Category: living

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

Think Reality is Bad? There’s Always Horror Movies!

It takes effort to maintain a positive attitude these days between the pandemic and the election cycle. The runup to elections used to be called the political silly season when people made ridiculous remarks about candidates. I long for those days of innocuous banter.

Nowadays, well, we have an incumbent defending an active shooter and repeating a false rumor about a band of thugs on a plane hellbent on antifa destruction or some such. I’m old enough to remember when U.S. intelligence findings had more weight with a U.S. president than debunked nonsense on the internet.

It’s hard to tell what’s real these days. Elon Musk says he’s implanted a chip in a pig’s brain and plans to bring this augmented intelligence to humans in the coming years. Also, a man in a jet pack was reported by an American Airlines pilot as flying at the same altitude as the passenger plane approached LAX. A pilot for Southwest saw the jet-pack man too, and you can listen to their discussion with the airport tower here. I’m old enough to remember when military jets would be scrambled to address threats to commercial airliners and restricted airspace.

To counteract the effects of feeding my news addiction, I have developed a co-addiction: horror movies at night. This can incur the risk of giving me nightmares. For example, I dreamt that someone was trying to break into the house and my boyfriend went outside to tousle with the bad guy. A melee ensued and when I rushed to my man’s aid, he was instead a character from Train to Busan. Still, I highly recommend this Korean zombie movie. Indeed, it’s the best zombie flick I have ever seen and I am looking forward to its sequel, Peninsula. (In second place for greatest zombie movies on Netflix right now is Girl with All the Gifts.)

What I love about Train to Busan is the character of initiation, a fund manager dad who is taking his young daughter from Seoul to Busan when the zombie outbreak occurs. At the outset, he is more like the other selfish executive character who views non-infected humans as dangerous as infected zombies, much to his detriment. The little girl befriends a nice pregnant lady and her heroic husband, and then her father adapts to work with the hero and becomes a better person. Does he make it? No spoiler here. Watch Train to Busan.

Then there’s last night’s fare: 1BR, about a young woman who strikes out on her own in Los Angeles and gets an apartment in a complex with neighbors who are way too friendly. Turns out, it’s a cult and she ends up as a tortured captive. I really loathed the violence in this one, but my man convinced me to stick it out to see whether she survives. This was an incredibly creepy movie and, if you can handle the violence, an interesting character study. She has to figure out if she can trust anyone, including herself.

What Keeps You Alive was a brilliant surprise. A lesbian couple goes to a family cabin on a lake to celebrate their one-year anniversary and one wife is taken aback – and off a cliff – when her wife tries to kill her. The premise of not really knowing someone was great and horrifying. Could you not miss that your spouse is a homicidal sociopath? What a terrifying possibility and the victim keeps getting close to escaping. Will she? I really liked this one.

The weird marital woes horror movie on Netflix is Elizabeth Harvest. A mad scientist loses his beautiful young wife and spends decades developing the science to keep clones of her alive and he keeps marrying them. He even recruits another scientist to work with him on this revolting project and clones himself as his son. Eventually, the clones wise up.

There are plenty of alien abduction and kids at a cabin in the woods flicks available on Netflix right now, but I preferred the above offerings because they’re unique. What I don’t understand is how anyone comes up with some of these plotlines. Clone wives? Serial killer wife? A cult apartment building?

I’d love to write a novel, but not sure I could be so wacky in coming up with a plot. In the meantime, I’m enjoying these nightly departures from reality.

Man with a Machete, Covid-19 and a Tenement Fire

A man with a machete with a ponytail may or may not be robbing houses in my neighborhood. I really cannot tell by reading comments on a NextDoor post, but people have called the sheriff’s department. This seems like a fitting metaphor for our times.

Frankly, I’m too exhausted worrying about covid-19 to fear the machete man. I am taking reasonable precautions to avoid catching this virus, including curbside pickup grocery shopping and disinfecting groceries in the garage. I already worked from home and now cannot yet envision returning to out-of-the-house activities such as the gym, browsing in stores or sitting in a restaurant or bar.

Now, I also need to worry about people spitting on strangers in public, armed protestors and whether we’ll be able to safely vote this election year. I can push away some of the dread by reading how doctors are finding some more ways to treat covid-10 patients and that is really heartening. Still, some folks want to reject good medicine. For example, anti-vaxxers are already flexing their social media muscles.

What I find fascinating is the willingness of people to believe in things that are not actually happening vs. what is happening.

Threats: Real or Perceived?

What is happening is a novel virus that is highly contagious and deadly for many who contract it. Yes, many more survive, but what about those who don’t? The death toll in a few short months is horrible, even if there is some hope for better outcomes with different treatment modes.

What is happening is the recognition, based on scientific data, that wearing masks can mitigate the spread of the virus (Japan is faring better than a lot of other countries and they are wearing masks). What is not happening is some totalitarian government forces taking away your rights or any of the other ridiculous notions being spread. Just put on a damn mask when you go about your business. I’m all for rugged individualism, but please don’t breathe all over me and store inventory with potentially virus-laden droplets. Are the people who are literally up in arms over closed hair salons also angered by stop signs or the old no shoes, no shirt, no service signs?

Yes, we all want the economy to improve. Yes, really, everybody wants that. Here’s an idea, if most people wore masks, then shared spaces would be safer and we could get the economy rolling along. We’re not talking about wearing masks forever. At least until there are effective treatments and until we have a vaccine. And for Pete’s sake, get the vaccine.

Tenement Fire

Still, some folks don’t seem to be taking this seriously. I can see this on the mask-less faces of people I see blithely strolling in and out of the grocery store while I do curbside pickup. Allow me to share an experience I had with a NYC tenement fire to illustrate my point.

In the mid-1990s, my friend Jackie and I lived in an old tenement house on the Upper East Side. We referred to it as our third-world apartment in a world-class neighborhood. We also called it the cave. It had two things going for it: pretty good location and cheap as dirt rent. It had flaws, including the rats in the alley behind us and their horribly loud fights. The makeshift bedrooms were so small that you could hear newspaper pages turning in the next room. Anyway, you get the picture. It was a dump.

Then the smell started. It was the odor of heating oil fumes wafting in and around the building (our livingroom window opened into an airshaft). Concurrently, the hot water was failing. Tenants called the management company to complain about cold showers and noxious fumes. Now, I don’t know why the management company and/or landlord didn’t take these warnings and complaints seriously. I do know that because of neglect, the situation worsened.

One night, I came home ahead of my roommate after partying with friends downtown. The odor was back, so I opened the livingroom window and went to sleep. Before dawn, someone was ringing our buzzer like crazy with the S-O-S signal. When I answered, a man screamed, “FIRE!” At first, I thought his might be a prankster so I went to check. I cautiously touched our apartment door, which was steel, to make sure it wasn’t hot. I opened the door to a solid wall of smoke. This was indeed a fire. I woke up Jackie to tell her we needed to get out.

I covered my face with a towel and pounded on the door of the apartment across the hall. Our neighbor, a grouchy old man, opened the door in his boxers and waved me off with a flourish of annoyance when I told him we needed to get out fast. He then turned his attention to a fireman at his window.

All the tenants got out. We were standing on the sidewalk in jammies and coats in frigid weather. The fire department response was immense. The battalion chief called us over for a huddle. He and others had axes. He informed us that the furnace was leaking heating oil, creating the fire condition and the heavy smoke. He related that the furnace was already jerry-rigged so they dismantled it with the axes. He added that city code required the landlord to replace it in 24-hours so we wouldn’t be without heat for long.

Excuse me, I said. He acknowledged me and I asked, could the furnace have blown up if you hadn’t come here? His answer was precise:

“Yeah, to kingdom come.”

My point is when people, say doctors, warn you that this is a particularly contagious and deadly novel virus, listen. When they call it a pandemic, listen. When it’s strongly suggested that we all wear face coverings in public, please oblige. If you ignore the warnings, things could really blow up. Capiche?

As for machete man, the NextDoor thread now includes a photo of a man asleep under a banana tree, posted by someone who said they called the police too. I’m beginning to wonder if this man is simply a lost soul rather than a menace. Let’s stay focused on the real threats.

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,

Sage Leopard News Read Roundup: COVID-19 Escape Movie, Texas Emergency and Hope

Updated March 20 from original March 19 publication to footnote Sen. Burr’s curious stock sales and clarify Trump comments on drug treatments.

When we emerge from COVID-19, a filmmaking survivor is going to have to make a horror movie about spring breakers trying to return home after their binge to find that the cities are closed to them and they have to fend for themselves on the highways. C’mon people, when the president of the United States says we need to limit interactions to groups less than 10, please listen.

Also, this is not an old people’s disease. The latest data shows that adults across the spectrum of age groups are getting the infection. See this Washington Post story, “Younger adults are large percentage of coronavirus hospitalizations in United States, according to new CDC data.”

Count your blessings. This is weird and scary, and we don’t know how all of this will shake out, but be grateful. If you are reading this, that means you have access to the internet and power. That’s a lot to be thankful for. After all, with hurricanes we lose power. Being able to wash your hands with warm water during a global pandemic is a luxury. Enjoy it. Pray for others, in the United States and elsewhere, who may not be so lucky.

Me after buying some essential supplies during a quick outing to Kroger and Walgreens.

If idle hands do the work of the devil and you’re sheltering at home feeling shell-shocked, now is the time to get to all those house projects you have put off forever. Also, deep cleaning kills two birds with one stone: it might get your mind off the pandemic (sorta) and kills germs. It might give you some sense of control, even if fleeting. If you really need to tune out the news for a bit for some self care, try Pinterest. You can just look at things that make you happy. My Pinterest boards are full of pretty gardens, beautiful home décor, cute dogs, cool Jeeps, crafting, recipes and other nesting ideas. I plan to look at it tonight with a glass of wine.

Venison meatballs I made with meat from the bucks we harvested in Laredo in January. Hunting is harvesting food from nature’s pantry.

Back to reality, though, and the state of Texas has declared a state of public health emergency. During a live broadcast, Governor Abbott said that state and local officials have been in preparation discussions about COVID-19 since January. That’s comforting, except why didn’t he or other Republicans pipe up when Trump was still calling this a hoax in late February. Before you get defensive and annoyed with the politicization of a pandemic, consider that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in February – the same day as the “hoax” comment – was warning business leaders from his home state that this could be akin to the 1918 flu pandemic and that schools would close, travel would be limited and the military would be called on to help.

I think it’s great Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., was warning people at that time.* I only wish all Republican officials had done so on a bipartisan basis with the Democratic colleagues. The only reason I can think of goes to a failure of leadership at the very top. And the top should take responsibility. He just might be doing so now. I am opened minded. But considering he’s still griping about how the media doesn’t write nice things about him, I’m not hopeful he’s change into a statesman. In the meantime, I am somewhat hopeful that any measures he has taken to facilitate “compassionate use” (experimental) treatment might work**. Again, any effectiveness would be a total unknown. Still, a few months ago we didn’t know we’d be in this situation and I am a big believer in human ingenuity and the cooperative spirit.

Stay home, stay healthy, stay sane and stay hopeful.

* Well, now it has been reported the senator was selling stocks, the implication being he knew the pandemic would worsen and hit financial markets.

**Well, the FDA felt compelled to clarify something he said about a malaria drug being approved (it wasn’t) for COVID-19. To clarify, that is being studied.

Home of the Free and Contradictory: Another Day in Denial Land

Venturing out of the house today, I found that despite the president of the United States saying yesterday we should not be around more than 10 people at a time, nothing appears to have changed with the onset of the COVID-10 pandemic… at least in our corner of northwest Harris County, Texas.

We have a stockpile of rice, beans, venison, broth, frozen veggies, pasta, etc. (OK, and TP), so I don’t need anything. I just wanted milk, vitamins, produce, dog bones and a few other things. Well, forget those things!

A drove through the packed parking lots at Kroger and H-E-B in our neighborhood and there was no social distancing or metering of people going into the stores. When the doors opened, I could see checkouts full of people and staff close by packing bags. Hell no!

Why are we being told retailers have it together and are changing their logistics to limit how many shoppers they field at a time and to accommodate curbside pickup? Or, rather, why have they not done this across the board. My Kroger offers curbside pickup four days out, but there are no available time slots. How many time slots are there? Who knows. Also, some basic stuff isn’t on the online items search, such as all-purpose cleaner.

Can we review that President Trump actually said we should not be in gatherings of more than 10 people? Today, he said people should stay home and “enjoy your living room.” Apparently, a lot of people are not listening to this man. Maybe they are heeding his comments from late February when he said this novel coronavirus was a “new hoax” perpetrated by Democrats. Of course, today he said, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.” Perhaps this kind of contradictory messaging is leaving people to believe whatever they want to believe.

Here in Harris County, officials have ordered bars and restaurants closed to the public (you can get takeout) and urged the public to report violators. We’re being told that these extraordinary measures are being taken to flatten the curve of the spread of COVID-19. Maybe we need these local officials to order supermarkets to set up curbside pickup and limit entry to small numbers of customers at a time.

Meanwhile, spring breakers are still partying, like these people down at the beach in Port Aransas, Texas. People, c’mon. Maybe hanging out with under 10 people for spring break sounds lame, but hey, why not when there’s a pandemic. The problem seems to be that many people who carry the virus are asymptomatic. And, it takes awhile for the effected to become sick. It’s a waiting game at the moment to see how bad this could get.

But it should give you pause that today Trump was talking about mobile hospital setups, right? And, yesterday he was urging states to order extra ventilators, right? I am not blaming Trump. On the contrary, I am blaming people who refuse to listen to him now for not listening.

This virus has been in the news for several weeks. Sadly, it make take seeing local hospitals becoming overwhelmed before Doubting Thomases realize this is no hoax. This is not a drill. It’s time for universal social distancing.

And can I please get some curbside pick-up? I have an autoimmune disorder, for which I take a specialized medication. My doctor said I should stay on the medication because it “does not specifically or significantly compromise viral immunity,” according to her office, but I should take my vitamins and yes, stay away from crowds. Lordie, you should see the crowds at the supermarket. Again, we have plenty of food at home so I am good.

This comes down to human nature. We are social creatures and we don’t make significant changes unless we see other people doing something. We all saw there was a rush on toilet paper, so people ran out and bought toilet paper. Now, unless supermarkets all adopt metering and social distancing, people are going to go shopping normally. To be fair, the main supermarkets here are hiring and I suppose that is because they need to change their logistics to move to drive-up service. They need to institute that as soon as possible. I’ll wait!

Taking a Moment, Even a Long Moment, Might Be In Order These Days

As a child of the ‘70s, I enjoyed wild freedoms, including roaming around by myself at a very young age. I would load my red Radio Flyer wagon with stuffed animals, books, a tea set and blankie to head down to the mossy banks of a brook behind our neighbor’s back garden. No one could find me tucked away in my hidden oasis, but I could hear my mother calling me when the time came to go home.

And now, we all need respite from COVID-19. If we avoid it, perhaps we can mitigate the spread. For example, right now, instead of going to the Houston Rodeo tonight, I am looking forward to curling up with a book. Is that bad for the economy if we all curtail outings? Sure, but the alternative of an overloaded healthcare system and widespread illness is something we want to avoid or alleviate.

The current warning from VP Pence, as I type, is that the threat to the “average American” is low while the elderly are the most vulnerable. Well, a lot of us have immune systems that are somehow compromised. Ever hear those TV ads that say “such-and-such can inhibit your ability to fight infections”? Yep, that’s me. I had two sinus infections the past few months and I do not want to risk getting this novel coronavirus. (Good for the surgeon general for including immunocompromised people in his list of people at risk.)

So, Mr. B. and I loaded up on pantry supplies last weekend. Plus, we have a freezer full of venison, thanks to our successful deer hunt in January in Laredo. Now, I plan to make veggie stews with beans and frozen vegetables and then add ground venison as we go. I also have lots of pastas and rice to combine with the venison. Would I rather go out to dinner? Sure! But, maybe hunkering down for a while will be a good thing.

Maybe I will set a goal of reading two books per week. Maybe I will create a whole bunch of new venison recipes!

Seriously, we need to try to get in front of this disease outbreak. At this writing, Italy has shut down everything. It’s a smaller county and the spread there happened quickly. It seems as if there could be more coordination and maybe more conservative measures taken here. For the moment, local governments, universities and private companies are deciding what do to for their citizens, communities and employees on a voluntary basis. I am not advocating for the imposition of martial law, but there could be a happy medium between that and gently suggesting local governments do what they think they need to do. Even proponents of smaller government recognize the benefit of a some basic federal government functions, such as national security and say, coordinating the management of a pandemic.

The time for soft-pedaling is long past. The problem is inevitable. It’s already here. What leaders can do is mitigate and educate. (For perspective, a microbiologist in this blog contrasts COVID-19 with far worse diseases we’ve contended with, historically.)

A leader should be forthright and manage people’s expectations. Shoot, a really good politician would figure out a way to come off like a hero in a crisis by really doing good work. There is an old adage about there are some people who merely aspire to be versus people who aspire to do. Which style do you prefer?

For a leader, the question is what are you going to do about it? The answer should not be easy in the face of a challenge. The mayor of Austin explained to Texas Monthly his tough call about cancelling the South By Southwest (SXSW) festival, which is usually a huge economic driver. And, while the illness is likely coming anyway to Austin, there may have been a temptation to carry on as business as usual. But, this local leader realized the objective is to manage, not worsen, a public health crisis. It’s always about managing problems not exacerbating them. If we collectively make the right calls and cooperate, we can ideally minimize the effects.

For me, tonight, that means curling up in my favorite chair with a good book and a glass of wine as the grown-up version of hanging out on the banks of the brook with my red wagon supplies.

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

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!