Color Me A Rainbow


January has been a strange month from its start, punctuated by glorious blue skies on some days and dreary gray horizons on others. Instead of leaping into a state of promise it has struggled to decide exactly how to introduce the new year, the coming decade. It has been much like a rollercoaster ride both so frightening and exhilarating that it prompts me to close my eyes so that all imagery and colors turn black. Hints of better times to come are already popping out in the pinks and reds and yellows of the roses in my backyard that are still a bit wary of celebrating too soon lest the weather change for the worst. It’s a quiet and pensive time after all of the excitement of the holiday season with it’s bold colors festooning the world. We prefer calm at this time of year and yet the world does not always cooperate in its relentless drive forward into events that demand our attention even when we simply want to look away.

I feel like January, a mixture of so many colors and emotions that I cannot quickly define how I am feeling on any given day. I’m like a Jackson Pollock canvas filled with a strange combination of dribbles of this and that and the other. One day I’m celebrating my life and my blessings and the next I’m filled with a sense of anxiety and doom. I don’t quite know how to respond to the world around me, what to embrace and what to ignore. I am both energized and exhausted at the same time. I seek calm but so often find a general anxiety around me, causing me to wonder if I should be worried too. I prefer to wear red but find myself more often choosing blue to keep myself and those around me feeling more serene. I think of how wonderful it might be to just hibernate until the spring inside the soothing rooms of my home with its colors that always seem to soothe the savage beasts that stalk from outside my front door.

I am weary of all things political and the relentless grip that they have on the world and yet they seem to be everywhere, almost impossible to ignore. The news fails to bring us uplifting stories, focusing mostly instead on all things horrific, choosing sides instead of remaining steadfastly fair in shades of gray. I can no longer safely turn on my radio or television without being barraged by opinions and propaganda. Red and blue have become code for how one believes rather than simple choices of what makes one happy. At any given moment someone is ranting about something in an endless campaign for our support. I try to ignore and just go about my life but it becomes increasingly more difficult to do so and I worry that my sense of control over my own destiny is being stolen by others who only seek power for themselves. I don’t want to be manipulated anymore by folks donned in the colors of my country’s flag who don’t appear to understand me in any way.

I’m ready for the hopeful greening of springtime. I long to see the yellow butterflies in my backyard and the brilliant red blooms of the amaryllis bulbs. I want to open my windows to blue skies and walk through my neighborhood with the warmth of the sun kissing my skin. I dream of working in my yard with my hands buried in the rich brown and black of my soil. I look forward to escaping from the constant drone of ugliness and divisiveness that has overtaken the airwaves of communication.

For now I bury myself in my books that teach me new ideas and assure me that my mind is still clever. I keep things as quiet as possible and surround myself with people that I love and trust. The colors of my soul run peacefully together with happy thoughts of the past, present and future. I gaze at the brilliant colors of a painting from my mother and smile at the thought of her love that seems to protect me even though she is gone. I do my best to ignore the inconsequential while staying abreast of what truly matters. I calm myself with the lovely brown liquid of tea in my cup and memories of purple mountains that sing the glory of God.

February is just around the corner and with it comes a riot of red and pink signifying warmth, caring, love. I’ll scatter those colors throughout my home to remind myself of what really matters even as winter makes its last efforts to stunt the growth of nature for a bit longer. I’ll endure whatever bleakness comes in the sky for I know that brighter days of orange and yellow are sure to come on the horizon very soon. Nature has a way of reminding us to keep our hope and optimism alive, bringing colors that brighten our spirits and help us to continue on this journey known as life.

Today my colors may be dreary but tomorrow I can put a rosy hue on my cheeks and wear my purple blouse with a brightness that takes on the world. We go up and we go down. It is the way things work. Just as the seasons change so do we and sometimes we even find a rainbow after a storm. 


Repurposing the Old


When I first left my childhood home and began to live on my own I furnished my apartment with a hodgepodge of items donated by friends and family. The only brand new never before used item in the place was an inexpensive sofa that I found at a store called Fed Mart. I was all in for repurposing long before it was woke to take care of the environment by reusing things that once belonged to someone else rather than throwing them away. In that regard I was pretty typical of most young adults just starting a life of their own.

I pretty much kept most of the items that filled my first apartment and just repainted or reupholstered them over time to make them appear to be more stylish. The Fed Mart couch fell apart rather quickly and I replaced it with an old sofa that belonged to my mother-in-law which looked a bit like a bench on a bus until I found a more modern fabric for it and then covered its sins with throw pillows. That thing was so indestructible that I used it until my eldest daughter was in high school when I finally broke down and purchased a nice leather sofa in what seemed like an extravagant moment.

As I began a family I used other hand me downs to furnish the rooms of bigger apartments and then a bigger house, shifting things from one purpose to another. Everything had a story for either me or my husband. They had once been in our childhood bedrooms or from the furnishings of our grandparents or mothers. I became attached to them and always reluctant to just let them go. I found ways to use them in different ways. A table became a desk, a dresser served as a console in the hallway. I boasted that my decorating style was eclectic but in truth it was dependent on whatever someone was giving away.

After more than thirty five years of married life we finally replaced the double bed that had once belonged to my in-laws when our increasing girth made it more and more uncomfortable to share the tiny space. We invested in a queen size bedroom suite with matching dressers and chests and side tables and sent our decades old items to the rooms of grandchildren where they found new life once again.

Not long after that purchase my father-in-law remarried and began to give away his own furnishings to make way for those belonging to his new wife. At that point we “inherited” a lovely secretary that once belonged to my husband’s grandmother along with some end tables that had graced her living room. We also brought home an oak dining table and an antique glass cabinet that had been his aunt’s. Once again we moved things around to accommodate the new items that were replacing older used things and surrendered what would no longer fit to our daughters.

Our home was beginning to look more polished. It seemed to have a coherent decorating scheme that spoke of our time together and our heritage from the past. Best of all we were not filling a junkyard with unwanted items. We were finding ways to use what was already part of the earth as were our girls who were now married with families of their own and homes making use of so many pieces that we had handed down to them just as others had done for us.

Not long after we moved to our present house one of my dearest friends died. She had purchased a beautiful Amish crafted dining set in celebration of her remission from cancer. Sadly her illness returned and doctors were unable to halt its progression. The table and its lovely chairs became rather useless for her widowed husband who mostly dined out each day, so he decided to sell it and I found myself feeling compelled to rescue it in memory of my friend.

I had been with her when she so carefully chose the style and the wood for it. I thought of that table as being a kind of link with her that I could not allow to go to some random person. I convinced my husband that we needed to purchase the lovely set, and so with a bit of rearranging of our old things we proudly placed it in our breakfast room where it has been the center of family dinners and celebrations just as my friend had intended it to be. I think of her each time I prepare it for a meal. I know she would be happy that it is bringing the kind of joy that she insisted on bringing into her famous “rainbow days.”

I hear that young people don’t seem to want old things anymore. They would rather purchase new modern furnishings that are lighter and brighter than the kind of old used pieces that I have in my home. I find it somewhat ironic that they are also the ones who worry about consumerism and our overuse of the earth’s resources while also insisting that they don’t want to have to repurpose what already exists like I have tried to do.

I feel as though I have not only done a bit to save our planet but I have also rescued parts of the past, stories from my heritage that I pass down to my daughters and grandchildren. We all grew up believing that we should never waste and that honoring the past can be a good thing. We are not averse to making do with things that have already been used. They have character and meaning that are wonderful. Combining them with modern, trendy colors and fabrics brings them to life and keeps our landfills less cluttered. Besides it’s rather fun to challenge ourselves to find ways of reusing them that are lovely and fill a home with warmth. Something old is a kind of treasure not to be tossed away lightly. Perhaps we all need to make more effort to use what we already have.

Glorious Mornings


Mornings are generally slower than they were when I was still working. Back then I arose before the sun was out and hurried to get on the road as soon as possible. I absolutely despised the early hours of the day back then because they were filled with so much stress that I was already feeling tired before I even arrived at my job. I always imagined that when I retired I would sleep in every single day and just do wherever the spirit led me to do once I left my bed. Surprisingly I actually look forward to the new day now that I don’t have to hit the crowded freeways anymore. I’m awakened with great regularity at about six thirty or earlier each morning without setting an alarm. I hear the sounds of neighbors gearing up for the new day and I quietly arise to enjoy the slow pace of my own design.

I have developed a comfortable routine that is quite satisfying. I prepare some tea and a light breakfast and retire to my sitting room where I spend time reading the news, wishing friends happiness on their birthdays, checking my email, meditating or praying and writing my weekday blogs, all in the comfort of my pajamas. I am rarely in a rush, so it may be ten or even eleven before I finally get dressed depending on the weather. If it’s a cold or rainy day I am never in a hurry. Instead I enjoy the quiet and the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, luxuries that were denied for decades. I have to admit that I check the calendar each morning just to remember what day it is. It’s nice to be free to be me rather than to have to answer to the schedule of someone else.

I so despised the morning rush when I was a student and then an employee that I thought myself to be a night owl rather than someone who actually preferred the early hours of the day. I always felt sluggish and out of sorts as I sat in traffic jams on the beltway nervously watching the clock tick as though mocking me because I was running late. Houston traffic is notoriously bad and I became a maniac as I fought it on the way to work. My generally quiet demeanor became full blown rage as I witnessed the craziness of the freeway. I had to fight myself to keep from flipping off every other driver. I’d think of my warm and cozy bed and wish that there were some way for me to stay there instead of being a daily gladiator of the road.

Once I got to work I was generally so full of vinegar that I did my best to avoid human contact at all costs until I was able to get control of myself. I tried to sneak into my classroom from unfrequented entrances. I’d close the door and even leave the light out lest someone notice me and attempt to engage me in a conversation. I craved silence and calm.

I still don’t appreciate noise or conversation in the morning. I love the sound of children waiting for the bus but I don’t want anyone calling me on the phone or coming to my door until after nine. By the time the caffeine in my tea has fully awakened me and my brain is working well enough to enjoy other people I’m as pleasant as can be. Once my brain adjusts I no doubt talk way more than I should with anyone willing to listen to my babbling.

I would have been a great candidate for working at home. I am disciplined and willing to set a keep strict adherence to a schedule. I like having meaningful things to do. The one thing that I hate is having to rush from home soon soon after I arise each morning. I’d work until I am one hundred years old as long as I would not have to leave my house until the afternoon. It was never the work that bothered me but the fact that I had to face the thundering herd on an early morning journey.

I don’t get anymore sleep now than I did when I worked. In fact, I may get less, but being the sole determiner of how to spend my mornings energizes me. I don’t want to languish in bed because there are so many wonderful moments in the morning, not the least of which is the opportunity to meditate and pray. I do love the feeling of serenity that now defines my mornings. I see the seasons. I hear the birds. I feel closer to my friends. Life after work is rather remarkable and certainly refreshing.

I used to feel sick all of the time. I seemed to continually be afflicted with some bug or virus. I was rundown, sluggish. Just being in command of my routine has changed all of that. I’m filled with energy and I rarely catch the diseases that send people to their beds. I actually feel younger than I did when I was working. Sometimes I think that I’m in such good shape that I should go back, but I suspect that I would be dragging within a week. I’d hate losing the calm of my mornings. I’m not willing to trade the most wonderful part of my day for a spot in the rat race. I’m glad I don’t have to care which highways are plagued by delays. Life is now simple and good.

I know I’ve earned the magic of my mornings. I get to do the things that I love. Writing is a joy, reading is glorious, listening to my thoughts is sublime, just being in the quiet is like an elixir that heals both my body and my soul. I had no idea that it would be this grand. 

My Forever Home


I’ve never really wanted to live anywhere other than where I was born in Houston, Texas, United States of America. It’s not that I lack an adventurous spirit but that I see no reason to go somewhere else when I’ve got everything that I want and need right here. I decided long ago that my hometown is a place that allows me to have a good standard of living and to stay in close touch with my family and friends. If I get the wanderlust I have the ability to travel, so why leave?

My father and his parents were like rolling stones. They were so often on the move that they never actually owned a home. I suppose that there is a certain level of excitement in such a lifestyle but I prefer the security that I have as a result of being more settled. I also know what it is like to go from one place to another and I have to admit that I didn’t care much for the idea.

When I was seven years old my father uprooted our family and took us on an adventure to San Jose, California. I was not at all impressed by the journey. I missed the Friday evening get togethers at my maternal grandmother’s home where I met up with all of my cousins. I was saddened in losing my friendships with neighbors and classmates around our home on Northdale in Houston. My new school in California was so crowded that we only had half day sessions which precluded recess, barring any way for me to make new acquaintances. It was all business from start to finish and I could tell that my teacher was annoyed with me for increasing her burden in the middle of a semester. There seemed to be no children on the street where we rented a house so my days were lonely and dreary.

When we later moved to Los Angeles there was little or no improvement and the same was true with our final journey to Corpus Christi. It was only when we returned to Houston that my world felt normal once again. Our neighbors were welcoming and friendly and there were other children everywhere with whom to play. Best of all I had my grandparents and cousins back.

I’ve heard people say that living in different places makes one more interesting and mature but I think that the same things can be accomplished in other ways without pulling up stakes. Travel is great but there really is no place like home. I wouldn’t mind being gone for months but in the end I want to be back among the people that I know and love.

If there were some unexpected reason why I might be forced to move I suppose that San Antonio, Texas would be my first choice. I like the people and the vibe there and it’s a pretty place with lots to do within easy driving distance. I have friends and relatives there and I would be within a few hours from Houston if I felt the urge to return.

I can’t imagine ever leaving Texas. It’s not at all like the stereotyping that pokes fun at it. It is a great state filled with good people, great opportunities, and some of the best food in the world. On top of that it’s a place where it doesn’t cost that much to live and since I’m retired that’s something important to consider. I like Colorado but I don’t think I would be able to afford to live there. I’d have to downgrade my lifestyle considerably if I were to go there and I would be essentially alone at a time in my life when I need to be around people who care about me more than ever.

I’ve never really thought of being in another country. In spite of all of its flaws I think that I am quite lucky to live in the United States. I have many friends from other countries who have told me that they know full well how wonderful this country actually is. They have seen firsthand what it is like elsewhere and they praise the USA with every breath. Nonetheless if there were some unforeseen cataclysm I suppose that my first choice might be Canada or perhaps London. I like both of those places and feel more comfortable there mostly because of language. I’m far too old to learn a new way of communicating at this stage of life. Still it would be quite an adjustment and something I would never want to do alone. I’d have to have a community of family and friends to be daring enough to do such a thing.

I am and have always been quite content with where I live. For me family and friend connections are more important than anything else. As long as the people that I most love live close by I will be more than satisfied with my life.

Young people enjoy the idea of taking risks and learning about new places. They most likely have plenty of time to explore and make new acquaintances. At my age that doesn’t sound enticing at all, besides my father-in-law and mother-in-law live here in Houston and they need to have me here more than ever. I would not worry them by suddenly moving away. I want them to always know that I am only minutes away when they need help with anything. I was always available for my mother and I intend to be the same for them.

So travel it is for me. As for where I live, for now at least Houston will always be my home.


Guilty Until Proven Innocent


Try to imagine the time when you were fourteen, fifteen or sixteen years old. Did you know much about the world? Were you confident? Did you do some stupid things? How would you have reacted if you had been picked up by police who accused you of a heinous crime? What might you have done or said if they wore you down after more than twenty four hours of interrogation without your parents or an attorney being present? What if they told you that all you had to do is go along with a story about people that you did not know and then you would be allowed to go home? Who among us would have held up under such intense pressure? How much worse do you think it might have been if you were poor and Black or Hispanic. Such was the situation of five teenage boys in New York City on an April night in 1989 after they had been partaking in a raucous game in Central Park called “wilding” in which they harassed passersby, sometimes going a bit too far but mostly just letting off steam.

New York City was a crime ridden shell of what it is today back then. The public had grown weary of the muggings and violence that were a daily occurrence. The failing economy of the city at that time created extreme economic divisions. There was a tension between the haves and have nots that was almost certain to blow. The situation exploded on that April night of 1989, when a young woman who had been jogging was found near death in Central Park. There was an immediate urgency to find the perpetrators of the crime and a sense that somehow the young men who had created havoc that same night must surely be the ones who had done this egregious act.

The police created a scenario in their minds and then without any physical evidence convinced themselves that some of the young men that they had rounded up early must indeed have been the thugs who had done the violent deed. With no substantiation other than a hunch they began to grill five young men only two of whom knew each other at the time. They lied to the teens telling them that others had implicated them in the crime. In spite of the boys’ claim that they knew nothing of the matter the lawmen persisted in their insistence that they would get the truth that they wanted one way or another. Promising a route home if the exhausted teens cooperated they fed each one details that were created to frighten them into making taped confessions each of which contained conflicting stories. Only one boy never implicated himself or any of the others because his mother rushed in to rescue him from the invasive interrogation but even he was doomed.

Thinking that the worst was over after providing the forced statements each teen was shocked upon being charged with the rape and the violence associated with the incident. Thus began a prolonged journey through the court and prison system for five young men who maintained their innocence in spite of what they had said on tape. They became known as the Central Park Five and their story is one of incomprehensible injustice.

Antron, Raymond, Kevin, Yusef, and Korey would be tried in both the media and the courts. They became reviled symbols of all that was wrong with society. They had essentially been found guilty from the moment that the police learned of the raped and battered woman in the park. They were damned every step of the way and without the resources of money, good lawyers and parents who understood how things worked they were left to a kind of mob rule. Needless to say all five were found guilty in spite of a case so weak that it should never have resulted in indictments. The four who were younger were sentenced as juveniles and one, who was sixteen at the time of the crime but seventeen when he was found guilty, went straight to Riker’s Island as an adult.

Antron, Raymond, Kevin and Yusef spent seven years imprisoned. Korey endured thirteen years during which time he was brutalized multiple times. All had been robbed of their youth and any promise of the future until a serial rapist finally admitted to the crime for which they had been convicted. In a dramatic turn of events the actual perpetrator was able to provide police with details that only someone who had committed the crime would have known. Additionally his DNA matched that found on the victim at the scene of the crime. Eventually the five young men who had suffered so needlessly were exonerated and years later the city of New York gave them financial compensation for the mistake that had been made.

I have not been able to get this story out of my thoughts. I watched a documentary of their saga by Ken Burns called The Central Park Five and a limited series titled When They See Us. Both features were stunning in their depiction of an horrific injustice that is no doubt less uncommon than any of us would like to believe. In spite of the eventual outcome every one of the young men were scarred in ways that will never be erased by either apologies or restitution. Mostly I found myself thinking that something like this might easily have happened to so many of my former students who like these innocents might appear to be of a sort that is not even close to who they are. The color of their skin, the places where they live, their lack of income are often indictments by a world unwilling to seek the full truth. Our society has a dangerous tendency to act based on little or no facts. We follow outrages without thought, rushing to disaster like lemmings running toward the edge of a cliff. It happens over and over again.

I’d like to think that we might learn from such miscarriages of justice. I want to believe that we will adhere strictly to the idea that all Americans are innocent until proven guilty. I pray that we have learned the importance of protecting the rights of all people without prejudice. What worries me most is the feeling that we have yet to fully embrace such wisdom. We still have to fight for the rights of young men like Antron, Raymond, Kevin, Yusef and Corey. I pray to God that their numbers will be few. In the meantime I recommend that The Central Park Five and When They See Us should be required viewing for all Americans.