The Question of Independence

In the first verse of the national anthem, which is the only one we ever sing, these are the last two lines:

“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It never occurred to me until this year that we usually stop there, with a question mark. The music at the end of the verses sounds very final and triumphant, and not at all questioning. Maybe that’s because Francis Scott Key wrote a patriotic hymn about a battle and set it to the tune of a popular British drinking song. Fun fact: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was only made the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931. Before that we used “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which I can remember having to learn in elementary school, and “Hail, Columbia,” which sounds way more anthem-like and is now used as the Vice President’s official entrance, like “Hail to the Chief” for the President.

But back to that question mark. The question in the song is regarding the outcome of the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 — have we won? Does our flag still wave? Today, it seems the question mark has taken on a whole new meaning, when thinking about our country’s place in the world and who we want to be as her citizens. Now, the question seems to (or maybe ought to) be, “Are we really all that brave or all that free?”

In the “home of the brave,” we collectively put actual brave men and women in harm’s way because we’re greedy. Most people are too lazy to recycle. The majority of Americans do not own hybrid vehicles or residential solar panels, myself included because I can’t afford to, because I haven’t had a job in nine months, but that’s another rant altogether. Alternative energy sources are not exactly highly touted by corporate honchos who stand to lose money when their technology is replaced. I don’t care what you say about major petroleum companies’ spun magazine ads of wildflower meadows and ethereally-narrated dream-scape television commercials, where they showcase the best (the one? lol) engineer they’ve put on the job of eco-do-gooding. Show me a year without an oil spill and I might start to give half a crap. As my Maw Maw would say, these are people with “more money than sense.”

So, we’re okay with sending people off to be killed in the name of some vague Medusa-headed terror cabal whose snake tendrils grow back as quickly as they are lopped, when we all know deep down that if it weren’t for the oil, we would not still be occupying the region. To me, this is not brave. This is greed, laziness, ignorant acceptance. Money and convenience before lives.

What about the “land of the free?” “We” have some freedoms. But “we” are not entirely free. Not until all the laws apply to all people equally. Not until the Patriot Act is repealed. Not until the Supreme Court stops making unconstitutional rulings like May’s Kentucky vs. King. Not until our Presidents stop signing executive orders giving themselves powers that our system of checks and balances expressly forbids. Not until you can lobby congress or run for office (realistically, people) without a cent to your name and still be taken seriously. As Georgiana Cavendish, former Duchess of Devonshire once remarked, “One is either free, or one is not. The concept of freedom is an absolute. After all, one cannot be moderately dead, or moderately loved, or moderately free. It must always remain a matter of either-or.”

I wish every year that people would use Independence Day as a time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, where we want to be, as a people. Instead I think it ends up being rote enthusiasm for a system we hate, because it’s tradition, and because we *think* we’ll always be on top, as if it’s our rightful place. I wonder what the first 4th of July will be like after the economy completely collapses (if that happens). Thoughts?

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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.

Good Music: Coldplay

This is hitting home for me right now…

Lost
by Coldplay

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I’ll stop
Doesn’t mean I’m across

Just because I’m hurting
Doesn’t mean I’m hurt
Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserved
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I tried to cross
Every door I ever tried was locked
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

You might be a big fish in a little pond
Doesn’t mean you’ve won
‘Cause along may come a bigger one

And you’ll be lost
Every river that you tried to cross
Every gun you ever held went off
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the firing’s stopped
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off
Oh and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Random Craftiness

I have to say I haven’t been doing too much crafting since I moved. The majority of my craft supplies were given away prior to moving, and the rest is mainly in storage in North Carolina. I brought a few small supplies — one pair of knitting needles and some yarn, one box of jewelry findings, my sewing machine/sewing box and two pieces of fabric. That’s basically it. This is probably the one thing I should have made more room for in the car…everything else I can do without, but my craft supplies make me happy. Alas, I was overwhelmed by having an entire room devoted to it when it came time to pack. And I definitely needed to clean out the collection. Over time, I had built up way too many of those things you buy and think, “I am going to use this when I make something at some point.” So here is an update of my craftiness as of late with minimal supplies and a few economical purchases.

Nobody in our apartment building has their own private outdoor seating area because the outdoor area is just one big long hallway with cut-out breezeways like windows. So everyone has created these little spots outside their doors, most of which include a grill if nothing else. I swear, people down here are crazy about their barbecuing. Our outdoor spot used to consist of a bench and a couch with no cushions someone left behind before we moved in. I decided we needed something just a tad bit classier for our classy friends (haha) to visit when smoking. So…decorating while on unemployment is a challenge, but I like to think of myself as the world’s best bargain shopper, so it was a challenge I attacked happily.

A friend of ours just happens to be one of the maintenance guys at our apartment complex. With his help (and a bribe of coffee and pie), we were able to get the ratty couch carted off. Then he told us the apartments have a storage room of furniture they keep when people move and leave it behind, and as the bearer of the key, he offered to trade the couch for a table and some chairs. YAY, free furniture! The table turned out to be in great condition and reminds me of ones we used to have at school — that fake pickled wood that looks surprisingly like real wood. We also got some ubiquitous plastic lawn chairs in good shape, but looking a little dirty and dinged up. One coat of white spray paint, and they look brand new! (Spray paint = $2.98 @ Home Depot)

Next, I went in search of table decoration to offset the lovely black plastic ashtray we have. (Note to self: get a cooler ashtray.) Found cool table runners at Pier One…for a lot more money than what I spent on the place mat you see pictured! SCORE! (Place-mat-turned-table-runner = $4 @ Pier One)

One more cool accessory needed…and I am a sucker for Moroccan themed decor. So I splurged and got this glass lantern at Pier One also. It takes tea candles only, which is sort of annoying, and they are not very easy to get in and out. But it looks super cool glowing at night. I think it’s a nice complement to the conch shell and succulent plant I already had. (Lantern = $8 @ Pier One)

Finally, I was going to make chair cushions, but it turned out to be cheaper for me to buy new ones on sale. This is one of my most favorite shades of green, and they have a nice embossed diamond pattern in the fabric. Matches the table runner perfectly! (Cushions = $16 @ World Market)

And, voila! Outdoor seating for two, for only about $30! (Four, if you include the Depression-era wooden bench, with paint-splattered red vinyl seat that I inherited from my grandparents, which also sits outside. One of my most-prized possessions!)

I’ve also made and donated three baby blankets to an organization that formed in the wake of the devastating tornadoes we had recently here in Alabama. We are fortunate to live about three hours away from the area hardest hit, and although there was still a small tornado that caused some damage in our county, it was not nearly the ruined mess here that you’ve seen on the news. This group was formed by a friend of a friend, and they are having people donate handmade baby blankets and things to babies who were orphaned by the tornadoes, moms-to-be-soon, and new moms who may have lost anything “special” that was being saved for their babies. It’s supposed to provide a special heirloom, with meaning and significance — a keepsake.

I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on fabric and notions, so I used one of my favorite fabric-hunting tricks and hit up the closest Goodwill’s linens section. You can almost always find decent, usable fabric there in large pieces and other forms (blankets, curtains, etc.). It’s perfectly fine for cutting up and sewing with after a washing. I ended up buying a couple of blankets, a crib sheet, and a set of curtains, and this was enough for four blankets, although I only made three. I did buy the satin ribbon for binding at Walmart, but it was only about $3 per roll, and I only needed one roll per blanket. When I was little, my blankie had satin ribbon binding, and to this day when I feel it, I remember laying in my crib and being calm and relaxed. So, I included that in all of my blankets.

Now I Can Survive

Reason number whatever that I am loving living in Alabama: SNO-BIZ! I can’t say I’ve ever lived in a place that had sno-cone stands everywhere. It must be because it gets so damn hot down here, and that phase of summer is just barely beginning right now. But I am a complete sucker for shaved ice. Back in high school when I was a marching band geek, we would go on trips to competitions on Saturdays and get Hawaiian ice (same difference) after we performed, changed clothes, and were ready to relax and watch the other bands. We spent hours eating Hawaiian ice, hanging out with our friends in the bleachers, watching our competitors, and flirting. Great memories. Prior to this week, that was probably the last time I actually had a shaved ice.

And then, someone introduced me to the awesomeness that is Sno-Biz.

Not only do they have a three-page menu of potential flavors and flavor combinations, but you can also get Italian cream sodas which are basically just slushier and in a cup with a straw. Personally, I prefer the spoon and bowl. Mother of God, I love it so much! I can foresee this as one of my savings graces for surviving the summer down here. That, and friends who love going to the pool.

Funny story: when I first moved here, I drove by this place called Tiger Ice, a little roadside stand with a sign. I was so freaking excited because I THOUGHT it was a Hawaiian ice stand. Then a friend informed me that since we are in SEC football country, the land of epic tailgating, there are places where you can just randomly buy bags of ice. I was so disappointed! Plain ice? How boring!

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.

Books: Dance of Death

I’m so sad to announce this is the only book I’ve read in the last few months. I got hooked on crossword puzzles, although they are slightly torturous to me. I drive myself crazy with my simultaneous hatred of them and compulsive need to do them. My dad is a crossword whiz, and my favorite memories of his father include sitting with him in his dark, cool den while he chain-smoked, worked the NY Times crossword, and fed the dog brie and snickers. I can remember sitting in my dad’s lap as a kid while he tried to teach me the concept of the clues. It frustrated me when I was five, and it frustrates me still.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are probably my current favorite authors of popular fiction. My snobby creative writing professors in college always poo-pooed anything popular and not considered “Literature.” I still maintain a dislike of Stephen King, mainly for that reason, but also because we were forced to read him as an example of bad writing. I liked The Shining, but otherwise I am unimpressed. Anyhoozer, I just discovered a regional chain store here called Hastings, which is sort of like Borders, but they have a lot of used books and you can also rent movies there. So, I picked up this one as part of my continuing effort to complete their catalog. Evidently I’m reading them in all the wrong order, even though the list in order is printed in the front of every book. Some of them are trilogies, but they’re all written to function as stand-alone books as well for dummies like me who can’t get my shit together well enough to read them in order. The main character that most of their criminal mysteries center around is Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, and the authors keep him shrouded in enough mystery as a character that I keep reading to find out more about him and his crazy family.

And, thanks to the modern miracle of social networking, I was able to recycle it immediately after reading to my friend John, who I grew up next door to as a kid.

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.

Random Pet Peeve: Historical References

This fucking movie, man. I am going to finish watching it. Mainly because it has a lot of naked Jake Gyllenhaal in it, and for that I can put aside my distaste for the script and plot. But I will not finish it until I get something out of my system right this second.

This movie claims to be set in 1996. In actuality, it is set in an alternate dimension’s version of 1996 that did not occur in the one from whence I emerged. As a result, the open mind I use to enter into any cinematic viewing experience was compromised within the first five minutes of the movie. Way to alienate your audience, there, people. Allow me to explain.

Evidently (although I can’t say for certain since I haven’t watched the whole thing yet), the fact that this story occurs in 1996 is important in some way. We know this because it’s the first thing we see in the movie. “1996” at the bottom of the screen, setting the scene, taking you back. But it obviously wasn’t important enough for the creators to make sure their 1996 references were actually accurate. This makes me wonder if the people who made this movie are too young to remember what 1996 was like. And if that is the case, and people that much younger than me are making bad romantic comedies while portraying their own made up version of history and earning a shit ton of money, that makes me want to seriously reexamine my life. Or kill myself. Whichever would take less time.

Some examples.

The opening scene (just after we’ve been informed it’s 1996) features the song, “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors. This song was a top hit in 1992, and I should know, because I was a HUGE fan. By 1996, no one was still listening to this. Except me.

Jake works in an electronics store. First he is shown trying to sell a boom box to a couple of girls by demonstrating how light it would be on their shoulders. Boom boxes were popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s. No one was carrying boom boxes around on their fucking shoulders after like 1985.

This same electronics store, which is trying to pimp old technology onto teenagers, simultaneously carries products that were not even available on the market in 1996. Like, flat-screen televisions. Which were invented a long time ago but were not available to the public for purchase until 1997, and that was just the first model, offered by one company. It wasn’t until 8-10 years afterward that they became popular, widely available, affordable, and commonly purchased. Yet, in the movie, Jake is trying to sell at least three different brands of flat-screen televisions. While “Two Princes” is playing in the background. Are. You. Kidding. Me.

Also being sold in this store: small cell phones. Being perused by a grandmother. First of all, hardly anyone had cell phones in 1996. People who did have them were pretty “up” on technology, fairly well-off, and they used them respectfully. They didn’t walk around the fucking grocery store blabbing about their weekend indiscretions. They used them when driving long distances, in case of emergency, and sometimes on job sites to look cool. I got my first cell phone in 1996, when I left for college. It was kept in the glove compartment of my car in case I needed to call AAA while traveling back and forth to school. It was about 8 inches long by 4 inches wide. This folded in half. It didn’t really work unless you pulled out the antenna, and it had zero battery life. You pretty much had to keep it plugged in in the car to use it, which would have been pointless in the event of an emergency where my car had no power. It wasn’t until around 2001 that I had a slightly upgraded model (maybe one-third smaller than the first one and a non-flip model) and was using my cell phone like people do now, actually putting friends’ numbers in it, getting calls on it from other people, and talking while driving around.

Today, I can see a grandmother with a cell phone — after all, the Jitterbug is a really good marketing idea. I have been told on more than one occasion that it’s the perfect cell phone for me, actually. When it comes to cellular technology, I am quite like an old person trying to figure out which end to speak into on the new talking contraption. But back then? No. My parents didn’t even have them. My grandmother had yet to own even a cordless land-line house phone at that time.

Anyway, after all this, I’m left with nothing redeeming but Jake Gyllenhaal nakedness. And while that counts for a lot, I’m pretty sure if I had actually paid to see this movie, I would have walked out after I enjoyed hearing “Two Princes” in Dolby Digital surround sound. That newfangled technological breakthrough. Which was only available on LaserDisc until 1997, just in case you were wondering.

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.

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