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Does Carnegie Vanguard’s HOLY DAY go too far for high school theatre?

Don’t come to Carnegie Vanguard High School’s UIL One-Act Play (OAP) production of Holy Day by Andrew Bovell expecting laughs. This isn’t Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Over the River and Through the Woods, or The 39 Steps. If you want to see something familiar, perhaps The Caucasian Chalk Circle for the umpteenth time, then I am sure there will be a production around the corner. There are three productions of The Caucasian Chalk Circle alone next week at Texas’s UIL One-Act Play Competition in Austin where Carnegie Vanguard will compete for the 6A State Championship with its highly original production of Holy Day.

If you are looking for professional-grade theatre that is brave, raw, and real, then Holy Day will deliver. Holy Day received its world premiere in 2001 at the State Theatre Company in South Australia. Since then, the play has received few productions, making this a powerfully fresh choice for a Texas high school theatre competition. In 2014, Carnegie Vanguard won the 5A UIL OAP state competition with When the Rain Stops Falling, another Andrew Bovell title.

Holy Day begins with two men and a mute boy entering a traveler’s inn. The minister’s wife appears—her husband has died, the church has burned to the ground, and her baby has been stolen, supposedly by Aboriginal peoples. The remaining 40 minute cutting (per UIL OAP rules) entangles greed and survival between the four leading players: the inn-keeper Nora, the drunken nomad Goundry, the minister’s wife Elizabeth, and the Aboriginal woman Linda. All four actors deliver performances unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a high school stage. Indeed, as the performances in Holy Day demonstrate, to call Carnegie Vanguard “high school theatre,” which often comes with a connotation of “amateur,” would be to undermine it.

Holy Day explores colonialism, brutality, deceit, murder, and racism on the 19th century Australian frontier, on the borderlands of white and black, of frontier life and indigenous life. While Carnegie Vanguard’s production design is beautiful, with professional-looking projections on a jagged-edged tableau, this is indeed a story about the ugly side of life on the frontier and the realities of colonialism.

Aside from the gorgeous projections, Holy Day features a soundscape of rain, thunder, and didgeridoos. The bare set—save a tree and a table—is filled with a shadowy vastness, a metaphor for the harsh expanse of the Australian outback and the secrets that lie in the shadows of Carnegie Vanguard’s powerful Holy Day. As the projections show, life on the frontier is in a constant state of motion that involves violent collisions amidst a world of heightened naturalism. The vast darkness allows the spectator to focus on Bovell’s words and the explosive performances that give them life. Each character is nuanced and flawed in some way. No one is left unscathed.

As an Australian Gothic play, Holy Day often shows the ugly side of humanity by rendering a frighteningly real look at the effects of colonialism in Australia. The play offers a glimpse into the atrocities of colonialism against the Aboriginal population in Australia where, much like in the United States, European settlers pushed indigenous peoples off their lands and, in many cases, murdered them. As Holy Day shows, children were taken by settlers to be raised as Christians, only to become the servants to white settlers and the victims of physical abuse. As in the United States, these histories are not taught across the curriculum in Australia, making Holy Day a bold choice for Carnegie Vanguard to start a dialogue through theater.

Yet, as anyone who has been following Carnegie Vanguard’s road to the UIL OAP State Finals has observed, the dialogue has instead centered on unfounded complaints from opposing schools that the production is “offensive.” People are asking “What is too far for high school theatre?” and “How edgy should high school theatre be?” In fact, many of the people weighing in against Holy Day have admittedly not seen this production nor read the play script. I’m looking at you, Todd Starnes, who penned an opinion piece, “School play depicts rape, filthy language and public urination,” for Fox News. Simply put, if you haven’t seen or read the play then you have no right to be offended.

Would classics such as Carousel not go “too far” if they were directed with a heavy hand to foreground the domestic violence inflicted on Julie Jordan? Could this not be potentially traumatizing to an audience member who has experienced domestic violence? Is it acceptable to sing racist lyrics in West Side Story while your high school’s students of color are experiencing overt and subtle racism on a daily basis. Examples such as these are innumerable.

Let me break Holy Day down from my perspective of having seen the production three times.

Some have complained about the language in the play. Yes, Holy Day includes a few profanities—“bitch,” “shit,” and “bastard”—but this language is used to accurately capture the historical moment that Holy Day portrays. Sure, these words might be offensive to some in 2016, but have you walked down the halls of a high school in the last 20 years? Have you seen a high school play outside of the bubble you live in? Have you seen a PG-13 movie recently? Have you read a John Green young adult novel recently?

One of Todd Starnes’ chief complaints is the depiction of sex and rape in Holy Day, which I will add, never happen on-stage. Yes, we hear the screams of both characters once they are off-stage, but we never see it (many of the complaints have made it sound like these rape scenes occur on-stage). Of course, rape and sexual violence are difficult topics, but if we can’t be having these conversations in theatre then where can we have them? Is theatre not supposed to be a place to have difficult conversations and get people talking? We do a disservice to our students to ignore the topic of rape. As nearly every statistic reveals, 1-in-4 women in college are the victim of rape or sexual assault. The numbers are staggering by any standard. Sexual assault is very real and, like it or not, a lived reality of high school aged-students, both male and female.

Others are upset that a character in Holy Day urinates and that another female character washes her private parts. The fact that I saw this production 3 times and neither of these things ever stood out to me is significant. The reason is simple; Holy Day is not a play about either of these things. They are quick glimpses that add nuances to each character. Even so, since when is urinating away from the audience upstage offensive? People have been saying that the actor “drops his pants.” Yes, he drops his pants and is wearing long johns. Do I need to recount every high school play I have seen with a boy in long johns or a girl in a slip?

So, does Holy Day go too far? Is it too edgy? My answer is a resounding “no.”

The play met the community standards. The principal approved it. Houston ISD approved it and issued a statement supporting the production. The Carnegie Vanguard parents have unwaveringly supported the show. The contest managers and adjudicators of six rounds advanced the play to the next round, often in the first place slot. Not to mention that there have been copious amounts of warnings before all rounds of UIL OAP competition. There were printed warnings in the program and on the doors. And, at nearly every round, the contest manager issued a warning before the play, reminding the audience that the play was approved by the principal. In all instances, warnings reiterated that the plays competing met their community standards and may not be acceptable for all audiences.

So what is the problem? The fact that complaints have nearly entirely come from parents associated with opposing schools whose work was not to Carnegie Vanguard’s level is revealing. Rather than publically speak against the bold work of these students, why not make a vow to improve your own work? Help your students hone their craft during the summer. Find opportunities for self-growth. Make the best use of your professional development funds. Don’t have professional development funds? Fundraise and make it happen. Pick an exciting and new play that showcases your cast’s talents. Be bold with your design. Be creative. Don’t use projections for the sake of simply using projections. Make sure your play’s cutting is dramaturgically sound.

I urge anyone who can to see Carnegie Vanguard’s Holy Day—Friday, May 20 in Houston and Wednesday, May 25 in Austin. It isn’t often you can see high school professional theatre like this.


Carnegie Vanguard will be performing Holy Day at the world-renowned Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland this August. Please go here to donate to this life-changing opportunity for these students!

Holy Day 2

 

 

“The Stories of Us” by Jelisa Jay Robinson

Stories of Us 2

Somewhere around the middle of Jelisa Jay Robinson’s The Stories of Us at Teatro Vivo in Austin, it hit me. I couldn’t recall seeing a play that so boldly tackled Blackness, Latinidad, and Afro-Latinidad. Sure, I’ve seen plays with Afro-Latin@ characters and lots of Latin@ plays, but nothing quite like The Stories of Us. Black. Brown. Neither. Both. The Stories of Us offers a rich and nuanced view of life in the contemporary United States. These are stories that need to be told all across the nation, from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between. Produce this play!

The Stories of Us began as The Untold Stories while Robinson was still an undergrad Theatre and Latin American Studies major at the University of Texas at Austin. The play was later selected for Teatro Vivo’s Austin New Latino Play Festival in 2015 and received a full production this April-May under the direction of Florinda Bryant. The play is a series of vignettes that explores the intersections between Blackness and Latinidad and how this complex relationship continues to influence these (sometimes) overlapping communities today.

Besides “The Wobble” and knockout performances from Stacye Markey and Krysta Gonzales (who I finally got to meet!), what struck me the most about the play was Robinson’s writing. This girl has got it! She is doing important work to update the narrative on multicultural identity in 2016. As The Stories of Us demonstrates, we need to be having conversations about Afro-Latinidad. We need to understand the nuances of being Black in America, being “black enough,” having that “good hair,” being Latin@, speaking Spanish, having light skin, being racialized, passing, and using certain language (the play includes a poignant vignette about using the “n” word). Yet, why in 2016 are these conversations so few and far between in theatre, especially  in Latin@ theatre? Why isn’t there more Afro-Latinidad on stage?

Aside from the play itself, perhaps my favorite part of seeing The Stories of Us was witnessing a young artist find success by telling her stories, her truths. Robinson is living her dream and it’s beautiful to witness! I first met Robinson earlier this year and, through a combination of happenings, she has quickly become an important part of my writing community in Houston. My tribe—Jasminne Mendez, Icess Fernandez Rojas, Lupe Méndez, Josh Inocéncio, and, now thankfully, Jelisa Jay Robinson.

Stories of Us

Artist Profile: Lupe Méndez

Name: Lupe MéndezLupe Mendez

Hometown: Galveston, Tejas

Residence: Houston, Tejas

What is your earliest memory of writing?
I remember writing words on wax paper at my school when I was 5 or 6—I would write the words I knew in Spanish and then the teacher would point out the words in English—and they would post them all over the classroom. The words in Spanish were red and words in English were in black. I remember loving the sound of words as a kid. I don’t think I ever stopped writing.

How does Texas inform your writing?

It is my second home. I don’t even know the whole state, so I can’t say that the whole state informs my writing, but anything along the gulf coast informs my writing. Anything between Galveston to El Paso; The RGV (specifically, San Benito) to Austin informs who and what I write about. There is a spirit that lives along the waters, the cackle of gavilanes, the energy behind hurricanes and their parties that ties me to Texas. The beach, the waves, the salt air, the sight of a storm on the horizon of the water, a night on a jetty with a bottle of brandy, the sand between the cracks of skin, this informs my understanding of Texas. I am a foreigner to Hill Country, I don’t know its mesas, but I know its mesquites, I know its huizaches, I know Tejas. I know the side of the state that reflects the people I can speak with. I know Tejano. I don’t know all the places George Strait sang about, but I know all the corridos he didn’t.

I write in duality not just in language, but a state of mind, a geographical metaphysicality. I am hyper aware of what a bat and a lechuza are and why they are different in Texas and Jalisco. I am an odd representative of both. You tell someone outside of Texas that you are from Texas, they think Austin, or Dallas or Houston—but you say Galveston and they think “WTF?”, you surprise them. Same goes with Mejicanos in Texas, you say, “Soy Mejicano” and most will guess from San Luis Potosi or Monterrey – I say Jalisco, I say Atotonilco El Alto and they say “Qu-Que?”

I think of the poverty I grew up in and I think about the richness of my life and I know, monetarily, I might have been poor, but if I could take you with me, so you can see Los Altos de Jalisco, the way I know then and the beaches of my Galveston, the way they blessed me, then you would know, I am one of richest cabrones you’ve ever known. I write from these two points of view. If I could tell about life through shoes, I own country ass work boots for the cerros and chanclas for the sand.

Tell us about Damas y Caballeros.

Damas y Caballeros came about as the collection of poems under my MFA thesis. It has taken a new turn. I beefed it up. I added myself more to it. I was advised to take things out, to not be too repetitive with images and I did that—but I kept finding works that keep adding to the picture. It is a 4 part collection of how I view women and men. It is the raw relationships that exist. It Is a snapshot of a boy who watched the world whirl by always asking why things happened. It is me paying respects to the men and women in my life, the memory of who they were, of who they are in the world as they exist, because they still exist. One part, the grandest part is “Women”—all the poems here are reverent poems, almost prayers in respect to the image of women. “(Me)n” is about the men and the image of man, self reflective image of masculinity. It is all the elements I derive my masculinity from. “Ellas” is a 10 part poem about the relationships I have been in, up until I got married. “Ellos” are the poems about the intertwined instances of men and women.

At the root of it all, it is about people. There is magic in people, there is truth in struggle and complexity in completing something. These poems are for me humble sacrifice in order to respect what I see in the world. It is 68 pages long. It is fierce and bold and sharp. Read with caution or at least after a shot of brandy or mezcal.

What else are you working on now?

Currently I am working on a few projects. I am working on archiving the Word Around Town Poetry Tour—we just completed 10 years of work, bringing 20+ poets to 7 seven different venues in 7 days. I am working with the Houston Metropolitan Research Center to archive this work.

Next and most dear to my heart is Tintero Projects, a new (old) format for Latinx writing in Houston. It is basically the emerging writer’s arm of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say. For brown writers in the Houston-Galveston area, there aren’t any Latino-centric places to write from. There is no place to call home for Latino writing—no venues that host workshops or open mic nights for emerging Latinx writers. I want to change that. Nuestra Palabra started the work and built forward—bringing in established writers to local venues like Talento Bilingue de Houston and then building forward more by establishing the biggest book festivals in Texas under the Latino Book and Family Festival and bringing writers on the air with the current NP radio show on KPFT (Tuesdays at 6p – 90.1FM – PLUG!), but the emerging writer part can always be revisited and that’s what I want to get at. I want to be able to help polish up new writers, set them up for success, get them ready for the time when they will get a bigger spotlight on the NP stage, get them ready for the next platform. Tintero Projects is then, the home of ermerging Latinx writers. With the help of Jasminne Mendez and Dee!colonize we will provide a space for writers to practice craft in safe spaces, in the languages they know best. We will provide open mic nights, workshops and radio opportunities all of the preparation for the big leagues (Nuestra Palabra showcases, radio interviews, writing features, etc.)

As an educator, you are constantly engaging with young people. How do your students inform your activism? Your writing?

They are my pulse. I know the way the world works because of the work I do in my classroom. It sounds cheesy, and real douchie of me to say it, but I always remember a non literary literary quote “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I would morph it a bit—If you want to know strength and the weakness in a nation, in a system, look to the way it treats its prisoners, its students, its elderly. The activism comes from a want and a need to see my students succeed. They go through things that are familiar to me and then there are those that go through things I haven’t even begun to understand. In order to do right by a student, I have to work to prepare the world for their coming up in it. The writing is merely me being a witness to what I go through with them, because I go through this life with my students in mind. To be an educator is to share a life with a child so that they can see your errors and your successes. I write to this in as many different ways as possible.

Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

HA! It’s me when I can’t keep in the words anymore. It’s me between 9pm to 2am writing words or typing them in no total order, all to the sound of acid jazz or house, or bossa nova, or chill step. I edit later, later in the week, later in the month, later in the year, in 3 years, in 10. But I am always writing something.

What books have had the biggest impact on your trajectory?

I would say early on:
Frankinstein – M. Shelly
The Collected Works of E. Allen Poe
Tortuga – Rudolfo Anaya
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
Anything by Jose Marti
Loose Woman – Sandra Cisneros
Curandera – Carmen Tafolla
The Sadness of Days – Luis Omar Salinas
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Idiot – F. Dostoyevsky
Emplumada – Lorna Dee Cervantes

Recent Influences:
A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying – L Anne Guerrero
Empire – Xochlitquetzal Calendaria
The Truth is We Are Perfect – Janaka Stucky
When My Brother Was an Aztec – Natalie Diaz
Slow Lighting – E. C. Corral
Borderlands – Gloria Anzaldúa
The Bell Jar & Colossus – Sylvia Plath
The Trouble Ball – Martin Espada
The Book of Light – Lucille Clifton

Who are your writing mentors and heroes?

Pat Telschick (my English high school teacher), Tony Diaz, my wife Jasminne Mendez, Junot Diaz, Tim Hernandez, Sasha Pimentel, Carmen Tafolla, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Martin Espada, Dagoberto Gilb, Raul Salinas, to name a few.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

Try, fail, keep trying, your art and your attitude will be the red carpet you will walk on one day.

What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Don’t freak out so much. You should go check out the big city when you get a chance. You need to go back to New Orleans at least one more time, and get ready—all the studying you did on politics will come in handy one day.

Lupe Mendez 1

And, now James Lipton’s questions from Inside the Actor’s Studio.

What is your favorite word?

In English: advocate

In Spanish: cacahuate

What is your least favorite word?

Hispanic

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Open-mindedness

What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

A know-it-all who does nothing

What sound or noise do you love?

A rainstorm coming in off the ocean

What sound or noise do you hate?

Crying over a death

What is your favorite curse word?

hijo-desu-requete-p**a-madre

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Farmer

What profession would you not like to do?

Fox News personality

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Glad you finally made it, we wouldn’t start the party without you…

***For more on Lupe Mendez, see:

Artist Profile: Jasminne Méndez

J Mendez

While sitting in the Alamo Room at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel in San Antonio last Saturday night, I witnessed something special. As part of the American Literature Association Symposium on Borders and Frontiers in American Literature, my colleague Claire M. Massey and I organized a night of Latin@ poetry featuring local Texas writers Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros, Jasminne Méndez, Lupe Méndez, and Natalia Treviño. We had originally planned to submit a panel featuring the 4 writers but the conference organizer, Steven Frye, graciously provided us with the coveted closing reception slot.

And while all four poets were superb, I was so moved by Jasminne Méndez’s performance that I immediately became inspired to write about this piece and help spread the word about this powerhouse performance poet, who, according to Tony Díaz “El Librotraficante,” performs in 6-D, or 10-D as I would argue.

Although I’m positive our paths crossed sooner, I first came into contact with Jasminne on the opening night of the 2015 NACCS Tejas Foco when she performed several of her poems. I wanted to meet her afterwards, but she was swarmed by college students buying her book, getting autographs, and taking pictures with la poeta. It would take 6 months for Jasminne and I to meet at a conference in New Orleans (it was a hug situation, not a handshake, if that tells you anything). Since then, we’ve become frequent writing buddies, collaborators, and great friends.

Méndez’s first book, Island of Dreams (Floricanto Press, 2013), uses poetry and memoir to explore themes such as family relationships, multicultural identity in the United States, food, hair, self-discovery, assimilation, and the supposed American Dream. Positioning her writing from the voice of her teenage self, Méndez’s poetry-infused memoir speaks to the difficulty of growing up Afro-Latina in the United States and, ultimately, the protagonist—and the writer—comes to understand the richness and abundance of her cultural identity and history. In the end, she finds a place to call home. Aside from being included in high school and university curriculums across the country, Island of Dreams won the award for Best Young Adult Latino Focused Book at the prestigious Latino Book Awards in 2015.

When I first read Island of Dreams, I recognized the beauty of knowing that Jasminne has become the woman that the teenage narrator of the collection wished she had in her life. This is part of why Jasminne’s work as a teaching artist in Houston-area schools is so important—to have Afro-Latina voices in our schools to inspire young people.  Jasminne is a mentor and a role-model to so many students and aspiring writers.

While her work jumps off the page, Jasminne’s work as a performer truly sets her apart and demonstrates what a singular  talent she is. I’ve witnessed few performance poets who can move me in the way that Méndez does. Need convincing?

***For more on Jasminne Méndez, please see:

RIP Tato Laviera (1951-2013)

I wrote this poem a few weeks ago and my friend Sarah told me it was “very Tato Laviera” and suggested the title.

“If Tato Laviera Lived in Montrose”

To Tato

I’m reading Russian theory based on French theory in Spanish while thinking in English at a Mexican-American-run coffee shop empire with a Montmartre French feeling on a German-named avenue in a Texan neighborhood.

Houston: It’s Not What You Thought It Was

When we picked up Daniel and Cristin from the airport on Friday afternoon, I never in my wildest imagination expected us to make pit stops at a Blockbuster Video (mind blown) and a nightclub on Richmond Avenue, but we did! I should have seen this coming. After all, I had officially told our guests that this trip was called “Houston: It’s NOT What You Thought It Was.” Other people have been given a similar Houston experience by Kayla and I (Kristen! Kelsey!), and all of them can attest that on their way to the airport they understand that Houston isn’t what the rest of the country thinks it is. Sure, it is an oil boomtown that is growing at a rapid clip while the rest of the country sputters through a recession, but Houston has character. Houston has weird stuff. Houston has art. Houston has diversity. Houston has the Astros….errr….the Astros!

We were thrilled to have Daniel and Cristin staying with us for the weekend and getting their first taste of Houston. Cristin and Kayla grew up and went to high school together (Fallbrook what what). They go way back. They were in show choir together in 8th grade (before Glee made it cool – they were pre-hipsters in a way) and that pretty much says it all. Cristin and Daniel have been living in Boston for a few years after moving for work so we don’t get to see them as much as we’d like to, but when we do we always end up having a great time.

We started off the weekend at El Tiempo Cantina for their first taste of Tex-Mex. Kayla and I went there the night before with some of our family (Ciolinos) that was in town. No lie, every person that visits us wants to go to El Tiempo and I can’t blame them. The place is the best Mexican in Houston and maybe anywhere in the States. Daniel put on a fajita-eatingdevouring clinic with the help of his Aggie sister Erin (A A A A…she stayed with us Friday night). After dinner we saw some odd Houston sites such as the Beer Can House. Inspirational? Perhaps. Then we took them to Burp the Bayou. Burping the Bayou is so much fun it is sick. Right on the bayou next to the Wortham Center there is a red button. You press it and….I don’t want to give it away, but it is so wrong it is right. Post bayou-burping, we went to James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace at Rice University. I’ve blogged before about this place and I have to say that it never disappoints. Each subsequent visit adds a new layer to the experience. Daniel, Cristin, and Erin seemed to really enjoy it. The docent told Daniel that he was pissing her off because he had out his cell phone. It was a real friendly Texas welcome!

Things we learned Friday night – Kayla is not as good at Mexican Train Dominos as she believes. Collectively, we can quote the entirety of Pitch Perfect. Daniel is pitch perfect. I have absolutely no resistance to red velvet ANYTHING.

On Saturday morning, Kayla and I cooked a big breakfast for everyone. We learned who is ok with letting their food touch and who needs multiple plates (me). Daniel and Cristin were doubling up this weekend. Daniel’s boss is from Houston and got married Saturday afternoon. While they were living it up at the wedding, Kayla and I were missing them. When we got the phone call at 6:30 that they were coming back, we did a metaphorical Bryan Brothers chest bump.

Who knew there was a Blockbuster Video in the Heights? We were at the corner of 20th and Main when Cristin spotted the relic of a time gone by. We immediately lost all control of ourselves. We had thought that Blockbuster went completely out of business a few years ago. Therefore, we were convinced that we had done some form of hot tub time travel. However, we were in my car so it was probably more Back to the Future than anything else. The inside of Blockbuster could have been the strangest place in Texas. Everything was faded and looked like 1999 (or maybe 2000 if Y2K had gone as planned). They had a “Now Hiring” sign. Interesting. From there, we went to a 24-hr Shipley’s Donuts and Daniel and Cristin lost their Shipley virginity. Daniel told the woman working that he had never had one before and she looked at him like he was insane. An adult Shipley’s virgin? You better believe it!

And then the night took an interesting turn. Apparently, they like to country line dance and two-step and where better to do that (Thanks, Yelp) than Wild West on Richmond. Yes, we went out to a club on Richmond Avenue. The whole time I felt like I was in a Gwendolyn Zepeda short story. “For one more song, dollar fifty Tequila shots. Get your picture taken with Ashley the sexy shot girl as she pours it into your mouth.” Oh dear Lord, I wish I was joking. I wrote that quote down. We didn’t get shots, but not because of Ashley. She seemed wholesome enough. She really knew how to pour a tequila shot. Daniel and Cristin showed us how to two-step and we TORE IT UP. I had to pull Kayla off of the dance floor a few times. She was a woman possessed….with a newfound love of country music!

Things we learned – The Wobble is a line dance. It isn’t the best line dance. Jack n’ the Box at 2:30am is delicious! We like when our friends come in town, but we miss them when they go to weddings. Blockbuster Video does exist, albeit in a strange way. Parking at Wild West is difficult, but Kayla handles adversity well.

Needless to say, we woke up at 10am on Sunday. I got up and Kayla begged me to go back to sleep because it was “too early.” We decided to take them to our favorite breakfast place (and maybe just favorite in general), Empire Café. There was a line out the door, but it moved along just fine. Breakfast was absolutely delicious. We ordered Italian Toast for the table!!! We had wanted to try it and saw this as the perfect occasion. Delicious.

Root root root for the Astros! We went to see the ridiculous (in a bad way) Astros. Wow. If you want to know what it looks like for a professional baseball player to miss routine ground balls and generally suck then please, without hesitation, make your way to Minute Maid Park! I knock them, but we had a lot of fun and there were a lot more people than we expected. We bought the cheap seats, but moved to better ones. This is when I learned that Cristin has some acting chops. She pulled out her ticket and had a mini conversation with herself about how these were the right seats. The Astros lost. Kayla kept cheering for the Mariners and I had to remind her that we live in Houston. It was Kayla Classic. Love that woman!

Houston, It’s NOT What You Thought It Was Trips are never complete without a visit to the Art Car Museum and the David Adickes’ giant president heads near Target in Sawyer Heights. First, we went to the Art Car Museum. We love love love this place and I think this exhibit was one of their better ones. There were animal heads along the wall and the 3 cars being showcased were so cool. One had garden gnomes all over it. Love it!

They seemed to really get a kick out of the Art Car Museum, but the president head sculptures seemed to be one of their favorite things from the weekend. This place is so random that most locals don’t even know that it exists or at least don’t know where it is. Essentially, it is a barnyard of sorts with 30+ statues/busts of US Presidents that are about 20-30 feet high. There is a 60 foot Beatles statue(s) as well. We spent a good 20 minutes wandering around the place and at one point I parkoured off of George W. Bush’s shoulder. Daniel and I climbed up on W’s shoulders and took an “ironic yolo” picture. Good times!

Things we learned Sunday – Kayla and Cristin are convinced that the police will come when you climb onto George W. Bush’s shoulders. If you run at a cat, it will run further away from you. We can’t name any Astros. I make good dog faces. Cristin has an interesting way of putting food in to-go boxes. We all love cheesecake….and donuts warmed up in the microwave at 10pm.

The aftermath – We were sad to drop Daniel and Cristin off at the airport this morning. We had a ridiculous (the good kind) amount of fun this weekend with them and are now chomping at the bits to visit them in Boston. On the way back from the airport we talked about how lucky we are to have good friends like them. The only downside is that we live (everyone lives) so far away. Our country is massive and I wish it were easier to travel around so that we could see our friends more often. We hadn’t seen them since we got married (13 months ago). That’s too long. If anything, I think we realized how important these types of friendships are and that we need to make more of a dedicated effort to see our far-away friends more often. We can at least start with some regular Skype sessions!

Kayla and Cristin contemplating the existence of Blockbuster

Kayla and Cristin contemplating the existence of Blockbuster

Texas Two-Steppin on Richmond Avenue

Texas Two-Steppin on Richmond Avenue

Ironic W YOLO
Ironic W YOLO

James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

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One of the best parts about living away from home has been the visitors we’ve received since moving to Houston nearly a year ago. The end result is frequent trips to El Tiempo because “New Orleans doesn’t have good Mexican food” (Truth, I think people are a bit dramatic, but El Tiempo is exceptionally delicious), tagging along for shopping trips (this gets old), and getting to experience all of the diverse things Houston has to offer (Visionary Art and Burping the Bayou!).

This summer our good friend Rachel is doing Montessori training in Houston and naturally we have adopted her as our pseudo-child. We’re not ready for kids, so Rachel is the perfect alternative at this stage in our life. We don’t have full custody, but we get to see her one or two nights a week. Last week we perused the galleries of the Museum of Fine Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art before shoveling frozen yogurt in our mouths as a reward for looking at art all night. This week, we took Rachel to one of Houston’s best kept secrets: James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace at Rice University. Even though Skyspace opened last year, we just discovered it at the beginning of the month, but it has quickly become one of our favorite spots to unwind after a long day.

Skyspace is incredibly thought-provoking, relaxing, tranquil, and easily one of the most peaceful places amidst the chaos that is Houston. My friends and family always ask me “What is it?” and I believe it is one of the things that one needs to experience firsthand. Pictures don’t do it justice. While it looks like a cross between a Native American burial ground and a UFO, it is actually an art/light installation that features a daily sunrise and sunset 40 minute light show. I’ve read some reviews on Yelp in which the people didn’t seem to “get” it, but it also appears they didn’t see the light show. Ladies and gents, you aren’t seeing Twilight Epiphany if you don’t see the show. Bottom line.

So, last night we grabbed a soy cappuccino and an iced vanilla latte at Starbucks, brought a blanket, and laid in the field next to Skyspace for almost an hour. It was the perfect way to spend a Thursday night with a good friend.

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