Saturday, August 12, 2017

We all live in Charlottesville

While I appreciate that there are more politicians calling the act in Charlottesville terrorism, it makes me sick to my stomach to think of all the times that these politicians ignored what was happening to non-white peoples.

It is EASY to stand up to Nazis. But what about something more insidious? More difficult to explain? More alien to your friends?

Learning about how indigenous peoples are treated all over the world by listening to native Americans at Standing Rock, I have started to see how poorly we treat them. My eyes are opened further every day.

As an example, did you ever stop to think that you are standing on land that was stolen? Let that sink in.

Non-white, non-CIS, non-male, and so many more peoples are, to this day, completely and continually marginalized and ignored when they are clearly having their rights violated. Examples abound if you look.

Who got arrested at Standing Rock? People protesting a white-owned pipeline that WILL poison the drinking water of 18,000,000 people. By white police. In a white-controlled county. Because white people didn't want it in their part of the state. Is anyone there being held accountable for their treatment of our indigenous? That should have been a no brainier. Hundreds of white police and mercenaries should be rotting in prison. But nope. They all took that blood money and went back to their white homes. (I know there were other races in power there, but they were largely underrepresented and they are just as complicit. Don't believe it? Watch the tens of thousands of hours of video. Ask someone that was there).

Who was arrested in Ferguson? What race tends to live through encounters with the police? What race is overrepresented in prison? Who is getting priced out of gentrified areas?

Remember New Orleans? There were over 10,000 people stranded in the Superdome. No one even mentions it anymore.

How many non-whites were murdered by police RECENTLY? 

White people in power (police, elected officials, business owners, etc.) are, largely, not helping enough, and those that look the other way all have blood on their hands.

Have you looked lately at the racial breakdown in the police department? Before you look, what race do you think it's most represented? What about Congress and the Senate? What about your town's leadership? Do representatives match the racial makeup of your city or state? Do your politicians actively speak out about racism? Xenophobia? Sexism? Misogyny? 

Go through your friends, mentally. Think about who responded "white (or blue) lives matter" in response to "Black Lives Matter" and consider their "whiteness" again. Are they part of the problem or part of the solution?

Are you going to let friend and family racism stand? What about microaggressions? Will you stand up to them and let them know how that affects PoC or people that are non-CIS? Do you have the courage to tell your father that he is a racist? Can you stand up to your family at a reunion and renounce your affiliation to them because they won't accept who you love? Will you speak up in public when you see people speaking about others behind their back about their race? Can you stand up to the bullies in your school? Will you stop people that are telling racist "jokes?"

These take courage. They might get you killed in the wrong place. Would you die for the rights of someone else?

Even if you aren't ready to die for your beliefs, you can make a tiny difference; you're on the right side of history. If it's too dangerous, do something else. Get educated. Go volunteer outside your comfort zone. Watch Triumph of the Will. Support Black Lives Matter. Even if you just watch videos. Or try to subtly get others to learn more. Be a mentor. Be the change you want to see.

If you're not helping when you can in any way you can, YOU are part of the problem. Do something. Now. Make change happen. Now.

Lives depend on it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Changing the Face of Our House on Chicon Street

Over the last few weeks, we've been making some changes to the house as we've finally gotten all of the stuff out of our previous home.

One of the changes on deck is utilizing some vintage, etched glass doors rescued from a bank. We bought these almost 20 years ago and they were simply too large for us to do anything with! They sat in our garage since they were brought home.

Matt's prepping the left column for concrete
On Chicon, we have an open porch and my wife loves it out there. It's where many days have been planned and plots have been hatched and since it's been getting colder and we've gotten some rain, it's pretty obvious that we need to do something to make it more livable. We don't want to enclose the porch, or modify the house, so we had to keep all of that in mind as we started.

The doors, when placed side by side, just happen to be the same width as the porch... so they are going to be used to dress the front porch! I don't want to give away the ending of the story, but, wait... maybe I just did.

The Preparation

We wanted to be sure that they are level at the top, so the base had to be set up to allow for that. The side doors are shorter than the door, so they need to have a small support added for them under each.

But before that could be done... we had to lay out a solid base for each of those frames to be set upon. 

Mixing that awesome 'crete

Three posts and a lot of leveling

Full frontal

Left Side Window

Time for the first side window. Getting its frame laid out at the bottom was first, and then the door had to be lifted upon it, and then framed in as well. Crazy!

All the framing wood

She's in place!

Eyeing up the center door framing

The Center Door

Time to get the center door in place. Got to keep the whole picture in mind while it's getting framed. Plus that thing is heavy.

She's there!

A closer look 

Closer still!

A view from the inside

Right Side Window

After much planning and measuring, we put up the frame so that it missed the beam that is holding the awning over the front. It's just a perfect fit. It required a little re-jiggering of the center door's placement to keep it all centered, but we didn't have to change anything about how it's connected to the house. It will be 100% free-standing when completed. For now, there's a few beams making sure a hurricane doesn't blow it over.

Framing out the last side window

The Trinity!

What's Next?

We're still planning the next stage. The idea is that we're going to add "siding" to it so it looks similar to the front of the house. More updates as we move forward!

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Brief Stay at Standing Rock: It's Not Over. Why Did I Leave?

Yesterday, I was at Standing Rock when the easement was denied. I had only arrived at 1:30am the previous night, and it kills me to say that I headed out after I was certain that the easement denial was real news and not just hearsay. Let me explain...

Personal Background

Some background for those of you that don't know me. I believe in the goodness of man and mankind. It hurts when I see things out of order. Standing Rock is a microcosm of what's wrong with the way we're treating the Earth and I wanted to go there and make a difference. I asked my family if they could handle my being gone for a few days and after some preparation for me to be gone, it was done.

In the matter of two days, I collected some donations and bought all the gear I thought I'd need (with extras for others there, of course), and headed out for North Dakota. Along the way, I picked up things that weren't for sale in Austin because, well, it's summer there about 9-11 months of the year. :)

(I convoyed with a friend, but they would rather not be part of my online travails, so I'm pre-redacting any discussion about that. I'm going to make all pronouns singular to hold to my word). 

The Trip from Austin, Texas (Friday, December 3 and Saturday, December 4, 2016)

Leaving in the late afternoon, it was getting late and I'm totally against driving while exhausted, so I slept in my car ('99 Lexus SUV I'd just bought, with two wheel drive - yeah go ahead and laugh now) in north Texas. It was cold, but not freezing. It was a good way to see that I needed to seriously organize that vehicle if I was really going to be in it in the REAL cold. Woke up and drove all day, stopping only for gas and to buy the aforementioned additional supplies. I posted online that I was on the way and that I would be willing to buy more stuff for the camp, and I got some donations that helped fund more supplies. If my visit did nothing other than generate those donations, I was already happy.

I arrived just before midnight (according to the timestamp on the photo I took) and after driving around to find my contact, getting stuck on an icy hill, and generally feeling around in the dark as a complete noob to the camp, got the car parked and started settling in. I was approached by some people from the camp (there were certain areas that were designated for certain people / groups / tribes) and they wanted to know who I knew with their group. It was a weird situation but made perfect sense. They were concerned because they really didn't know if I was friend or foe.

Bedding down for the night was done after I got the interior a little more organized. It was cold but not insane, so I didn't need to go for the sub-zero style sleeping bag I'd been loaned for the trip.

{Note: there were no blockades, no fines for bringing in supplies, no police stopping anything at all.}

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

Waking up, I found that there was plenty to do. I went to a public area near my group, and was happy to find that my offer to help was immediately accepted. After I'd worked in and around the mess hall all morning, I had the opportunity to walk the camp.

I was heading back to my car to finally get it organized for the next night (I heard it was supposed to get pretty bad with 40mph winds, etc. the next day), I stopped, again, to listen to an elder speak to a huge crowd. He was preceded by many people singing songs, telling stories and praying. Each speaker reminded everyone about why we were there and how important peace and love are to the effort. When it was the elder's turn, he gave everyone so much perspective about the fight. Told us that every treaty the United States had ever made with the natives had been broken. Told us of our need to be one with the land and how we are all one. After that talk, I realized that we are ALL doing it wrong. Finally he asked everyone to form the largest prayer circle possible around the perimeter of the camp. He then got on his horse and led a procession through the camp, where campers spread the word of the prayer circle and people started holding hands as he rode by.

Still concerned about my car being sleep-ready for the evening, I headed back. I also was parked on the edge of the camp, so eventually the circle made it to me. As they were joining hands, I stepped out and took my place, with the car doors still open.

It took a while, but everyone came out from their tents and structures in the center of the camp and joined hands. I could see both ways and up a hill and everyone was linked at once. I've never seen anything like it.

When everyone that I could see was standing holding hands, a couple of people came around and heralded that the easement had been denied. Coincidence? Sure. But that was one of the most amazing moments I have ever experienced. If you haven't figured it out by now, this fight is nowhere near over. Stand strong Standing Rock!

It Can't Really Be Over, Can It?

It was at this point that I didn't know what to do. I headed over to the media area to get my head around it. Was it real? As I approached the area, I could hear people talking about it and turning it over and over while they all considered all the ways that they knew that this wasn't *really* over. After listening to a few interviews, it was certain. The easement was denied. And no one believed that the pipeline was dead. No one.

By the time I got back to the car, I'd started hearing about the weather that was coming in. Remember that everything is, essentially, a rumor, because there was no data, so what I heard was that there was a little snow coming with 40mph winds. And it was going to get even colder. I felt I had to make a decision. Stay and get "snowed in," or leave and report my experience.

In short, I decided to leave. Once I managed to get online, I posted about it on Facebook. I wrote the majority of the below in response, before I decided to put it all in a blog post.

It's Not Over. Why Did I Leave? 

My friend, Dana Frank, asked me an EXCELLENT QUESTION about my choice to leave Standing Rock after the Army Corps denied the DAPL easement: "Why did you leave? It's not really over up there." Exactly. Why did I make that decision? I'll share my thoughts. Feel free to help me pick these apart, but first realize that I'm just a human and I'm not perfect. Dana knows that, but with the very real concern that there are people treating this like their personal Woodstock and not as a movement, it's worth it to explore my decision further.

My all-too-brief personal volunteer experience (explained in more detail above) was spending half of my day with a mess hall and moving construction materials around, staging them for new builds that were starting. The rest of the day, I attended a brief orientation, spoke to quite a few campers, listened to the elders speak and remind everyone why they were there, and walked the camp.

View from the media area
Could I have stayed? In all honesty, I would have ZERO problem staying and working as a volunteer for the rest of time, really. The whole camp was self-sustaining and I'm used to camping in shitty cold weather. I had the gear to make it work, but I have a family that I have to factor into these decisions.

When the "victory" was announced, I could tell that this was a big decision point for each and every person in the camp. For me, I had to consider staying through a big weather event which could strand me for the foreseeable future or should I leave my gear and my donated gear for those that are going to stay for the long haul? I chose the latter and I *do* feel conflicted about my decision, honestly. Here's my thinking...

Are These Reasons Or Excuses? You Decide.

The camp was gearing up for a huge meeting / celebration to allow everyone a chance to appreciate the victory and discuss the seriousness of what it's going to take to get to the next stage, which at this time is still up in the air. I had to make the decision to leave before they started that celebration, because I knew that if I stayed for it, I'd get snowed in and very likely be there longer than I'd originally planned.

Another view from the media area
Part of my decision to leave before that celebration / refocus was made because I didn't have the ability to stay more than a few days. There was some weather coming in that would very likely strand me there for longer than I could ask my family (disabled wife and kids that need my support in person) to deal with. Additionally, my (new used) vehicle just isn't rated for big time snow / ice. It can handle a bit, but when it's REAL, like it was going to become, it wouldn't be feasible to have left anytime soon.

Part of it was that I knew that the next battle is going to last until well after Trump gets into office.

Reporters getting data from official sources (pre-announcement)
Part of it was that I went to offer physical, spiritual, and "optic" (as in being another body for news to see and report) support as well as deliver donations and supplies. As short as my time there was, I was able to provide was a strong(ish) back and locate people that would most benefit from what I had brought, rather than throw those donations in a pile. There's nothing wrong with donating like that, but when you can look someone in the eye and know you're making a difference, it's far more tangible.

Part of it was that I wasn't able to report the reality of what was happening on the ground due to lack of internet access. The news reports get a LOT of stuff wrong. The only way to know that is to be there in person. I knew that there wouldn't be internet access, but I was hoping I'd be able to travel from the camp to the casino to get to some wifi to share the REALITY of what was happening on the ground. When it occurred to me that was not going to be feasible, I didn't think I would really be of a benefit to providing news. When I left (let's just say getting my car out of the camp was "interesting"), I pulled into the casino and wanted to give it a shot, but the parking lot was super icy and I realized that if I actually parked, I'd never leave.

If anything comes of my stay at the camp, I hope that my reporting of what I had seen and the donations I left with those brave souls makes a tiny difference. I'm a vessel and I know it. Ultimately I think I did all I could with the time I had and that my decision to leave was the best one I could make for my family, given the situation.


I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I'd regret not going in the first place if I had the chance. I know I would have. I'm so glad I got the opportunity. I don't think I'm going to regret having left at the time I did, but only time will tell.

It's not over and it will NEVER be over while the fossil fuel industry exists, and it certainly won't ever be over as long as there is money in politics. Ever.

Consider Helping The Cause

If you feel the need and have the ability, please contribute what you can to the movement. Water is life.


Some extra stuff that didn't really fit above

There was a camp rule to not take pictures of people's faces, so I went up to the media area and shot some panoramas. The first is before the announcement, near noon. The second is just after the announcement, where you can see people making their reports live. People were genuinely stunned.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Don't Like the Election Results? One Simple Way to Move Forward.

Last week, America was shocked. Well, not everyone. Many people aren't surprised at all. Myself, I was expecting this. People are hurting. They are poor. They want something that they can believe in, and I believe that, finally, people have seen that the DNC is corrupted by money.

It is my contention that people voted against the DNC as well as for Trump. It's my contention that the DNC has lost its way.

The Democrats are supposed to be the party of the people. They lost their core. They have been deporting people in incredible numbers. They have been dropping bombs at unsustainable rates. They are funded by the corporations that are destroying the world. They are pushing "trade deals" that aren't going to help working class Americans. They support oil pipelines. They support fracking. They support regime change across the world. I could go on.

The way forward is to fix the DNC. They must completely re-define themselves and restart fresh. In my opinion, they already have all the ingredients. Take Bernie's platform. Make it the DNC's DNA. Hire people that live it and breathe it.

Does this election bother you? Do you want to make change? Don't want to wait for the next Presidential election to "fix it?" There are people that can't wait for the next election, so you're in luck! Here's what to do!

Find a group, a single local group, that you respect and go volunteer for a few hours a week. Do it today! I'm pouring my volunteerism into the Austin Clubhouse. I can make change work for their members on a daily basis. When you see, with your own eyes, and hear, with your own ears, the needs of your very own community, you'll see just how many people need your help. You'll feel and be involved. You'll be an agent of change. You'll make a difference, and you'll be able to sleep better every night.

Presidential politics take a long time to change. Invest in your community now. You'll see that change immediately. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Think Mental Health Assistance in Austin Is Out of Reach? Think Again.

If you've never heard of the Austin Clubhouse, let's fix that. Austin Clubhouse exists to provide acceptance and empowerment so adults living with mental health diagnoses can pursue personal goals and play a meaningful role as co-workers, colleagues, family members and friends.

I've been volunteering there for years and lately I've been spending more and more time in a support role. On a personal level, it is immensely satisfying to participate in others' successes in life. I've always loved helping people as a manager in my career, but through the Clubhouse, I'm helping people in ways that are incredibly tangible.

The Clubhouse is housed within a church, but it is not religious in any way. The staff are amazing and the members are extremely willing to get involved with everyone's success. Every day we're open (M-F), the staff and members hand make lunch from scratch. Lunch is served for $1.00.

Many of our members are homeless or marginally homeless and we provide them help in many, many ways. From ensuring that they have access to transportation (discounted bus passes) to medical care (on site medical professionals regularly). We have rooms of internet-connected computers (we just upgraded to super fast internet, averaging around 100M download) that can be used at any time, provide resume and job training classes, offer free yoga and exercise classes, support a community garden, and so much more. Learn more about our services here.

Love our supporters! 1886 Cafe and Bakery and The Driskill
If you're interested in learning more, please come by for a free tour. Our staff and members are happy to show you around and answer any question you have. All you need to be a member is have a mental health diagnosis and a treatment plan. If you're a caretaker of a person with mental illness, you should know about our organization and keep us in your back pocket. We're on your side. See you soon!

Austin Clubhouse.
610 E 45th Street, Austin, TX 78751, inside Hyde Park Christian Church.

Visit us on Facebook.
Find us on Google Maps.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Our First Halloween at Chicon Street

The kids have had a great time Halloween-ing down south and now that they have been doing their own things for years, and I'm not having to drive them around anymore, I wanted to get into the "spirit" of Halloween this year, and everyone was okay with that because they all had plans that night! I tried to get prepped in advance, but with the Cubs in the World Series, a good amount of the time I was going to spend prepping... was spent over at the Haymaker!

Tuesday and I got some good webs setup on Sunday night, and then ran out of time. She likes them to be really thin or spread out extensively. No clumps! On Monday afternoon, her plans fell through so she was able to be at the house and help with last minute prep. Lucky for me! And once I was on the way home with her, we got a call from my mom, who decided to come over and hand out candy as well! By the time we got to the house, she had already gotten some decorations up that she had brought.

We went out and got some candy / prizes purchased at just the last moment and made it to the house in time to complete decorations. Then we finally sat down to wait for kids. We had 3 kids quickly and then a small handful until we shut down at 11pm.

All in all it was a lot of fun. Lots of music, singing and kazoo playing on the porch all night. Nightmare Before Christmas to Rocky Horror. I saw some neighbors down the road and since we didn't have a lot of kids, I walked down and met the family that had lived in our house before us! They had 5 kids in there!

Here are a few pics for you to see what it looked like!

Next year, I want to find a way to get more people on the street to CONSIDER participating in Halloween. If not, maybe I'll be the house that gives away HUGE candy until people finally get the word out. We have friends in New Braunfels that don't have a lot of kids that come by, so they're like Willy Wonka. I kinda like that idea. Let's see how things go in 2017!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pepe Romero Day!

Did you know that Saturday, October 15 was officially proclaimed, by Mayor Adler himself, as Pepe Romero Day in Austin and Austin proclaimed as the Classical Guitar Capital of the World? Me neither! But when the lights went down that evening, Pepe took his seat and propped his foot up on his stand, it was pretty obvious why.

Thanks to the Austin Clubhouse ( and their relationship with Austin Classical Guitar (, my son and I were able to join a group that attended the sold-out Austin Classical Guitar International Series Opening Night at the AISD Performing Arts Center featuring Pepe Romero.

Arriving at the PAC for the first time, I was surprised by its beauty (and its ample parking). Our group carefully rolled into the parking garage as we were in a large van and it looked like we were going to hit the roof. Lots of laughter started the evening off right! Our short walk to the atrium brought us into a well-lit lobby peppered with displays from Austin Classical Guitar as well as representatives from AISD's guitar programs. My son's guitar teacher from McCallum High School was there as well. Very cool.

Once we got to our seats, we saw that the stage was filled with chairs. Was Pepe going to have a backup band? After a wonderful introduction by the emcee, we were treated to a opening song from the William B. Travis Classical Guitar Ensemble. They were wonderful, and after they completed their song, Pepe came out on the stage to wild applause.

Pepe started without a word and the audience was silenced until he lifted the spell to let us raise him up with the first round of raucous applause. While over the night, I only recognized two of the songs, his technique was incredible and he truly mesmerized the crowd.

Would you like some education about Freedom with that?
Partway through the show, he stopped and spoke about his background and I was able to get a bigger perspective on how he fits into the world and why he had spent so much extra time here in Austin working with students and guitar groups. His father was unable to take his music outside of Spain by Fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892-1975) due to Celedonio Romero’s participation in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. Pepe truly cares about freedom, freedom through music and music education, so he travels to spread the word and his and his father's music.

My son has been playing guitar for years and I was very happy to have this opportunity to have him see such an amazing artist. What I didn't expect was that he told me that he saw "at least 15" new guitar playing techniques that he wanted to learn. That was worth the whole trip.

Thank you, Austin Clubhouse! I'm looking forward to the next outing.

Want to learn more about Pepe? Here ya go!

This week's edition of Classical Guitar Alive! features a look at how political events have shaped music history from the 16th Century to 20th Century. Pepe Romero tells how his father Celedonio Romero (1913-1996) was prevented by Fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco (1892-1975) from concertizing outside of Spain, due to Celedonio Romero’s participation in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. The Romero family immigrated to the USA in 1957, and then performed world-wide as Los Romeros Guitar Quartet. Pepe Romero performs his father’s flamenco-based work, “Concierto de Malaga”. Pepe says “Because my father was in Malaga, he fought against Franco’s forces. He was in a group of artists and musicians that were very liberal thinkers that wanted freedom for Spain, and that whose ideas were the very opposite of what Franco and the Fascist government stood for. Therefore, many of them had a much worse fate, like Garcia Lorca, Antonio Jose. And my father was just prevented from leaving Spain … and he performed magnificently-inspired concerts for us.”

When I think of Austin Classical Guitar and the extraordinary work they are doing for the Spanish guitar, it fills my heart with happiness.

I see Austin as a wonderful center where young people have the opportunity to learn, love and experience the wonders and mysteries of my beloved guitar.

I have had fantastic experiences in Austin with the guitar and truly consider Austin to be one of the most inspired places on the planet. Matthew and his team harness this natural energy and weave it with the guitar and her music, making it thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting to the beginner player as well as the seasoned professional.

I look forward to my return!

- Pepe Romero