Fourth of July 2011

Yes, even though I post misanthropic things about government and politics at times, I still celebrate the Fourth of July. Well, sort of. I mean, I go to celebrations, and I enjoy them. I don’t feel particularly patriotic about it, and never have, with the exception of July 4, 2002, when everyone was still feeling patriotic on a daily basis after the events of 9/11/01. I bought a Boston Pops CD then, and the music made me cry. It was a good release. I still have it on my iPod, and I listen to it every Fourth of July, but it hasn’t stirred the same emotion since then.

This year was my first Fourth of July in Alabama. One of my friends’ coworkers invited us out to her house at Lake Martin for a get-together involving grilled meats, tossed footballs in the driveway, and jubilant children passing out tiny flags for waving. As it turned out, the husband of said coworker has family and roots in North Carolina, although they came here via Michigan most recently. We had a great time talking about differences in barbecue and between the Deep South and the “regular” South. How people are mistaken when they call a cookout a “barbecue,” how we both get challenged on whether North Carolina is even “the South” on a regular basis. (Seriously, have you people never heard of the Mason-Dixon Line? Can you not hear the way I speak?) There were some other coworkers of theirs present with their families and some neighbors from the street passing in and out.

I am a big fan of being near any body of water, no matter how large or small. So, I was very excited when we decided to caravan from their house on a small peninsula down to the neighborhood docks. What a beautiful spot of Earth! We sat out over the water, drinking beers, watching the sunset, craning our necks up at amateur fireworks being set off all around us, and watching kids and dogs swim merrily in the lake nearby. It was breezy and balmy and felt amazing. I can totally see why people dig living out there in the heat of an Alabama summer.

Lake Martin is about 40 minutes from where we live in Auburn, mostly two-lane back roads with nary a house in sight. It always sort of amazes me at how rural everything is here as soon as we get out of the city limits, particularly going west. I don’t feel like I live in the middle of nowhere, but it only takes driving for fifteen minutes to discover that in fact, I do.

According to my research, Lake Martin is actually a lot bigger than I thought it was when I was there. It’s about 40,000 acres and is actually one of the largest artificial lakes in the United States. I’m guessing I thought it was smaller because of the way it’s shaped, dipping in and out of many small peninsulas. I kept thinking I was looking across to the other side of the lake, but I think I was just looking across to other peninsulas. In a way, it reminded me of Lake Lure, which I grew up near in North Carolina, but without the mountains. Only Lake Lure is about 800 acres. Okay, so really not at all the same except they’re both lakes with houses and boats and docks.

Very interestingly, both Lake Lure and Lake Martin feature a rock formation called “Chimney Rock.” Here’s where I get to brag about mine. Alabama’s Chimney Rock is about 60 feet tall, and people jump off it into the water. Which sounds really frickin’ fun. But our Chimney Rock, in North Carolina, is 315 feet, and sits at a mountain-top elevation of 2,280 feet. You do not jump off that. You stand at the top and survey your 75-mile panoramic view. And yes, while a couple people have died jumping off Alabama’s Chimney Rock over the years, and it’s always possible because shit happens, I guarantee you if you jump off our Chimney Rock in North Carolina, you will absolutely die. No two ways about it.

Here’s a pic of Chimney Rock in Alabama:

Here’s the Chimney Rock I grew up with in North Carolina:

Incidentally, I think the North Carolina one looks a lot more like a chimney than Alabama’s. Although for years I’ve thought it looked more like a penis than anything else. Juuuuuuust sayin’!

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…and They’re Always Glad You Came

There is a couple in our friend circle that everyone wants to be like: Sean and Kalli. They live in a communal house with a few other roommates. Kalli is an artist, and Sean is in a band. When you arrive, everyone hugs you. When you leave, everyone tells you they love you, just in case you A) didn’t know or B) die on the way home. There are big dogs to jump and kiss you when you walk in the back door, which is always unlocked in case anyone they know needs anything. Kalli’s artwork hangs in the hallway, and Sean has a music room with concert posters and carpet tiles arranged creatively on the walls.

They have turned a potentially awful back yard right beside the interstate into a weekend oasis for friends, drinks, and grilling, complete with twinkle lights, hammocks, and a water feature they made from an old trombone. Sean’s special secret recipe mojitos line the fridge in Sprite bottles, and you are to help yourself to that, as well as the honey mustard chicken he’s been grilling for two hours with his brother-in-law. Kalli will be wearing a piece of jewelry she has made, probably involving an owl and feathers, and telling an incredible story about ghosts in one of their childhood homes, or about Sean’s mom yelling at them through the door about condoms while they had sex in his room in high school.

There is much drinking and smoking, eating and talking, and laughing. Sean’s mom or brother-in-law or sister or some of Kalli’s brothers may be present. There is an iPod on the table playing the product of Sean’s band’s latest recording session of reggae. Someone with a generic name shows up, and you realize you know them, but you didn’t know Sean and Kalli knew them. Then you remember that Sean and Kalli know everyone. And maybe you keep randomly meeting people they know because it’s a sign that you both know good people.You may meet their friends from high school, because the group never really split up, even though they live in various places. Or you may meet someone who can eat a corn cob in 22 seconds, or someone who owns the local independent bookstore slash coffee shop. You will “know” them all, already.

I always say, “They’re good people” about those I really respect, admire, or connect with. But I think it’s just as much about being “real” as it is being “good.” So maybe I should say “They’re real good people.” Sean and Kalli are good people. They would be reliable emergency contacts in the event of a dead battery or your one phone call for bail. But they’re also real people. What you see is what you get. Take it or leave it. (But they love you anyway.)

We all talk about how we would someday like to have the Sean and Kalli house, where there is always something going on, everyone is always welcome, food and drink abound, love and kindness permeate, there is always music and laughter, and you are accepted — no, welcomed —  just as you are. We know they won’t be around forever — once Kalli finishes her program this fall, they may move away. And we want to continue their tradition of real hospitality on our own. I feel so fortunate to know people like this, who make you feel like you do when you listen to your favorite song.

The Dogs Have Their Day

One of my favorite things about Alabama so far is Tuskegee National Forest. I am sort of a lazy hiker, meaning I like to be outdoors and in the woods, and I enjoy admiring trees and rocks and animals and streams and the amazing feeling of relaxation this brings me. But I don’t like to work too hard for it. I am seriously appreciating the fact that I can go hike at Tuskegee and have a nice little workout but not feel like I’m going to die, because while the trails are not completely flat, they are also not that strenuous. And, as I have mentioned before, living in the river region of the state means there’s always some good water to visit at the end of the trail, and the prospect of water keeps me moving and motivated.

A couple days ago, I went with a friend and our dogs to the woods for a hike. Her dog, Delilah, and Birdy get along very well together, and we try to let them play a lot. They have similar personalities, although Lilah is still a puppy and more energetic. But Bird has her energetic moments still, even in her middle age. They seem to be a good influence on each other.

So we grabbed some subs and headed out to Macon County for a nice hike that ended at a little secret beach by a creek that she visits frequently. The beach is mainly pebbles, but there is a small sandy spot where we spread our blanket, cranked up the Bob Marley, and ate lunch. We spent a few hours out there letting the dogs run around to their hearts’ content, getting all sandy and nasty. The creek was pretty low because we haven’t had much rain lately, but it was still deep enough in places for the dogs to pretty much submerge themselves. They would alternate soaking, running, and wallowing in dirt. Then, rinse and repeat. We hung out in the creek for a while, where we could walk rock-clay flats in between clear ankle deep water, gently streaming and gurgling.

In the afternoon, it began to thunder, so we checked the weather on her phone (oh, technology!) to discover a severe thunderstorm warning for pretty much right where we were sitting. She was ambivalent about leaving just because of a little rain, but I figured based on where the storm was, we’d probably have just enough time to hike back to the car before the rain started if we left right then. So, we did that, and enjoyed a wonderful, dark, cool, thundery hike back. I love being in the woods just before it storms. We lost a little time when the girls wandered out of eye-shot and we had to wait for them to find their way back to us. But we made it back to the car with just enough time to change back into flip flops before the rain started. It stormed on us all the way back to Auburn and a good while after, but thankfully no tornadoes or even warnings.

We stopped on the way home at the dog wash place, which still didn’t remove all the sand from Birdy’s coat but helped a lot. She was very excited to receive a bag full of organic peanut butter kiss treats after her bath, which she hates. She stood as immobile in the tub as possible while I tried to manhandle her 75 pounds around in it and glared at me angrily when I sprayed her face with water. There was absolutely no way she was coming back into the house coated in creek sand. And it probably washed off some ticks and other gross things as well.

I remarked to my friend on the way home that being in the woods/hiking/relaxing by the water makes me feel the same as if I had just had a massage. Two days later, Birdy (a.k.a. OLD LADY) is just now recovering her energy and for the last 24 hours has not moved from one of two spots in the apartment like she has never been more exhausted in her life. It’s days like that which reinforce my belief that Birdy and I were just meant for each other. I spend a lot of time thinking about making my dog happy, and when we are in the woods, and she gets tired of running and exploring, she will lay down near me so that she is touching me with some part of her body just slightly, and we’ll just look at each other contentedly, silently understanding that this is a good life we have; that we are lucky to have each other. Lucky to be friends.

Time to Move All Our Bad Habits Outside

I feel like I’ve really been neglecting my blog lately. I have a lot of updates, but I never remember to blog about stuff anymore. I know hardly anyone reads this anyway, and so it serves as more of a diary with pictures for my own purposes. But even diaries need updating now and then.

1. I got my hair cut! For normal people, this is not a big deal, but when you are like me, and you don’t pay attention to things like hair, this is huge. I got five inches chopped off and a new style. The new style is nothing major — just sort of an update with a side part and long layers — but I feel like a new person. My standard routine for the past many years has been getting three inches cut off the bottom when it got long enough to get stuck in my armpits. Which is annoying. But I now look like I am actually sort of trying to look hip and decent, which is cool. LOL! To be honest, I look more like I did in high school than I have since 1996. But getting carded regularly for cigarettes at my current unmentionable age has convinced me this is, in fact, awesome. Here is a pic:

2. Camping awesomeness. We went camping a few weeks ago right when it started to be warm and springy, with a group of friends in Tuskegee, which I always try to refer to as “Tuckasegee” until someonei reminds me that’s in North Carolina. Weird random fact: Lionel Richie was born in Tuskegee. I’m not sure what other claims to fame it has except that there is a pretty cool national forest there, and it’s only about 20 minutes from here. Every schoolkid growing up in North Carolina learns that the state has three distinct regions: mountains, piedmont, and coastal. Here in Alabama, there are four or five, and all I know so far is that we live in the river region, although learning more about Alabama geography has definitely been on my to-do list for some time now. Apparently it’s called that because there are a lot of rivers here. If you can imagine that logic. The place we went camping in Tuskegee National Forest was by a river, although I have no idea which one. We went with a group of friends to a secluded spot they love and refer to as “Rock Beach” although it doesn’t officially have a name, and the road you take off the main highway to get close to it has no name either, and you just have to know to look for it in the dip in the four-lane, off to the side. This is my kind of camping. The beach is by one of the lower parts of the river with a wide pebble shore, backed by pine forest for about a mile in between the river and the nearest road. But it’s an easy hike in, with just a few hills and valleys and nothing too strenuous. A good thing, since we were carrying gallons of mojitos in Sprite bottles along with us. It will definitely be a place I go back to repeatedly, especially when it gets so hot this summer. Which reminds me, I need to get the rattlesnake vaccine. And no, I didn’t know there was such a thing either until I moved here and started hanging out with outdoorsy people. Evidently, it is only minimally effective — maybe like 4 out of 10 people bitten still die — but better safe than sorry, right?

“Rock Beach.”

All our tents.

Friends by the camp fire.

3. Birdy discovered she can swim!  There is a pretty awesome city park just down the street from us where I take Birdy to hike around. This park has a small lake, which is home to two very pretty mallard ducks. I have named them Ethel and Frances, because they are always together, and they always appear to be chatting as they skim around the lake side by side. Birdy has always been a big fan of creeks, where she enjoys plopping her belly down and just sitting in the cool water while her tail floats. And she has been to the beach once, where she discovered the joys of running on the sand but was a little frightened and perplexed by the water trying to chase her. But I had never seen her try to swim before, until she spied Ethel and Frances one day in the lake at the park, and plunged in to chase them halfway across it. Alas, even slowpoke ducks are still too fast for Birdy to catch them while swimming. So she ends up trailing about two feet behind them and following them around in figure-eights. They don’t seem to pay much attention to her. On days when we don’t see Ethel and Frances, I throw big sticks in the lake from a little sandy beach. While Bird won’t dive in after the sticks, she will wade in carefully and then swim out to retrieve them for me, sometimes returning with bigger ones than what I tossed in. Evidently this is yet another way she has adopted some of my personality traits.

Birdy with Ethel and Frances.

4. My first Deep South music festival!  Last weekend, we drove about 20 minutes away, out to Waverly (population 184) for the 280 Boogie music festival, an annual event held to commemorate the celebration that occurred when the state decided NOT to send the big highway straight through the middle of a tiny little town. This year was the 11th annual Boogie, and it was well worth the ten bucks we paid to spend the day there. (This was also the first year they’ve ever charged admission, so I heard a lot of hemming and hawing about that from people who had been before.) For ten bucks, we spent a glorious spring day, warm and breezy, sitting on a blanket under enormous black walnut trees, drinking mojitos, eating crawfish and barbecue, and listening to several really good bands while chatting with our friends. I wouldn’t really call it a hippie festival, although there were some people wearing slightly hippie-ish clothing there. It was a pretty good cross-section of the population, I think. All ages, all walks of life. At one point, my friend wandered off in search of lunch, and came back with a new pottery coffee mug for me (I collect them) and Nag Champa soap, which I had been looking for recently without his knowledge. Afterward we headed over to Sean and Kalli’s house for more socializing and a cook-out.

The music stage at the Old 280 Boogie.

Gold Shoes, Chicken Salad, and Stingrays

Life in Auburn continues to be pretty entertaining. I am still doing a lot of unpacking and arranging, running errands, and doing laundry. A lot of laundry. But in between the mundane aspects of getting settled into a new place (like needing to go buy something ridiculous like a dust pan, because I expressly remember choosing not to pack something that costs one dollar to save space), I’ve found a few fun things to do as well.

A couple weekends ago, I went to a Valentine’s Masquerade Ball, which was a benefit for a local nonprofit arts group. It was held at a local historic property called Pebble Hill — an antebellum cottage with great Civil War history that is now owned by the university and houses their Center for Arts and Humanities. We went with a big group of friends, and it was so much fun to get dressed up for something for the first time in a long time. I generally don’t enjoy being dressed up and prefer my tattered hemp pants and long-sleeve t-shirts to hose and heels. But every once in a while, it is kinda nice to feel all pretty and feminine and dare I say hot, to get dolled up and accessorize and play that role for an evening.

Adding to the excitement was the fact that this event required an arts-and-crafts session AND thrift store shopping. Carter and I spent an afternoon making our masks together. We bought parts at Hobby Lobby, like the eye covering, handles, and decorations like feathers, flowers, berries, and ribbon. And glorious things like glitter, paint, and glue. Putting the parts together required a little elbow grease. I got to bust out my jewelry making supplies to wire things together. I also got to wield my Dremel (one of my favorite things in life) to cut some of Carter’s metal flower stems and to drill holes in her mask for wiring. I really wish we had filmed it — Carter holding a stem of fake flowers as far away from her face as possible, and me slicing into it with my diamond-chip Dremel bit, sparks flying, trying to shield my eyes. Both of us laughing hysterically at the scene. It was like freaking light-saber action! I felt so powerful! God, I love my Dremel.

I found the perfect red belt to go with my outfit for a dollar at Goodwill and selected an awesome retro-fabulous 1960s-esque dress at Sears for $25 — black brocade, with a knee-length full skirt and cinched waist. Black alone is a little boring to me, so I found a cute pair of red patent-leather peep toe pumps, and accessorized further with a black-white-red chunky bangle bracelet and a white scarf, which I only sort of carried around but did not wear. It did come in handy when taking smoke breaks in the chilly night air, so I wrapped it around my shoulders and felt good that I had an actual practical accessory to my outfit. I have an awesome black beaded clutch that is very turn- of- the-(20th)-century that went perfectly. So the red belt I found at Goodwill actually was from the 1960s — geometric resin buckle on wide elastic — and it accentuated the cinched waist of my dress and complemented the red of my shoes and in my bracelet. When I was completely dressed, with smoky eye-makeup finished, my date said, “You look hot. Is that supposed to be an ‘Alice in Wonder-ho’ look?” I could have died, I laughed so hard! Leave it to a man to equate “retro” with “fairy tale.” Actually, I could totally see why it reminded him of the dress Alice wore, white with the blue sash. And why my red-and-black motif seemed to say “reminiscent of sweet and innocent, but actually fierce and sexy.” I think I’m okay with that! Truth be told, it probably sums up my mojo pretty well. We all had an awesome time enjoying the performance art, music, open bar, and extensive buffet, and afterward we ended up at the Olde Auburn Ale House, a cool bar downtown with live music, not wanting to take off our finery too early.

I’ve decided that so far my favorite restaurant here is Chappy’s Deli. They have a lot of Southern charm, complete with an explanation for being closed on Sundays on the door (“Resting and being with family”). The reason it’s my favorite is that they have the best chicken salad I’ve ever tasted. I’m a connoisseur of chicken salad, among a few other things, like French onion soup, french fries, salmon, grilled chicken sandwiches, guacamole, and fried oysters. These are things I will order over and over again, at various restaurants around the globe in hopes of finding the perfect and best one in each category. It’s like my own private Food Network program that I’m living out, and no one cares but me. Chappy’s chicken salad is perfectly Southern — creamy, smooth (not chunky), without too many additional ingredients to add interest. Essentially mayonnaise, shredded chicken, maybe some finely diced celery and onion, salt, pepper, and a dash of lemon juice. This is served on a kaiser roll, with lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, and bacon. Oh, my lord. Best. Chicken salad. Ever.

One day last week, I drove up to Atlanta to meet a friend who was in town interviewing for a fellowship. We spent a really awesome day at the Georgia Aquarium. I absolutely LOVE aquariums. I’ve written here before about my water fascination, and I really think I must have been an ocean dwelling creature in another life because I just connect with it so much. As a kid, I always really loved interactive museums, and as an adult, they’re still one of my favorite things. Museums of any kind, really. I can remember visiting Disney World as a kid and being somewhat disappointed that it was mainly entertainment and not so much educational. And their educational exhibits are kinda boring. I was that nerdy kid who wanted more “Hall of Presidents” type things and less “Tea Cups.”

Anyway, the Georgia Aquarium was amazing. Usually the otters are my favorite, and I was a little disappointed that two of the three otter installations were on hiatus at the time of my visit. The Charleston aquarium has great otters, full of personality. The only ones we saw were trying to nap while their pack leader pranced around preening atop rocks and looking cute for the onlookers. I was very happy to get to go down the kids’ whale slide, as the children waiting in line in front of me kept looking back at me like, “What’s she doing here?” And I got to pet a stingray, which came to me when I beckoned it with fingers underwater and spewed a stream of water at me as I stroked its fins. Who knew stingrays were somewhat intelligent? Not me. We saw beluga whales desperately trying to engage in coitus as if on cue when the exhibit’s lecturer began his spiel. Who knew whale dicks were enormous,, and seem to come out of nowhere, like a dog’s lipstick unrolling? Not me. Although it seems appropriate. I mean, they are whales. Observing the reactions of the people around us at the time was priceless, though. We saw whale sharks that were bigger than the beluga whales, and stingrays that I couldn’t have wrapped my arms around, giant grouper, dragon fish (they look like really colorful and really lazy seahorses), sea turtles (love them!), lion fish, and a whole hall of Amazonian fish and reptiles. It seems like every time I go to an aquarium they’re doing an Amazon installation. Which is cool, because I get to relive my trip to Brazil. There were lots of other exhibits going on that you had to pay extra to go into, but sometime I’d like to do all the rest of it. I’d particularly like to see the dolphins after watching “The Cove.” I have a new respect and admiration for them now, even beyond what I did previously.

It was also great wandering around and catching up with my old friend from high school, who I only see on rare occasions nowadays. It reminded me that some friends are forever, even after things change immensely for both parties in life. There are some people you just connect with, feel at home with, and enjoy every second with. No explanations necessary. No buffering of the true self needed. Birds of some sort of feather…perhaps a spiritual sort. My soul wants to connect with everyone, but it only gets to experience the real connection every few years or so. As a result, I spend a lot of time feeling a sense of loss for the ones who didn’t qualify. But there are few better feelings than seeing one of those old soul connections again, and being reminded that it does happen sometimes if we let it, and we’re looking. I cherish all of mine…the special, the few.

All They Do Is Win!

Here’s to the Auburn Tigers, for winning the BCS National Championship!

Here’s to Gene Chizik for leading that team to the title, and for emphasizing the concept of Auburn Family. The buttons say it all: “AU Family: ALL IN!” And Cam Newton for being an outstanding player and quarterback, even if he is ditching Auburn early for the NFL big bucks. He was still beautiful to watch in motion.

Here’s to my friends in Auburn who were on Toomer’s Corner immediately to roll the oaks and scream “WAR DAMN EAGLE!” Unfortunately the city’s webcam was offline when I was trying to watch the celebration from NC.

But thanks to Facebook, I got the final record from friends:

And then the next morning, they couldn’t power wash the toilet paper away like normal because it was too cold! So this beautiful sight was left for them to enjoy a little longer.

And the Auburn Family yelled “War Damn Eagle!” to each other from car to car, stranger to stranger, celebrating for the next few days. I even got War Damn Eagle texts that seemed out of nowhere to me, but to my Auburn friends, it was far from random. One said, “We’ve all been screaming it for 24 hours!” Folks, that’s what you call “School Spirit!”

Thanksgiving Recap

My Thanksgiving was awesome. I got to spend a few days at home with my family before heading up to Asheville to visit with a friend and his family. While at home, I got to spend a lot of time cleaning out my grandmother’s house, since she has just gone into a nursing home.

The people who live next door to her house have a dog that they keep in a lot in their back yard. His name is Sandy. He never gets fed or loved or brought in out of the cold. I fed him while I was there and put blankets in his little house to shield him from some of the cold air.

Sandy is slowing dying. He is starving. You can see each one of his ribs. He has frostbite from the cold. The tips of his ears are black. He may have cancer or some other terrible health thing going on. He has a growth on his stomach and some sores on his hips. When I take him food, he practically rips it out of my hands. He is a sweet, loving dog. He presses himself against the chicken wire of his lot to be petted and loved while shivering against the cold.

I have laid awake many a night worrying about this dog, but my mother forbid my from kidnapping him, which is what I really wanted to do when I found out that calling animal control would only result in him being left there or taken and put down quickly. The legal options suck. Many people have encouraged me to just take him. But what’s holding me back is the possibility that I may end up living in that house (rent-free since I’m unemployed), and I can’t very well steal the next-door neighbor’s dog and then show back up living with it next door. Particularly in a place where you are liable to get shot for being on someone else’s property — never mind taking their property.

Animal control either hasn’t done anything or hasn’t been able to find the people at home, because Sandy is still out there starving in the cold. My mom says she might try to talk to the owners to see if they’ll agree to give him up. I can’t understand why someone would want to own a dog they don’t care about and don’t want to take care of. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want someone else to have it who would give it love and food and a warm place to sleep.

I didn’t grow up with dogs, but since I have owned one, I have not been able to accept animal cruelty or abuse in any way. My mom says things like, “You don’t just kidnap a child you know is being abused — you have to go through the proper legal channels.” And I think things like, “But that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you do have to take matters into your own hands.” It’s not like someone who is leaving their dog outside in the winter to starve, freeze, and die is going to hunt me down and press charges if I take it and give it something better. Right?

Anyways. I saw them feed him exactly once, by throwing a plate of scraps over the fence to him. His water bowls are all full of leaves and dirt. When I’m not there, my dad goes down and feeds him. Animal control has been called by several parties, but so far nothing has happened. The rescue agencies there say the only way they can foster a dog is if the owner willingly relinquishes it. And I’m also afraid that Sandy needs more medical attention and care than I would be able to pay for. So for now, he is still stuck out there, and we are doing what we can here and there. When he hears our cars pull into the driveway, he peeps his head around the corner of his little house to see if we’re coming with food and gentle stroking and soothing words. When we do, he looks up at us with huge, sad eyes and shakes.

After spending Thanksgiving dinner with my own family on the farm in Mount Vernon, I headed up to Asheville to hang out with my friend and his family for a few days.

The night I arrived, I met some of his relatives on their way out, and ended up with a glass of wine in my hand and sitting in the den watching Punkin Chunkin with my friend and his stepdad on the Discovery Channel.

Apparently watching Punkin Chunkin is a holiday tradition for them that I had never heard of. It’s some contest in Delaware where teams drunkenly compete to see how far they can launch a pumpkin, using various apparatuses. I can totally see why people get into this based on the engineering involved. But the whole time I was thinking, “I have family in Delaware, and there is no way they know about this type of redneck shit going down in their state.” It was pretty durn fun to watch, though.

After more pie and more wine and more Punkin Chunkin, the evening found my friend and I in his childhood basement bedroom, where I used to read the homework reading assignments from his history book to him, playing Candy Land Bingo and drinking Cold Mountain Ale (local brew provided by his mom, because she is awesome like that). And watching Friday Night Lights, which is a TV show we’re addicted to about high school football in Texas.

The next day we drove around town reminiscing about when we both used to live there, and marveling at the new things that have been built since we left, and dreaming about a time when we’ll be able to afford to live there again. Had to get back home for the Auburn/Alabama football game, which his mom made like a Superbowl Party, complete with our favorite beers and buffet of chili cheese dip and all kinds of other good things to eat. We all had our Auburn game day shirts on and were completely psyched when Auburn won. War Eagle!

That evening, my friend’s mom took us out for a night on the town. We went on a tour of local microbreweries just to check them out since we hadn’t seen them. We went to the Biltmore Estate for a little while to see the new village there. It’s called Antler something and there are all these little shops and a museum, where we watched a short video on the history of the estate. After that we went to the winery.

And from there we went to a restaurant on the square called Cedric’s, where we warmed ourselves up, had some beers and decided what to do next. Cedric’s is named after the Vanderbilts’ beloved Saint Bernard, and there are pictures of him all over. There was a pretty good live blues guitarist playing that night, so that was fun. But we wanted to go downtown. So we didn’t stay too long.

Once downtown, it was a tough call as to where to go. We ended up having dinner at the Lexington Avenue Brewery, because it was a new addition to the scene since we’d both lived there. It was very cool, and crowded, so we sat outside on the patio under the heaters to eat, and that was kinda fun. The waitress asked me and my friend if we were family because we both ordered the same beer and red meat dishes, medium rare. Had to correct her that in fact no, we are not related. This helped my friend’s efforts to look down her shirt when she was leaning over the table, and I will admit, her boobs were worth staring at. So no grief was given. She was one of those Asheville girls who you know can’t possibly be FROM Asheville but whose sexy hippieness is  keeping her employed with good tips anyway. What? I’m not jealous.

The food there was good but the beer wasn’t that great, so we decided to go elsewhere before heading home. We wanted to go to Asheville Pizza on Merrimon to relive old times, but my friend’s mom said the bar they just opened downtown was cool. So we went there instead to check out the new place and scenery. It was cool. They have some new beers on tap which were good, and some new t-shirts, but they were sold out of those. It’s very industrial, but I liked it. We had some great conversation there, and some good beer. I got to have my old favorite — Shiva — which I had not tasted in years, and it was delightful.

Afterwards we stopped by the huge new Ingles on Tunnel Road (I can’t believe there’s a huge new Ingles on Tunnel Road) so my friend’s mom could pick up a potato to put in the homemade vegetable soup she was making for him to be able to take back with him. Then we went home and got ready to go back out.

My friend and I decided we had to go to Scandals to see what it was like now. We used to spend almost every Friday and Saturday night there at one or more of their bars, and we wanted to at least see a drag show for old times’ sake while we were there. It turned out that the multiple clubs we used to visit are all separate entrances now, so we just went to Scandals. We saw the drag show, and although it was not as fun as when we knew all the performers, it was still pretty fun. We still knew one of them.

It was a far cry from the days of sneaking underage shots through the mouths of friends and sneaking off to make out in various bathrooms and chain smoking in the pool room, but it was a fun night. We felt kinda old, though. We sat on the sidelines watching the dance floor, while saying things like, “Can you believe we used to come here and dance like that?”

Afterward, we went to Denny’s on Patton, which was always our old refueling station after a night at the club. We were going to get breakfast like we always used to, but there was a table full of redneck kids behind us making foul and hateful comments about some kids at the table next to us, and we had to leave so my friend didn’t beat the shit out of them. So we retreated back to Kenilworth Lake, to his parents’ house, for more Friday Night Lights and eating our take-out bacon and eggs on the water bed that I hate because it’s so hard to get in and out of. Seriously, you shouldn’t need abs of steel just for getting in and out of bed, for fuck’s sake.

Happy New Year!

One would think that being out of work would mean so much more time for fun things like blogging. Unfortunately, the universe took over my life for the past couple months, and I have been out of town more than I’ve been home. And away from a reliable computer with decent internet access more than not. Hence the reason for my being MIA lately. But I’m here now (for how long remains to be seen), and I’m blogging! Yes! Best way to ring in the new year! After this I’m going to do some catching up posts, but right now I want to go over the highlights and lowlights of my 2010, which I am not so sad to see exit through the gift shop.

This year,

1) I reconnected with more than one old friend, and I am a better person for it.

2) I got laid off from my job.

3) I moved out of my apartment and into a house I love but am close to no longer being able to afford due to number 2 above.

4) My grandmother went into a nursing home.

5) I started a charity project that has yet to make any money.

6) I traveled A LOT but only regionally.

7) I met some awesome new people at home and in other towns.

8) I fell in love for the fourth time in my life.

9) I let go of old flame number 2, to the best of my ability, which was the only one still hanging on to my brain.

10) I learned quite a bit about football.

11) I tried and failed to rescue an abused dog.

12) I was reminded that sometimes you lose no matter how great you do.

13) I was reminded that when life closes a door, it often opens a window.

14) I went to some really good concerts and music festivals.

15) I saw in person a dream come true for a friend of mine.

16) I witnessed the birth of (and helped deliver) my goddaughter.

17) I learned how to sew properly.

18) I developed relationships with extended family members that I am grateful for.

19) I learned how to cook the world’s best filet mignon in my own kitchen without using a grill.

20) I was reminded that life just goes on, no matter what good or bad happens. It keeps going. And I keep thinking of new adventures I want to experience and trying to figure out how to make them happen.

There’s a whole lot more that happened this year, but those are probably the main highlights, broken down to a basic level. I don’t make resolutions, because I think they’re crap. So I will leave you with the words of one Benjamin Franklin of rap legend (ha).

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.”

 

Mastering the Art of the Surprise

Unlike a lot of people I know, I really love surprises. But I hardly ever get them. I’m usually too good at figuring stuff out ahead of time, and I think a lot of people don’t do surprises because they aren’t sure how you’ll feel about it. My mom, for example, hates surprises and will have a conniption over a surprise party thrown in her honor. Mainly because she wants her house to be perfect if anyone sets foot in it, and if she doesn’t have time to clean and  prepare, she feels terrible.

The best surprises are acts of kindness, I think. Gifts are okay, but it’s the little things with a lot of thought and heart behind them that make the biggest impact to me. An ex-boyfriend used to pick flowers for me randomly and surprise me with little vases of daffodils or poppies around the house. A former co-worker once left a check on my desk when I was having car troubles with “Random Act of Kindness” in the subject line. That was pretty amazing. Another former co-worker always saved me the magazines I liked from the lobby when changing out the issues. A former neighbor used to leave little bags of the extra basil from her garden on my front porch for me to make pesto. Things like that mean more to me than anything you could buy in a store.

This past weekend, my friend gave me the best surprise ever. He drove seven hours and showed up on my doorstep to spend 3 days with me, hanging out, taking care of me, being my partner in crime for vegging out and being lazy and relaxing, which was something I really needed after six weeks of unemployment and feeling run down because I have mono.

I admit, it was not a complete surprise. I had a tiny inkling because he’d asked me a couple questions last week about my plans for the weekend — questions meant to make sure I didn’t have plans and was going to be at home. He also straight up told me he had a surprise planned for me. My rich imagination immediately lept to the fantastic idea that he was planning a  visit. But my practical side dismissed it as improbable because it’s such a long drive, and his work schedule is so crazy, and things that awesome just don’t really happen to me.

On Friday I was having a great day of productive unemployment. I cleaned the whole house, did all the laundry, groomed Birdy, washed her bedding, took a long hot bath, lit all my candles, and settled in to watch a couple episodes of the new BBC Sherlock Holmes on PBS Masterpiece Mystery. I was feeling good about getting a lot done around the house and trying not to feel guilty about settling in to veg on TV.

TV almost always makes me feel guilty. I think it’s because in all the years when I chose not to have it, before you could watch everything online anyway, I read a lot and studied a lot and really came to realize how much time I had wasted over previous years watching TV when I could have been doing other things that were better for my brain and my intellect. But one thing I do like about being able to watch things now is that I feel a little better able to keep up with pop culture. Actually, my friend made the comment that socialization nowadays is mainly based on liking or disliking the same media content, and people don’t have “real” conversations too much anymore. That doesn’t stop me from trying to initiate them, though. But now I can kinda do both a little better, and I don’t seem like such an out of touch weirdo.

So while I was vegging out with Sherlock and Watson, snuggled under a blanket on the couch with Birdy keeping my feet warm, I kept getting text messages from my friend about how he was working on my surprise, and how I should check my email around 2 am to find out what it was. That information made me think I was completely off-base about a possible visit. He kept making me guess things, which of course were all wrong, because I was thinking in terms of information in an email. I kept nodding off, and he kept texting me, asking me if I was still awake, and telling me to stay up so I could check my email for the surprise.

At 2 am he texted me and said, “Okay, you can check your email now!” The email was a text from his phone that said, “Wait 4 it.” I texted him back, like, “What the hell?” I was slightly annoyed that I had been staying up and that was all I got. His next text said, “Look outside.”

I can’t see outside without going outside because of the type of glass in my front door, so I opened the door and stepped out onto my stoop just in time to see him pulling into my driveway! I said, “Oh my God, are you seriously here right now??” He said, “SURPRISE! I had a few days off, so I thought I’d come up here.”

In the back seat was Ellie, his baby. Ellie is a beautiful Australian shepherd-collie mix. She’s quite a bit bigger than Birdy, and most people think Birdy is pretty big. I met her last time I went down there to visit, and she loved me and snuggled with me pretty instantly.

Ellie and Birdy did not hit it off right away. It was very surprising, because Birdy is very submissive to other dogs, even on her own territory. She is the type of dog who just doesn’t like for there to be any problems. She’ll do anything to keep the peace. Her attitude is, “Oh, you like my bone? You can have it. Just don’t try to fight me for it.” “Oh, you want to check out my house? Sure, go ahead. You like my bed? Go ahead and lie on it. I have others. You want to eat some of my food? Okay, no problem, I will get more soon.”

 

Ellie went after Birdy a few times for getting too close to her food bowl, or even our plates of food, and she wasn’t very happy about my friend giving Birdy too much attention. She never tried to hurt Bird, but she nipped at her and barked at her, just warning her really. But Birdy is so sensitive to anything like that, she would barely come into the same room afterwards and spent a lot of time hanging out as far away as possible, in her crate and in the laundry room, where she never goes. My friend punished Ellie by making her lay down with her head on the floor until he gave the okay, which she was not happy about, but she did it. Again, like a little kid, she was missing having his direction and having the boundaries she was used to. I think it was a good thing that he brought her on a road trip with just him to get her used to that again.

After a breaking in period, they did a lot better. We left them out in the back yard together for long periods of time, and I think they bonded over tag-team barking at the neighbors. We made a point of making Ellie stay on her bed and then coaxing Birdy into the room to get on her bed, which was successful. Eventually they made friends, which was really great news. They have to obey the same process for going out — they have to sit before the door is opened, and then they have to wait for the safe word before they can actually go out the door after it has been opened. I think knowing the same commands and having to obey them together was helpful. I also gave them treats at the same time, and they both know they have to do a trick to get a treat, so that was reinforcement as well. By last night, Ellie was spooning with me in bed, and this morning, she was playfully encouraging Birdy to play with her in the house before they both went outside together to play for a while. A huge improvement over trying to attack her. Interestingly, Ellie did not attempt to attack me for getting too close to my friend like she did with Birdy, and when I commented on this fact, Nick said, “She does not fuck with humans. She’s not stupid.” Actually, she did growl at me a couple times in the beginning when I was allowing Birdy to be closer to us than her, but she responded well to my calm-assertive posture when I stood over her and backed her up. I’m telling you — Caesar Milan is a freaking genius. The shit works.

My friend and I are both big fans of “The Office,” and he had never seen “Parks and Recreation,” which is a show I love that is similar to “The Office” in its humor and they way it is produced. So I introduced him to that and we ended up vegging a lot and watching the entire first two seasons of it. I had actually only seen a few episodes of it, and now that I’ve seen them all, it’s like one of my new favorites. So many great characters and great acting. It’s about a small town in Indiana, and the staff of the Parks and Rec department of their local government. My favorite character is Ron Swanson, the director of the Parks Department. He is up there with Jack Donaghy on my list of TV show heroes.

Lately I’ve been on a Karate Kid kick, which happens every few years or so. I saw the first two in the theater as a kid, and they’ve just always stuck with me, even before they evolved into the cult classics they are now. My friend is also a huge Karate Kid fan and has been wanting to see the new version that just came out for a little while, so we rented that. Not surprisingly: VERY disappointing!

It was not all bad — Jaden Smith’s acting could have been slightly worse, and the tournament part at the end was pretty awesome. But I have to say I think the negatives outweighed the positives. First of all, it’s not a movie I feel should have been remade in the first place, because HOW THE HELL do you think you can improve upon one of the greatest movies of all time? It’s like remaking Schindler’s List. No. Just….no.

Instead of moving to California, they move to China. Instead of learning Karate, he learns Kung Fu. Instead of a Zen master like Mr. Miyagi, who has an inner strength and calm about him despite personal circumstances, Jackie Chan plays a sad and broken man who has a lot to learn himself, and who does end up improving his attitude, but only slightly. Instead of a gentlemanly, good, emotionally intelligent person like Daniel La Russo, Dre is a punk of a kid who can’t even show own his mother an ounce of respect. Instead of the characters being high school age, they’re like 12, which makes the whole inclusion of a romantic subplot really unbelievable, PARTICULARLY when the 12-year-old main character actually looks like he’s about five. I’d recommend watching the last half hour of the movie only. Everything leading up to the tournament is pointless and ridiculous. And extremely repetitive. They reiterate the fact that Dre can’t speak Chinese about a billion times. I was like, “We’ve established that! He’s a punk ass American kid! Move on!” Terrible writing.

I guess I’m just too biased to be open minded about it. I am a huge movie buff, and I have a short list of favorites, which The Karate Kid I and II are definitely on. There are some things that need to be left alone. Seriously. As a marketing person, I can understand the desire/need to market old favorites to a new audience, but in my opinion, that could have been done much more successfully than with this poor excuse for a movie. It was not even worth the dollar I gave Red Box to rent it.

Worst part of all? After the mean Chinese opponent screwed up his leg in the final round of the tournament, Jaden was obviously trying to remember which leg to limp on. AND! In the original, Daniel-san took his beatings from the mean kids with poise and determination, not to be defeated. Jaden was just a whiny little bitch who laid around crying. Ralph Macchio will not be topped. Part of the Karate Kid is about a boy becoming a man. That did not happen in this version. I saw a boy do something semi-cool and remain a boy. A boy with a trophy who maybe learned a little bit of a lesson. Not the emotional strength and wisdom that only Mr. Miyagi could impart.

Otherwise, it was the best long weekend ever. And meanwhile, thank God for unlimited cell phone minutes and unlimited texting.

Halloween 2010

I’m never usually much one for Halloween, but this year I’m really not. I’m sick, and I’m stuck inside without much to do. I’m missing the annual Halloween party thrown by my best friend since forever, and I’m even missing the Auburn football game because Time Warner is a bitch and won’t let me watch it online because I don’t get cable TV. Hello, the internet is why I don’t have cable. Maybe they have figured that out. Nooooooooooo!!!

When I was little I used to get strep throat all the time, and I had it one year on Halloween and was very disappointed when I couldn’t go trick-or-treating with my friends from the neighborhood. What I remembered today as a result of being sick on Halloween again was how that year when I was five or so, my friend Kerri and her little sister stopped by my house on their way home to divvy up their candy haul with me since I couldn’t go. It’s funny how one seemingly small act of kindness will stick with a person for their entire life, huh? Makes me wonder what I’ve done that has stuck with someone without me even realizing it. When I mentioned it to Kerri tonight, she said, “Hmm, we must have been really little because I’m usually very selfish with my candy.” LOL!

I’ve never been very big on dressing up or costumes. I think it’s because they’re usually really uncomfortable, and I am hard pressed to wear anything ever that feels uncomfortable. I guess that’s why they are called costumes. They are not within your personal comfort zone manner of dress. My favorite Halloween costume I ever had was in college when I went as Cruella DeVille. Basically I just wore a black slip dress with a black feather boa and a lot of eye makeup, and I put a white streak in my hair, and I even had the long cigarette holder. It was my favorite because it wasn’t that uncomfortable, didn’t require many props, and everyone got it. In fact, that was probably the last time I actually wore a Halloween costume. I don’t get out much now that I’m old.

Speaking of costumes, my hairdresser is a closet hippie and loves all my clothes. She complimented the patchwork pants I wore to my last appointment, and we had a whole conversation about how she looks for cool hippie clothes whenever she goes to Asheville but everything there is so expensive. (The pants I was wearing that day I got on sale in Asheville for like $40. ON SALE!) Today I saw her randomly in public (wearing a hoodie and hemp pants), and she was loving on Birdy and telling her how her mama has cool clothes. It made me laugh, because it’s very possible no one has EVER said that to or about me. Particularly since I’ve lived here, in a town where hippies are an anomaly.

In Asheville, I used to get compliments on my random vintage t-shirts. Most of them were stolen from my dad and were from his college days, which made them even cooler because they were actually old. I had a vintage White Sox shirt he stole from his sister, who stole it from one of her college boyfriends, and I used to get hit on so much in college due to that shirt. One of my old college roommates was even inspired to start a vintage-look baby clothing line because of it. It was because of a vintage guitar shop shirt from a particular town that I met my college boyfriend, who had family there and had been to the place. I had a more common one that said, “I Climbed the Great Wall” with a graphic of the Great Wall of China, and it always shocked me that guys would hit on me because I was wearing a shirt they themselves owned. Conversation starter, I guess. But weird that now no one hits on me unless I’m wearing socially acceptable trendy female clothing. Which makes me just hate the people who do it because at that point they’re not even hitting on me, they’re hitting on my clothes. Which tells me they are way too superficial for my taste, and they’re gonna be WAY disappointed to learn that I’m wearing a costume essentially, once I get home and put on my hemp drawstrings.

Here, I get looks of bafflement that I’m not wearing Ann Taylor or skinny-leg jeans or whatever it is that is “in style” nowadays. I never know. Obviously, as I’m still wearing the same t-shirts and boot-leg jeans I wore in college and parading around a conservative Southern town in hippie garb like hemp pants for God’s sake at the REGULAR grocery store and not at Whole Foods. But when a guy flirts with me when I’m wearing hemp or patchworks, he’s going to have a much better chance at getting the number than when I’m in “drag.”

I’m a rebel, I tell you. Maybe I just figured out my next Halloween costume. And I don’t even have to dress up! Perfect. “Oh, look! She’s a hippie!” “Oh, no, that’s just Maegan.”

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