Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Burma

It's hard to believe that at this date 10 years ago, I functioned daily on less that 2 hours of sleep. I couldn't remember what it felt like to be sober. There was not a single clear spot on my stomach or legs where I hadn't cut. I had people threatening to kill me if I didn't show up every night for sex with strangers. I couldn't tell the truth to anyone, because I was buried in so many lies that I couldn't remember what the truth was.

 I've shared my testimony of coming to Christ countless times to many people. I was living a double life. I truly believed God was nothing more than another Santa Claus. "God" was a word to me. It was just a tool, used to make unruly people behave, with a promise of heaven or hell instead of toys or coal. My life revolved around pleasing others, and I got lost in trying to impress everyone. I was a bad ass to the rebel crowd, and a goody two shoes to the good people. I spent my days in church and and Christian school, and spent my nights sneaking out and breaking every rule I could find.

Since the night of my father's funeral when I was 11, to the night I almost ended it all when I was 15, my life was consumed with lies, deception, insincerity, and addiction.

All that changed when I cried out to God and he answered me, on 7/15/2005.

For the past few months, my friend Dawn and I have at separate times talked about Burma. I have said I wanted to be doing something very remarkable for the 10 year anniversary of God changing my life and I thought going to Asia would be a great way to celebrate my rebirth because it is one of two continents I have not been to.
Dawn talked about how this is her last year in college, and that she wanted to reward herself by doing something extraordinary this summer.
Then one day we got to talking about Dawn's birth country of Burma. She mentioned how much she wanted to go back and visit someday, as she hasn't seen it since her family came to America over 10 years ago.

That's when we came up with the idea, "Why not now?"

Since that day, we've talked about it as a "maybe some day", then we brought it up more frequently and spoke of it as "When we go to Burma", until now.

Now we've got a date set, and I took Dawn yesterday to apply for her passport. We have looked at making reservations at tourist attractions we want to see, and Dawn is in contact with an uncle who owns an orphanage, and a cousin who needs help running a free dental clinic.

We are in full on planning mode.





Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sara

Many, many moons ago, I picked up my laptop, set it on my bed, and began typing a story that had been building inside my head since I was a small child. It was the story of a young girl, going away to a prestigious boarding school, and many experiences surrounding leaving the school. I finished writing the story while making the long drive to my new home in Oklahoma in 2012.

Since then, I have very sloooowly worked on editing and now submitting to agents for publishing, my story 'Visionary'.

Now that I am in my final year of college, things with my writing are taking off more rapidly, as I have more time to put in to it.

One key character in Visionary, is the teacher, Professor Sara, who the main character, Annie, grows very close to. Throughout Visionary, you can tell Sara has an interesting side story for her own experiences. Sara clearly has separation and anger issues that explode in the story, and Annie has an impact in leading Sara to recover from her problems. But not much is elaborated on how severe Sara's issues were, or how she learned to overcome them. My mom had pointed out in the past, that the story makes learning more about Sara very intruiging and suggested in the future that I write another story telling Sara's experience.

This January I began doing just that.

Sara starts out as a toddler in this story, and will go through the entire backstory to many of Sara's issues that are brought up in Visionary. From losing her parents, to being moved around in foster homes and mental hospitals, the story will develope to explain the reason for the skeletons in her closet.

I am 20 pages into it, and I had to share, because I'm excited about it.

The end.


Monday, March 9, 2015

My week in pics

While my week has been rather uneventful, I've gotten a few nice pictures.
This first one is the sight I woke up to on Saturday morning.
I laughed.
She was asleep like that.

And of course, my favorite thing about Oklahoma, the sunsets. After two weeks straight of overcast and snow, we got a few days of sunshine before the rain returned today.

 
















Spring break is next week, and stores are having sales to make room for the new spring merchandise. I scored this 16 piece bedset originally price 119.99, on the clearance rack for 39.99. That's probably been the biggest highlight of my week.
I am currently waiting on the sheets to be done in the dryer before setting up my bed with it.

As I mentioned, spring break is next week. I plan on picking up a lot of hours at work, but on Thursday of next week, I plan on going on a day trip with some friends to Petite Jean State Park in Arkansas. I am looking forward to that.

I've been dedicating some time to writing, I had gone almost a year without doing anything, but in the past 3 months I have finished editing one story, and begun writing a new story. This new story is called "Sara". I will probably dedicate my next blog entry to sharing about it, if nothing more interesting happens between now and then.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Social Media Sabbatical

I did a test of my viewers on my last blog post. The response showed me that I have ONE reader. Thanks Jodi!
This past week I had a privacy invasion online that was quite alarming, and has led me to go on a social media sabbatical until further notice. I've deactivated my facebook, and will only occasionally post to Instagram, but I still plan on writing on here regularly.

So here's an update on where my life is at right now. I am three months in to my second to last semester in college. I will not finish in May as I had hoped, but I will officially be a college graduate by the end of this year.
You may already know, I had moved into the dorms and had my dog staying with a dog sitter. In early February I had to move Lily to a different dog sitter. Feb. 27 I got a call and discovered my poor puppy had been starved, abused, and abandoned by the new dog sitter. Lily was only identified because the sitter did not know that I had her microchipped.
I was so upset, and felt so guilty for moving Lily around and then placing her with someone who hurt her, that I decided I didn't even want to find a new sitter. So now I am renting out a bedroom from a retired woman. It is a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood on a lakeside about 6 miles from campus.
I love having Lily back with me. Knowing where she is, how she is doing, and having her snuggle in bed with me at night is such a huge relief to me (and to her too I'm sure).

As I mentioned in previous posts, I am slowly paying off the mountain of debt I acquired over the past year. I just got my tax return and it was a huge relief to make two big payments with that. I am now down to just a little over $4,000 to pay off to various collections companies.

All the driving I've done over the past year has left me in dire need of a new car. I have a large check coming in at the end of the month, that I am very much looking forward to getting, to help me get closer to being out of collections and able to save up for a new car. Just praying my current car lasts long enough. I must say though, I bought that car 2 years ago for $900 and put over 100,000 miles on it since, so I am pretty grateful for how good it's been to me.

Tonight I went to study with a friend at Starbucks and I ran into a blast from the past.
I've talked about my crazy neighbor on this blog, but she was not the only horrible encounter I had while living in that apartment complex.
On Monday I was sitting in my car in a Walgreen's parking lot right at a 4 way intersection of two very busy roads. I saw a woman run multiple times into traffic, and it appeared she was attempting to commit suicide. I called 911 and reported what was happening.

The last time I've had to call 911 was this past fall. It was early October and I was sitting in my living room when I heard the couple who lived above having an intense shouting match. I heard glass break a few times in what I imagine was objects being thrown. There were lots of profanities being shouted by both of them. But what I noticed more than anything, was the constant sound of terror in a baby's cries. I knew the couple had two small children; a girl about 2-3 years old, and a boy about 15-18 months old. I figured it could be either one of them I heard crying since they were so close in age.

After several minutes of this, I heard the man shout especially loud, "If you don't shut that little N***er up then I will!" Followed by more of the two screaming back and forth at each other.

A minute or so later, I heard an extremly loud boom. My immediate thought was that one of them had punched the wall, but right after that, I heard a heart sickening moan come from the baby, followed by the child's cries going silent. But the two adults kept screaming at each other.

I wanted to vomit, I was so overcome with fear. I thought it sounded like they must have just thrown the baby against the wall, and now the baby was silent, but they went about continueing their argument. I knew I had to call 911 and I did.

Later that night I saw the father leaving in handcuffs, and the baby boy leaving in an ambulance.

I never did find out if the baby boy was okay, but that was not the last I saw of the father.
About two weeks later I saw him at the apartments. He stopped me to talk to me. He told me how lonely he had been since his wife had left him and taken the children. He said she left him for another man.
After that day, he began relentlessly talking to me every time I stepped outside my apartment. He would tell me how beautiful I am, he would ask lots of questions about where I work and go to school, he would dig for information on what kind of social class my family was in, and more.

I tried to tell myself he was just being social because he was lonely, but I couldn't help feeling creeped out by him, and by the fact that every single time I shut my door, he was coming down the stairs to talk to me within seconds. I felt like he was waiting for the sound of my door shutting, just so he could hurry down to talk to me.

Finally I confirmed what I had been thinking, that he was coming on to me, when I was returning from a walk with Lily one night, and he was standing there and asked, "Do you love your dog?"
I said yes with hesitation and concern, and he said, "Well if you love a black dog, then I know you'd love a big black man."
I felt frightened by the way he approached me, and I quickly hurried away. But mentally I was laughing at the fact that he was unknowingly flirting with the person who got him arrested.

That was 2 days before I moved back into the dorms. I didn't see him again until tonight at Starbucks. He recognized me long before I recognized him. I was so glad I had a friend there! I said hello, then quickly turned to having a conversation with my friend.

Seeing him just reminded me of how extremely glad I am that I got out of that situation. I had a crazy neighbor who harassed me with letters for months, I got buried in debt, I learned what it was like to be so poor that you resort to selling your blood and eating in soup kitchens, and I had a child abuser fixated on me.

Like that saying goes, I couldn't see the forest for the trees. There was so much bad in that situation, and I didn't realize it until it was all finally over. And boy am I glad it is over!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What do you want to know?

I've hit a bit of a writer's block on my blog. It's been 20 days since I last wrote. I'm sitting here trying to tell myself to write something, but I am drawing a blank. There's a lot I could say, but most of it, I don't think anyone else would care to spend time reading. So I want to know, if you are reading this, what do you want to know? Is there anything I should be writing more about?

I tend to write about my travels and mishaps, but honestly, I don't think anyone reads this blog without me begging them to.

So, I'd like to hear from you, what do you want to hear from me?

As a reward for reading my blog without me advertising it, you get to be in on a dirty little secret of mine.

Some friends and I decided to take part in a new sensation of dyeing armpit hair.

So for a month, we grew out our armpit hair, then dyed it hot pink. We had a blast, but not something we'd blast on the internet. But I'll let you in on the secret.


UPDATE:
If you are just now reading this, you've reeeeeally missed out on some funny pictures, as I have now deleted them. Thanks to Jodi for being the ONE person who responded.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Accidental Safari

When I look back, the story of accidentally going on an safari adventure, will probably be one of my favorite memories made in college. A few months prior I had accomplished my life long dream of going to Africa. On our last week there we went on a safari.

Uganda was so different than the Africa I had pictured in my mind. I imagined vast flat lands made of sand with lions and leopards and giraffes. Instead I got rolling vibrant green hills with alligators, caribou and elephants. All that to say, I was very sad when I learned that my favorite animal, the giraffe, did not live in Uganda.

 Craziest thing is that, even though I had traveled through an African safari, my first time seeing a giraffe didn't come until months later, in middle of nowhere Arkansas.

I told my friends I wanted to go on an adventure. Two friends, Jessica and Melanie, stepped up and said they would go with me. When they sat in the car, Jessica announced, "Alright, where we going!"

I smiled mischievously and said, "You won't find out until we are there."

The truth was that I had no idea. I knew I wanted to drive out of state, and figured I would think something up along the way.

Two hours later we hit the Arkansas border, and as Jessica and Melanie got out at the rest stop to use the bathroom, I frantically turned on my gps. I was thinking, "Oh no, I have to find something, and quick, or we will have driven all these miles for nothing."

I selected the points of interest tab, and squealed with excitement at the first result, "Yes! Spirit of adventure, you have rewarded me once again!"

When Melania and Jessica got back in the car, they were concerned, "Okay Anna, you've taken us across state lines, how well should I have prepared for this trip? Where on earth are you taking us!"

I smiled, "We're almost there, you're gonna be so surprised."

The gps said it was only 6 miles away. We drove down a road that seemed like just another normal neighborhood drive. Until we saw the peacocks cross the road and hop the fence where a kangaroo was resting.

As we pulled into the drive, everyone in the car shouted with excitement as we read the sign out loud:


Jessica and Melanie both questioned with intense excitement, asking how on earth I had found this place. That's when I admitted to them that it was a total accident. I had no idea where we were headed when we hit the road.

We had to leave and come back when we found out the $5 entrance fee was cash only, and they did not have an atm. But once inside, we had the time of our lives.











Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Meeting Wanda


When I was in 5th grade, I had the joy of meeting the local weatherman, Dave Salesky. I thought it was the most memorable meeting I would ever have.

Since then, I have met famous singers, congressmen, mayors, senators, and more. But of all the people I have, and have yet to meet, I truly believe that at the end of my life I will look back and think of Wanda as one of the most noteworthy people I have ever met.

She lives in a simple house, in a simple town, and  has a simple mind. And yet meeting her is one of the most memorable encounters I've ever had.

Wanda is a woman in her mid 50's, with the i.q. of a 4 year old, who for nearly 30 years has been the prime suspect in the mind baffling abduction of her roommate's 7 month old baby.
For years people have wondered what on earth Wanda could have done with the baby.
For years people have wondered what kind of person Wanda must be.
For years, no one in the public ever heard from Wanda herself.

When I first learned of the story in 2012, there was hardly any information on the case, but there was just enough to get me very intrigued. In 25 years there had only been 3-4 news reports on the abduction. Hardly anyone had ever heard of the baby Melissa McGuinn.

 
Soon I found my self so badly wanting to know more, that I ended up driving to Arkansas to meet Baby Melissa's mother.

I learned more from her than I could ever imagine. The story was even more crazy, and intriguing, than I had imagined.
Previously there had only been one photo of Melissa released to the public. With her mother's help, I got nearly a dozen of Melissa's pictures on the internet.

I created a facebook page about the Mystery of Melissa McGuinn and soon over 7,000 people were following my journey across the nation, to find the truth.

I met with family, friends, detectives, and neighbors and published it all on the internet. Soon major names like ABC's 20/20 and Dr. Phil were voicing interest in the case.

I was interviewed via skype by a major east coast news station


After meeting everyone, there was still one burning question in my head, what ever happened to the suspect, Wanda Reed.
I wanted to see her, to understand her, to try to imagine what she was like.


Soon, through the power of social media, I met the TINY woman.

Wanda is very simple and very sweet. She has an adorable smile, and liked giving me hugs. When I met her, it was hard to believe this woman was at the center of such a giant mystery.

Meeting with her, I was the first person to EVER publish anything public from Wanda. Meeting with her, hearing her feelings on being arrested, and how she has missed her own son that she lost custody of, made the whole case that much more interesting to the rest of the world.






















Here is parts of my interview with Wanda




Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's not so bad...

It's seems to me that every hour of every day, we are hearing of how heartless and uncaring society has gotten. In fact, there are entire television channels dedicated to 24/7 reporting of all the bad that is going on all over the world.

But I want to share with you, some of my recent observations.

We have a levels system at my work, to reward kids for good behavior. Once the kids get to a certain level, they get to pick a special food once a week as a reward. Last week, they all voted that they wanted burgers from McDonald's.

I left the premises and drove to a nearby McDonald's. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw two small children hurry over to a truck in the parking lot. A heavy set man with his leg in a splint and walking with a walker, followed slowly behind them.

As he got half way through the driveway, I watched him lose his balance and fall on the ground. I quickly realized he was struggling and didn't have the strength to pull himself back up. The two small children tried desperately to pull on his arms to help him up, but none of them were having any success.

I stepped out of my car to go help him, and as I approached, I was just one of a swarm of people that rushed to his side. It only took me, and a well dressed business looking man, to help him up. I grabbed one arm and the business man grabbed the other, I counted to 3, then we lifted and the man came to a stand.

As he thanked us profusely, I looked around and saw the large crowd of people that surrounded. People had run over from the other side of the busy street, people had gotten out of their cars in the parking lot, and people had come running out of the McDonald's lobby. All had hurried to his side, hoping they could do something to help him.

 I was left inspired and uplifted by the sight. No one had ignored him, no one laughed at him, and everyone who had witnessed it seemed to care. I was left thinking, Wow, there are still some good people left in the world. 

 It reminded me of this past year, when I had many times metaphorically fallen down. Each time, there were people there wanting to help me up.



At the beginning of 2014 I was involved in 3 separate and major incidents in about a months span, from February to March. Each were very traumatic, and left me feeling rattled to my very core. I tried my best to shake it off, and make myself believe I wasn't effected by what had happened.

By the end of March, I was still feeling very "off" but couldn't pinpoint what was the problem. Many months later I found through talk therapy that the problem was me going through a very normal process of coping with what had happened early in the year. But in the beginning, I did not correlate my exhaustion, lack of joy and excitement, and loss of interest and motivation, to be related to my earlier experiences.

In the beginning, I spoke to my general practitioner about my struggle, and he thought it sounded like I was depressed and he prescribed me some anti depressants. The drugs were great! I bounced back. Life was enjoyable again, I felt motivated and interested in tasks again, and was having a heck of an adventure every day of life.

But there was one very pricey side effect. A side effect I am still paying for to this day...literally.

I loss all self control. I became impulsive. It was a logic of, "I thought it, therefore I did it." I would get an idea in my head, get overly excited about it, then would make it happen without thinking of the consequences. I wanted this merchandise, therefore I opened up a line of credit and got it. I wanted to go see this place, therefore I got in my car and drove there. I wanted a dog, therefore I went and picked one out, without taking into consideration how expensive caring for animals can be. Never did I stop to think if I could really afford it, or what important things (like school or work) I would miss if I left town, I just did stuff with out ever thinking.

I have to admit, it was extremely fun. I had a blast while it lasted. But the long term consequences were so not worth it!

My actions did not begin to catch up to me until early June. I was driving though Kentucky, on my way home from an excursion across the entire east coast, when my car engine began to struggle. I looked down and realized my gas tank was empty. I was relieved when I looked out and saw a gas station right by me. I pulled up and swiped my debit card, and was shocked to discover my card was declined. I swiped it a couple more times, standing there in denial.

Remember how I said I opened lines of credit when I wanted something? Well the payments had begun with me totally forgetting about them. My checking account was empty and I was still over 500 miles from home.

This was the beginning of my trouble, and the beginning of me seeing just how much beauty still exists in humanity.

I was stranded. I made a remark on facebook, that I was about to get my first experience panhandling for gas money to get home. I was so scared, but I tried to make a joke out of it all. I went to sleep in my car praying that a miracle would occur when I woke up. Sure enough, it did. A relative that I have not seen in years, sent me a message to give them a call, because they had wired money to the gas station I was at, to help me get home.

I would like to say that was the end of it, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Soon, money was being demanded from everywhere. I had to begin working 80 hour weeks just to be able to pay rent. Cable got shut off, electric got threatened, my bed was nearly repossessed, and I had no money for food or clothes. I was working more hours than anyone should ever have to, and seeing no end to it, and getting no reward. I worked like crazy and never had any money. I had to eat the food staff was given at work, and sell my blood plasma to have enough money to fill my gas tank and feed my dog.

This was when I heard about the Tulsa Dream Center. I had no work pants, because they were all ripped and stained and worn out. I found out the Dream Center gave free clothes out to the community, no questions asked. I felt ashamed as I walked in, thinking, "I'm stealing from poor people" but then remembered, "oh wait, I am poor."

They were so warm and welcoming. They prayed with me, listened to me vent about my recent financial woes, connected me to their free grocery program, and walked me in to their clothes closet. It was so ironic when I found some old clothing that I had donated in the past. I said to myself, "Wow, the giver has become the receiver."

My paycheck looked like I must be rich. I made tons of money. But because of all I had done in the months before, I had nothing now. I thought for sure there was no help for me because I made too much money. Soon I found lots of caring people who understood my situation and didn't judge me by my mistakes. I was networked to organizations that could help support me even though I didn't fit the mold of a needy person.

I was directed to an organization that helped me find affordable therapy, which was able to help me deal with what was the real problem, and slowly wean me off the anti depressants that had messed me up so bad.

And it wasn't just organizations that helped me. Every time I had an important need that I couldn't afford, someone stepped in to cover the cost. Every time I thought I was going to have to miss a meal, a friend or co-worker offered to take me out to eat as their treat without me even mentioning I was about to go hungry.
My car once ran out of gas on my way to work. I only had $2 and buying a gas can alone cost more than that. Not to mention I would then have no money for gas. When the gas station clerk said they could not lend me a can, a person in line offered theirs.  They drove me back to my car, and helped me get it started. Then they surprised me by saying they wanted to fill my gas tank for me.

As school began again, I realized the wisest thing to do was to move back into the dorms. That way I would not be struggling so much to pay rent. But I was faced with a dilemma... my dog... my sweet, snuggle, hyper, obnoxious, intuitive, protective, best friend Lily. If I moved back into the dorms, I would have to give her up, and the thought of doing that crushed me.

I moved into the dorms, but out of desperation in wanting to keep the dog, I kept the apartment just for her sake, until the lease was up in November. I kept working 80hr weeks, trying to pay rent and bills on top of going to school and by the time the lease was up, I knew there was no way I could keep working that much and keep my grades up. My grades were plummeting.

That's when another beautiful thing happened. People stepped up to take care of Lily for me until I could take her back. One person kept her for two months until their living situation changed and they couldn't anymore. Then another person stepped up to take her for two weeks until their living situation abruptly changed, and then a third person stepped up to take her in. All complete strangers at first, who I am so very thankful for. People who didn't know me, didn't know Lily, and had no obligation to help, but offered to take her in for a few months so that I would not have to give her up forever.

Another beautiful act of humanity, was my teachers. When I told them the struggles I was having, and the hours I was having to work, they all had grace on me. You know, grace is such an amazing thing. Thinking you are doomed, when someone gives grace and changes the entire experience. The teachers pushed back deadlines for me, gave me more time on things that had passed, and created extra credit opportunities for me to make up for things I had already missed or failed.

You never know how much you have, until you have nothing left to give.
Family, friends, teachers, co-workers, and complete strangers all stepped in to help me up, each time something knocked me down.

Humanity is wonderful.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Waiting Game

Something that has always been very funny to me is elevator etiquette. Everywhere else in the American culture says to smile at people, make eye contact, acknowledge people, and just generally try to be friendly and try to make others feel comfortable. That's the rule in every situation except in elevator etiquette. In the elevator it is the complete opposite. You are to remain silent, stay as far away from other people, and do everything in your power to avoid eye contact while all of you in the elevator feel as uncomfortable as possible in each others presence.

Yesterday I was waiting to get on the elevator and found something just as funny to me as elevator etiquette. It's the waiting game. Have you ever watched someone who is waiting for something? The behavior would be considered insane in any other circumstance.

At my job, we are trained to recognize the warning signs that a person is escalating in emotions and needs intervention. They may start pacing, swaying, huffing, mumbling, and seem irritable. They may clench their fists, or have a change in posture, become unusually quiet, or do something repeatedly like looking at their watch. These are the same exact things people do when playing the waiting game!

As I stood there waiting for the elevator to come, I laughed to the person next to me, "Gotta love the waiting game".

He laughed and agreed, "It's America's favorite past-time."

"Not!" I jokingly shouted.

The truth is that patience is a virtue, a virtue foreign to American culture. Americans HATE waiting for anything. Even waiting in line for fast food, you can spot at least a few people showing the same behaviors as someone about to have an emotional outburst.

In that aspect, I am very American. I'm probably one of the worst. I hate, hate, HATE the waiting game. When I want something to happen, I want it to happen now.

The waiting game is a big part of my life right now though. Recently I decided to take the next step with my writing, and am trying to get a book published. It's been a week now since I started submitting my work to agencies, and the waiting and anticipating to hear back from them has been torture.

But just as the waiting game for the elevator, I know the next step after the waiting is over, is stepping in to elevator etiquette. It will be unusual, out of character, and uncomfortable. Once I find someone who believes in my writing potential as much as I do, the waiting game will be over and the correction, criticism, and hard work will begin. But once it is all over, the elevator door will open, and I will have reached my destination to a higher and better place in my dream.

But for now, I have to just sit back and try to enjoy my favorite game....... the waiting game.





I'll try not to look like a lunatic.

Friday, December 5, 2014

America's Best Kept Scenic Secret

We met in the fall, and by spring we were quickly becoming best friends. We road tripped for Spring Break, and in the beginning of May, school was ending and adventure was calling us out on the road again. Dawn came to Tulsa, Oklahoma from the nation of Burma when she was 8. She didn't do much travel outside the city after that, until she met me in her junior year of college.

Travel is a big part of who I am. I have a deep desire to discover new things. Whether it be across the world, or down the street. So when Dawn told me she wanted to start traveling more places, that's exactly what I made happen.

In this piece I want to share my most favorite place in America. It is a state I knew nothing about until I went, and left feeling every person in the world should see it's breath taking beauty at least once in their life.



We planned to celebrate the beginning of summer break by driving to the Florida coast. However our route took us through Alabama which was having a horrible spell of tornadoes, and then the news broke that a hurricane like storm was nearing Florida.

So when the day came that we were supposed to hit the road, we got in the car with no idea where we would end up. All we knew was that it sounded like the northeast was the best direction  weather wise.

Half way through Kentucky, while we were stopped for a restroom break, I looked at a map and spotted the state of West Virginia. I thought to myself, "I have never heard anything about West Virginia. What on earth is in West Virgina. I've never met anyone who said they were from West Virgina. Hey Dawn, do you know anything about West Virgina?"

Dawn didn't know anything. I didn't know anything. Was it flat, mountainous, crowded, deserted, hipster, or redneck; we had no idea. So we decided to drive there and find out.

We stopped for the night at a hotel right at the Kentucky/West Virgina border.

After a restful night and a hearty Kentucky breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and I told the woman at the front desk that we were on our way to a spur of the moment trip to West Virginia, and asked if she had any recommendations for things we should do or see.

She said that the most memorable thing she had seen in West Virginia was the New River Gorge Bridge. For many years it was the world's longest steel single-span arch bridge; it is now the fourth longest.

She said it was about an hour away, but we ended up on a wild goose chase driving all around the state looking for it, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We were surrounded by beauty every where we looked.

We had my dog Lily to thank for the first find. She needed to go potty, so we decided to get out of the car and walk a hiking trail. She ran ahead of us and led us to a look out. As we stepped out of the trees into a clearing, Lily was sitting looking intently at something. I turned to try to see what she was staring at, and my jaw dropped. As Dawn and I stood there, we legitimately began to ask each other if maybe we missed a sharp turn earlier and died. We thought we must be in Heaven. There was no way something on earth was this amazing.





A few minutes earlier we had been driving through a valley, and Dawn looked up at the hills and said she hoped someday she could stand on top of a hill that big and just scream at the top of her lungs in a sort of "The hills are alive" fashion. I reminded her of what she had said in the car, so we got video of her making her wish come true:


video


I tried to be cool in saying something deep while in this heavenly place, but ended up sounding like a total dork:

video



And to think we would have missed that unforgettable treasure if it hadn't been for my dog. Way to go Lily!








Here are some more shots from our trip:



  







































































As I said in the beginning of this piece, I feel West Virginia is a place every person should visit at least once in their life. I've been to a lot of places in the world, and WV may very well be the most beautiful of them all in my opinion.

Are you interested in visiting? Everywhere we drove around the state, we saw adorable vacation cabins for rent. I recommend looking in to that. In fact, that's exactly what I hope to do as soon as the holidays pass.

Here's a link with some great recommendations on things to do and see in WV: Click Here

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tasty Treasure in Small Town America

202 W John St (River Side of Courthouse), Van Buren, Missouri


If you are ever in Missouri, I want to share a tasteful treasure with you. It's called "The Mercantile Restaurant".

When you explore as much as I do, you find great accidental scores. This one was blog worthy.

Me and my legit Kentucky Fried Chicken



I and two friends, Cristina and Dawn, were driving home from spring break. We had spent the week in Nashville, and I insisted we to drive up to the Kentucky border to eat fried chicken just for bragging rights of having real KFC.



We enjoyed the experience and soon went on our way back home. The sun had set and we were still driving through Missouri when we all agreed we were very hungry.

At the nearest exit we pulled off the highway, and my gps showed there was a BBQ joint near by. We took a few wrong turns, and while trying to get back on the right road, we found the Mercantile.

We parked and circled around the building trying to peer in the window to see if it was open or not. The lights were on but we didn't see many people inside, and none of us could see business hours posted.

A few moments later a man leaving the restaurant came out and held the door open for us. I was the first to poke my head in the door and greeted the smiling waitress, "We weren't sure if y'all were still open or not."

The woman waved us in and laughed, "We are open as late as there are hungry people!"
It is even written on their facebook page, "Our closing time is a "suggested" time as we serve until there are no more customers."

Cristina and I
  
The restaurant decor is such that it gives off a "tight knit small town community" vibe.

The different staff came out to talk to us at various times seeming to take genuine interest in us visitors, and asking questions about our travels and where we were from.

One waitress asked if we had gotten lost once we told her we were headed to Tulsa from Nashville. She got a good laugh when my two traveling partners pointed at me and said, "She made us go to Kentucky for chicken."

We felt very welcome and comfortable there, and had some great conversation with the staff.

There was a small salad bar with a surprisingly wide variety of choices. And it was all so yummy. I thought it was probably just because I was so hungry.

Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo
We were all rather chatty until the main dishes came out. Then our table went silent for several minutes. Each one of us was so lost in the deliciousness of our meals. When one of us finally spoke, all any of us could say was, "Wow!"

I was so full by the end of the meal, and had leftovers too. And the only way I could describe my meal was, "I think that's the best food I've ever had.

When we went to the cash register, another shocking surprise came. It was very inexpensive. Hot chocolate, salad bar, shrimp fettuccine Alfredo, and a bread stick, came to a total cost under the price of what I expected the salad bar to be.  And all with excellent service.

As we drove away that night, all three of us road trippers agreed, even though it was over a 4 hour drive from home, we had to bring others here some time. It was a little piece of heaven.

The leftovers stayed in my fridge for 3 days, and I thought for sure it wouldn't be as good as I remembered. I had told myself that it only tasted amazing, the way all food tastes amazing when one is very hungry. But after I heated it up in the microwave,  for a third time the restaurant surprised me. It tasted even better than I remembered. 


Dawn
About 3 months later, Dawn and were driving back home from a trip to West Virginia, and we both wanted to go back to the restaurant we had such fond memory of. This time we arrived in daylight and found that the food was just as amazing as last time, and the town of Van Buren was surrounded by breathtaking beauty.

And the coolest part, the staff remembered us! And asked even more questions seeming so interested in our travels around the country.

If you decide to visit the Mercantile, I recommend coming in the daylight so you can see the whole beautiful area. Here are a few shots of Van Buren:




























UPDATE: There's been a lot of visitors to this blog from Missouri since I posted this piece.
Have you been to Van Buren? Have you been to the Mercantile? Please comment sharing your thoughts, and where you are from!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dealing with a Destructive Dog

Brown eyes, big ears, a long tongue, a black nose, and a look of pleading, "Will you please love me?" That's what I saw when I first met her. She was found dumped at a local university. She had scars on her neck and stomach telling that she had lived a hard life. She was underweight, you could feel her spine when you touched her back.
I had walked around and seen most of them, the homeless animals that crowded the city pound, and I knew she was the one for me. It would be my first time living on my own, and I knew I needed a companion. She stood out to me as the answer.
That day, the nameless stray dubbed "Ariel" became Lily Cannard. But as I drove her to her new home, I had no idea what I was in for.

Lily going home for the first time


Have you ever adopted a rescued dog? Have you found just how awful separation anxiety can be with your furry friend? Does your pet destroy everything in sight? Well you are not alone.

I thought I was the only one. That I had adopted this dog that had something seriously wrong. But I soon learned that she had a problem very common among abandoned pets. She had separation anxiety, and it caused her to be very destructive.
It was a very long, and expensive journey to learning how to deal with her behavior. Lots of people would have given up, taken her back to the pound, or sent her somewhere else. But for all the trouble she created, she was still a big help to me. She went on long cross-country road trips with me, helped me feel safe when I slept at night, she warned me when I was crossing paths with a dangerous snake, gave me a warm body to hug and feel comforted when I ran out of money and got stranded 500 miles from home, she scared off a man sneaking up behind me, and alerted me once when I was being followed.

If you feel like giving up on your destructive dog, keep in mind that there is a lot of good, that in time will out weigh the bad. Lily is still a work in progress, but I hope to offer a little advice to others going through the same struggle.

The Chronicles of Lily


This was our first night in the apartment. I hadn't unpacked hardly anything, so there was nothing for her to destroy, yet she managed to find something. I assured myself that she had done it because I didn't leave any toys out for her so she was bored.

The next mishap was a surprise to me. She had been peacefully sleeping next to me when I dozed off to sleep.When I woke up, she had ripped up this cushion.

The next day I was folding laundry in the other room and when I came out to check on her, I found this mess.

I had cleaned up the mess from her half way destroying the cushion, then let her have it as a resting spot. I thought if she had a comfortable place to rest, then she wouldn't be as prone to destroying things. Later on I laid down on my bed talking on the phone. I could tell she was jealous that I was not giving my full attention to her, but I just pushed her off of me when she got up in my face to try and grab my focus. She then started anxiously pacing around the whole apartment, and finally got quiet. When I got off the phone I found out why. She had brought a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom, and a tennis ball from the living room, and destroyed them both right at my feet.

After that I started seeking advice on what to do with her, and someone told me to get a crate to keep her in when I couldn't keep an eye on her. I did that, but felt so bad about keeping her cooped up. So one night when I went to pick up a friend, and rationed I'd only be gone for a few minutes, I left her out. I came back home 15 minutes later, to this:
She had destroyed my blinds, and a gift I was planning on giving to a friend.

I was working diligently to get her behavior under control. I would yell "No!" when she went for something she's not allowed to have, then I would put something she was allowed to chew in her mouth and pet her and say "Yes." I made sure she had lots of exercise, and lots of bones.
After a few weeks, she had stopped destroying things while I was present, and was getting better at recognizing what was bad and what was good to chew on. I began letting her out of her crate for short amounts of time unsupervised, and she was doing good at only chewing things that I had shown her were ok.

Then I worked a double for the first time since adopting her. I felt horrible for keeping her in her crate for 16 hours, with only getting let out on my 2 30 minute breaks. So on my 2nd break, I decided to test her training and see if she could go 3 hours without destroying things.

This was a huge mistake on my part, first because I didn't leave adequate things to keep her occupied, but also because she had way too much energy from being cooped up all day, to expect her to be on her best behavior.

And boy did I pay for it!























































10 Helpful Tips I Learned The Hard Way

That was the last major fiasco with Lily. But that's mostly because I learned how to deal with her. She is still very much a work in progress and is no where near where I'd like, which is to leave her out of her crate all day without any problems. But what I have learned has cut costs and stress in half, so I will share with anyone needing help.

1. A tired dog is a good dog.This can't be said enough. Any creature is less likely to get into mischievous if they are worn out. They will be less attention seeking, and won't be as hyper. Being hyper causes one to find something to do. Finding something to do can mean finding something bad to do.

2. Find a dog park. Not all cities are lucky enough to have a dog park, but finding a place for your dog to play with other dogs will be good both for exercise and reducing anxiety.

3. Bones, bones, and more bones! This helps with training the dog what is good to chew on, and makes them less likely to chew on other things. It keeps them distracted too.

4. Doggy Daycare. If you are going to be gone all day, chances are you will be too tired to take the dog out for adequate exercise when you get home. On top of getting hyper, your pet can get lonely which is not good for an animal with separation anxiety. If our pets see us leaving them alone all day then ignoring them by going asleep when we get home, they will have a high anxiety level and very likely to get destructive. Where as, if we send them to play with other dogs all day, they will be worn out when they get home, and only be aware that they had a fun day, verses us being gone all day. Doggy daycare isn't generally too expensive. I use a great one where Lily comes home completely pooped from playing all day long and it's only $16 for the entire day, from 7am to 8pm.

5. Get a crate. I felt like a horrible mommy when I first started using it, but found out it can actually be very therapeutic for a dog with anxiety. AND it will save you a lot of money from letting your dog be free to roam and destroy your belongings. When I began using a crate, I would offer Lily a treat and say, "Go to bed" then put the treat in the crate. When she would start to get very rowdy or anxious, I would make her "go to bed" and being in the crate would actually calm her. After a couple months she started going into her crate without me telling her to, and I would give her a treat as a reward and lock her in for a few minutes. Now she takes self time outs, and goes into her crate when she's getting too worked up.

6. Leave and come back. I came up with this idea and tried it out. It worked tremendously well. Times that I was home all day, I would through out the day step outside for a few minutes and then come back in to show her that I would always come back when I left. The first couple days I did this she would whine at the door in a panicked way and then start finding things to mess up. She never barked, just whined like she was hurt that I left her. After a few days she stopped looking for something to chew up when I left. Then a week or two later she stopped whining when I left. She understood that I was leaving her, but not leaving forever.

7. Have a full stomach. When I first got Lily, I would feed her at certain times twice a day. I had heard the tip to leave food out for the dog to eat through out the day, but it seemed she was a bottomless pit and I imagined she would eat an entire bag in a day if allowed to. But after a couple months I tried this and found she was way less tempted to chew on things if she had a full stomach. The first day she ate way too much, but after that she slowed dramatically down in her consumption and began eating the same amount through out the day that I had been feeding her before at only certain times. A dog expert told me that not having food easily accessed can raise anxiety from remembering a time when they didn't know how or where they would get to eat next prior to their rescue.

8. Take a training class. Lots of places have free training classes for pets adopted from the pound. It can help a lot just to get the basics down of what your dog needs to know. Trainers can also give you good advice on your specific problem with the pet.

9. Give them something that smells like you. Doing this will create a sense of you still being there. Lily always whined at first when I put her in the crate and left. I've heard I was lucky that she only whined, because lots of dogs get very loud. Either way, putting something that smells like you can reduce their stress and has worked to stop louder dogs from barking so much.

10. Remember they are worth it. There were times when I asked Lily, "Why did I ever get you?!" but there have been so many great moments that have made up for all the struggles. Your mischievous mess will become your best friend.



Those are the few things I have learned in my time with my pretty pooch. If you have any more tips please share in the comments.