Tag Archive: walking


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.

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Yesterday, I submitted my new-hire paperwork for my new job. Today, I had the phone guy come out and install a direct line in my room. He was nice & didn’t charge me, so I took a friend bowling with the money I saved. ❤

I’ve started packing up my room so I can paint, rearrange, and re-organize my space. I’m looking forward to starting with a clean slate in here.

I keep waiting to stress out about money or being unemployed, but I haven’t yet. It’s doubtful I will. My income will be pretty significantly reduced in this new job, but I’ll be working from home, and should be able to save money. Not to mention the fact that I’ll be able to step out during my lunch break and tend to my garden, hang my laundry, sit on the front porch and write in my journal. Take a nap. Do the dishes. You get the picture.

Is this what it’s like to be a grownup? Things just seem to roll off of me. Maybe it’s a result of having been through a hellish year. I was pretty determined that 2013 was NOT going to be another 2012, which was largely spent having the legal battle that had been waiting to happen for the past 10 years or so. I feel like now that’s resolved, I can pretty much take anything on. Even though I technically “lost” (though, really, it’s the kids who lost…but whatever. They are as tough as I am, and will be fine regardless) I am so relieved it is over that nothing can really get to me anymore.

I guess I just feel very fortunate, having been in the presence of so many people who have struggled through and survived far more difficult challenges than I’ve experienced, with far less agency and ability to control the situation. It doesn’t feel right to allow myself to wallow. So I haven’t. And I’m really kind of proud of myself.

After bowling, I went out and got some paint samples for my room, came home and ordered pizza for dinner, watched Mary and Max, which was brilliant, touching, and perhaps a little too sad for the kiddos, but I made them watch it anyway.

Went for a walk.

 

Tree Sweater

Tree Sweater

Observed the sky.

Metal Heart

Metal Heart

And fallen pomegranates.

pomegranates

pomegranates

And the beautiful full moon was my companion.

Full Moon

Full Moon

(I really need to start bringing my real camera out with me on my walks. These photos suck!)

The most pressing decision I needed to make today was where to go get drunk this Saturday in celebration of the end of my freedom.

Personally? I got nothing to complain about.

***

On the other hand…

Fuck this guy:

Noted Constitutional scholar and mayor Michael R. Bloomberg remarked today that given the constant threat of terrorist attacks, America’s views on privacy and freedom may be a tad outmoded. “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry,” Bloomberg said, “But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.” http://gothamist.com/2013/04/23/bloomberg_terrorism_warrants_change.php

And fuck all of these people:

“While nearly 15 million Americans still can’t find jobs due to the 2008 Wall Street-created crash, the top hedge manager, David Tepper, earned $1,057,692 an hour in 2012 – that’s as much as the average American family makes in 21 years!” https://www.adbusters.org/blogs/financial-porno.html

And FUCK ENBRIDGE:

Enbridge’s Line 2 **Line 67 tar sands** pipeline has leaked an estimated 600 gallons of crude oil at its pump station near Viking, Minnesota. Line 2 was built in 1956 and has a history of spills. Regulators ordered Enbridge to reduce its Line 2 operating pressure in October 2010 following the company’s Kalamazoo River tar sands spill. http://www.desmogblog.com/2013/04/24/another-pipeline-leak-enbridge-alberta-clipper-line-67-leaking-tar-sands-bitumen

Also, these assholes at the West Fertilizer Plant…who seem to be taking for granted that people will continue to treat the explosion as a natural disaster rather than a criminal act:

The company’s regulatory history going back to 1976 comes to light as investigators seek the cause of last week’s fertilizer explosion that killed at least 14 people.

For example, in 1987, the company — then known as West Chemical and Fertilizer Co. — was venting ammonia that built up in transfer pipes into the air despite explicit orders in its permit not to do so. The company apparently changed its practices. http://www.dallasnews.com/news/west-explosion/headlines/20130422-west-fertilizers-environmental-compliance-problems-go-back-decades.ece

And mad love for the superheroes striking for fair wages in Chicago:

We, Chicago fast food and retail workers, are striking to demand $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. Our employers are raking in profits while workers, mostly adults with families, don’t get paid enough to cover basic needs like food, rent, health care and transportation. We are willing to risk our jobs to stand up and say ENOUGH. And we need everyone who supports us to join us. It’s time to give every worker a chance to survive and thrive – and strengthen Chicago’s economy. http://fightfor15.org/en/

As well as students who walked out of Chicago schools today, protesting over testing and school closures, and joining with the striking fast food and retail workers in solidarity:

Dozens of Chicago students boycotted a required standardized test on Wednesday in protest of high stakes testing and the city’s plans to close 54 schools as part of deficit reduction measures. The walkout is the latest in a series of community and union protests of the March 21 announcement. http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/04/24/chicago-students-protest-standardized-tests-school-closings/

Habit-Forming

I figure the best time to “start blogging again” ™ is April Fool’s Day. That way, if I don’t ACTUALLY “start blogging again” I can play it off like it was some big April Fool’s joke.

In actuality (or maybe not, depending on whether this is an April Fool’s Joke) I would really like to start blogging again (for realsies – no quotesies) and it seems like the first of the month is a good time to start. Or the first day of my actual unemployment (after the severance pay is gone). Or the first day I’ve vowed to actually Do Something(s) Useful on a daily basis, therefore keeping a blog to document the Something(s) Useful I have done on a daily basis…

You get the picture.

I figure I’ll start easy, like old times, by just talking about what I did on a given day. A day in the life of an unemployed single mother. Maybe I’ll throw some pictures in for good measure. And, perhaps this act of reporting out will motivate me to continue to find interesting things to do on a regular basis and keep my ass out of depression mode and in inspiration mode.

So, today. What did I do today?

First there was Cole, who returned from his weekend with his father early in the morning. We read a bit of Penpal, which is getting quite suspenseful (I swear the author is becoming a better writer as the book progresses.)

I’ve been trying to spend as much time out on my front porch as possible now that I am free from the encumbrance of a morning rush. Today, I made myself a bagel and a cup of yesterday’s coffee and sat out reading Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich while I ate. After which, I went out for a walk, listening to music and writing poetry in my head.

I’m doing a sort of experimental project with voice recognition software. What I’ll do is walk around dictating lines of poetry that pop into my head, and not looking at how it’s translated  into text until much later, after I’ve forgotten what I actually said. Sometimes it’s much better than I ever could have imagined. Sometimes it’s a nonsensical jumble of words. At this point, I’m so averse to writing actual poetry that I would want to claim credit for that I’m happy to take whatever I can get. Perhaps I’ll share some one day. Today, all I got was:

“I am a irrepressible you are implacable but replaceable”

I walked for about an hour or so – enough to sweat and get a little pink – and then I made my way down to the pop-up tent city protest that was taking place just east of downtown. I hung out there for a bit, holding a sign and scheming with the Occupy Austin co-conspirators about stuff.

I’ve been avoiding a lot of social contact over the past few weeks. Avoiding talking things over with friends and acquaintances. I have some ideas for projects that I’m pretty excited about, and because I haven’t shared them, arm-wavingly, with other people, I have been slowly losing steam about getting them started and losing interest. This blog was actually something I schemed to help reverse that trend, although some of my ideas aren’t appropriate for discussion here because they’re private and I don’t want to share them until they are more fully developed. I’m glad I took time out today to talk to people who were able to offer feedback and enthusiasm for some of the plans I am hoping to hatch over the next few months, especially since some of them have plans of their own that I think would be compatible with mine. 🙂

ImageAt any rate, the pop-up tent city action was small, loosely organized, but so wonderful. I honestly can’t express enough about how thankful I am for the work that Occupy Austin and all of its loosely associated factions are doing. Yes, it’s chaotic and frequently disorganized. Yes, there are times when I feel like we don’t have focus. Yes, there’s all manner of other critical things one can say about the group and the individual actions, but the thing that still floors me is that we are a group of people who never ever would have met each other in any other context – some homeless, some housed, some jobless, some employed, with varying degrees of wealth and different cultures – working together to try to make a better world.Image

Sometimes that means standing on a street corner in front of a couple of pitched tents that say “The Shelters are Full” with signs proclaiming “400 beds, 10,000 homeless people” and “open up the buildings.” Sometimes that means organizing a show with a band from Oakland. And sometimes these individual actions seem meaningless, and maybe sometimes they are to some, but they mean a fuck of a lot to me. I’m proud of all of the people who take time out of their lives to organize actions, and so glad I now have the opportunity to support those actions more.

Image

I was out for a couple of hours before I started to get a little sunburned, and figured I should head home to fix dinner for the kiddos. Cooking is one of those other luxuries that I now have time for since I am unemployed. I used to spend Sunday cooking meals for the week, which worked out pretty well, but always made my weekend feel really short. Now I can just cook meals any old time. We’ve been trying to save money on groceries by shopping from a strict pantry list, with only minor deviations, so my challenge is always to find something that utilizes ingredients from that list. It’s been a fun challenge. Today, after winding down for a little while with Wendell Berry’s essay “The Body and the Earth” from _The Art of the Commonplace_,  I made Chickpea Salad with cous cous and steamed broccoli. It was pretty good, though it would have been better if I had made it in the morning and allowed all of the ingredients to have a party together in the fridge and become more marinatedy. Still, it was a nice healthy-ish meal, the kids didn’t complain, and it was super easy to make.

Image

After we ate, I ran out to Occupy Austin General Assembly at the Texas State Capitol. It’s been a very occupy-ish day today. There were only about 6 or 7 people there total, but we somehow managed to draw 4-5 DPS officers to us, which was annoying.

Image

Plans are being made to have a Mayday picnic with teach-ins and other activities, and I’m really excited that I have time to help organize. If you are reading this and you have a skill that you want to share, feel free to let me know. I’m going to be in charge of the teach-ins and skill shares. Aside from potlucks, that’s really my favorite thing to do.

General Assembly was short and informal. We talked about teach-in topics and technology and various things. I made an announcement someone asked me to make about an upcoming event, and the Occupy Austin End Homelessness representative announced their weekly meetings, and then it was over. The DPS agents who were standing around the whole time came down to make sure we didn’t have any contraband (i.e. CHALK – or something equally nefarious like water pistols!) and we all went our separate ways.

So, now here I am. Sunburned but full of excitement and plans. Bursting at the seams, it seems. Ready to close the book on today and get ready for tomorrow’s adventures.

P.S. I almost forgot I am going to end each day’s blog with a list of links that I’ve run across throughout the day and squirreled away at various places around the internet. A link dump, is what the kids used to call it, but that would just make everyone around here guffaw, so I won’t call it that:

Declaration of the Eviction-Free Zone

Ongoing Tech Problems Can Make You Feel Pranked

Announcing SXSWUni