Art Conspiracy

Every now and then my husband surprises me by finding a really interesting event and buying tickets. He knows I love art and artists so this weekend’s surprise was one of the best. We went to Art Con, a fundraising event put on each year by Art Conspiracy, an organization that conspires to bring artists and musicians together, raise funds, and activate awareness for regional creative programs and causes. Art Con is “street level philanthropy with equal parts community art event and fundraiser.”

Participating artists were given an 18″ by 18″ board on which to create a piece of art to be auctioned off during the event, which included alternating auctions and live music at a warehouse in The Cedars neighborhood of Dallas. More than 150 artists and four musicians (The Cush, Cliffs of Insanity, DJ Christy Ray and The Misfit DJ Set) got great exposure during the event and funds were raised to support MAP – Make Art With Purpose. The art was diverse and creative, as you can see below.

This is a photo of 18 by 18 inch art creations by Dallas artists participating in ArtCon11.

Some of the pieces auctioned off at ArtCon11

My husband and I enjoyed a delicious Cuban sandwich and yucca fries from The Guava Tree food truck and then we took our drinks inside the warehouse to peruse the paintings, finding several that we wanted to bid on. The people-watching was pretty fabulous; it was quite the eclectic, artsy younger crowd combined with middle-aged people in workout gear, older folks in motorized chairs and families with children running around playing tag. During the auctions, whenever the bidding passed another $100 milestone, the crowd went crazy. Bidding started at $20 and paintings sold for anywhere from $20 to over $800 before we left. While we didn’t end up coming home with any paintings, we did enjoy the evening and learned of some artists that we will keep an eye on, including those that create designs for Cykochik custom handbags. If you’re looking for a unique gift for a creative person in your life, check them out.

This is a photo of a crowd of people looking at paintings.

The ArtCon11 crowd deciding which paintings to bid on.

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The Best Coffee I Ever Had

I was four years old the first time I drank coffee and smoked a cigarette.

We were in a restaurant in Boston eating lunch, me, my mother and Marielle the sophisticated and beautiful French au pair who stayed with us for a year. I was sitting on my mother’s lap. Marielle sat across the table from us smoking. My mother and Marielle spoke exotic-sounding French while I tried to follow along. They taught me some new words  (s’il vous plait, merci, au revoir) while my mother let me drink spoonfuls of her milky, saccharin-sweetened coffee.

“How do you say coffee in French?” I asked.

“Pee pee de chat,” Marielle joked, pointing at the weak American coffee. Cat pee. I thought that was hilarious and referred to coffee as pee pee de chat for a long time after that.

Marielle showed me how she could make circles of smoke come out of her mouth. It was mesmerizing.

“Can I try?” I asked.

My mother’s eyes twinkled when she said, “You want to try? Ok. Go ahead.” She must have known what was coming.

I crawled into Marielle’s lap and she held the cigarette for me. I leaned forward and squeezed it between my pursed lips. Then, just like I’d seen her do, I sucked in, raising my eyebrows a tiny bit, showing off for the family at the next table.

Before I could blow out any smoke rings, though, I sputtered and coughed. My lungs felt like they were on fire. I thought I was going to die. We had to leave the restaurant. That was the last time I ever tried smoking.

The coffee, however, stuck with me. Over the years I’ve tasted some pretty good coffee. But there are those few, special cups of coffee that stand above the rest. And where good coffee exists, great memories do as well.

My Top Four Cups of Coffee 

Image via Toshihiro Oimatsu Flikr Creative Commons

Image via Toshihiro Oimatsu Flikr Creative Commons

4. Café mocha from Ocean Coffee Roasters in Providence, RI. On a cold night returning from the Sciences Library at Brown University after an evening of studying, a stop at Ocean was like a tiny bit of sunny paradise in the middle of a blizzard. It may have been the one thing that got me through Economics 101. Plus, I usually went with my boyfriend after we studied together. Our relationship grew over dozens and dozens of café mochas. All we had to do was say, “Ocean?” and we both knew that meant: do you want to go with me to get a cup of coffee? Now that we’re married we still share a love for good coffee and often reminisce about the great coffee at Ocean. Apparently, Ocean Coffee Roasters no longer has a shop on the Brown campus, but they’re still a fixture up in Rhode Island. If you’re ever up that way, don’t pass it up. It will be one of the best cups of coffee you will ever drink. Hands down.

3. The bowl of café au lait I had every morning while staying with a family for the summer in rural Levier, France when I was 16. My host mother would place a steaming bowl of milky coffee in front of me as well as a freshly baked baguette. I don’t think there is anything in this world better than a warm French baguette slathered with butter and dipped into a bowl of café au lait. Seriously. Of course it helps to be eating it in France. I’m not sure I could replicate the exact experience in Texas.

2. Madras coffee at Madras Pavillion, a vegetarian and kosher Indian restaurant in Richardson, TX. When I first moved to Dallas, I met my friend Priya at the local YMCA where both our kids were taking swim lessons. She talked about as fast as I did and we bonded immediately. You know when you meet someone and you just click right away? That was how it was for Priya and me. We learned that we had a lot in common, including a love of Indian food. It was Priya who found Madras Pavillion and over the years it has become a tradition for us to go there for the buffet lunch, stuff ourselves with curried vegetables, naan, many kinds of rice, spicy soups, lentil donuts and sweet rice pudding or mango ice cream, and then linger over a cup of creamy, aromatic Madras coffee while catching up on each other’s lives. Since we don’t get to see each other often anymore, the Madras Coffee tastes better every time we go there.

1. Café con leche at the Gran Hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was the first trip we took after my mom died. Traveling was one of the things my parents enjoyed most and in the aftermath of her death, it was the only thing my dad could think to do: take my husband and me on a trip to a place they always wanted to go together. That first morning, we were excited about being in Costa Rica and the white-water rafting trip we were about to embark on, but we were also sad that my mom wasn’t there to enjoy it. Plus, there’s no other way to say this, it was awkward being with just my dad. But when the waiter at the hotel poured the strong coffee out of one pot and the steaming milk out of a different pot at the same time into my mug, the awkwardness drifted away along with the rising steam. The creamy colors quickly mingled. The trip was off to a delicious start.

What is the best cup of coffee you remember?

Rethinking Teen Boys in the Summer

As summer approaches I usually get nervous as I envision my two teenage boys and one loooooong summer. I mean, seriously, why do we have three months of summer? We don’t need the kids to help us pick cotton or other crops all summer long anymore, so aren’t we doing everyone a disservice – especially working parents – by giving kids so much downtime? Isn’t this system outdated? Wouldn’t six weeks be plenty?

The joys of boys!

I am so thankful that I have the resources to find and pay for educational, volunteer and recreational opportunities for my boys in the summer. But many people don’t. And if you have boys ages 13 to 15, it is increasingly difficult to find affordable activities and even volunteer opportunities they can or want to do by themselves. They’re too young to work and they’re too old for most local day camps. Not to mention, they’re hormonal and rambunctious and mischievous and oppositional and BORED! Bored unsupervised teenage boys get into trouble or spend the day playing violent video games and surfing disgusting videos on YouTube.

The plight of boys has been in the news lately. Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax is a disturbing account of why we have so many underachieving and unmotivated boys in our society. Girls are making great advances in college and graduate school and careers while many boys seem to be floundering. A recent New York Times blog post reported more of the same. It’s time we addressed what’s happening with our boys, starting with what they do in the summer.

An idea has been waking me up in the middle of the night for weeks: We have this untapped resource of energy and brawn sitting around for three months all summer. What if there was a summer program that channeled these boys into activities that helped people in their communities. And while we were at it, what if we taught them useful life skills, such as CPR, how to change a tire, how to fix a clogged drain, how to repair a fence, how to paint a house, how to plant shrubs and flowers, how to grill a great healthy meal, how to trim trees, how to interact respectfully with adults and how to treat and respect women. With the growing population of elderly people living in homes they can’t take care of anymore, it seems like a natural partnership for teenage boys to help these needy seniors with chores and household maintenance. They deserve the chance to show society that they can be helpful and productive and positive. And with the amount of domestic violence and disrespect reported regularly, aren’t young teenage boys ripe for community guidance on how to treat women? They deserve that opportunity, too.

The sticking point is that young teenage boys need lots of supervision and guidance. Moreover, they really need it from men. Too many boys don’t have enough male mentors in their lives. The good news is that with the economy still in the tank, we have a lot of skilled older men out of work. Wouldn’t it be great if some of them (the non-molesting ones) stepped up to mentor young teenage boys?

Wouldn’t it be great if the boys who take part in this summer program for three years enter the summer when they’re 16 with a resume, references and interviewing skills and are able to get a job?

I’m not sure how I’m going to make this happen or if it’s even doable. Ideally, this could turn into a nonprofit organization that not only provides summer opportunities for teen boys, but also paying jobs for older men. Right now I’m in the research phase of finding out what  resources already exist in Dallas that might serve as good partners for this type of summer program. I’m tentatively calling it Project1315.

Any ideas would be appreciated!

Inner Real Estate

As my husband will attest, I often bitch about where we live – Dallas, Texas.

Dallas-skyline

The Dallas Skyline

And I tend to complain in broad generalities. I dislike the many superficial and hypocritical people. The vast wealth and showy materialism. The distance from my family back in New England. The endless driving. The oppressive heat. The closed-mindedness. The pushy religiousness. The emphasis on outward appearance. And I could go on. But I won’t. Because I’ve discovered something not so wonderful about myself.

I have become a whiner. And I hate whiners.

images

A remarkable testament to resiliency

It took just one book to shut me up: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. What his female characters coped with in Afghanistan in the 1990s, such as bombing, rape, violence, burkas, the inability to leave the house without a male escort, lack of education, boredom, fear, abject poverty, hunger, filth and the inability to care for a child, was eye-opening. I think the reason it spoke to me so poignantly is because I remember reading about all these atrocities in the news at the time. But it seemed so distant and implausible when I was a young adult back in the 1990s. Seeing the horror through the eyes of his deftly created characters forced me to take another look at myself and my supposed unhappiness with where I live.

Perhaps it’s not the actual City of Dallas and its inhabitants that I truly dislike. Maybe it’s the real estate inside of me. Maybe I use hating Dallas as a big, fat excuse of why I haven’t 1)accomplished more in my career; 2)made more friends; 3)carved out the life I thought I would have.

Maybe I am my biggest problem.

So, today, instead of thinking unhelpful negative thoughts about Dallas, I’m going to be grateful that I live in a house that is not being bombed. That I can care for my family. That I can leave the house whenever I want – by myself – even if it means driving on construction-ridden, congested highways. That I have the freedom to choose my own religion and friends. That my own husband doesn’t beat or rape me. That air conditioning mitigates the overpowering summer heat. That I survived cancer and am alive today, no matter where I live.

When I start to think of it that way, I realize that I’m so lucky to live in Dallas and not Afghanistan, or any of the other places on earth where women have few rights and opportunities. Now, if I could just find some more kindred spirits here…