Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Beauty of the Bulldog

I've always hated the term "so ugly it's cute." This is probably because I heard it a lot as a child since I grew up with English Bulldogs. My mom got her first, Astarte, when I was four. Our dogs were never ugly to us, we loved them. I always loved and still love the little pit on top of their noses where the velvety, fuzzy hair is. I used to poke my finger in that little hole and pet that fuzz over and over with every dog we had. And they always let me. This is because English Bulldogs are the best dogs in the world.

They're the best because you can do anything to them and they don't care. They're like Honey Badger, they don't give a shit. Unlike Honey Badger, they won't bite two-thirds of your face off. 

I was a little bratty when I was a kid. Actually, our boy George found the perfect hidey-spot in the yard under a small grouping of palm trees. He loved this spot. I loved this spot. I was small enough to fit into his little cave and so I pushed him out every chance I got. Thinking back, I deserved to be bitten for this. I would bite someone pushing me out of my cozy nap spot. I get just grumpy in general when anyone wakes me up from a nap now. Push me off the couch or bed and you're risking losing your head. But George didn't care. Or he did, but he didn't show it. He just sat outside patiently, waiting for me to get bored or called into the house and then he would return to his little dirt den. 

I can't remember if it was Venus or Cassiopeia that my sister tormented endlessly. It was one of the white sisters. One day she thought that the dog in question would enjoy using her head as a pillow. Over and over she grabbed the dog's head and tried to lay it on her own. Except she was grabbing the poor dog's throat and finally the dog had enough and threw up. Dog vomit. All over her face. I laughed while my sister held back her own gag reflex, but I think she knew it was her fault. 

And seriously, how awesome is a dog like that? Wake it from a nap by shoving it out of its comfort zone? No biting. Repeatedly choking it to make it do something only a 7-year-old thinks is funny? No biting. A little vomit, but who could blame her? 

The English are the root of my love for anything smooshy-faced. If it snorts, snores or farts relentlessly, I will love it. (Note that this only applies to four-legs. Two-legs who exhibit the same behavior will be kicked to the curb.) I already know that I will have dogs all of my life and my next one may just be a little bully. 

I'm okay with the slobber, I'll just steer clear of the gag reflex. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Lesson From My Dog

I don't know if you've ever heard anyone talk about what they've learned from their dogs. It's usually said during the old age of a dog or shortly after their death. "My dog taught me how to live." "My dog taught me about patience and kindness." "My dog taught me how to love again." Well you know what? The only thing my dogs have ever taught me is that if you eat poop, you'll just throw it up. Or that if you eat q-tips or condoms, they'll come out in your poop. And if you bite someone, they'll likely bite back. As you can see, this isn't a big learning curve. Not that deep or meaningful. I mean, it's certainly good to know what happens if you eat poop or a condom, but it's not like I was hell-bent on trying it.

This summer my little hippopupamus Ruby Tuesday changed that. While I was 18 light years away from her in Tennessee, she stayed with her friend Gracie The Pug. I use the term "friend" lightly here since most of the time she has been anything but friendly to Gracie. However, the Wife and I insisted that they be best friends. I have repeated the phrase "Be nice" over and over and over and over. And over again.

So I wasn't overly confident about leaving her for over a week, even though I left a list of the "magic words" with our pet sitter. The first night our pet sitter asked if she could leave Ruby out in the house while she was gone for a bit. Uh, no. Better not. Let's not kill Gracie the first night.

But in the next few days I was texted photos of Ruby sleeping on the same couch as Gracie. Not right next to her, but I wasn't going to ask for the world. I received an update text relaying the bedtime story about how Ruby slept on one side of the pet sitter while Gracie slept on the other. The really shocking news? There were also two cats in the bed. WHAT??? Ruby slept with CATS???? Another photo showed Ruby sleeping on one side of a lap on the couch with a cat on the other side. Like four inches away!!! Holy hell!!!

Once I got home, I saw with my own eyes how my baby girl walked right past a cat. And she KISSED Gracie!! It's like I didn't even know who this dog was!!! On top of all of this, she was so happy. I mean, she's always happy to see me. She's a dog and she loves me. But she was bouncy and silly and doing this little horsey-kicky-butt-jump thing. She didn't even do that as a puppy.

Then I noticed a physical difference. My dog lost weight. A lot of weight. My little hippopupamus was replaced with a canine supermodel. Her waist was tiny. I could feel her ribs; who even knew she had any? I could even feel her spine.

With her weight loss she also lost her insecurities about being around other animals. She became accepting, even loving. And not like dogs have any big stresses in life, but I would even call her carefree.

So this is the secret to happiness. Get skinny. If I get skinny, I will be less irritable. If I can leap high into the air I will be nicer to people. If I can show off my spine and my ribs, I will be satisfied. Supermodel skinniness = happy life.

Now, if I can just get someone to reduce my meals to half a cup per meal. Twice a day.
Yeah, not so much.

Maybe I just shouldn't try learning things from my dog.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Pacific NW Vs. The South

We already know that the south is a different sort of place. Southerners have those cute twangy accents. They use words like "y'all" and "reckon" and "dumplin' ". They really like fried food.

Pacific NW natives, on the other hand, boast about their mountains and independent western spirit. They dine on fusion cooking and use words like "Starbucks" and "IPA" and "sasquatch." The Pacific NW is the birthplace of the hipster.

I was able to observe the differences up close on my recent trip to Nashville. The differences weren't as glaringly obvious as I thought they would be; there are more similarities between the two areas than there are differences. Still, those differences were pretty big.

1. Southerners drink something called sweet tea. If you order tea, you will be given a choice between sweet and non-sweet. I don't know how many gallons of sugar go into sweet tea and I probably don't want to know, but it is freaking delicious.

2. In the south, mac and cheese is considered a vegetable. So are hash browns and fried apples.

3. There is a conspicuous lack of good coffee. So you drink sweet tea with breakfast.

4. There is a distinct lack of micro brews. Or breweries. I don't think I heard anyone ask what was on tap the entire time I was there.

5. Whiskey is moonshine. And boy, are they proud of it.

6. There is a church every 10 feet. Sometimes there are five churches in a row next to each other. They aren't all baptist either. I saw two Jewish temples on the same block.

7. Speaking of churches, those southerners really love them some Jesus. There are these things called prayer walls in stores. Billboards dot the highways with reminders that "Jesus saves."

8. As much as they love Jesus, they equally love their porn. I saw the same number of billboards advertising porn shops and strippers as advertising that "God is Lord" from Missouri through Oklahoma.

9. When someone in the Pacific NW calls you "ma'am", it sounds like an insult and a comment on how damn old you are. When someone in the south calls you "ma'am", it's just damn polite.

10. This one isn't a difference. Just an observation. Hipsters are everywhere. You can't escape them.

11. The morning shows in the south tell you what not to say to a lady. As in, don't ask her age or comment on how tired she looks. They also would have you believe that all southern belles want to be married before the age of 25 and offer lots of tips on how to attract a man.

12. There really is such a thing as southern hospitality and people really are friendly. One of our waitresses gave us her delicious recipe for a cake using apple butter and wished us a "truly blessed" day.

13. I could spend hours listening to the low, slow drawl of a southern man any day. The NW can't even compare with their metro sexuality.

14. There are bugs that will sing you to sleep at night. There are also bugs that will latch onto your skin to suck your blood and give you Lyme disease but, hey, it's a trade off.

15. The south is just as proud of its Civil War heritage and its plantations as the NW is of its mountains and breweries. The only difference is that one of them involved slaves.

16. I don't remember seeing a single Subaru.

17.  Southerners apparently don't believe in recycling. They still use styrofoam boxes. gasp!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Happy 29th!!

I was in Tennessee last week (in case you're new here) and the morning news show there had a segment on things that you never say to a woman. One of these things was to never ask her age. I may be in the minority of those who don't mind this question. Because 9 out of 10 times I get, "No way! You are not that old!" So it's worth it just for that reaction.

The other side of that is that I earn my age every year. Each gray hair is most likely caused by my teenager. As much as it frustrates me, she's doing what she's supposed to be doing: finding her way. Even if that means that I stay up nights worrying about her or spend hours making sure she's keeping up in school or listening while she opens up to me about her relationships, feelings, or depression. The blessing of that double-edged sword is that she keeps talking to me. The wrinkles are because I have friends to be concerned about. The laugh lines are from our times together that I treasure above most everything.

Each year brings a little more self-acceptance. Reasons to like myself a little more. Opportunities to grow and learn and share.

In this last year alone I was able to accept my dad for who he is and what he offers. After 42 years, that was huge. I got my sister back. I witnessed the passing of two very special dogs, which is an honor I'm not sure I deserve. I saw more of the country than I ever had. I made better decisions for me and for D. I got a damn MBA. I learned to be honest and I risked getting hurt. There were struggles and tears and laughter and heartbreak and each experience added to the sum total that is Me.

I think each year that goes by just brings me closer to myself. There are things I do now that my 20-year-old self never would have dreamed of. I speak up. I stand up. If the price of Being Me is a few wrinkles or gray hair, it's the price I will pay. Knowing who I am and accepting that is priceless.

I'll be a goof and I'll make mistakes and I'll be a friend and I'll be the only mom I know how to be in each moment. I do the best I can and I fall down and I get up again and I try it over and over and over. I will laugh too loud and cry too often because it's all part of the experience of Being Me. Next year I will know more than I do today. I'll have better friends even if there are fewer of them. I'll still be a crazy dog lady.

It's all part of growing up. Or growing older. Or Being Me.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Disneyland Vs. Dollywood

Ha ha, yes that is sort of a joke. Because, obviously, there is no comparison. It's not even fair to mention them in the same sentence. However, I want to point out why Disneyland costs as much as it does. When compared to what Dollywood charges, it's a total bargain. Plus I love talking about Disneyland because it's my favorite place on the whole entire planet. 

Oh, Dollywood. We had to call it Dollywalmart. Here are some things we noticed immediately.

1. There is peeling paint. Everywhere. It totally gives the impression that nobody cares about the place.

2. There are no ride monitors. You know, those people who ask how many people in your party and then direct you to the appropriate seat line? That saves a ton of waiting time.

3. The people working there are either young kids boring everyone in line by talking about football statistics or really old people who should either be in retirement homes or hospice. It's depressing.

4. There is an attempt to create a theme by having Dolly songs playing in certain areas that have something to do with the songs. It's really a rather pathetic attempt.

5. Their "mascots" are a sad, sad Corduroy Bear and Strawberry Shortcake. The bear's feet were filthy and Strawberry Shortcake scared the kids away. I don't know if it was her giant head or her odd strawberry scent. Mixed with the BO of what was surely a teenage boy inside.

6. There are more food places than rides. I guess the goal is to entice you into a food coma so that you don't notice how lame the entire park is.

Now, I wouldn't complain so much had I not spent $130 for D and I to spend a few hours there. I would have spent nearly twice that to enjoy Disneyland for a day, but it would have been completely worth it. Because why? I will tell you why.

Every detail is attended to. Each restroom has a theme based on the "land" it is in. The restaurants and food stands continue the theme. The uniforms, yes, continue the theme. By and large, these areas are cleaned on a more than regular basis. Also? The employees doing the cleaning don't care that their job sucks. They're happy about it. I once saw a young guy cleaning up excess trash while on roller skates. I asked him if he hated cleaning up after lazy people. He looked at me with a smile, but also like I had a second and third head. No, he actually, genuinely enjoyed his job! Oh, and he wasn't 70.

The characters stay in character. Their costumes are impeccable. They engage visitors rather than slumping through like they wish they were dead. They make you believe the fantasy.

Which is really what it's all about, right? The fantasy. The illusion that, just for a little while, you have escaped into another world. The Happiest Place on Earth. A place where you can be your inner child, your most innocent, happiest self. You're entertained, you're treated like Somebody. You get caught up in the music, the surroundings, the overall environment. Rides are an adventure. You get to immerse yourself in another world. For a day, a few hours, a few days.

Dollywalmart was more like reality. Buildings require upkeep. Old people have to work because retirement isn't an option for everyone. Food makes you fat. There isn't much worth waiting for. Entertainment is expensive. Family time is a chore. Humidity sucks especially when you're surrounded by other sweaty people in an enclosed space with nothing to look at.

There is no comparison. Like I said. I'll always love Disneyland more than anything; I didn't expect to convert to Dollywood. I just didn't expect to be depressed. If you have a choice, choose Disneyland. Or Disney World. Or Ripley's Belive It or Not. At least you'll be getting what you paid for.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Driving My Life Away

Remember that song? It was by Eddie Rabbit. Coincidentally, it came on while I was driving back from Nashville on the way home. Actually, I think I was somewhere between Gatlinburg and Nashville and I was the only one awake so I was the only one it made sense to at the time. Pretty much summed up this whole trip though as there was more driving than any other activity. Which meant I learned a lot about driving. And half of the country since we drove across most of it. 

Buckle your seat belts, here we go.

1. I have no use for anything east of Arizona through Memphis. 

2. New Mexico is not the land of enchantment. False advertising. 

3. Arkansas asks visitors to keep its state green. I wish it had asked me to stay out of its ugly ass. 

4. Most places outside of Oregon omit the seat covers in their restrooms. I am too old to squat but, then again, it was the only exercise I got for 10 days. 

5. Those southern states really like their God and Jesus billboards, but I think they like their porn more. It was about a 3:1 ratio in favor of the "adult romance" stores. 

6. Nevada brothels offer hot sauce and souvenirs in addition to bad sex. Souvenir? Is that what they call herpes? 

7. The only places people live in Nevada are Reno and Vegas. And I assume someone lives at the brothels. 

8. California cops are mean and will write you a ticket very slowly while you are being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I wonder if he would have let me take his picture. 

9. Stuckeys no longer exist. This breaks the heart of the little girl inside me. 

10. Stepmoms provide the most welcome dinners and breakfasts. At least mine does. She rocks that grandma house like no other. 

11. Tennessee has the best rest area. Again, somewhere between Gatlinburg and Nashville. It had a separate building just for vending machines full of soda, juice, water, coffee, snacks, and desserts. 

12. A banana pudding festival exists in the world and one day I will go to it. 

13. The panhandle of the state of Texas should just disappear off the face of the earth. I would burn it down if there was anything there to burn. 

14. The only things you can buy in New Mexico are blankets and moccasins. And whatever you can buy at the occasional smoke shop. 

15. It's clear how badly I have to pee when I see an adorable Boston in the middle of freaking nowhere but I can't stop to pet/molest him. 

Best sites along the way:

1. The weird dinosaur statues in Arizona.

2. Actually, all of Arizona. It was really pretty. 

3. The rare toilet seat cover. 

4. Bathrooms that weren't totally gross. 

5. New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Memphis in the rear view mirror. 

6. My dad standing on his street corner to make sure I got in okay. 

7. Fruit and good coffee. 

8. The sunset over Nevada. 

9. In-N-Out!!!!

10. My dogs when I got home. 

A Little Side Trip

On our tour of Nashville, we took a little side trip to Gatlinburg. Of course "little" is a relevant term when compared to the 18-hour days (isn't there an 18-hour bra? 18 hours of almost everything is too much) of driving we had been doing; this trip was about 4 1/2 hours. Plus a brake repair day.

Anyway. If you ever have a chance to go to Gatlinburg, do it. It is beautiful. It's right at the entrance to the Smoky Mountains and is absolutely gorgeous!! However, not everything there is super great so I will tell you what you can miss and what you should see.

Pigeon Forge.
Pigeon Forge is the town you come to before Gatlinburg when you're coming from Nashville. Pigeon Forge is like a miniature Orlando. The highway is lined with tourist "attractions." There is the Dixie Stampede, a wax museum, Ripley's, more mini golf courses than I could count, and a bunch of themed restaurants. The only thing I want to visit the next time I go is the Comedy Barn. According to their signs they have a talking dog and a pig that can read your mind. I hope that pig likes thinking about bacon.

Dollywood is also in Pigeon Forge. Yes, as in that Dolly. It's an amusement park named after Dolly Parton. I have wanted to go here since it first opened. I grew up with parents that listened to her and I've passed on her legacy with "Jolene" to D. The first R-rated movie I ever saw was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. A very wholesome movie, for sure.

Anyway. The moral of the story is don't go to Dollywood. It's a very sad place. It's like once it was opened it was just abandoned. There are very few rides but plenty of restaurants. And shopping. If you like trucker hats and gaudy women's clothing and cheesy souvenirs. We dubbed it Dollywalmart because of the crap for sale and the other visitors. Toothless, obscenely overweight, and dirty, noisy little kids. Not to mention everyone that works there is over 65. Poor old senior citizens cleaning up after 250-pound 8-year-olds. Sad. Just don't go here.

After you drive through Pigeon Forge, you come to a sign that says "Welcome to Gatlinburg" and you are immediately driving along the most gorgeous tree-covered road in the state. Possibly the country, but I didn't see enough to know that for sure.

Our hotel backed up to a pretty little stream. If we didn't think our room would turn into a sauna at night, we would have left the windows open to enjoy the sound. Our room came complete with a ladybug and peeking raccoon. We caught him trying to get into the trash can next to the vending machines. The cicadas completed our nature's soundtrack.

Downtown Gatlinburg is full of shops and tourist traps and restaurants. We spent hours there shopping and eating and whiskey-tasting. Whiskey tasting is free. And hilarious because they serve it in those tiny little cups that you get grape juice in during communion. So it's sort of sacrilegious and I think that's funny. Anyway, there are two main places to go. Ole Smoky Moonshine advertises the most, but I think Davy Crockett's is better. Still, I got two bottles each from both places. Apple pie, southern pecan, and chocolate. Don't ask me to share.

I absolutely cannot wait to go back and explore the park and the mountains and everything that doesn't have a neon sign on it. Except for the Comedy Barn. That pig will squeal when he reads my mind!!

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