How Texas Changed Me

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
Sunset over bayou in Houston

CHANGE YOURSELF

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.

RUNNING TRAPS

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.

The Sage Leopard

Seeking sunshine, veggies and casserole

“I will emerge!,” proclaimed a sign at butcher shop in the neighborhood where I grew up. The butcher spun off from a family business to open his own food specialties shop and he posted the sign as motivation to get the business rolling as a going concern. It worked. That, and the fact his Italian sausages were delicious and all the meats were of the finest quality. Plus, he had an amazing personality that customers liked as much as the food. I’m reminded of his mantra as I attempt to emerge from what feels like hibernation thanks to two weeks of a head cold. Whenever I am feeling encumbered or withdrawn, I need to boldly emerge. For instance, I gave a Toastmasters speech today to an Open House to promote my club and advocate for excellence in public speaking. It is as if the only thing that will make me emerge from pajamas after I am sick is to do something big. I am admittedly way behind on something else big and that is training for a 150-mile, two-day bike ride coming up in April. Normally, people start training for this with 30- and 40-ish mile rides in January. Everyone else I know, save for one woman, has already been out there, peddling in crisp air with the sun on their faces and building stamina. Meanwhile, I have been home, coughing, drinking tea and eating crackers. That changes tomorrow. The aforementioned fellow straggler and I are planning to ride 20 miles tomorrow rather than 40-something miles. It has been two weeks since I got this cold. Week 1 included medication. Week 2 has been haunted by a lingering, nasty cough. Last weekend, I was not healthy enough to ride, but I did feel good enough to step outside. I had wondered if I could handle just a little weeding. The fresh air did wonders. After a couple of hours, I had cleaned up some garden beds, transplanted some flowers and began sets of seeds for cucumbers, watermelon, bell peppers, delphinium, echinacea and foxglove. toasty carrotsThis week, my appetite awaked after a series of soup dinners and I grilled vegetables. Carrots, bell peppers, squash and zucchini hit the grill a few different nights for very fresh dinners. To take the edge off the chill in the air, I baked a parsley and cheese casserole. Embraced by warm food and welcomed by sunshine, I feel ready to emerge this weekend and really get rolling down the road for some good country bike rides.parsley casserole

Preparing ingredients for parsley & cheese casserole
Preparing ingredients for parsley & cheese casserole

Parsley and cheese casserole: Cooked rotini (half box), half of cup of freshly shredded parm, half a package of cheddar cheese dip, dollop of sour cream, can of cream of celery soup, freshly cut parsley (at least half a cup). While pasta is cooking, place chopped parsley and shredded cheese into a bowl. Mix in soup, cheese dip and sour cream. Fold in pasta and the spread mixture into greased casserole dish. Sprinking on dried onion flakes, Creole seasoning, paprika or whatever you fancy. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes until top is golden brown and the sides are bubbling.

Christmas Reflections on a Red Bicycle

The Christmas Story kid had the Red Ryder and my overwhelmingly fantastic Christmas present 30 years ago was this, my Shogun 10-speed road bike. My Dad and I were just discussing how pumped I was that Christmas morning when all the presents had been opened and then he surprised me by rolling this out from another room. This was my primary mode of transportation around my hometown until age 17-18.

my first road bike, a mid-1980s Shogun 100
my first road bike, a mid-1980s Shogun 100

Since then, it’s been stored in garages and a barn, until today. I’m taking it back! I rode it today and the gears and brakes work. I still love this bike as much as the day Santa gave it to me. My brother-in-law helped me pull it out from within a stack of bikes. At some point, he had given it a tune-up so it was ready to roll, albeit without much air in the tires. I pointed it at the dirt and gravel driveway and rode downhill, pumping the brakes. When I got down to a country road with a much steeper hill, I opted to just ride a little bit around in a circle before heading back up the driveway. The air felt a somewhat crisper, even on a warm Christmas for the East Coast. There is something freeing and empowering about being seated atop a road bike. Drawing in windy breath activates all the senses and I feel grateful for being alive. There is a timelessness to this sensation. I loved riding this bike around my hometown. It freed me from having to ask for a ride to a friend’s house. I remember placing a field hockey stick across the handle bars to get to and from summer sports clinic. There may have been some occasions when my high school friends and I would pull up to a party on a 10-speed. Growing up in New Jersey, we did not get driver’s licenses until age 17 and most of us were not given a car, so the bike was crucial for creating your own life outside home. I got on this old bike this Christmas and felt that same sense of freedom and self-identity. I noticed how comfortable the bike still fits (I am an inch taller than I was in high school). Similarly, I love the way my Specialized Dulce Elite fits and feels. When I was shopping for that bike, a salesman gave me good advice while I was checking out a less expensive alternative. He cautioned against compromising on price. Mind you, he was offering me that less expensive alternative. But, he said, buy a bike you absolutely love so that you will always want to ride it and not let it collect dust. He was right. When I get on my Dulce Elite, I feel embraced by it and it is easy to ride. Even after dozens of miles, the bike holds firm and keeps me going. Getting back on the Shogun, I had that same sensation of knowing this is my bike and my ticket to freedom.