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Year three at the Austin Film Festival!

I almost didn’t volunteer this year for the Austin Film Fest – I feel like things have been so hectic and I wasn’t even sure how much I could volunteer. But then I reminded myself how much fun I’ve had as a volunteer the last two years.

Plus… the Film Fest has been the one thing I’ve allowed myself to completely indulge in. I don’t make any money getting involved, there’s no promoting myself or the blog or what I do, I simply go, do whatever tasks are needed, and just observe.

It’s something that really feeds my creativity in a different way, and I always, ALWAYS, have to give myself permission to do that.

In years passed, I’ve done a majority of my volunteer hours downtown at the Writer’s Conference. While I learn so much doing those shifts, I wanted to stick a little closer to my apartment this year, so I chose all theatre shifts.

Theatre shifts = managing the lines going into each film, scanning tickets and badges, and often getting to sit in the back and watch the movies. Between my two shifts this year, I got to see three movies.

Surviving Bokatar

Here is the film’s description, from its website:

From the ancient carvings on the temples of Angkor to the international stage. What started as a genocide survivor’s dream to revive one of the world’s oldest sports becomes an inspiring mission to heal a nation.

A story of triumph, heartbreak and coming of age in a Cambodia on the rise.

You can watch the trailer here.

Honestly, when I read the description of this film, I wasn’t so sure how I was going to like it. But I ended up really enjoying it – I almost cried – and once the film was over, two of the people in it were in the lobby and I was so amazed to see them in person.

This documentary focuses on the Grand Master of Bokatar and his extreme efforts to have the martial art recognized as an official sport from Cambodia. He sees the importance in tradition – so much so that he’s hurting financially, taking care of many of his students as they live in the gym.

It’s all the things you want a movie to be: heartfelt, great storyline with compelling characters, and the wonder of whether or not they’ll make it.

Care to Laugh

Here is the film’s description from its website:

Jesus’ world is flipped upside down when his mother, Adelaida, undergoes emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. Although most aspiring comedians build their careers on the road, Jesus juggles his responsibilities at home in Long Beach, Calif., with open mics and auditions in the Los Angeles area, often driving more than two hours each way every day. As the pressure of his budding career mounts, the family receives more devastating news: Jesus’ father, Antonio, is diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer.

An only child, Jesus becomes his parents’ sole caregiver. Transforming adversity into comedy, he uses his life experience as material for his routine. He continues to reach for his dream while taking over his father’s landscaping business to keep the family afloat. When his set catches the eye of producers at The Late Late Show with James Corden, Jesus may have scored the big break he’s been banking on.

I LOVED THIS!

I love the story of the underdog, the hustler, and Jesus was such a lovable character – I say character even though he is a real comic, and he came to the movie! When I scanned his ticket, I said, “Hey this movie is about you!”

Ghost Hunter

Here is the movie’s description from Rotten Tomatoes:

A western Sydney security guard and part-time ghost hunter, Jason King has spent two decades searching for his absent father. As a survivor of trauma, he seeks to reconcile his fractured memories and piece together his past. When his search converges with a police investigation, an horrific family secret is exposed – forcing him to confront a brutal past in order to reclaim his future.

This was also a documentary – this was my year because I love documentaries – and although this was creepy, it really wasn’t creepy because he was a ghost hunter, it was his past.

It was really well shot and I liked that the director included other media – text messages and voicemails – to tell the story. Very riveting, but heartbreaking as well.

See the trailer here.

And that’s it! There are still movies playing this week and sometimes they’ll message us about free movies, so hopefully I’ll get to see more, but so far, I enjoyed everything I saw. Another successful year in the books!

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Life after vacation.

Le sigh.

Hey yo! I’m starting this week off with an apology – I know I only blogged twice last week, which was not planned. Vacation kicked my ass!

I got back to Austin Monday night around 9:30, and by the time I got home, showered, got myself ready for bed, and watched “Southern Charm”, it was after midnight. When I arrived at work on Tuesday, there was all sorts of unnecessary drama that I did not need.

By the time things were starting to feel back to usual around the office – I even got things organized there, and started catching up on all of my podcasts again – the power went out and completely jacked up our internet, leaving us to work from home for a day and a half. Ugh!

It took me much longer to get back to my “normal” life than I thought. And I wondered… is this vacation after 30? I’ve always heard people complain about jet lag and adjusting back to regular life after vacation, but never really experienced it. Whew, not until now!

But, I did take a few dance classes last week, and then used my weekend to help get myself back in order.

After all of the junk (but very delicious) food and drink I had on vacation, I was excited to clean out my fridge and hit the grocery with a list of fresh produce. I am happy to report that my fridge is now full of Naked Juices, fruit, raw veggies, boiled eggs, and soda water. I’ll be living off that until I feel skinny again.

I spent a majority of my Saturday volunteering for the Austin Film Festival – an event that’s become very special to me. There was an opportunity to earn some hours by passing out fliers for their kids’ Summer Camp… I ended up walking 12,000 steps going door-to-door, and even ran from a couple of roosters on my route! It did nothing for my vacation fatigue, but it was an interesting way to spend a Saturday.

I also finished reading a book – so look for that review right here, on Friday for Blanche’s Book Club.

I did a few chores around the house, and have, at the very least, prepped my laundry for a trip to the laundromat tomorrow. And finally, I got word that my Blog Class at UT was confirmed for this semester, and it starts on Wednesday night! I’m so excited to be back teaching, and am looking forward to meeting a new group of students. Teaching is such a thrill for me and I’m excited to share my love of blogging to a new set of students.

So, I’m hitting the ground running this week – I’m back at work, back to dancing, blogging, teaching, and eating healthy (I even made veggie “sushi”) for awhile – at least until my next vacation, which is planned for the end of June. Summer is here, y’all, and I love me some summer adventures!

Isn’t it true, that when you take a vacation, you just want to keep taking them? I feel like whenever I go on vacation, I try to think of ways I can adjust my current life so that I can take more vacations and/or travel to more places. Then I just simply WISH that my life was a vacation, but I suppose it wouldn’t be as special if that were the case… or would it? I’m willing to be the guinea pig.

And so, I’m back – and I’m finally feeling refreshed. I’ve got some fun stuff planned for the blog this week (“Southern Charm” recap, a John Mayer review, Blanche’s Book Club, etc.), so I hope you’ll stick around. It’s good to be BACK!

The time is now.

The choice is ours.

The choice is ours.

On Tuesday, I posted a 12-Step Guide on how to cope if your presidential candidate lost that night. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to actually be the one needing it.

But when I attempted to fall asleep Tuesday night, around midnight, I couldn’t help but think about all the things in my life that may change: would my 401K be affected? The amount of annual taxes I owe? Would I have access to my choice of birth control or should I get an implant before January? Would my insurance rates change? My deductibles? Will there really be a wall at the edge of my state? Will my risk of being shot and killed in public increase? Will it still be safe to fly and/or travel overseas? Will there still be free press?

Frankly, I don’t know the answers to many of these things, and I suppose we will all be finding out soon enough. I’ve had my candidate lose before, and it sucks, big time.

But this election was emotional. There was so much hate and drama and sometimes, it seemed like it would never end. But when I voted, I wasn’t necessarily voting for a person. I was voting for the things I believe in – to my core. I was voting for equality – for myself, for my gay friends, for my non-white friends, for immigrants.

I was voting for my right to choose what happens to my body. I do not want any man grabbing my genitals without my consent (and my consent is never happening). I am not okay with rape. And I am not okay with a man, especially a man who does not know me, making decisions about my reproductive health.

So, when the results were tallied, I wasn’t upset about the person. I was scared for myself; scared for minorities, scared for women; scared for our country. The results put clearly – in red and blue – what we already knew: that making America “Great Again” really means moving backward, and taking away the rights of progressives. And now, we know that a lot of Americans cannot wait for our rights to be stripped; our bodies taken advantage of; and literal walls to be built between us. We’re one step away from a field of ovens.

And it’s terrifying.

But, I’ve spent a lot of my life being scared. And I’ve found that being scared makes me do things I probably wouldn’t normally do. And when you’re put out of your comfort zone, growth happens.

We cannot live these four years in fear. Now is not the time to be silenced. So, where do we go from here? I say, we keep working for the rights we so desperately want. Whether it be on a local, state, or national level – we can still get to work.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

With that said, I’m on the hunt for causes I can be a part of. Here are some things I’m thinking:

  • Volunteering at Planned Parenthood – info here
  • Volunteering to help victims of domestic violence
  • Getting involved in local politics
  • Becoming a Reading Partner – info here
  • Volunteering and/or donating to a Boys & Girls Club – info here

If you have any additional participation, volunteering, or donating ideas, I would love to hear them!

Having said that, though, don’t think that making a difference has to come in giant projects or overtaking commitments. Frankly, talking helps. Finding people you can share your beliefs and passions with spurs positive action.

Other things I’m doing to cope? Watching less news. I will never blame the media for this and will always stand up for the rights of the press and the jobs that journalists do. However, I’m limiting myself to just a few minutes of news in the morning, and that’s it. I don’t want to watch long,  repetitive news programs that will probably stress me out.

I will also be limiting my time on social media, particularly Facebook. I have already deleted my Facebook app, which cuts down on mindless scrolling that leads to unnecessary stress.

What will I do with all my extra time? Well, aside from volunteering, I can spend more time reading, and of course, watching “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” on VH1. No, seriously.

And I’m not trying to make light of the situation, but I do know that we’ll get through this, and we can do it cooly and in a way that helps others, while helping ourselves.

#ImStillWithHer

Making friends…as an adult.

Creating lasting friendships as an adult? The struggle is real.

Creating lasting friendships as an adult? The struggle is real.

I was having lunch with a few coworkers last week (read: we were gathered around a rotting picnic table eating from our packed lunches), and we got to talking about how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, particularly once you’ve graduated from college.

My coworkers explained they did have people they called; people they liked to meet up for drinks with, but it was almost impossible to get anyone to agree to nail down a plan – everyone seems to be in search of the Bigger, Better Deal. The BBD.

As I attend more and more dance classes, I meet more people that would make great company. And I’ve thought to myself, “Okay, once I get out of my spending freeze, I should invite that person to brunch,” and then I think, well screw the spending freeze, I could still invite that person over for a pool day or to have wine at my apartment, right? But how do you even approach someone in a way that isn’t completely awkward?

An article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Science of Making Friends” says we are constantly shedding friendships, and the older we get, the less time we feel we have for friendships. The article also suggests to treat new friendships like dating; with intention, but also with caution. Interesting.

One idea I liked from the articles was to be a friend when someone needs one. Perhaps an acquaintance is going through a difficult time; bring them a coffee or simply tell them you’re there if they need someone to talk to. I think these small gestures can go a long way.

An article from Bustle, “7 Ways to Make New Friends as an Adult” suggests using MeetUp – a large networking group that allows people in the same city to create their own “MeetUps” or join one someone else has created. Sounds cool, though there is a monthly fee. Meh. There’s also a similar site for women called “Girlfriend Circles” that looks kind of cool.

Another suggestion was to volunteer. This idea makes me excited, because I DID sign up to volunteer at the Austin Film Festival this year! I primarily signed up because I heard it’s a great way to meet people in the industry… and since I’m working on a script, I’ve got to start somewhere. But now that the event is getting closer, there are events (the first one is Friday) left and right, and I’m excited to start meeting some of the other volunteers. Sure, we’re not saving the world, but at least we have two things in common: film and Austin.

The good thing I discovered in reading all of these articles is that a lot of people feel the way I feel – making friendships past 25 is a challenge, just as anything else can be. And when looking for new friends, it feels really vulnerable putting yourself out there, but it’s comforting to know that scientifically, we can bond with just about anyone.

So, go ahead, and put yourself out there. Invite someone to do something! I know I am going to try… what’s the worst that could happen?

Don’t answer that.

Exploring volunteer opportunities…

Volunteering: chew on that!

Volunteering: chew on that!

So… yeah, if you were here yesterday I had to share the news that I’m without a volunteer position (get the scoop here) for the first time in about five years. This means that I’m currently on the hunt for a new volunteer opportunity, and I know there’s lots of choices out there. It’s time to weigh my options:

Saving the Whales or Polar Bears

I boycotted Sea World and zoos years ago – if you haven’t seen “Blackfish“, you must (FREE TILLY!) – but I know there’s more that can be done. I found an article, that offers 10 ways to help save the whales! Whew. A big part of it is actually getting into recycling, which I admit, I’ve never been good at. So, maybe this is something I should look into a little further.

I also looked at the Green Peace website, and found that (although I am a Clinton supporter), her Super PAC is being funded by corporate polluters. There is a pre-written email you can fill out to pledge that you will reject fossil fuel money. Check it out here.

Now, I know that you’ve seen those commercials about the polar bears. I don’t really know how I can help save the whales or polar bears from Austin, but perhaps it’s worth a shot?! According to Polar Bears International, polar bears could be extinct by 2050 because of greenhouse gases! That is within our lifetime, folks! The website notes Earth Day (which is April 22), and there are a few simple things you can do to help – the list is here.

Non-GMO/Anti-Monsanto

Bye GMOs.

Bye GMOs.

For the last year, I’ve been making a bigger effort to eat organic food, or at the very least, non-GMO food. I am also very much against companies that support Monsanto (like fucking Starbucks) and/or companies that are against GMO labeling.

Whether or not you care about what genetically modified organisms and/or Monsanto-made pesticides have planned for the funeral of your guts, it’s also worth noting that any farming, other than organic farming, is bad for our environment. So, if you’re hoping things are as beautiful down the road, you might want to consider going organic.

I live in a city full of hipsters and granolas (no offense, I love it), hell, this is where Whole Foods was born. So I know the non-GMO cause is huge here. But I actually found a list of organizations (here it is) you can join in every state!

However, I am almost terrified of joining any groups because I know the passion is just going to be off the charts… but I will continue to skip on Starbucks and buy organic.

Other Environmental Causes

I know there’s a slew of other environmental issues I could volunteer for. Aside from helping the polar bears, Green Peace is a good general environmental fund to donate to, because they are always fighting against climate change. I found the website for Friends of the Environment, and they also have several different causes that help different areas of the environment, including climate and energy, food and technology, and the ocean and forests.  And finally, there’s the Rain Forest Alliance that promotes green living, and sustainable…well, everything. Plus, the pictures of all the cute animals really just do it for me.

#LoveUp

#LoveUp

#LoveUp

I can’t talk about volunteering and charity without mentioning my favorite radio DJs’ charity! From their website:

JohnJay & Rich have helped thousands of children and families in need for nearly 15 years by providing food, clothing, toys, basic needs and experiences primarily during the holiday season through their Christmas Wish Program. In 2007 they formed their 501 c 3 non-profit organization The Johnjay & Rich Care for Kids Foundation and have most recently placed an emphasis on helping the nearly 400,000 kids living in the Foster Care System in The United States. #LoveUp is an accidental movement started by Johnjay Van Es. Auto correct changed his friend’s text from “love it” to “Love Up” and the phenomenon was born! Johnjay and Rich think #LoveUp will be a great way to remind people to pay it forward and spread the love!

So, you can simply buy a cute #LoveUp shirt or even sweatpants, and the money goes toward The JohnJay & Rich Care for Kids Foundation. Score!

Women’s Rights

As a woman, of course I care about my rights, and those of other women around the globe. I found a website for a foundation that focuses on women in poverty around the globe, which is good, but I think I like the idea of something a little more local.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is a group of feminist activists right in the United States, and they really work for true equality for women. One of the causes they contributed to was the “Dirty 100” – fighting the 100 employers who refuse to let their women employees access reproductive healthcare as part of their insurance.

Domestic Abuse

This was the most difficult thing to find information about. Of course, there are several groups and causes around domestic abuse you can donate to, but I was looking for volunteer opportunities in my local area. I found SAFE: Stop Abuse For Everyone, but it mainly focuses on children affected in these situations. No offense to the kids, but I’m more interested in helping the women who are affected. Turns out, there are several women’s shelters around Austin that are always looking for volunteers. This may be a good choice for me.

…So, there are some options out there. And BTW, I kind of hand to laugh when I made this list; if you didn’t know I was a liberal before, it’s kind of obvious now! Ha! In any case, if you’ve got other causes you think I should look into, please let me know! In the meantime, I think I’m going to buy some #LoveUp apparel…

Saying goodbye to CASA.

In 2012, I read a book that really struck me. The book was “A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder” by Karen Spears Zacharias.

At the time, the book was the featured reading for a community-wide book club in Baton Rouge. In this large club, the author would come speak. So, I read the book in about two days in preparation for Ms. Zacharias’ arrival, and I was able to set up an interview with her. Here’s what I wrote (on my former blog) about it:

Great book!

Great book!

Book number 12 of 2012 is an unexpected one, “A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of A Murder,” by Karen Spears Zacharias. 

The genre, memoir or true crime, is an unexpected choice for me, but rather how I stumbled upon this book is. Originally, I planned to read a short, easy book lent to me by a coworker. I needed something light after finishing “Audition” by Barbara Walters. 

However, another coworker pointed out to me that the summer’s “One Book One Community” was quickly approaching. Was I planning to attend? she asked me.

I attended last year, after reading a phenomenal book (“Crazy” by Pete Early); the author comes to town and speaks, and answers questions about the selected book. It’s a great chance to hear from successful writers.

“I enjoyed attending last year,” I told my coworker.

She told me she wasn’t going to have enough time to read the book beforehand, so she would let me borrow it, if I wanted. Of course I did — I cannot, and will never pass up a free book.

And so, “A Silence of Mockingbirds” fell into my hands. When I had a chance to sit down and read a few pages days later, I dove right in, reading half of the book in one sitting.

“A Silence of Mockingbirds” is the true and tragic story of a young girl’s murder. A murder that the author, Zacharias, is shockingly close to.

Zacharias, former cop reporter, a journalist, an author, as well as an advocate for war widows, had befriended and cared for a girl named Sarah early in her life.

As Sarah grew up and attempted to take care of herself, they remained in touch. Sarah was married to a man named David, and they gave birth to their daughter, Karly. Karly, a sweet blue-eyed blonde, seemed to be loved by so many, even though her time on this earth was too short. Early in Karly’s life, her parents divorced, and her mom met a new man named Shawn.

They moved in together in after two weeks of dating.

Once they moved in, Karly’s life changed, showing bruise after bruise, losing large patches of hair, and wanting to sleep all the time.

Her father, David, as well as the woman at her daycare, repeatedly called child services to report possible child abuse. But each report and each doctor’s visit when unnocticed as abuse and written off as stress, or as Sarah put it, “allergies.”

Unfortunately, none of it was taken serious enough, or Shawn just went too far, or Sarah just didn’t care enough, and Karly lost her life at age 3, due to blunt force trauma to the head, causing a brain injury.

The trial found the boyfriend, Shawn guilty of abuse and neglect, and he spends his days behind bars. Since then, Karly’s Law has been put into place, making it mandatory for photos to be taken when a possible child abuse claim is made (no pictures were taken in Karly’s case).

As sick as it sounds, this story was riveting on its own. However, Zacharias did a massive amount of research on the brutal murder, and then wrote it all in such a beautiful way:

  • “In October, maples drop their golden parchments into the Willamette River, where they are carried downstream, letters for the beavers.”
  • “Hearing Gina quote the dead Karly punctured something in Pam. Holding back her corn-silk hair, she hunkered over the rim of her wine glass. A fierce thunderstorm gave way to tears.”

When I finish reading most books, I don’t get the chance to hear the author speak, so I am really looking forward to this.

 When I went to see the author speak, there was also a panel of speakers there to talk about the various sides of this story – one of the most obvious and most-controversial: child abuse and how it’s dealt with in our country. There was a spokesperson from CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) there, and she said something that stuck with me, “A child that has a CASA volunteer is 60% more likely to be adopted than one that does not.”

At that time, I was volunteering as a Facilitator for Dialogue on Race Louisiana; hosting weekly structured dialogues across the city to educate others on institutional racism. I wanted to look into CASA, so I did.

Within six months, I went through 40 hours of training in order to become a CASA volunteer. These trainings were after work and on Saturdays. At the end of the training, we had interviews, and ultimately decided whether or not we wanted to follow through with the volunteer. It was a year-long commitment, or until your assigned case was resolved.

I know I’ve spoken about CASA many times before, but in case you’re not sure what it is, a CASA volunteer is assigned a case that involves a child in the system, i.e. in state’s custody/foster care. As a CASA volunteer, you meet with the child at least once a month, and in general, you make sure they are doing ok, make sure they are being treated well in their foster situation, see that they are getting fed and clothed, and make sure they are doing well in school.

You also talk to people in their life; teachers, coaches, friends, etc., just to get all sides of the story. Then you write monthly reports, and you write an extensive court report about every 6 months or each time the child is to appear in court. The judge loves a CASA report because he/she can simply read it before the hearing and know what is going on within a short amount of time.

To put things in perspective, all juvenile court systems are overloaded. Each case worker has probably 200 or so cases, and the judge sees 20 cases a day. This is where that whole “CASA percentage” comes in – the CASA serves as the squeeky wheel. You stick up for your case to be sure they are not forgotten.

About 6 months after I went through training, I received a call with a pitch for a case. It was three brothers, and although I cannot reveal the details of their case, their mom had a severe mental illness issues and could no longer care for them. The boys had actually been locked in a home (had not even seen the light of day) for two years. They were entered into foster care, and I took them as my case.

For the last three years, I have visited the boys each month. We had pizza dinners, baked dozens of cookies for Santa, celebrated birthdays and student-of-the-month, we had Dollar Store shopping sprees, video game competitions, flew kites, took boxing classes, killed each other in lazer tag, and snuck so much candy into many movies.

And last week, I had to say goodbye, even though their case has yet to be resolved (yes, even three years later). I really wanted to see my case to the end, but without sounding terrible, the communication between the foster home and the court system became a battle I could no longer fight.

When I expressed my frustration with my case manager, she asked me if I wanted to resign. I did not want to give up, but I felt that I wasn’t able to give the case, and the boys, the attention they deserved. So, I sadly agreed to resign. I cried at my desk, and I told my case manager to please tell the boys that if they ever need anything, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

I have always, always wanted to help people. And helping these boys, even if in a very small way, enriched my life in a way I never thought possible. But it also breaks my heart to know how complicated the system is; and how many kids get tossed in there, completely innocent, and they may not find their way out until they “age out” and turn 18. I hope, I hope, I HOPE, the boys get a new, fresh volunteer who is ready to kick some ass and resolve their case. They deserve it – they deserved it years ago.

If you have any questions or interest about becoming a CASA volunteer, please don’t hesitate to contact me (holly@thebitterlemon.com). I am always down to help others who want to help others!

After I resigned, my case manager thanked me for my years of service, and understood that the case had been extremely tough. “You should become a CASA in Austin!” she said.

I smiled. I think it’s time I switch gears. So, I’m currently on the hunt for a new volunteer effort. And tomorrow, I think YOU should help me explore my options. I’ll see you there!