Conjure by Delita Martin

Delita Martin Conjure Sign in Beaumont, TX for the American Southeast Texas Art Museum

I remember the first time I saw Delita Martin‘s work in 2017. It was an exhibit called “Between Sisters and Spirits” at the Nicole Longnecker Gallery and I was blown away. I am pretty sure Jaison suggested I go see her work, as he always guides me to some life changing event. I wanted to buy everything on the wall but couldn’t afford it and I had no room for one piece because everything was wall size large. I put my name on the wait list for a smaller piece. I was collector #2 on the waiting list.

In 2018, I was emailed when a smaller work came out. I was out of town and couldn’t see it in person. I was not as drawn to it as I was for the larger pieces and I had nerve to say I would pass on this one and wait on the next one. Well, those are words I will always regret because despite me knowing in my spirit that Delita was a star, the logic of my mind and the $ in my bank account distracted me. Fast forward to Art Basel Miami 2019, and I saw Delita’s masterpieces valued at 4X what I saw 2 years prior. Despite having the feelings of rocks in my stomach, I didn’t give up. I had confirmation that my novice collecting was turning into having a special gift to pick emerging artists, as long as I trusted my intuition.

Two Views

I started going into defensive mode and decided that I should buy prints since original pieces escaped my affordability. Everything Delita makes has some tie to black women and spirituality. I always see a reflection when I experience her work. My disappointment grew into anger that I didn’t eat beans and rice for a year so I could buy a piece but I finally forgave myself because there would be future opportunities for me to collect.

Blue Stars

I was very excited to finally meet Delita in person for her exhibit “In the Shadows” with a talkback at Community Artist Collective. Listening to that talk I realized why I felt so drawn to the work. Delita not only looks like my first cousin, her aura makes you feel like she is family. Despite being in my art collecting infancy, I felt welcomed to the table because the art was made for me. My connection to the art moved from wanting to collect the works of art to wanting to support Delita’s success as an artist.

After becoming the unofficial president of the Delita Martin fan club, I saw a call for models on instagram. We were in the beginning of the pandemic and I figured, why not try out. Delita selected me as one of her models and I pretty much was undone. It was absolutely an honor to be chosen by Delita to be a medium for her work. I was completely fine if the world never saw the final piece. Then she announced the exhibit Conjure would feature the piece “Red Bird” and I pretty much lost my mind.

On Good Friday, I was able to take a road trip to Beaumont to visit the American Museum of Southeast Texas. Beaumont has always been the place my family stops for gas on the way to Louisiana. This was my first time actually stopping into Beaumont and exploring. There was a lot of traffic and construction from Houston. Since I am usually not on the outside during the pandemic, this felt like a bonafide road trip. I was so happy to get to the museum though I had a small window to get back before rush hour Friday traffic.

Red Bird

The exhibit was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the intimacy of the building and it brought me back to the first time I saw Delita’s work in 2017. I felt welcomed and had the entire exhibit to myself. Every single piece was special to me, yet it was amazing to see the piece I modeled up close. I made sure not to see any spoiler alerts on social media before going which allowed me to just be with the work. When I came home, I read some of the excerpts from the show book and reflected on the objects from the women in my family and their meanings. There were definitely lots of collections and rules growing up at my grandmother’s house. Yet, the way Delita eloquently captures her family history and our history is what make her so special. I could have never imagined being so aligned to a movement that started in 2017 when I just thought I was observing an emerging artist.

What I learned is that I was welcomed to an opportunity to go deeper in myself through art. The irony is the exhibit’s theme conjure (that the ancestors come only when they are called) reminds me that we must give space for the spiritual world to connect with our daily lives. I acknowledge that we all have the ability to be conduits if we just allow ourselves. Conjure is a must see to begin the journey to connecting to you.

Conjure is at the American Museum of Southeast Texas from March 13th to May 23rd 2021. Items for the show can be purchased at Delita Martin’s site.

Houston Cinema Arts Festival

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival is in its 11th year of running and this may be their biggest year. The festival runs from 11/14-11/18 celebrating the arts through film. In parallel, Cinespace (in conjunction with NASA) will judge their finalists that use space imagery as a part of the content. The HCAF opened with a film called Waves, directed by Houston native Trey Edward Shults and was a sold out performance.

Trey Edward Shults and Bun B

It is not often that you watch a film that is emotionally raw yet you can’t bring yourself to tears. Waves was that experience for me. On a journey with an American middle class family , in South Florida, it felt too familiar (and the familiarity was more than being from South Florida). In the talk back with the director and Bun B, they discussed how the experiences could happen in any American family.

My immediate numbness came from seeing so many reflections of myself and people around me. The film focused on choices and consequences and displayed what happens when communication is frayed or non-existent. In addition, Trey mentioned he wanted to create empathy for his characters, not judgement. The characters experienced relatable trauma and joy. Yet, it was the non-expectance that threw me off. Reminding me that each of us has a story and none of us appear like what we have been through. After watching Waves, I was reminded of the fragility of life and the importance of focusing on each day with care. Hugging and loving those around you is the most important reminder received from the film.

The Houston Cinema Arts Festival is demonstrating that diverse content attracts diverse audiences. Houston is the most diverse city in the country and it was warming being in an audience that reflects the population of our city. There are several amazing films throughout the festival. I am looking forward most to Sugar Cane Alley which is a repurposed film (recently played by Ava Duvernay at her theater opening) where the director will be joining us from France. In addition, Black Rodeo will be a documentary about the rodeo lifestyle through the eyes of black rodeo riders. There will also be rodeo riders for a talk back after the film (we know you won’t be at the Kanye concert so come through and support).

Every year the Houston Cinema Arts festival gets better and this is their best year ever. Individual tickets are available for each film or a pass for the week.  I have not seen ratings on the films so it is best to assume that it is most appropriate for adults.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

I was completely oblivious to the impact Mr. Fred Rogers had on my life until I heard about the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. The amount of excitement I had to see the documentary could not be contained. Yet, when I tried to get other adults to attend with me, they were too busy “adulting” to go. Though I was busy as well, I felt it was worth sacrificing all of my tasks to watch this screening. I even had someone decline because they felt it was pushing a gay agenda. I took my 10 year old date and kept it moving. I also confirmed that we adults have things really backwards.

I was told to arrive by 7pm and spent at least 30 minutes waiting before the movie started. Those that know how impatient I am, know I was on pins and needles. I learned about the Houston Film Fanatics group which is a group that writes film reviews for the Houston community. Once the film finally began, I couldn’t help but smile 80% of the time. I thought I understood how amazing Mr. Rogers was when I was a child, but the film brought back subconscious memories that I had not thought about in decades.

My childhood was far from perfect. It is more accurate to say that most of my environment growing up was very toxic. Nevertheless, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was one of the places I could escape and focus on love. I recall arguing with my older brother over the television as he wanted to watch WWF (and often won the fight). He also constantly called Mr. Rogers a weirdo which I always defended. After watching this documentary, I realized why I was drawn to him.

Mr. Rogers was the first person in my life to teach me that being who I am (unapologetically) was fine. I always felt different whether it was at school, church, or with my family. No one in the world was like me. I even took it upon myself to visit my neighbors often and had no idea that was from the encouragement of Mr. Rogers. I even went to the mean lady’s house who’s house often smelled of urine (because she was a senior citizen with no help) and my family would wonder if their 6 year old had bumped her head. Sharing love with my neighbors gave me joy. Now that I am retrospective, I realize the senior citizens in my community understood my mission and appreciated it because they were often forgotten.

Mr. Rogers was the advocate for those often overlooked. He was the inclusion movement. He understood that children were sponges and the impact of what they watched could shape their minds forever. It is amazing to me that evil still tries to persist but love still conquers all. I find it disturbing that as an adult, all I hear about Mr. Rogers is that he was gay. Even when I first heard that I still remember responding with, ok, I still love him. Well, the documentary addresses the fact that Mr. Rogers is not gay (spoiler alert). I also learned that he is an ordained minister, anyone ever here that one? No!

We need more people like Mr. Rogers on television. People who genuinely care about the well being of children. Not marketers exploiting children to increase market share. I applaud Mr. Rogers for encouraging me to be me. For accepting people as uniquely as they are. For focusing on inclusion before it was as a hot topic.  My four year old self knew his authenticity and will forever be grateful for access to public television that gave me access to someone like Mr. Rogers who genuinely cared for me. Go see Won’t You Be My Neighbor at River Oaks Theater starting June 15th.

Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp

As New Orleans is completely focused on celebrating Mardi Gras 2018, you would be remiss if you are in town and miss Prospect.4. Prospect is a citywide triennial of contemporary art displayed all over New Orleans. The artists range from local to international. Created by Dan Cameron, a world recognized curator, he brought the idea to New Orleans in 2007 with seed money from philanthropist Toby Devan.

The art is exhibited all around New Orleans, including traditional museums like the New Orleans Museum of Arts (NOMA) to non traditional art venues, including public art. Prospect is able to intertwine the rich New Orleans culture with artists from around the world to create a seamless benefit to impact New Orleans culturally and economically.

I found out about the exhibit from an Artsy email and I am glad I caught it. Immediately, I fell in love with the work of Njideka Akunyili Crosby and had to figure out a way to get to New Orleans to see it. With a quick flight to New Orleans from Houston, I literally drove from the airport to NOMA. I did not have a lot of time on this trip so I had to be very strategic with which pieces I could see.

As soon as I entered NOMA, I was greeted by pieces that immediately blew me away. I had never heard of Barkley Hendricks, but his work left you remembering that they are unforgettable. While I learned more about Mr. Hendricks, I realized he recently passed away in 2017 (RIP). All of the pieces exhibited, were recently purchased from his estate and on loan for Prospect.4. I am very grateful to the collector that allowed us to witness the magnificence of his work.

I was emotionally full before I even made it to Ms. Crosby’s work. Yet, I had no idea I would have the response I did when I explored her section of NOMA. I burst into tears as soon as I saw it. The collages were not like anything I have ever seen. I was also overwhelmed thinking about how blessed I was to go from a goal to visit by reading an email to a very short time before I was standing in front of masterpieces. As you look closer to her collages, you begin to see some materials from magazines from Nigeria. There is an overlap of Western and African culture with small messages throughout each piece. These pieces felt like they represented me. A gumbo of many of life’s experiences and cultures, never fully understood by the naked eye.

     

Next, I ventured off to an Afro-Cuban artist Alexis Esquivel. Still processing  Njideka’s work, I now had to evoke emotions by seeing our former President in paintings placed in Cuba. A beautiful play of fact and fiction, I enjoyed experiencing the depiction from Alexis’s lens.

Prospect.4 features art from 73 artists from around the world. If you only have time to visit one place, I suggest you visit NOMA. It runs through February 25, 2018. The welcome center is on 750 Carondelet Street with hours from 10:30am-4:30pm. Some venues will be closed from Feb 10th-Feb14th for Mardi Gras so check before you go. For more information, visit Prospect New Orleans

Optimized Travel on a Budget

Often people look at travel as being only available to the wealthy but I beg to differ. The way to optimize travel and reduce cost is by having excellent credit. If you have credit difficulties, focus on fixing that first before you venture to plan the next big vacation. A Houston based organization like Money Management International, could help you get on the right foot. If you are already there, I will share some tips that took my vacation from a 7 to a 10.
Initially, I started following posts from The Points Guy and studying tips on which travel credit cards are best (note, I had a very established credit history before I got into this game. I always pay off balances to avoid interest fees). I was hesitant to have more than one credit card but now that I have learned the game, it really makes sense to have cards for brands you gravitate towards. Yet, to be smart with your credit utilization, you don’t need a million cards. Two to three can make a difference as long as you have the discipline to not fall into a trap.
My favorite is Chase Sapphire Reserve because it gives you 3x points for travel (ride-sharing, planes, buses,etc) and Restaurants (in addition to paying for global entry, lounge access, and more). Yet, the best part is when you use the points for travel, you get a 50% bonus towards the trip. For a cherry on top, you still earn frequent flyer miles for the trip booked with points (For example, since I love math, let’s say you use the card to buy a $200 flight. You will get 600 points, which basically is equal to 900  points or $9 toward a future flight. The points add up very quickly). Lastly, of the $450 annual fee per year, you get $300 reimbursed to you when you use charge travel (ground or air). You can very easily have the card pay you if you use it wisely.
In addition, some hotel cards will give you nights towards status or like Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG), instant platinum status if you have their card. This entitles you to earning bonuses on hotel stays, late check-out (4pm), etc. When combining a travel card and a hotel card, you get the best of both worlds. I am a big fan of Marriott, so it was imperative I get the Marriott card.
Lastly, getting specifically to my last international trip, another tip is to follow or subscribe to alerts such as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Escape Houston or Airfare Watch Dog. That is exactly how I scored a ~$350 round-trip United ticket to Singapore from Los Angeles. With Scott’s Cheap flights, you typically have to decide quickly. After an hour of booking, the flights shot back up to $700+.
Sometimes, when it is deemed an error fare, you should wait until it is confirmed to book any additional plans (but don’t be like me and think you booked your Houston to Los Angeles flight but actually find out 11 days before your trip that you didn’t. Yet, thank God for redeemable points from Sapphire Reserve for your $100 flight to $300 flight error, whew). Once confirmed, it was unbelievable that you could get a total round-trip ticket to SE Asia for less than $500 round-trip.

I decided that Singapore, though a great city, was not enough to go that far to see. I had been to Singapore before and figured it would be a great place to start the jet lag process, but wanted to venture somewhere else. After much deliberation, and advisement, I decided on Langkawi, Malaysia. I know Malaysia still is associated with the horrific disappearance with Malaysia Airlines (RIP), but you can’t live in fear if you want to travel and explore the world. It is counterproductive. For $100/roundtrip from Singapore, I opted to take the risk.
It was fairly simple to book American chain hotels in Singapore (and I stayed with a brand where I have status). Yet, Malaysia was new territory for me. I engaged Uniglobe Travel Designers and they made everything seamless. We were able to find a hotel for a reasonable price and an airport transfer (I am so happy I had a driver when I landed because there is nothing like getting in a random taxi in a country that you are unfamiliar).
Unfortunately, it rained a bit in Langkawi which is surrounded by outdoor activities. Rainy days  became rest days (rest and eat, repeat),  I was able to get a wonderful spa treatment (mud & aloe wrap 50 mins+ 50 minute deep tissue massage) all for $90. The dollar was going very far in Malaysia and I slightly didn’t know how to act. The food was amazing as well.
Meanwhile, I was unprepared for the monkeys being such a large part of the experience. Thankfully, we were not “robbed” by any for food but we were told stories. They were everywhere and generally not afraid of humans. Yet, none of them came within reach and I was happy to observe them from a distance. I noticed it was odd for me to see them in the wild, much like kangaroos in Australia. We learned about an infamous monkey named George who was disowned from his family because he cut his lip on a coke can when a tourist thought that was a great idea to share a coke (not!) So for over a decade, George has had to live alone because they didn’t recognize him with his deformed lip. (Do not feed the monkeys 0_0)
Our hotel didn’t have an adequate kids club (it was more for toddlers versus tweens), so we decided to switch hotels on the last day. I brought out my optimization software (I kid but not really) to see where we could stay with points and it became difficult very fast. The hotels in Langkawi are either reasonable or luxurious. No in between. We finally were able to find a stay at the Ritz Carlton Langkawi for 40k Marriott Points. With my status, I was upgraded from what was a $500/night value room to $700/night (note, my budget hotel was about $100/night w/ buffet breakfast). (A Marriott room in New Orleans for $293 is also 40k points so this was a much better deal)
Though, I didn’t have the budget to stay at the almost brand new Ritz Carlton the entire time, I am glad I had the contrast. The rain and clouds finally stopped, so before we left the budget hotel, we were able to visit the Sky Cab which was within walking  distance. I am so grateful the weather cleared up because not being able to see the views would have diminished the entire experience.
When we arrived to the Ritz Carlton, I felt like I stepped into a real life Zumanda. It was less crowded, the kids club was exciting and not an extra charge. The room was amazing and staff beyond hospitable. The monkeys were a bit more aggressive, but hey, I am in their space so, I should be grateful they allowed me to visit.
 
We went back to Singapore one more day before our trip and finished it off with a visit to the National Gallery. Interestingly, I had not been there before and it reminded me that you can never see all of a city. There is always something more to see. The art was amazing at the gallery. It was refreshing to see such a variety of artists (mostly from Singapore and Malaysia). The views of Singapore from the building were also amazing. We went back to the JW Marriott with a new perspective than when we arrived.  I was grateful that their lounge access included breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails. Yet, having traveled almost 17 hours to get there, my favorite amenity was them laundering 3 items for free.
In short, it does take some money to plan for a trip, yet there are ways you can stretch the dollar by combining it with loyalty programs and branded credit cards. With only a week to spare, we were able to experience another part of the world which always is a blessing. I encourage you to choose new places to travel, yet try to look up their customs before you go such as tipping, dress and top things to do. Lastly, be flexible and open-minded to experience a culture different from your own.

Belize

I have been drawn to visit Belize for at least 5 years. When Southwest created a direct flight to Belize from Houston, it made the dream more of a reality. I had absolutely no knowledge of the island. My podiatrist’s assistant told me about her homeland, which increased my desire to visit more. I finally made the dream a reality MLK Weekend 2017.

I began purchasing parts of my trip in pieces. I was able to attend the Eyes For You fundraising gala and was the highest bidder for a 3 night stay in Belize. I was happy to support a great cause while beginning preparation of my trek to Central America. The second portion was purchased with a Southwest Voucher due to suffering through a 3 hour flight with no air conditioning. I caught a Southwest sale where I had to debate between Art Basel Miami, a visit to Atlanta or Belize for about the same price. Belize won.

When I went to reserve my hotel, I quickly learned that there were layers to this journey. Somehow, I missed that the stay was on an island (caye, pronounced key) which was a distance from Belize City. My flight was landing after the last run of the water taxi so I had to purchase a local domestic flight (which was near the price of my southwest ticket).

I arrived in Belize City seamlessly on Southwest yet started to panic because I did not write down my connecting flight number. I also did not have a plan on what would happen if my Southwest flight was delayed and I couldn’t make the connection. Thankfully, I found my flight on Maya Air after the desk agent from Tropic Air verified I was not flying with them.

I have flown in a Cessna before so a small plane does not scare me very much. Yet, flying over water in a Cessna is another ball game. I recall my connecting flights out of Puerto Rico on American Airlines to the Caribbean, but never did I take a similar journey on an airline that I had never heard. I had to calm my nerves and use the time to take in the scenery. The view from the plane was just the beginning of views I would have from Ambergris Caye.

I landed at night, which I later discovered is new for Belizian pilots. I did research that my hotel was across the street from the airport. I waited on my bag and walked around the corner to the hotel. I observed immediately that golf carts are the major mode of transportation and they are frequently buzzing through the streets.

I arrived at the Sunbreeze Hotel tired and very hungry. The first thing I learned was the hotel restaurant would be closed for dinner for two nights and as they were having a fundraiser for Oceana (an organization that protects the reef). Through clinched teeth, I tried to comprehend no food and was not excited to have to explore to go somewhere else. Yet, two great things came out of it. I registered for the event for Saturday night and I explored eating outside of the hotel.

I made it to the local spot of El Fugaon. They had live music that night (which I have learned is rare). I had a wonderful waiter that was very “Americanized”. He and I chatted about the NBA and I had to learn from him that the Rockets were having a great year (I should be ashamed that I didn’t know that). I saw conch fritters on the menu but ventured to try grilled conch. What was best about the meal was the pepper sauce I requested on the side. It was phenomenal. The meal was great but I wanted it to have a bit more heat (temperature). I enjoyed my margarita which was the freshest mango margarita I have ever had.

I spent a bit of time trying to disconnect from social media and texting and was successful for 24 hours. Unfortunately, wifi was available so it made it hard to break the habit. I spent Saturday relaxing and despite being told Belize is a party mecca, I found exactly what I was looking for, peace. I wandered through the town of San Pedro and found it interesting how quickly I could “blend” like a local. I also saw the difference in price gauging. The conch fritters at El Fugon were $10BZ. I went by a Jerk Place off the beach and they were $24BZ. The currency is about 1:2 for the American dollar, but I could not bring myself to spend that much more. I knew I would eat well that night and ended up just snacking until I got to dinner.

Dinner started at the Blue Fish Grill with cocktails prior to the kickoff. We had italian spritz’s curated by Talia Baiocchi who is releasing a book on spritz recipes. The spritz was a great kick off to a wonderful night. Many of the attendees were immigrants who are now living in Belize (either permanently or occasionally). Some guests, flew back just for the event. I was very happy I decided to attend. It was a great way for me to learn about Belize from their lens.

In addition, the owners from Blue Fish Grill have Houston roots. They had 4 featured chefs per night, and Saturday included a chef from Houston’s Tasting Room and Anejo, Alberto Gutierrez. His dish was a black fin tuna crude, sopressatta-panzanella, flor de jamica, balsamic vinegar and spicy cashew butter. The spicy cashew butter was to die for. In addition to the wonderful meals prepared by Amy Knox (Wild Mango’s), Missy Robbins (Lilia) and Chris Aycock (Blue Water Grill), we had wonderful wine pairings. My favorite take away from the wine were the 2014 Puligny Montrachet and the 2014 Chassagne-Montrachet. I will be looking for those stateside.

The dessert was featured by the Belize Chocolate Company which I stopped by earlier in the day to sign up for a chocolate class. We had a 70% Kakaw Belizean chocolate truffle, wangla square, and and cashew gianduja, all very decadent. All of this food was great preparation for the journey I would have Sunday.

On Sunday, I ran for a quick breakfast at the Blue Water Grill and had one of the best pancakes I have had in a long time. I typically don’t like pancakes outside of the states but these hit the spot. I then went to the Amergeiss Dive Shop to begin my snorkel excursion. I immediately recalled my experience snorkeling in the great barrier reef. Yet, the sharks were a little hungry that day. There is something about being in the ocean that you are forced to acknowledge God’s majesty.

My experience in Belize was well worth the 5 year wait. I am confident I will be back soon to explore more. I am very grateful that I was able to explore, meet new people, but find a bit of home once I arrived. I highly recommend a visit to Belize. I have to go back and explore Belize City (especially the caves).

How was Curlfest?

How was Curlfest? I was asked that question 10 times in the last 24 hours. My reply: Wonderful!

Curlfest launched in 2013 by the Curly Girl Collective as a festival to celebrate women of color with natural hair while linking them with the best brands supporting the movement. Curlfest has been held in Prospect Park (Brooklyn, NY) in the middle of summer. It is a perfect example of utilizing social media to accelerate a movement.

Curly Girl Collective

While attending Curlfest, you could not help but feel empowered. Whether your hair is curly or straight (you would feel a bit out of place with straight hair but all are welcome!), there was a strong sense of pride which is rare in gatherings lately. There were a plethora of t-shirts with strong statements, ankara prints, children rocking their fros. It felt like this was the black girl magic version of woodstock (minus the drugs). We felt free, together and a part of a cause no one could deny.

This year, Spike Lee was in attendance and spoke to the crowd. One message that stood out was him commending the crowd on their beauty while demanding we take command of the economics of our power. Spike has a valid point as the natural hair care industry is now valued over $500B. Wouldn’t it be a shame that we don’t profit by providing brands for us and by us.

Braiding Booth by Shea Moisture

In addition to visiting vendors and booths, we were able to get our face painted by the artist Laolu. We waited in line for an hour, going well beyond his closing time, to have our face become canvasses based on Yoruba sacred traditional art. We officially were touched with the energy of our ancestors which was carried with us the entire day. The face art invited conversations and requests for pictures well beyond our expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day was hot but it did not stop anyone from dancing to the music blasting from the stage. It did not take long to run out of things to do, but the long lines made time go by fast. The best find was a bag of products from brands such as Madame CJ Walker,   Shea Moisture, etc. For $35, we were able to grab this to go bag, with a curl fest tote and a much needed coconut. It was definitely a bargain because I am sure it is valued well over $100.

Curlfest is destined to get bigger and bigger. It was an amazing experience without any drama. We all came and had a wonderful time and left with stories for years to come. It was wonderful to see children soaking up the beauty of our people from all over the diaspora. I strongly encourage a visit to Curlfest in 2018.

 

See you next year!

Native Gardens

 

Native Gardens is a play by Karen Zacarias and directed by Brandon Weinbrenner currently playing at  Main Street Theater. Native Gardens brings together experiences everyone can relate to, dealing with neighbors. Across all walks of life, everyone has a story about their neighbor. I personally grew up in a house that was in my family since the 1950s and the neighbors were there for almost just as long. The parents, kids and even grandkids grew up playing with each other over decades. And like Native Gardens, when there was conflict, there was CONFLICT.

It was refreshing to see Native Gardens bring together four characters that collectively represented our experiences but also individually had their own struggles. Issues from immigration, sexism, classism, racism, ageism were all addressed, all in about 60 minutes. The actors did such an awesome job I often forgot that I was watching a show.  The show also centered around gardening and we had a talk back with actors and a Master Gardener.

Being in the 4th largest city in the country and restaurant mecca, it is often overlooked that we have a strong gardening community. I learned about Houston’s Community Gardens from Master Gardener Terry Garner during the talkback. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about classes for city folk without a yard. Container garden classes (and more) are taught at the Palm Center Community Garden every 3rd Saturday at 10AM.

 

I was also blown away that there are 12 garden multi-service centers in Houston. The gardens produce over 50,000 lbs of produce a year. They have a farmer’s market every 2nd and 4th Saturday and are always looking for volunteers. I have been using the excuse of having no yard for not gardening but now that has been blown out the water. Also, my excuse of becoming involved with theater, perhaps even acting.

During the actor talkback, I heard a common theme with the actors who all had a corporate career but always came back to theater. I realized after listening that I indeed had met one of the actors before and it wasn’t just from another show. He is a Carnegie Mellon (go Scots!) graduate with a chemical engineering background (are we getting close to home or what). We spoke afterwards and he encouraged me to “come back home” as we have so many choices of community theaters to start. So, I take it as a charge to put on my vision board that somehow, I will be on a stage soon (relatively). Now, I have to have you hold me accountable. Until then, please go see Native Gardens as it closes June 11th.

 

Resources:

Become a Master Gardener

Container Gardening Tools

Corona Garden Tools Discount

Texas Agrilife Gardening Tips

15 Things I learned from Luvvie’s Visit to Houston

Luvvie was in Houston today and took all 500+ of us by storm. Though Luvvie has a small frame, her life and words come with a big punch. Luvvie represents what it means to be underestimated yet surprises her under-estimators. During her keynote hosted by the Houston Museum of African American Culture, she blew us away with an overview of her journey starting in college. I, along with many, walked away feeling motivated like we had just left a Joel Osteen sermon (yet with Luvvie style).  I profess, I do not consider myself one of the Luv Nation (though I am in the BeyHive), I realize I have been reading Luvvie at least since 2014. Now, that I am an official fan, let’s share the 15 tips I learned from her keynote.

  1. Write the vision and make it plain
  2. Surround yourself with solid mentors
  3. Authentically be yourself
  4. Know your worth
  5. Hire a team when it is time to help increase your efficiency
  6. Procrastination doesn’t make you a bad person
  7. Strike while the iron is hot
  8. Have friends that are older than you and younger than you (10 years + on each side)
  9. Share your truth
  10. Know that sharing your truth may put you in crossfire
  11. Dream bigger than your dream
  12. Always give back
  13. Your success is about more than you
  14. Block distractions (even using an electronic app to prevent you from straying to websites and apps during focus time)
  15. Nurture your community

It was amazing to learn how Luvvie went from a psychology/pre-med major at University of Illinois to writing in her college newspaper. Changing her major to drop the pre-med due to struggling in Chemistry 101 (this Chemistry major understands the struggle) to finishing in pyschology, an area she loved. She spent 8 years writing for her blog before she received any compensation. When asked what she would do differently, she said she would get paid earlier.

Luvvie of Awesomely Luvvie

There were many full circle moments for Luvvie where her break began when Shonda Rhimes tweeted about her Scandal Recaps. Later, Shonda would go on to endorse her book and is now turning the book into a TV series. Luvvie expressed her gratitude for Shonda to help bring her up along with her. Now Luvvie is carrying the torch to help someone else as well. That is her mission of the Red Pump Project, which started as a campaign turned into a foundation. The Red Pump Project is to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS for women and girls and to help eradicate it.

Luvvie acknowledges that she has been blessed to use her gift and talents while meeting the right people at the right time, orchestrated by God. What I loved most about Luvvie is her transparency about not always being ready. Though she set out she would be a New York Times Seller years before it happened, she realizes that though she forgot about the goal (among others), declaring the goal was half the battle. There is something about being intentional in setting goals that helps begin the wheels of accomplishing them — even if, they are years later.

Oh, and buy her NYT Best Seller book (duh!): I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

Essence Festival Tips

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One of my favorite festivals is the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. This will be my third year attending so I feel like I am a veteran.  With less than a week away, I wanted to give my tips for Essence to help you navigate successfully this year or for years to come.

  • Do plan for housing at the last minute but not too late

Essence is one of the few conventions in New Orleans that requires an up front in full deposit for ALL of your nights (non-refundable). Due to the policy of inflexibility, I suggest waiting until about two weeks before to book housing if you plan to stay in a hotel. You will be more likely to fulfill your plans and get the best rate. This is also a great time to use loyalty points or loyalty points with cash. I have noticed booking direct with the hotel is more cost effective than the Essence website. The first year I booked the hotel almost a year in advance and saw no benefit in prices than the second year when I waited until 2 weeks before. If you plan to use something like AirBnB, you might want to do that earlier. I recommend getting a hotel in CBD.

  • Do buy 3-day tickets early

The best value if you plan to attend concerts is to buy the 3-day pack. My other trick is knowing most of the artists I want to see will be in the superlounge, I get the highest and cheapest ticket I can find.  Last year, I sat in my seat for maybe 1-2 acts. The rest of my time was walking the entire Superdome between the two lounges. The schedule is also pretty tight. This year, I got more sophisticated with a priority system knowing I can’t see everyone. I took off people that  I either did not want to see or have seen already and don’t have to see twice. My first priority is seeing artists I have not seen before and always wanted to see.

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  • Don’t plan to party hard and attend concerts

Your essence festival will be a wash if you choose to do too much.  The first year, I didn’t have tickets to a show (though was blessed with a ticket to Beyonce at the last minute XOXO). I did the party track…and that is one of the last times I got home at 6AM (which caused me to sleep until 6PM.) The party hard plan  worked because we did not have concerts to attend. Yet, when you have shows, sometimes the artist you want to see is scheduled early. There are no ins and outs for the concerts, so you are stuck if the other one you want to see is at 10PM. Last year, I had to see Goapele and she was one of the first acts. I don’t regret getting there early to see her. She was amazing. Yet, if I had been partying all day, I may have missed her. The one regret I had last year was not knowing about Solange’s party in time. This year, I am prepared and have already purchased tickets for both days. Will make sure I eat my wheaties!

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  • Do attend the empowerment sessions

There is an entire free conference held in the New Orleans Convention Center with some pretty amazing sessions. Last year, I witnessed a panel with Issa Rae and was very excited. On Sunday, I was able to attend the gospel extravaganza with a tribute to Kim Burrell.  The Spirit was definitely in the place that morning. The vendors in the convention center are also wonderful. They are selling ranges of items such as jewelry, clothes, art and food.  Don’t forget to stop by the sponsor booths where you usually can get free items including free smoothies 🙂

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  • Do dress comfortably

It is July in New Orleans. One or two things will be happening and sometimes both. It will be hot and humid (with some chances of rain). Prepare by having an umbrella and very comfortable shoes. No matter what you plan to do, you will walk a ton. Walking is usually faster than being in a car. There are some people that drive in town and park at the convention center but once you get downtown, you will be walking. Don’t focus so much on being cute that you end up hurting yourself. (I am pretty sure I was in the 15-20k step range daily.)

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  • Do talk to strangers

Most people at Essence are there to have a good time. So, if you meet someone, don’t be afraid to be cordial. Yes, New Orleans is a city where you have to keep your eyes open, yet being overly cautious could have you missing out on a genuine connection that could last beyond your trip.

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  • Do eat

Despite food being sold in the Superdome and the Convention Center by vendors, I recommend at least a few good meals outside. For some of the more popular restaurants, reservations are required ahead of time. We were able to get in Commander’s Palace and Compere Lapin and loved it. There was another restaurant we booked at the last minute on open table and it worked well. Others book months in advance.

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  • Do have a communication back up plan

Some years, I have had a terrible time getting cell phone coverage. It really threw off plans especially when in the Superdome or in the hotel. Have people’s hotels and room numbers as a backup just in case you have to leave a message the old fashioned way.

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  • Do plan to network

Last year (and this year) I attended the Walker’s Legacy Brunch. For women entrepreneurs, it was a great place to come together for a couple of hours and mingle. There are also all types of side conferences happening at Essence such as business pitch competitions, hair product showcases, etc. Keep your ear to the ground in order to find jewels off the beaten path.
Essence has changed significantly over the years but what has remained constant is the amazing experience. Some people who went in the early years feel like it is too commercial now. I can’t compare as I am a newbie but it is still a great place to have the family reunion you never planned to have. I always run into people from all over and also make sure to make new friends.