Saturday, February 25, 2017

Five Must-Do Items on my Apoca-list

I've been watching, and loving,  No Tomorrow on Netflix. The show's main premise revolves around one (very attractive) man's theory that a giant asteroid will destroy Earth in just over eight months. The two main characters each make lists of things they want to do before the asteroid induced apocalypse. These lists are cleverly called "apoca-list".

If I knew I only had eight months left on Earth, here are my top five apoca-list items:

1. Visit and tour Ireland.

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I want to see the big cities and the small, quaint towns. I want to hit the tourist hotspots and see some sleepy green spaces. I want to sit in the pubs and let the locals talk at me. I want the full Irish experience for about ten days.

2. Move to the Pacific Northwest, preferably to Hood River, Oregon.

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Don't get me wrong. I love Austin, my adopted hometown for the vast majority of my life. However, I don't love Austin's punishingly hot and dry summers. I prefer the rainy, temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest. I love hiking amongst tall trees and kayaking on calm freshwater lakes and rivers. I want to live somewhere that isn't so ridiculously crowded as Austin.

3. Spend as much time as possible with Chad and our pets.

They are my favorite beings on the planet. Depending on which religious leader one asks, cats and dogs may or may not go to Heaven. So I need to enjoy the pets' company on Earth, just in case.

4. See the Perseid meteor shower one more time from a rural area.

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In the U.S.A. peak viewing tends to be near mid-August. Chad and I saw the Perseid meteor shower one year while vacationing in Hood River, and it was amazing. With just our eyes (no telescopes), we saw many meteors trailing across the sky like giant sparklers.

5. Eat a chocolate-covered peanut butter cup.

Ever since my cursed peanut allergy reared its itchy, ugly head, I miss peanut butter real bad. If I knew I wouldn't be around to break out into hives, I'd totally enjoy some peanut butter at the last minute.

I had a difficult time coming up with five items, because I've enjoyed lots of different experiences in life so far. I'm no daredevil, but I try to do things often that scare me a little, or that challenge me. I've snorkeled in a cenote in Mexico, been in the front row of a Broadway show, worked to help cast a Broadway show, been all over Italy, toured London, sung in public (lots), done a backflip off the high dive, hiked to the top of Multnomah Falls, snowskied, waterskied, explored Manhattan by myself bravely, been in a one-woman show on stage, been a featured extra in an Emmy award winning television show, been a featured extra in an Emmy award winning HBO movie, created sidewalk-traffic-stopping window displays for retail stores, spent a few nights in a reportedly haunted hotel, and bottle-fed motherless kittens and puppies in the middle of the night. I'm proud of making the most of opportunities I've been privileged to have. I appreciate my experiences greatly.

My one big thing I still want to accomplish is to be a published author (beyond this blog, innumerable press releases and website marketing copy that I've written). This will certainly take more than eight months, which is why I didn't include it on my apoca-list.

What's on your apoca-list? What's keeping you from doing those things?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Nine Fronterafest Shows I've Done

Fronterafest began in 1993 at Hyde Park Theatre. Fronterafest is five weeks of alternative, new, offbeat and just plain off-the-wall fringe theatre. Fronterafest is produced in collaboration with Scriptworks, a group dedicated to supporting emerging playwrights and developing new dramatic works.

I usually participate in the short fringe, which is for plays that are 25 minutes or less in length. Each week of Fronterafest short fringe, up to 20 performances happen at Hyde Park Theatre with up to five different plays each night from Tuesday through Friday. Each Saturday of Fronterafest, the five "best of week" shows perform again. Four of the "best of week" shows are selected by a jury of judges with the fifth show selected by audience vote. At the end of four weeks, out of the up to 80 short performances, ten shows are selected by the jury of judges as the "best of fest". Each "best of fest" show performs twice more during the final festival week. There are also five "wild card" shows selected to perform once more during the final week of Fronterafest. The "wild card" shows are performances selected by the technical crew of Fronterafest as shows that they feel the jury of judges overlooked, and that deserve an encore performance. Incidentally, "wild-card" is usually my favorite night of the festival. 

Thus far, I always perform shows written and directed by my super-talented friend, Max Langert. Max possesses a talent for ferreting out the absurdity in the mundanities of daily life. His shows typically have an element of surprise or simmering doom. Whether it's a bear attack at a picnic, a destructive meteor on the way, a stabby diner in a restaurant full of mean servers or a soulmate emerging from the audience to steal your heart, Max's shows keep the audience on their toes. 

2001: I started performing at Fronterafest, back when I was practically an infant. Fugue for Five Waiters won best of fest. I got to work with a talented and diverse cast of five players. The experience was intense, emotional and fun, similar to my summer camp experiences as an adolescent.

2002: Treason by the Fax Machine won best of fest. The title says it all in this tale of corporate hell. I got to work with another great cast. 

Max moved back to New York City for a while. I was doing terrible murder mystery dinner theatre almost every week, sometimes a few times a week starting in 2002 and up through 2009. Around 2009, the Great Recession meant that people no longer spent $40 to $65 per person for dinner and a (usually lame) murder mystery show. Thankfully, Max moved back to Austin before the dinner mystery show work completely dried up.

2006: Because of My Beautiful Spirit was a one-woman show about a sweet, but unhinged lady searching for love and stalking her celebrity crush. I was on stage alone for eleven minutes spinning the tale. I'm proud of what Max wrote and of my performance. I guess it didn't resonate, because there was just the one performance. No best of week, much less best of fest. It stung a bit. I felt like I let Max down. Chad was busy traveling for work and unable to see this show that happened only once. I made the mistake of assuming that past performance indicated future performance. The other shows I did made best of fest, so this one should too. Yeah, not so much.

2007: Brand Loyalty won best of fest. This show featured a focus group study gone very, very wrong. We were back!

2008: You're Happier Than You Think: Recalibrating Your Emotional Scale was a long fringe show. Long fringe shows are allowed to be up to 90 minutes in length, and are panel-jury selected for production. We were guaranteed four performances. I made a giant squid for this show that was set on a cruise ship. The giant squid served as that signature-Max embodiment of the simmering danger. Another actress and I had to run outside off-stage near the end of each show and douse ourselves with a bucket of cold water to look as if we'd fallen off of the ship. All performances were in late January with most of our shows happening at night, so it was pretty flipping cold. This show was at the Blue Theatre which is sadly no longer around.

I went off for a few years to pursue television and film work. Max kept making theatre, some of which I was delighted to see.

2012: The Requirements won best of fest. I emerged from the audience as Max gave a PowerPoint presentation on his requirements for a relationship partner. Ultimately, my character got rejected by Max's character for not reading The Economist. The audience loved the surprise and absurdity. 

I went off for a few years to work in retail visuals and merchandising. My work schedule was punishing. Max was still making theatre. I still made time for a few dinner mystery shows, because they paid well, but my heart wasn't in it. 

2015: Tom and Liz Go on a Picnic was a musical about a treacherous love triangle that featured a bear attack. We won best of week, but not best of fest. Working on this show coincided with a soul-sucking day job. I'm so glad I had a creative outlet to alleviate some of my day job misery.

2016: Reasons You Should Stay was another one of Max's PowerPoint presentation shows with not one, not two, but three people popping out of the audience as Max's  character's disgruntled ex-lovers. I thought this show was so fun, but, um... we had just the one performance.

2017: Your Neighborhood Association won best of fest! This show is ripped straight from your neighborhood listserv with peacocks, property assessments, parking spots, broken washing machines and a destructive meteor headed straight for your block. I'm honored to work with a talented cast. Our final performance is tonight to a sold-out house. 

Whatever your creative outlet may be, keep doing it! If you've stepped away from creative endeavors for a while, come back!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Five Vegan-Friendly Austin Restaurants I Love

I currently identify as mostly vegan/strictly vegetarian. Even if you aren't yourself vegetarian or vegan, please read on so that you can better accommodate the restaurant-choice-buzzkill vegetarians and vegans in your life.

1. Via 313

Via 313 serves genuine Detroit-style square, deep-dish, hearty "The Marinara" pizza (no cheese/vegan) which makes me do a happy dance every time I have it. Via 313 also offers a house salad and roasted broccoli & cauliflower that happen to be vegan and delicious. Via 313 is great for dining out or carrying out with omnivore friends.

2. Mr. Natural

Favorite dishes at Mr. Natural include the Potato Flautas and the Mr. Natural Burger. Mr. Natural also serves some of the best vegan baked treats I've ever had. I would not bring my omnivore friends here, because the ambiance is a little lacking, and it might be a bit funky for the uninitiated. That said, I'm thankful for Mr. Natural blazing a trail as one of the old guard vegetarian restaurants in Austin.

3. Guero's

Guero's offers a separate vegan menu that you can request at the host stand. Chad and I love everything from that menu, and return often. I love that this definitively-Austin institution on South Congress Avenue embraces vegan diners. We can go here with omnivore friends, and keep everyone happy. Guero's is my perfect dining destination for atmosphere, great food and drinks.

4. Bistro Vonish

Bistro Vonish is elevated vegan cuisine served from a trailer to tables under a large event tent strung with lovely bistro lights. On cold nights, a fire pit offers some warmth. On hot days or nights, large oscillating fans on stands offer some relief. Everything Chad and I have eaten here is really delicious and served with a perfect balance of flavors, textures and visual-appeal. I especially like the butternut squash hushpuppies (seasonal), the BBQ seitan sandwich,  and the french toast with home fries and a side of seitan available at brunch time on Sundays. Bistro Vonish is my favorite all vegan restaurant in town. I hope Chef Craig is able to transition to a brick and mortar restaurant sometime in the near future.

5. The Beer Plant

This place is expensive, almost always crowded and almost always deafeningly loud. The food is great though. The crowds and noise are the price of popularity. Chad and I have been here with omnivore friends who reported that they loved the food. As indicated by the name, there are also an impressive number and variety of beers on tap.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Five Things to Make Me Return to NYC

My sister told me this week that she plans to take her three oldest (of seven) children to New York City this year. She asked me for recommendations of things to see and do with the kiddos. Despite spending quite a bit of time in Manhattan during my husband's advertising career days, there are things that I never got around to doing in Manhattan. If I were to return today, here are five things that I would experience post haste.

1. The High Line

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The High Line is a 1.45 mile long New York City linear park built in Manhattan on an elevated section of no longer used train track called the West Side Line. On my past trips to New York City, the most recent of which was in April of 2010, The High Line was a mere babe with only a small portion of it open. It wasn't on my radar. With the growing expansion of The High Line over the past several years, this is certainly on my must-experience list.

2. See the Statue of Liberty as viewed from the Staten Island Ferry

On past trips to New York City, without fail, the weather did not cooperate with plans to take the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. This is still on my to-do list. I imagine that late spring or early fall is the best time to take advantage of this photo-opportunity with Lady Liberty. Avoid sharknado season.

3.  Department Store Holiday Windows Walking Tour

A holiday window I created for west elm market in Austin 2013

Typically on view from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, I'd love to take a walking tour of these magical retail portals know as holiday windows. I worked in retail visuals for J.Crew, west elm and Brooks Brothers over the years. I loved creating the holiday windows and displays more than any other time of year. And, yes, I totally watched Window Warriors on GSN, in which window dressers competed to create the best window displays.

4. Top of the Rock

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Despite walking the plaza many times, I never made it to the top of the Rockefeller Center. Clearly, I lacked some ambition and/or was trying too hard to not seem like a tourist.

5. Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute's spring exhibition

Annually debuting the first Monday in May with the highly photographed Met Gala and running through early September, the theme of this fashion meets art exhibit changes annually. The 2016 theme was Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology. The 2017 theme, just announced, is Comme de Garcons. As a mere mortal, I naturally won't attend the Met Gala, but I will view photos of the fabulous affair online. I'd love to see the exhibition while it is open to the public.

Upon review, I'll likely have to make multiple trips back to Manhattan in multiple seasons to knock out this list. That's the great and mercurial thing about a vibrant city (and life in general): nothing stays the same for long. Enjoy moments when you can catch them.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Five Clean Water Causes

Last Friday city crews worked on completing the pipe replacement project under our street and interrupted the water supply for the 1952 House for eight hours. We knew ahead of time that our water supply would be turned off. We were able to make sure that the brita water filter pitcher was full and that the pets' water bowls were full before the water service disruption. We used water from our rain barrel carried into the house by the bucketful to flush the toilet. It was less than convenient, but a mercifully temporary issue. As the water level in the brita pitcher dropped, and as trips out into the freezing cold weather to the rain barrel for toilet water grew wearisome, we appreciated the imminent restored water flow.

Many of us take clean water and flushing toilets for granted. File "clean water" under things for which we should constantly express gratitude. Here are five clean water causes that I invite you to consider and possibly support.

As always, click on images to enlarge them, and roll your cursor over text to see links.

1. charity:water  is a nonprofit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing countries. You can simply donate and/or you can shop stylish items that donate profits to the cause. I may need that Votivo candle and a few t-shirts.

2. WATER is LIFE.'s mission is to provide clean water, sanitation and hygiene programs. The PSA video "#FirstWorldProblems aren't real problems" is sobering. You may choose to donate to a specific project or to the cause at large.

3. was co-founded by Matt Damon (yes, that Matt Damon) and Gary White to get safe water and sanitation to millions of people all over the world. From their website:

4. Columbia Water Center's mission is to creatively tackle water challenges of a rapidly changing world where water and climate interact with food, energy, ecosystems and urbanization. These smartypants researchers, scientists and engineers sound like a good bunch.

5. Water For People 's mission is to create long-lasting water and sanitation infrastructure by talking to local community members, governments, and business owners, to find out how they live and what they need to feel healthy, safe, empowered, and successful. From their website:

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Dottie from the Block

Oh, hi. I'm lost. May I come inside, please?

Dottie showed up on our street in early to mid September. She is so charming and sweet that at least four different households were feeding her and caring for her. It became clear that she was a well-socialized cat when she repeatedly tried to run into different neighbors’ houses. A Good Samaritan took her to Austin Animal Center, thinking that she would find her owner there or get adopted. Dottie was not claimed during the 72 hour hold period. Under a new program at Austin Animal Center, she was spayed, vaccinated, had her ear tipped, and was returned to our street in mid-October. 

Our street is under major road construction right now with a lot of heavy machinery moving around all day. Neighbors and I were worried about Dottie getting run over, or encountering a coyote as we are very near a long creek where coyotes roam. All the neighbors caring for her, myself included, have too many pets already to keep her. Neighbors suspect that Dottie was abandoned after a wave of five different houses on our short street turned over renters/owners. I hate to think that, because she is so sweet and affectionate. I posted “found cat” on three different Facebook groups for lost & found pets in Austin and on Nextdoor for South Allandale. I let Austin Animal Center know I had the cat (identifying her with her A identification number from the program) and posted to their “found” files. I put flyers all over our neighborhood, at five area vet offices and at three pet supply stores. No one claimed this super-sweet, social cat.

Dottie after her ear-tip and some plumping-up

She has lived inside the 1952 House since October 21. Dottie loves to curl up in a warm lap to watch Netflix, especially old episodes of Friends. She is very playful and enjoys chasing a ribbon toy or the red dot of a laser pointer. Dottie can be a bit naughty sometimes. She likes to jump into unattended drawers or cabinets, and rearrange the contents. It’s pretty cute even as she plunders your sock drawer.  She is a connoisseur of boxes: if she fits, she sits. Dottie might like a mellow canine roommate, but she does not like other cats. She will thrive in a home with older children or adults. She is spayed and vaccinated. Dottie uses the litter box every time like a pro. She will curl up on the bed next to you to sleep.

Chad and I love Dottie. We already have three cats, two of whom Dottie dislikes intensely, and a big dog, in whom Dottie expresses polite interest. We can't keep her. Dottie is getting very lonely living in our extra room all by herself twenty-one hours a day. I can only spare so many hours a day to hang out with her.

Dottie will enter Austin Animal Center on January 20 for adoption, unless I can find a great home for her first. I've tried lots of other venues including Facebook, Austin Pets Alive's Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender program which referred us to Austin Animal Center, Austin Humane Society's adoption program which said Dottie is not a good fit for their busy shelter due to her dislike of other cats, Twitter, Instagram and word of mouth. I'm posting sweet Dottie to the blog again. If you live in the Austin area and might be interested in adopting Dottie, please leave a comment. Please share if you think a friend or family member in the Austin area might be interested in adopting Dottie. 

Dottie's glamour shot pose

Friday, December 30, 2016

Five Resolutions for 2017

There are years I cling to for all their great memories and moments. Then there are years like 2016. Bye! Time to go! Don't let the door hit you where the good Lord split you! Or do. I don't care. You kind of deserve it.

Moving on! Here are my top five resolutions for 2017.

Chad and I continue to get the hang of the whole vegan lifestyle thing each day. We are not perfect. We cheat sometimes in social or travel situations with a bit of dairy, but still keep it strictly vegetarian. My goal for 2017 is to more fully embrace the vegan lifestyle. This includes cooking more. I have eight, count them eight!, vegan and vegan-friendly cookbooks. I need to flag some of the best looking recipes to cook. I also need to be better at scoping out vegan-friendly restaurants when traveling.

As tempting as I find staying home with my pets, books and Netflix, I acknowledge the need to keep traveling, and expanding my horizons and experiences. I booked a fun party weekend in Houston at the Four Seasons Hotel for early spring compliments of a silent auction gift certificate. Chad and I are currently researching our annual big vacation for either Acadia National Park in Maine, Michigan's Upper Peninsula or Asheville, North Carolina. (International travel isn't in the budget this year due to a cranky, unpredictable air conditioning unit.)

Travel to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, Acadia National Park in Maine or Asheville, NC.

Exercise plays an important part in my mental and physical health. I continue to work it out at small group training twice weekly with an emphasis on isometric weight bearing exercises and TRX Suspension Training. I love long walks in the moonlight. I found and joined a new gym after my old gym closed in 2016. My schedule is built around incorporating exercise in 2017.

Writing and performing a story for Testify ATX was one of the hardest things I've ever completed. It was also one of the most rewarding things I've ever completed. I resolve to write, and hopefully be chosen to perform, an original true story in 2017.

My second grade teacher told me that I should be a writer when I grew up, because I wrote a story about a tiger sneaking into my yard at night and jumping on my trampoline. Mrs. Holloway thought that my story showed great creativity. I currently write one short story each year for submission to a couple of short story writing contests. (I've never had a complete story published as result of these contests, but one of my story titles was recognized for creativity and generating curiosity. The title that The Austin Chronicle liked well enough to call out was "God Drives a Texas-Tough Ram Truck".) In 2017 I resolve to write at least ten short stories with a minimum of 2500 words each. I may not have the creative juice for a novel yet, but I'll never get there if I'm not more disciplined in my writing practice. 

drawing that accompanied the story I wrote about a sneaky tiger on my trampoline