Category: Politics


This post may be somewhat disjointed. I am somewhat disjointed. Out of joint. Bent…

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I’ve been walking a lot lately. Walking is conducive to thinking. Walking is frequently conducive to composing blog posts in my head. Some of which never get written. Some written, never posted. Let’s hope this one passes muster.

I feel like I’ve mentioned, in bits and pieces, that I’m currently in the process of reclaiming certain aspects of my life. Some of which I didn’t even realize needed reclaiming. Some of which I figured I’d leave unreclaimed. Some I thought I already had a claim on. And while it’s frustrating that I find myself still not completely free from certain negative impacts of certain types of trauma in my life, I’m thankful I can recognize the origins of that frustration, roll my eyes and be temporarily exasperated with myself, and move on.

I’ve been telling the same stories over and over again, because I find myself confronted with them. As my housemates were cleaning up my yard, cheerily clearing the brush and treating the arduous labor as a happy task, I vividly remembered walking out to the backyard a long lost married-person mother’s day ago, to find my then-husband angrily hacking at the shoulder-high weeds with a push mower. “Happy fucking Mother’s Day!” Through gritted, angry teeth, was my greeting.

That wasn’t the last time the lawn got mowed, but it was the last time he mowed the lawn.lulu

Needless to say, it wasn’t a very happy Mother’s Day. It wasn’t a very happy anything in my life during that time period. Somewhere around then – I think the same year – my elderly dog got cancer. I was 5 months pregnant with a 3-year old and a surly, unhelpful husband, and my best friend for the past 10 years was dying and I was incredibly sad. The day she died, he helped me load her gasping body into the car and he was the one who sat with her when she was put down, and then it was like a switch was turned and suddenly any sadness I felt about it was not allowed. Was a play for attention. I was being overwrought. I remember being so desperate for some sort of mutually nurturing relationship I went to the pound on the 4th of July – or thereabouts, and finding Twyla curled up in the corner of a kennel with a sign on the cage that said “I’m deaf, but I’m really sweet.” And she was. And I brought her home much to my ex-husband’s dismay.

“You always do the most difficult thing.” He snorted.

“I married you, didn’t I.” I retorted.

My mind is blurry, and I can’t remember if this happened before or after he broke up with me, but that was around the time. I came home on a lunch break from work, hugely pregnant. Hot. Emotional. And he told me he was breaking up with me. I had to go back to work in 30 minutes. Still hugely pregnant…hot…emotional…and single. Little knowing at that time that it would take multiple years to finally extricate him completely from my daily life, in spite of his refusal to contribute emotionally, physically, or financially beyond the bare minimum.

I’m not saying these things because I’m still bitter about them. I’m stating these things flatly. This is my experience. This is what I have lived. These are the things that re-emerge when we do things we haven’t done since that time period. Like getting a new dog.

5c44e4f5-c619-4bce-a177-b6d766f18fa1Even publishing the zine. I recently sent a couple of copies of the last issue of my old zine bAnal Probe to a friend of mine, and I realized those last few issues were done in collaboration with him. I hadn’t even realized publishing a zine was an act of reclaiming…and there it is. Reclaimed. Painlessly. Cleanly.

I wasn’t the best dog owner during those times. I was distracted, at best. The dog never got my full attention. We went for frequent walks and I spent much of my time feeling overwhelmed with everything I was responsible for. I wasn’t a BAD dog owner. I was mostly just exhausted and had no room in my life for another living being. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve felt sufficiently free of the every day responsibility of nurturing children to really focus on a pet, and this batch of cats in my life has gotten more love than previous batches. For sure. I’m excited about having a dog both who seems to require less effort and for whom I have significantly more bandwidth.

Along with those realizations was the realization that the way I’ve been managing my time is kind of screwy now that I don’t have to think in 15-minute increments as much. It’s time for me to expand my attention span. It’s time for me to have more flexible time for just sitting and enjoying. I’ve thrown away the old system and am working on a new system that allows for that. I hope. I imagine some things will fall through the cracks during the transition, but so far I’ve been spending a lot of lot of lot of time with friends, I’m getting a lot more outdoor time. More movement. A bit more structure. This structure will probably increase as I get used to the rhythm of the dog. When to feed her, when we walk. It’s kind of like having a large, slightly more self-sufficient baby. I’m so glad that she’s at least housebroken. And she sleeps through the night.

And well into the morning. Which is nice.

***

The other thing I was thinking about on my walk is all of the anger and frustration and heartbreak I am feeling for the mamas of Central America and Gaza whose babies are at risk. And of course for the mamas themselves. And the non-mamas, but mostly the mamas and the babies.

I’m sure this is a political theory that has already been written somewhere, and I haven’t taken the time to do any sort of research into who might have already thought of it, but it strikes me that the only way to make free trade not inherently exploitive is too also have open borders. Otherwise aren’t we just allowing the true cost of our low prices to be out of sight out of mind? And when something like a huge influx of refugee children show up at our border because they’ve been suffering that consequence for us, it’s altogether too easy for some people to blame the victims.

 

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This song seemed an appropriately celebratory little number for my end of weekend celebrations. Not that I WANT the weekend to end, necessarily…but it’s been a nice weekend, as weekends go. Also, surprising. The biggest surprise, by far…is Lulu.

Pensive Lulu

Sweet Lulu

But I also had some fun adventures with a surprisingly…familiar…new friend. You know? One of those kinds of people who just makes sense, and to whom you just feel like you also just make sense. Buddha the Grouch, when he learned of my platonic hangout, said “Oh, so you went on one of those faux Lainie dates where you go out and look at birds.”

birds...spiders...same diff.

birds…spiders…same diff.

    I laughed so hard, because he’s pretty much right. And it feels good to have someone in my life with whom I can just go out and look at birds. Or at milkweed floating in the wind. Or armadillos. Or the way the pond scum rejoins itself after a rock passes through the film. Someone with whom I don’t have to rush through the getting to know to get to “the good stuff” because the good stuff is the getting to know. I’m really enjoying the getting to know. This weekend was also a little cooking (more cooking to come) a little cleaning (more cleaning to come) some walks and talks…and lots of chilling in the backyard. My friends who are staying with me (who I need to think of a clever name for, as I’ll doubtless be referring to them a lot) have kicked so much ass at getting the yard in shape for planting. They’ve cleared and tilled three huge beds, we’ve all schemed a less-conventional succulent / hummingbird / butterfly bed, and they’ve made good with my neighbor, whose little garden was being overshadowed by some weeds in my back yard. There’s talk of chickens. There’s talk of greenhouses. There’s endless talk of gardens and gardening. I’m still slowly rearranging my time to begin to accommodate, but it’s difficult to begin! We’ve created a sitting area outside that has been encouraging me to just sit and watch the sun (or moon) move across the sky. The dog only adds to this notion of sit and stay. Especially since, being new here and nervous, any move I make is shadowed by her. The more I sit and relax, the more relaxed she becomes. And, thankfully, the energy level of a Great Dane, as Lulu is, is much much lower than that of a boxer, which my last nervous dog was…so there’s plenty of sloth and relaxation.

Slothful, and relaxing!

I feel like Lulu is going to have the sweet temperament of Twyla (the boxer) with the gentle lazy hound-dog attitude of Cash (the pitbull). Once we get her acclimated…and everyone gets acclimated to her.This Crack Star This weekend also included a meditation/remembrance of the passage of Texas HB 2 – the bill that has been responsible for the closure of over 61% of Texas clinics that provide abortions and other healthcare services, leaving many people – particularly those who are already poor and marginalized – without access to safe abortions. We sat in mediation, did a walking meditation – I walked in circles around the middle of the rotunda floor, did another sitting meditation and then had discussion. It was a beautiful memorial. It was very healing…and it got me thinking about reclaiming spaces. I’m still thinking about reclaiming spaces. I need more time to think about it, I think. And journal about it. Before I write about it. Publicly. But I am thinking about it. Reclaiming. I’m also thinking about how hard some people have to seem to work to get the rewards that so many people take for granted. And I’m not even referring to the least among us. I’m talking about everyday people you might see and think “Hey – that person does alright.” and really they are pinching pennies to buy gas, or riding the bus not to be a hipster but because they had their car impounded because they couldn’t afford to renew the registration. And I just feel like if people that I know who are employed, employable, hard-working, able-bodied, intelligent, and genuinely good and decent people are struggling, then I can’t say anything in negative judgment of anyone else who is struggling. I imagine most of them are equally all of the above and equally just totally screwed by circumstance. And that’s all I got to say.

Catching up on some links…

The Supreme Court’s baffling tech illiteracy is becoming a problem

“Granted, the justices are behind the times. Twenty-first century technology has come to the Court, but the Court hasn’t come to the twenty-first century. Justices still communicate by handwritten notes instead of email. The courthouse got its first photocopying machine in 1969, six decades after the machine was invented. Oral arguments were first tape-recorded in 1955, nearly a hundred years after the first sound recording. At those arguments, blog reporters are denied press passes, tweeting is verboten, and justices thumb through hard copies of court documents. At the Supreme Court, every day is Throwback Thursday.

This might explain why the majority of Americans oppose life tenure for Supreme Court justices. Life tenure shields judicial independence and pays homage to the Founding Fathers’ vision. At the time the Constitution was written, however, the average life expectancy was about 40 years. (Or 60 years if controlled for infant mortality.) Today, it’s nearly twice as long. Clearly, life tenure meant something different for the founding generation.”

 

The Rise of the DIY Abortion in Texas

One woman I interviewed at a Mexican restaurant in Brownsville told me her good friend nearly died after taking pills that her husband bought in Mexico. Instead of ingesting four of the 12 pills every three hours, as is recommended by the World Health Organization, she took two pills under her tongue, then four pills vaginally, then two more under her tongue, then four more vaginally. She began to bleed profusely, doubled over in pain. But because she was undocumented, she was afraid to seek medical help at a nearby hospital or clinic. Instead, she crossed the border to Mexico with her five children—all the while hemorrhaging—in search of medical assistance. She has since recovered but is still in Mexico with her children because she can’t cross the border back into the United States.

Carreon says she sees many patients who have taken improper dosages. “A lot of patients said that they would take the whole bottle and they would tell me they took 28 pills,” she said. “They’re taking maybe four vaginally, two orally. Then an hour later, four more. I hear different ways of using these pills. It’s shocking each time.”

But strict internal clinic protocol bars Carreon and other employees at Whole Women’s Health from answering questions about miso and abortion. And the drug’s other distribution channels are similarly mum. Mexican pharmacists can’t provide information about the drug and abortion, since it’s only sold there as an ulcer medication, and many of the vendors selling miso at flea markets know very little about correct dosage.

 

Massachusetts SWAT Teams Claim They’re Private Corporations

Requests by the American Civil Liberties Union for open records on Massachusetts SWAT teams begat refusals to comply based on the premise that the forces are private corporations rather than government entities.

 

9 Facts Shatter the Biggest Stereotypes About Fat People

People are allowed to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies, but we need to start treating people of all sizes with respect. We can start by providing some actual information about being fat.

 

Lately, I’ve been watching The Wire, and I’m having to lean on episode guides to make sense of everything.

I never remember this stuff, so I’ll probably refer back to this video about different display connectors often.

Will Detroit’s Water be Privatized or Recognized as Commons?

“We are not saying that the services of running water should be free, we are saying it should be affordable and accessible by all, and we have put forth the Water Affordability Plan to that end, which was approved by our city council,” says Priscilla Dziubek, of the Peoples Water Board. This plan is self-funding and graduated much like the tax system where no one pays over a certain percentage of their income on water.

 

Nation editor destroys Bill Kristol: “You should enlist in the Iraqi army”

“If there are no regrets for the failed assumptions that have so grievously wounded this nation, or politics and media accountability,” vanden Huevel continued.” We need it Bill, because this country should not go back to war. We don’t need armchair warriors. And if you feel so strongly, you should, with all due respect, enlist in the Iraqi army.”

When the Tao of Bird comes home from his dad’s, we’re totally going to do this Texas Pie-Eating roadtrip

For your summer music list pleasures, NPR has listed the top 50 songs of 2014 (so far.)

For those of you trying to stay awake without heating up…a recipe for cold-pressed iced coffee.

I’m sunburned and tired and it’s 10 PM on my Sunday (my Monday is Wednesday) and I have so few words and yet ALL OF THE WORDS for the things I have witnessed and participated in over the past 72 hours or so.

Sunday morning found me up and about at a relatively early hour. My goal was to find somewhere to hike between my house and the T. Don Hutto Residential Center. I found Walter E. Long Metropolitan park, paid the $10 entrance fee, and found a picnic table under a tree to enjoy my breakfast.

I’m usually fine with paying entrance fees for parks, because my unconfirmed hope is that the money is being used for preservation and/or providing employment. I’m not so sure what I was paying for with this park. It appears that the main draw for the park was fishing, but in general, there was a lot of trash in the park, the roads weren’t kept up, and there were no walking trails that I could see…at least not initially.

Undaunted, I decided to walk the length of the allotted shoreline & I managed to find some nice things to look at, as well as friendly people enjoying the day. Mostly fishing. Some playing in the water.

When I reached the end of the shore, there was an area that was chained off, but there were no “No Trespassing” signs, so I manouvered around the chain and walked a ways towards the dam, then back down a path that led to another, wider path. It wasn’t so much of a trail as a grassy road, but I intended to get my $10 worth of walking, so I persisted…

I saw some pretty wildflowers…and then I spied a little alcove, and beyond it was a little lake, surrounded by wildflowers, weeds, and trees.

And I sat down to write in my journal:

Tiny little oasis at Walter Long Metropolitan Park. Listening to birdsong & enjoying solitude after another week of overtime. I’m sweating, but it’s delightful to be here among the wildflowers. And the leaves and branches on the trees leave shimmering, swimming shadows on the page & a tiny bird lights on a tree, regards me with avian curiosity – head cocked, feathers ruffled, tail twitch…hop…hop…then flutters off, peeping the story of me to those too intimidated to venture nearer.

I imagine they are speaking to me. Or trying to. My mono-species-lingual ears are not responsive. But they are encouraged by my relative quietude & continue trying to get through – progressively louder & with increasingly more enthusiastic accompaniment.

And then the frogs start in with their clicking. And I should probably think about moving on, but I’m in love with this moment & in love with the solitude. So I hesitate. Linger. Drink until my eyes, my ears, & my nose are sated.

And then I progressed. Got up and made my way back to the car. I heard crows caw, which I don’t usually hear in town…and I saw a HUGE hawk flying overhead, and I decided it was worth my $10 to be there for those things. For all of the things. Though when I return it will be on a weekday so I won’t have to pay quite so much.

I had no idea what to expect at Hutto. I had received an invitation from a friend to join a concert outside of the Hutto Detention Center, and I’d heard of these events before – where people gather to provide audible support and solidarity to those who are housed inside, awaiting release or deportation or asylum. On the ride up, I was thinking about how birds fly back and forth over borders without any concern. And how we are all, really, just intruders on this land. How I just paid $10 to go to a park, where a good many of the people there were likely fishing for food – so that $10 is definitely a relative cost.

I arrived late. The last band, Sonoita, was freaking AMAZING. I was grinning so huge listening to their radical punk lyrics and music…and the simple beauty of the whole idea of putting musicians, poets, and speaker right outside the detention center – with the sounds echoing loudly against the walls so there was no doubt those inside could hear…it was amazing. Whole hearted. Wonderful. And even though I was only there for 20 minutes or so, it was well worth the trip. Next time (and there will be a next time sometime in October) I will plan better and get there early to help set up. And I will help promote it better, so more people can be there to witness this perfect little act of resistance. Because sound also travels over borders and fences…just like birds.

I came home feeling full of thoughts and ideas and inspiration…and crashed in bed, exhausted.

Monday was spent running errands in preparation for summer semester for Buddha the Grouch. So I got to spend the morning in the car with his holy grouchness. I had been in a running discussion with my nephew about increasing the minimum wage and why we should indeed provide food and shelter and medical assistance to those who are living in poverty. Buddha the Grouch is a great foil for these conversations, because we DON’T always agree, and he’s a good litmus test for me to tell how far out on the political spectrum I’m being. So I asked him “Why do we provide food stamps and housing vouchers for poor people?”

He responded: Uh…because it’s disadvantageous to our government for people to be dying in the street.

I countered: But what if there are some people take advantage of the system and are just lazy?

He responded: That’s not statistically significant, and it’s not worth making some people go hungry just to punish those few people who are taking advantage

*phew*

That night, I went to an Austin CAN Community Council forum on Disabilities, where a panel of experts explained the challenges people with disabilities face in our community.

With all due respect to the people on the panel I left the meeting feeling frustrated. First, we were pretty much outright told by the representative from Goodwill that there are no local issues that impact people with disabilities, and we should focus our attention on national issues. Which is all well and good, but I’m sure there are some local things we can focus on, and I intend to inform the rest of the council once I figure out what they are.

The other thing that’s always frustrating when dealing with the non-profit industrial complex is…I just don’t think we’re getting all of the information. Granted, disabilities are not always visually evident, but I just didn’t get the sense that everyone on the panel was personally affected by the issues they were discussing. Not that you have to be in a certain demographic to advocate for the needs of that demographic, but in general I feel the social services crowd tends to invest a lot of time and money in developing people within their organizations to speak on behalf of the populations they serve, without taking the time to develop people in the communities they serve to do the same. Obviously, there are exceptions. But sometimes participating in these forums is like going to a badly-organized “community event to determine the needs of the community” where the only people present are those providing services to the community…which makes no sense to me, though I do understand the challenges in engaging people and encouraging participation.

Today, I woke up early and wrote letters…

And visited with some friends who are exploring an idea for a non-profit. I feel like I’m very blessed with people in my life who get excited about doing good things for others, and I’m especially happy when I can provide useful information and insight to help them help others. 🙂

I brought the Tao of Bird to his therapy appointment, where he spent yet another hour stonewalling his therapist and me, while we did our best to keep conversation going in order to make the environment more conducive to problem-solving. But that bird is a stubborn one! And so smart! And on to any tricks that would maybe encourage him to share his fears and possibly devise strategies for overcoming them.

And then I attended a forum on property taxes in Austin. I was blown away by the rage in the room. I mean, this crowd was one step away from pitchforks and torches. And for good reason. Did you know 90% of commercial building owners protest their property taxes annually, resulting in tax rates that are based on 60% of the value of the property? Meanwhile, I’m here in my home that’s falling apart because I’m spending all of the money I should be spending repairing it paying for the right to live here in the neighborhood I have lived in for 17 years…and the value of my home increases by 10% every year, in spite of the actual value of my home.

We were explained the weird formula they use to figure property taxes, and were told that, essentially, the tax assessor’s office can’t use actual home sales as a guide, since we’re a non-disclosure state. So, basically, we all get issued our ridiculous tax bills, and corporate entities spend a portion of the money they WOULD have spent on taxes paying lawyers to argue they’re property has been improperly valued until the tax assessor’s office has to cry uncle due to lack of resources for litigation and just settle.

Meanwhile, homeowners (and, likely, renters) are left bearing the burden of taxes. And this isn’t even addressing the tax breaks and incentives we give to businesses to move here. It’s freaking ridiculous. Here are some of my favorite quotes & notes of the evening:

-Large businesses employ lawyers to take advantage of the property tax appeals system. The appeals system can’t afford to litigate everyone, so they settle. Large businesses end up paying taxes on only 60% of the actual value of the property.

-The average home sale in my neighborhood is currently $347k

-The greatest increase in home value was in the downtown core, and East Austin <—

-The suggestion was made to advocate on a local/city level for a flat homestead exemption from the City of Austin

-Evidence that will help when filing a protest includes: Sales information, independent/certified appraisal, interior inspection, costs of repairs for large things like deadly mold and cracked slabs. (not sure if protesting will actually help me)

-Oh yay! Voting fixes EVERYTHING!

-Talk to taxing jurisdiction about services

-F1 is currently in litigation for property taxes

-Businesses filing appeals don’t have to show proof of revenue generation

-STATE INCOME TAX!!! (one of the audience members suggested this and everyone clapped…the presenter said that comment would have gotten him escorted out of the room in Houston)

-90% of county services are paid by property tax

-Robin Hood education taxes send 30% of Austin’s property taxes back to needier districts.

-Austin American Statesman has had 3 articles in the last few months about the commercial property tax loopholes.

-Research “Local Infrastructure Fee”

-Suggestions for improvement include: Close loopholes, end tax exemptions for commercial property, or sunset after 10 years.

-The City of Austin issued a senior citizen exemption & we should have fought for a homestead exemption.

-A suggestion that we end tax giveaways and subsidies for corporations garnered ROBUST applause

-Someone whose land value has TRIPLED in the last 6 years asked how land is being appraised and whether we aren’t just footing the bill for speculative development. (at no time during this forum was the possibility that this is all an issue of speculative development explicitly refuted)

-BANKS get 3% when you pay for your taxes online by credit card, get x% on interest when you have to take out a loan to pay the escrow increase, get $$$$$ when they foreclose on a home for failure to pay taxes.

-KEEPING APPRAISED VALUES STATIC ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO STAY IN THEIR HOMES AND NEIGHBORHOODS, RATHER THAN ENCOURAGING TRANSIENCE

-Voting is not enough – stop telling us to vote when those we vot for sell out to special interests.

-A lot of state, city, county properties are not on the tax rolls.

-NOT ALL HOMEOWNERS ARE EQUAL

-Organize the State now in preparation for the 2015 legislature

-Homeowners/Commercial buildings used to have a 42/20 percent split of the tax burden, now it’s more like 52/less than 20

-One guy said he measured his home with laser measuring devices, and that he discovered the square footage is rounded up. 300 additional squre feet resulted in $1200 more in property taxes.

-“Responsible people who bought responsibly are now being priced out of their homes.”

-Legislators have not gotten a lot of heat about this.

-F1 stats:

  • $250 million tax break
  • Annual tax protest reductions that have amounted to about $250 million again
  • $14 million electricity plant that the taxpayers are paying for
  • $13 million water plant that the taxpayers are paying for
  • $16 million new entrance that the taxpayers are paying for
  • WTF1?

-Hyatt

  • Sold for $87 million
  • Appraised at $37 million when it was time to set the taxes.
  • Because lawyers….?

-Appraisal district budgets are being cut, so they have even fewer resources to litigate.

-Someone asked “Can I change my home from residential to commercial?”

-Many of these businesses were provided tax incentives because they were going to “widen the tax base” but we’re seeing lower services, higher taxes, and more traffic

-UNCONTROLLED GROWTH

-CITIZENS VS. DEVELOPERS

-How is growth being paid for & who is paying for it?

-90% of all commercial property taxes are appealed

-26% of residential property taxes are appealed

-Commercial property owners are writing non-disclosure riders in contracts for buyers AND sellers – because Texas is a non-disclosure state, the tax appraiser can’t get that information unless it’s provided, so there’s no way to value property according to actual market demand.

-Someone asked if we could support an appeal by putting our houses on the market at the price they are appraised at and proving they won’t sell.

-Some of the questions about how to cap increases were met with an accusation that just “shifts the tax burden” – so one guy responded “If you’ve lived here 20-30 years, why SHOULDN’T you shift the tax burden to the person who moved here 3 weeks ago & paid $750 k in cash for their house?”

-CAP EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION

-Some people were talking about organizing several people to hire a lawyer to appeal

-One guy was all “If we could only go to the state house with badly spelled signs like the tea party…you have to make them FEAR you!” (I was thinking “Uh…where the fuck were you when we actually DID that, only with perfectly-spelled signs – FOR YEARS!”)

-Someone mentioned that the 10% cap on increases is the MAXIMUM, but the taxing entities COULD choose to lower the percentage.

-Another person asserted that developers are buying properties, razing the houses on them, and rebuilding duplexes and triplexes that are then sold to rental agencies who make a huge profit and don’t pay as much in property taxes – she seemed to be saying that there’s some sort of loophole that causes the tax rate on duplexes/triplexes to be lower, and that non owner-occupied houses are taxed at a LOWER rate than owner-occupied houses.

-Two good resources: Austinaffordability.com and Realvaluesfortexas.org

It was an AMAZING meeting. I’m looking forward to seeing where all of this goes. In the meantime, I’m going to file my protest, even though I don’t feel very encouraged that it will get anywhere…

***

Phew! That was a very full weekend.

Lazy Sunday, Lainie Style:

IMG_0759

Asparagus, Pea, and Smoked Gouda Frittata…

First…I like to eat a good breakfast, and feed my mind. Sometimes that means fancy egg dishes and non-fiction…sometimes it means donuts and comic books…or any combination. Usually I cook breakfast for the kids when they’re both here. Sometimes I go out and get something.

It’s still mild enough to sit on the front porch and listen to the birdsong. They’re all going at it out there. It feels perverse to eavesdrop on their mating rituals, but it sure sounds pretty.

Usually one or more of the cats come to visit me while I’m on the porch. One of our cats likes to have her belly rubbed, so if she visits me, she’ll usually flop over on her back and wait for me to do my duty. Another cat likes to approach in friendliness or recline as though inviting you to scratch her belly, but she’s like the venus peopletrap of cats and will clamp down on you HARD if you take her up on her faux offer of belly rub-ness. The last cat…the male cat…just kind of meanders up like, as my son says, the guy whose just crashing on your couch, and says “‘sup?” Whenever that cat comes home, we all say “Cheezee is here!” like it’s some great celebration. Or like the folks at the bar on Cheers greeted Norm. We all kind of speculate Cheezee has another family who he lives with, though he’s been our cat since we rescued him from a foster situation, and is the brother of the tiny cat who loves belly rubs. He’s just that casual. But that’s another story…

Obligatory bluebonnet selfie

Obligatory bluebonnet selfie

On this particular Sunday, after breakfast, I drove my eldest son (aka buddha the grouch) up to a friend’s house in Round Rock and took myself out for a hike. I wanted to go to the Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Preserve, but the GPS led me on some wild adventure through some backroad skirting the park, but not actually at a place where I could enter. Still, it was lovely. I saw hawks circling. It smelled awesome outside and, though hot, it was lush and green in a way I will be missing mid-summer. And I thought a lot about land “ownership” as I passed miles and miles of PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING NO HIKING KEEP OUT signs in front of some of the most beautiful land in Texas. And it pisses me off that people can own property and disallow people from entering…not even to hike or just have a picnic…and yet we continue to also cede our public land to private use. In other words – it was really sad to me that I had to drive for over 20 minutes or so actively seeking somewhere that I could just walk around in nature without trespassing.

But I found a place. Meager though it was, it allowed me the exact experience I needed. I don’t even remember the name of the “Recreational Area” I ended up at, but it had a boat launch and a picnic area, and it was LCRA land right alongside the Colorado River. So, I parked, I threw on my backpack, I put on my headphones, and I started walking. Then I took off my headphones, because I realized it was absolutely silent, save for the birds and the chirruping grasshoppers. Also because it was really fucking hot and my ears were sweating.

I had no idea what to expect. I just wandered around until I found something that looked like it might possibly be a trail. Encouraged by a lack of “No Trespassing” signs, I meandered off for awhile until I found the shoreline and, surprise! Beautiful wildflowers everywhere.

I was vaguely amused by the fact that someone in one of the gigantic houses across the water was blasting Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on their no doubt multi-thousands of dollar sound system loud enough for me to hear it crystal clear across the water. I never understood why people build such huge houses so close together. I would want to build a tiny house on a large plot of land.

I hope his neighbors like the devil rock!

I hope his neighbors like the devil rock!

About 3/4 of the way back in what I hoped would be a loop (I wasn’t even really sure if I could get all the way through the way I was going without encountering some impassable obstacle) I found a shady tree under which to sit and write a few things down and just catch my breath and enjoy the sounds and the stillnesses. But I knew if I sat too long, it would be difficult to get moving again. I made a mental note to bring a blanket next time. A nap would have been really nice there. Out in the open with air warm enough to feel like a hug from a good friend.

I decided to “traipse through the woods” to get back to my car the more direct way. So I picked my way through the underbrush, up and down a few little hills on either side of what was apparently once a pretty major waterway, judging from the abundance of shells.

Back to the car – and home. I picked up my younger son (aka The Tao of Bird) and took him out to dinner at his favorite chinese buffet place. I had to stop after one plate, but he ate an astonishing amount of food by any standards, even more by his…as he’s never had a very large appetite.

And home again, where I took a refreshing shockingly-cold shower & stretched out for a nap, feeling sated and pleasantly exhausted…

How was your Sunday?

 

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Something struck me last night at a presentation I attended with the Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable. Something that I want to write about without a witty lyrical title or any images.

First, I want to emphatically acknowledge that if I wasn’t already aware of the incredible challenges those who are re-entering the community after being released from jail or prison face, I certainly would have been after last night’s presentation. I have no lack of empathy for people who have had run-ins with the law to any degree, and particularly with those who have committed non-violent crimes and are struggling with the co-efficient of mental illness (including substance abuse) or those who have been dealt the short hand of being treated as a second-class citizen in our society for any number of reasons that have been proven to put one in a position to choose to commit (or at least be more prone to being prosecuted for committing) crimes or become dependent on substances…or both.

However, one thing that was mentioned last night and was celebrated as a victory kind of hit me in the gut and has stuck there like a stone ever since. One of the presenters stated that the laws have recently changed so those who are re-entering are able to delay their obligations to pay child support upon release. This is meant to help ease the burden of the formerly-incarcerated, but it made my head buzz. After listening to the panelists talk about the other debt collectors who required immediate attention upon release: bankers, student loan officers, and the prison system itself, which charges for monthly P.O. visits, among other things…it was stunning to me that the person/people who were expected to bear the brunt of easing the burden on the newly-released would be the children of the formerly-incarcerated. How on earth do we justify that? Is there no way to suspend college loan payments, mortgages, or credit card debt for a period after release? Do we really need to further burden the parent who has already been burdened by being the sole provider for a child while the other parent has been in jail? Is this what we call progress?

I guess it’s my experience as a single parent that informs my outrage over this. I mean, it’s bad enough that there are people out there who view child support as “indentured servitude” by the other parent. I hear so many stories of non-custodial parents who haven’t been incarcerated who actually have the fucking nerve to be irritated with the custodial parent for expecting them to, you know, earn a fucking living and pay their fair share of support, as if the custodial parent actually has a choice to do so. And now this from the state – this dismissal of the very real challenge of being the sole financial provider of children who have two TWO *TWO* parents. As a single parent with primary custody, I don’t have the option to opt-out, delay, or postpone taking care of my child’s everyday needs. I simply have to find a way.

And, while I know those who have been recently released from jail or prison have a significantly more difficult time finding a way, I feel if the state is compelled to make it an option for them to opt out, postpone, or delay these responsibilities, it ought to take responsibility on behalf of its recently released inmates and provide assistance to the co-parent of those it chooses to incarcerate. Anything less than that is flat out invalidating the challenges of those parents and children who are the collateral damage of our (in)justice system, and by association – it even manages to invalidate the need for all children to have the support of both of the people who chose to bring them into the world, whether they’ve been incarcerated or not.

Me: The birds look like apostrophes

Him: What are the words if the birds are apostrophes?

Several of us gathered today to say goodbye to a friend who passed away. We met at City Hall, where most of us originally entered one another’s lives. And we walked together to the tree on the other side of the river on which little medallions were pinned to mark the deaths of  others who, like our friend Chris, were houseless but not without friends in life or in death.

Several people told stories of their friendship with Chris. Universally, we agreed he was a gentle man. A quiet man. A man who forced us to slow down and think. And rethink. And as I listened, I realized I was not only mourning the loss of Chris, but also the loss of that time. That time when we all gathered several times a week to slow down, sit down…and talk. And listen. And plan together. And just to gather with a group of people from disparate backgrounds and experiences – a group of people who, under normal circumstances, might never get a chance to meet – and become aware of each other as fellow humans…and struggle together. And learn from each other. And totally fuck up in the presence of each other. And forgive each other. And try again.

I didn’t tell any stories today. Today, I listened. The truth is, I didn’t have a lot of stories to tell about Chris. I cared about him. I tried to look out for him the best I could. I respected his growth and his journey. I remember him.  I will miss him. But it’s not enough to miss someone like Chris. It’s not enough to mourn and be sad and go on living and forgetting all that I have learned through my friendship with Chris, and through all of the other unlikely companions I’ve been blessed to come to know over the past few years. There were so many lessons learned. So many I forgot. It’s time to remember them now. It’s time to come out of hibernation and be present in the world again, and open to listening and sharing and relating.

The things I have learned as an occupier are lessons I have needed to learn my whole life. And I’m not merely talking about social and economic justice. I’m talking about taking the time to really see people. To see AND hear them. Taking the time to be present in public spaces and share with people. I don’t think I’m done learning those lessons yet. I don’t think I’ve learned them well enough, and I think they are too easily forgotten. I still have a too-frequent tendency to hide myself away. To hurry from one thing to the next without stopping and giving time to appreciate the unexpected. I still frequently neglect the things that are most important while freely frittering time on things that have no soul-nutritional value.

This is how I know that Occupy is not dead. Because we haven’t learned these lessons yet. We are too easily distracted and divided. And until we can learn to come together and be present, we will continue to Occupy where we should be Living.

Rest in Peace, dear Chris. I hardly knew you, but I certainly loved you. In honor of your memory, I plan to spend at least an hour every Sunday occupying the steps of City Hall with my sketchbook and journal. People watching, and hopefully conversing. Maybe I’ll bring a sign…maybe I’ll go incognito. It’s not 3 General Assemblies a day, every day…but it’s something. Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

IMG_8868Had the pleasure of seeing and rousing rabble with a lovely group of ladies who I spent a significant portion of my summer with today. The day was lovely, the reunion was raucus and celebratory. And I just so enjoyed seeing a crowd of people united for a cause again.

However, I feel I need to address something that made me feel uneasy, and will likely continue to make me uneasy about political organizing/gathering around causes that regard personal and collective autonomy which needs to be defended within the legislative process. Too often, these causes are co-opted by political parties and candidates that attempt to direct the participants to “stand for” “vote for” and “support” them. And it’s frustrating. First, because no one political party has a monopoly on any particular issue – so, turning a rally for an issue that a good number of individual people feel passionate about into a means of promoting your party or candidate by holding banners for said candidate or party makes it seem as though we are marching for that party or candidate, rather for the rights that we as individuals are entitled to. Second, because political parties and candidates are supposed to stand for and support US. IMG_8890

I’m pretty sure my beautiful, strong sisters who chained themselves to the railings of the chamber – and others who put their bodies on the line in one way or another – during the HB2 special sessions last summer were not doing it to stand with a political candidate, or to encourage people to vote for a particular political party at all. I’m pretty sure many of them, if not most, did it to express outrage at a system that oppresses, endangers, and stigmatizes people without apology and without regard for the fact that we are standing right there in the same room WATCHING them do it. In my opinion, acts of civil disobedience are the furthest thing from politics that can be imagined. They are acts of passion and sincere love and emotion – and as might be expected with anti-political actions, they are frequently discouraged and downplayed by political candidates and parties. I remember being scoffed at and told that it would be silly of me to expect a political candidate to outwardly express sympathy for our injured brother Josh, who was taken to the hospital after being brutalized by DPS officers moments before said political candidate emerged from the building, surrounded by her own DPS bodyguards. How dare I assume that a political candidate whose banner I would be forced to march under at every gathering until election day would risk the political suicide that would no doubt arise from her showing concern for someone who was fighting for the same cause that we are all supposed to stand with her and fight for?

IMG_8826And while it’s all very well and good and understood that politicians have a role to play in this spectacle, the reality in my eyes is we as individuals must collectively rise up and make it clear that we are continuing to watch them and we will not sit down and shut up and allow anyone to legislate away our rights. We must make it very clear that it is absolutely unacceptable AND WE WILL NOT SILENTLY AND POLITELY ALLOW ANYONE TO FURTHER OPPRESS OUR SISTERS WHO ARE ALREADY MARGINALIZED. I hope everyone remembers this as they shame us with admonitions to vote out of one side of their mouths, while they condemn, discourage, and even shame those who take direct action out of the other. We need to remember this movement…really ALL movements, are about people. And even though I believe the personal is political, I think it’s wise to ensure the people, rather than political candidates, hold the power.

Had a lovely few days off there. Really took lots and lots of time to just relax, slowly accomplishing in the most inefficient way possible. Luxuriating in time and (mostly) solitude. Oh, it was great. And so very apparently exactly what I needed.

I spent some time setting my intentions for the new year, and thinking about where I was last year. I have a lot of things to be thankful for. Last year I was stressed out about my job – knowing I would probably be getting laid off soon, and not feeling like I had a lot of control over it. And, really, not feeling very happy in the role. I found myself fondly remembering my days at Kinko’s because at least there I had a sense of camaraderie among my co-workers & relatively little spite and competition. I craved a kind of teamwork in my workplace that I wasn’t getting where I was. And though my layoff was way more sudden and unexpected than I expected, I was almost instantly relieved to be ending that phase of my life, and I was lucky enough to  have another job that I was pretty certain I would get, with that glorious 2 month cushion of funemployment. I’m so thankful that unemployment for me wasn’t a neverending ordeal, as it is for so many very qualified people in the workforce. And at the end of it all, I now have a job that, yes, pays less – but saves so much more in so many other ways. Mostly just preserving my creative energy for things that matter. I have more time now, without a commute or other necessary components of leaving the house for work. I’m here for the kids, whether any of us like it or not (hahaha), and eating lunch from home means less convenience foods and more cooking for me. It’s truly been a blessing for me. I read for at least an hour a day most days. I NEVER had time for reading before this year. Or I never made time.

In the coming year, I want to continue to read daily, and to also spend more time writing and creating. I want to continue to be sure my worklife doesn’t envelope my non-work life. I want to live as modestly as possible and enjoy the lack of stress for awhile, and to not be in a huge hurry to seek out promotions and advancements Pacing, pacing, pacing. Gaining something almost always requires that you lose something else. Be sure to weight the loss with the gain.

I’m also really happy about how well the kids handled the transitions this year. This time last year, I was forced to concede to put the Tao of Bird into public school, in spite of the fact that he’d been homeschooled since birth. It was agreed to allow Buddha the Grouch to continue to homeschool, but the plan has always been for him to take dual-credit courses. Though it was very frustrating to have my choices for the children, not to mention the hard work I have put into ensuring they had an enriching learning environment here at home, drawn into question in spite of the fact that the boys are academically successful in every. single. measurable. way. – I’m so very proud of both of my boys for continuing to make adjustments to accommodate the things we are unable to control. I’m incredibly thankful for those two resilient, strong, and intelligent young men.

13 years ago or so, after I gave birth to the Tao of Bird, my ex asked me if I regretted that I didn’t have any girls. I looked him straight in the eyes and I said “No. I really think the universe is trying to correct something here.”

So far…knock on wood…I feel like that is likely the case.

In the coming year, I want to continue to give both of the boys the space to become who they will be, and trust that they have the tools to become great men. To accept that they won’t always do things the way I want them to do them, and they might actually even fail at something. Or maybe even their definitions of failure might differ from mine, and I should allow them to be the judges of their own success.

I’ve met some amazing people this year. And while the circumstances that brought us all together weren’t always very happy, my life has been greatly enriched by the acquaintances – nascent and ongoing, brief and long-lasting alike. I’m proud of and grateful for a community of people who continue to struggle to achieve social justice.

In the coming year, I would like to continue to meet amazing superheroes. ❤ And to nurture my relationships with those I already know. As well as, always, taking good care of myself and making sure I have enough time to recharge in precious solitude.

Tangible goals are no fun, but I have some this year: at least 3 issues of the zine – perhaps distributed digitally. That’s the only one I have, or at least the only one I have quantified. I should probably set some other goals, but the zine one is the only one that sounds remotely fun, so I’ll just ignore the other ones. For now.

Other goals: Srsly…I want to learn to play an instrument (damnit) – but I don’t know how I will fit that in; Continue walking daily – maybe even more than I am now; REALLY NEED A GOOD ROAD TRIP – MAYBE IN THE SUMMER…MAAAAAAAYBE SPRING BREAK; continue weekly cooking/family dinner night; plz I can have a decent garden this year…

UPDATE:

I’m sure there will be multiple updates to this guide, so I’m going to put them on top so you can see them quickly…

I can’t believe I forgot to mention the perennial Mama Calendar. Coleen does this calendar every year, and it is always amazing. Here’s her info:

How to order your Mama Calendar: Send $12 by paypal or US mail to: the mama calendar coleen murphy coleen@bust.com
Only $10 if you track me down to get it in person! Also $10 a piece for orders of ten or more. Email for mailing address if you need to pay by check.

I also just stumbled upon this amazing artist on Tumblr. His paintings make me happy, and I love that he makes greeting cards, as well: http://www.etsy.com/shop/jonshawpaintings

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Below is the original post…

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I watch a minimal amount of television. I don’t have cable, and I watch maybe 1 or 2 guilty pleasure shows regularly. But even with that, I’ve already seen enough “buy buy buy buy buy” commercials that I seriously would like to vomit. Maybe that makes me a grinch. Maybe it’s passe to talk about consumerism and greed over the holidays. Maybe my kids will be in therapy forever because I have, over the years, slowly dialed back the gift giving and traditional holiday celebrating to almost zero. Maybe the real way to show someone you care about them is to brave the crowds on black Friday and give an underpaid Wal-Mart worker something to do on the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t know.

What I DO know is I have a ton of very talented friends and relations who make shit. So, I feel like if you really would like to buy something for someone over the holidays – why not put your consumer dollars directly into the hands of an original artist or craftsperson. Yeah yeah. I know you are broke and handmade shit costs more…but maybe you buy too much, anyway. Maybe forcing yourself to buy something more expensive, and less of it, will help your family value what they *do* get more. I dunno. I don’t think my kids are particularly more evolved than anyone else just because they don’t get a bunch of crap from me over the holidays. And probably this year I won’t end up getting anything except things they really need. But in case you are interested in keeping your holiday dollars in the art/craft economy, here are some suggestions for you. ❤

In no particular order:

Linger Bath and Body: Amber makes some of the best soaps I have ever had the pleasure to use. They retain their fragrance through the whole bar, and she has tons of really great “flavors.” I always keep extra bars on hand for when I have guests, so they think I’m all fancy and shit. And I have my own special bar in the shower that the kids aren’t allowed to use.

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My friend Pam makes the most delicious jams ever. She started sending them as holiday gifts a few years ago, and Tao of Bird would eat them all up before I had much of a chance. When I finally did manage to sneak some onto a piece of toast, I was blown away. So much yum, with unique flavors that go on forever, and ALL proceeds go to bull terrier rescue! Can’t beat that! Here’s what Pam has to say about her Jams:

Kick out the jams!!! And help some awesome li’l doggies along the way. All of my jams, dessert sauces, and mustard are loving made in my very clean but not-government-conforming personal kitchen. All fruit was sourced from one of three small farms — Hardin Farms in Eau Claire, Michigan, the Stella Gardens organic co-op in East Troy, Wisconsin, or the Fickau family orchard in Mukwonago, WI. All liquor used was purchased at a small family business. Flavors range from traditional to mad scientist.

Generally, my stuff comes in 4oz jars, BUT I have a limited number of 8oz jars available. Just ask. Small jars are $5 each, or 3 for $12, or 5 for $20. Large jars are $8. I also have a very, very limited number of Roma tomato quarts for $15 each — they taste just like summer!

Shipping is on you — if you don’t want to use a flat rate box (ideal if you are getting more than one, cuz these are in glass jars), I will let you know the actual shipping cost.

100% of the proceeds go to the Fort Dearborn Bull Terrier Rescue organization. Yes, 100%. So, if you buy five jams, the rescue gets that $20. This way we all get to give a little something to someone

Questions or whatnot, contact me at jamming4bullies@gmail.com

If you’re interested in a fancy gift basket, let me know and I’ll get my crafty mom on it!

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I met Colin Mullin when he started organizing weekly sign-making workshops for Occupy Austin. Now he’s selling prints of some of his beautiful artwork on his website: http://www.colinmullin.com/index.html

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Art by Dan Grzeca

I’m really proud of all of the zinesters I’ve known in my life who have grown up to become independent artists. Of the printmaking variety, Dan Grzeca is probably one of the most prolific. He does amazing works with animal/wooden building themes, and much more. You can check out his prints here: http://groundup.bigcartel.com/

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HappyMakerTreats – Pansy is basically a genius of all things, but she’s especially a genius at making delicious cookies. She can adapt recipes to satisfy any dietary restrictions you might have, and everything she does tastes awesome. I know at least one person who will be getting some Happy Maker Treats this month! You should also indulge! She also makes and sells aprons.

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My friend Jessica recently started making organic merino wool tube socks! Super comfy, soft, and warm! Also, she is doing organic cloth diapers and wool diaper covers on a word of mouth order basis. Contact her at: ohdearjessica@gmail.com, or at http://www.littlefawnorganics.com for diapers.

art by John Porcellino

art by John Porcellino

I’ve known John Porcellino since we both lived in the Chicago area, publishing zines. John was one of the very first local zinesters I knew, and gave me the die-cast bulldozer that became the basis for my tattoo. I’m so glad that John P is still creating and publishing his comic book King Cat Comics and Stories. There are none like him. His books make me happy to be alive. ❤ You can find his comics and other merchandise here: http://www.johnporcellino.blogspot.com/p/buy-comix.html

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Ally Shaw is another zine friend of mine from way back. She now resides in England, and makes the coolest jewelry! I’m vowing this year will be the year that I buy something from her awesome Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/feralstrumpet

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Yet another zine friend who I used to live with in Chicago, Andy Lowry now creates one-of-a-kind decorative home goods. I need to vow to get one of her awesome custom serving trays this year, as well! Check out her website here: http://www.whygirlsgoastray.com.

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Beth Winegarner grew up in the zine world, too. (How awesome is it that zines nurtured so many artistic people into lifelong careers in creative fields!)  Now she’s a journalist, writing books about important topics like this one: http://www.bethwinegarner.com/the-columbine-effect/

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Check out Sarah’s awesome jewelry at her website here: http://www.worldonastring.us/

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Tracie is just getting started creating natural bodycare products under the business name Teabody Naturals. So far, she only has a Facebook Page, but keep your eye out for more information, or email here to find out what she has available: tracie@teabodynaturals.com

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How to describe Imagine? He’s the wonderful child of a friend I made through the internet at the height of hipmama days. Imagine makes incredible Lego designs, and you can find his book here: http://www.blurb.com/b/4566814-imagine-designs. He’s such an awesome kid.

Entrust-460x600Ray Maseman (aka Raymond) is another awesome printmaker. I keep typing things about Raymond’s artwork and it just sounds so silly to describe it, I’m erasing. Whimsical? Silly? Fantastic? All adjectives sound really trite. I think my favorite concept in Raymond’s art is the penguin in a bird-shaped flying machine. That pretty much describes how I feel about all of Raymond’s artwork. It’s like a penguin in a bird-shaped flying machine…or a giraffe in a boat. You can find greeting cards here: http://www.cafepress.com/raymaseman, various cards and merchandise here: http://www.zazzle.com/maseman, and prints here: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A6685299011%2Cp_lbr_three_browse-bin%3ARay%20Maseman

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In addition to my friends who make cool stuff, here are some other suggestions for non-commercial gift giving:

From my friend Karen: My sister makes amazing things, she is hauling her lot to a craft show this weekend but said next week her ebay store will be stocked up. She creates steam punk sculptures, repurposed books, cute stuffed critters along with original paintings and drawings. Her ebay name is pleasant_surprise

Bliss Point Cupcakes: https://m.facebook.com/blisspointcupcakes?ref=stream&_ft_&_rdr

Upcycled goods: http://adaptivereuser.com/home.html

Feel free to make your own suggestions in comments. Independent makers only, please!

P.S. I almost forgot about meeeeee! I will be putting out a new zine this year, as well as postcards. I’m currently doing a fundraiser, and taking pre-orders through that fundraiser. Please help fund my zine and zine library this year. ❤ Thank you. Here’s the link: https://www.wepay.com/donations/oyster-lexicon-zine-and-crustacean-zine-library-fundraiser