Adios from Adroit Narratives

After five years of flying solo as a marketing consultant and freelance editor and writer, I am closing the Adroit Narratives, LLC shop. From this experience, I learned there is a myth regarding entrepreneurship: no one builds a business by herself.

While there is tremendous satisfaction in running your own payroll to direct deposit to yourself, the reality is it takes a village to raise a business. First, you find trusted vendors, such as lawyers and CPAs, and figure out which platforms you will use to run the business (I recommend QuickBooks and ADP). Next, you must find customers or clients. 

For starters, get your website and social media accounts up and running. I also recommend crafting a logo with a graphic artist, not downloading a generic one. And, yes, good old-fashioned business cards are a must. In the days before social distancing, in-person business networking is essential. At the outset of my business, I was active in BNI, a networking group that meets weekly to reinforce marketing messages among members and to give each other referrals.

The most important people to an entrepreneur are customers. These are the people who see the value in your service or product and pay you on a recurring basis. This is the backbone of a business. Over time, you develop strong working relationships with these people and appreciate them professionally and personally.

Now, the only constant in life is change. Earlier this year, I saw a LinkedIn post about a role at a public relations firm that really intrigued me. It involves the energy industry, which is one of my favorite topics and an opportunity for professional development in a new, but related realm for me. I start the Monday after Thanksgiving! In this tumultuous year, I am very grateful for a new professional opportunity. 

I am also very grateful to my mainstay clients for supporting my business and for being understanding that I was wrapping it up. If you get the opportunity to start a business or want to scratch the entrepreneurial itch, I recommend it. You learn a lot about business and a lot about yourself. No matter what you do, be open to learning, be outgoing, and be appreciative.

Katharine Fraser

Go Take a Hike, Gladly

The old expression “go take a hike” is intended to be a rude way to tell someone to leave or get lost. To that notion, I say, gladly I will take a hike, which is exactly what we did this weekend.

We hoofed around for about two hours along three miles of trail in a national wildlife management area scouting ahead of time for a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department drawn hunt for deer. I saw one deer. Well, I saw its backside romping away into the thick forest. We also saw seven wild hogs, which are an invasive species.

Upon our arrival, a blue heron greeted us. We ducked under the banner-like webs of banana spiders. Later, we saw a roseate spoonbill in flight over a lake laden with lily pads. We met a leopard frog. We inhaled fresh air and admired the Spanish moss. We saw bright green algae laid out like a carpet in a swamp filled with bald cypress trees.

We walked slowly and quietly and stopped often, sometimes to wait to see if we’d notice something, other times to watch hogs grazing on the forest floor. We brought and used plenty of bug spray, sunscreen and water. The forest enveloped us, providing a sense of cover and protection from the chaos of the human world.

In other words, we took a hike and loved it. Such walks take you on a mental journey too. The imagery of the flora and fauna stay in your head and you can draw on that sylvan landscape whenever you want. It stays in your mind’s eye like a retreat you can return to over and over.

The other helpful aspect of this hike was the location is about an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, which felt like a veritable road trip for people housebound by the pandemic. We’d had not been there before, so our eyes, hearts and minds were open. Bonus: we didn’t see other people, so we weren’t concerned about Covid-19 transmission.

It was a wonderful respite. The next morning, I woke up and started making something I have never made before: carnitas. I seared chunks of pork butt in lard in a big cast-iron skillet and placed the meat in the slow cooker along with Mexican Coke, water, condensed milk, cinnamon sticks, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, ground black pepper, minced garlic cloves, and orange slices. After several hours, I scooped out the meat and placed it back in the hot skillet. It shredded beautifully. I served this with homemade tortillas, sliced avocado drenched in lime juice, diced jalapeno, sliced green bell pepper, chopped cilantro, Mexican crema (sour cream), and homemade pickled red pepper slices.

While the hiking and cooking were recreational activities, I felt as if I had accomplished new things and had refreshed my mind. 2020 has been a tough year and yet it has also encouraged people to try new hobbies and other endeavors to stretch themselves. Keep stretching, keep trying, keep going.

Take a hike.

The Sage Leopard,

Why My Alma Mater’s Brand Name, Washington and Lee, is Becoming Untenable

I’m not a fan of so-called cancel culture and find it absurd that protestors are now tearing down statues of Ulysses S. Grant and Francis Scott Key. Beyond the public square, though, lies a question for a small, private school, Washington and Lee University, which has already pondered changing its name. Why do I care? I went there.

A bit of background to illustrate that the name brand of Washington and Lee has been internally debated within the W&L community for years. Why? “W&L’s affiliation with its namesakes – particularly R.E. Lee – greatly limits the school’s ability to attract diverse students, faculty and staff,” observed a May 2, 2018 Report of the Commission on Institutional History and Community, a commission convened by the university. At that time, the commission did not recommend changing the name of the school. “The recommendation to retain the name is not passive. Rather, the commission thought that, at this point, efforts are better spent on concrete recommendations about how best to teach and present the university’s history. At this time, the commission believes that W&L can maintain its namesakes while being a relevant, ethical and vibrant 21st-century institution,” the report added.

Well, I would contend, it’s getting much harder to get past the name these days. General Lee is a potent icon of the Confederacy, who because of the persistent Lost Cause is now embraced by current white supremacists, as we all saw with the march of Tiki-torch bearing young white men who descended on Charlottesville, Va. from other states, to purportedly protest a push to remove a statue of Lee from a city park. With chants of “Jews will not replace us,” they evinced a message of hate with broader ambitions than preserving a statue.

These guys were not Civil War history buffs. Frankly, I doubt they really know much about or understand the Civil War. I doubt any of them have ever sat down and read a biography of Lee, who was in many ways a walking contradiction: a man who referred to slavery as evil, yet fought on the wrong side of “the War Between the States,” and managed his and his wife’s family plantations. (He also expressed an idea, that seems ludicrous in our times, of phasing out slavery on a “gradual” basis instead of providing for emancipation. How exactly would that work?)

Hand to God, when I saw the white supremacists marching around Charlottesville in the spring of 2017, prompted by the Lee statue issue, I thought, my word, that could have been Lexington, Virginia. Those horrible people could have been marching up “the Hill” past Lee Chapel and along W&L’s beautiful Colonnade. The school’s reputation would be stained by outsiders. I generally believe you need to define yourself before others define you, and in the wake of Charlottesville, W&L launched its laudable Institutional History program, which includes an examination of Lee. It goes way beyond Lee. After all, the school started in 1749.

Lee was offered command of the Union Army, but declined in order to defend his home state of Virginia and by extension, the Confederate States of America. For this, he is labeled a traitor and now a symbol of systemic racism. His easily recognizable face is prominently displayed in a Lincoln Project ad, “Flag of Treason,” aimed at dimming President Trump’s reelection chances. Right there, two prominent figures of the Civil War, Lee and Lincoln, remain at the forefront of our political debates in 2020.

Let’s be honest: it’s bad for the brand of a liberal arts school renowned for its academic rigor, intellectual honesty, and civility to appear to be tied to the legacy of slavery. (Incidentally, I don’t have much of a horse in this race in that I don’t give major donations to the university, I’m not a famous alumna, and I have no role in the alumni organization. I’m just a very proud graduate.) To be clear, I have absolutely no desire to erase Lee from history or the school’s history. Learn the history. Know it. Understand it. But don’t appear to be glorifying the wrong cause. On the other hand, tearing down statues of George Washington really serves no useful purpose when it comes to redressing systematic racism now. It takes a special kind of self-righteous ignorance and indignation to only consider that Washington was a slaveholder and ignore everything else about him.

As an aside, George Washington gave a tiny Virginia school $20,000 in James River Canal stock, so his name is paired with Lee as the namesakes. But, why Lee? It was not for racist symbolism. Robert E. Lee served as a president of the university from after the Civil War until his death in 1870.

It can be interpreted that Lee took the job as president of what was then Washington College in an effort to redeem himself and maybe restore his own reputation. In deciding to accept the position as president of the university, he wrote to his wife: “Life is indeed gliding away and I have nothing good to show for mine that is past. I pray I may be spared to accomplish something for the benefit of mankind and the honour of God.”  

The school was on the brink of failing and his role there involved rebuilding in conjunction with his exhortations in public life to restore the union. The school can examine, highlight and relate Lee’s role at the helm of the college after the Civil War. Indeed, an ongoing effort is under way to grapple with the conflict and contradictions surrounding Lee then and now. From the school’s website: “Lee, in particular, has become the subject of increasing scrutiny for his central role as the military leader of the Confederacy. We unequivocally denounce the motivations behind the Confederate cause that Lee chose to defend as well as the views of individuals and groups who employ Confederate imagery to promote an agenda of white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia.”

Lee is credited for starting what became the Commerce School, the Department of Journalism (we call it the “j-school”), the student body-adjudicated Honor Code, and the Speaking Tradition (you greet everyone whose path you cross out of respect). It’s this part of his history as an educator that some proponents of keeping the name balk at the notion of rebranding the university. I wouldn’t suggest that they are all racists. But I would suggest they rethink this position. You don’t want to be a part of the problem, even tacitly.

Not long after Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey flooding here in southeast Texas spurred me to move valuables to our second floor, including photo albums, my college diploma and treasured decorative ware. When a W&L classmate checked in on our well-being during the protracted storm, I related that I had safeguarded my sheepskin because, no doubt, it’s going to become a collector’s item with Lee’s name on it.

I’m no apologist for Lee. I don’t see him as a man in full, as some have simplistically revered him, but a fractured man with some laudable achievements countered by some colossal, grave misjudgments.

How does the Lee brand impact me? My heart sank during a high school reunion weekend in Montclair, N.J., when a classmate and I were chatting and he (a black man) recalled that I went to Washington and Lee. I was simultaneously surprised he remembered that about me and concerned he might think that by some association with the name I harbor racism. We continued a friendly discussion and I tried to put Lee’s presence at the university in context. It was not easy.

If you have to keep explaining something, you may want to rethink how you are expressing yourself. A school still named for Lee in this day and age is too difficult to explain.

Understanding history, though, requires context. You must view an event from multiple perspectives and appreciate how a confluence of factors can stream together at one point in time to cause a major change, such as a war or a civil rights movement. Such things never happen for a single reason. There’s a catalyst, but never just one driver. As a W&L history major, I learned how professional historians use primary documents – not anecdotes, conventional wisdom or sentimentality – to gather what took place and why.

I learned about the Tulsa massacre in a W&L history class, History of Violence in America. For that class, I wrote a paper on the civil unrest in 1967 in Newark, N.J., and learned how bringing in white law enforcement from other parts of the state to control strife in Black neighborhoods was counterproductive for policing and dangerous for the residents. I’m saddened to see with our current events that we have not learned the after-action lessons from how law enforcement cracked down in the 1960s. Here we are, some 50 years later, witnessing police brutality against people peacefully assembling to protest police brutality. When does this vicious cycle end?

When my Dad arrived at W&L in 1958 from Bloomfield, New Jersey, he was excited to start school. The freshmen (all men at that time) filed into Lee Chapel during Orientation to hear a speech by the then university president, Francis Pendleton Gaines. Dad related to me that a man strode with a cane to the podium on the stage of Lee Chapel wearing a white suit and black grosgrain ribbon tie and this Yankee freshman thought to himself, “who the hell is this, Colonel Sanders?” By Dad’s telling, the first words out of President Gaines’s mouth were: “Ginimen (gentlemen), this is a fine ol’ Southern institution and I aims to keep it that way!” Poor Dad thought, “then what the Hell am I doing here?”

Maybe Lee really believed in reunifying the nation. Maybe we can do a better job now. We just don’t need the wrong brand name.

By Katharine Fraser, B.A., History and Journalism, W&L ‘93

Washington and Lee University diploma
My W&L sheepskin

Why We Must Be Optimistic in a Pandemic

I’m trying really hard to force myself to be optimistic. Why? Because it’s the only viable option.

As I type, a train of dump trucks is relentlessly moving dirt excavated from the neighboring bayou to a staging ground across the road as part of flood control project stemming from the disastrous overflows from a federal reservoir in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. This multi-million project was overdue before the 2017 hurricane, which inundated much of southeast Texas, including our neighborhood.

The year before, we had the notorious Tax Day Flood, which came during a heavy spring rain. The Addicks Reservoir at that time held in flood waters for two months. With Harvey, the decision was made to release flood waters to prevent the dam from breaching. Sitting upstream with water up to our home’s weep holes, we watched the temporary lake around us subside as areas downstream became awash with outflows from the dam. We only spent about nine days cooped up in the house with that event. Now, we can drive out and about, but have mostly stayed home for the past two months for fear of catching covid-19. Fear, yes, I said it. It’s a scary gamble. While many more apparently have survived, about 90,000 Americans have succumbed to the ravages of the new virus.

My congressman, Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, offered a risk/reward analysis of sorts in an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, in which he notes not everyone has the luxury of staying at home to work. In his piece, “Why Does Reopening Polarize Us?”, Rep. Crenshaw suggests that conservatives are more apt to take risks compared to liberals.

Risk management is well known to capitalists on Wall Street, home of the people who create capital markets, invent financial instruments and manage investments. I grew up in that part of the world and can’t help but notice that a lot of Wall Street types are not politically typecast. Some are liberals and some are conservatives. No single ideology or worldview dominates the world of high finance. To borrow the old adage, this is why horse races exist. People bet on risks.

For example, the Harris County Flood Control District won approval of Harris County voters for $2.5 billion in bonds over 10-15 years to pay for flood control projects, including the one to clear debris out of the adjoining bayou. Where is the risk? The risk takers are the investors in the bonds, who are betting the county entity will be able to service the debt, i.e., pay them back.

By the way, the particular flood mitigation project with all the trucks is a joint project with the county and the federal reservoir manager, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; some of the project entails clearing up part of the federal reservoir. Rep. Crenshaw (see above) supported the project and came out to a shovel-turning event on the bayou here last May. I got to thank him in person. I do not agree with every opinion he expresses. I agree with many, but dispense with others. And, that is OK. It’s impossible to be completely aligned on every issue and frankly, we should not be in the free marketplace of ideas.

Dan Crenshaw and other officials at flood control project event
May 31, 2019 shovel-turning event to kick off a joint flood control project on a bayou adjoining Addicks Reservoir, Harris County, Texas.

The flood control bond issue is a great illustration of risk taking in a capitalistic democracy. Voters approved the bond program and investors bought in. Not everyone in the country is required to partake. Self-selecting market participants bought into the risk.

This is not a partisan undertaking. We do, however, have a partisan problem in this country. Even if a cure for covid-19 took hold today, we have a lot of work to do to better understand each other and work better together.

It would be one thing is people calling for a reopening of the economy agreed that masks might play a crucial role in curtailing the spread. Or, if they acknowledged that not every space, including offices, should be at 100% capacity. This might be bad news for commercial real estate investors, but not every company is going to require all the office space they traditionally have used. Not yet. Not soon. Certainly not immediately. So, some leases might not be renewed as they were.

It would also be helpful if the stay-home only advocates would not mock everyone who is trying to support local businesses. I haven’t ventured to a salon, but I gather from news images that barbers, hair stylists and manicurists are limiting how many people come in and they’re wearing masks. Some restaurants here in Houston have patios and are spreading out their customers. I am not going to the gym anytime soon, but I haven’t cancelled my membership. Still, we are a long way from normal business models and profit margins. My point is do not castigate people for trying to keep their businesses afloat.

Spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll see that vitriol is alive and well. The tone is set at the top and it would be ideal if we had a courageous, convivial, avuncular type of guy serving as president to set an example and provide unifying leadership. We don’t.

So what are the rest of us left to do, aside from arguing with each other? What if we tried to find answers together? There is an idea that we become what we pray. It’s going to take a lot of mind-bending and open-mindedness. It’s going to take middle ground. It’s going to take compromise. It’s going to require problem-solving and cooperation.

It’s hard to be optimistic that change of such magnitude from our current political discourse is possible. But it’s a matter of survival. United we stand used to mean something and I remain optimistic, that despite the anger and noise, we can get it together soon. We must.

Please, put down the keyboard swords and pick up a shovel to work together.

The Sage Leopard,

Covid Days: What Would Grandma Do?

What would grandma do? Pondering the pandemic, I wonder how my late grandparents would have handled this unfolding natural and economic disaster. After all, now that we are seeing unemployment levels approaching that of the Great Depression, maybe we can start to relate to what our elders endured.

Part of my thought process stems from a tweet wondering if we’ll be so deeply affected by the new normal of the covid-19 lifestyle that our new habits will stay with us for decades, just as children of the Depression were thrifty and did not take anything for granted. For example, my grandma never threw out food.

ravioli on fork

Even if there were just two or three raviolis left after one of her epic Sunday dinners, those ravioli would be caringly nestled on a saucer and wrapped with just the right amount of cellophane. They would make just a lovely lunch the next day. (I do this myself too.)

Come to think of it, should I have been wiping down grocery items with a water-bleach solution all along? I mean, it is kinda gross to think about how some items may not have really been fridge-ready. Now, I view not wiping down bottles and jars as a luxury from a past life of ignorant bliss. Was I insufficient in my produce care by only rinsing food with water?

The Depression kids became the Greatest Generation with their contributions to World War II, including my grandpa who served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater. He was on a supply ship. He left when grandma was pregnant with my mother and returned when mom was a toddler. Can you imagine that hardship? Grandma had a job and family members who helped care for her daughter. Always be grateful for what you have when you are also missing something.

Thus far, I have been fortunate that I have no lost clients due to covid-19’s economic fallout. I recognize that could change. I am fortunate to live with a wonderful boyfriend and grateful we have been together for 11 years. (Tomorrow is the anniversary of when we first met!). He is smart and steady, and putting up with my hand-wringing and mental exhaustion.

I had already worked from home and have enjoyed the benefits of being able to toss in a load of laundry or run the vacuum during a brain break. But, I used to go to the gym. I used to love grocery shopping. I enjoyed going to restaurants and just generally being around other people. I like chatting with strangers in the market or at bar or a festival, etc. I am an extrovert. But, what do I really have to complain about? I am alive. I’d like to keep it that way and enjoy the post-covid world.

Grandma was always engaged in current events and I’m sure being raised in a family of news consumers made me a news junkie. My paternal grandfather would get up before dawn to read newspapers and told me he had wanted to be a reporter, but couldn’t go to college. He was proud I majored in history and journalism and went into news when I graduated. Nowadays, keeping abreast of the news is more draining than usual.

So, what would grandma do? Laugh. Put things in perspective. Keep on keepin’ on. And cook really good food.

Speaking of food, if you have funds to spare or want to share some of your stimulus check with less fortunate neighbors, consider donating to your local food bank. If you live in Harris County like me, check out the Houston Food Bank.

The Sage Leopard,

South Texas Deer Hunt – Just But a Moment

The deer corn popped out of the truck-mounted feeder looking like small fireworks as the headlamp reflected on the moving corn, creating the illusion of tiny tracer fire piercing the pre-dawn darkness over the empty field. By light, the field would host deer, javelina and maybe a hog.

The truck turned back onto the sendero and mud smacked in the wheel wells. The persistent drizzle caused the endless arrays of prickly pear to glisten. The only creatures moving out of the brush at this moment were little rabbits. That would change.

The truck moved on, shunting from one sendero to another, pausing at a gate, crossing a power line right of way and pressing down another road. Upon arrival, the truck was parked out of sight from the crossing. Up in the blind, the hunter and guide got situated to wait. Go ahead and chamber a round now.

First, three does. A few javelina. The big cream-colored, black polka-dotted wild boar returned from the day before. A 10-point buck showed up. Young bucks followed.

South Texas sendero with does

The people waited for a candidate for a guide’s choice. This category is a notch down from a management buck, which is a tier down from a trophy buck. In Texas, landowners, such as ranches, can apply to participate in a state-run wildlife management program. These hunts are handled differently than regular hunts in which hunters use the tags on their hunting licenses to document what they harvest. The management hunts are documented separately under the managed lands deer program.

At this particular South Texas ranch, which has cattle as well as oil and gas, the deer hunts are split into categories and priced accordingly (see guide’s choice, management and trophy above). Ultimately, the objective is to maintain a healthy population of deer with a range of ages and the right proportion among gender. At this ranch, they do not want to harvest bucks under the age of five-and-a-half to give the population a chance to flourish. The first time I hunted this place, the guide’s choice I took turned out to be an eight-and-a-half-year-old buck. The wildlife biologist noted that beyond that, it’s hard to tell because the teeth get too worn down to gauge anymore. He added that it was me, the hunter, or the coyotes that was going to get him and better me than the coyotes.

The day before harvesting this particular buck, we spotted him while scouting a third hunt location. He took off into the brush, but the guide got a good look at him and deemed he qualified as a guide’s choice. This morning, after a couple of hours of hunting, this particular buck came into the field. He took note of a 10-point we’d seen the afternoon before and moved in to attempt to nudge it away. As he walked out, I prepared to shoot.

For a moment, I might have had the shot and got ready, but he leapt into the pen surrounding a feeder, leaving a hog-wire fence between me and himself. (A bullet could hit the wire and miss the deer). He noshed for a good long while and popped back out. I prepared to shoot and then the big white hog disturbed him. Back into the brush he slipped.

We waited with the hope he’d come back out. Eventually, he did, apparently to address the 10-point buck again. He walked out and toward me in the blind, head on. He moved swiftly and certainly. He turned as he progressed after the other buck. He was closing in and I was going to lose my angle. I had to adjust on the fly. Bear in mind, that when we practice at the range, the target is stationary. Hunting is not like that.

The moment came. I had a clean shot in my scope. I took the shot and, mortally injured, he turned for a moment into the road and then into the brush, his antlers visible and after a few seconds, he was down. We waited 20 minutes to go in to get him. I paused with him, said thanks for the chance, the success and the meat.

Sage Leopard hunter with white-tailed buck

At check in, he was scored at 126 B&C (Boone and Crockett scale). It was determined, again, by examining how worn down his teeth were, that he was about six-and-a-half years old. The guide removed lymph nodes and packed them in a plastic bag to ship to Texas Parks and Wildlife for them to check for Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD has been detected on a limited basis, fortunately, in other parts of the state, but it’s important to collect data.

These deer live wild on a beautiful ranch with low fences and look very healthy. We are very much looking forward to eating the venison. The ground meat can be used in a variety of recipes – basically anything you’d use ground beef with and can enjoy without all the fat from beef. Venison is lean and delicious. Personally, I love making meatballs with venison (with extra egg whites to bind them).

The backstrap is amazing grilled with a rub of olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, you can cook it in an iron skillet with butter and herbs. There’s nothing quite like toasting your partner with a glass of Pinot Noir and biting into venison you hunted. You know where it came from and, therefore, why it tastes so, so good. If you have the opportunity to hunt, take it.

The Sage Leopard,

Living Your Best Life: The Time is Now

Why did this happen to me? We often ask ourselves that when change is forced upon us. What if you flip that around and the answer is this is happening for you.

A dear friend was initially surprised when her husband left her because she had been a loving wife, but upon further consideration she saw in hindsight there were problems in the marriage and realized she felt underappreciated. Then, the divorce became a pain. A real pain. She was a woman of faith and persevered with prayer, a lot of inspirational quotes (which she often shared on social media), emotional support of friends and family, her own abiding deep strength and a great sense of humor.

She also had a vision. She decided to pursue what she really wanted. She wanted to be independent. She wanted to move to the mountains. She wanted to return to nursing. She wanted a cabin in the woods. She made it all happen.

After the divorce, she bought a lovely cabin on a beautiful property in the mountains. She and her mother spent time together there and she wanted to renovate a building on the property for her friends and mother to stay in.

She made new, great friends. She kept up her love of fostering hounds and caring for her own dogs. She got a job at Home Depot in the garden department, which she loved, while pursuing her return to nursing. Then, she got a job as an ICU nurse at a regional hospital and was so happy about it.

She was living her best life. The life she wanted for herself on her own terms. And she was really happy and very loved. It came as a total shock when she passed away at age 59 between Christmas and New Year’s. It seemed so unfair because she was so young and really hitting another stride in life. Yet, it was a consolation to know she was enjoying all the things she really wanted before going home forever.

Think about it. What if she had passed away before making huge, life-fulfilling changes? There is no what if because she got to where she wanted to be.

So I ask myself and invite you to question, am I where I want to be? Will I achieve what I want in the coming years too? What do I need to do now to make my best life happen today and in the future?

Make the change. Health condition? Get a second opinion. Hate your job? Seriously look and persist. Bad relationship? Reevaluate. If it really isn’t good at the core, prepare to move on. Feeling unappreciated? Find a constructive way to express that.

Did you have New Year’s resolutions? One of mine was to start getting up at 5:30 a.m. to make time to exercise, read and write before starting the work day. Guess who makes me go walking at 5:30 a.m.? A coonhound named Cinnamon Sally. Sally was my friend’s foster dog.

Now is the time to tell you how I met my late friend, Sonya Renee Anderson. She was my boyfriend’s cousin. Moreover, she was the beloved cousin of many in a large, tight-knit family. She was the most enthusiastic about the annual family reunion and put herself in charge of the next one, telling her cousins it was time for their generation to take over for their parents (who are all alive).

This year’s family reunion without her means we won’t share in her beautiful smile, we won’t get a big hug from her and she will be greatly missed. But we will celebrate in her honor.

We had the blessing of getting to visit with her this past October, when she tried to convince us to adopt Cinnamon Sally. We demurred because we already have two dogs. We did consider it. When Sonya passed away, we realized we had to go get the dog and bring her home.

I think about Sonya a lot these days. She was an inspiration to me when she was alive. Now, I trot after this silly hound and reflect on what Sonya would tell me if she was still with us.

If it wasn’t for Cinnamon Sally, I wouldn’t be sticking to my first New Year’s resolution. In the little over three weeks we’ve been walking together, my waist has gotten a little bit smaller. Now, it’s up to me to achieve the other resolutions: write a book, start cycling again and make more money.

So, I ask again, are you living your best life? Why not? What’s stopping you. Make the changes. Make it happen. And have fun.

Scents of the South: Hickory, Mr. Pibb and Satsuma

If an ex-pat spent his or her whole adult life overseas, they would still be an American. I will always be a Yankee, I suppose, although as the pains of middle age overtake me (hello, sciatica!), I have spent more years below than above the Mason-Dixon line. My first forays were childhood visits to South Carolina, which seemed so mythical all wrapped up in warmth and Spanish moss.

My paternal grandparents lived in Sumter, S.C., across from a lake full of Cypress trees and home to alligators. Their backyard was perfumed by a huge hickory tree. Nothing like this existed in my hometown, Montclair, New Jersey, and I considered it all to be marvelous.

Swan Lake in Sumter, South Carolina

Sumter, South Carolina

They had a carport too, which was novel to me, with a utility room off to the side where Granddaddy kept a fridge full of Mr. Pibb. I don’t think that particular soda was available up north because Dr Pepper was. I loved Mr. Pibb, probably just because my grandfather did.

Granddaddy was even more Yankee than his son and grandkids because he was born in Montreal and didn’t move to New Jersey until middle school. The child of Scottish immigrants, he was bilingual in French and English, and his new classmates were amazed he spoke English so well. He found that rather amusing.

Decades later, after 40-odd years in South Carolina (he lived to 88), Granddaddy still pronounced the words out and about as if they rhymed with boat. I guess you can take the kid out of Canada, but not the Canadian accent out of the man.

He absolutely loved to read the papers and would get up early to sit on his screened back porch with coffee. One thing I dislike about living in Houston is this part of Texas is so hot and humid most of the year that sitting on a screened porch is less than ideal. Funny thing, though, I remember some scorchers visiting Sumter in the summer.

I went to college at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where the weather was a happy medium between frigid N.J. winters and blazing hot environs further south. I remembered hearing that Southerners supposedly drank Cokes in lieu of coffee on hot mornings and gave that a try once with an egg sandwich before class. Gross. Come to think of it, I didn’t see anyone else get a Coke with breakfast. My strongest scent memory of Lexington is honeysuckle, which would erupt and envelope the landscape. I returned this spring for a reunion and the landscape seemed frozen in time, especially nearby Goshen Pass, where my parents met in 1960 on the Maury River. Once you are steeped in such spaces, they stay with you and often call on you to return.

Goshen Pass on the Maury River, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia

Maury River in Virginia

I’m going to skip in this blog over my time in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., because I just don’t really consider those to be in “The South.” (Feel free to debate this and yes, I know there were Confederate sympathizers in Balto., but still, it is its own category. I called it “the forgotten city” because its historical importance seemed to have faded from the collective American consciousness. I highly recommend visiting. The people are awesome (“hey hon”), the architecture is beautiful, the food is amazing and the museums are cool. But, I digress.).

Here in Texas, there is something special you cannot grow up north. We have a citrus grove with Meyer lemons, Satsuma and grapefruit trees. Sadly, our lime tree does not bear fruit after a bitter freeze one year. Growing your own Meyer lemons is deeply satisfying, especially since it doesn’t take much effort. This tree grows like a weed and must be cut back from time to time.

Fruit hanging from a Satsuma tree in Houston

Our Satsuma’s fruit

One year, it was so heavily laden with fruit, it fell over during a torrential rain. We propped it back up and it healed. The winter after it sat in Hurricane Harvey floodwater, it didn’t look so good. But that was last year and now it’s completed its comeback. So, tonight, I am going to back salmon in olive oil with Meyer lemons and Satsuma from the side yard. And this is one of the many wonderful things about living in the South.

You just gotta stop and smell the citrus!

The Sage Leopard

Crossing Paths in the Arizona Desert: A Hunter’s View of the Mexican Border

We went to the desert in Arizona to learn something about ourselves while other people were running for their lives across the Mexico-U.S. border. Running from what exactly in their home lands I don’t know, but I suspect it’s something extremely difficult I’ve never experienced.Valley near U.S.-Mexico border in Coronado National Memorial

Nowadays, many border crossers may be presenting themselves for asylum, as discussed in recent news reports, but our impression at the time of our visit five years ago was that the people crossing the mountains and canyons where we spent a week camping were seeking to elude capture. We saw the expected Border Patrol SUVs and vans, but also helicopters and a U.S. Air Force plane, the latter of which buzzed me one late afternoon as I sat reading by a campfire I had just built. I don’t recall what book I was reading, but I guess the personnel on the aircraft were close enough to see the title given I saw their faces in the cockpit.USAF plane near U.S.-Mexico border

We took the trip to celebrate my man’s 50th birthday with a deer hunt. Specifically, coues whitetail deer, also known as gray ghosts. This species and terrain in the Huachuca Mountains were completely new to us and we went with an outfitter who had donated the hunt to a Houston conservation group’s annual fundraiser. B. won the hunt in an exciting live auction. We had no idea what we were getting into.Casino Rural, Arizona

On the way to our hunting camp deep in the Coronado National Memorial (named for the Coronado Expedition of 1540, a Spanish-led northward migration through the area), we dropped south of Tucson on a highway before getting on old roads. The further south we went, the more frequently we saw Border Patrol vehicles. We arrived a tiny outpost with a convenience store and a bar named Casino Rural. From there, we headed into the Coronado national park, which is a desert landscape with zillions of Saguaro and Ocotillo cacti.

Mountains in southern Arizona, on the Mexican borderThe colors of the rocks, plants and sky come into view in stunning combinations, especially when you are ensconced on a mountaintop before dawn and watch the gradations of sunrise light up the landscape. From one such perch, it was a ways down to the valleys below and there was another mountain mirroring us. Atop that, we could see the Mexican border delineated with a barbed wire fence, which appeared meant to keep cattle in at ranches on the Mexico side.

In recalling this last night, B. told his parents how the hunting guides told him they previously had seen a sniper on the Mexico side of that particular mountain. His role was to control who got to go across the border into the U.S. The guides also related how they once found a skull and some clothing of a young girl. The authorities came to the scene and her identification was found in the clothing.Border Patrol in Arizona near the Mexico border

We saw indications of these foot travelers, such as abandoned coats and sleeping rolls, water bottle stations, empty water bottles marked for women and empty food cans. We saw these in box canyons and trails coming right through the border. (We walked up to the border on one hunt.) By contrast, we arrived in the desert via a pickup truck loaded with water, food, weather-wise clothing, snake boots, sunblock, toiletries and sundry gear. You must hydrate continually, so we overpacked water. Even with all this stuff, we considered ourselves to be roughing it. As for the other visitors, whoever dropped their coats must have regretted it as the extreme desert heat of the day quickly turns to very cold nights.

Desert at nightOne night, in a huge tent with a wood-burning stove and chimney, I dreamt I heard men come into our camp. They were opening up the coolers and taking drinks. When we got up to go hunting, I told my guide about the dream and he said it was real life. He had been watching them from his camper. As long as they didn’t present danger, it was best to not confront them and let them go on their way.

We didn’t discuss politics or policy when sitting around the campfire, but agreed the status quo of illegal immigrants endangering their lives with coyotes (the smugglers, not the animals) and rugged, rough conditions is terrible.

As for “the wall,” it makes little sense to build a monolithic physical wall across the entire length of the border. There are environmental considerations, such as the movement of ocelots, deer and other creatures who should not be limited to one side or the other. Then there is the ginormous cost when other security measures can be used. Work eligibility should also be enforced. And, imagine if Congress ever managed to enact immigration reforms? (I thought George W. Bush was right when he was pushing for reforms after September 11.) Perhaps we need more seasonal work visas. We might even have a better idea of what is working, what won’t work and what is needed if Congress even deigned to hold some hearings on the subject.Dawn in the desert

I am not aiming to solve the immigration policy mess with this blog. I just wanted to begin to describe the incredibly brutal landscape some of these people are crossing to get in and, moreover, to recognize that they are people. People with struggles and people with ambitions. Reinforcing the border is a good idea, but a massive wall is overkill. We also need more immigration judges to decide whether to grant asylum and handle the other cases.

The Sage Leopard in ArizonaMost of all, right now, we need to recognize the dignity of people and not treat them inhumanely (if even they broke the law, separating young children from parents is cruel and unusual punishment imposed on little kids). Please remember, we have our dignity to maintain too.

The Sage Leopard

Self-Care in a Time of Chaos

My boyfriend told me last night that, for my own well-being, I need to stop getting worked up about the news. He cares about keeping up with current events as well, but given our different personalities and psychological make-ups, he is handling it better than I am.

In college, I knew I wanted to be a reporter and was relieved to find a job in business news because I didn’t have the nerves to cover crimes. It would have upset me too much. Instead, I covered conflicts that played out in press conferences, interviews and legal documents. This suited me because I enjoy reading, considering, discerning, questioning and debating.

Now, it seems each news day is a bad news day. For example, the health insurance law protections for people with pre-existing conditions may be going out the window. I am self-employed and have psoriasis, a genetic condition that can become painful without treatment. So, that upsets me.

Friday morning, the first news item I saw was Trump advocating for Russia to rejoin the G7(8), despite the annexation of Crimea, support for Assad, hey, meddling in the U.S. 2016 election, etc. That ticked me off, so I sought refuge in Facebook, hoping for a cute dog video. Wrong. The first thing I saw was that Anthony Bourdain had killed himself. That sapped the happy energy I had awakened with, so I plowed into work and felt good again, being distracted by productivity. But the sadness gnawed at me, tugging on my anxiety, almost imploring it to come to the surface.

When a psychologist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, I was annoyed the name of the condition is so vague. Give me some tangible specifics and I can grapple with those, even with enthusiasm and a drive for problem-solving. The amorphous sounding terminology concerned me. I asked her if this was like psoriasis, something hard-wired into me I would have to live with.

No, she said, you can essentially think your way out of this. You can gain control over feelings that would otherwise throw you into an anxious state. Great, let’s do this behavioral modification and talk therapy! If I had not met her, I have no idea what state I would be in now. With her guidance, I overcame a lot of obstacles, suffice it to say. Granted, I do take an anti-anxiety medication, which I find really helps.

Self-Care, the Good Habits

Truthfully, sometimes when the news is just shockingly awful, I turned to wine and music to relax. That’s fine, unless you drink too much wine. To avoid that, I like to make rose spritzers with Topo Chico. Last night was a Friday night, when I normally want to stay up watching a movie, but after the news, I was toast. My mother and I had had a difficult conversation and I was drained by the associated anxiety. I went to bed, wearing a sleep mask and cuddled by a big, goofy Catahoula. I needed that self-care.

When regrouping, I like to focus on gardening, reading, writing, cleaning, cooking and crafting. A nice bubble bath really helps too. Plus, Pinterest is a form of therapy because I am focusing on finding things that make me smile: beautiful fabrics, lovely gardens and delicious food to add to my repertoire. In other words, pack your life full of things you enjoy, every day, analogous to watering your flowers.

Always add to your experiences. I’ve been looking forward to going out on my man’s boat, but it’s not quite ready. Instead, he surprised me by suggesting we go to a kite festival today!