, Cindy’s due date is the same as Kendra’s was when she was pregnant with Jack and Andrew. We are hoping these twins will stay put a little longer, though.

A couple of days ago, I took Sean and Cindy shopping for maternity clothes. Well, yeah, really just for Cindy. She got a wardrobe that just might get her through the whole pregnancy. Last night was New Year’s Eve and we spent it like we do most years. Everybody gathered at SodaPop’s. We did the usual NYE predications. Danny cooked. SodaPop shot off lots of spectacular fireworks. Grandkids marveled at their ability to handle sparklers. Early this morning, Kendra and Chris headed back to SF. And today, in celebration of the first day of 2014, I did not get out of my pajamas all day. I got a few things done, but mostly I just enjoyed the extravagance of doing nothing.

Happy ChristmaSolKwanzAkuhh! I love the holidays and I am never sorry to see them end. What’s next?

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SCOTUS

As I write this, I’m not on my front porch. I’m on a plane, coming home from a long-planned week in Washington DC. As it happened, this turned out to be the week when the Supreme Court handed down decisions in the four biggest cases of the term.

I admit to being a Supreme Court fan. Not these Justices, in particular. Not all of them, anyway. But as an institution, I love the Supreme Court. So I was thrilled that all of these cases were coming down this week and I vowed to be there for all of them. I spent three days at the Court. The big cases were Fisher v. University of Texas (affirmative action), Shelby County v. Holder (Voting Rights Act), Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8 in California), and U.S. v. Windsor (Defense of Marriage Act). Those last two were collectively called “the same sex marriage cases” and I doubt that 5 percent of all U.S. citizens know the names of any of the cases I just mentioned. They probably never will. But those decisions will change every person’s life, in one way or another. And that is no exaggeration.
On Monday, I was in the courtroom as the Court announced several decisions, ending with Fisher. This case was, of the four big ones, the one that was least important to me. The Court decided that using race as a factor when considering college admissions decisions is all right, but colleges will essentially need to show an educational benefit of diversity (and this just requires a good faith belief on the part of the college) so that’s easy. However, colleges will also have to show that making race a factor in admissions is the, in a way, least onerous way to have diversity. So they would have to be able to objectively show that other ways, like the Top Ten Percent plan in Texas, don’t work well enough to achieve diversity. Universities will also have to have a plan for phasing out race-based preferences over time. It’s not a really bright line ruling, and it sends it back to the Fifth Circuit, for a decision that is compatible with the SCOTUS opinion. The morning was exciting — sitting inside the Supreme Court, which I’ve done only once before and that was during oral arguments. Everyone inside and surrounding the Court, though, was really only interested in the same sex marriage cases, so there was definitely a generally spirit of disappointment. The Supreme Court doesn’t give advance notice of which cases it will announce on any given day. I was excited to be in there, being a part of the day, watching the Justices, including when Justice Alito rolled his eyes as Justice Ginsberg read her dissent.
Tuesday was the worst day for me, in terms of the decisions. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, declared unconstitutional a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1965, all states were supposed to have ended racial discrimination in, among other things, voting. Of course, discrimination had not ended. Back then, particularly in the South, including Texas, there were all kinds of tactics that were designed to keep minorities from voting. Some states had a “poll tax,” which meant that a citizen had to pay money to be able to vote. That would be unfair enough to the poor, but the tax was often waived for white people. It was collected only from black people. There were also literacy tests. And if you think those were tests about the government or the court system or politics, you’d be wrong. I recently saw the literacy test that Louisiana used in the early 1960s. Again, this was usually given only to black people who wanted to register to vote. There were 30 questions, which had to be completed in ten minutes. Some of the questions were:
1.   Write the word vote upside down, but with the letters in the right order.
2.   Write the word noise backwards and place a dot over what would have been the second letter had the word been written forwards.
3.   Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here.
4.   Draw a figure that is square in shape. Divide it in half by drawing a straight line from its northeast corner to its southwest corner and then divide it again by drawing a broken line from the middle of its western side to the middle of its eastern side.
5.   Divide a vertical line into two equal parts by bisecting it by a curved horizontal line that is only straight at its spot bisection of the vertical.
So there was no way to study for the test and also almost no way to finish 30 questions in ten minutes since the questions were designed to be confusing and to take time to answer. Me, I have no idea what the last question above even means, must less how to draw it. I figured my engineer husband would know, but he couldn’t even figure out what the question asked.
The U.S. Government would sue a state or county that engaged in employing tactics like these to keep minorities from voting, but when the state or county lost in court, it would just think of some other tactic.
So Congress decided to pass a law, the key provision of which was that the worst offenders in terms of trying to bar minorities (nine states plus some local governments in seven other states) from voting would have to get “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice before it could adopt any new election law or any new election policy or procedure, or any redistricting plan, or any other change to voting. It had to show that these things would not result in racial discrimination in voting. That was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, probably the most effective civil rights law in the history of the United States.
The Supreme Court has ruled on cases involving the Voting Rights Act before and, in fact, that’s where I got that last sentence of the previous paragraph. But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court changed its mind. Or at least, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas did. And five is the most important number in the Supreme Court.
Lots of states and counties that were affected by the VRA have sued over the years. None have been successful in overturning the VRA until this case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. Shelby County lost, of course, in federal district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals, but it won where it mattered most — at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court said that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional now. It said that times have changed (definitely true; for example, we no longer have a Voting Rights Act) and the law just isn’t needed anymore.  In her outraged dissent, Ruth Bader Ginsberg said that “throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Two hours — TWO HOURS — after the Supreme Court announced its decision, Gov. Perry announced that the Texas Voter ID law and its redistricting plan would immediately go into effect. See? We just don’t need the VRA anymore. This Voter ID law essentially amounts to a poll tax for people who don’t have a state-issued ID. And that’s the law in Texas now. I miss the Voting Rights Act already.
Being at the Supreme Court when this decision was announced was a kick in the gut. The Court had signaled that this could happen, but suddenly, it just seemed so crushing that it had. People died to get voting rights and this was a law that had, everyone agreed for years, worked well.  Now it’s gutted. There may not be that many people who even know this happened and fewer than that who care. But it will change voting. It will disenfranchise voters. And that affects everybody. Sad.
Walking out onto the steps of the Supreme Court that day was strange because everyone there was disappointed and deflated, but it wasn’t about the VRA case. It was because the same sex marriage cases weren’t decided. Still, it just added to the depression of the morning.
The Supreme Court announced that the last cases of the term would be announced the next day. People started lining up at the Supreme Court so they could get in the next day, nearly 24 hours later. It was a night of thunderstorms with lots of rain, but the people stayed. No, I was not one of those people.
On Wednesday morning, I got to the Supreme Court and was able to go inside the building, but not the courtroom. I was worried I wouldn’t get that far so I was happy to have a cool place to sit while I waited for the historic decisions.
There were two cases. One was U.S. v. Windsor. I read some conservative commentary about this case that said that the Supreme Court is supposed to resolve “cases and controversies,” but that, in this case, there was no controversy because both sides agreed that DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was unconstitutional. That part about DOMA is true, but there was a controversy because Ms. Windsor was a surviving spouse of her wife, who left her entire estate to Ms. Windsor. Windsor sought to avail herself of the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, but because of a section of DOMA, the federal government did not recognize her marriage and did not extend any spousal benefits to her. Only the courts have the power to declare a law to be unconstitutional so, of course, there had to be a DOMA case that went to the Supreme Court. The Court did not say that all of DOMA was unconstitutional. Only the section of it that denies federal benefits to same sex couples who are legally married was declared unconstitutional.
The other case was Hollingsworth v. Perry. This one involved a California law called Proposition 8 (Prop 8) that had been decided by the voters and banned same sex marriage in the state. The federal district court overturned Prop 8 and, although the state could have appealed that ruling, it didn’t because the state government did not like Prop 8. So a group of people who are against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians stepped in to defend Prop 8 by appealing the decision of the trial court to overturn Prop 8. The appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling to overturn Prop 8. It was appealed to the SCOTUS, who said that the anti-marriage equality group did not have standing to appeal the case in the first place because they suffered no harm, which is a requirement to have standing to sue. So SCOTUS vacated the decision of the Court of Appeals, which then left in place the trial court decision overturning Prop 8 on equal protection grounds. So California began performing same sex marriages later that day.
These cases were both decided by the familiar 5-4 arrangement, with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote. He provided the swing vote ten years, to the day, prior in Texas v. Lawrence, the case that overturned state sodomy laws across the country. Scalia wrote a dissent in which he said that the decision in the DOMA case sprang “forth from the same diseased root, an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.” His best line, though, was that the decision was “legalistic argle-bargle.” Scalia believes that the Court was arrogant in striking down a decades old law. Yes, this is the same Scalia who, just the day before, struck down the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (three decades older than DOMA). The real difference between the two cases, in terms of Scalia’s legal arguments, is, and I’ll try to put this into plain English, Scalia did not want to overturn DOMA and he did want to overturn the Voting Rights Act.
Once the decision was announced, I went outside to be part of the crazy happy celebration. It was a very moving moment. I remember telling a student who, in 2006, asked about the likelihood that we would have same sex marriage in Texas. I said that it would be at least 20 years. And I might end up being right about that, although I hope not. But I never envisioned then that, by 2013, we would have 13 states that allowed same sex marriage. Beyond that, I never understood why we had DOMA. I never quite understood why Congress thought it would be Constitutional to do such a thing.
I teach my students about the SCOTUS case of Loving v. Virginia, the case that invalidated state laws against interracial marriage, and they can’t believe it. They can’t believe that states had laws against interracial marriage. I point out how the exact same arguments against interracial marriage from nearly 50 years ago are being used today against same sex marriage. It was anit-God. Bad for the children. Destroy the fabric of the country. Against tradition. All the same stuff. I tell them that the disbelief they feel hearing about Loving v. Virginia is the disbelief their grandkids will feel when they hear about U.S. v. Windsor. How in the world did we ever think, in the 21st century, that “equal protection under the law” could mean “except for people who happen to be gay or lesbian?”
The high of that last morning at the Supreme Court carried me through the day, even though the Voting Rights Act was never far from my mind. I’m so glad that I was there right in the middle of everything that was happening. It was magnificent in ways I never expected. I will never forget where I was on June 26, 2013.

June 30, 2013

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Songs for Andrew and Jack

I have written a lot about my first two grandsons, Jack and Andrew. My very first blog, Twins’ Online Crib, chronicled Kendra’s pregnancy, and the perilous early months of their lives. They are such normal, healthy, happy kids now, four years later, that we seldom even update that site.

Jack and Andrew were born in San Francisco. I got to see them in the NICU the day after they were born. Andrew was so sick at first that we couldn’t even touch him. Even when we were allowed to touch him, we were supposed to just touch without moving our hands or talking, for fear that the stimulus would be too much for him to handle. But from the first day with Jack, and the first day it was allowed with Andrew, I sang to them. I stayed with them every other week for the first few months after they got out of the hospital, and we spent a lot of that time rocking and singing. Mostly lullabies and songs my mother taught me.

When the twins were around nine months old, Kendra & Chris moved to Austin. We kept the boys here in Houston for more than two weeks while their parents packed up, moved, and unpacked. Kendra was worried about being apart from them and we skyped (this was before facetime) and she made videos to show the boys of her singing their two favorite songs (because they liked the hand motions) — Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Itsy Bitsy Spider. So lots of times every day, and always at bedtime, I’d sing those familiar songs to them.

We got to see the boys a lot when they lived in Austin. There was seldom a week when we didn’t see them. But the next extended time they spent with us was when Kendra & Chris took their long-delayed honeymoon trip to Iceland when the boys were 2 and a half. I sang a lot to them then too, especially at nap and bedtime, and by then, most of the songs were Sesame Street songs, with an emphasis on Elmo.

In 2012, they moved back to California and, as heartbreaking as that was, we did get nearly a month with the twins in Houston during the move.  By this time, they were starting to really reliably sing along, and even to sing their own songs.

During this last year, they’ve learned so much at their preschool and at home. Andrew makes up his own songs all the time now, plus they know songs about days of the weeks, months of the year, all the continents, and lots more. To Andrew, though, anything can be a song and he has the sweetest little sing song melodies. He also declares that he can sing a song in “India” or in “French” and then he actually approximates the sounds of those languages.

I found out only a few months ago that, in addition to reading to them every night, Chris always sings to them. He used to have a single song that he sang every night, but he has branched out and now includes songs by the Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel.

The boys had their fourth birthday party at SodaPop’s house this weekend. Yesterday, Kendra & Chris went back to California. SodaPop and I get to keep the boys for three weeks. Before their Dad left, he told me about some of their favorite songs — Yesterday, The Boxer, Hey Jude, 59th Street Bridge Song. When he asked Jack what his favorite song was, he replied, “The Only Living Boy in New York.” Last night, both boys stayed with me. When I got them ready for bed, we talked about what songs they wanted. I sang four songs plus  a slow, soft version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

The songs they hear and love have definitely changed over time. The love of music is constant.

May 28, 2013

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April 2013:

A Month to Remember

April was a month to remember. On the morning of April 1, as I was about to give my paralegal students a test, I saw that I had an text from Danny that said, “Congrats on the Okra deal.” I had no idea what he was talking about.  I called him and he told me that A Simple Thread was selected as a charity to be in the competition at OKRA. I had applied four months earlier, at Danny’s suggestion, but really had no idea how it worked.

Some background: Last December, a new bar called OKRA Charity Saloon opened downtown in a beautiful space at 924 Congress (formerly the Red Cat Jazz Café, and really formerly, prior to 1880, just a downtown alley). OKRA stands for Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs. A group of owners of some of the best restaurants and bars in Houston got together to form OKRA. It is a non-profit bar. OKRA donates 100 percent of the bar’s proceeds to a different Houston-based organization each month. Bar patrons get tickets every time they buy a drink or food and then they vote for one of the four competing charities. Whichever charity wins gets all of the proceeds of the bar for the next month.  The charity that won in February was the Houston Area Women’s Center. They got $13,000.  That would be pivotal for an organization like A Simple Thread.

Back to April 1. Once I got on the website and figured out how it worked, I let our BOD know about it and then I started working on a strategy of how to win. To be honest, I did not think we had a great chance of winning. We were up against The Orange Show, El Centro del Corazon, and the Houston Chapter of Surfriders. I thought The Orange Show would be our biggest competition, but I really wasn’t sure that we could beat anybody. We were the smallest charity they’d ever had, plus we have no paid staff. We rely wholly on volunteers and I wasn’t sure how many of our Directors would be willing to do anything. Moreover, I had no idea what we needed to do. That night, Sean, Danny, Lonnie, James, and I all met at OKRA. And that was when we really got started. We decided that we would need a presence at the bar every night. Somebody suggested having happy hours. Lonnie suggested that we buy the first round at happy hours.

I was at the bar, ordering some food, when the bartender, Rob, gave the guy next to me a ticket with his beer. The guy said, “What’s this?” Rob said, “We are a charity bar and you can vote for one of these charities.” Rob gave him the list. I said to him, “I’m with A Simple Thread and I hope you’ll vote for us.” Rob said, “That’s who I’m pulling for.” The guy walked over and voted for us.

By the second night, we realized that we needed to put out some information about Thread. So I printed out a bunch of brochures for the top of our voting box plus a two-page overview that we taped up above our voting box.

For the first week, I went to the bar every night. That weekend, though, I discovered that the noise of the weekend was too much for my tinnitus. After that, I did just weeknights. Sean and Cindy took care of the bar on the weekends. Danny helped a lot and Colin made it there a couple of times, too. Cathy Hale helped out a couple of nights a week, usually hitting the place earlier than I usually got up there.  Melissa had 2 or 3 happy hours, plus she got one of her friends to have her wedding reception at OKRA with 100 guests drinking and voting for Thread. James went way out of his comfort zone to host a happy hour for his co-workers. Maribel had a couple of happy hours. Some others helped some. Far and away, the biggest non-BOD supporters were my paralegal students, especially the current class and the most recent graduates. The first happy hour we did was in the second week of competition. We had 100 people, mostly paralegals and some lawyers, who showed up. I bought the first of many “first rounds” and the ending time of 8:00 went unobserved by a large number of people, much to my delight. That was the night when the bartenders started noticing what we were doing. There were two other happy hours that night – one for The Orange Show and one for El Centro de Corazon. The great part of that was that Thread took essentially the whole ground level because we had so many people and we started earlier. The other two groups went to a small balcony area, which is beautiful with a sun roof, but terrible for the happy hour because people have to traverse a steep stairway every time they want a drink, plus they were not near the voting booth to be able to talk to voters about their charities. Worked out great for us, though.

Two days after that big paralegal happy hour, we hosted Eastwood. About 20 people came to that, and they ate and drank as only Eastwood can. They had a wonderful time.  After that big week, we started having a lot of smaller happy hours – just a few old friends or some co-workers. Even while we were having happy hours, we still worked the crowd in terms of telling people about A Simple Thread.

We ate more paninis and waffle fries, and took more shots of fernet than we would have thought possible. Those of us who hate just walking up to people learned to do exactly that. One Sunday, when it was really slow at the bar, I looked around and every single person there was connected to me. Three of my sons were there. James, his son, and his grandson were there. Two of my students and their spouses were there. For about 20 minutes, if not for A Simple Thread, there would have been nobody in the bar.

The competition provided an immediate payoff in terms of new volunteers, new groups wanting to volunteer, and we got more than $2000 in donations because of the publicity around the competition. We got way more facebook likes and more twitter followers, including some local media personalities.

On April 30, we gathered to celebrate the end of a very tiring, while simultaneously exhilarating month. Cathy, James, Sean, Cindy, and I, the workhorses of this competition, were there, along with some friends. We were still talking to everybody, still trying to get votes. We even gave away tshirts that night.

May 1 came and we were anxiously waiting the news of who won the competition. OKRA tweeted that they would post the results before they opened at 4:00. Every bartender had been telling us that we had it – that they’d never seen any charity do what we did in terms of getting people to the bar. Sean, Danny, and I were hitting refresh on the twitter feed every five seconds for like 20 minutes before they finally posted that we won!

We really did it. Hard work and commitment. We will find out next month how much we won. I’ve already written emails to the charities who are competing this month to tell them things we wish we’d known when we started the competition and especially how hard work trumps name recognition. We hope all the charities do well this month and get lots of people to the bar so that OKRA a record setting month. This is a pivotal, game changing moment for A Simple Thread – and for all the people we help.

May 6, 2013

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Little Free Library

A month ago, a friend of mine, Guy Felder, sent me a link to something called a Little Free Library and said, “This sounds like you.” He was, as he so often is, right.

I ordered a Little Free Library that very day and, yesterday, we had a neighborhood party for the opening of the Eastwood Little Free Library. Photos here. Basically, we have a cool wooden box filled with books and it’s in our front yard. People can come by and take a book, or leave a book. They can return it when they’re done or keep it or pass it on to a friend. The idea is to promote literacy and get the books into the hands of people — easily, freely, and conveniently. It’s a brilliant idea and I wish I’d thought of it. I’m very glad to have the first one in the East End.

At our unveiling ceremony yesterday, three-year-old Lucy Bishop, dressed up as a princess (we are pretty sure that we are the only LFL to be unveiled by a princess), pulled the rope to unveil the library. She picked out the first book, read it, put it back and got another one. She definitely has the procedure down. Lots of neighbors came over to enjoy some wine, some food, and some book talk. Lots of them brought over books to donate, and some of them took a book from the library. It was a perfect front porch day.

Today, I saw a group of 3 young women stop by the library and take books. While we were at the grocery store, another book made its way into the hands of a reader. I am so excited by this Little Free Library and the ways in which it might reach people.

April 7, 2013

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Donors Choose

If you don’t know about Donors Choose, you should. Also, if you don’t know about Donors Choose, you probably don’t watch the Colbert Report, which is something else you should do. But back to Donors Choose. It’s an organization that has a website where school teachers can post projects they would like to do with their classes, but can’t because the school won’t pay for it and the teacher can’t afford to spend even more of a too-small paycheck on teaching materials. The requests are from teachers all over the country if you want to help a teacher from your hometown or where you live now or where you went to school or where you want to retire. They are also organized by subject if you want to support a particular subject, such as science, music, art, math, or even field trips. Donors Choose vets the requests. You can pick a project and donate any amount of money. You can see how much the supplies or project will cost, how much others have given, and then decide how much you want to give. Small donations add up, of course. I’ve given to Donors Choose three times, and by far, the coolest part of the experience for the donor is that the kids in the class send you thank you notes.

A few months ago, one of my former students posted on facebook that she had put a request on Donors Choose for her class. This is what she wrote:

My Students: Many of my 5th graders never venture past their neighborhoods, much less have the opportunity to visit a state park, so they often have little exposure to wildlife and nature. They are thirsty to learn, and need hands-on, real-life samples to explore how our natural world really works.

My 5th graders are very exciting students to be around every day. I often feel as though I learn more from them than they do from me! Part of what inspires me each day is that even though most of my students are very low socio-economically, they still show up to class eager to soak up new knowledge. Our campus runs like a close-knit family. We learn, grow and sometimes hurt together, but I am proud to admit that I work for a campus that always puts our students first. We may not have the latest technology, or the most pristine facilities, but we have managed to be a recognized campus for several years in a row now. My students are happy students, and it shows with the excitement they have when they return to school after each summer.

My Project: As mentioned briefly in my comment regarding the challenge facing my students, my primary motivation for requesting owl pellets is to give them each an opportunity to explore samples straight from nature. The responses my students have when dissecting these pellets are priceless! They are so impressed with themselves when they can actually put together an entire skeleton of something the owl had eaten. Dissecting these pellets will allow my students to better understand how organisms compete and survive in their ecosystems. Sure, they could watch a video or do a research paper, but it’s been proven how much more effective a hands-on approach to learning is for our children. The owl pellet activities will illicit a higher level thinking process and have a lasting impact on my students’ education.

Let our students explore and have fun with science! Giving my students the opportunity to dissect owl pellets will encourage their curiosity and enhance their learning experience. It is so important for our youth to feel a connection with what they’re learning in order to keep them engaged. The intrigue of dissection alone is enough to get my students all wide-eyed with excitement!

My students need owl pellet samples to dissect for our life science unit on food chains/webs.

I donated through Donors Choose and, with three donors, the goal was met. Yesterday, I got my thank you notes. Here are some excerpts: “Thank you for the owl pellets. I learned a lot and found bones, a skull, hip bones, and a leg bone. So cool!” “At first, I though it was gross, but when I started exploring the little bones I found, I thought it was amazing. I found lots of rat bones so I figure it probably ate lots of rats.” “I was afraid to touch them at first, but our teacher told us it was safe and then it was fun.” “We had so much fun exploring what was in the owl’s vomit. It kind of smelled funny at first, but mostly everybody was just saying cool, ewww, wow, amazing, and other stuff.” “This is the best thing I have ever done in science ever since I started school so far. You don’t know how excited I was when I started looking for bones.” And my favorite closing: “From the thankful Veronica.”

Check out Donors Choose and give a little. Or a lot. Our kids need your help. Just do it.

February 27, 2013

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The End of Your Life Book Club

I love to read. I am always in the middle of at least one, and often 2 or 3, books — whether in paperback, hardback, electronic, or audio format. I love to talk to other people about what they’re reading and what I’m reading. Lots of my conversations with my closest friends start with one of us asking, “What are you reading?” We recommend books to each other, read them, and then discuss them next time. It’s not anything formal. I don’t have time for a book club, but after reading “The End of Your Life Book Club,” I now realize that I’m essentially part of lots of two-person book clubs. Each one has opened  up  so many books to me — with all kinds of knowledge, history, characters, and wordcraft that continue to shape me every day of my life.

The End of Your Life Book Club is a funny, vivid, and moving account of the years leading to the death from pancreatic cancer of the author’s mother, a truly amazing woman. There are two main characters in the book: the mother and the books that mother and son read during those two years. The lasting legacy of this book for me is to remember that people may know, without being told, that you love them, but what they really need to hear is that you’re proud of them.

Some of my favorite recent books: The Fault in our Stars (thanks, Beth), 11-22-63 (thanks, Colin), Wonder (thanks, Beth), Peony in Love, and everything else by Lisa See (thanks, Allison), The Signal and the Noise (thanks, Jon), My Beloved World (thanks, Laurie),  Thirteen Reasons Why (thanks, Colin), Jacqueline Kennedy’s Historic Conversations (thanks, James), Cutting for Stone (thanks, Chris), The Leftovers (thanks, Kendra) and Flight Behavior because I always worship every word that Barbara KIngsolver writes. And that’s just the last few months. Reading is so important to my core that I can’t even imagine how different, and dull, I would be without books. Looking forward to many more “book club” meetings with my friends and kids. What are you reading?

February 1, 2013

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No substitute

One of my pet peeves (and yes, there are many) when it comes to word usage is that people use the word “feel” incorrectly. One can feel physical sensations like cold, dizziness, heat, and pain. One can also feel emotions like happiness, anger, regret, hope, and joy. And that’s it — physical sensations and emotions. So many times, when people talk about what they feel, they are really talking about what they think, or what they know, or what they believe. It almost seems like a lack of ownership. Maybe it’s a belief that, if one substitutes the word “feel” for the word “believe,” then it is softer, less apt to be disagreeable. After all, it’s just a feeling. How can a feeling be wrong? I urge (one might substitute the word “demand of” for “urge”) people to not use “feel” when they really mean “think,” “believe,” or “know.” Own it.

But that isn’t really what’s on my mind today.

You feel what you feel. You think what you think.  But feeling and thinking are not substitutes for DOING. What a person feels or thinks — that’s not what inspires. It’s not even what matters. Doing is all that matters. And there is always something to do. Do something that helps, that builds, that comforts, that provides.  Do what has to be done. Do what does not have to be done. Do big things. Do small things. Do something that lets people know what’s in your heart, what makes you soar, what gives you strength. Do. Something.

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Unremarkable.

I got my test results today and the doctor said that everything looked all right and “unremarkable.” I’ve been called some bad things in my life, but unremarkable? That might be one of the worst. The MRI was of my brain and under “impression,” it says: hyperintense T2 lesions in the supratentorial white matter are nonspecific and likely representative of small vessel disease. That doesn’t sound unremarkable to me, but I studied law and not medicine, so I’m going to go with “unremarkable,” remembering that, medically, that’s a good thing.

December 20, 2012

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The Signal and The Noise

That’s the name of a really interesting book I just read by Nate Silver. But it also describes, in a way, what’s going on with me for the last five weeks or so.

I started having tinnitus on October 31. I haven’t had a day without it since then. It’s annoying, but not painful or anything. It’s just noise. The vertigo started after that. But it’s weird because the actual dizziness is really brief, like maybe 2 seconds. It happens generally  1-5 times a day. But there are days — four so far — where I feel off-balance all day. Not dizzy, but not ok. I don’t lose my balance or fall or anything, but I don’t feel right. So hard to describe. A little like being really hungover in that fuzzy-head way, but my thinking isn’t fuzzy. My head hurts, but it doesn’t feel like a headache. I guess it’s always hard for people to describe. At least, that’s what the audiologist and the doctor said. I saw an ENT specialist (Dr. Gilchrist — really like him!) on Monday. The doctor did a lot of testing that day, like balance tests, coordination tests and that sort of thing, in addition to an audiological exam. I have nearly normal, for my age (a phrase that gets bandied about more frequently since I turned 60), hearing in my right ear. But in my left ear, I have some hearing loss — enough that it makes the doctor wonder if there might be a tumor in the space on the other side of the inner ear. They’re doing an MRI for that next Wednesday. There’s another kind of test this coming Monday and it is an entirely different kind of thing called a videonystagmography —  VNG, for short. They do a lot of things while I’m wearing goggles that have little video cameras in them, and the movements of my eyes while they do this stuff (like pouring warm water and cold air  in my ears, and putting me at weird angles on the exam table, and having me watch certain videos) will tell them stuff about my inner ear workings. It also makes people dizzy and really nauseous so I can’t eat ahead of time.  Fun! The VNG will test for occular mobility  and optokinetic nystagmus where they will look for central or neurological problems in my ability to follow visual tagets. It also tests for positional nystagmus where they look at my inner ear system and the condition of the  endolymph fluid in the semi-circular canals and make sure that there are no calcium carbonate particles in that fluid. And then they do caloric testing where they put warm water into my inner ears, followed by cold air, monitoring my eye movements with the video camera goggles to confirm that the vestibular system in each ear is working correctly.

This is very likely nothing at all serious. It’s annoying, but my husband has lymphoma and one of my best friends is having a double mastectomy on Monday, so I am not whining about noise and dizziness. And in the end, it might just be something that’s just part of my life. The doctor said that it might just spontaneously get better. Or it might get worse, which would probably make diagnosis much easier. Right now, it doesn’t fit into any particular easy-to-see  diagnosis, but I know Dr. Gilchrist will keep working on it til I’m better or til he figures out what exactly is wrong. The signal and the noise.

December 7, 2012

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America Won!

Last night, President Obama was re-elected and it wasn’t nearly as close as the pundits (the vast majority of them, at least) said it would be. So many of my friends were so worried about the outcome, but I never was. I kept telling people, during the last couple of weeks, that Obama would get more than 300 electoral college votes and the AP would call it for Obama by 11:00 at the latest. I was right, BUT I can’t take credit for my prophecy. All of that credit goes to Nate Silver, who writes the 538 Blog. I believe he added years to my life during the run-up to this election because I put my faith in him. And it was well placed there. In lots of ways, for the country and the Democratic Party, this was a sweeter victory than 2008. For me, there was no contest. This might have been my favorite election night ever.

For many, many years, I have gone out into the streets and actually danced on the nights when the Democrat won the Presidential election.  I remember the happy, upbeat, bordering-on-wild dances of 1992 and 1996. Then in 2008, I danced by myself and it was a slow, dear, almost meditative dance. Last night, though, I was in Pacifica, staying with my daughter, Kendra, and my three-year-old grandtwins, Andrew and Jack. My children were raised in a politically interested/obsessed household. Kendra and I looked forward to spending election night watching the returns, especially because we were both confident about the Presidential outcome. I don’t think either of us expected the other Democratic/liberal outcomes (defeats of incumbent tea partiers, first openly gay U.S. Senator, same sex marriage and legalized marijuana referenda passing). We watched, got a little nervous now and then, and cheered as Nate Silver’s predictions became America’s reality. When it was finally over, it was still early in California. Jack and Andrew were still awake. Kendra encouraged me to continue my tradition of dancing in the street, but I suddenly knew what had to happen. I said, “Let’s take the boys out and dance in the street.” She gave me a mymomisactingcrazyagain look, but we put on their shoes and went out in the street and danced, chanting, “America won.”

We took the boys back inside and got them ready for bed. I sat in the rocker in their bedroom, snuggling them both in my lap in the dark. As they drifted off to sleep, I told them about this night and why it was such an amazing night, and why we elected such an inspiring, hard-working, wonderful President. They will have no memory of that night, but I will. Forever.

November 7, 2012

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What’s That Noise?

I have tinnitus. It started pretty suddenly at 11:00 yesterday morning. I had just finished getting a pedicure (Never Say Never Again, since you didn’t ask, but how could that question not be on the tip of your tongue — and by the way, it’s a shade of purple, which doesn’t make sense to me, but I don’t make a living naming nail polish colors) and I got in my car and there was this noise. Not an especially horrible noise. I could match the pitch of the noise with my voice so it wasn’t really high or low. It sounded vaguely electrical/mechanical, almost like a motor or the noise of an electric saw, except it just went on and on. And on. I had not yet started the car and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but just thought it must be from some construction site nearby. I went to Whole Foods and the noise never stopped. Still there when I got home. Of course, I started researching it. I knew it was tinnitus because my dad had it. But I really didn’t know much beyond the name. Now I know a whole lot. Of course, the most common cause is, what else, age-related hearing loss, which is a pretty nice way to say “old age.” Another common cause is ear buds. They fit deep into the ear, which means that the natural filter/protection offered by the outer ear is bypassed. I walk two or three miles every day and most of the time, I’ve got ear buds in. I listen to books all the time.  As I’ve gotten older, the typical thing has happened with my hearing. It is more difficult for me to distinguish foreground noise, like conversation with another person, from background noise. So I’ve loved earbuds because they put what I want to hear directly into my ear. I especially love the new Apple (granted, I love all things Apple) ear pods, which fit deeply and snugly into the shape of the ear. I think they were probably what pushed me over the tinnitus edge. So now I have this noise all the time. It is definitely better when there is other noise that puts my white noise in the background a little, but it’s always there. I’m lucky that it isn’t a really irritating noise. That would be much more difficult. I can live with this. Good thing. =) I’ll definitely see the doctor about it if it doesn’t go away. For now, though, it’s all right. As my mother always liked to point out: things could be worse.

November 1, 2012

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Friendly Conversation

Now that I am a woman of a certain (r)age, I’ve noticed that conversations with other women in my age, and rage, range have changed. With all of my friends and my family, we send emails and texts and sometimes we talk on the phone, but those tend to be “headline” conversations. They are specific, quick, informative. But when we are together, having a real conversation, there are topics we usually cover. There’s no checklist oanything, but it just always happens that way.

When I have a conversation with any group of my kids, we talk about family stuff, our television shows (we have a rule that everybody has to be caught up on our shows so that nobody says, “don’t talk about that episode because I haven’t watched it yet.”), politics/Daily Show/Colbert Report, books/movies, and maybe sports. Other topics may drift in and out, but we for sure cover those every time.

When the conversation is with a friend, the list of topics depends on the friend. I have friends who love one or more of the following: politics, current events, books, movies, teaching, or history. And of course, we always talk about each other’s lives and families. With some friends, we literally go down the list of kids (What’s going on with Katie? What’s Hank up to these days? Are you ever going to take a photo of Luci? How’s Nicole? What do you hear from Brett? How’s Isabella doing in school?) and grandkids, catching up on those lives we’ve followed for years. But over the last few years, I’ve noticed that one topic takes longer and longer to discuss: health. More accurately, illness. We go through the litany of our ailments and our spouse’s ailments, and even if we start that part of the conversation over salad, we might still be on the topic when the dessert menu arrives. Cancer is everywhere. I have four people who have caring bridge sites now. Hip replacements. Respiratory problems. Cardiac surgeries. Arthritis. The simple thing that turned into something life threatening. Accidents. Falls. Strokes. And why not? I mean, we are OLD. Know how long I’ve been bending these knees? Seeing through these eyes? Moving these joints? Hearing with these ears? Breathing with these lungs? Pumping blood with this heart? And yes, I know that, at 61, there are lots of people who would tell me I’m not even old. Tell it to my knees. Tell it to my wrinkling thinning skin. Tell it to my eyes. “Old” is relative. I understand that. I heard a student not long ago, complaining about how old she felt at 30. Honey, I’ve got stuff in my refrigerator that’s older than you are.  There was a time when I only occasionally felt old, but now I feel all 61 of those years every day. It helps to talk about it. It helps to know that my friends experience the same feelings — both physically and emotionally — that I’m feeling. I’m so grateful to have friends who enjoy our conversations about illnesses, aches, misplaced glasses, estrogen levels (I’m out of estrogen and I have a gun), osteoporosis, and everything else — with understanding, appreciation, and humor.

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Where do you see yourself in five years?

It seems like a question whose answer would offer insight. It’s a predictable question from lazy job interviewers. Most applicants know the perfect answer is something along the line of: “In five years, I see myself as the best fill in the blank that you ever hired.”

The thing is, when I think of that question, I know for sure that I would never have answered that question correctly at any point in my adult life. I have never ended up doing what I thought, five years earlier, that I’d be doing.

When I graduated from high school in 1969, I’d have though that, five years later, I’d be teaching choir to kids in junior high school. I never did do that. Instead, five years later, I’d gotten married, had my first child, and was teaching private piano lessons part time. I did get my degree in music education, but I never taught choir in a school.

And if you’d asked me, in 1979, what I’d be doing in five years, I’d probably have guessed that, with my two children in school by then, I’d  be working fulltime somewhere and raising Danny and Kendra. I’d have been wrong again. By 1984, I had two more children, Colin and Sean, and although I had worked fulltime briefly, I was back to part time jobs, including writing, to bring in a little extra money.

At that point, in 1984, my five year vision would probably not have envisioned much change in the order of my life, but of course, I’d have been wrong again. By 1989, we had been a foster family for 2 years, which wound up completely changing our family. We had adopted two children who had disabilities. Life was busy in a whole new way, with six kids. And by then, I’d started a little childbirth education business, which morphed into providing labor support, and then into delivering babies.

And if, the next year, you’d ask me to guess where I saw myself in five years, I would not have come close. Between 1990 and 1995, I had adopted three more children with disabilities. One of those adoptions made national news and we were in magazines, on the front page of the newspaper, on television news programs, and even on a couple of talk shows. The last adoption, of little Tyler, turned out to be life altering in a different way for me. You can read about Tyler here. My father died during those years, too, and it was so hard to let him go. I still miss him every single day.  I started law school in 1995. That was something I never saw coming five years earlier. So. Much. Change.

In 1995, my five-year prediction would have involved my going to work for some big firm and doing whatever it is that lawyers do. I promise I had no clue about what that was in 1995 since everything I knew about the law, I learned from a television show called LA Law. By 2000, I was a lawyer, having finished law school in two-and-a-half years. I had a growing law firm, partnered with Kevin Johnson, and I was loving the lawyering part of the job, and marginally liking the small business owner part of the job. At that point, in 2000, we had around 10 lawyers working for the firm. I was learning something new every day. Halcyon days, in a way, but probably only in retrospect.

In 2000, I’d have guessed that five years down the road, my life would be essentially the same. Yeah, I’d have been wrong. In 2005, we closed the firm. In 2002, I’d  still had the firm, but had also taken a full time job at Advocacy, Inc. I worked there for more than three years as the managing attorney and it was a job I loved. I was unceremoniously dismissed from that job without ever knowing why in 2005 and, although it was devastating, it truly was the best thing to happen to me professionally. My next job was at ILRU, working with and for the very best group of people I’d ever known. I am pretty sure I will go to my grave saying that, bar none, it is the best place in the world to work. Also during this time, James and I bought a house in Eastwood, the neighborhood where my parents and my grandparents had lived. I am pretty sure I will go to my grave saying that, bar none, it is the best place in the world to live.

I’d been through a lot of changes by 2005, but I still would not have predicted the changes that would come in the next five years. No way. By 2010, so much had happened. In 2006, I started teaching and became the director of the Paralegal Certificate Program at the University of Houston. That turned out to be the place of my professional heart, marrying my two loves, law and teaching. I love my students and they, mostly, love me. At least, by the end of the course, they do. Lots of other changes happened during those years. Kendra  married  Chris in 2007. In 2009, they had miraculous twin boys, Jack and Andrew. I became a Lollipop! I was very lucky to get to spend a whole lot of time with them in the early months after their births, by flying out to San Francisco every other week for awhile. In 2008, I had this idea that, with the help of my friends, I turned into a pretty amazing non profit organization called A Simple Thread. In 2009, my mother died, which was a heartbreak for our whole family. And in 2010, I had a devastating loss from which I will never fully recover. Yet even that unexpectedly led to some good things.

So here I sit on my porch in 2012, wondering what the next five years will bring. I’m obviously no good at predicting, but here goes. By 2017, I’ll have more grandkids. Five more in the next five years. And at least one of them had better be a girl! I’ll still be teaching and still be loving it. Still be  prius-driving, birkenstock wearing, dripping fangs liberal atheist vegan who works with great energy for the causes that matter to me. Fingers crossed.

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Air

If I write a blog post on every day  that I sit on my front porch this time of year, I’ll be writing multiple times every day. This is our time of exceptional weather.

I don’t remember ever being very mindful of the weather when I was a kid. I mean, I noticed if it was raining or there was some big event, like a hurricane or snow. But I think I just took nice days for granted because i can’t even recall a time when I thought about what a perfect day it was in terms of weather.

The first perfect weather day I remember noticing was a day in October 1976, when I was 25 years old and pregnant with my second baby, who turned out to be Kendra, but I didn’t know that then. The day in question was perfect in a lot of ways, other than the weather, but the weather was exceptional. It was cool enough to spend the entire day outside in a long sleeve shirt, but not cool enough to need a jacket. My parents took little Danny, Lonnie, and I to the Renaissance Festival in Plantersville. This was the third year of what we would later call RenFest. It was a different place than it is now. Dirt parking lot, dirt paths, no permanent restrooms or buildings of any kind, a relatively small number of booths and stages. They did have the gigantic turkey legs, though, and my dad and Lonnie each had one. We got one for Danny too, and it looked so out-of-scale in his tiny hand.

But back to the weather. The sky was cloudless and it was this incredible shade of blue that can never be replicated with paints or dyes. It was simultaneously shallow crystal and deep canyon. And the air was flawless. It wasn’t just the temperature or the smell or the feel of the air. It was more like I was the air. I’ll never forget that feeling. The coolness, the sun, the sky, the breeze, the air that was everybody else and the air that was me. That day is the day against which all others have been measured for me. And against that measure, others don’t measure up. Maybe I never really want a day to be better than that singularly perfect day, but I appreciate it when days like today try.

October 2, 2012

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Not So Fast

As I sat down in my rocking chair on the front porch and opened my Air, not exactly sure what I’d write about, I looked at my last entry. That first paragraph ended with how we weren’t worried about those two wart-like things that had been on James’ back. And it turns out I was right about that. Those things were nothing. But when they looked at his back, they found other things that were something — skin cancer. They did three biopsies to find out exactly what kind of cancer because that will guide the next steps. I have more confidence that the biopsies will tell them what they need to know in order to get rid of the skin cancer. Then again, I had confidence when they told us the exact same thing on our first visit to the lymphoma clinic at MD Anderson six months ago. Really, though, I don’t think this is going to be life-changing.Iit’s just one more thing to deal with at a time when neither of us feels like dealing with one more thing.

Yesterday, I cleaned my front porch. Cleaning isn’t my favorite thing. And yes, I have an excellent cleaning service, Maid Brigade, who does all the basics every week. Sadly, the front porch is not part of what they clean. Even before I could afford to have somebody else clean my house, though, people always commented on how clean my house was. Those people were wrong. What my house was, was straight. Neat. Tidy. Uncluttered. I don’t like clutter. I like neat and organized. If I need something, I like to know where it is. Sometimes, even I don’t put things back, and that’s why I have ten pair of scissors at different places all around my house. Same with tweezers. Now my house is both clean and neat. On Thursdays, at least. And today, my porch is clean, too. I cleaned all the furniture from a summer of dirt. I swept away bug houses, or bugs that were caught in spider houses, from the ceiling of the porch. Even holding a broom, I could barely reach the ceiling. I ended up with a lot of dirt in my hair. I even cleaned the porch rails and the windows. So today, it is extra nice to sit on my porch  to enjoy the weather while I type my blog.

This is my last weekend off until Thanksgiving. It was delicious. I got to pick up one of my favorite little girls from preschool on Friday and treat her to a happy meal and Elmo. Went to a fundraiser in the neighborhood for Barrio Dogs on Friday night. My daughter and youngest grandson visited yesterday. Today, i got to watch the Sunday morning talk/political/new shows, which I love. And this afternoon, I saw “Sleepwalk with Me.” It was funny, sweet, and a little sad. A very nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. As soon as I walked out of the theater, I asked Siri for the Texans score, a request I repeated every couple of minutes until the game was over. I love that Siri does sports scores now. We won, but it got scary toward the end. And tonight, I’ll watch the Emmys some, and Treme when it comes on.

Friends often ask me what I’m reading. Right now, it’s The Oath, by Jeffrey Toubin. For a lawyer who is also a political junkie, this book is total bliss. For fiction, though, I cannot say enough good things about the last fiction I read: 11.22.63 by Stephen King. It’s a very long book, but when it ended, I was sad to have to disconnect from it. I miss the characters. You know it’s a great read when you miss the characters. I tried a couple of fiction rebound books after 11.22.63, but could not get into anything else. So The Oath was my salvation because it is my kind of book and is so well written. I’m listening to it, but ordered the printed version today because I keep wanting to take notes. I wish I could teach a whole class just on this book.

I am so content right now. This porch has the power to do that. Especially on a day like this.

September 23, 2012

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A Day Like Today

This is one of those nearly perfect days in Houston. Low in the low 60s, high of 80. Moving those down by 5 or 10 degrees would be fine with me, but still — pretty close to perfect. Sitting on the front porch of this house that owns me as much as I own it, listening to the birds, a bark now and then, and the occasional car, I am just filled with love for this place. True, someone left a shopping cart and a couple of beer bottles in my front yard night before last, but I came out here just now to find the cart gone, although the empty beer bottles remain. Something else to recycle in my perpetually filled 96-gallon recycling can. This afternoon, I’m waiting for James to come pick me up to go to MD Anderson. I hate cancer, but it sure does provide perspective. I’ll give it that. Today’s appointment is nothing, really. Because he had two wartlike things on his back, they sent him to a dermatologist/oncologist. He’s had them for years, but one fell off. The other one looks like it could go soon, too. So on the theory that it’s better to be safe than sorry, this is where we are headed in a few minutes.

I celebrated my 61st birthday this week. Danny asked me an interesting question recently. He said, “If you could talk to your 40-year-old self, what advice would you give her?” The first thing that came to mind was, “Buy all the Apple stock you can afford.” Really, though, when I was 40 and had eight kids at home, I wouldn’t have been able to afford much Apple stock, no matter how cheap it was. We had enough money, but not more than enough. I wasn’t even a lawyer then. But back to Danny’s question, I think I’d tell the me of 20-years-ago to trust my gut, become a lawyer, survive the unimaginable with grace, be open to change, and not trust my heart to anyone. So essentially, I took all but one piece of the exact same advice I’d have given myself. That makes me smile. That me of long ago had not yet held a baby as he died in my arms, had not yet had my brain scrambled so that I could think like a lawyer, had not imagined grandchildren, had not written a book, had not helped deliver a baby, had not touched a computer, had not had a child in prison, had not gone to my children’s weddings, had not taught at UH, and had not put my feet on my front porch rail. People sometimes say that, if we could see the future, we wouldn’t want to live it. I would. Even if I couldn’t change it, I’d still want to experience everything I’ve experienced. There aren’t that many things I’d want to change — not even this tiny green lizard who just discovered my feet as an obstacle on his porch rail road.

September 19, 2012

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Front Porch Blog

I’m naming the blog my Front Porch Blog because I’m sitting on my front porch, in a rocking chair, toes on the porch rail, loving this first cool day of the fall. I’ve been through 60 summers in Houston and I’m not kidding myself. We have a lot of really hot days ahead. There is never a month in Houston when my air conditioner doesn’t get turned on for at least a few days. Even today, it will get up to 90. But when I got up this morning, it was 67 on my porch and I went for a long walk through the neighborhood. I love those walks, but haven’t taken one since early June. This is a Sunday, and my Sundays are usually spent teaching. But my class graduated yesterday and I have today and the next two weekends off before my next class starts. So waking up to this particular beautiful clear cool Sunday, and being able to spend some of it sitting on my porch with my brand new MacBook Air is a spectacular gift and I’m loving every minute out here.

I was thinking this morning about endings because I’ve had several of those lately, which naturally led me to thinking about beginnings. Last Monday, I took my son, Paul, to his birth grandmother’s funeral, the ultimate ending, I guess. Her name was Thelma and I knew her, but not well. When Paul was young, she would often come to visit him. During the last few years, she has had Altzheimer’s and no longer knew who her children were, at the end. The funeral itself was sad to me, not because of the words that were said because there were, oddly, no words said about her life at all. The words were about her after life, that “better place” phrase that is oft-repeated in condolences. Before the funeral, some of her children told stories of her, but at the funeral itself, there was no eulogy. That saddened me. I have done eulogies for my parents, my son, my in-laws, my uncle. Eulogies are important. Sometimes, more often than not, actually, people get to know the deceased person better. We generally know people in only one or two of their roles — family member, friend, church member, co-worker, classmate, volunteer, neighbor, teacher/student, physician/patient, attorney/client. When there is a celebration of someone’s life, ideally, everybody leaves knowing something new about the person whose life was celebrated. I sure hope my memorial service is like that. But it seemed a sad ending for Thelma’s funeral. Her children were not all in attendance. Neither were her grandchildren. Of course, a funeral is for the living and I’m sure there was some comfort in this formal farewell. I just want the people I love to have better endings.

Another ending this week was a less traumatic one. My paralegal class graduated yesterday. I liked this class. Some classes I love. Others I don’t enjoy at all. This class was a sort of mixed bag. There were students who took the class seriously and worked extremely hard. There were others who just didn’t bother to learn much and barely made it through. Some actually didn’t make it through. Graduation is always a great celebration, though. I make it special for each student — and I brag on them to their families. It’s always a little sad to say goodbye, even though I will undoubtedly keep in touch with many of them.

Every ending creates a beginning, though — whether it’s beginning to learn how to cope with life without a loved one, or figuring out what to do with all the free time when a class ends. Beginnings can be exciting, but not always. I’ve had so many endings and beginnings in my life. Some were welcomed and others were forced on me. I’ve come to believe that it doesn’t matter that much whether you choose it or it’s forced on you. What matters is what you do after that, how you handle it. I regret some of my beginnings, especially the ones I didn’t choose,  but not the way in which I’ve handled them. No regrets. If I had to sum up my life’s goals in two words, those words would be: no regrets.

I’ve always thought that everything in life is either fun or learning. The best things, of course, are both. Even the things I’ve hated the most — and there have been many — have still taught me a lot. Some of those things changed me in fundamental inexorable ways. Still, I learned.

Time to go inside now and get ready for A Simple Thread. We’ll be distributing a lot of kits to homeless Houstonians tonight. No regrets.

September 9, 2012

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My first blog post.

People keep telling me that I should have a blog. I’m calling this my first blog post, but technically, it isn’t. Back in 2009, I started a blog for my grandtwins shortly before their birth. The pregnancy was a very difficult and so many people in our circle of family and friends wanted updates about what was going on so I set up a website to do that. I updated it often, especially during the scariest days right after they were born. Earlier this year, when James was told he had cancer, I started another blog for the same reason. Lots of people cared about what was going on with him and the blog was the easiest way to get that info to the people who wanted it. So this is the first time I’ve attempted a blog about me. I’m not really sure exactly what I’ll write about, though. Probably a little about politics, law, current events, and family. Right now, I just want to put up this page and I promise I’ll write more later.

September 3, 2012

One thought on “Front Porch Blog

  1. You are so awesome! I don’t think I’ve read through
    anything like that before. So great to find another person with a few original thoughts
    on this subject. Really.. many thanks for starting this up.
    This site is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with some originality!

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