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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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.

All They Do Is Win!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mastering the Art of the Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress Management for the Unemployed

Being one of the millions of unemployed Americans really sucks. I have been trying to stay positive, even when I have to fend off negativity from other people about my own situation. Today for example, I applied for 27 jobs in 3 different states. And I have not lost hope yet, even though I’ve gotten exactly zero responses to all my applications. But apparently I am not dealing with it appropriately because I’m starting to have physical manifestations of my stress, even though I don’t really feel all that stressed most of the time. Some examples:

My hair is falling out. Like, more than usual. And I don’t think I am old enough to attribute it to aging.

I have no appetite, which is insanely weird for me. I can almost always eat, even if I can’t do anything else. But nothing is appetizing to me now. I’ve lost like ten pounds since I lost my job. This is a good thing, really. I should not be complaining, except for the fact that I enjoy eating, and now that pleasure is gone too.

I itch all over, and I’m breaking out with random itchy spots like bites but not.

My stomach hurts all the time.

I can’t sleep. Well, I can fall asleep with the help of Benadryl or alcohol, but I can’t stay asleep past 3 am. Usually, I wake up itching.

I’m having a really hard time regulating my body temperature. I can’t tell you the number of times a day I switch my thermostat from AC to Heat and back.

My immune system is staging a revolt, and my tonsils have been swollen for a month or more, and I am all sneezy. This could also be related to the fact that I live in a rental house that has mold issues. Sigh.

Even Birdy is having itch issues and is back on allergy medicine. Maybe she is having sympathy stress. Poor girl.

On a happier note, I figured out a way to make her react positively to my loud Auburn football game reactions instead of getting scared and hiding when I yell. I made her a game day shirt that she actually likes, to associate something positive with the event, and I tell her how beautiful she looks wearing it, and she gets all happy when I talk in that voice. And the accompanying treats help too. 🙂 She is the newest War Eagle!

Football for Dummies (And by dummies I mean girls.)

Two of my best friends are huge Auburn football fans — one because he goes to school there and the other because he wishes he did. After spending a lot of time with them recently, I’ve gotten thrown onto the SEC football bandwagon. I have never been a big football fan, even though I never missed a single game in high school, because I’ve never understood it too well. I’ve been to countless Superbowl parties where I was like, “Where’s the food?” Because I couldn’t care less about the game. And professional sports are so much less interesting than college anyway. Pro players are lazy and slow. They are already making millions. College players work hard because they’re trying to get there.

Not to mention, the Carolina Panthers, which is the team I would pull for based on my location, never makes it that far. And how do you pick a pro team otherwise? I feel no connection to any other area, so what are you gonna do? Maybe the Steelers just because I have great friends who are from and live in the Pittsburgh area and are huge fans. Otherwise, it’s really based on who your friends like. Right?

Anyway, the boys are all about answering all my dumb girly questions about how it works, and it’s not like I’m playing dumb to get attention. I really actually want to understand it, because it seems to be so much fun to them and I feel like I”m missing out. Some of the best tips they’ve given me are as follows.

Me: I can never tell who has the ball.
Them: Watch the team to the right of the scrimmage line and then watch the quarterback after the snap.
*I should probably note here that this was three games after I said, “How do they get those lines drawn on the field so fast and then take them away?” Obviously, the last time I was watching football with any interest was before this new amazing technology was invented.*

Me: So there are four downs and then the other team gets the ball, right? When and why do they punt?
Them: They punt on the fourth down to get the ball as far away as possible so that when the other team gets the ball they have to start their downs way far away.

Common sense tells a person what an interception or a fumble is. I get that much. I now at least get the concept of downs and the fact that they represent four tries to reach a touchdown, and the number following the X Down and ___ means that’s what yard line they’re at. Incomplete means when they try to pass it and no one catches it. As for all that other stuff, like off sides and what have you, I don’t really get that. But I don’t think I really need to.

That, my friends, is all you really need to know about football to enjoy watching a game if you have a team you are passionate about. As I said, Auburn is my team now because of my buddies. Which is cool because they are way better than any ACC teams that people around here root for. As my buddies say, SEC sets the standard.  Also, Auburn is awesome because they have a great student section at home games (also the reason I became a big Duke basketball fan back in the day), they have unique chants and cries, and their current quarterback, Cam Newton, is freaking amazing and can run an effortless 40 yards for a touchdown like it’s a leisurely stroll in the park. His calves are the size of small Russian cars. He breezes up the field like it is nothing, and so far this season they’re undefeated largely because of him.

And then there’s the whole War Eagle thing — their mascot is the Tigers but they also have an actual eagle that flies around the stadium, and the battle cry is “War Damn Eagle!” When you are out in public and wearing anything Auburn related, another fan or alum will see it and say, “War Eagle!” in greeting. The appropriate response to that is either “War Eagle!” Or “War Damn Eagle!” As in, I acknowledge you as a member of the club. It’s like a secret handshake. I love that. This only happens very occasionally around here when I wear my Auburn shirt that they gave me so I could truly represent (lol), but when I’m in Atlanta it’s much more frequent due to the proximity to Auburn. There are more fans and alums down that way than here for sure. Either way, any time it happens I get a little thrill like I’m a member of a secret club.

Anyways, today was the first game I watched alone and really understood. Even though I texted a couple questions here and there to my buddies in Alabama. But I was actually pretty proud of myself for following it as well as I did and having the correct reactions at the correct times. LOL. Luckily they think it’s kinda cute to explain stuff to the girl who doesn’t quite understand but is trying so hard. 😉 And it was a good, close game against LSU who was #6 to Auburn’s #5 in the SEC rankings. Tied at halftime, and Auburn really had to pull it out in the fourth quarter for the win.

See? Do I sound like a real football fan now? LMAO!

P.S. Cam Newton is totally hot. So there’s my girly take on it. Good thing he’s eligible for one more season before he goes pro. 🙂 Man, I can’t wait to go to a home game in person. Apparently tickets are really expensive, which sucks. One day I will be able to afford it, I KNOW!