Making myself at home

Most journalists are notorious for being introverts, so when Arcadian Editor Steve Bauer asked me to write a column introducing myself, it was more daunting than the interview process to get this job as assistant editor. In fact, I was recently interviewed for a local television spotlight at my last job, and the interviewer’s first question was “Tell us about yourself.” I literally replied, “Um,” and stared ahead for a minute before stumbling through an answer.
I’m naturally shy, a trait I have learned to overcome in my roles as editor-in-chief of a college newspaper and the education/small towns reporter at a community newspaper in North Carolina for the past two years. More than likely if you ask me who I am, I will talk your ear off about two things: My pets and my work.
My pets are like my children. Sparta and Rameses are my cats, and Bindi is my Australian cattle dog/German shepherd mix.
Sparta, or Spartacus when he’s in trouble, is an Egyptian Mau mix my mom found under a car on a rainy night at a gas station near our home in Mount Holly, N.C. With his golden lemur eyes and ringed tail, he was too cute not to keep. When I went to college at Western Carolina University, Sparta came with me starting my sophomore year. Since then, we have moved multiple times across North Carolina. This is the first time he’s come with me to another state. So far, he is loving the Sunshine State, with its plethora of sun to bask in and lots of lizards to chase.
Rameses is only a year old but is already close to 15 pounds. Not because he’s overweight; he’s just a big cat with a lot of muscle. He’s also known as “Rameses the Destroyer,” because quite often he will get a glint in his pumpkin orange eyes and will wreak havoc, destroy mankind’s livelihood and run amok. He’s chewed through wires on my Internet router, gone missing inside a dresser and peed (twice) all over the dog’s bed. Somewhere, though, he’s got a good heart, and when he finally decides he likes you, he’ll snuggle and give you kisses with his pink nose.

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Sparta, above, and Rameses

Bindi is a rescue dog I adopted just over a year ago from a kill shelter. She’s got a huge heart of love and loyalty for me. If you see us out and about in town on walks, please stop by and say hi. She will be wearing a black harness across her torso that reads, “Please give me space, do not pet.” Bindi was abused by her former owner, which has damaged her emotionally and mentally. At first, she can be very shy and if she’s frightened, she reacts in a negative way toward strangers. The harness warning helps keep people from running up to her and getting in her face, and allows me to provide instruction on how to approach her safely.

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Bindi in her harness

All three made the 14-hour drive with me to Arcadia on May 29. Looking like a champion navigator, Bindi rode in the passenger seat of the U-Haul truck with my dad as we traveled through heavy flooding in South Carolina, which involved a two-hour detour thanks to the tropical depression in the area, and “Mickey Mouse traffic” in Orlando. Sparta and Rameses rode in my Honda running loose throughout the car. Sparta, as I mentioned earlier, is a seasoned traveler, but Rameses has rarely been in the car. I was expecting him to yowl, scream, cry and throw a fit throughout the entire trip. On a previous trip we took together, Rameses whined and crawled back and forth from the headrest behind my head to the passenger seat headrest for the entire hour ride. I felt it might be appropriate to start writing my obituary of how I was killed by my cat while moving to Florida. Considering the dramatics of my life so far, that somehow felt like a fitting ending. However, it was the rain in South Carolina that caused the biggest drama on the trip rather than the Rameses the Destroyer.

For the past two years, I have worked as the education and small towns reporter for a community newspaper published five days a week. I covered the meetings for six town councils, the local school board and the local community college. I also spent time in the school system as a student in the classroom (yes, I actually took fifth-grade science tests, while in kindergarten learned how to write my name and walked around with sore muscles for a week after eighth-grade gym class); skeet shooting with Junior ROTC students; jumping into creeks with 4-H Club members; and discussing STEM education with teachers from all grade levels. At first, I started out as just a journalist, new to the area with no family or friends. However, it wasn’t long before my insistence on not only observing and reporting, but also participating in local events, made me an active member of the community.
As you can imagine, there are many differences between a small county in North Carolina and Florida. For one, the superintendent in Caldwell County is appointed, not elected. I also come from a place where the school system involves 24 schools, including two alternative schools for students who need special direction and instruction in order to succeed at their education. In Caldwell County, there are police chiefs instead of marshals, and there is a lot more furniture instead of oranges.
But, there are many similarities as well. The elected officials of the community are present at nearly all public events, the community rallies around projects to make their home a better place, and people are overwhelmingly giving in their time and kindness to other people. Already, I’ve scoped out volunteer opportunities I can’t wait to get involved in, met a few of my neighbors, discovered several parks to enjoy with my dog and in less than a week already feel at home.
This is a homecoming for me in a way, because although I’ve lived in North Carolina most of my life, I was actually born in Tampa. The sun, the atmosphere and the people feel familiar to me. I thought I’d be shell-shocked and unbelievably homesick at first. Instead, I’m excited, I’m getting a tan and I’m hoping I find an alligator in my front yard. I’m looking forward to meeting you all through interviews, emails, letters, phone calls and while I’m out and about in the community. While I’m shy, I do enjoy meeting new people and hearing your stories. So, please don’t hesitate to say hi!

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