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’!

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.

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.

Birthdays, Phish, Traveling

I’ve been taking advantage of my recent forced unemployment by traveling a lot — something I love to do but never seem to have time for. It’s lovely not to have an excuse to stay home now. Traveling is one of the things I love most about life, even if it’s not very far away. Lately I’ve been reminded that I haven’t been doing nearly enough of it in a while.

So last week I had a birthday…the 3rd anniversary of my 29th birthday to be exact. Ha! My friend Jeff took me out for a kick-ass Japanese dinner and gave me a beautiful silver initial necklace that I love (it looks like a wax seal), and we watched the new Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe — one of my favorite stories and kind of Jeff since he had already seen it.

I went back to my hometown for a few days to visit with my family and friends. I got to see my goddaughter for the first time since she came home from the hospital, and she is already looking more like her dad and acting more like her mom. My mom makes me a birthday cake every year, and usually I choose coconut, because she makes the world’s best coconut cakes. This is also my dad’s birthday cake of choice. But this year things were a little rushed so I opted for something easier for my poor mama — a heath bar chocolate sheet cake. It was fabulous. My cousins, grandmother, and aunt came over for pizza and cake, and it was so nice to hang out with them since we only see each other two or three times a year.

This is the first year in history I’ve felt completely ambivalent about my birthday and didn’t even really care about celebrating it at all. I feel so old. I know that’s silly to say. In the grand scheme of things I’m not old, and age is just a number anyway. I suppose I feel a bit down because now that I am “in my thirties” my life is not at all where I imagined it would or should be by now. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But at times I do feel like quite a failure. I have been reminding myself for years that everyone has their own time line, but I still have trouble believing that to the fullest extent rather than feeling like it’s a cop out, or an excuse I’m making for why my life sucks.

But when it comes to maturity, I don’t feel old AT ALL. I have friends who are 10 years younger than me that I completely relate to, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing, but it is what it is. I feel like there are two distinct sides to me — one that is very mature and wise beyond her years, who is fairly responsible and shit, and another side that is still a kid and just wants to have fun, party, break all the rules and be rebellious and live it up while I am still unencumbered by attachments and responsibilities. Maybe that’s why my mom says people don’t really become adults until they have children. Maybe that’s part of why I don’t want children. LOL. But seriously? When I’m not at least aware of current pop music, I feel like a geezer, and my younger friends keep me in the loop. Pop music is like my crack — I’m so ashamed that I like it but I can’t quit. (Luckily, I listen to lots of “good” music also.) And when I hang out with them, I still have to say, “Wait, who is this?” every five seconds. Anyway, enough about being old.

I’m really excited about this coming weekend because I get to do some more traveling to Charleston with my friend Swampman for Phish! We are only going to one of the two shows because he (fortunately) still has a job to go to on Friday, but Saturday will be amazing with communing with fellow Phans and camping and hiking in Congaree National Park. Swamp and I don’t go anywhere we can’t incorporate a camping/hiking excursion. Also promise a post on that after the fact. With pictures.

Crafty Love! Sea Turtles

I’ve always had a thing about turtles. Native Americans had animal totems (or guides) to symbolize certain qualities in themselves, so I suppose if I were Native American, mine would be the turtle. Turtles teach us to take things slow and give ourselves time to figure out if we need to protect ourselves or plunge forward. My mom gave me a silver turtle ring when I was very young with movable arms and legs, so maybe she knew about my turtle totem before I did! She always comments on my life-long trait of cautiousness and careful deliberation and says I was even hesitant to be born. I tell her I was probably comfortable in there and didn’t see any reason to move!

Turtles remind us that it’s okay to retreat into your shell for a little while and wait until your thoughts and ideas are ready to be expressed. Anyone who knows me can tell you that as an only-child and an artist, I need a lot of alone time to balance myself emotionally. I retreat into my shell pretty often so that when the time comes to socialize, I can do it successfully and enjoy it instead of daydreaming about what I’d rather be doing in that moment. Other turtle lessons: Be patient in reaching your goals. Be careful in new situations. Be adaptable to your environment so you can find harmony in it. Live at your own pace.

On a side note, now that I’m talking about turtles, I can’t stop thinking about Aesop’s Fables. Was I the only kid on the planet who hated them and found them annoying because the morals were so freaking obvious? Anyhoozer…

What’s your animal totem? (I think I may have more than one…)

Sea Turtle Woodcut, Mono Print
$100 by Brian Taylor

Borosilicate Turtle Pendant
$75 by Jewels by L Designs

Sea Turtle Sushi Tray
$26 by Island Girl Pottery

Batik Turtle T-Shirt
$11.50 by Batik Creations

Baby Steps – 8 x 10 Print
$29 by A2Sea Photography


I…Don’t Get It: Green Tomatoes

I am a Southern girl, born and bred, so I’m almost ashamed to post this. But. How exactly does one know when a green tomato is ripe? I’ve actually never eaten fried green tomatoes, but I was hoping to try it, as I picked one off the vine in my neighbor’s garden while house-sitting last week. But…it looks the same, even though it’s been sitting in my window sill for a few days. And it still seems hard. What is the deal, yo? I am so bad at gardening.

Crafty Love! Outdoor Weddings

Favorite wedding memories from my family:

My parents got married in 1975 in my mother’s parents’ living room. My mom wore a simple cotton hippie dress and daisies in her hair. My dad wore a powder blue suit and left his long hair down. The best man had car trouble on the way and left his jacket at the garage. Halfway through the small ceremony, my grandmother stopped the minister to point out he had skipped a step — the part where he was supposed to ask if anyone had any objections.

When I was about four or five in the early 1980’s, I was the flower girl in my uncle’s wedding. I remember sitting in the floor in his sister’s room while he got ready. As he leaned into the mirror to adjust his bow tie, he sang to himself, “Oh here she comes! Watch out boys, she’ll chew you up! Oh here she comes! She’s a man-eater!” Thank you, Hall and Oates for providing that very special memory that my cousins (his children) prefer I don’t recount. 🙂

When I was nine, I was a junior bridesmaid in a cousin’s wedding. There was a junior groomsman (a nephew of the bride) who was to walk me down the aisle. Unfortunately, when we watched the video afterward it was clear we were the only attending couple who felt it necessary to sprint to the altar. At this same wedding, the brother of the groom had a terrible time trying to light the candles in the church and eventually had to give up so the bride could walk down the aisle. That couple has an 18-year-old son now who has inherited the truck that his dad used to flee the premises for honeymoon-land. He is still finding grains of white rice.

This weekend I will be attending the wedding of some very good friends in Asheville. In true Asheville fashion, it will be held on a farm, and there is camping for people who would rather sleep outside than stay in a hotel. The happy couple met years ago when they belonged to the same African dance group — she was a dancer; he was a drummer. Sometimes I look around me and think I am so fortunate to know the various amazing and interesting people that I have met over the years. Congratulations to Breanna and Greg! Here’s to a long and happy future. I have to go buy a dress now! While I’m doing that, you guys can check out some outdoor wedding related items on Etsy.

Moss Covered Centerpiece
$10 by Spotted Leopard

100 Bird Seed Favors
$95 by 2 Birds in Love

Ring Bearer’s Bird’s Nest
$14 by Garden Side Studio

Firefly Lantern
$24.99 by Bragging Bags

Crafty Love! Geese

I am a closet animal lover. I’m closeted because I don’t really go for cute. I am not the type of person you are going to find squealing over a baby bunny. I will be squealing with delight on the inside, but you’ll never see that. There are several non-domesticated animals in particular I find most adorable: otters, elephants, squirrels, gorillas, raccoons, calves, goats, turtles, kangaroos, reindeer, bears, hamsters. Lately I’ve realized there’s a new addition to the list. Geese! There are many, many wild Canada geese in my city. I don’t know why. I grew up two hours from here and can’t remember ever seeing geese back home. I do live near a bird sanctuary, and there is a small lake in my neighborhood a couple blocks away (complete with Goose Crossing road sign). So maybe that explains it.

I LOVE THE GEESE! They show up in the oddest places, like in a gaggle on the corner of an intersection. The other day I had to wait a couple minutes to turn into my driveway while a family of five waddled slowly across the road. I love to see them up close because they’re so huge and amusingly disproportionate. They look like hockey-sticks on a beach ball. I love how you hardly ever see just one. I love the strangely funny honking noises they make. It always makes me laugh. I love to see them flying overhead, because it seems to defy the laws of nature that something so big and goofy could actually take flight. And I love seeing their formations. It makes me marvel at the wonders of science and nature that they all know exactly when to synchronize a turn, when to lift one wing just a hair. I like the fact that they waddle around with this complete air of narcissism. It’s like they think the entire world exists merely for their benefit. I’m really, really happy that we share a neighborhood.

And, um, have you SEEN the Larry the Goose SNL sketch? It’s the small things in life, people. This is still making me laugh, months later. Mainly because when I was telling my mom about how cool the geese in my neighborhood are, she said, “Isn’t that what flew into Captain Sully’s plane and made them crash?”

Here are some great goose-related finds on Etsy.

8 x 12 Photograph, Goose in Flight
$19 by Rebecca Kier

Handmade silver necklace, Migration
$60 by Camilla Luchesi

Fine art print, White Goose No. 3
$25 by Sharon Montrose

Greeting Card, Honk Honk Hiss
$3.00 by Rue Renee

Crafty Love! Tree Houses

The other day I was watching my neighbor climb a tree in flip flops. I love it when grown men act like little boys. Not in an immature kind of way, but in a playful, zest-for-life way. This time of year I always start to miss tree houses. When I was little, my friends Matt and Nate had a big, rickety tree house in their back yard. It was my favorite thing about playing at their house. Nate, the little brother, was often banned from it as punishment for some obnoxious stunt he pulled on us, like the time he locked us in the second floor bathroom from the outside and forced Matt to climb out the window to run down and give him hell. My first love had a tree house, too — big and open. It always reminded me of a boat. On balmy spring days we’d climb up there after school and kiss for an hour over our textbooks, pretending we were doing homework.

There was also an elderly man named Kinchen who lived on my street in a rambling white Victorian house with a veritable tree fortress in the back. He had built access ramps and walkways all over the place so he could still enjoy it, even though he was probably in his eighties at that time. He lived with his sister, Rebekah, in the old family home place, and they only inhabited one or two of their numerous rooms. I think the purpose was to minimize the amount of space requiring heat. When we visited, Rebekah would swoop through a sealed door and emerge in a wash of frigid air, with a plate of gingersnaps and glasses of tea. In the summers, we would have our cookies and lemonade outside on one of the many platforms attached to the tree. They always seemed a bit like children to me. Ancient, white-haired children.

$58 by Jenna Rose Handmade

$15 by Breezy Tulip

$25 by Slow Shirts

Earth Day Giveaway!

My good friend Jenny is having a cool Earth Day Giveaway over at her blog, Great Little Stories. I have contributed some eco-friendly handmade goodness, so go over there and check it out. It’s quite an assortment of cool things that will make it easier for you to “live green.”

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