Mi Cicatriz

posted Jul 12, 2017, 8:07 AM by Eli Roberts   [ updated Sep 26, 2017, 1:18 PM ]


Patricia Gutiérrez-Castro

-¡Todos a bordo!

Los barcos aguardaban impacientes, listos para zarpar. La tripulación, formada por mis hermanos y yo, esperaba la voz de la capitana, mi hermana mayor, para empezar a navegar a mar abierto. Martha recibía siempre el título de la líder de la camada y era la que siempre dirigía nuestros juegos. Así es que solamente esperábamos su voz de mando para que ese pasto, dorado por el sol de verano, se transformara ante nuestros ojos en un océano de agua cristalina. Cuando por fin escuchamos el tan esperado,

-¡todos preparados para partir!

Nos llenamos de júbilo y empezamos a jugar.

Eran tal vez cuatro, las cajas de cartón que nos llevarían a través del mar en busca de una isla lejana. Nuestra imaginación nos permitía dar forma y vida a temibles tiburones que furiosos se aprestaban a atacarnos. Así pasamos largo tiempo navegando, viendo sirenas, ballenas, delfines y toda criatura marítima ficticia o real, que conocíamos sólo a través de los libros ya que nunca habíamos ido al mar. Recuerdo que remábamos contentos, libres de toda preocupación, simulando hablar en inglés, disfrutando de nuestra niñez y de esa camaradería que nos unía en aquel entonces, cuando las peleas se arreglaban en un santiamén.

Tratando de navegar en ese mar imaginario, tomaba mi barco con las manos al mismo tiempo que me levantaba y caminaba para hacerlo avanzar. ¡Quería permanecer en la delantera y vencer a mis hermanos! En mi prisa por ganar perdí el equilibrio, mi barco viró y se volteó. De pronto, un grueso vidrio se convirtió en un feroz y hambriento tiburón que clavó sus dientes en mi cara, exactamente junto a mi ojo izquierdo.

No recuerdo si lloré, no recuerdo a mis padres y sólo me imagino que lo primero que hicieron mis hermanos fue llamar a Rosota. Rosa era nuestra querida y espigada nana. En nuestra corta estatura la veíamos tan alta, que de cariño la llamábamos Rosota. Rosa estaba ahí conmigo, consolándome mientras abrochaba mis zapatos para llevarme al centro de salud.

-Si te hubieran cosido bien, no te habría quedado cicatriz.

Diría Silveria, una enfermera amiga de la familia, cuando días más tarde retiraba cuidadosamente las gasas de mi cara.

-Ojalá te hubiera cosido yo…

Continuó diciendo mientras dejaba al descubierto mi flamante y nueva cicatriz.

Con el tiempo, mi cicatriz se ha desvanecido y ahora es poco notoria. Sin embargo, siempre estará ahí para recordarme el cariño y las atenciones de Rosota. Pero sobre todo, estará ahí para que yo pueda evocar, cada vez que lo deseé, esos tiempos felices cuando mis hermanos y yo éramos hermanos de verdad, y cuando las peleas se arreglaban en un santiamén.

The Lost Pines

posted Jul 12, 2017, 8:06 AM by Eli Roberts

By Sonia W.

Leaving my grandmother’s home on a Sunday afternoon, car windows down, A/C on high, radio blasting, cruising the scenic back roads, I had no reason to rush home. All that waits for me is an oversized leather chair and yesterday’s Redbox movie. In sight is my favorite metal bridge, the Montopolis Bridge, beautifully constructed of large steel beams interwoven like an intricate crocheted sweater. Maybe this is why I love bridges, fascinating creatures, sitting tall and always inviting.

After I pass my first love, my eyes move eastward. An eerie, uneasy feeling encompasses my thoughts, “What on earth; where is that coming from?” In the distance, I can literally see billows of gray-black smoke camouflaging the bluest of skies. The black beast continues to grow and spread, acting as though it will engulf my city at any moment. My mind begins to race, “Is that coming from Bastrop?” Cautiously, I pull my car over to the edge of the highway. Sitting there in shock, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. “This can’t be happening.”

My first instinct is to call my mom. Out of habit, I anxiously fumble through my purse to find my phone, immediately realizing that I can call her through my vehicle’s Blue Tooth system. I scroll through my contacts to find her cell. The loud ringing scares the tar out of me and ferociously vibrates the speakers. “What the hell?!” In all my haste, I had forgotten to turn down the volume from my previous jam session. Now it rings, and I wait impatiently.

Rolling my eyes at mom’s voicemail message, I quickly punch in my childhood phone number, which was definitely quicker than the scrolling method I previously used. I knew by the third ring it was useless. As I sat, tears began to form and incessantly fall. “Why am I overcome with emotion? I don’t even know what’s really going on.” But the thought of this sinister monster engulfing my beloved home away from home has me overcome with grief.

“My home away from home?” I repeat out loud. I haven’t camped in Bastrop for years. In fact, the last time I camped there was in 1990. Maybe it’s the fact that, prior to my last camping trip, I spent so many years of my childhood religiously camping with my family every month. Family campouts in the Lost Pines defined my weekends as a child. I’m sure our outings weren’t as often as I thought they were, but each adventure left a visible and viable memory. The long days of swimming, boating, bike riding, and early morning fishing trips on the floating dock are etched in my memory. Watching my grandmother prepare the fish for cooking, I felt excitement when she nonchalantly moved over and allowed me to help her, explaining what she was doing in her broken English, mostly Spanish. Hardly listening and pretending to understand, I confidently grabbed hold of the knife, eagerly slicing off the head and tail, paying close attention to the bulging eyes and cat-like whiskers of this creature that I would later soak in ketchup.

I smile recalling the first time I learned how to play poker and how, over the years, I was able to perfect my game. I loved listening to the banter and laughter of all my relatives into the wee hours of the morning. How comforting it was to fall asleep to their voices and merriment knowing nothing could harm me.

As soon as I took a deep breath, my car’s sound system vibrated once again with an all too familiar sound. Glancing at the caller id, I realize it’s Mom. I quickly answer, “Momma?”

She replies, “You called? You okay?”

I finally catch my breath, “Mom, can you turn on the news? I’m pulled over because I can see tons of smoke coming from the east. What does the news say? Is it Bastrop?”

She sighs, “Yes mija, it is.” I can hear it in her voice too, the sadness. “It’s pretty bad. Come to the house, we can watch it on the news together. We can’t do anything about it right now. All we can do is pray and hope for the best.” I knew she would understand. I knew she felt the same way. Mothers always do.

I carefully check my mirrors and slowly pull back out onto the road leaving the beast behind. My windows are up and my radio is off. In complete silence, I coast to my childhood home. Memories continue to flood my mind, my tears continue to fall. I can’t help but smile knowing how lucky I was to have the privilege of loving those lost pines, the chance to see and experience their beauty. They may be gone for now, but they will return in abundance, with all their glory and grace.

A Texan Thanksgiving

posted Jul 12, 2017, 8:04 AM by Eli Roberts

by Erin Magrath

"I'm waiting for my Mom," I smile at two inquiring ladies in baggage claim. "She decided to come at the last minute for Thanksgiving. We're camping, you know, just to get out of the city."

"Well bless your Mother's heart for spending time with you, living so far away from home and family!” one exclaims. I nod, pressing my lips into a polite smile. "Texans," I think, "always seeing things from the top down. If they only knew."

Clicking my black pumps on the floor, I nervously pick the dog hair off my skirt. Yes, I had dressed up for her airport pickup. Although my work allowed the Austin uniform, a t-shirt and jeans, cute professional wear seemed best for the occasion. The last thing my mother needed to worry about was a shlubby daughter, as everyone else fell apart.

We didn't talk about why she was flying down. She called me one night, "Erin, I just don't have anywhere to go...without your father". In that instant, I knew she had a dozen invites to Turkey dinner, but was unable to stomach the questions and looks that would be served alongside sweet potato pie and cranberry dressing.

She carefully picks down the stairs in platform sandals, painted toenails and a new carry-on bag. I can't help thinking, "She's so tiny." At 5 feet 2 inches, the only thing big about my mother is her hair and personality, but I always forget this as she looms giant, an all-encompassing figure in my childhood memories. Strong, undefeatable, unapologetically emotional, people get swept in her warmth and enmeshing ability to give and receive love. Our eyes catch, and her face lights up as she lets out a high teenage squeal. We rush into a hug, giggling and giddy like best friends. Suddenly the hug is too long, and I feel her body change as she presses into me a deflating shuddering sob. "Oh dear lord," I look up at the ceiling, rubbing her back, "we haven't left baggage claim, and she's already crying."

We had decided to go camping for different, unspoken reasons. My mother, the outdoor junkie, needs to be outside like other people need coffee. Myself, I just want to avoid the fact that after 11 months in Austin, I have made shaky friendships at best, and would be receiving no invitations to Thanksgiving. We care for each other's quirks and weakness in a secret complicity; an unspoken pact to make this the best Thanksgiving ever. We hit the road to Garner State Park with this in mind, riding high on the idea of nature, hiking, and lots of wine. Jake, our third canine amigo, maintains his head out the window, hound dog ears flapping wildly at 70 miles per hour. We blast all our favorites, the soundtrack of college visits and trips to Nana and Honey's: Van Morrison, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens, singing all words at the top of our lungs. It occurs to me that every one of the discs I slide into my surround sound, are stolen from Dad's cd tower. Once my father had bought each of these cds for himself, as part of his own musical enjoyment. I wonder if he even knows I had stolen from his collection, and appropriated their words and melodies for myself and mother. Why hadn't he thought to do the same? Although we are fleeing for the hill country, he whips through the air, and rests on the tips of our tongues. Mom plays the dashboard piano and we sing louder.

"I can't believe I'm in a Walmart, in the middle of nowhere, on Thanksgiving Day," I murmur drowsily from a bad sleep on hard ground. We walk with purpose into the blue and gray depression of small town America.

"We already made the list in the car, so we will be in and out. Just get the things for dinner, I'll get the wine and beer, and meet you at check out," Mom said cheerfully. She is in a great mood, or at least hiding anything else quite well. As a person who uses food as fuel, the greatest gastronomical holiday of the year is hardly missed. I, on the other hand, as I pick out canned green beans, instant mashed potatoes, and Oscar Meyer turkey, feel like I was living someone else’s life.

How did we end up here? Exactly a year ago, my highly functional suburban family had been sitting down to Nana's tried and true Thanksgiving feast, as we had for decades. Mom and Dad at the head of the table, Uncle Andy sneaking wine, me and my brother as usual with nothing to say to the cousins at the kids table. Nana had asked, "Do you think you'll be able to come home for the holidays next year Erin?"

"I don't know Nana, there is so much up in the air, and tickets are expensive from Austin. I'll be home for Christmas, I think." I had chimed in as everyone buzzed about my move. I had been so ready to leave. For the first time, a wave of guilt washed over me. If I hadn't left, would all of this have happened? Would my picture patriarchal, hero father have crumbled into a bottle of pills, exploding my nuclear family awry, broken and scattered over different sides of the battlefield? I don't even know where my brother is today.

"Did you find everything?" she chirps, thankfully waking me from my Walmart reverie, "It's going to get cold tonight, so I got something for us to wear," she grins, suppressing a laugh. I feign horror as my mother shoves on my head a pink leopard fleece beanie, then dons a matching, equally horrific zebra print. Out of nowhere, and to the bewilderment of the Walmart checkout girl, we dissolve into hysterical, abandoning laughter that rises into the fluorescent lights of the giant warehouse ceiling.

One chopped turkey, green bean, and cranberry stir-fry later, we walk Jake through the campground, arm in arm with water bottles full of cheap red wine. Garner State Park has soothed and rubbed us in these days on the lamb from our real life. The cool clear stream next to our campsite, lined by towering Cypress trees on fire in the last spit of fall, the eerie white stones of the river bed bathed in moonlight are new and shiny memories for East Coast campers of deciduous forests.

Other things remind us we are far from home, swimming in unknown traditions. A phenomenon we did not anticipate as East Coasters; camping during Thanksgiving is what thousands of Texans do by choice. Huge, happy families surround us, infestations of RVs, crowded campfires, and even smokers for multiple turkeys and full Thanksgiving feasts. They have strung up Christmas lights that bathe all nature in a warm holiday glow, sucking electricity from their generators and multiple battery packs. We wander as lost Thanksgiving orphans, without home, without country through these pretty Texan traditions, yet we can't find our way back home. I want to hate them, "That's not camping," I sneer to my Mom. "It's like they’re at home in their backyard, what's the point? What a waste."

"I know, I don't get it," joins Mom, but I see her looking hungrily -- not at the food on the table, but the tiny children playing under it, and the generations of family all around. She has to go back soon, and face that she will never have a table like this one ever again.

I want to hate them, but as I gaze up at the hundreds of twinkling colors, and feel her arm linked hard into mine, I admit the scene fills me with love, even as a spectator, like watching a Disney movie, or Norman Rockwell art.

I feel a slow landing of heaviness in my heart. I will never be like these people ever again. I will never have the big family gathering, and though I don't know this yet, I won't ever sit down with my Mother and Father at the same table. I am not happy like these people, and never will be.

But at this moment, I realize that now I can make up something entirely new, something that I choose and that I discover myself. As I see my family values, obligation, and expectation dissolve before my eyes, what rises is independence, power over my own destiny. "What a life this is going to be," I marvel silently, as we leave camp and make our way into the cold dark night.

A Faith To Move Mountains

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:51 AM by Eli Roberts

By Maria R.

Sharp, pointy, three-inch thorns intertwined into a complex halo and held up in the air by Sister Cecelia for the whole class to see. She then gave a student the brown thorny crown to inspect and pass around the class. I listened as she described having this crown placed upon her head with her entry into becoming a nun. She explained that unlike Christ’s crown, her crown had been softened by submersion into water. When it got to me, I couldn’t believe that this crown was ever soft with very hard and painful points. My mind drifted off with thoughts of Christ and how painful it must have been to have a crown like this pushed into His scalp. He loved us so very much to sacrifice Himself for our sins. Sister Cecelia continued to convey her calling to become a nun and desire to become a saint. By the end of her show and tell, all the girls were in awe of her and wished to join the convent.

I too decided to become a nun that day. I read all that I could about saints. I checked out every book the library had about female saints and their lives, and when I had exhausted the Catholic school’s library, I had my mom buy me an encyclopedia of saint’s lives. I was drawn into their devotion to God, suffering, and challenges. But most of all I was hungry to feel His presence like they had felt. How awesome it must be to be able to hear Him speak to you and feel His love around you. I related so much to the saints. Some of them didn’t have the best relationships at home. Mary would be my mother, like other saints had done, who didn’t feel love or acceptance from their moms.

In Catholic school we learned all about God’s judgment and wrath of those He was displeased with. I remember going to bed angry at my parents one night. I don’t remember what it was they had said or done that I was so upset about. I crawled onto the sofa in the room I shared with my brother. I could feel my cheeks were on fire with anger towards my parents as I rested my head on the pillow. A thought dashed through my mind. Was God angry with me for not honoring my parents? I then saw an image in my head of my Snoopy doll’s head being cut from its torso. I wanted to hold on to the anger I felt towards my parents to justify what I was feeling towards them. Slowly I sat up and reached out for Snoopy which was laying at my feet. As I picked him up, shock and remorse washed over me. Snoopy’s head was cut at the neck! As I held his limp body, I immediately apologized to God and asked His forgiveness for letting my feelings get the best of me.

Growing up facing life challenges and hearing names tossed my way due to my short stature was difficult. My nemesis, which was the daughter of my mom’s friend, took great delight in picking on me from elementary school through my sophomore year in high school. My long hair, height, grades, etc. were all targets. It seemed that whatever I had, or desired, she sought too. I really disliked her, and it was hard not to strike back. I kept the Snoopy lesson in mind. I tried my best to turn the other cheek and remember that “vengeance is the Lord’s.” Seeking a fresh start I switched to an all girl school my junior year. My mother came to me with some news one day. A car wreck occurred resulting in my nemesis being thrown through the windshield and hitting her head. She had lost her memory and sense of smell. Reluctantly, I accompanied my mom to the hospital. Seeing her bruised face all bandaged up had a profound effect on me. I would never have wished this upon anyone. How could I hold on to what she had done to me when she couldn’t even remember who I was? That is when I truly learned the lesson of forgiveness. In His way God had given her a new start void of all she had done in the past.

My first real boyfriend breakup couldn’t have come at a worse time. My mother had just had a hysterectomy and couldn’t use the stairs. My brother and father were fighting in the kitchen. My mom was screaming at me to come downstairs to make sure the fight wouldn’t turn physical. My brother was abusive, so the threat was real. Angel, my boyfriend, decided to belittle me as a course of breakup. I heard my brother’s words to me echoing from my past. I went to bed believing all the hateful things about myself that Angel said. I went to bed crying myself to sleep and hoping not to awaken. I hated myself for all the bad things that I had done in my life. A voice woke me saying “I love you,” but there was no one with me. My self-hate, also known as depression, didn’t go away. I met with a pastor who said, although I prayed for forgiveness, I wouldn’t feel forgiveness until I forgave myself. That revelation was so profound in my life. It was like a weight was lifted off me. Once I forgave myself, other feelings were taken from me too. Feelings of anger and bitterness were gone. I felt free.

I continued my quest to have a deeper relationship with God. I met Gordon while at UT. He loved to run which I was getting into. He was this energetic force that was fun to be around. He looked to me to help him finally get confirmed in the Catholic Church. Later, we decided to share an apartment together. That is when I was able to see the real Gordon. A few times when he drank the Jekyll came out. One night he shoved me out of the apartment in the cold. I only had my keys with me. He chain locked and blocked the door with furniture, so that I could not get back in. I tried to sleep in my car, but it was so cold. I was able to push the furniture back enough to grab a blanket from the couch. I cried out to God to get Gordon to realize what he was doing to me was wrong and then fell asleep. Knock! Knock! I awoke to Gordon telling me, “I had a dream that God was telling me that I should not treat you as I had and to come get you from the cold.” God had answered my prayers.

We would go to concerts, run, and snow ski. I would like to say his mean behavior towards me stopped, but it didn’t. On a skiing trip we had a discussion regarding God. Gordon started belittling my beliefs in a hateful way as he was speeding down the highway. I didn’t say anything to refute what he was saying to me. I prayed to God for a sign. If I was right in my belief in Him that He would have a police car around the bend of the mountain. I didn’t want Gordon to get a speeding ticket. I just wanted him to be quiet. As Gordon took the turn around the bend, a police car was right there. Gordon stopped mid-sentence and said, “That is a sign that God wants me to shut up about what I am saying to you.” Never in my life had I ever had prayers answered so instantaneously than when I was with Gordon.

Seeking a deeper relationship with God, I would go to a hidden chapel across the street from UT, and I met a lovely lady named Jenny. She listened to me talk about Gordon. Although I felt pain, I wouldn’t let myself get angry. I would just forgive. She told me, “God created everything for a reason including the negative emotions. Anger is a healthy emotion that enables us to act. God helps those who help themselves.” I finally allowed myself to get angry at Gordon and moved away.

After my first marriage ended in failure, I asked for God to bring me a man who would bring me closer to Him. God answered that prayer too, but not in a way that I would have ever imagined. I met Judas at a restaurant. He knew the bible inside and out. He wanted to be a minister before he joined the Marines. As he was talking, I saw a picture in my mind of an old porch. We were old but together. When Judas hugged me goodbye, it felt as if our hearts had connected and mixed together as one. Judas and I spoke of marriage together and started making plans to move in that direction. My children loved him. He seemed to be the Godly man for me. He found a house for us to live in together. I used the equity in my house to put an even bigger down payment on the house to be built. We were wed in February but couldn’t move in together until after the house was built. As we were moving in, I realized I had made a mistake. Maybe it was the stress of moving in, but Judas was angry and threatening divorce. He took his anger out on some of my things. Once the move was done, his daughter, Sybil, started showing her alternate personality. She had been self-mutilating for years without detection. My attempts to get Judas to help her only ended with him verbally abusing me. Like the real Judas he did a cowardly act one night when I laid down to sleep. He took my full 32oz Aquafina water bottle and hit me over the head then poured the water over my face. I knew enough about domestic violence to know that it would only get worse if I didn’t tell anyone, so I called the police that night. I was spiritually conflicted. I made a vow before God to stay married to Judas. I sought help from the Catholic Church. To my shock the marriage counselor told me, “God does not call one to be in a marriage like this.” She asked me if I was only in the marriage to help and protect the kids? Her words hit me like a ton of bricks.

While I was married to Judas he revealed to me that he was agnostic. He disliked and distrusted ministers of all types including the minister whom I liked the most, Joyce Meyers. The bible is very clear that one cannot divorce a non-Christian unless they leave. I held on to the marriage and got confidence from Joyce Meyer’s book The Battle Belongs To The Lord. Judas continued to verbally berate me. It didn’t matter if the kids were around or not, or where I was. He would shout every foul name he could at me. He would explode my voicemail box with nasty messages until he could no longer leave any. I kept my thoughts and words to myself. I only responded to his “no one likes or loves you” to which I replied “God loves me.” I knew that nothing I would say would get him to stop. Our marriage counselor observed first hand, even if I said nothing, Judas would berate me and would be incited unless I agreed with him fully or adored him completely. Our son came to me one day and asked, “When are you going to divorce him?” I was shocked and asked him, “Do you want me to divorce him?” He replied, “Yes.” The fear of not having a fulltime teaching job next year to provide for my kids and myself kept me from filing for divorce then.

Days before our wedding anniversary Judas moved out, not paying the mortgage or the homeowner’s dues like he had done in the past to get me to be nice to him. Since Judas moved out, I was free to file for divorce. His friend must have gotten sick of having Judas stay with him, because one morning I woke to find that Judas had moved into the basement at night while I slept. He continued his behavior. Weeks later I realized that Judas had made good on his threats to get me out of the house. A letter from the HOA arrived informing me that they were going to proceed to put a lien on the house and start foreclosure procedures. I knew I had to act, but still questioned if I was doing the right thing as I drove into work that day. Jeremy Camp’s song, “Healing Hand of God”, came on through the radio. The song spoke of reaching out to grab God’s hand for help. To my surprise when I arrived at work, my student was not going to come into school that day. Another sign or door opened to me to act. I took the day off and filed a restraining order against Judas. Every time I needed act to be free of Judas, there would be Joyce Meyer, ministering to me via the TV, “Healing Hand of God,” and my student absent from school. Jenny’s words came back to me: “God helps those who help themselves.”

I was afraid but had faith that the Lord would provide. Mathew 21:22 says: And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.” “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” He did provide for me and my kids. I was awarded the house, found a job, and rescued my house from foreclosure. As for that Godly man that I had prayed for before, he finally came into my life, but that is another story.

A Childhood Memory: Soaring Heights at the Park

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:45 AM by Eli Roberts

By Lou C.

“Can Lulu go to the park with us this morning?” Mrs. Garcia asked my mom as she opened the screen door at my house.

As soon as I heard Mrs. Garcia’s invitation, I whispered to myself, “Fun time!” while my heart did its own happy dance expecting my mom to reply yes to the invitation.

Going to Moody Park, our neighborhood park, with the Garcia family thrilled me because the Garcia’s three children were very close in age to me. Although I am one of six siblings, because there was an eight year gap between my age and that of my youngest brother, our interests and past times were different, so playing at the park with him was completely out of the question. Therefore, the thought of having instant playmates in the Garcia children made me giddy and elated.

On Sundays, Moody Park was always crowded with families especially in the summer. As soon as Mr. Garcia turned into the parking lot, my heart swelled with excitement. The delicious smells of meats grilling on pits billowed into the car and was a sure sign we were at the park. As we inched through the crowded parking lot, I looked out the window and saw children running and playing happily. I easily spotted the families celebrating birthdays because they were the groups with colorful piñatas and streamers hanging from the park’s large trees.

As soon as we were out of the car, I ran fast to the swing set to be the first to get an available swing. As I reached the swing, in one fell swoop I quickly grabbed the swing’s chains and threw myself up and backwards until my bottom made contact with the familiar wooden seat, and I pressed my tiptoes firmly against the hot cement and pushed myself back. When I was no longer able to push any further, I released my feet, and simultaneously kicked them upward and outstretched my legs toward the clouds so that I got the highest launch possible. As the swing made its downward descent, I bent my legs back until they pressed firmly against the seat. I continued with these motions in order to build on the momentum until my swing reached soaring heights in the sky.

I remember every time while on the swing, joyfully feeling the warm breeze gently hit my face and run through my hair. This was pure bliss! I am grateful to the Garcia family for all the wonderful childhood memories they helped me create. My memories of those times are truly special!

Hidden Disabilities in Children

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:42 AM by Eli Roberts

By Adriana G.

From far away, they look perfectly “normal.” They might be disguised as the children who disrupt class, the not so bright students, or the ones who are always out sick. They don’t have the typical features you would imagine when picturing a child with a disability; they blend right in with the rest of the school. Students with invisible disabilities are all around us, often going undiagnosed and misunderstood within the school system. Although they look the same, their form of learning might be drastically different from the form of a regular developing child. Teachers need to learn about these disabilities in order to effectively address the educational needs of these students.

What is an invisible disability?

Invisible disabilities are those that are not immediately apparent. There are many disabilities within this spectrum. In this text, we will address some of the most prevalent disabilities in schools: intellectual disabilities, speech impairments, and chronic health impairments. Although invisible, these disabilities have a huge impact on a students’ ability to learn. As teachers of students with these impairments, we must learn as much about what they are, how they are typically manifested in children, and general interventions we can use to better prepare them for academic achievement.

Intellectual Disabilities

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Development Disabilities, an intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior. This can impair many everyday social and practical skills. The severity and prevalence of the symptoms can be broken down into four different levels: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. Students who have this disability might learn and process information at a slower rate than regular developing students, have difficulty with abstract concepts, struggle with recalling newly learned information, and have a hard time making close personal relationships. We, as teachers, can better serve these students by introducing lessons to them in small pieces, giving directions in short, simple steps, and connecting abstract knowledge to real world examples.

Speech/Language Impairments

Under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), speech or language impairment means a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Students with these impairments may use incorrect grammatical patterns, have very limited vocabulary, and struggle with expressing their ideas effectively. Some tools that can help us better serve this population of students are vocabulary guides, mnemonic devices, and giving them the ability to express their ideas in creative ways which do not necessarily involve speech.

Chronic or Other Health Impairments

Under IDEA, a student is classified as an individual with other health impairments if they have limited strength, vitality, or alertness that adversely affects their educational performance. Some of the disabilities qualified under this category are chronic or acute illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy, and heart conditions. Due to the diversity of the disabilities clumped into this category, the academic struggles of these students might look a little different. Students with ADHD might have behavioral problems, be distracted easily, and have trouble following multi-step directions. To address these concerns, a teacher simply needs to understand the need for structure in the lives of children with ADHD. A teacher can help her students with ADHD by creating simple and structured lessons for the child, eliminating unnecessary distractions around his/her classroom, providing constant cueing, and giving frequent breaks.

On the other hand, a student who has a different chronic health impairment such as a heart condition might have a completely different set of academic barriers. A student with a chronic heart condition might miss class more than other students due to doctors’ appointments causing him/her to fall behind. We might address the needs of these students by planning for absences. The teacher might decide to coordinate with the parents and possibly email or send home the lessons for the child to review on the days he/she is not in school. Another option for the teacher can be to plan for extra time to spend with the student in order to get him/her caught up with the class.

By learning more about our students’ invisible disabilities, we can make a huge difference in their academic success. We, as teachers, have the power to mold the future of our students. By becoming experts in what our exceptional students need, we can all work together to find their strengths, make proper educational accommodations, and modify our curriculum in order to further close the gap between our regularly developing students and our students with hidden disabilities.

Eat for Optimum Health

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:39 AM by Eli Roberts

by Christine B.

Waves of fear washed over me. My limbs tensed up, and I tried turning over again in bed. What about paying for that car repair? How was I going to finish that project at work on time? It was Saturday morning and instead of sleeping in or sitting down to a relaxing breakfast, I was seized with panic attacks. This was a regular occurrence for me until I started a new diet. Within weeks of this new diet, the panic attacks subsided to almost nothing. What kind of diet could cause such a dramatic turnaround? The answer to this question is the Paleo diet, one specifically designed by a renowned neurologist and nutritionist, David Perlmutter, M.D., to which I was exposed on PBS television and read about in the New York Times bestseller: Grain Brain, The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain’s Silent Killers (Little Brown and Company, New York; 2013).

Dr. Perlmutter’s diet falls into the broad category of Paleo diets, a new trend based on evolutionary ideas about what we should eat. The creators of these diets maintain that we should decide what to eat based on the majority of experience in human history, which was spent as hunter gatherers rather than as agriculturalists. Following this logic, we should be free to eat plenty of meats, fish, seafood, eggs, and nuts, but very little wheat, grains, or sugars. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers neither raised crops nor harvested much sugar cane. They would have only eaten fruit in season, resulting in severely limited sugar intake compared to the daily allotment in the Western diet of fruit, juice, and sweets. The period of time that humans have engaged in agriculture is actually extremely short, and Paleo diet practitioners maintain that it has not been even close to enough time to adapt to the majority of habits that arise from traditional agriculture, let alone that of modern, genetically modified, mechanized agriculture. Listen to Dr. Perlmutter speak about our Paleolithic ancestors:

"As a species, we are genetically and physiologically identical to those humans that lived before the dawn of agriculture. And we are the product of an optimal design—shaped by nature over thousands of generations. We may not call ourselves hunters and gatherers anymore, but our bodies certainly behave as such from a biological perspective." (Grain Brain, pg. 25)

Wow, I am a walking historical relic, programmed to be on the move all day long in search of small quantities of food and working hard hunting and preparing large and small game. How different from our sedentary lifestyles and easy grocery shopping!

Why do we feel compelled to consume a diet that is inconsistent with our genetic history? We have the same appetites, but a much different supply of food from which to draw. Every day, our Paleolithic ancestors had to face scarcity. In our age of plenty, we have no natural limits on the amounts of sugar, carbohydrates, and fats that we eat. Scarcity was the natural fasting and dieting mechanism that ensured there was no obesity and the pursuant problems. Also, up until one hundred or so years ago, food was not chemically engineered or processed. Chemically engineered foods such as high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils are now being recognized as dangerous to health after having been touted as wonder foods and put into almost every processed food on the grocery store shelf.

The reality of the Paleolithic diet was as follows: 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. U.S. experts today recommend 20% fat, 20% protein, and 60% carbohydrates. The obvious differences are in the amounts of fats and carbohydrates. It is important to point out that the fats recommended in the Paleo diets are from sources such as nuts, avocados, olive oil and meats, fish and eggs. They do not include fried foods, potato chips or large quantities of dairy products. But what difference does it make to our health to eat the way most of Americans do?

Dr. Perlmutter maintains that eating food for which we are not genetically programmed causes many problems. Foods like wheat and sugar, especially in the large quantities we typically consume them, are like foreign entities to our bodies. We develop reactions to them that lead to inflammation of the brain responsible for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as other problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, insomnia, intestinal problems, overweight and obesity, and many others. While many communicable diseases and accidents our Paleolithic ancestors would have been subject to have been all but eliminated, “preventable, non-communicable diseases account for more deaths worldwide today than all other diseases combined.” (Grain Brain, p. 25), including heart disease and cancer.

One disease that many people fear is Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is being called a “third type of diabetes” and the “link between poor diet and Alzheimer’s has been only recently brought to light with newer studies showing how this can happen.” (Grain Brain, p. 28) As I have gotten older and my memory has begun to fail me, the prospect of full-blown Alzheimer’s is alarming. Because of our access to large amounts of glucose, our bodies are under attack in the form of insulin resistance developed over time and leading to type-2 diabetes. This toxic sugar in the blood leads to many problems including “blindness, infections, nerve damage, heart disease, and, yes, Alzheimer’s.” (Grain Brain, p. 29) Modern medicine has no cure for Alzheimer’s. While it is true that genetics still play a role in determining who gets Alzheimer’s and at what age, the rise in cases in the Western world is alarming and supports science that links diet with Alzheimer’s. If you knew there was a way to prevent Alzheimer’s, wouldn’t you want to be an expert on it?

In addition to the problems of chronic high blood sugar levels, gluten has recently come under fire from many as being a source of poor health. Gluten-free products are found throughout the grocery stores and in many restaurants now. Paleo diets maintain that gluten is a problem because we are not adapted genetically to consume it. The wheat we eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat our ancestors ate with the advent of farming, but the fact is we are not programmed to consume the large quantities of wheat products pervading the American diet. It is true some people have diagnosable conditions of Celiac disease, but what the Paleo dieticians propose is that any wheat can be harmful to the body. This is no small matter. Giving up wheat products means avoiding a huge number of popular American foods. Wheat flour is found in so many recipes that making the change to a Paleo diet is an enormous undertaking. Taking the logic of Paleolithic diets to the fullest, most carbohydrates are not to be eaten, making life even more challenging. Can’t we adapt to these foods? Is it really so important to give it up if one doesn’t suffer from Celiac disease? According to Dr. Perlmutter, “gluten sensitivity represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.” (Grain Brain, p. 32) But why is this?

Dr. Perlmutter explains that any sensitivity to gluten leads to inflammation of the brain, even at levels that are undetectable by medical testing. The problem is that because our brains are lacking in pain receptors, we don’t know when this inflammation is happening until it is too late, in many cases. However, he has had results with patients who have responded well to gluten-free diets for a host of problems including headaches, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, insomnia, anxiety, ADHD, depression or other unexplainable neurological problems. (Grain Brain, p. 33)

Another way that Paleo diets differ from otherwise recommended American diets is that cholesterol is seen as a necessary ingredient to optimum brain health. We know about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, but what isn’t so well known is that there is actually a good amount of research that proves that cholesterol is necessary for good brain health. Eggs are a central feature of Perlmutter’s Paleo diet. He explains that “Study after study shows that high cholesterol reduces your risk for brain disease and increases longevity. By the same token, high levels of dietary fat (the good kind, no trans fats here) have been proven to be key to health and peak brain function.” (Grain Brain, p. 34)

Logic points to the Paleo diets as a rational choice for making important health decisions. Scientific evidence is mounting that proves such diets are an intelligent choice when faced with the many voices telling us what to eat. We are prone to more and more lifestyle diseases, a result of the abundance that we have available to us in our modern, Western culture and economy. After only three months of faithfully implementing this diet, Saturday mornings are now that pleasant, leisurely time of which I had only dreamed before. I have lost weight, gained energy, and experience more mental sharpness and better memory than before the diet. Even if you don’t have any neurological problems, if you could prevent dementia, heart disease and cancer just by eating a diet similar to our ancestors, and therefore in harmony with the bodies in which we have to live. Wouldn’t you want to do that?

Cooking with Pesto

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:37 AM by Eli Roberts

By Robert A.

There’s nothing like the smell of basil on a hot summer day just calling to be made into a jar of pesto for the perfect summer treat. As pesto has become increasingly popular, it is likely that you have come across it or maybe you eat it all the time. Whether you are a complete novice or an expert, this article will discuss making and cooking with pesto.

Derived from the Genoese word “pesta”—meaning to pound or crush, pesto is made by grounding basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil together in a mortar and pestle. It comes from Liguria, a region of northwestern Italy along the Mediterranean coast where it has been enjoyed for centuries. Pesto, however, did not become popular in North America until the 1980s and 1990s. Now it can be found at several grocery stores and restaurants and in a number of dishes ranging from pasta to pizza.

Pesto is unique from other pasta sauces because it consists of all raw ingredients. Traditionally, the ingredients are prepared in a mortar and pestle, however many people find it more practical to use a food processor or blender because of the lack of a mortar and pestle, and less manual labor is involved. Purists would argue that the mortar and pestle is the best way to prepare pesto because there is more variation in texture, and the heat of the blades of the food processor can cause the flavor of the basil to break down. However, for the average person cooking at home, the difference might be difficult to notice, and they are encouraged to try whatever method appeals to them and experiment with other methods of preparation later if they are interested in doing so.

Traditionally, pesto is tossed over pasta and served immediately, but it is a super versatile dish that can be used in a different number of ways. Because of its main ingredient, basil, pesto has its characteristic green color that adds a lot of flavor and variety to meals. It is very much associated with Italian food and can be used in as a substitute (or addition) to tomato sauce when making pizzas and lasagnas for a play on color and flavor. However, it lends itself to much more than Italian food. It can be used to make tasty appetizers. For example it can be added to bruschetta for a savory spin. It can also be used as a dip or sauce for vegetables when mixed with sour cream, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and even guacamole. It could also be incorporated into breakfast by drizzling it on eggs prepared your favorite way or added to an omelet with your choice of fillings. If you are feeling adventurous, you can add it to waffle or pancake batter for a new take on these popular breakfast items.

Pesto has become very popular in recent years among people who enjoy to cook and has generated an interesting number of variations. Some range from substituting basil with other herbs such as parsley and mint, or substituting expensive and hard-to-find pine nuts with the more easy-to-find and economical option of cashews and walnuts. However, some variations even include substituting basil with roasted beets for an interesting experimentation with color, or substituting the basil with broccoli for an interesting experimentation with texture.

Why buy decent or mediocre pesto at the store when you can make it fresh at home? With just a few simple ingredients you will have the perfect summer dish. The best way to start is to prepare pesto the way it is traditionally served, made fresh and immediately served over pasta. Below is a recipe that you can follow (or adapt) to get started cooking with pesto. Once you feel comfortable, you can branch out and try one of the variations mentioned above.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network Kitchens

Coming Down the Mountain

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:35 AM by Eli Roberts

By Sara L.

There is nothing quite like that feeling of strapping into your bindings, standing up, and taking your first run down the mountain.  The feeling of freedom that rushes over you, knowing it is just you, your board, and fresh powder all around … cutting back and forth across the mountain in search of any possible options for jumps or tricks … the clear blue sky in stark contrast to the pristine white snow on the ground.  The weather is a comfortable cold, just enough to keep the snow from melting.  This is a perfect day for snowboarding.  However, getting to this point of enjoyment is no walk in the park.  It takes time, dedication, and determination.

Snowboarding was inspired by a combination of skateboarding, sledding, surfing, and skiing.  It developed in the United States in the 1960’s by Gordon Kosteroski and became an Olympic sport in 1998.

Snowboarding consists of a board which must be fit to your body size.  On this board are attached bindings that must be set to the right stance depending on which way you ride your board.  When boarding, you will need appropriate gear as it is cold and gets even colder the higher up the mountain you go.  The other crucial thing you will need is determination.  Learning to ride is a rough and painful process.  You will fall…. A LOT.

Falling down is an unavoidable and unfortunate part of learning to snowboard.  Snowboarding requires you to shift your weight, lifting your toes or heels slightly off the board while digging edges of the board into the snow in order to guide your board where you want it to go.  In addition to all of this, you are balancing your entire upper body in the exact spot it needs to be able to stay up.  Because all of these things are required to happen at the same time in rapid succession while leaning back and forth, it makes mastering each part and then combining them all very difficult.  When any one part of this technique is not implemented correctly, the result is a fall.  This is called catching an edge.  It can be either edge of the board, it doesn’t matter which because the results are the same; an abrupt stop in your forward motion followed by a slam to the ground either forward or backward. People have a misconception about this fall and think it won’t hurt because you are falling in snow.   WRONG!!!!  Most of the time you will not be on fresh powder, and it will hurt.  It feels very similar to falling on concrete.  Do not be fooled by this misconception that snow cannot hurt.  It does.  You will experience this fall countless times.  You will be sore and bruised and very frustrated, but here is where you must not give up!!!  There is a light at the end of the mountain.  Success is easily gained as long as you withstand the grueling few days of learning and falling.  As a snowboarder once said, “If you’re not falling down, you’re not trying hard enough!”

On average it takes most people about three days to learn to snowboard.  And once you have reached this level of success, it is all downhill from there, literally.  There are certain levels of progression as is true in any sport, but being able to ride successfully down the mountain qualifies you as knowing how to snowboard.  Most people begin learning and practicing on the green runs or a bunny slope but in time progress on to more challenging runs, maybe a blue or even a black diamond.  As a snowboarder, be wary of black diamond runs.  While some can be exciting and challenging, they can also be a snowboarder’s worst nightmare.  Coming up on a slope full of moguls, which are tiny little bumps of snow laid out all across a run, is awful!!  As skiers bob back and forth gleefully down such runs, you will quickly find out your board operates very differently than skis and moguls are NOT your friend! While mogul runs are a skiers ultimate challenge, this is not so for the snowboarder.  Snowboarders find their ultimate challenge in the snowboard parks where you can master jumps and sliding down rails.  In time, you too can begin to learn jumps and tricks using these runs specifically made for snowboarders.

Some people become lifelong learners of snowboarding, constantly challenging their riding skills, while others are content with just gliding down the mountain smoothly.  Regardless of your end destination in mind when learning to ride, know that while the journey may be slightly rough in the very beginning, the end result will leave you with a lifetime of peaceful and exciting journeys descending down snow covered slopes.

Austin Fashion

posted Jul 12, 2017, 7:32 AM by Eli Roberts

By Sonia W.

Growing up a tom-boy, it would have never crossed my mind in my adult years I would be labeled a “Fashionista,” or “Shopping Addict.” To tell you the truth, I’m a far cry from this title in today’s society, but within my circle of friends, I am the fashion expert. On a weekly basis, it is quite common for me to receive texts soliciting advice from my girlfriends who are planning their outfits for an upcoming wedding/party, a night out on the town, or even what to pack for vacation. Accompanying each text is usually a selfie either of the outfit or my bestie wearing the ensemble.

Tue, June 16, 10:25 AM

Missy: Yes or No?

Me: Yes, but don’t add heavy jewelry, nude or solid flip-flops

Nothing with bling b/c it will look like you’re trying too hard

…let the belt be the statement piece, the main accessory.

Although, I am honored my friends elicit such advice from me or value my opinion. I’ve often wondered, why me? Could it be because I’m known for being “that” friend? You know, the sister who isn’t afraid to tell you that you have a large piece of spinach in your teeth, or that your butt looks a tad too frumpy in your pastel colored jeans. Could it be that I’ve been reading fashion magazines since I could afford the subscription, my shoes are labeled in clear, plastic boxes, or the fact my closet is organized by color? Maybe it’s all the above or maybe it’s because I’m the only one who will answer their texts. Either way, I love it! With so many questions being asked, I’ve often wondered why my friends haven’t just Googled their fashion questions. It wasn’t until I took the liberty myself and researched some of their inquiries. I have to say that the basic wardrobe essentials that apply to the world are not what I would recommend to my fellow constituents that live in the ATX. So, in hopes of helping out my future clients, I would like to relay the interchangeable versions of what society’s fashion world views as essential wardrobe pieces to that of what an Austin, Texas girl actually needs.

First and foremost, let’s be clear that this is a limited and general list of wardrobe fundamentals. I do not plan on discussing other accessories like jewelry, statement pieces, make-up, hair or nail care. We can save that discussion for another day, with another pitcher of margaritas.

Let’s begin with the outerwear. You, the buyer, are told it is important to have a dressy jacket, a wool peacoat, a black, leather motorcycle jacket, a khaki trench, or the ever so versatile fitted black blazer. People, we live in Texas! It is summer nine months out of the year, and our autumn ranges from two to three weeks somewhere between November and mid-December. A trench coat/raincoat can add to your wardrobe but isn’t a must. You can easily get by with a well-tailored denim jacket or an array of cardigans. The leather biker jacket is a nice touch but not a necessity.

Next in line, we have the classic white, button-down, French cuff shirt that appeared on several lists. I don’t even think the judges in our town own this staple. A white shirt is a must but forget the French cuffs. Bleh! You can definitely survive with a plain white Gap tee, similar to the one Sharon Stone donned at the Oscars, and the essential white tank top. If you must have a white button down shirt, please make sure it is a perfect fit in your arms and torso. Otherwise, you will look as if you rummaged through your boyfriend or husband’s side of the closet.

Moving on down the body, we come to the beloved tailored trouser. This appeared on fashion lists over and over again. Several adjectives like sleek, fitted, black, and/or printed accompanied the title, however, the black pant isn’t a must in our city unless you’re an attorney or a court reporter. You will absolutely survive if you have just one fabulous, fitted pair of dark denim jeans. It is perfectly acceptable to wear your denim to high end restaurants and even to the Long Center. Remember this is Austin, not Dallas. On any given day, what you might think is a homeless person, is, in all actuality, probably a person who has millions in the bank. Never judge, just don’t do it.

If you must dress in cocktail attire, please take the time to invest in the LBD also known as the little, black dress. I, for one, would pick the black trousers over this any day, but that’s just me. You can easily get by with an expensive fitted wrap dress, think Diane von Furstenberg, or an empire-waist halter dress. Without sounding redundant, but again I will say, we live in Austin, Texas.

Continuing along the same lines, the pencil skirt made the cut every single time. I can think of a million substitutes for this piece of uncomfortableness. Here are a few: a mini, pleated floral skirt, a long, Bohemian solid-colored flowy skirt, the ever-so-comfy long, elastic cotton skirt either in solid black or a stripe number. If you’re worried about your age and the short length of the skirt, add a great pair of opaque, black tights or black leggings, problem solved.

Last but certainly not least, the end of all end-all, the shoe. Every wardrobe list mentioned the black pump, yes, that’s what I said the black pump. In my case, I have yet to observe the use of a black pump outside of a funeral procession. You can easily get away with four types of shoes, if you take into account all the pieces of your wardrobe. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, then invest in a beautifully crafted pair of cowboy boots. With a variety of colors and styles, you are able to choose what will work best with your needs. I, personally, have a pair of dark-cherry Lucchese’s that blend with everything in my closet. It is important to have a sturdy, yet stylish, pair of flip-flops, a wedge, and a pair of ballerina flats. Of the last three choices, one pair should exist in the color nude or chestnut brown.

Like I previously mentioned, this comparison of wardrobe essentials are just the bare bone musts. But I felt that you should know that because of our laid back, “Keep Austin Weird,” mentality we don’t conform to the rest of the world. We have our own unique, relaxed style. One final piece of advice, any outfit would not be complete without a layer of confidence and an amazing smile. It’s most important to love who you are, the rest is just icing on the cake.

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