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’!

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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.

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.

Sweet Home Alabama

As a lifelong resident of North Carolina, I always thought of myself as being from “the South.” My friend, who was born in Alabama, and grew up in North Carolina, but came back to Alabama via a brief stint in Florida, has always tried to explain to me how “the South” is not just “the South.” He has always said the “Deep South” is different, and I always blew that off as nonsense stereotyping. He said that to people in Alabama, North Carolina might as well be “the North.” And I thought, “Oh, please.”

After just a week in Alabama, I can safely say that I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Things are different down here. Probably in some ways not for the best, but in many ways, better, at least in my mind. Here’s a brief list of things I’ve noticed in just one week.

1) Everyone is so friendly. Now, most people who visit anywhere in the South from anywhere else would say this. But I would say that it is all very dependent on the specific area. In Asheville, I found that people were much more ready to have a conversation with a stranger than in Winston. And certainly in Rutherfordton you will get someone’s life story (as well as that of their son-in-law) while standing in line at the Walmart pharmacy. One of the first things I noticed here was that everyone makes eye contact, smiles, and says hello. Retail clerks genuinely wish you a blessed day or confide something personal in you for the two minutes you stand before them. People are also very nosy. If you go to the post office, you should be prepared to report the purpose of your business in front of everyone else in the post office, before you get to the counter. Someone comes around and asks. One of the first things friends told me was to get ready to be asked insanely inappropriate questions in public on a regular basis and figure out how to deal with that. Their approach is to basically make shit up all the time, so that they appear to be cooperating but never divulge any real information. The people they work with know next to nothing about them, but they all think they do, and they all have a different idea as to what it is. This is because they never confirm or deny anything and let people make their own assumptions. They find this very entertaining. They enjoy testing the philosophical concept of “It doesn’t matter what the truth is; it only matters what you can make someone believe is the truth.”

2) It is much, much warmer here. The day I left Winston, I was bundled to the hilt in a down parka, fleece hat, gloves, and coffee for added warmth. There was still snow on the ground from the last storm. Since I’ve been in Alabama, I’ve been completely comfortable in a light fleece jacket. During the day, one could conceivably wear shorts right now. It’s only when the sun goes down that I need anything for additional warmth, and even then it feels like one of North Carolina’s chilly spring days right before it bursts into summer. I’ve been here in the summer, and I know this is not going to be a good thing when the humidity hits and all the gum and chap stick in my car melts into mush, and when you step outside and can hardly inhale because the air is so heavy and wet. But right now, it’s very nice.

3) Corn fritters. I had never in my life even heard of a corn fritter before. I thought it was something like a hush puppy. But no, it is a ball of creamy corn — whole kernels of yellow corn floating in the creamed corn soup — then breaded and deep fried, and it is heavenly. We had this as an appetizer at Niffer’s Place, an Auburn institution, and I thought it was specific to the restaurant. Then, I saw frozen corn fritters at the grocery store alongside the mozzarella sticks and pizza bites. Whaaaaat?

4) Alabama-style barbecue. North Carolina is pretty famous for its barbecue, and there are several different styles depending on the region. I like the vinegary Eastern NC barbecue the best, as opposed to the tomato-based Western style of my home region. There’s also a mustard sauce particular to the low country of South Carolina that I like a lot. Alabama has a couple different types of barbecue sauce — a smoky-sweet hickory that is reddish brown but still involves no tomatoes, and a mustardy-vinegar, like a cross between Eastern NC and low country SC, but thicker and creamier. As much as I like NC barbecue, I would have to say that at this point in time, Alabama barbecue is the best I’ve ever tasted. That mustardy-vinegar cream sauce that was ladled on my plate of sliced pork at Mike and Ed’s was divine.

5) Crazy rain/storms. It rains here quite a bit, maybe because it’s close to the coast. But it can be a torrential downpour one minute, and half an hour later, it will have stopped, and it’s fairly dry. Also, this place brings new meaning to “severe thunderstorm.” Wind, hail, rain, so powerful you can’t see through it, like a warm, wet blizzard. Approximately six hours and a few downed trees later, it looks like a blue-sky paradise again.

6) Alcohol. Alcohol costs more here because there is something called a “sin tax” on things like booze and cigarettes and other sinful indulgences. And yet, there is more alcohol being consumed here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Yes, it’s a college town, but I’ve lived in college towns before, and never have I encountered the level of picked-over beer that I have seen here. If you go to buy alcohol after 5 pm, be prepared to settle for crap, because that’s what’s left. Party preparation has to begin early.

7) Ladies and Gentlemen. Gender roles are apparently much more strict here than elsewhere in the South. Much to my surprise, I like it very much. Whereas my independent self once would have taken offense at someone’s insinuation that I was less capable as a female in the world, I now actually appreciate it when multiple men vie for the opportunity to open doors for me, let me go ahead of them in line, pump my gas, or even tip their hat. Because I am a lady, and apparently that’s how gentlemen are supposed to treat ladies. It’s a little like being in the 19th century. But maybe I had a past life during that era that really suited me, because I am totally down with it. No, please, go ahead and dote on me just because I’m a girl. I enjoy being catered to, and I have never experienced that before. I believe that the men see this behavior not as a slight to my inferior gender, but as a sign of respect and safekeeping. Something akin to the respect for the divine “goddess,” the sacred female, that primitive peoples enjoyed. At least, that’s how I prefer to look at it, and I don’t think it’s far off the mark. I am woman, hear me roar? That’s good, but “You are woman, and beautiful, and sacred,” is a little better. Respect is actually a concept that people talk about. I was at a party last weekend and mentioned that I have one male neighbor who will only talk to me when he knows my male roommate is home. A number of the guys at the party responded very quickly in saying, “That’s being respectful.” I agree, I suppose, but it still struck me as strange until they explained it. And now that I know people actually think about stuff like that here, I appreciate it.

8) Central Time Zone. It’s a little weird to be living in a different time zone from most of my friends and family. At this point, my body is still on Eastern time, so I am staying up later and sleeping later than I think I should be, but then when I realize what time I physically feel like it is, it all makes sense. We are very close (about 20 minutes) to the Eastern/Central border, so depending on where you are, sometimes cell phones have a nasty habit of resetting themselves to what they perceive to be correct. This proves to be problematic for detecting when exactly you may have missed that last text message or if you rely on your phone as an alarm clock, which I have done for a long time. I may actually need to buy a real alarm clock now that plugs into the wall. The main weird thing is the light. The light is the same as in Eastern zone, but just at different times of the day. That’s been a bit weird to get used to. Three pm doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to” outside.

9) Slow driving. Although some people like to say I drive like a bat out of hell, I maintain that I drive no more crazily than anyone else. I am not a speed demon, particularly. But if I am in a hurry, I will punch the gas maybe a little too hard trying not to be late. Around here, everyone drives so slow. I consistently go five over the speed limit, and I am flying past people at that speed. I’m lucky if I get behind someone actually doing the speed limit, instead of a few miles per hour under the limit. I keep wondering why this is. A different type of respect for the law? An attitude towards life that allows one to slow down and enjoy being alive instead of rushing to the next thing/place as quickly as possibly? I have to say, even though I have been known to talk about wanting to live in a big city and do enjoy that fast pace of everything when visiting them, I kinda like living in a place where life goes a little slower. I never really noticed that slowness growing up in a very small Southern town. I don’t think we had that, particularly.

Other great things so far…Auburn is an awesome little college town that reminds me a lot of Chapel Hill, and seems to be pretty cultural and diverse and open-minded so far. There are actually hippies here, and places that remind me of Asheville (like little bookstores and coffee shops and bead/yarn shops with creaky wood floors), tons of cool bars and restaurants, good places for walking dogs (parks), tons of old houses with character, and lots of people up for hanging out. Auburn has a preeminent veterinary school, so there are tons of animal lovers and vet offices, and anywhere that has an abundance of animal lovers is all right with me. Politically, I was a little worried about being in the middle of red-state America, but today I drove by a local mechanic’s shop whose sign bore the words “infowars.com” on one side and something about a sale on the other side. As someone who knows that website well, I was pretty happy to see them promoting their support publicly, and to know that there are people everyone who are seeking out their own information instead of relying on mainstream whatever to guide them. You never can tell where you’re going to encounter an open mind. I probably wouldn’t have thought south Alabama would be the place that would come closest in my experience to the liberal bastion that is Asheville.

But all this sums up to…I love it here so far! And I am very happy with it as a landing spot for the time being. Never know what the future will hold, but so far this is just what I needed. I feel like the universe leads us to things/experiences/places/situations/people. I feel like I was led here. Maybe the reason(s) are not yet clear, but I’m listening. And enjoying the ride.

Adventure in the Heart of Dixie

The big news in my life at the moment is that I just moved to…wait for it…Alabama! Everything happened so quickly, and has been so consuming for the last two or three weeks, I have not had time to sit down or process, much less blog about it. But I have some down time tonight, so I thought it was time to catch up my limited readership on my life.

One day about three weeks ago, I realized I needed to make a decision about my living situation. Since being laid off in September and surviving on unemployment benefits, I got to the point where it was no longer very realistic for me to continue living in my house in Winston, paying high rent. I could have moved back to Rutherfordton to live in my grandmother’s now-empty house rent-free. But that idea didn’t really appeal to me, and the thought of feeling isolated there was seriously bringing me down. Around that same time I got four good job prospects dropped in my lap that all happened to be in Auburn. Which just also happens to be where some of my friends are.

Upon hearing this news, they said, “Why don’t you just move down here now? You’d be paying a third of what you pay now. If you get one of those jobs, awesome, and if not, you can keep looking for stuff in this area, or Atlanta.” Atlanta is only about an hour and a half away, so interviewing would be much easier, and commuting an actual possibility if a job was offered to me there. At the time of that conversation, I was dreamily saying, “Yeah, that would be great,” while refraining from seriously entertaining the notion of a move that big. A couple days  later, after thinking it over, I decided that was exactly what I would do. What I wanted to do.

Two days later I found an amazing, perfect apartment just a few blocks from campus, on Craigslist.

Two weeks after that, I had cleaned out my entire house, taken six carloads of stuff to Goodwill, disposed of 5 bags of garbage, sent my large furniture to storage, and had my car packed to the brim. One Alabama friend came up to get me and help with cleaning and last minute things, and we packed his car full as well and drove back down together last weekend. It was a ridiculously miserable trip, 8+ hours in the rain at night. What I have previously described as an easy trip was made longer by heavy, slowed cars, an inability to see out my rear-view mirror, and lack of sleep in recent weeks catching up to me on I-85 at 2:00 in the morning.

We stopped halfway for Starbucks, and I got my standard double shot, and even that was not enough to prevent me from having to slap myself awake a few times. We were trying to text each other about songs on the radio or telling jokes or proclaiming joyously each state line or landmark “checkpoint” we’d established, and eventually we both had brain meltdown and couldn’t even do that. We stopped just over the state line in Alabama at a Welcome Center to pee sometime in the middle of the night, and when I walked in, I was cheerily greeted by an old black security guard and a chipper white lady with long fingernails and big hair, with “Sweet Home Alabama” playing on the speaker system. Like I had walked into a FREAKING HOLLYWOOD MOVIE. At 3:30 am. Twilight Zone. Doo-doo-doo-doo!

So I’ve officially been in Auburn for a week now, and it’s pretty awesome. Obviously, every place has its ups and downs, and the trick is to find a place where the balance of those is one you can tolerate, where you don’t feel the scale tipping too far over on the down end. So far, I like the balance here. I also think there is something deep inside me that responds to living closer to the ocean. We’re still a couple hours away from the Gulf, but there is a feeling I like about being that close. I love water.

We still haven’t finished unpacking boxes or putting furniture together. We’re basically living out of the kitchen, bathroom, and one bedroom until we can find the time to finish unpacking everything and get organized. With my roommate’s work and school schedule this is not as easy as one might hope. His life occurs in odd increments and at crazy hours.

The first week was a bit of an adjustment period for both of us. I have lived by myself for several years, and it takes a little getting used to living with someone again. Luckily, we’re both very laid back, and it takes a lot to ruffle our feathers. I really enjoyed living alone…but I feel like I need someone watching to keep me in check on things like keeping the sink from piling with dishes or neglecting to vacuum up dog hair for a week or two too long. As an only child, I value and enjoy my alone time, and should I ever be left as the only person on earth, I am very certain I would be able to entertain myself alone just fine and not lose my mind because of the solitude.

I love spending time with other people, having great conversations with friends, and connecting with people on a personal level. But if I get out of the habit of socializing, I forget to begin again, and honestly don’t feel a lot of need for it. I can be rather guarded and hermit-y, and sometimes I think I avoid too much socializing because of how I feel when friendships change and wane, like they always do. I dislike surface-y encounters, even if it’s a surface-y encounter with a good friend, and I almost feel like it’s a waste of time to spend time talking to someone if we can’t have what I consider a “real” conversation. I really dislike the amount of “real” conversations that happen in life. I want to know what you’re thinking and feeling, and to understand your experience as a person in this world, not hear platitudes you are mindlessly vocalizing because it’s what we call “polite conversation.” So, it is definitely good for me to have someone around who socializes more easily and frequently than I, who encourages me to get out of the house and do something fun, even when I don’t feel like I need to. I need to stay in practice, because I feel more balanced when I do it regularly and also make room for my own alone time. Everything in moderation…

So thus begins my new adventure. It was time! My restless soul needed to move, and so far, so good. I never expected to end up in Alabama of all places, or to have antlers on the wall of my apartment. It is funny how life takes you places you don’t expect. I’m glad that’s one of the things I like most about living.

Crafty Love! War Damn Eagle!

It really sucks that as you get older you end up with best friends who live states away, as life paths diverge. I am really missing them, whose crazy work schedule is making it harder for us to talk as often as we’d like and are used to. Thank God for texting secretly while at work and for Skype! LOL!

Back in high school, I was a marching band person. I started to say “band geek” but at my strange small town high school, being in band didn’t make you a geek, and it actually upped your cool factor in some cases. My friend says, “That’s what all former band geeks say.” LOL.

Our band contained a lot of really popular people. For example, I was in band and also Student Body Vice President. I think the reason band and popularity went hand-in-hand in some cases was because we were the kind of people who liked and accepted everyone and were not snotty. We realized that sometimes the people who are considered outcasts are the coolest people you could ever hang out with. And we marched with a lot of them and became good friends.

The Colorguard performed with the Cheerleaders at football games. (We had a signature thing called “The Butt Dance.” Which involved a lot of ass shaking. Don’t ask.) We were very serious about our band competitions and won most of the ones we competed in. Our friends who were not in band usually came along to hang out because they were so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t love road trips, costumes, cheering audiences, watermelon shaved ice, and cuddling with cute boys in bleachers? Ah, high school.

I have to admit, marching band was one of the most fun things I did in high school. It was such a rush to be out on the field, under the bright lights, before a screaming crowd. And when we won our trophies at competition, we were notorious for storming the field as the other schools waited politely behind a chain link fence. We plowed over the fence. 🙂 We devoted hours and hours to practice. We were dedicated. We did not tolerate slackers. At least, not on that field. You better fucking roll your feet, heel-toe, goddammit! Or else we’re gonna get yelled at when we have to watch the video of that game! And our section is gonna have to run laps!

And the trumpet players had the best lips. Oh, the muscular wind instrument lips. 🙂

So because I was in marching band, I went to every football game our school played, at home and away, for four years. And to this day, I understand the rules of the game very minimally. I was usually more interested in watching boys in bleachers than football. We had a spirit team that used to drive an old pick up truck around the track at time outs wearing rainbow clown wigs and rile up the crowd. I would safely say that they were the school stoners. (Our principal was great at getting everyone involved in the perfect way for them as individuals. He came up with the spirit truck just for the stoners, in fact.) It was the perfect job for them, and we loved them. There were always so many distractions. What are we doing after the game? That was all that was on anyone’s mind for the most part.

But I actually kinda enjoy watching football now, at least on the college level. I only watch college sports, really. Professional sports bore me, and I am too pissed off by how much money they’re making to take them seriously. They’re slow and lazy. College players work their asses off because they want to get a huge paycheck for being slow and lazy. But while they’re working towards it, there are so many shining moments of glory.

I really prefer college basketball and always have, BUT! This fall when I go visit my Alabama friends, I am going to go to my first SEC football game at Auburn (hopefully when they play Bama) and see what that is all about. I love a good rivalry. In high school, it was R-S Central vs. East Rutherford. College was Carolina vs. Duke. Apparently (not that I know first-hand since I am not from the deep South), the Auburn vs. Alabama rivalry is one of the fiercest.

I cannot wait to see some angry chanting and some awesome college marching bands (you see where my heart lies). Can’t wait to tail-gate while playing cornhole and drinking Southpaw. Can’t wait to get decked out in navy and orange and shout “WAR DAMN EAGLE!” And high five people at touch downs and wrap up under blankets in crispy fall air. That is sounding particularly good right now since we’ve had weeks of 95 degrees. Who am I kidding? I’m just looking forward to being able to wear a scarf! I look really cute in scarves. 🙂

So here are some Auburn colored Etsy finds I want to take with me!

Auburn University Cornhole Board
$160 by Cornhole Nation
Perfect for tail-gating!

It Takes Two Baby Scarf
$45 by Nanna’s Knittings
Auburn colored scarf to wrap up in!

Atticus Finch Is My Co-Pilot T-Shirt
$20 by Inexplicable Confetti
What I”m wearing under my scarf and over a thermal long-sleeve. The book was set in Alabama, you know.

Dreamcatcher Earrings
$180 by Kalliope Jewelry
A little bit of hippie flair to finish off my ensemble. Gotta keep it true to me, yo.