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Archive for August, 2016

Maggie was my first dog.  I had dogs growing up but she was the first one that I adopted as an adult and was solely responsible for.  I saved her life and she, in turn, saved mine.  The story about how I saved her life is pretty straightforward.  I had been volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter in North Carolina during grad school and one day I showed up for my shift to find that we had just taken in three six-week old boxer mix females.  The dog that would soon become ‘Maggie’ was the runt of the litter and her sisters were not letting her eat.  The woman that ran the shelter told me that if I did not take Maggie home as a foster until the next adoption event, then she would certainly not make it.

We all know how this goes.  That night I made three different trips to the grocery store to find something that Maggie would eat.  I spent the next few days coaxing her to eat while she worked to expel three types of worms from her little body.  By the time she was out of the woods, there was no way I was ever letting her go to the adoption event.  We grew attached to each other quickly and the runt Maggie quickly grew to become an 80 pound mass of muscle.  We became quite the team; I took her with me everywhere I went—almost daily trips to the beach, on runs around campus and to all my friends’ parties.

The story about how Maggie saved my life is a little bit more complicated.

When Maggie was about six months old, I met a man who was not named John, but we’ll just call him that.  I had been working at a coffee shop to make ends meet in grad school and John was a coworker.  I guess I was at a point in my life where I was aching for love because when John came in with promises of soulmates, eyes blazing with passion….well, I was all ears.  We got into our first fight at work just a couple of weeks into our relationship because John swore that some other guy was flirting with me.  When he started throwing coffee cups at my feet, splinters of porcelain flying, I should have left then.  But I had never had a ‘soulmate’ before….maybe this is just what happened.

In short, John was jealous, had substance abuse issues and didn’t like to take his medicine that kept his diagnosis of bipolar disorder in check.  And, in short, I suppose I was just at a point in my life where I was prime for falling into an abusive relationship with this man.  In the span of two years around the time that I met John and in the beginning of our relationship, I had lost five loved ones to cancer and to car accidents.  I was starving for love and comfort and when it showed up looking like a man who never wanted to leave my side, I took it.

Then the typical things started happening that tend to keep one in relationships such as this.  He told me that all of my friends were stupid and shallow and he made a huge deal about having to hang out with them.  So rather than rock the boat, I stopped hanging out with them.  He told me that I talked to my parents way too much….so I cut that down as well.  I became isolated into a world that just consisted of me and John.  And then there’s the whole ‘these are all the things that are wrong with you so no one else is ever going to want you so you better stay with me.’  Yeah, I fell for it.

I lived the next couple years of my life in this little bubble, walking on eggshells, coming home straight after work so that I wouldn’t get questioned about my whereabouts and protecting John to no end when it came to the others in my life.  I will never forget this one incident when I had convinced him to head down to the beach for a day of hanging out with friends.  Within an hour, John became completely certain that one of my friends was in love with me and that I was sending inappropriate signals to him.  So he walked off.  I made up a lie to my friends, saying that John’s stomach was upset (because I was protecting him….and I suppose that I thought that if I ever told any of them the truth about what was happening in my life then they would surely tell me to leave him and I wasn’t ready for that yet).  That day, I followed John to our car and we drove home, him yelling at me the whole way and it didn’t stop when we walked in the door of the house.

So, back to Maggie……when these outbursts of John’s would happen she would run out into the yard or hide in the corner of a room and just shake and shake out of fear.  I would just stand there and wait for the screaming to stop.   Then when it had, John would usually leave the house and  I would then pull Maggie onto the bed and hold her big, strong body until the shaking stopped.

This happened way too often over the course of our time together and then one day events in my life conspired to help me make a change.  I had lost my job, I had met another man who was kind and gentle, and I had an invitation to move to Colorado.  But there was still the matter of figuring out if I would actually have the strength to leave.

The night I told John that I no longer wanted to be with him he took a framed picture of the two of us off the wall and threw it at my feet.  It was the one time that Maggie didn’t run outside.  She sat there, in the middle of a pool of broken glass and she stared me straight in the eyes.  And I knew she was saying “it’s time–let’s go.”  And, you see, I had gotten so far into this abusive relationship that I no longer considered myself someone worth taking care of because John had taken my self worth so low.  But I could look at this dog, this being whom I had promised to take care of, and I wasn’t willing to put her through it any more.

By this time I had already made plans with my dad for him to drive down the next day to help me move my stuff out of the house.  While he was driving, I was packing the most important things into my car while John was at work.  He came home early.  I told him I was leaving.  He told me that I was not taking Maggie and he positioned himself between she and I.  As I made a move to get her, he stepped in and shoved me against the wall and tried to get my phone out of my hand.  I got away from him and ran out to my car and locked myself in and he came outside a minute later, with Maggie.  He put her in his truck and drove off.  I called the police, sobbing and frantic, and told them that I needed help.  They showed up and I showed them the adoption paperwork that I had packed in the car, proving that I was Maggie’s sole owner.    John came back a few minutes later and shoved Maggie towards me and the cop followed him up to the door of our house.  The last image I ever have of John is him screaming that he was going to kill me while being restrained by the cop.

My dad had not gotten to town yet so I drove to a friends house where we made a leash for Maggie out of one of her belts.  My friend’s phone rang….it was John.  He was screaming to her that he was going to kill me.  She hung up the phone and looked at me.  “Is this what you’ve been living with?” she asked.  I nodded, the relief shedding itself in my tears, the relief that I was no longer alone in this.  She and I went to the hotel and she waited with me until my dad arrived.  The next day, team of friends in tow, I went back to my house to get the rest of my things.  John was at work but there was a hole punched into a door and all of my clothes had been left out in the rain overnight and most of my other breakable possessions had been smashed.

We drove back to West Virginia that day and I spent a month at home, regrouping, listening to voicemails from John a few times a day…some of them angry, some of them begging me to come back.  I changed my number.  And then I moved to Colorado, driving for three days, eyes on the rearview often, looking at Maggie’s big ol’ head and also at my past slowly fading from view.

Maggie loved the mountains of Colorado almost as much as she loved the beach.  There were times when I would have her out on some adventure and I would just sit still for a moment to watch her run and bounce all over the trails of her new home.  Sometimes, she would look back at me and I could swear she was saying ‘thank you.’  I would look at her, smile, and say ‘no…thank you.’  Because while I might not have actually died from a life of staying with John, I would undoubtedly have had my spirit completely killed by it.

A diagnosis of bone cancer came in when Maggie was 11 and I was going through another tough time.  I struggled to no end with the decision to finally put her down when the pain on her face was too often and evident.  But she had led a long, proud, good life.  And because of her, I was sure that I now would as well.  But it was time for us to part.  That’s why, before she passed, I got an image of her paw print tattooed on my ribcage.  It’s me knowing that the strength that I feel like she gave me would always be within me.  It’s a promise to her to continue to keep fighting for my happiness.  It’s my homage to the dog who will always be my soul mate.

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A couple weeks ago I ran into a friend and he asked me where I was off to next.  “You are always traveling,” he said.  “You should write a travel blog.”  Cue the little wheels turning in my head.  And I know this is a bit ironic considering that in one of my more recent posts on this blog I wrote about wherever you are there you were and all that stuff.  But traveling isn’t always about running away.  At times in my life it was about that for me but most of the times my traveling is about the fact that this world is a big place and I believe that it exists to be seen and experienced so I’m going to do that.

In the past few years I’ve begun a tradition of traveling on my birthday, as a gift to myself.  So when my friend Tara suggested a trip to Asheville on the weekend of our birthdays it was the easiest “heck yes” that’s ever left my lips.  Tara and I went to grad school together and she is still in Wilmington; our birthdays are a mere three days apart so we’ve had more than a few celebrations together.  She had some girls that were game for a trip so I gathered a couple of girls from Huntington and we made plans to meet in Asheville, NC for a weekend of music, good food, river time and breweries (some of the best things in life if you ask me.)

The plan was to meet at some waterfalls in Dupont State Forest on Friday afternoon.  But, hey, what are plans if they can’t be subject to a little fluidity?  Oh yeah, speaking of fluidly, the rain happened to be pouring down when we were all making our descents onto the city of Asheville.  So plan B was to head straight to Sierra Nevada Brewery.  Everyone’s heard of that beer right? Yeah, so when they decided that they finally needed a second East Coast location for expansion they picked Asheville.  And they are doing a beautiful job of fitting in.  The ways in which the entire facility respects the surrounding environment of the brewery is evident from the solar paneled parking lot to the organic garden out back.

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We all converged in the tap room, a little damp from the rain and road weary and introductions were made.  It was clear from the first minute that my friends from Huntington and my friends from Wilmington would all get along just famously.  We had a short wait for a table so we wandered up to the bar to get a much deserved beer.  They had most of their standard favorites on tap but also a few rarer offerings.  I started with the Sweet Sunny South, which was a rustic ale with tastes of corn grits, tea leaves and sweet fruit. This beer was part of Sierra Nevada’s 2016 “Beer Camp” series which involves collaborations with other breweries to produce a limited release line of beers.  These beers are usually creative and delicious.  My other favorite beer of the day was called Urban Trail Hoppy Pale, which was a collaboration with Highland Brewing Company, a local place.  This beer was just released three days before we were there, as a part of ‘Brewing for Greenways’, a multi-brewery effort to use beer to raise awareness and money for a planned public greenway in the area.  Now, if there’s anything I love, it’s drinking beer for a good cause.

After just a few minutes in the tap room, they called us for our table.  We sat down in a back room, next to a huge open window where we could enjoy the post-storm weather.  We looked at the menu and immediately started drooling.  The food is done as small plates, with most of the ingredients locally sourced (some of them even from the garden right there at the brewery!).  I started with a spring pea salad with local goat cheese and then had the Green Chile Pork with Carolina gold rice.  The pork and queso blanco in the dish were locally sourced and the flavors of the dish melted together with absolute perfection.  Then, for dessert, I ordered duck fat fries for the table.  Because, really, why wouldn’t you??

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After eating, the rain had cleared so we wandered around the grounds out back.  There was a fire pit, an amphitheater, a garden and a bocce set up.  Sierra Nevada has a bunch of different guided tours that you can sign up for but you can also see a bunch doing a self-guided tour through the upstairs hallway.  We elected for that option and walked through said hallway, looking through windows at gigantic, pristine brewing equipment and just said “wow” a lot.  It was quittin’ time on the canning and bottling line so we didn’t get to see any of the action, but to simply imagine what it must look like when it’s running full speed left us full of awe.  We ran across an employee who told us we should come back on a Monday or Tuesday to see all the action.

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The Huntington girls and I headed to our room at the Crown Plaza Golf and Tennis Resort after that to get cleaned up.  My friend Candice reserved the room with some travel points and as we walked in there was a sign on the front desk welcoming her as the guest of the day (these kinds of things always happen to us when we travel together).  Apparently the perks of the this distinction include free snacks and a free shuttle ride to town later.  Score.  We cleaned up and climbed in a shuttle to head to the center of town for some brewery hopping.  There was a tennis tournament going on at the resort and as we climbed into the shuttle with the men’s team from Louisiana they asked us if we won that day.  We said ‘yes’ and they asked us who we played.  Our response: ‘Oh, we didn’t play tennis.  But we always win.’

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The first stop on our brewery tour was Burial Brew Company.  The brewery is kind of small but these people put out some serious great beer; many who know beer will tell you its the best in town.  I had the Machete Extra Farmhouse which was  a dry French saison made with raw wheat and different hops every time they brew it.  We had a beer on the patio that was filled with cute dogs and chill people.  I bought a couple cool tee shirts and we wandered on.

Next stop was Green Man Brewery.  They’ve been around for a while but they’ve recently built a new facility and tasting room just a few doors down from their original location.  It’s just aesthetically very pleasing with lots of attention given to cool design and lighting.  The tasting room is on the third floor and features a rooftop deck.  Here I had a beer called May the Quartz Be With You.  It’s an amber brewed in collaboration with the NC State Minerals Research Lab and it has actual quartz specimens in the mash.  After we ordered our beers, we started hearing a strange noise.  Whaddya know…there was a fireworks show right outside.  So we stepped out onto the rooftop deck and watched an amazing display.  We couldn’t have timed it better.

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After that, we walked around the corner to Twin Leaf Brewing.  This place closes kind of early so I definitely wanted to make that a stop.  On my last trip to Asheville, I had met the owner of the brewery on the dance floor late at night and promised him I would check out his place next time around.  It did not disappoint.  The brewery is an adult kid’s dream with giant Jenga, shuffleboard, and ping pong.  I had the Peachy Arsonist, a smoked peach kettle sour.

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All the beers were making us a little sleepy so we decided we needed to kick it up a notch.  I had seen that there was a reggae show at the Orange Peel, Asheville’s downtown live music venue, so we headed that way.  There was supposed to be a cover but the guy at the door ushered us all in (the perks to traveling with a pack of pretty women I suppose) and we immediately started dancing and spinning around the room.  I had never been to the Orange Peel but it’s a great small venue with an awesome local tap selection. I plan on finding a show there in the near future to give me an excuse to get back to Asheville soon.   Shouldn’t be hard to do because their line up is always just incredible.

We ended the night at Wicked Weed and then made our way back for a little sleep.  The highlight of our time there was meeting Scruffy the chocolate lab (not her real name). Scruffy was inside the bar wearing a camo service vest.  We asked if we could pet her and her handler told us that we could.  He then told us that Scruffy was being trained to sniff out IEDs for the military.  She was being deployed shortly.  He then lifted up his pants leg to show us his prosthetic leg, telling us that he had lost his limb due to an IED while in combat.  He then told us that 90% of dogs sent over to do Scruffy’s work didn’t come back.  It was a somber but beautiful end to the evening.  We all rubbed Scruffy’s ears with tears in our eyes, thanked her for her service and thanked her handler for the same.  I wish I could publish the picture of this moment but we were asked to keep it off the interwebs.

The next morning was a little tough to get up and get going but we had things to do! The reason d’etre for the trip!  We were going tubing!!!!  So this place called Zen Tubing operates this outfit in which they pile groups of people in vans, drop them off on the French Broad River and let them float back to their cars over the course of a few hours.  It’s a pretty genius business idea really.  We stopped at a grocery store to pick up lunch provisions and cans of beer and then met our group at the tubing place.  We had swelled to a group of nine by this point so we rented nine inner tubes and two tubes designed to hold coolers.  The tubes had straps on them so that you could all connect to each other and the cooler.  Our driver told us that hooking together in smaller groups made it easier to maneuver the river but whatevs.  We put our tubes in the river and then started strapping together in a fashion that involved no strategy whatsoever.  It made for some truly hilarious moments.

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The sun was out, dragonflies kept landing all over me and I jumped off the tube a few times just to swim around in the river.  It was truly the best, best way I could have imagined to start off the day of my birth.  At one point we decided we wanted to pull over to have our lunch and picked out one particular rock to anchor to.  The process of coordinating our 11 floating tubes to get to that rock had me in the type of laughter where tears were pouring out of my eyes.  Needless to say, I was not much help in this process.

The forecast called for thunderstorms that day and well, the forecast was right.  As we floated in the pouring rain, we assured ourselves that it would be impossible for all nine of us to get struck by lightening, right??  But we survived all of this tubing and got off of the river about three hours after we put on. We were a little wet and chilly so we went our separate ways and made plans to meet up later.

The live music theme of the weekend started up that evening with a trip to French Broad Brewery to see The Horse Traders.  That was a really cool surprise…The Horse Traders are a band from Huntington made up of a few of my good friends.  And I love their music…like, I would love their music even if they weren’t my friends.  We stuck around for their first set and then set our sights on finding a really good meal.  At the show, we ran into a girl I knew from Huntington who had since moved to Asheville and I asked her for her recommendation.  We told her we were thinking Indian food.  She said Mela.  So we went straight there.

There were a small wait for a table so we had cocktails.  The cocktail list was super creative.  I had the Birdie Nom Nom, made with mango vodka, mango lassi and mint.  Amazing.  And dinner.  Lord, I don’t know where or how to start.  Except that it was one of the finest meals I’ve ever had.  We started with vegetable samosas and a chutney platter and then we each ordered a main course from the nightly specials menu.  We had some wonderful conversation over dinner and it was punctuated frequently with exclamations over how amazing the food was.  I don’t know what else to say except go there.  Soon.  Since it was my birthday, the waitress offered us a free dessert.  I didn’t even ask to see the menu.  ‘Do you have rice pudding?’ I asked her.  ‘Yes,” she said.  ‘Sold,’ I said.  It did not disappoint.

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We met up with the North Carolina contingent of our group at Jack of the Woods and had a couple drinks while listening to and occasionally dancing to a fun little bluegrass band.  And then we once again decided that we needed to kick things up a bit.  We heard about this place called The Admiral in West Asheville.  It’s supposed to be an incredible restaurant by evening.  And on Friday and Saturday nights they clear out all the tables and chairs and turn it into a dance club.  Friday is hip hop and Saturday they play music from the 50’s and 60’s.  Think Motown, think music that just makes you feel happy.  There were about a dozen people on the dance floor when we got there and some of the dance moves present were entertainment enough.  At one point, the girls and I started a dance tunnel.  What’s a dance tunnel you say?  Well, that’s when you make two little lines, and hold up your arms to the person across from you and make a tunnel.  Then you take turns dancing through said tunnel.  So, anyhoo, we started this dance tunnel and before we knew it the entire club joined in.  Our tunnel was the length of the entire bar and everyone took their turn dancing through, showing off their best moves.

The night ended with hugs and goodbyes with the North Carolina girls and we vowed to do it again soon.  The next morning, after breakfast buffet at the hotel and a little stroll around town we got in the car and made our way back to West Virginia; a little tired from a fun-filled weekend but laughing as we talked about all the things that had happened.  In my opinion that’s how every trip should end.  Until next time…..

 

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Yep.  I’ve got poison ivy for the first time in my life.  Currently I’m sitting in a very air conditioned apartment with my legs covered in white paste (trust me, it’s a real sexy look).  The past few days have been a bit of a whirlwind….I’ve been working a ton and when I haven’t been working I’ve been doing fun things like watching meteor showers from a swimming pool and having beer festival fun.  There’s been a heat wave in my city and so all of these events have come with a good deal of perspiration and humidity.  Not good for poison ivy.  So last night when I got home from work I put myself on a 24 hour house arrest to try to achieve a non itchy healing state for my legs.  And those of you who know me also know that I don’t sit still like this too often.

And sometimes it doesn’t work so well for me; I feel like there is always something I should be/could be doing.  It takes something like a blizzard or some other natural disaster for me to give myself permission to just be.  I have to give myself permission to not be productive; and I have to listen very, very closely to that little voice that guides me to doing what will most serve me.  Sometimes this voice is just exhausted and tells me to watch bad TV and eat cookies.  And that’s ok.  And sometimes I’m just in a mood where I don’t so much like the company I keep when I’m by myself.  I’m starting to learn that that’s ok too as long as you give yourself time to pout and then get over it.

But usually when the little voice is at it’s best is when it tells me to do things like read, listen to music, roll out the yoga mat onto the kitchen floor and snuggle with my dog.  That’s when me and the voice are bffs.

So this morning, after a little coffee and meditation and calamine lotion, I dug a book out that had been sitting in my to-read pile for a while.  It’s a slim little book called “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It.”  The cover shows a black silhouette drawing of a man—he’s got a red heart on his chest and he’s holding a gun to his head.  Drastic, right?  I bought the book at a pretty low point in my life; a time when I was definitely not loving myself.  But this morning, I read it through in one sitting and then walked with my dog down to a little free library to pass it on to someone else.

Why did I let go of it so quickly?  I don’t know…for one it was pretty straightforward and I figured I could remember the gist of it. And the gist is that if you truly love yourself the world will have no choice but to love you back.  The man who wrote the book claims that once he truly operated from a place of loving himself, good things started just simply falling in his lap.  These means examining the relationships you are in, the situations you have placed yourself in, the ways in which you use your time and figuring out if you would inflict any of those on the other people in your life that you truly love.  No?  Then why on earth would you subject yourself to it?

And then the book also had some exercises.  This is where my fingers start getting nervous about typing this out.  But this same book also stated that, when writing, if it doesn’t scare the shit out of you to put a piece of writing out there, then it probably isn’t very good writing.  So…with that…the exercises…

One of them was to sit in front of a mirror, make solid and gentle eye contact with yourself and speak the words “I love myself” aloud for at least a minute or two, all while maintaining eye contact.  So I did that.  I opened up my computer screen, stared at my reflection and spoke those words out loud (hoping that my roommate didn’t come out and catch me in the act but also knowing that if he did it would not be the most weird thing he’s ever seen me do.)  But I digress.  And though I won’t go in to all the little swirling thoughts that went through my head as I did this I will tell you that after my third round of “I love myself”, I saw the eyes in my reflection getting glassy before I was even aware of any tears.  It took about a dozen rounds before I started speaking with confidence.  By the end there’s was almost a little laughter in my voice.  It was a cool experience.  And maybe that’s why I took it to the free library, in hopes that the universe will place it in the hands of someone else who needs to have that experience.

So there it is.  I am working on and striving towards a place where I operate from a place of complete and total self-love.  In times of bad TV and cookies, in times of pouting and in times of clarity.  All of it.  It’s a process…but I believe that it will be worth the hard work.  And I suppose I have always known that; it just took a little poison ivy and house arrest to bring it into focus.

 

 

 

 

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