A Weekend in San Antonio

Mentioning San Antonio to an out-of-towner conjures thoughts of the Alamo and Riverwalk, Tex-Mex cuisine, and the five time NBA champion Spurs. It is all of those things, but the city I am blessed to call my birthplace is so much more. Whether you’re a lifelong resident in need of a staycation or a first-time visitor, this is how to spend a weekend in San Antonio.

5 PM FRIDAY

Sip a Cocktail at Cured

Located in the heart of the Pearl, formerly the Pearl Brewery, Cured is a restaurant with a focus on – you guessed it – cured meats. Have a seat at the bar near the glass case of hanging meat and order the Root Beer Old Fashioned. Savor the distinct, malty flavor of the house made root beer liqueur as you watch the staff assemble massive charcuterie boards behind the bar. Order a board if you can’t resist, but don’t spoil your appetite.

 

Feast at Botika

Walk a few yards away to enter Botika, Chef Geronimo Lopez’s perfect mash-up of Peruvian and Asian fare. Grab a glass of sake or a Pisco cocktail from the bar while you wait for your table. Once seated, waste no time and place your order of duck confit empanadas and the Botika roll. The savory, decadent empanadas pair well with the fresh, ever-changing sushi roll. Next, ask for the short rib noodles and the lomo saltado, strips of perfectly cooked tenderloin blanketed with a fried egg. Once fully sated and headed for the door, give your regards to Geronimo, who is often found hustling through the restaurant.

The Botika Roll

The Botika Roll

Enjoy Music at Jazz, TX

Saunter over to the Pearl’s music spot. Grab a seat near the band and watch the stand-up bass player’s fingers slide across the strings. Let the sound of the trumpet and the dim blue lights carry you to another time. If somehow, you’re able to handle dessert, order the Texas Pecan Pie, which includes a scoop of smoked brisket piled on top. Ask the server to tell you the story about the origin of this concoction.

Friday evening at Jazz, Tx.

Friday evening at Jazz, Tx.

Savor a Beverage at Sternewirth

As you traverse the Pearl complex, quietly humming trumpet sounds, stroll into Sternewirth Tavern, the bar on the ground floor of Hotel Emma. Back when the Pearl was a brewery (and before you could spend an evening on the same dirt eating cuisine from across the world, drinking fancy cocktails, and listening to jazz), the staff was allowed to imbibe while at work, a benefit known as the Sternewirth Privilege. Sink into a soft leather chair positioned beneath the elevated ceilings and unfinished walls while you watch locals and travelers alike float through the bar.

Stay

On a Budget: Stay at an Airbnb in the King William District, like this one.

Splurge: Spend the night at Hotel Emma in the Garrett Room.

SATURDAY

In the morning, summon an Uber or hop in your car (whichever applies) and ride/drive about 5 minutes away for the perfect San Antonio midmorning meal. 

Brunch at La Fonda on Main

Ask to be seated outside on La Fonda's patio. Indulge in chips, queso, and a mimosa or a Steve’s margarita surrounded by oak trees and greenery. Order the Weekend Breakfast, a cut of savory Allen Brothers steak, eggs bathed in queso, and a fluffy slice of cinnamon infused French toast. You also can’t go wrong with the shrimp nachos. Order them sans serrano peppers if you’re averse to spice.

Pro tip: If you have a little leftover queso, pour it on your steak. 

Pro tip: If you have a little leftover queso, pour it on your steak. 

Sip Coffee at Ocho

Pull up a turquoise chair by the window beneath Ocho's imposing chandelier and down an espresso as you gear up for an afternoon outdoors.

Bike the Missions

Cruise a few miles south of downtown to arrive at Mission Espada. Admire the architecture of the mission and the acequia that carried life sustaining water to Spanish settlers three hundred years ago. Once you’re ready to move on, grab a B Cycle from a rack nearby and take a ride to Mission San Juan.

If you’re feeling daring, complete the 20-mile route, stopping at Mission San Jose, and Mission Concepcion along the way. End your ride at the site made famous on March 6, 1836.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Remember the Alamo

It goes without saying: You can’t visit San Antonio without stopping by the cradle of Texas independence. Grab a last look at the cenotaph, the shrine, and the entire plaza before it is completely reimagined.

The Alamo on a Spring afternoon

The Alamo on a Spring afternoon

Dine at Battalion

Less than a mile from the Alamo stands Battalion, a converted fire station (complete with an original firepole) that boasts some of the city’s best Italian fare. Order the house made ricotta, winter panzanella, arrabbiata pasta, and chicken parmesan, which is plenty for two. Order a few more items if your party is larger.

Dance at John T. Floore's Country Store

This 70-year-old venue epitomizes everything about a true Texas dancehall. Some of the Lone Star State’s most well-known singers and songwriters have performed at Floore’s. There’s a great act almost every Saturday night throughout the year, so grab a Coors Light longneck and get ready to cut a rug.  

Enjoy a Nightcap at George's Keep

Located beneath the Eilan hotel, George’s Keep has a speakeasy feel. High five the bouncer on your way in and chat up locals as you sip an Aviation or a Northwest Side.

SUNDAY

If the airport is your final destination in San Antonio, grab a last meal at La Gloria, a restaurant concept developed by San Antonio's own Johnny Hernandez, in the airport. If you have a little time on your way out, get some breakfast tacos. Mama Margie's is a few miles east on IH-10. There's a Biller Miller BBQ on nearly every corner in San Antonio and their breakfast tacos are hard to beat. A trip to Taco Taco would be completely worth it. The Original Donut Shop, Taqueria Data Point, and Pete's Tako House will all give you the perfect San Antonio breakfast taco experience. 

If you're not ready to leave, I don't blame you. You'd love living here just as much as visiting. 

El Fin Del Mundo

I squinted hard, guarding my eyes against horizontal pellets of ice sailing through the air like bullets. Open just enough to see directly in front of me, I focused my eyes on the colorful logo of my travel companion’s backpack, wiling the relentless sleet to stop just long enough for us to get back to our campsite. I flexed my toes inside my hiking boots to make sure I could still feel them. I trudged along, becoming increasingly regretful as I remembered shopping inside a warm, dry REI store just before leaving for the trip. I winced at the memory of confidently deciding against purchasing waterproof pants. Then, I made myself laugh as I thought about being proud of my frugal decision at the time, knowing now that I’d pay 10 times that price for the same pair of waterproof trousers.

I knew Patagonia would be cold, even in the springtime month of November. I had read that it could be windy and the weather could be unpredictable. But the photographs convinced me otherwise. The blogs I’d read didn’t mention the bitter cold, the wind that nearly knocked me to the ground, nor the nasty precipitation in all forms that ceaselessly assaulted me from all angles. Perhaps I had subconsciously glossed over those parts.

I sat in my two-person tent after the brutal hike to the Grey Glacier, mentally doubting my decision to come to Patagonia. I was wet, cold, and 100 blustery yards from the lodge, where I could shower, albeit in a narrow stall with a tiny showerhead that spewed a meager stream of water, and only for a few seconds, when the faucet was pushed. At least the water was warm.

Our campsite in Torres del Paine. 

Our campsite in Torres del Paine. 

Having no choice but to suffer through it, I spent a sleepless first night in the tent, inches from my new “roommate,” a charming gal from Zurich, who had traveled to four times the countries I had in the same span of time. She seemed to sleep soundly as I lay awake, listening to the wind flap the zippered vents of the tent into the night, slipping into short, jarring dreams of being trapped in the yellow shelter, tossed atop snowy mountains by the wind. In the morning, the cold crushed my resolve to emerge from the warmth of my sleeping bag. Born and bred in the southern U.S., cold has never been my friend, but I had no choice but to stick it out. After an international flight to Santiago, an internal flight to Punta Arenas, followed by a bus ride to Puerto Natales, a cab ride from the hostel to the bus station, a bus ride to Torres del Paine National Park, and finally a boat ride to our camp site at the start of the famous W Trek, I knew figuring out the logistics for my escape would be impossible.

Standing in front of my humble abode in Torres del Paine National Park. 

Standing in front of my humble abode in Torres del Paine National Park. 

The morning after the dreadful hike through the all that Mother Nature had to offer began much more auspiciously. Having booked my trip with Intrepid Travel months before, I hadn’t a clue who I’d end up spending 10 days with at the bottom of the world. As it turned out, I wound up thoroughly enjoying the time spent with each of my travel companions: three Aussies, three Brits, an Irishman, four Americans, and a woman from Switzerland. The sunny second day allowed much room for laughter, as we were seemingly far removed from the wind and cold of the day before. We sat together in the lodge at the Torres del Paine National Park, feasting on scrambled eggs, granola, and toast. After breakfast, we packed our lunches, making our own sandwiches of meat, cheese, and bread supplied to us by our Chilean guide, along with a daily Snickers bar and a piece of fruit.

Morning lunch preparation headed by our fearless guide, Anita.

Morning lunch preparation headed by our fearless guide, Anita.

Smiles, laughter, and aimless chatter flowed throughout our 22 km journey to and from the French Valley. Along the way, our guide, a local who has lived most of her life in Puerto Natales – save for a few years during her youth when she and her family sought political asylum elsewhere during the Pinochet dictatorship – provided little pearls of wisdom as we trekked. She encouraged us to fill our water bottles with water from any and all streams we encountered. Patagonian glacier water is the purest on the planet and completely giardia-free! It’s also some of the best water you’ll ever taste. She told us about the Calafate berries that were almost ripe enough to pick and eat from the bushes expanding across the park. Between sharing educational tidbits, she admonished us along the way:

“Walk where I walk! Stay on the trail – we must protect the natural areas.”

“Don’t throw that fruit peel on the ground. You say it’s organic. NO. We don’t leave trash in the park!”

She told us about a terrible fire that ravaged the area years ago after a group of hikers ignored the rules against building fires in the park. She pointed out copses of burnt trees, a stark reminder of the hazard of taking nature into one’s own hand.

By the fourth day in the park, our little international group had become good friends. We knew both frivolous and major details of one another’s lives after spending hours on trails sharing stories from home, discussing future and past travels, and talking about where the post-Patagonia holiday would take us (home was my answer, though I was the only one who wasn’t sticking around South America after the Patagonia trip’s end).

The fourth day of the trip was the one I had most anticipated. We were headed to the Mirador del los Torres. I was so anxious to see the iconic Torres up close, I became increasingly impatient as we stopped for Snickers and bathroom breaks. As we hiked, our guide fretted over the foggy weather, and apologized in advance if the fog and clouds prevented her from showing us the best possible view. Assuring her that we all recognized the weather was out of her control, we trudged forward, removing and putting back on our coats as the weather vacillated.

Finally, we were upon them. The majestic torres jutted up from the earth juxtaposed with a glacial blue pool that appeared most inviting.

Staring up at Los Torres is a magical experience, even when they're obscured by clouds.

Staring up at Los Torres is a magical experience, even when they're obscured by clouds.

“That water is four degrees (Celsius),” Dennis, our travel coordinator, said in response to my comment that I’d like to swim in it.

Though the W trail is said to be one of the most popular in all of Patagonia, the Mirador del Torres wasn’t crowded that day. We took turns being photographed in front of the torres before acknowledging that we were all quite frozen and headed back for the day.

The group in front of los torres!

The group in front of los torres!

Back at the campsite, we killed time before dinner at the lodge, playing gin rummy and drinking Pisco Sours and cocktails made with Calafate berries. Traditional Chilean dinners were prepared for us by Intrepid staff in a set of dome tents where we all ate together as a group. Our last night in Chilean Patagonia, I hung around the lodge alone and watched the sunset over the Andes.

This sunset was mesmerizing. I must have taken a hundred photographs of it.

This sunset was mesmerizing. I must have taken a hundred photographs of it.

The following day, we headed east to the Argentine side. Arriving in El Calafate after a long but mostly uneventful experience crossing the border, we dropped our things off at the hostel: very basic accommodations that after four long, cold nights in a tent I was inordinately grateful to soon experience.

Took the opportunity to photobomb a guanaco before leaving Chile. 

Took the opportunity to photobomb a guanaco before leaving Chile. 

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. Less than an hour from our perch in El Calafate, Los Glaciares National Park boasts long winding trails around the ice field that allow visitors to get close enough to hear and watch massive chunks of ice falling from the structure. Perito Moreno is one of only three glaciers in the world that is advancing rather than retreating. It’s hard to describe the scale of the thing – let own photograph it –  it’s 18 miles long, more than 37 miles high, and 3 miles wide.

Eyeballing it wasn’t enough for most of us, so we threw on some crampons and set out for a little trek across the glacier. I kept my head down while repeatedly sinking my feet into the packed ice, conscious of my footfalls, afraid of stabbing my shin with a crampon spike. At the end of our journey, we were treated by our hiking guides to a glass of whiskey chilled with a bit of glacier.

Hiking Perito Moreno!

Hiking Perito Moreno!

A makeshift bar at the base of a glacier. Salud! 

A makeshift bar at the base of a glacier. Salud! 

The next day marked our last full day in Patagonia. Without a formal group itinerary, we were given options to spend our day – hanging around in the quaint town of El Calafate, or taking a day trip to a working estancia. I’ve never been one to miss an opportunity to spend time on horseback, so I opted for the estancia excursion, and am I ever glad I did!

Estancia Nibepo Aike.

Estancia Nibepo Aike.

First thing in the morning, we were shuttled to Estancia Nibepo Aike, just outside of El Calafate. Upon arriving, we were treated to coffee and muffins while we admired the stunning views of the Andes and watched the livestock roam across the expansive green fields. We listened to the history of the property for a few minutes before hopping on horses and taking a tour of the working ranch. We passed herds of lamb as we galloped by and took a moment to commemorate the experience with a few photographs. Back at the ranch house, we watched a gaucho show and a lamb sheering, before indulging in a feast of cadero asado, fresh vegetables, and Chilean wine. Full and happy, we made our way back to the hostel in El Calafate.

The view from horseback. 

The view from horseback. 

Los gauchos preparing to show us a thing or two.

Los gauchos preparing to show us a thing or two.

The second after snapping this photo, the shy, young chef whipped his head around to avoid being photographed. He maintained a tight grip on the codero all the while.

The second after snapping this photo, the shy, young chef whipped his head around to avoid being photographed. He maintained a tight grip on the codero all the while.

Nearing the end of our trip, we hopped a plane to Buenos Aires. We spent a final night together in a downtown bar, where we celebrated a fantastic trip with craft beer and fried food. The next morning, we met for breakfast in our hotel and said our goodbyes. With my 7:00 p.m. flight only hours away, I decided to treat myself to a quintessential culinary Argentine experience. After a brief internet search, I decided on Elena. On my walk there, I passed the obelisk in the center of town, and encountered a group of young folks covered in paint (I’m still not sure what that was about). Once I arrived at Elena, I decided to suspend healthy dieting and indulge completely. Thus, I ordered a glass of Malbec, the bone-in ribeye (cooked medium rare) with Chimichurri, the cheese soufflé, the arugula salad with a coddled quail egg, and a chocolate soufflé for dessert.

The best steak I've ever had.

The best steak I've ever had.

I sat at the table for 2 hours, enjoying every blessed morsel. As I write this, I can still remember the taste of the buttery, tender bites of ribeye doused in flavorful chimichurri, complimented with the smooth, earthy Malbec.

Sated and in love in the only way one can be after a meal unsurpassed, I sauntered across the city streets, soaking in the busy, vibrant elements of the city. A few hours later, I hauled my backpack into a taxi, feeling wistful, already missing the special place I hadn’t yet left.

Patagonia left an indelible mark on my heart, as did northern Chile and Argentina. If I could go back to el fin del mundo tomorrow, it wouldn’t be soon enough. 

Standing Up for Abused and Neglected Children

I met the girls a few months after the morning their dad killed their grandmother. They slept in the next room as their grandmother took her last breath. When their mother arrived home from work, she discovered their dead grandmother lying on the floor of the bathroom. The girls’ father fled, and was later charged with murder and taken into custody. After questioning by the police, the girls’ mother admitted to frequently using methamphetamines, along with the girls’ grandmother and father, triggering removal of the girls from the home.

In a single morning, the girls – not yet in first grade – had lost their grandmother to murder, their father to prison, they were headed to a strange place with unfamiliar people, and they didn’t know when they would see their mother again.

After the judge granted temporary managing conservatorship of the girls to the State, they were placed in foster care. To get her children back, the judge ordered the girls’ mother to compete outpatient drug rehab, to take parenting classes, and to provide a safe home environment for the girls. The girls were placed in a lovely foster home where they were able to walk to school, attend swimming classes, and, most importantly, have every need met.

Though they were happy in their foster placement, they wanted nothing more than to be back with their mother. The judge approved visitations between the mother and her girls, which were held weekly at a location approved by Child Protective Services (CPS). Without fail, the girls sobbed uncontrollably at the end of each visit with their mother. They made it abundantly clear that the only thing they truly wanted was to live with their mother again.

Fortunately, this story ends much more positively than it began. Getting her children back became this mother’s entire reason for living. She got clean, completed her services, and worked two jobs to secure housing for the girls. At the final hearing, the judge asked each person involved whether they believed he should order reunification. Everyone was in agreement.

This is the story of my very first case as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Assigned to the case shortly after the children were placed in foster care, I spent time with the girls each month, driving them to and from school functions, observing visits with their mother, reading stories and doing art projects. I consulted my CASA supervisor along the way, as I drafted court reports and attended permanency conferences and hearings. I got to know the girls’ CPS caseworker, their attorney, their foster family, their therapist, and their mother.

Shortly after the case was closed, I remember being asked to name someone I admire. Without hesitation I told them that I truly admired the children’s mother. She overcame years of abuse by her own mother and her children’s father. She kicked a terrible drug habit. She made the decision to overcome her circumstances so she could get her children back. She made a lot of mistakes, but she persevered and ultimately turned her life around.

I remember being told by seasoned child welfare advocates at the time that this was a very uncommon outcome. Many times, parents don’t try that hard, if they try at all. Sometimes siblings get split up into different foster homes. Sometimes the older children get into legal trouble, drop out of school, get pregnant, become addicted to drugs, or they grow up in foster care, never having the opportunity to experience the love and stability of a forever home. Sometimes parents relinquish their rights to their own children. Sometimes a CASA is the only person who isn’t paid to be in these children’s lives. Sometimes a CASA is the only person who really listens to them, spends time with them, and works to get to know them because they truly care.

CASA is different from other organizations that focus on child welfare, because its volunteers advocate for children in court. It’s not just about mentoring, though there certainly are great opportunities for that. As a CASA, you can play an outsize role in determining your child's future. If you work to build a solid rapport with your child, he or she will feel comfortable sharing things with you that they may be unwilling to tell the CPS caseworker or their attorney. You will have information others involved in the case may not, information that may drastically alter the direction of the case. You will have the opportunity to make connections in the case that may have gone unrecognized without your involvement. The judge will care about what you have to say about the case. In fact, in my experience, regardless of whose court, the judge has addressed me directly and asked for CASA’s perspective in nearly every hearing. At the very least, you serve as an extra set of eyes to ensure the child's needs are met and the judge is provided a perspective that won't come from anyone else involved.    

Last year, the State confirmed 66,703 cases of child abuse and/or neglect. Unfortunately, we know that there are many at-risk children who haven't been checked by CPS, and even more instances of abuse and neglect that haven't been reported. The safety of all at-risk children is in the hands of an imperfect system, causing too many children to fall through the cracks.  As the effects of a broken child welfare system continue to make headlines, it's hard not to feel helpless. Crises like this can seem too overwhelming and too complicated for any one person to do anything about. The good news is that you have the power to do something. You can make a difference in the life of an abused or neglected child. Serving as a CASA is one of the most meaningful things I have ever done, and I encourage everyone who is interested to attend an information session. If you feel strongly about protecting children from abuse, becoming a CASA will fulfill your calling to serve.

If you’d like to get involved with CASA, but don't have time to serve as an advocate, the next best way to help is to give financially. CASA's first priority is to secure volunteers, striving toward the ultimate goal of assigning a CASA to every case. To do this, CASA uses different strategies to recruit volunteers, and pays staff to train and supervise them. There are countless organizations that do many great things, but I’m asking you to consider supporting one that makes a monumental difference in advocating for some of our society’s most vulnerable members. If you’re looking to make a charitable gift before the end of the year, please consider CASA. A small investment will make a big impact on improving the lives of abused and neglected children. 

Living Life in Election Cycles

Do you know what today is?

Today marks 20 days until Election Day.

This is the sole significance of today, October 18th, to thousands of people throughout the United States. For political operatives, legislative staff, and the candidates themselves, it's as if life after November 8th doesn't exist. The days leading up to the grand finale are fully owned by the task at hand. The day after is contemplated with trepidatious fantasy. Living within the confines of an election cycle, discussions of the future begin with the cautious caveat "if we win" and finally cleaning the house or starting a diet are the only plans made with certainty. The day after Election Day is otherworldly, like the afterlife, where no one knows quite what to expect because it all hinges on the outcome of that single day. 

Though the world won't end based on an election outcome, it will certainly feel that way for some, and it will definitely alter the course of many people's careers. While choosing a career with this kind of inherent instability may seem absurd, so many people continue to willingly commit themselves to it, year after year, despite countless reasons not to.

It's a paradoxically maddening but addictive existence – disappearing from our regular lives for months at a time and succumbing to the "feast or famine" nature of this work. The same concept applies to working a legislative session in Texas, where lawmakers and support staff do a 140 day (and often night) lawmaking dash and spend the rest of the 19 month biennium in the purgatory of the interim.

When the Texas Legislature is in session, work-life balance is term without meaning. It is not uncommon to work 80 plus hour workweeks, and still be behind. Preparation for committee hearings, stakeholder meetings, constituent correspondence, and bill drafts fill our brains, leaving room for little else. We sacrifice our personal lives – time with family, hobbies, and other life enriching activities – for the gratification of being a part of something meaningful. We laugh with each other about how bizarre our lives are and how our friends with normal jobs think we're nuts. We struggle with missing our kids' soccer games, church events, and evenings with friends. Like addicts, we make pacts with ourselves to quit after just one more session. But then, as we stare bleary eyed into television screens blaring a committee hearing at 11 p.m. on a Wednesday night in April, we admit to ourselves this is exactly where we want to be. 

This line of work is polarizing, either you can't imagine doing anything else, or you'd rather wash dishes. For those who can't live without it, here's to you. I hope your sacrifice is worthwhile and that your work makes you proud. No matter the outcome on November 8th (or May 29th), know that you've made a difference and you're part of what makes this nation special. 

 

 

In Pursuit of Gratitude

I have been fortunate to have traveled to far-flung places throughout the world where living conditions differ from my own more than I can adequately describe. In Central America, I witnessed four generations of a family living in a one room thatched roof shack with a dirt floor, without running water or electricity. I’ve seen thousands of people crammed inside an Indian slum, forced to use the public streets as a bathroom.

Very few Americans can identify with that kind of life. Still, somehow so many are angry. They say they work too hard and don’t make enough money. They believe they’d have a better job if so many immigrants hadn’t come and taken them. College isn’t free and nice things cost money. If you believe them, life in America really sucks.

I think most can agree that this anger is real, but I believe it’s misguided. I don’t understand the logic behind blaming the government for an immigration policy that allows people seeking a better life to bring their skills and contribute to our economy, or capitalistic economic policies that reward hard work and creativity. I think the arguments of those most angered by our government’s failures could benefit from some introspection, which, hopefully would lead to an acceptance of at least some personal responsibility for their circumstances.  

Garment stitchers in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

Garment stitchers in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.

A man in Dharavi processing goat entrails that will eventually become surgical thread.

A man in Dharavi processing goat entrails that will eventually become surgical thread.

Every time I hear people talk about restoring our country to greatness, as if it’s currently a terrible place, I can’t help but mentally catalog all of the places that, by comparison, make this country look like Heaven on Earth. There are far worse places to try to make it. There are few other places in this world where a determined, hard working individual can transcend their circumstances and completely change their life. Americans are not bound by caste or creed. Upward mobility in this country is a choice we are all given, not a fantasy or a birthright, as it is for so many others in this world. The sense of entitlement that is so pervasive in the United States simply doesn’t exist in many other cultures.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to do better.  There is always room for improvement, and better is always a worthy goal. My point is that we would be far better served to redirect the conversation from hate, anger, and blame to constructive discussions about how we can improve our lives in this country. Let’s stop blaming certain race and religious groups for what’s wrong in our lives. Let’s quit demanding that the government take care of us. Instead, let’s turn the focus inward and ask ourselves what we can personally do to make our existences better. Then, let’s observe the world around us with grateful hearts, thankful that we are blessed enough to live in the greatest country in the world.

The people I encountered in other parts of the world who live meager existences, eat the same food, and work until they die, for the most part, were happy. They toil tirelessly as subsistence farmers, or they work long hours in garment factories until their fingers bleed. They understand that working hard is part of life, and in many cases, is life. Billions of people in this world work daily to support each other as integral functions in the community machine, knowing a handout isn’t coming, probably never stopping to fantasize about how much better things could be if the government would just get it together.

In Sarstun, Guatemala there are no roads. Families like this one travel exclusively in cayucos to fetch water from the town pump each day.

In Sarstun, Guatemala there are no roads. Families like this one travel exclusively in cayucos to fetch water from the town pump each day.

I recognize this diatribe sounds preachy, and that isn’t my intent. It’s just that the negativity that has spread like a cancer throughout this election season has really made me hurt for our country. We are all brothers and sisters in freedom and we need to love each other a little more. 

We must do better

Never let a crisis go to waste.

This phrase has been attributed to several people throughout history, most recently to Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Attribution aside, this sentiment has been applied repeatedly by those in power across the world since the beginning of time. Based on the political response to the Orlando tragedy, this philosophy is still a favorite of politicians at all levels. 

In the hours after the incident, families and friends of victims repeatedly dialed the cell phone numbers of the missing, waiting in desperate agony to find out whether their loved ones had perished. Meanwhile, many of our politicians were busy ensuring they didn’t waste this crisis as they began spouting politically expedient, overly simplistic, worn-out solutions to this problem, which really aren’t solutions at all.

Grouped together, the proposals provided by the presidential candidates for the Democrat and Republican Parties essentially boil down to a binary choice:

Ban one of these:

A. Guns

B. Muslims

Even those who haven’t paid close attention to the 2016 presidential race could predict the typical, regurgitated responses of both presidential candidates. If these people, who both aspire to lead our country through unimaginable challenges, honestly believe that simply outlawing something should take care of it, we’re in truly dire straits. 

Perhaps it’s too much to ask in 2016, where we are positioned less than five months from a presidential election, that instead of using this horrific event to advance their own predictable agendas, politicians respond with constructive ideas to solve this grotesque epidemic of homegrown terrorism, of hate and prejudice that manifest into senseless murder.

Frankly, I believe these candidates are insulting the intelligence of the American people. The gun control argument is inane. It’s illogical. Bad people will always find tools to carry out evil. The idea that prohibiting people who subscribe to a particular religion from entering this country will in any way be helpful is equally absurd and ignorant. Have we learned nothing from history? Demonizing an entire religious group (or gender group, or race group, or age group, or sexual orientation group, and on) is un-American. Islamic extremism must be combatted, but we absolutely must avoid painting all Muslims with a broad brush.

As the discussion has evolved in the days since, I have been dismayed by proposals of both elected officials and private citizens that call for the relinquishment of freedoms in exchange for (perceived) safety. It is inevitable, each time we feel vulnerable, particularly after an attack like this, that we temporarily realign our priorities, placing safety above freedom. We can’t keep doing this. We have to recognize that our national security strategy is developed and implemented by humans, who are fallible. This fallibility is inherent. Thus, our system will not be made perfect by relinquishing our civil liberties. At times like these, it’s important to remember that we are fortunate to live in a nation that protects our right to believe and say whatever we want. Billions of people across the world don’t have this right. I may vehemently disagree with those who want to ban Muslims, or guns, or desire a protectionist government, but I will staunchly defend your right to hold and freely express that belief. The world we live in demands that we remain vigilant in protecting our country from those who wish to do us harm, but we must resist handing over the freedoms that so many Americans have fought to protect throughout our country’s history because we are afraid.

In this culture of smart phone addicted, attention deficit afflicted, instant gratification expectant people, maybe we’re only getting what we demand: simple sound bites that make us feel good. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we need to acknowledge that preventing an incident like this one from happening again will take a lot more thought, cohesiveness, and determination. It will come in the form of a complex, multi-pronged approach that requires innovative thinking, monetary and human resources, and political capital. Most importantly, it will take participation from regular folks who don’t have titles, who aren’t acting in official capacities, folks like you and me, to lead by example. To respect one another despite our differences, to practice tolerance, to be unwilling to accept empty words packaged as solutions from our country’s leaders, to defend the freedom that makes our country the greatest in the world. We have to be part of the solution. This is how I aspire to honor the lives of those tragically cut short in Orlando on Sunday morning.

The Greatest Crisis Facing the State of Texas

If you consumed any kind of media in the last few weeks, you know there is a real crisis happening in Texas. There are boys who identify as girls who want to use girls’ bathrooms.  

Oh, that doesn’t sound like a crisis to you?

Me neither. I find it particularly silly knowing that more than 60 percent of residents of India do not have toilets in their homes. At least we have plenty of toilets to serve our population, and our culture dictates that we use them. Admittedly, given the option, I’d rather be forced to discuss who can potty where, rather than how to reduce the instances of public defecation, however, I have become increasingly frustrated by the obsession over bathrooms at the expense of real problems facing our country and our state.

Though I tend to take a live and let live approach to life, I recognize there are people out there, the Texas Attorney General for one, who are outraged by the idea of people with male biology who identify as females consequently desiring to use women’s bathrooms. I have no intent to judge these folks, nor to diminish their beliefs. However, in a world where public problems compete for the attention of the media, policy makers, and the citizenry, it greatly upsets me that the issue of public bathroom usage has usurped one of the most critical public policy challenges that will ever face our state.

There are children in our community who are physically, sexually, and psychologically abused every day of their lives. They are neglected. They are living without access to food and basic necessities. They are forced to attempt to reconcile that the person they trust most is also the person who inflicts upon them unfathomable pain. While pundits and culture warriors rage on about toilets, some of these children are dying at the hands of those who are supposed to love and protect them. Children who make it out alive are often forever changed. Studies have shown that the effects of child abuse can plague survivors throughout adulthood.

There are countless reasons why this problem is routinely ignored. Child abuse is uncomfortable to talk about. A public policy solution to this sort of problem might cost a lot of money. Worse, the solution may be more complex than a matter of funding. The solution may be so seemingly elusive, it's easier just to ignore the issue altogether. 

This issue of child welfare competes for attention with problems that people face each day – economic worries, congested roads, rising property appraisals. Abused children aren’t in voters' faces the way these other issues are. As a result, policy makers don’t hear about it, and thus don’t do anything about it, until terrible tragedies occur and are reported in the media. As Ross Ramsey recently wrote, issues like this one are "episodic," failing to hold the public's attention for long.

Solving our state's child welfare challenge will take a multi-pronged approach, including additional funding for CPS, policy changes, public awareness efforts, and the continued participation of nonprofits and faith communities. While I don’t claim to know the specific answer to this problem, my goal is to ensure that the issue of child welfare remains top of mind so we can continue thoughtful discussions that will eventually lead to a solution.

Abused and neglected children need us. We need to rise to the challenge. 

 

 

My Obsession with 26.2

 

An atheist, a vegan, and a CrossFitter walk into a bar.

I only know because they told everyone within two minutes.

This is an old joke, but it still makes me laugh. I've always thought it should include marathon runners. I know from experience that once you've raced 26.2 miles, it's hard to keep yourself from shouting your accomplishment from the rooftops. I try to be less like one of those braggadocios jerks, and more like this gal.

I finished my second marathon last week. The 38th Annual Napa Valley Marathon promised to be a great race. It boasts a net-downhill course that traverses some of the most beautiful vineyards in Napa County.  The race does not include a half marathon, so only serious (read: crazy/masochistic) long distance runners are able to participate. The race organizers prohibit the use of headphones, which I thought would be a real bummer, but as it turned out, I ended up really enjoying my first headphone-free race experience.

The race started as well as I could hope. It was very low-key. There were no pacers, no corrals, no loud music, just an eccentric dude on a microphone giving strange and sometimes creepy commentary about the runners lining up at the start. I always feel inconsolably nervous before a race of any length, which doesn’t make much sense, because I’m not an elite athlete competing for prize money. Still, the pre-race anxiety can be paralyzing. The relaxed feel of the Napa race helped to keep me from abandoning the idea of running the distance from the City of Marathon to the City of Athens and bolting out of there to drink copious amounts of red wine instead.

I flew through the first 6 miles. I felt spectacular. At mile 10, I still felt solid. I glided effortlessly through miles of lush jade landscapes, admiring the endless grape vines propped up by trellis posts. I wrote bad poetry in my head as I passed vineyards I both recognized and had never heard of. I stopped for water only twice during the first half, feeling smug. When I reached the half way point, I acknowledged that I was aware of my legs, but nothing really hurt. I took a photo of the 13-mile marker and sent a Snapchat with the caption: “Half way. Jesus take the wheel!” The stilted voice of my pace tracking app pronounced that I had finished a half marathon in less than two hours. “I can sustain this pace!” I thought, deliriously overconfident.

I took this around mile 10.

I took this around mile 10.

At mile 15, my body turned on me. My hip flexor seized, sending excruciating pain through my right leg. I ran through it, silently yelling at my leg to cooperate or else. At mile 16, I glimpsed a tall, dark, and handsome man through a sea of spectators. My boyfriend, naturally. I handed him my cumbersome rain jacket and hat. All morning, the rainclouds threatened to open up, but no rain had fallen at that point. My fella trotted alongside me for a few minutes, as I arrogantly asked him if he thought I could beat one of our friends who had recently completed a marathon. He said I could, if I kept my current pace. I told him my leg was starting to hurt, and I pulled an analgesic from my sweaty pocket. When I held it between my fingers, I realized it was just the shell of a gel cap. The medicine had melted in my pocket, leaving just the worthless inert casing. My boyfriend promised to bring me some Advil at the next spectator vantage point. “Only if it’s not too much trouble,” I demurred. That was the last time I would have the luxury of worrying about imposing. 

By mile 17, I was hurting. I was literally dragging my right leg. I sent him a barrage of panicked texts:

My leg

I’m dragging my leg. Idk if I can do it.

Seriously. I might stop.

His response was the most demoralizing phrase I could have imagined receiving in that moment:

I can’t make it to 18 in time, will get to 22

I’m very self-sufficient. In fact, I hate accepting help from anyone, for any reason. But, the pain had control of my phone then. It replied as follows:

I’m hobbling.

Why the duck did I bring s gel cap!!! (sic) (Obviously the pain was in charge – I don’t talk like that and I definitely don’t send unedited text messages with spelling and grammar errors!)

Three minutes later, he replied:

Ur not going to like this…closest I can get is 23 and I’m coming ur way…u can do it!

And then, my weakest, most helpless plea:

Please

That’s when the tears came. I’m not much of a crier. I thought about it later, and before I lost my composure at the marathon I had last cried probably 9 months earlier. Crying is for babies and wussies, I always say. Well, I don’t always say that, but you get the point.

As I hobbled down that godforsaken road, I let the negative thoughts rein free:

“This is stupid! Why do people pay money to obliterate their bodies?!”

“So what if I quit, who really cares?”

“I’ll never run another marathon again!”

It was misting at that point, so I hoped runners passing me wouldn’t notice the tears streaming down my face. My sobbing wasn't audible, it was characterized only by silent tears produced by a weakling who was about to quit the race she had spent the last 5 months training for. That’s when a man on a bike, who looked too old and conservative to be sporting a voluminous man-bun, rolled up next to me and hollered, “You don’t look too good. Are you okay?”

I wiped my face with my sleeve and answered, “No. My leg is killing me.”

“Here you go,” he said, extending his arm toward me. He placed an off-brand Five Hour Energy into my open palm. “What part of your leg?”

“This part,” I said, pointing to the inside of my hip. “Go grab that mailbox,” he said, pointing to a large iron mail receptacle at the edge of someone’s beautiful Napa estate. I did as he instructed. “Now start moving your leg in circles, both directions.”

As I dragged my leg around, he flipped his bike over and strode over to me. He grabbed me at the waist and turned me around, my back facing him. Then, he dug his thumb into my backside and held it. I immediately felt the pressure in my hip release. I wanted to hug him.

“It doesn’t hurt anymore! Thank you so much, you good Samaritan!” I shouted as I jogged away. He grinned, hopped back on his bike and rode off into the ether. About a half mile later, I watched a police car driving down the opposite side of the road in my direction. Suddenly, my dude jumped out of the car and ran over to me, shoving an asthma inhaler into my face. “Act like you’re using this,” he whispered. I shoved the thing in my mouth and waved at the cop. “I told the police that you lost your puffer and I had to get it to you before you had an Asthma attack.” As the officer disappeared down the road, he handed me two capsules. “Take one and chew the other so it gets into your system faster.” I obeyed, overcome with gratitude. “I might finish this thing!” I exulted.

We ran together for another mile, then he dropped off to find his car and meet me at the finish. The next 6 miles passed exactly as they had in my singular prior marathon experience. My body protested something fierce, but my mind proved stronger. Gone were the moments of appreciating my surroundings and fantasizing about beating my friends’ times. The only thing I was capable of was putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing else mattered, and nothing else was possible.

Don't let the smile fool you. This was mile 19 and I was hurting!

Don't let the smile fool you. This was mile 19 and I was hurting!

 

As I turned the corner past the 26-mile marker, I found some reserved energy. I kicked into gear and passed two runners next to me for a finish of 4:25:51. Not bad considering I nearly quit 8 miles earlier.

What I love most about the marathon is the mental challenge it provides. The gratification that comes from refusing to acquiesce when my legs are screaming at my brain, begging it to let them stop. There is really nothing like the experience of exerting the mental strength required to transcend physical pain. There are countless applications for the lessons learned in training for and finishing a marathon. I’m immensely grateful I possess the physical and mental abilities to have learned them firsthand.

As I write this, I can't  identify whatsoever with my Mile 19 self - the person who was sure she would never again run a marathon. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. If everything goes as planned, I hope to be back here in 7 months with a recap of my next race.

The Barley Swine Experience

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." -George Bernard Shaw

There exist minor obstacles in life that often prevent you from getting what you want, even if it is something seemingly easy to obtain. Obstacles like restaurants that require reservations, and establishments with prices so high that it's hard to find a willing dinner companion.

I've been dying to dine at Barley Swine for the last 3 or 4 years. As a person who describes herself as commitment-challenged, a major deterrent for me was the restaurant's requirement that its patrons take a vow to show up on a certain date at a prescribed time. Austin prides itself on being laid back, a city that not only allows patrons in cargo shorts and flip flops to eat at its fancy restaurants, but encourages it. Requiring customers to make a reservation several days in advance is antithetical to the Austin way of life. And I like options.

Then comes the sticker shock. I love food. More than most, I'm told, so I have zero qualms with spending a fortune on sustenance. Unfortunately for me, most of my friends don't share my philosophy.  $85 for the chef's tasting menu plus $40-50 in wine sounds like a bargain to me, while others imagine all the cool stuff they can buy with $135 whilst eating a $4 P. Terry's cheese burger (not that there's anything wrong with P. Terry's cheeseburgers, I ate 3 last week). Luckily, my dear friend Ariane agrees that investing in extraordinary culinary experiences is worthwhile, which is probably why we have eaten our way through the Violet Crown side-by-side. Well, more technically, across from one another at a dining table.

Ariane and I made plans. But, life got in the way, as it often does, and we just never made it. The South Lamar location closed and I got spooked. Had I missed my chance to experience Barley Swine?! Fortunately, the location on Burnet Road opened shortly after, so all was not lost.

Last night, the stars aligned (because I forced them to), enabling me to have one of the greatest culinary experiences one could ever hope for in the Capitol city.

Ariane recently celebrated a milestone birthday, so we decided to celebrate the only way we know how: eating and drinking and eating some more.

The new spot is much more spacious than its previous location, with double the amount of seating available, though it maintains an intimate and rustic feel.

We opted for the chef's tasting menu, rather than the a la carte option, which includes 14 courses of small plates of imaginative farm-to-table creations.

Chef's tasting menu

Chef's tasting menu

Here we are toasting glasses of 2009 Bodegas Fuentespina Tempranillo Reserva. They offer pairings of wine (both red and white) and beer to accompany the tasting menu, but we decided to enjoy a glass of wine of our choosing.

The chef's tasting is an amalgamation of flawless works of art whose natural flavors are accentuated by the expert mingling of various conventional ingredients from local suppliers. Here are some of the highlights.

The crab tamale was one of the more inventive offerings. The dish appears an unassuming crab shell accompanied by a bit of salsa. The server provided instructions: flip the stuffed crab shell over and combine the masa and crab meat mixed with fennel together with the salsa. A little on the salty side, the crab tamale was slightly reminiscent of a Tex-Mex classic, while the injection of crab flavor renders it wholly unique.

Here I am spreading decadent bone marrow across a flaky parsley croissant.

It's hard to make fried chicken stand out. Barley Swine succeeds in making its version memorable with this slightly sweet and not too spicy bite of locally raised, cage free chicken.   

If you're not paying close attention when slicing into the short rib steak, you'd think you were cutting butter. The flavor of this perfectly seasoned and cooked delightful little piece of beef is accentuated with miso and fermented beets.

When we began, I was sure I would never be sated by 14 tiny bites. I was so wrong. We couldn't possibly eat anything more by the last course and had them box the artisan chocolates.

My Barley Swine experience far exceeded expectation and I think it even cured me of my reservation-making phobia. It is certainly an experience worth working to overcome obstacles for. 

Barley Swine 6555 Burnet Road Suite 400, Austin, Texas barleyswine.com

Consider yourself invited

“’Women just don’t wake up one day and look at themselves in the mirror the way men quite frankly do and say, ‘I should run for office,’ ”’ said Liz Berry, who recruits many candidates through her role as state president of the National Women's Political Caucus of Washington."

This comment appears in an article by Rebecca Beitsch in Stateline at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Rebecca writes:

"Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, agreed. “Women don’t assess themselves the same way when deciding if they’re qualified for office,” she said. “They perceive themselves as being less qualified.”
Many women agree to run after being recruited, but that requires parties and state legislators to reach out to them. Most party leaders and legislators are white men, and when they look for recruits, they turn first to people like them.
“Women are less likely to run unless they’re recruited, and they’re less likely to be recruited,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.”

To further put into perspective the underrepresentation of women in elective office, of 333 candidates who put their names on the ballot for the Texas primary election in March, just 76 of them are women, according to the Texas Tribune.

What gives?

Most women with whom I’ve spoken can offer countless explanations for the dearth of females seeking elective office. Arguably, the two most common reasons that cause women to demur are: One, many women generally lack confidence, as the comments in the Stateline article above confirm, and two, they don’t feel comfortable making the sacrifice that public service demands, in other words, time away from their families. In large part, men don’t seem to be challenged with either of these concerns, which is why they dominate elected bodies, corporate boards, and C-suites.

The blame for the problem of women lacking confidence can be laid at the feet of our forbearers. It has been less than a century since women were granted the constitutionally protected right to vote. Women have made great strides since then, but there are still far too many misguided belief systems that encourage the subjugation of females. Many religious groups throughout the world have succeeded in persuading both men and women to believe that females are the inferior sex.

If women are taught from an early age, especially in a religious context, that they are inferior to men, how on Earth will they be able to develop the confidence it takes to feel that they can do the same jobs, as well or better, or that they deserve to be paid equally for equal work?

I recently came across an editorial written in 2009 by former president Jimmy Carter, entitled Losing my religion for equality, in which he explains that he relinquished his membership in the Southern Baptist Church because of their insistence, through their teachings, that men and women are not equal.

Carter writes:

“The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us…It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.”

Secular society is equally guilty in contributing to stifling women’s confidence, the most egregious examples being wage disparity and the fact that females may not reach gender parity in representation on corporate boards for another 40 years.

Thankfully, gender equality is a cause that has been taken up by thousands of influencers, like President Carter. Nonprofits have been set up, money raised, rallies held, and anti-discriminatory legislation passed, all in the name of gender parity.

Now that gender equality is all the rage, we should start to see women breaking glass ceilings all over the place, right?

Not so fast. There are other internal challenges that women contend with. Many women willingly acknowledge that there are far more reasons to say no or to defer a decision to run for office than to do what it takes to pursue public service, or even to seek professional success. I am certainly not immune to this line of thinking.

I’ll tell a personal story to further illustrate my point.  I think often of my hypothetical children when making major life decisions, and probably have my entire adult life. For years, I have wanted to join the Air National Guard. At one time I wanted to go into the Foreign Service. But I never even got close to attempting either of those things because of the fear that pursuing my dreams may adversely impact my future family.

This is completely preposterous.

I spent the last decade not doing those things, all the while missing out on great life experiences. I don’t have a family. I’m not even married! So why is my natural inclination still to shy away from making life choices that would enrich and fulfill me in ways that nothing else could? It’s a phenomenon one of my modern heroines, Sheryl Sandberg, calls “leaving before you leave.”

Now that I’m aware of my tendency to use the “but what if I get married and have a kid soon?” excuse, I have made the commitment not to leave before I leave, and to be ok with deciding perhaps never to leave at all. And I can choose never to leave, because, thanks to all those glass ceiling busters who came before me, making a decision to follow my dreams doesn’t inherently have to mean forgoing fulfillment in other aspects of life, like having a family.

The solution to this problem is simple: it lies in reworking our thought process, sitting at the table (another Sandbergism), believing in ourselves, and believing that we can have it all.

In case you're not convinced, I'd like to share a very poignant message that appeared in a recent editorial by a formidable glass ceiling buster in her own right, former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs: "If you're a woman waiting for an invitation to get into politics, consider yourself invited." 

 

The balancing act: how governments deal with market disruption

Tesla. Uber. Airbnb. Even Walmart.

What do each of these companies have in common?

They all face massive regulatory hurdles to effectively operating their businesses and providing goods and/or services to their customers.

Tesla wants to sell its electric cars directly to consumers, bypassing the auto dealership model that is statutorily safeguarded in most U.S. states. Walmart wants to sell liquor in its grocery stores, which is illegal in Texas, where no publicly traded company is allowed to sell spirits inside its stores. Uber and Airbnb, two young tech companies that are part of the growing "sharing economy," claim they just want to provide rides and cheap places to stay, are constantly fighting on the regulatory battlefield of municipal governments that seek to regulate nearly every aspect of their fledgling businesses.

The involvement of government in private business is an age old debate. Some of history's greatest economic thinkers have offered excellent arguments both for less and more regulation of private industry. Milton Friedman's disdain for government occupational licensure has always intrigued me. Philosophically speaking,  I agree that consumers should accept personal responsibility, do their own research, and take an active role in ensuring they are not victimized while engaging in commerce. I can also appreciate Freidman's contempt for paternalistic governance.  Depending on the government to develop licensing criteria and vet people who provide each and every service available certainly has its drawbacks. However, not every businessperson or corporation will choose to be a good corporate citizen, which is why governments have been called upon to stop the bad actors.

Increasingly, market disruption has become one of my very favorite policy areas. I'm fascinated by the awkward and reluctant dance that businesses and governments do as they struggle to work it all out. I also thoroughly enjoy watching elected officials equivocate, becoming increasingly frustrated, as they wriggle and squirm trying make their positions on regulation fit with their claimed ideology. It's quite difficult to espouse the virtues of free market capitalism while opposing allowing direct car sales, or allowing a publicly traded grocery company to sell liquor in its stores.  Of course, policy making is never black and white, and arguably, it shouldn't be.

The one thing I have concluded while watching this debate rage on in cities throughout Texas, and under the Texas Capitol dome, is that the onus is on both the business and the government to make a better effort to work through these issues.

Recently, Airbnb spent $8 million in an effort to defeat Prop. F. which would have imposed a number of massive regulatory burdens on the company and its users in the City of San Francisco.  Similarly, Uber has come under fire for its "my way or the highway" attitude in response to municipalities across the nation seeking to regulate its operations: Uber is known for ceasing operations in cities that pass regulations on ride sharing that it deems too onerous. When legislative efforts to allow liquor sales in its stores were thwarted, Walmart sought a legal remedy to its problem. Elon Musk, Tesla's creator, has struggled to sell the concept of direct auto sales, despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions in Texas alone.

All of these companies are going about reaching their goals the wrong way. These companies, especially emerging tech companies like Uber and Airbnb, need to realize (and quick) that they must prioritize hiring competent and experienced government affairs professionals to help them navigate the tricky politics of these regulatory entities. I don't mean hiring slick, high dollar lobbyists for a few months only when the legislature is in session, but investing in a highly qualified team of professionals who will develop strategies and work to educate elected officials and stakeholders over time. While success in business came quickly for most of these companies, they need to recognize that achieving success in public policy is a long game. They need to be willing to make this investment of time and money for the long-term success of their businesses.

Conversely, elected officials who head these regulatory entities need to become more open minded and work to learn all that they can about the industries they are attempting to regulate. Everyone fears change, but as leaders, these folks must embrace the disruption that comes with increasing advances in technology and work with sincerity to encourage these companies to succeed while providing for the protection of health and safety of consumers. If the elected officials are there for the right reasons, they will abandon their allegiance to the status quo and work to develop sensible policies that don't inhibit these companies as they seek to provide products and services that consumers clearly need. With a little effort the right balance can be struck. A willingness to compromise and an effort to work together can go a long way.

 

 

An Ode to Dominoes

My Instagram bio proclaims "I'll beat you at dominoes." I was thinking about that this morning, and wondering why I felt compelled to include that braggadocios, but mostly facetious tidbit in the small space allowed for biographic information on a popular photo sharing app. Suddenly, I was writing a poem about playing dominoes with my grandfather, Bob. It took me about 3 minutes, as the memories rapidly flooded back and transported me to the time of afternoons and evenings spent around that old oak round table, Bob smoking Lucky Strikes in the beautiful south Texas ranch house with the brick floor, counting by fives as our arrangement of ceramic blocks snaked around the tabletop. 
 

Bob, brother, sister, and I taking a break from a serious dominoes game in 1994.

Bob, brother, sister, and I taking a break from a serious dominoes game in 1994.

An Ode to Dominoes

We used to play, granddaddy and I
On an wooden table, near a window to the sky
Five, ten, fifteen he would count
Beneath the imposing 12 point buck mount
"Got a deuce six?", he would ask
I answered no, my chagrin unable to mask
"Shuffle that pile of bones," he'd command
I'd comply, turning the pieces with a delicate hand
"Play the spinner," he'd say
Instructing we children in his special way
Under a thick cloud of cigarette smoke
We'd listen and laugh, cry and joke
The tally was taken, the die was cast
I won, he came in last
How lucky was I, to be his kin?
After all, he always let me win.