Going Back to The First Story

Growing Up Austin - A Lithuanian Story All the Way From Texas(Welcome to a special series on GrowingUpAustin.com, A Lithuanian Story – All the Way From Texas. I am traveling to Lithuania this summer to teach storytelling at A.P.P.L.E., an education conference that I first taught at almost twenty years ago. The new conference is fully of mystery and adventure. The first conference gave me stories I have been telling ever since. So, I decided to write about the trips here. If you have just joined, here is a summary of the posts. I’ll return to writing about hiking, live music and art for Austin kids when I get back in July. Information is always available at AustinKidsHike.com (hiking), AustinKidsDance.com (live music) and AustinKidsDraw.com (art).)Growing Up Austin

That is me on the left and Zina on the right. It was 1995 in Lithuania. She told me her story.

At the end of WWII, her father knew. He knew the Russians were not bringing communism back to Lithuania so everyone could share everything. He knew the Russians would keep everything for themselves. He was a teacher. He was educated. He knew.

She, her father, mother and sister were deported to Siberia. They were lucky to arrive before the deep winter because her father was able to dig a hole in the ground, before the ground froze. The hole was their new home. They slept and ate and lived in a hole in the ground.

She and her sister went to school. She hated the Russian language, but if they did poorly in their lessons, they would be beaten. So they learned Russian.

A few years later, her father died in the work camp. Then her mother planned their risky escape.

They walked out of the camp during the night. They didn’t stop walking. They snuck onto a train without tickets or papers, most likely to be caught, sent back and punished severely.

They made it to Lithuania. Her mother bought fake papers several times, of better quality each time, whenever she could save enough money.

Lithuania was still occupied by the Russians. The Russians learned that she could speak Russian and they assigned her a life-long job as an interpreter of the Lithuanian and Russian languages.

I met her fifty years later, five years after the Russian occupation ended. She was my interpreter, when I taught at an education conference in Lithuania that teaches western methods of education that promote democracy. She was interpreting English and Lithuanian this time, but now and then someone would bring her something in Russian to interpret for them, and she would.

She still hated the Russian language. But her heart was still kind. She had survived.

I’m teaching at the same conference, the American Professional Partnership for Lithuanian Education (A.P.P.L.E.), this summer, almost twenty years later. I’m teaching storytelling and hosting storytelling performances. I want to hear about Lithuania’s young democracy most of all because I imagine that establishing a new democracy is a messy and difficult business.

There isn’t a script or blueprint for how the classes and performances are supposed to work. I’m not even sure if I know what I’m doing. But I’m going to do it anyway.

It feels like a full circle, because Zina’s story was my first STORY. It was the moment I knew that stories were important and I shouldn’t ever think I really know history or science or language or anything else until I also listen to individual, personal stories, so I can feel a deeper truth. This is why I do storytelling now, even though my stories are far less historical, they are still individual, personal stories that share a deeper truth, hopefully.

I’m not sure the blog will make sense between now and then, when I’m preparing for the conference. I might post about Lithuania in a random way that doesn’t seem related to hiking, art and music in Austin. But who says it needs to make sense all the time?

So, let me know. Do you want to hear more? What do you want to know?

How To Drive To School ln Two Cars and Four Trips

Growing Up Austin
This is Blue Eyes and I driving Buttercup to school the other day…
1. It’s time to go and we can’t find Buttercup.
2. We find her in the car, in her booster seat.
3. We realize neither of us made her lunch. I go inside and make a quick lunch.
4. Blue Eyes heads off with Buttercup.
5. Just when they are too far away for me to call them back, I see the Teacher Appreciation Day flowers still waiting by the door.
6. I get in my car and follow them to the day care, with flowers in tow.
7. I’m almost there when I get a call from Blue Eyes. Buttercup isn’t wearing shoes.
8. I drive back to the house to get her shoes.
9. I drive back to the day care.
10. Blue Eyes and I meet in the day care parking lot. I put on Buttercup’s shoes and carry her and the flowers into the day care.
11. Just when Blue Eyes is too far away for me to call him back, I realize Buttercup’s lunch is still in his car .

Later that day, as I’m walking into Buttercup’s room at the day care, the kids are getting their lunches out of the fridge. Buttercup is telling her teacher, in a sad and worried voice, “My Mommy didn’t bring mine, I don’t have any food.” I clear my throat. She turns around and sees me with a lunch bag in my hands. She smiles an enormous smile and runs to give me a hug. I stay for lunch and we have a sweet time.

Maybe it is all the bad news lately, but I can’t get worked up about a forgotten lunch these days, even if it happens twice.

A Painting Makeover and a Happy Ending, by Jay


Growing Up Austin


Growing Up Austin

Life has been a mess and I can’t fix everything, but I decided I would fix the three blank canvases that had been hanging up in our loft for two years. I showed up at my friend Jay’s house with the blank canvases, a bag of brand new paints and printouts from Art.com.

The printouts were in two categories: 1) paintings I felt like I could recreate – a big blue square, a geometric pattern of thumb print smudges and a single swirly flower and 2) paintings I actually liked.

Jay threw out the category 1 printouts. She was serious. These paintings were going to be amazing.

She talked to me about the paintings I liked, then she placed the canvases next to each other on the table and went to work. She was in the moment, focused,  inspired and passionate, grabbing paints of all different colors, rolling, brushing and dripping, moving so fast she was all a blur.

At one point she paused and asked if I wanted to be doing more of the painting and I said no way, it was too much fun to watch her. This was after I did the first pass at the blue flowers, which is why they look a little funny.

She didn’t plan it all out, she went with themes I liked and with a few accent colors that would coordinate with our room. She worked in layers, talking with me now and then, to see where to go next.

While she was painting, she told me a story.

She had wanted to be an art major in college, but her Dad had said ‘no’. He didn’t want to pay for a college degree and then have Jay unable to find a job. So, Jay was a Communications major (with an Art minor) and she got a job in business after college.

Oh, no! Her dreams ended so early!

But wait, her story wasn’t over.

Now, Jay has a serious career with a successful company. She is happy to have the options and stability that comes with that. She does business for her day job and painting for fun. Sometimes she even thinks her Dad might have been right.

So, maybe The Onion was right in its recent article titled, “Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights and Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.” Can that be true? Are you asking me? The one who writes on nights and weekends?

I don’t have any answers here. All I know is that I just got the best deal on paintings that has ever happened. I have shopped for art before and it isn’t that much fun. What are the chances of finding the right size piece with some of the right colors and a style that feels good? With Jay, I picked the canvases, the colors and the themes. Then she made amazing, custom paintings in just two hours. Everyone that comes to my house now needs to go to the second floor loft first, because the paintings are so fun to show people.

I told Jay that she should do this for money and she said sure. If you might be interested in creating custom paintings with Jay, send me a note at carol@growingupaustin.com and I’ll get y’all in touch.

One more note before I go – there is a new venue in town,  The North Door, that is home to a unique mix of musicians and performers. They are having a series of kid-friendly happy hours in April with live music from musician+Mom, Elizabeth McQueen. Details – April 15, 22 and 29, 6:00-7:30, 501 North IH 35, cover $5. If you are looking for something new to try, check it out!

Getting to Know You

(Jay, The North Door and Elizabeth didn’t pay for a mention, I just felt like talking about them, that is all!)