I’m in full support of gun rights and gun safety, and that’s why I have been aghast to hear the rapid-fire reports of a machine gun in our suburban Houston neighborhood in recent days and nights.
To clarify, we live in unincorporated Harris County, which can sometimes seem like the Wild West on suburbia given its lack of zoning and a fair amount of crime. But, we are policed here in our area by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. The deputies have been getting a lot of calls about full-automatic gunfire, which seems to be coming from one of the bayous in the neighborhood.
The shots are being heard across a wide radius, judging by the comments on the NextDoor app. Now, some folks commented they think it’s just fireworks, but they have been corrected by military vets and others familiar with the actual sound of gunfire. Or, by anyone who has watched news coverage of a war zone or a war movie.
This is not semi-automatic gunfire like that of an AR-15. My man, who lived in Beirut at the outset of its civil war, came in from the patio the other night to tell me he heard a machine gun. I said, “you mean full auto?” and he said, “yeah, full auto.” I stepped outside and lo and behold, it was an unmistakable sound.
I’ve been at the gun range with my bolt-action rifle target shooting amid people with semi-automatic rifles and I know what the latter sounds like. This sound carrying across the neighborhood is not semi-automatic.
This egregious behavior went from an initial shock to furious comments on social media. We first heard it at night, but Sunday afternoon, we heard it again. Byron and I drove toward the area we suspect it is coming from, a waste site on a particular bayou (there are several here that feed into the neighboring Addicks Reservoir). We pulled up to a realtor standing outside an open house he was hosting and he agreed it’s a machine gun, noting he had been in the military. Just as I started to dial the sheriff’s department, we saw a deputy’s patrol car pulling up to a man standing beside his truck. He had just called the sheriff’s department to report the problem.
The NextDoor discussion is getting more urgent with people adamantly expressing that we need to keep calling to help the police triangulate the source of the sound. One of the most involved commenters has related the Sheriff’s Department is deploying a helicopter and K-9s, and come to think of it, we did hear a helicopter flying low the other night.
I firmly believe Americans have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, whether for self-protection or hunting. But, full automatic rifle, a.k.a. machine gun, is severely restricted and regulated, for good reason. And, whoever is doing this is incredibly reckless. It would be reckless to shoot any firearm wantonly in a residential area. During dove season, we often hear shotguns on a large, nearby property and those shooters are not endangering anyone.
The machine gun on the bayou is hopefully a fleeting phenomenon that will be shut down by law enforcement.
We never fancied ourselves to be the type of people to post a crazy-looking, hand-scrawled sign on our front-door warning looters they could be shot. To avoid any misunderstanding in our disaster zone with law enforcement, a companion sign asks police to call the homeowner. This became critically important, as documented on our front-porch security video (more on that later).
Hurricane Harvey’s devastating aftermath unfurled a new normal that includes such lifestyle changes as having a “slow no wake” navigation sign on the back of your vehicle, using a gasoline-powered generator to keep on the fridge, fans, WIFI and satellite TV, and washing coffee pots and cooking pans in the backyard.
The good thing coming out of our mostly submerged subdivision next to the overflowed Addicks Reservoir in Northwest Harris County is a new fellowship in the neighborhood. We have 144 single-family dwellings that are usually well-kempt. Historically, people here give friendly waves and tend to socialize with their immediate next-door neighbors.
Some of the neighbors had flooded before, with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and with the Tax Day Flood of 2016. This is by far the worst. But something funny happened when evacuees started clomping back in with waders and boats. A friendly spirit buoyed people. A Facebook group started filling up with neighbors who had not yet met, and while their homes were still flooded, they asked when we could have a neighborhood cookout to get to know each other. Our waste treatment plant is damaged, so we don’t have sewer service, but people are ready to party.
Who is Houston
That is Houston. If you’ve never been here before, allow me to explain. When I moved here in 2006 from Washington, D.C., I was amazed how Houston is so friendly. You have the best conversations in office building elevator rides or at the grocery store. Houston is like a funky, sophisticated hybrid of the congeniality of a small Southern town and the cosmopolitan amenities of the multi-cultural megapolis that it is. It does not matter if you are from a small Texas town or the other side of the world, the only constant is friendliness.
In prior months, I saw an article suggesting that while the Houston region is extraordinarily diverse, it is fractured socially among demographics, even geographically. That gave me pause as I wondered what the author is talking about. Our neighborhood looks like the United Nations, just like this region as a whole. Think of a ginormous set of contiguous suburbs that are primarily diverse.
Basically, if you are not friendly or helpful, you won’t fit in here. Texans are also very resourceful; suddenly flooded streets in this region were filled with john boats, kayaks and lifted-up pickup trucks. My boyfriend and I are in one of the only houses in our neighborhood that did not flood (water came up to the caulked doors and into the garage). We watched on TV and Facebook what we called the Redneck Nation coming out to save people. No one is going to make fun of a monster truck again.
A Tale of O. Harvey
We were not able to get out in our own boat for a few key reasons. Just before the storm, Byron had bought a john boat for a gator hunt. The Friday morning before Harvey’s landfall near Rockport/Port A/Corpus, a delivery truck driver brought me the 210-lb. engine in a crate. The outer bands were already bringing rain and I saluted him to drive carefully to get home to deal with his own affairs ahead of Harvey.
We then nosed our vehicles up the sloped driveway to the garage doors with the hope of keeping them dry. When the street became laden with rainwater, we moved a vehicle to angle out the boat. We realized we might have to employ the boat well ahead of the gator hunt. The water began to rise and our immediate neighbors started communicating at each others’ doors. Byron and I realized we needed to get the big engine on the boat. Once secured, we turned our attention to our gasoline supply. We patted ourselves on the shoulders for having filled tanks ahead of time.
Then, it hit me. I asked Byron where the motor oil was for the boat motor. We did not have any. We asked a neighbor, but no luck. Soon we were surrounded by shockingly and frighteningly high floodwaters. To borrow from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” water, water everywhere, but no operable boat engine. Forgive another literary allusion, but I realized we were in a modern-day scenario befitting an O. Henry short story.
Think of the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” in which the wife wants to buy her husband a fob for his watch for Christmas and he wants to buy her combs for her long hair. She cuts her hair to sell to pay for the fob, and he sells the watch to buy the combs. Well, at least they had each other! We wish to commend the armada of volunteers from Texas and beyond. We owe you one.
Hello, Men with Guns
I have Byron, who I first met in an outdoors club. We have had hunting and camping trips together, including roughing it for a week in the Arizona desert, which prepared me for camping at home. Byron spent formative years in Lagos, Nigeria, moving in after a civil war there, before his family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, only to see its civil war break out. The man is cool as a cucumber, no matter what is happening. Which brings me to the gunmen at our front door at a time where the only way into the subdivision was by boat (unless you knew we could open a backyard gate into a backroad that had become an ad hoc public boat ramp area).
Upon waking, we saw a security notification on our phones and checked the video: at 4:46 a.m., two men came to our front door with AR-15s, and one of them actually swung his leveled rifle at the front door. If you are not a gun owner, let me tell you some gun safety basics: consider every gun to be loaded (#1) and do not point a gun at someone. In this scenario, don’t ring someone’s door at 4 in the morning and point your semi-automatic weapon at the door.
We then reviewed the footage in a video editing program on my computer and could zoom in for some stills. I called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number (we live in unincorporated Harris County) and the dispatcher sounded shocked. An officer called me right away and within minutes, two deputies were standing on our patio reviewing the video. Two more deputies arrived and then the supervisor in charge of all patrols in this area. Officer Smith was outstanding!
Good guys: Harris County Sheriff’s deputies respond to our call regarding unidentified gunmen.
He looked closely and said they were not his men and did not appear to be any other Harris County law enforcement (we have constables too). He asked me to give him the images so he could circulate it. The officer also related there is a volunteer group of law enforcement officers who had come in from other jurisdictions to provide patrols.
There had been a call to our sheriff’s department around the time of our porch visitors from someone reporting four men with flashlights. We don’t know if these were those men or if they had been looking for those men. Later that day, Byron reconnected by phone with our State Representative, Dwayne Bohac, who came right away prior to this incident when I reached out to him to discuss the neighborhood’s devastation.
Our new friend: Texas State Representative Dwane Bohac, R-District 138, on a fact-finding mission and meeting constituents after Hurricane Harvey.
Byron is HOA president and concerned for the welfare of all the homeowners, especially as the preponderance of them flooded. Representative Bohac came out in waders to see firsthand the scope of the damage. He also has followed up to see how it is going. When you are in a widespread disaster, you need to communicate.
The Facebook group has helped a lot, but visiting face-to-face with neighbors has been the most informative. We met a multi-generational family that lives on the opposite side of the subdivision, closer to the creek that enters Addicks Reservoir. One of the sisters related that as the water rose around them, they had opened some windows and heard people screaming from the house next to our retention pond. The people inside were inundated, could smell natural gas and could not get through to 9-1-1, she related. She got through.
U.S. Coast Guard rescue being performed in our submerged Harris County neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey.
The neighbors were saved and soon enough, strangers in a boat showed up for her family. They loaded her grandparents, both in their 90s, onto the family couch to float them to the rescue boat. Once out on the road behind our house, she said the family collected and then her dad had a funny question: “Is that my couch?” Those rescuers must have had a really big boat!
We have been incredibly lucky to hold down the fort with our dogs, but there rarely seems to be a moment’s peace in a crisis. I was looking forward to Saturday Night Live for much needed comic relief, but instead local newscasters announced they were going to keep on with continuing coverage, which turned out to be footage of people cutting out drywall. There have been deaths and near deaths across dozens of counties, a brand-new mandatory evacuation had been announced earlier and a chemical plant was controlling a fire, so I get the point of breaking news. (I am a former journalist.) Wet drywall isn’t news. Just as I was bemoaning the lack of laughs, someone rang our door.
Our hearts pounded as we scrambled to look at the live video on one phone and answer the phone call on another device (our sign to law enforcement). They called. They were real law enforcement. I saw the guy in charge holding his hands over his waders to show he posed no threat.
I felt bad for scaring them! While Byron spoke to this officer (from the San Antonio area), I peered out the window by the door. His face was so nice! He looked earnestly at me as he signaled all was cool. I wished I could have thanked him, but they were gone. They were checking on people. God Bless.
Natural Disaster Etiquette
If you have friends or family in the zone of a colossal disaster and you wish to express concern, be aware that calling them at 7 a.m. might not be so considerate, as intended, if they were up all night in a sleeping bag wondering if their house would flood in the manner of a scene from “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” or recovering from the adrenaline rush of late-night doorbells.
Basically, don’t ask for details about to what extent people are naked and/or afraid, or what they are eating, etc.
No self-respecting Texan goes without breakfast tacos just because of a hurricane.
Similarly, expressing political outrage on Facebook about Melania’s stiletto heels for her hurricane wreckage tour is stating the obvious to people who are using camping toilets with specially designed plastic baggies and showering on their patio with a garden hose. Besides, if she had shown up looking like someone outfitted her by Cabela’s for an early teal duck hunt, people would have mocked her for that. The clothing is irrelevant.
New outdoor shower area
In the same vein, do not tag your hurricane victim friends with articles by national magazines or news organizations written to argue how stupid their region’s existence is. Or, criticizing their elected officials as hypocrites or some such. As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, we can criticize each other in our community because we are a family. Think about how you would feel if people outside your family said something bad about your mama, during a crisis, no less.
Mayor Turner also had advice for anyone getting ornery around here: “Check Yourself! Check yourself.” We are getting through this together as the amazing, strong and beautiful region, and Texas strong family, we are.
The only way to get something done is by starting it. Last week, I ordered 50 periwinkle plants. They arrived and I left the box on the counter a few hours, thinking it was full of seeds. This was no time to procrastinate! The box was full of juvenile plants with their roots all neatly tucked together and rolled into a giant bouquet of vines.
Honestly, I did procrastinate for a day or two, buying myself some time by leaving the plants in a container on the front porch and watering the roots. When it came down to it, most of the work had already been done by my boyfriend when he had transferred some quality top soil to the area under a magnolia tree where I envision a tiny field of periwinkles.
All I needed was a dowel, my garden gloves and a half hour to dig holes and place in the plants. In about a year, I should have a blanket of ground cover. It would not come to pass if I had not gotten off my duff and done the basic work.
Baby periwinkle plants
Standing back to admire the rows of plants, I looked over at my slightly larger lily patch. Growing up, a neighbor had an amazing patch of tiger lilies that had to be at least 30 feet in diameter. Everytime I came down our stairs, I would see these burning orange flowers across the street through frame of the front door.
Eventually, I became committed to the dream of my own lily garden. I bought and planted day lilies in the area where the periwinkle is now. They didn’t seem happy, so I moved them to a sunnier spot. Last fall, I dug them all up and divided them to cover a little more ground. Hence, the patch is a little bit bigger. We’ll see what next year brings after I divide them in the fall again.
Resurgent day lily
Sometimes, after you lay the groundwork, literally and figuratively, amazing growth can occur. When we went to the animal shelter to see about rescuing Buster (then known as Mr. Trembles), he was tiny and sickly. He weighed five pounds and was estimated to be about six weeks old. A volunteer handed me this poor little Catahoula Leopard Dog puppy and I could see how terrible distended his belly was from worms. He was weak and undernourished. He could barely look up. I held his precious body and worried he might not make it.
I said I was nervous about taking him home, but I committed. You can’t worry when you need to act. We took him in, fed him, got him medicine, cuddled him and nurtured him. And now, just shy of his first birthday, he is a big boy. He’s about 60 pounds and appears to be growing. He is incredibly sweet and apparently will be by my side for years to come.
Buster the big boy
Don’t wait for a future that won’t come just from wishing. Plant your future now.
Can you determine your own fate? Before extrapolating a lifetime, contemplate how you decide the fate of your day, any given day.
Happiness is Something You Decide Ahead of Time
I bought a sign that tells me so at a craft store. It rests on my bathroom vanity to remind me in the mornings who is in charge of my day’s outcome. That would be me.
A mantra sign in my bathroom!
Granted, something you cannot control can happen, but how you react is up to you too. How hard is this in practice? Very, especially when we get into routines and forget our own advice.
Last night, a friend shared a postcard on Instagram that reads:
Imagine If We Obsessed about the Things We Loved About Ourselves
Wow, I needed that reminder. I tend to create to-do lists with unattainable schedules and then beat myself up for not meeting goals. To be sure, these objectives need to be identified before anything can be accomplished with purpose and results. But, I must be mindful to reflect on accomplishments and experiences, large and small. How often do we celebrate the small moments? The incremental change?
This morning, I awoke with my to-do list front of mind and raced to the office to get going on it. I also reviewed affirmations of what I like about myself. What attributes do I have to contribute? What little things do I like? How do I shape my days? The day progress and things popped up unexpectedly, but things that are most welcome.
I had new experiences and met new people. I got back to my office and knocked out some work too. I’m mostly prepared for tomorrow, but not completely, and that’s OK.
My big goal for tomorrow is to carve out a little time in the afternoon for me, to stretch, to think, to smile.
Mr. Higgins, a.k.a., The Sage Leopard
I started this blog as a passion project to celebrate what I love most, including my dog, my cooking and my quality time outdoors. Life is ever evolving, which is wonderful. There are also constants, which for me include great cooking, dogs and laughter. Those are things I choose to celebrate.
What do I love about myself? Admittedly, it seems like a cringe-worthy contemplation, of someone self-centered and vain. Remember, though, we become what we choose and so to better ourselves we should visualize what we appreciate and what we want.
Do you seek “me time” where you can just shut out the nuisance noise of the world and find solace, curiosity or beauty? My boyfriend will say he needs to get out in the woods. Hunting is his quality time.
The thing I need most to escape is psoriasis and the accompanying anxiety.
On the road to quality of life.
It’s not a just skin-deep challenge. The inflammation is something I feel inside too and that stresses me out. Of course, stress leads to more inflammation and tension. It’s an anxiety vicious cycle. I don’t relate this to throw a pity party, but to relate some pointers for any challenge in life:
Confront your problem, don’t let anyone else minimize it.
If something is no longer working for you, do something different.
For a chronic problem or condition, find the things that give you every day joy and fill your days with those things too
What does psoriasis have to do with recreation and the outdoors? A lot. When it first presented, I was a tween and swimming competitively. A chronic skin condition is no fun when you already feel gangly and awkward. Fortunately, I had some topical medications to ease the symptoms and pain. My enjoyment of sports was not curtailed and I went on to play field hockey and lacrosse.
I love running, but lately I was having real trouble with movement. I did not want to run or go to the gym. My skin was so extensively covered, it hurt to move. Plus, once I got warmed up, it seemed the legions interfered with temperature regulation and I would give up.
I actually skipped training for a long-distance bike ride that took place in October. It was a century and I love the route. Sigh. Why would I let this condition interfere?
Self-portrait the day after I started a new medication.
For years, the psoriasis was under control with a FDA-approved drug you may see advertised on TV. Its effectiveness went from miracle drug to dud. Once it waned to the point where I was 50% covered in psoriasis, it was time to throw in the towel.
It had impeded my physical abilities and hampered my quality of life. It was time to pursue something new. First, I needed a 30-day washout period for the old drug to leave my system and the effects to be recorded. Then, I went to get the new prescription, a drug that is also advertised on TV. Well, there was a snafu that delayed the specialty Rx and my skin got even worse. Finally, it was dispensed and after one week, I could feel my skin again. We had been hunting in Georgia and I was having a little trouble with the hike.
After two-and-half weeks, I’m feeling so much better, inside and out. My anxiety has eased and I feel ready to return to the gym. Last weekend, we had gone duck hunting and I felt so good. I could sit comfortably for hours.
Getting outside is the best medicine.
Let me repeat, I was comfortable for hours. A chronic condition sometimes results in aggravating or even constant pain, which I had experienced for a couple of months before the new medicine took effect.
I am regaining quality of life. I can sit in peace, whether sitting at my desk working or sitting in the woods thinking. Even when I am in pain, I still focus on the things that give me quality of life: cooking, dogs, walks, cycling, breathing in life.
Growing up, I liked to flip through my parents’ cookbooks, especially to look for baking recipes. In 8th grade, I crafted a cookbook for a history project, writing out in calligraphy on parchment paper “receipts” from the Colonial Williamsburg era. I even cooked a meal from these 18th century receipts for my English and History teachers. Judging by the looks on their faces around the dining room table, I may have overdone it with the nutmeg and other spices for the meat.
When we would take the long drive from New Jersey to South Carolina to visit my grandparents, my palate opened up to new tastes, including grits. My grandmother, also a native of New Jersey, had a stack of Southern Living annual cookbooks. I would pull them off the shelf and flip through the recipes, admiring the pretty pictures and imagining being a grown-up cooking a roast or baking a Bundt cake.
Grandmother took note of how much I liked the cookbooks and told me I could have them someday. Fortunately, she had many more years after that to enjoy her kitchen and home. After she passed, my father related he could not find the cookbooks, but he brought me her colorful mixing bowls, which I cherish and use just about every day.
As a grown-up, I’ve subscribed to different cooking magazines, but my favorite is Southern Living. Maybe because they are accessible recipes for the home cook and for everyday dining rather than elaborate masterpieces for culinary artists. Or maybe because I like to flip through the magazine and see pretty pictures of homes, travels and recipes. Moreover, I love them because they remind me of visiting my grandparents in South Carolina. I was, and am, so taken by cypress trees, Spanish moss, palm trees and alligators.
This Thanksgiving weekend, my eldest sister recalled a family road trip from New Jersey to Texas and back with multiple stops in between. It was summertime and their sedan lacked air conditioning. It turned out my mother realized in Houston that she was pregnant with me. We all think it’s funny that I moved to Houston as an adult.
When I first arrived for business, I saw palm trees, which made me so happy. And, yes, we too have alligators, but fortunately I don’t see them unless I go to a nearby state park. Still, some neighborhood kids claim to have seen one in our subdivision retention pond and they do hang out in our bayou. I let my dog swim in the pond, but not the bayou, and keep a wary eye on the situation.
We just got back from a road trip we now take at least once a year to North Georgia, where my boyfriend’s family is from on both sides. An important errand was to the grist mill to pick up bags of grits and cornmeal. The real deal stone-ground grains cannot be beat.
While in Georgia, we also returned to a cousin’s home. I stood in the kitchen admiring her cookbook collection, including a stack of Southern Living annuals. When I told her about my grandmother’s collection, she immediately said I could have her Southern Living cookbooks.
I agreed to take them, but said she can have them back anytime. In the meantime, I have a lot of flipping pages to do! I usually let my magazines stack up for a few months and then go through to tear out the pages of recipes I want to keep in a binder. Now, I have the books to read!
I just pulled out the 2000 one and the first page I opened is about “The Fruitcake Tradition.” I’m not so sure I want to try that, but appreciated the introduction to the recipe notes this is in tribute to a grandmother. Ooh, what about prosciutto bruschetta with cantaloupe chutney?
From the 1984 book, there is a basic crepes recipe. I was just telling my sister about my crepe maker! There is also a section on how to use a food processor to save time when slicing vegetables and fruit. If you lived in the 1980s, you’ll reminder how the Cuisinart took American’s kitchens by storm. I actually have my grandmother’s machine and love it.
I may never have to look up another recipe online with this array of cookbooks serving an encyclopedia of making everyday cooking grand. I’m so excited and will likely share some of my discoveries with you on this blog!
You only get one life, so don’t let it get away from you. There is that old cliché that life happens while you are making other plans, but I truly believe you need to plan your life. After all, when things happen, you still get to do more with your life if you plan a good amount of it. And those are the things you get to choose.
Kayaking is one of my favorite activities
Think about it: I bet you have a business plan where you work, a retirement plan (or plans for a retirement plan), vacation plans and plans to spend the holidays with family. You probably have a shopping list and a to-do list. A meal plan, perhaps? A workout plan. Maybe you are really on the ball and planned a garden. You catch my drift. What are your plans this week? I don’t mean where you need to be at what time for some event or obligation. What are you planning for at home to enjoy yourself? Have you ever scheduled a break for yourself? Say, 8:00-9:00 p.m. Tuesday ______ fill in the blank.
Baking is as much fun as a party to me
Read magazines, do yoga/meditate, scroll through Pinterest, listen to music, etc. I’m serious. How many weeknights get filled with mindless TV watching? Want to take your dog to a state park but never do? Plan it. Put it on the calendar and then do it. If something comes up for that day, remember you already have plans with your dog.
One of our dogs really loves road trips so we take him on vacation when we can
Been wanting to do a girls night out, maybe one of those wine and painting shindigs? Well, pick a date, book a reservation and send out some invitations. Use Hobnob or another easy invitations by text apps. What else should you be planning? Maybe a relationship? In scuba diving, there is a simple practice for safety: plan your dive and dive the plan. This way you and your dive buddy are operating on the same page. With this basis, you can easily stick together and feel comfortable as the dive progresses.
Divers have a plan before they enter the water
If a need arises for a change in plan, you might just more easily communicate each other because you entered the water confidently with an understanding. It’s probably a good idea in everyday living within a relationship to run status checks on the relationship plan. What is the plan? A good relationship doesn’t run on autopilot. How do you frame out what you want so your life doesn’t run on autopilot? I like the structure of lists and calendars. I love the Evernote app and how I can access it easily by phone or laptop. I’m also low tech and use chalkboards and graph paper to plot out my plans, both business and personal. I’m thinking about making a dreamboard, but in the meantime using Evernote for a virtual dreamboard to pin images and write notes for big and little ideas.
Seeing the world with fresh eyes each time I clip in on my road bike
I need to find a quiet space, with no TV blaring or appliances running, and open that dreamboard. There I can decide what should be in my life and what I can delete. Go ahead and plan your life to know you are doing what you really want and not letting life just happen. Often, just the process of focusing on things you love feels great! Just closing my eyes to let my mind’s eye wander to those places is enjoyable. For me its being outdoors – on a kayak, in the garden, walking the dog, riding my bike, sitting on a beach, cooking dinner, baking something for a party or drinking coffee before dawn while listening to mockingbirds. Sometimes when life is passing by, it is a good idea to build these things we love back into our schedules. This is what I mean with the Sage Leopard motto of Reclaim Your Quality Time, Craft Your Own Happiness.
Am I the only one who uses Pinterest for therapy? A friend told me she doesn’t have any hobbies to pin and therefore doesn’t really get the platform. I explained you can just pick categories of things that make you happy, label them as boards and pin to them. My categories include cooking & baking, gardening ideas, “Jeeps for Keeps,” decor, and “Higgins,” which is a collection of beautiful dog pictures that remind me of The Sage Leopard.
A new patio tomato plant awaits true springtime
During a particularly stressful time a couple of years ago, I would find myself scrolling through Pinterest during my lunch break and getting little dopamine surges when coming across things I loved: Lilly Pulitzer prints, cute dogs, cool Jeeps, etc. To be sure, these scrolling excursions were virtual and represented vicarious enjoyment, e.g., ooh, how much fun it would be to drive that Jeep. Or that one, etc.
I love Pinterest, but an even more satisfying way to bring on the dopamine is to step outside. Think about how much your perspective changes after walking the dog around the block. Or, stepping out to clip some herbs. I feel an amazing satisfaction just from placing a cherry tomato plant on the patio.
Moon rising over palm tree
Armadillo guarding planter with sage (and basil seedlings)
Recently, I was heading out for a girls’ night and still felt a little tense from the work day. I stepped outside into the garden to play with The Sage Leopard. In short order, a ladybug landed on me. I looked up to notice the moon rising. Awash in a newly restored calm, I headed back toward the house and found myself smiling at an armadillo, who reminded me how Texas changed me.
We tend to stress ourselves out, even with things that should enhance our lives, such as cooking dinner. Why are you viewing your home life as a series of chores rather than a set of little luxuries? What if you cooked dinner on a granite-topped grill and took in the moment? Luxurious, right?
One of our luxuries is time. I’ve discovered I can best utilize it by marking the time. For instance, I’d been procrastinating on finishing a sewing project because when I returned to the machine it was jamming up the thread. I brought an egg timer into the sewing room and gave myself 15 minutes to figure it out. Re-reading the manual helped too. Soon enough, I had the machine rolling again and with relative ease, finished the project: a duvet for a doggie bed. The fabric had been measured and cut, twice, a month earlier. It was easy to assemble and the result makes me and the dogs happy.
Chester lounging on the swanky home crafted doggie duvet
I picked up this 15 minutes idea from my physician to whom I complained about how hard it can be to motivate to go the gym. He suggested I convince myself by thinking it will only be 15 minutes and then find myself putting in a 30-minute workout. Last night, I needed to de-clutter my mind and opted to take 15 minutes to meditate. It may have been 20 minutes I laid on a yoga mat breathing mindfully and it really helped.
Dinner should never be viewed as a chore and it too can be prepared relatively quickly. Here are two examples. Sunday night in this household is all about The Walking Dead. I used to make elaborate meals for this event. This time, I sliced up a chicken breast and marinated it in a plastic storage bag in rosemary, Meyer lemon juice and sliced garlic cloves.
Salmon and chicken grilling on granite
I sliced off the skin from a filet of salmon. All I did to cook the meat and fish was to place it on the hot granite atop the raclette grill. I assembled a salad with lettuce and some deli salad sides (Greek olives and sliced roasted red pepper). Voila, a delicious dinner. In that instance, I had just returned from the grocery store with fresh ingredients.
Quick salad with a little help from the deli buffet
But, I also recently discovered that the granite grill is great for cooking up canned vegetables. I rubbed on some olive oil and then let the grill work its magic on butter beans, green beans and diced (drained) tomatoes.
Butter beans, green beans and diced tomatoes
Salt, pepper and parmesan cheese brought it all together and to the table with ease. That’s what I mean when I talk about crafting your own happiness.
Camouflage Crocs, a hound dog, paintings of South Texas wildlife, eating my own venison. How did this happen to me? You see, before I moved to Texas, I could have been easily characterized, or caricatured, as some kind of liberal, East Coast-educated media elite. I’m from a New Jersey suburb, went to a small private college in Virginia, and rode mass transit with the best of the urban cockroaches of Manhattan (that’s a compliment to those urbane warriors). I knew nothing of the Texas Gulf Coast waters, Buccees, kolaches, duck hunting in Katy, backing in a pickup truck, kayaking with alligators, breakfast tacos, let alone breakfast tacos with desebrada.
How did all this come to pass? By moving to Texas, I learned it is possible to change. To truly change. And just how fantastically liberating that can be. I’ve been here since 2006 and still don’t feel that I’ve fully realized the opportunities here.
Sunset over bayou in Houston
Granted, changing yourself is possible anywhere, at any time. It just might have been easier to do so by making a gigantic geographic departure to shed some of my old identity. That is not to say I don’t retain my personal history and attributes, but I don’t let my past constrain me anymore either. When I first got here, the sky seemed bigger. It sounds so clichéd, I know. The first rain storm dropped huge torrents on my windshield. I couldn’t see and was scared. You see, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things as I tend to get anxious. If my mother asked me, “oh, what’s the worst thing that can happen?,” I would engage in a risk analysis about the very worst thing that could possibly happen. As one friend said, that’s no way to live.
But, I had lived that way for a long time. Until recent years and, hey, even recent weeks and days. This risk aversion has always driven me to cover all the bases, run all the traps and prepare for any eventuality. It is also exhausting and often useless in the face of all of life’s unanticipated hurdles. How did I make this philosophical change?
For the longest time, I have taken the approach of powering through challenges. I’d pride myself on my grit. And enjoyed it. This came from childhood sports. As an adult, I’d swim laps after work and ride my bike on weekends on the trails in and around DC. Along the Mall, along the Potomac, up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The sights were amazing. The scents of flower and fauna wonderful and relaxing. And, some of those hills in Rock Creek Park required powering through. The bike rides relaxed me and inspired me.
Then, a job transfer took me to Houston and I moved to the Galleria. I had no idea where to ride my bicycle. I did not like Memorial Park for bike riding, though I came to enjoy jogging there. A colleague told me about an outdoors club that includes group bike rides. This led to a lot of bike rides and new friendships. A couple of years later, a new guy showed up at one of our outings. I could not help but notice he was handsome, sweet and intelligent. I tried to ignore all that as I was purposely avoiding dating at that time. Once we started talking about bike rides, my intent to ignore him was doomed.
He had done the MS 150 several times and I’d been interested in the Houston-Austin route as a can’t-miss Texas experience. Six months later, he and I embarked on the MS150 training season. This guy also convinced me to get on the back of his motorcycle. Me, the girl with anxieties. Well, yeah, now I have a motorcycle license. This guy also suggested I take a day off and go hog hunting with him. I viewed this as a cultural curiosity I should explore and went. Yeah, well now I am an experienced deer, hog and duck hunter.
Growing up, swimming was always a part of life. Yet, I had no exposure to scuba. Once again, the handsome guy suggested it as well as a friend from work. Sea Sports Scuba on Westheimer – check it out. Now, this was an utterly different activity. It is dangerous, it requires skills and strength, but the old powering through approach would exhaust and potentially kill a diver. Scuba is methodical. It is careful. It is immensely relaxing. During class, it became apparent that the most efficient breathing is just like yoga breathing. Slow. Relaxed. If a situation arises with equipment or your environs, you think first, then try one thing or the other, following a set of trained procedures.
You just stay relaxed and mindful. I’ve been coming around to learn that I cannot power through challenges or any activities. That I should instead take it all in as well as solve problems mindfully.
My decision to move to Houston set off a chain of personal decisions I made to force myself expand my horizons and enrich my life. Maybe Texas did not change me. But moving here did provide the impetus for me to change myself.