Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Thanksgiving Edition

Hello everyone! Since Thanksgiving is just days away, we here at VSA Texas want to share a few things we are thankful for this holiday season.

April Sullivan:
  • I am thankful for my fun job at VSA Texas, where I get a chance to spend time with creative thinkers and get paid for it at the same time.
  • I am thankful for all of the people who have shared their love and kind words with me as I go through a hard time this year.
  • I am thankful for my cozy home.
Me and my friends at KOOP radio

Eric Clow:
  • I am thankful for music. Nothing is more boundless, beautiful, and therapeutic. I am grateful to play it and grateful to listen to it. I am the best version of myself when I am surrounded by it.
  • I am thankful for Big Bunny. She loves me, laughs at my stupid jokes, encourages me to pursue my biggest dreams. I am thankful for her ageless smile, her brown eyes, our silly arguments that end in laughter, and every ounce of creativity we share.
  • I am thankful for every family I have been a part of. This includes all of my blood relatives (the Parkers, the Clows, the Claytons, and the Garards) and the families I have found, including Wolf House Co-op, where I found the love and support I needed to succeed in college, Dude Choir, where I found my musical voice, and of course, my most recent family, VSA Texas, where I serve the creative pursuits of other artists with disabilities, which in turn bolsters my own creativity. And how could I forget my amazing co-workers? They make this project coordinator and self-appointed blog manager a very happy worker bee.
Big Bunny and me. No, that is not our house
in the background.

Nicole Cortichiato:
  • I am thankful for fresh cranberry sauce, not the canned kind.
  • I am thankful for the tiny people that live in my ears.
  • I am thankful for the people that love me when I'm a boo boo head (see below).
Love me. I'm a boo boo head.

Lynn Johnson:
In order for me to say what I am thankful for, I have to go back to the first stages of my life, which explains why I have so many things, too numerous to list. Without growing up in a loving, thoughtful, laughter-filled household, filled with love and not hate towards other races, I would not have had the mettle to have acquired a safe place to live, freedom of religion and speech, friendships that have endured, ways to support myself, food and clothing, and a sense of adventure and tolerance. I have been thankful for the storms in my life, for I would not have recognized those rainbow moments otherwise. So grateful for all the choices offered me, not grateful for the ones that were disastrous but still had the alacrity to pedal to safety. Thankful that I get to participate in writing a blog with my coworkers and friends who I actually enjoy seeing everyday in a wonderful place I call a happy place, not a workplace.
Me at Machu Picchu

Celia Hughes:
  • I am thankful for education, because without it the world would be a very dark place. The more we can educate people, the better they are able to care for themselves and others. We don’t all have to have a Ph.D., but the ability to read and write and cipher a few numbers opens up the world.
  • I am also thankful for friends and family, because they lift up my spirits and keep me honest with myself. I would not be able to do the work that I do without their love and support.
  • I am thankful for the staff and board members of VSA Texas. You are a hard-working, dedicated group of people and I am honored to call you my friends.
Me with my winning Easter bonnet

What are you thankful for? Tell us in the comments!

Also, if you're shopping on Amazon this Black Friday or any time for that matter, don't forget to support VSA Texas using Amazon Smile. Just click here: https://smile.amazon.com/ch/74-2863338

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Girl Power!!

Greetings everyone! Nicole here, and I want to wallop into your mind for a few.

Let your eyes ride on my words, and I will tell you a story of some of the most brilliant, confident-eyed, future adults to be. What am I talking about? I'm talking about the WE ARE GIRLS CONFERENCE!

Do you know what the “We Are Girls Conference” is? It is an explosion of all girls in one place. So much craziness, so much fun! So much to scream about! For the convenience of your busy lives though, I will communicate the details in a brief fashion.

WHO PRESENTED: The Opening Minds, Opening Doors team (which consisted of): Myself, Sharizod Aboii, Shaniqua Esparza, and Kamand Alaghehband.

OUR HELPERS: Kasera, Lindsey (our very eager We Are Girls volunteer assistant), and Sheila (Sharizod’s mom).

WHAT WE PRESENTED: Girl Talk: I’m Already Different, Now I Have to Grow Up?

TO: 3rd-5th and 6th-8th grade girls

Here was our workshop description for the event: You coming or what? We’re about to get crazy on “Girl Talk,” a live talk show performance with girls that have already been there and done that. If you’re brave enough, you can be a guest on the show and share the good, the bad, and the ugly about growing up. And if that’s not your style, then submit the questions you are afraid to ask because we aren’t scared to answer them! No parents allowed!

The wonderful women of "Girl Talk," poised and ready.
From left to right: Kamand, Shaniqua, Nicole, and Sharizod.
For Girl Talk, we told stories of times we felt embarrassed, challenged, cool, and confident along with a variety of experiences around bullying. We had many questions and comments from the girls in our workshop.

Next, we did an activity called “I feel awesome when…” where each girl shared their name, an adjective to describe herself, and a time she feels awesome. My example: I am Neato-Torpedo Nicole, and I feel awesome when I write a poem and say it at an open mic.

And finally, we played the “Friending Game,” much like the Dating Game, only in this version the contestants got to interview potential friends. This went over really well with the 3rd-5th grade group.

WHEN WE PRESENTED: Saturday, November 14th, 2015

WHERE WE PRESENTED: The 8th Annual Statewide WE ARE GIRLS Conference, which was held at Austin High School. Their theme this year: Tell Your Story.

WHY IN THE WORLD DID WE DO THIS? Because we are girls too, and we want to give all girls the encouragement they need to achieve their every goal!

INTERESTING STUFF THAT HAPPENED: It was a sold-out conference. That meant we had to be ready for full capacity (25-30 girls) in our workshop.

The clock was ticking! It was five minutes 'til our first presentation, and there were only two kids in our room! I was starting to worry. Our competition? An improv group from the Hide Out Theater next door. UGGGG!


What happened after that? It paid off! We got 25-30 girls per session. We also got lots of laughs from parents, counselors, advisors, and girls. Really though, we were a team! We all had our special talents to add to the mix! Sharizod was brilliant and patient answering the girls' questions. Kamand helped set up the room and went around with Shaniqua and I to market ourselves. Shaniqua was a kick butt host for “Girl Talk” and the “Friending Game.” Sheila was a complete blessing in helping girls fill out surveys and floating wherever needed. Kasera was a rock for everyone and gave helpful feedback. And I cannot forget our talented volunteer given to us by the We Are Girls Conference, Lindsey. She was invaluable in every way! What a team of synergy we had!

  • Are you guys going to be here next year?
  • When you are bullied, the right thing to do is kill them with kindness, right?
  • What is the most important thing that ever happened to you?
  • How did you get blind?
  • I liked how everyone made better choices in life.
  • Good stories.
  • Keep doing what you’re doing.
  • It was very funny.

WHAT WE LEARNED: 99% of the things we did were perfect! Is there room for improvement? Of course! Next year we will focus on two activities instead of three. That way, we will have more time for questions. My reasoning? The girls were required to fill out two We Are Girls surveys about the workshops they attended and their overall day, so this made things a little tight.

Overall, I want to thank our team for bringing it that day with their energy, light, and cheerful smiles.

Thank you GENaustin and WE ARE GIRLS for celebrating our womanhood and our future womanhood to be.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Holiday Art Show Is Here!

Block prints by William Cauthern
This is April, taking a short break from my busy week to tell you about our Holiday Art and Gift Show. I am currently accepting and hanging artwork by 27 artists from across the state in our most popular annual exhibit. We have kicked Eric out of Room 101 and have begun transforming it into a wonderland of art and gifts! I know what you are thinking… Room 101? That room with no windows and green carpet on the walls? No way! You really must see it to believe it. It will look great.

Curating, hanging, and showing art off to the world is one of my favorite parts of this job. It is not easy, but very rewarding. And this week I not only get the chance to do this here at work, I get to do it at home as well! I am preparing my home studio to present my art in the East Austin Studio Tour. So my evenings look a lot like my daytime hours right now: inventorying art, labeling art, making price lists, hanging art on the walls. Whew! I am tired.

Music boxes by Una Lau

A recycled glass bottle by Sue Ducett Lloyd 
Tie Dye Scarves by Theron Parker

I bet you are wondering, "When and where can I see all of this great art and compliment April on all of her hard work?"
Water bottles and wine bags
featuring artwork by Brian Dodd

Well, here are the details:

VSA Texas 2015 Holiday Art and Gift Show
3710 Cedar Street, Room 101 in the AGE of Central Texas Building, Austin, TX 78705
November 16 – December 23, 2015 from 9:30 – 5:00 pm M-F
Opening Reception November 19th from 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Artist Reception December 13th from 2:00 – 5:00 pm

Yarn Paintings by April Sullivan
Stop #8 on the East Austin Studio Tour
5407B Westminster Drive
Austin, TX 78723
November 14 & 15, 21 & 22, from 11-6 each day
Find more information here: east.bigmedium.org

Come on in!
My studio is ready for the tour.

Fall in Love -
a yarn painting by me

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dude Choir in El Paso

Hey folks! Eric here. I have a road trip adventure to share with you.

The other week I drove to El Paso and back in less than two days to speak and play music at the Our Lives Conference. Why, might you ask, did I willingly volunteer for this mountainous task? In short, because of two sayings that have consistently nagged at my conscience since I first heard them:

"Things that matter most must not be put at the mercy of things that matter least." This first one came from my step-dad, and though I still resent it echoing around my brain, I must admit he had a good point. I am a self-proclaimed musician and songwriter, and I had been given the opportunity to play my songs for 150 people or more. If music was truly my passion, my priority, it'd be crazy for me to pass up this opportunity for comfort, a couple hours of sleep, and a little less stress. Pursuing our passions should always be a top priority, not an afterthought.

"Do one thing every day that scares you." This one came from Eleanor Roosevelt, and for some reason, it made total sense to me. If you aren't constantly challenging or throwing yourself in frightening new situations, how will you ever know what you're truly capable of? Now I'm not advocating that you should go climb K2 without a guide or sit in a cage with poisonous snakes. I'm just saying that if you have big aspirations with terrifying obstacles impeding your way, you can try to tackle those obstacles by pushing yourself to do at least one scary thing every day. My obstacles are stage fright and the fear of making mistakes, but each time I play one of my songs live, I chip away a little more at those obstacles.

Nolan snaps a selfie of us
before we hit the road.
We had been planning this trip to El Paso since June, and it was to take place in the middle of October, when I could allot five days for the trip there and back, along with ample recovery and practice time in El Paso. Later, Rick invited me to play music during the conference lunch, and I agreed after a few days of anxious internal debates weighing the pros and cons. So I began teaching my songs to my attendant Juan Carlos and practicing several nights a week. Then I found out that the conference had been pushed back to the end of October, during a week that was already booked with a webinar, a training in Houston, a mentor group, and a conference prep session. Moreover, Juan Carlos would be away on tour during that week. My heart dropped. I didn't see how this trip would be even vaguely possible.

Luckily, my other attendant Nolan, also a musician, stepped up to the challenge of learning 8 new songs and driving me to El Paso one day, then playing with me and driving back the next - his reasoning, similar to mine, that I should not miss an opportunity like this to share my music with so many people. And hey, the dude likes road trips! So I taught Nolan the songs, and we practiced every available opportunity in the 3 weeks leading up to the conference.

Then came the day of our departure, and we hit the road. All in all, it was a beautiful drive with expansive views, endless straightaways, opportunities to embrace one's entire life, and surprisingly decent truck stop restrooms. Though, as with any full day of driving, the road did take its toll, and by the time we reached our hotel room in El Paso, I collapsed into bed, nauseous and dizzy. I awoke a few hours later to sip from a styrofoam cup filled with the best chicken tortilla soup of my life, courtesy of Leo's Mexican Food Restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. While I napped, Nolan had gone out to find the crucial elixir now bringing me back to life. After soup came a round of sopapillas - essentially Mexico's version of fluffy beignets and the perfect end to any evening. I immediately returned to dreamland, and Nolan left to explore the nightlife in El Paso.

A view of the desert on the way to El Paso

The next morning we awoke at 5:30am, and my stomach was in knots. Our panel of speeches would begin at 8:45am, and then I would play music at lunch. I don't usually cope well with doubleheaders, especially when each event utilizes a different side of my brain. But, despite my concerns, everything moved forward smoothly. I found Rick, who further proved himself to be the kindest, most forgiving man I've ever met, kind of like a third grandfather. He always made sure we had everything we needed - tables, microphones, breakfast burritos, an extended sound check before our set, and full plates of lunch for when we finished.

The ballroom of the Camino Real Hotel,
where we played
Our speeches at the start of the conference went well. Stephanie Gonzalez, Nicole, and I all discussed what the ADA means to us. Then I brought breakfast to Nolan, sound asleep in our room, and we ate and rehearsed a final time before our sound check.
Adjusting all the levels
during our soundcheck

We began our set around 1:00pm and played 8 songs, 6 originals and 2 covers. Of course, we made a few mistakes, as we always do, but I am happy to report I only messed up the lyrics 3 times, which is pretty good for me. I'm usually better at remembering my lyrics, but throw in a keyboard solo or an audience of more than a hundred people, and all those taken-for-granted skills seem to float away. Luckily I'm grounded enough to know that a mistake is a learning opportunity and not something to hold against yourself.

Nolan and myself in the heat of our performance

I look back at this performance as a moment of personal growth. I played a longer set than I had ever played to a much larger audience than I had ever played for, and I got through all of the songs with only a handful of mistakes (make that two handfuls) and no nervous breakdowns (well, at least none requiring hospitalization) - I'd say that's pretty good.

Enough yapping now! You can enjoy a few videos of our set here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdigO0AqfuTpKcfjcpZSQZHYeEd-26Js5

But just remember that the views expressed in my songs do not necessarily reflect the views of VSA Texas. Cheers!