This past week has been one of deep reflection for me. No, I'm not going to espouse philosophy or anything; it's quite simple, really. The devastating wildfires here in the Austin area, along with the 10th anniversary of 9/11... both events have stirred a myriad of emotions in me, and, I'm sure, in many of you as well.
We probably know at least someone who was affected by the wildfires in some way. I know three people personally who had to evacuate, but thankfully they were able to return to their homes with little or no damage. But there were countless others who lost everything, including their homes, and my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
You always hope that there is no loss of life with these events, but unfortunately, two people died from the wildfires, and my heart goes out to their families as well.
Even if many of us weren't directly affected by the tragic events of September 11, 2001 in the sense of losing loved ones or friends, I don't think we can ever forget the sense of horror and outrage we felt when the terrorists struck. Our country was being violated, and it didn't matter whether you lived in New York or Austin, if you saw the images on television or heard about it on the radio, you felt as if you were right in the thick of it.
The dominant thought running through my mind as I ran through both events this week is the way people pull together in times of tragedy or great crisis. We worry and complain daily about our local, state, and federal government, about the economy, the unemployment rate, health care, etc. But when something or someone threatens our community, state, or country, all that goes out the window. When you hear about people opening their homes to total strangers because they had to evacuate, or give generously of their finances or material possessions, it shows more than just a sense of duty or responsibility. It demonstrates real compassion, a feeling of togetherness. It's one of the many reasons I'm proud to be an American.
Most of us are familiar with the Miss America pageant, which has been crowning winners from all over the country since 1921. There is another pageant you may not be as familiar with, but is no less important in its concept. The Miss Plus America pageant is dedicated to celebrating the inner beauty of women, along with their commitment to the communities in which they live, and the 2011 Miss Plus America Elite winner lives here in Austin.
Spruce Dickerson competed with women from all over the United States last month to capture the Miss Plus America Elite crown, which is the highest honor in the Miss Plus America pageant system.
I first met Spruce several months ago, when we were paired as co-emcees for the Statewide Independent Living Council Convention. Her positive, energetic personality and passion for advocating for the voice of plus-sized women is both refreshing and unmistakable.
"All women are worthy, and all women have a voice," she told me as we talked in my office recently. "It doesn't matter what our size is. All women are beautiful." Her mantra: "love who you are, where you are."
All contestants are required to choose a platform, and Spruce chose volunteerism, because, as she put it, "I already do that. It's not a hat that I put on and take off. My life is volunteerism."
Spruce is excited about her opportunity to represent the Miss Plus America Elite crown, which is not affiliated with the Miss America contest. She will have numerous opportunities throughout the year to promote her volunteerism platform, and her theme, "give... so that others can live." In December, she will travel to Nigeria to speak and emcee at the Miss Plus Nigeria pageant. While there, she will visit orphanages and schools, where she'll be passing out school supplies. She is also currently working on a campaign called Flip Flop To Nigeria, to collect flip flops to hand out to people during her visit.
For more information about Spruce, or to line her up for a guest appearance, email Melissa Stamper at:
You may also visit Spruce's website at:
Have you ever seen or felt what Braille is like? Have you ever run your fingers across a page of Braille? If not, have you always been curious to find out?
Your chance comes this Saturday, June 25, as the Austin Council of the Blind hosts a Braille Awareness Day at Barnes & Noble, 10000 Research Blvd. in the Arboretum from 1 to 4 Pm.
Come see what the alphabet looks like in Braille, along with books that contain both Braille and print so blind and sighted children can read together, and watch a demonstration of different writing tools used to write Braille. As a special treat, have your name or a special message written in Braille for you to keep.
For more information about the Braille Awareness Day, visit:
In conjunction with Braille Awareness Day, Barnes & Noble is also hosting a Book Fair, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Austin Council of the Blind. The Book Fair will run from June 25 through June 30. Virtually any item purchased at Barnes & Noble can be used to support the Book Fair. If you shop online, all you have to do is enter the code 10512481 at checkout, and a percentage of your purchase price benefits the Austin Council of the Blind.
For further instructions on how to shop in support of the Book Fair, visit:
Summer can often seem busier than other times of the year, with vacation, entertaining the kids while school's out, etc.
In the midst of all this activity, we sometimes forget that not everyone is able to do these things, particularly people who are homebound du to illness or other reasons.
That's why Meals On Wheels and More is so vital to our community, providing meals for people who are otherwise unable to cook for themselves. The organization relies on dedicated volunteers to transport 90 percent of the one million meals it distributes each year throughout the Austin area.
With summer approaching,MOWAM is facing a shortage of drivers to cover its routes, and more cancellations are expected due to summer commitments. 40 of these routes are currently open, which means they don't have regular drivers assigned to them, and are having to be covered by paid drivers. This raises administrative costs, including gas.
Meals On Wheels and More is looking for both regular and substitute drivers, particularly in north Austin and areas east of I35. If you can help, visit their website at:
Which prince had the most charming uniform at the Royal Wedding? Prince William sporting his Colonel of the Irish Guard uniform, or his best man, brother Prince Harry, in his Captain of the Household Cavalry uniform?
Find out more about the princes' military garb at:
and let me know your thoughts.
Reality TV shows are quite the rage these days. Even our City of Austin is getting into the game, and it's all for a good cause.
The city has launched a program called Dare to Go Zero. Four local families have accepted a five-week challenge to reduce the amount of trash they generate, and will document their progress on camera. Each family is competing for a chance to win a sustainable home improvement package worth over $2000!
Dare to Go Zero airs Friday nights, 7 Pm, on Austin's local Government Access Channel 6, as well as on YouTube.
For more information about the Dare to Go Zero project, visit
If you're a fan of Taylor Swift, you'll be excited to know the lovely singer/songwriter is coming back to Austin--again!
Swift, who was here last year, is bringing her Speak Now World Tour 2011 to the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday, October 26. Tickets willgo on sale Friday, April 29, 10 Am, at the usual Texas Box Office outlets. You can also charge by phone at (512) 477-6060, or online at:
Prices are: $25, $59.50, and $69.50.
Check out this cool video of an appearance she made on "Late Night With David Letterman" late last year, playing a song from her current album "Speak Now".
Bullying has been a problem for centuries. I certainly was a victim of my share growing up, and, I'm ashamed to say, even occasionally dished out the insults myself. My son was also a victim during middle school.
It's no secret that bullying can have major consequences, some of which can be tragic. Many teen suicides and highly-publicized school shootings over the years have been linked to youths being pushed over the edge as a result of either being bullied or feeling ostracized by their peers.
Over the past few years, the advent of the Internet, texting, and other forms of technology have created another form of bullying that can be even more destructive: cyberbullying, where humiliating messages and images are sent and forwarded to many people. Unlike face-to-face bullying, victims of cyberbullying suffer widespread public humiliation and don't have the chance to defend themseelves before the damage is done.
What can be done to stop it? The Texas Child Safety Organization, in collaboration with the Austin Independent School District and the National Day of Cyberbullying Awareness, will hold its first-ever Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Conference.
The event will be held Sunday, March 6, 2:30 to 5:30 Pm, at the Anderson High School Performing Arts Auditorium. Parents, students, educators, and others are encouraged to come together in an informative, interactive session to address what is being and can be done to reduce, or even totally eliminate, this growing problem among teens and preteens.
Studies show that as many as one in every three children will be cyberbullied in their teen or preteen years, so organizers of the conference believe this is a timely and potentially life-saving first step in putting a stop to it. State Represenative Mark Strama, an internet and child safety advocate, will moderate the conference.
For more information, contact Natalie Kloss-Biagini at (512) 947-3385, or email her at:
To register for the event, go online to:
Once a year, I get the privilege of emceeing an annual Bowl-a-thon that benefits an Austin area beep baseball team, to raise money for them to travel to the sport's annual World Series.
What is beep baseball? It's a modified version of baseball played by blind individuals. The ball has an electronic mechanism that beeps, and the cone-shaped foam bases emit a buzzing sound, allowing the runner to hear where the base is.
The Bowl-a-thon is more than just a fundraiser, though. It's a chance for blind and sighted people to come together, bowl a couple of games, and just have fun. All proceeds go to the Austin Blackhawks, a team that has been in existence since 1986, and is the proud winner of several World Series championships. I happen to be a former player, although I haven't swung a bat in a game in over 20 years. The World Series of Beep Baseball is held each August in a different city, and the Blackhawks have been every year for as long as I can remember.
This year's Bowl-a-thon will be held this Saturday, Feb. 12, at Highland Lanes, 8909 Burnet Rd. from 1 to 3. It's $15 per person, and you get to bowl two games. There are also door prizes given generously by numerous local businesses, and many merchants also sponsor a lane.
The 2011 Beep Baseball World Series is coming up July 31-August 7 in Indianapolis. Watch this video to find out more about how the game is played:
Hard to believe we're finished with 2010, and are heading into yet another year. New Year's is filled with making resolutions, watching the big ball drop in Times Square, and observing various traditions. It makes for some very interesting reading.
Happy New Year!
Want to be first in line for Black Friday? Sorry, looks like Lori Davenport has already beaten you to it. Check out this video:
No words (or videos) can completely describe the sacrifices our troops and their families have made and continue to make each day.
But we can certainly do our part to honor those who put their lives on the line for our freedom, not just once a year onVeterans Day, but every day.
Hope you enjoy the video from a veteran to all veterans, and Happy Veterans Day!
I'm always happy to promote awareness of community events, especially when they involve helping children who have suffered abuse.
Champions for Children is an annual event that benefits Helping Hand Home for Children, a local nonprofit organization that provides services such as residential treatment, therapeutic foster care, adoption services, and charter school education services to children who have suffered major abuse. The benefit will be held Tuesday, Oct. 19, 12 noon, at the Hilton Austin Hotel. It's an awards luncheon that honors local volunteers, caregivers, and staff of nonprofit groups who devote themselves to helping children in need.
This year's emcee is Ron Franklin of ESPN, a man I have admired for many years, and who has one of the best broadcast voices I've ever heard. The keynote speaker is Lee Woodruff, Contributing Editor for ABC's "Good Morning America", and wife of ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff. Lee has received high praise for her riveting account of her husband's recovery from injuries following a roadside bombing in Iraq.
For more information about Champions for Children, email Julie Freeman, Director of Development, Helping Hand Home for Children, at:
To find out more about Helping Hand Home, and the services they offer, visit:
What happens when telling a little white lie paints you as the most promiscuous girl in school? That's what a scheming student, played by Emma Stone, discovers in "Easy A", a contemporary high school comedy based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic "The Scarlet Letter".
The movie, rated Pg-13 and directed by Will Gluck, debuts in theaters this weekend. Majic 95.5 had a special screening of the film this past Tuesday at the Regal Gateway Stadium 16. See a trailer here:
David de Rothschild, skipper of the boat Plastiki, sailed all the way from San Francisco to Sydney, Austrailia, a voyage that covered 8000 nautical miles over a four-month period.
This doesn't sound particularly unusual, until you discover this was no ordinary boat: it was made almost entirely of plastic bottles, over 12,000 of them, to be exact! Rothschild wanted to increase awareness of the dangers of plastic waste, after reading a United Nations report that claimed plastic waste was posing a serious threat to the world's oceans.
The 60-foot catamaran had to fight fierce Pacific storms, but docked in Sydney to the cheers of 100 people who gathered to see the unusual boat.
Very clever, indeed.
I've always been fascinated with world records, especially crazy ones. Over the weekend, i heard about a guy from Texas who set a new world record for the longest ten-pin bowling marathon.
Stephen Shanabrook, 24, of Plano, bowled for 125 hours, whichstretched over a five day period. His scores certainly ran the gamut, from a high of 198 to a low of 5.
Check out the article here:
Well, it was a nice run for the USA soccer team, but its World Cup hopes ended with Saturday's 2-1 loss to Ghana.
I'm not a huge soccer fan. I don't dislike the sport; in fact, I rather admire the athletes who play it. I'm just not one who will sit down and watch it on a regular basis. But it's amazing how one event, one sport, and one team can bring out the kind of interest the USA soccer team did. Everyone from blue collar workers to housewives cheered their hearts out, praying for miracles and shedding tears after the final match for the U.S.
I can't help but compare the World Cup event to the Summer or Winter Olympics. It's every four years, athletes get to represent their country in a worldwide competition, and people who aren't normally fans of this event lend their support to the team.
Will I suddenly become addicted to soccer, and watch every match I can find? Not likely. But like so many others, my heart dropped when Ghana scored what turned out to be the winning goal in overtime, and the USA Team's run came to an end. This year's World Cup has certainly given us some bittersweet memories.
Players aren't the only ones who are making sacrifices for the World Cup. Some American fans are sacrificing to make the trip to South Africa to show support for their country.
Have you often thought about what it would feel like to sing like your favorite artist? Or even taking it a step further: uploading a video of you singing like that artist for all the world to see?
Well, if you're a fan of John Mayer, wonder no more! Starting June 7, you will have the chance to represent Austin in a national singing contest by uploading a video of yourself singing like John Mayer!
This is going to be fun! If you're the local and/or national winner, you'll win some fabulous prizes, including an opportunity to meet John in person, and a meeting with his label, Columbia Records.
Show us your stuff! Let's prove to the world why Austin is known as the "live music capital"!
With increasing concern over obesity among children in the U.S., it's nice to know celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray are getting on board to promote healthy eating among kids.
Find out what Ray did Thursday at a Brooklyn School by clicking here:
A couple of weeks ago, my son James and I went to the UT football spring scrimmage. Other than getting a nasty sunburn (I usually don't think of sunscreen this early), we had a great time. I think he and I made a new friend: Big Bertha, the drum. Check out this pic.
Once a year, I emcee a bowl-a-thon for the Austin Blackhawks, a team that plays a sport called Beep Baseball. Yes, the name is as it sounds: a game that uses a beeping baseball, and it's played by the blind.
The ball itself is actually a large softball with an electronic mechanism inside that emits a beeping sound once the pin is pulled out. I played the game myself years ago, and I'm here to tell you, it's every bit as competitive as regular baseball, or any sport, for that matter. There's even a World Series of Beep Baseball, held every year in early August.
The bowl-a-thon helps raise money to send the Blackhawks to play in the World Series, which will be held this year in Rochester, Minnesota. The proceeds come from a registration fee to bowl, as well as corporations who sponsor individual lanes.
The event is always a lot of fun. Each bowler gets to bowl two games, but it's not a competition. It's just a way to get together, have fun, and help a great cause. Best of all, blind and sighted people can bowl together (blind bowlers use a portable rail to feel their way along the lane). The event has been going on for about the last 17 years, and usually raises several thousand dollars each year to cover the Blackhawks' expenses to the Series.
This year's bowl-a-thon will take place this Saturday, Feb. 13, from 1 to 3 at Highland Lanes, 8909 Burnet Rd. Registration begins after 12 noon, and it's $20 a person. Anyone, blind or sighted, is welcome to participate. Who knows? You might even win one of the many door prizes I'll be giving away, generously donated by local businesses.
If you're curious to find out more about Beep Baseball, check out the official website of the National Beep Baseball Association, the governing organization of the sport:
Hope to see you Saturday!
I have to say this year's Super Bowl was one of the most enjoyable I've watched in a while, for several reasons.
First, it was a close game. I'm always afraid of the game becoming a blowout early. I always like an entertaining matchup, no matter who I'm cheering for.
Second, the commercials were fabulous this year. I think I laughed at almost all of them. Doritos House Rules was probably my favorite. Check it out here:
Also, I got to watch it with my son James, who usually visits me every other weekend. Nothing like sharing a pizza and an exciting football game with your son (especially since we were both cheering for the Saints).
Ah, yes, the Saints! That was the best part: the underdog won! When Peyton Manning threw that interception late in the fourth quarter, I knew the game was over. I'm not a regular Saints fan, but who could resist rooting for them, particularly with what New Orleans has been through over the past few years. Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done to repair the damage Katrina did to the city. But, at least for a little while, the Saints have provided a nice distraction, not to mention a feel-good story. The partying will probably last a good while.
To check out all the celebrating, visit this link:
Recently, I took my son to see "Avatar", one of the hottest flicks to come out in a long time.
We decided to maximize the experience by seeing it at the I-Max Theater in 3D. For a blind person like myself, this didn't mean anything, but I wanted James to enjoy the experience, and did he ever! He thought the 3D glasses were the coolest thing, and it felt so real, as if the action was right on top of you. Just hearing it made me feel the same way.
It's already grossed enough at the box office to be considered one of the top movies of all time. If you get a chance to see it, James and I highly recommend it. Here is the "Avatar" official website:
Time is passing by so quickly. That always seems to be the case, especially during the holidays, doesn't it? Our Majic of Christmas Toy Drive is no exception. It seems as if we just started it, but it's winding down as we head into our final week.
This Wednesday, I will be making my last appearance of the toy drive at the Arboretum, between Pottery Barn and Express. We've gotten lots of wonderful toys, but we still have room for yours, so hope you can make it by.
Don't forget about our gift wrapping party this Saturday from noon to 4 at Designer Floors of Texas, 3841 Ranch Rd. 620 South. Bring your gift wrapping supplies: paper, tape, scissors, etc. and help us wrap all the toys you've so graciously donated. Hey, Santa will even be there to help. It's become as much a tradition as the toy drive itself, so hope you can make it by.
This past weekend, I went to Samuels Diamonds in Round Rock, at Lafrontera, for one of our Majic Of Christmas toy donation drops.
I've been involved in every single toy drive we've had over the past eight years, but I'm always touched by the generosity of people who bring us new, unwrapped toys, whether it's one toy or several bags full. But I'm especially moved when children take the lead in the giving.
One of the people I met on Saturday was 12-year-old Josh, who came with his mom to drop off some toys. In the course of our conversation, I asked if I could have a picture taken with them. Josh's mom decided to let Josh take it with me, and told me it was his idea to make a donation to the toy drive.
On behalf of all of us at Majic, we salute you, Josh, and other kids like you, for being willing to help others who are in need. Check out our photo.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and didn't stuff yourself too much (I have made an effort to not stuff myself silly, because I hate the feeling I get afterwards).
You may have noticed we kicked off our Majic Of Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, and that means it's also time for our toy drive. All of us at Majic are very grateful to Whole Foods Market and the Assistance League of Austin for their help on this year's drive.
The holidays are a mixed bag of sorts for most of us. We revel in the joy the season brings, whether it's the music, opening presents, or the birth of Jesus. But not everyone looks at this time of year with gleeful anticipation. Some of you have unpleasant memories during this time of year. Maybe you lost a job or loved one during the holidays (I lost my grandmother three weeks before Christmas about 25 years ago, and I still think about it). Perhaps the stress of work, shopping, or having to plan the family get-together is getting to you.
I've been involved in every single majic Of Christmas toy drive since we started it back in 2001. The thing I have noticed most is how it brings our community together, no matter what the circumstances are. For the families who are nominated, it's a chance to give their children a brighter holiday season, and the feeling that maybe, just maybe, it's the beginning of better times.
For those who give, there comes with it the joy of knowing that you have made a difference in a child's life, even if all you could give was one toy. I experienced this feling myself several years ago when my family and I sponsored the children of a nominated family. Their expression of happiness and gratitude is something I'll never forget.
This year has been especially tough for a lot of people. But it is my hope that once again, our Majic Of Christmas will touch many lives. If you're able to donate a new, unwrapped toy, check our website for details on where we will be for you to drop off your donation. If you're not able to give, and wish to nominate your family or someone else's, fill out our online nomination form. You can also join us at our gift wrapping party Dec. 19 from noon to 4 Pm at Designer Floors of Texas, 3841 Ranch Rd. 620 South. Just bring your gift wrapping supplies and come join the fun!
My 16-year-old son James and I went to the UT-Kansas game this past Saturday night, and wow, was it fun! We try to do at least one game a year, but haven't been the past two seasons, so he and I have been pumped for weeks about seeing all the rennovations that have allowed attendance to be over the 100,000 mark.
We sat in the upper deck, and James was very happy with the view. Since I'm blind, it doesn't matter where I sit, but I always try to get the best seats possible for him. When it was announced that the stadium had set an all-time attendance record, James became excited.
"We picked a good game to go to," he pointed out. "Not only is Colt McCoy going to break the record for most wins in the NCAA, but I was a part of setting the attendance record. Pretty cool."
It certainly was. I remember reflecting how much I enjoy these father-son events, especially now, as he's almost grown. He must have been thinking the same thing. "We need to keep doing this, even after I'm grown," he said. "As long as my kids can come, too."
"Why, of course they can," I replied. "I'm all for that."
James was having the time of his life, jumping up and down, clapping, and cheering at the top of his lungs. He even talked a little trash.
"You smell that, Dad?" he asked me at one point during the fourth quarter, when Texas had put the game well out of reach.
Not knowing what he was driving at, I sniffed the chilly air. "No, I don't smell anything. What is it?"
"It's the smell of burnin' Jayhawks," he replied, laughing.
When I first heard there would be no Trail Of Lights at Zilker Park this year, my initial reaction was one of regret. It's been a while since I've walked the trail (my kids were very little then; they're practically grown now). But we had such fun.
The lights themselves didn't hold great meaning to a blind person like myself. But I liked walking the trail, visiting Santa's house, and just hearing the joy in my children's voices as they took in the whole event.
My, how things change. The tough economic landscape has forced the city of Austin to scale back the Trail Of Lights event this year. When I first read the headline, "No Trail Of Lights This Year" I thought they were eliminating the whole thing. As I read on, however, I was glad to find out there will still be an event, albeit a scaled-back version.
Instead of the 1.25-mile trail in past years, it will be about a half-mile, centered around the Zilker Tree. It will be a nine-day event instead of two weeks, and there will be concessions, concerts, and other entertainment around the event. Parking fees will drop from $15 to $10, and, perhaps the best news of all, it will still be free admission. The city had originally planned to charge a $5 admission to anyone over the age of 11, but they decided to do away with that idea.
No, it may not be the Trail Of Lights we've come to embrace as an annual Austin tradition, but it may still be fun. Perhaps times will be better by next year or the year after, and the full event can be brought back. At least we're still having one.
Last weekend, I made an appearance at the Goodwill store on Research Blvd. between Burnet and Metric. It's always fun to go there before Halloween, because they have such a wide variety of costumes to pick out.
One of the things I get to take part in each year is a costume contest, and last weekend was a real hit. We gave Goodwill gift cards to two contestants, and they had nine minutes and fifty-five seconds to pick out their costume and come back to the contest. Everyone else throughout the store got to judge the best costume; one winner took first prize, the other second. They each received tickets to Zach Theatre, the annual Ghoulwill Ball, and Mansion of Terror, plus a T-shirt.
Tammy decided to dress up as a hippie, and Lynette decked herself out as a pirate. The pirate took first prize. I posed for some photos with the contestants. Check out this one featuring them both in costume.
I'm sure the kids won't like this, but it's that time again when we start getting ready for them to go back to school. The good news (for us parents anyway) is this weekend, you can shop tax-free and stock up on those much-needed school supplies.
Sunday, Aug. 23 from 1 to 3 Pm, I invite you to join me at the Goodwill store, 1911 North Bell in Cedar Park. It's on the corner of North Bell and New Hope Dr. I've always been impressed with the wide selection of items Goodwill has for any occasion, and you can get everything from backpacks to computers, even vintage and boutique clothing.
As always, we'll have lots of majic prizes for you to win if you stop by our booth. i always enjoy meeting our Majic listeners, so don't be shy. I'd love to see you there.