Monday, June 11, 2012

Introducing Elbie

On May 18th, just about one week before I left for Louisiana, a little black dog wandered up Jolie Naquin Bank’s driveway. Her husband, Jim, said the little guy must have been dumped, and when Jolie had no response from anyone missing a little black dog after posting fliers and putting ads in the paper and on Craig’s list, she was forced to agree.

Once again, Jolie had been thrust into the position of caring for (and adopting out) a stray. Jolie dutifully took the Little Black Dog (“LBD”) to Dr. Gill and got him a rabies vaccination, had him scanned for a microchip, and tested for heartworms. No microchip was found, but he tested positive for heartworms. The vet said he would guess that LBD is some sort of Boston Terrier mix - all 20 lbs. of him - and that he’s somewhere between 6 and 8 years old.

When I told Harry about LBD, he got a suspicious look on his face. “We have the perfect pack right now. We don’t need another dog,” he said, severely. I agreed, wholeheartedly. Star is just now coming out of her shell, recovering from her depression after Winnie and Tim died, and she and JoLee are the perfect companions for one another. It’s much easier to take care of two dogs than three, I reasoned; walking two dogs is much easier than walking three; cleaning up after two dogs is much easier than three; and, honestly, there were parts of Tim’s terrier personality I really didn’t miss - his obsessive hunting, for one.

By the time I got to Jolie’s place, LBD’s name had morphed into Elbie, after Jolie's grandfather. I met Elbie that evening - he was a very nice little dog, but I wasn’t looking for another dog, and we have the perfect pack.

I helped Jolie take care of Elbie during my stay; while she was changing his water, I’d take Elbie on a little walk up the driveway, and Jolie and I spent some time sitting with him and petting him. We tried to take some decent photos of him for Petfinder, but it was really difficult - you know that “black dog” photo problem. It didn't help that something had bitten him near his eye, so he squinted like a pirate.

So - I’m not sure if it was the look in his eyes, or that jaunty little trot he has; the way his little stump of a tail wiggled his whole butt when he saw me, or the maybe way he leaned against my legs when I sat next to him. All I know is that the day before I was due to leave, I heard myself tell Jolie, “I’ll tell you what - if you haven’t found a home for him by the time you come out to Nebraska in September, I’ll take him.”

What??? I couldn’t believe I’d just heard myself say that. Harry and I had discussed this! I’d hardened my heart against just this kind of thing before I left my two lovable mutts in Nebraska! How was I going to explain this to Harry??

It ended up being easy. I just called Harry and told him what I’d done. He didn’t even bat an eye. Jolie said she knew it was meant to be; that I just needed to figure it out for myself. Maybe Harry knew too - all I know is that Elbie will be coming out to Nebraska with Jolie in September, and I will do the very best I can to make the rest of his life the very best part of his life.

Amazing what the Gypsy Heart brings home, isn’t it?

Texas Two-Step

Pam drove up from Hurst, Texas to meet Jolie and the Goobersmooch Gang, and after a wonderful Jambalaya lunch, we all hugged and said our goodbyes, and the second half of my vacation began.

You can’t really take many pictures of what Pam and I did - we went shoe shopping, saw some movies, participated in water aerobics and went out to eat - the kinds of things I love to do with my sister.

I was pleased and amazed that Pam’s dog Sergei didn’t try to bite me - not only did he act happy to see me, he even wanted me to pet him!

Sweet little Dani was the same as she always is - an unbelievably cute little fuzzball with googly eyes.

Pam took me to some of her favorite haunts, one of which was California Nails. I’d never had a pedicure, so this was a real eye-opening experience for me. When we walked in the door, a gust of chemical-laden air assailed my nostrils - I have no idea how those ladies handle breathing those fumes all day, but I imagine after a time they must just get used to it. Maybe it’s the fumes that make it so they can handle the idea of messing with peoples’ feet all day.

With a casual wave, the receptionist gestured to a wall where bottle after bottle of nail polish was neatly lined up - all kinds of colors, from a bottle of clear with big flakes of holographic film floating in it, to black. Luckily, Pam had been here, so she knew what came next - I was to choose a color for my toenails. This being my first pedicure, I figured I’d go safe, so I chose a bottle of pearlescent shell pink. Pam chose a rich, deep purple for her toes. We were then guided to our chairs - large, swiveled, naugahide affairs, with a tub at the foot. Once we clambered into our chairs, the fun began.

I think the woman doing my feet would have been much more comfortable if I’d shown less interest in what she was doing. She took a number of different implements out of a case; then she filed my feet, and started nipping away at the skin around my toenails with clippers. It was quite disconcerting, to be honest. Finally, in exasperation, she said, “You relax!” pushed me back into my chair, pulled a remote out and set the massage chair for ten minutes. I still watched her, though. It felt like a school of fish nibbling away at my cuticles. There were a couple of times when she asked if it hurt, and when I told her that it was fine, she raised her eyebrow, gave me a look, and said, “Just relax!” After the cuticle trimming came the massage portion. Frankly, the massage was little more than a rubdown - but it still felt good.

When it came time to apply the polish, my technician looked at the color I had chosen, shook her head, said, “This first time?!? You no want this. You need hot pink!” and she flounced off, shell pink bottle in hand. She returned with a neon pink bottle. I didn’t protest - after all, this was my first pedicure, and she knew what she was doing, right? And so she did. She deftly applied a clear coat of polish to each of my toenails, then a coat of bright pink, then a second coat of bright pink; and then she brought out a bottle of white and a very small paintbrush, with which she quickly painted a small flower on each of my big toenails. A dash of sparkling silver was next, and then she pulled out a box of tiny jewels. She chose green ones, and applied them with a dab of adhesive. Then came another coat of clear polish, and they were done! Bright and beautiful - my Texas Toes!

When I got back to Nebraska and took the kids out to the lake, it occurred to me that the polish on my toes was just the same color as that fish-egg fishin' bait my Dad used to get - I had Fishbait Feet! I joked with Harry that I should just find a dock and dangle my feet in the lake - for sure when I plucked my feet from the water, there would be a bluegill hanging from each toe!

Pam and I did go to one place that was filled with excellent photo opportunities, a little gem of a botanic garden. They had a very nice koi pond.

And many places to pose for portraits

All too soon, the trip was over - it was time for me to head back to Nebraska. Pam and I ate breakfast at McDonald's (that's "road food" for me), and I climbed back into the Baby Beast (Pam's name for Harry's Honda Insight), and I hit the road.

The trip home was uneventful. While at Jolie’s place, I had reset my Garmin to “Avoid Toll Roads,” so there was one very nice little jog that took me parallel to the toll road through a small town in Kansas. It reminded me a bit of the movie “Cars,” where the newly built freeways took all the business from the little towns that the roads originally went through, which eventually died - I was glad to have been routed through the town - small piece of Americana.

Star, JoLee and Harry were as happy to see me as I was to see them - it’s always nice to travel, but wonderful to be home!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Loving Louisiana

Many times, when I tell people I’m on a road trip by myself, they tell me I’m brave.

I guess bravery is something you have to practice - when I left home, I wasn’t feeling particularly brave.

After extensive discussions, Harry and I had decided I should take his little Honda Insight on this trip rather than taking the Dogmobile, partially because the Dogmobile’s struts are going out, but mostly because the Honda gets 40 MPG - just about twice what the Dogmobile gives me. It was a good decision, but still, even though I’d packed the “Baby Beast” the night before, getting going was tough.

When I plugged in my newly-updated Garmin that morning, I found that the update had cleared out all of my past trips and addresses. Luckily, I had Jolie’s address in my own personal portable memory (a/k/a my head), so I put it into the Garmin, put the Baby Beast in “Drive,” and set out into the darkness.

After driving a block, I realized I couldn’t see the speedometer - I had no idea how fast I was going, and had no idea where the “tilt” mechanism was on the steering column. I pawed at the steering column until I found the lever, and then noticed the gas gauge registered less than a quarter of a tank. I never start a trip on less than a full tank of gas. When I stopped at the gas station to fill up, I discovered I had no idea how to open the door to the gas tank! I can only imagine what the convenience store clerk thought, watching me out there thumbing through the manual of the Honda at about 2:30 a.m. So, all in all, it wasn’t the best of beginnings for a 13 hour drive. I felt unsettled - a bit rattled, honestly - and that feeling persisted for quite a while. It didn’t help matters when the Garmin tried to tell me I needed to go south on Highway 75 instead of I-29, which is the highway I knew I needed to take. (I learned later that when I updated my maps, all of the Garmin’s settings had reverted back to the factory settings, and it was set to “Avoid Traffic,” which took me on every toll road possible, and on what seemed to be every single Oklahoma and Louisiana back road. I saw some beautiful scenery, to be sure, but it wasn’t necessarily a time-effective route).

But after the rocky start, the miles peeled away, hour by hour, and I settled into the drive and eventually ended up at Jolie’s place. She and Jim live in a beautiful cabin that Jim built, nestled into a clearing that he carved out of a patch of thick woods.

Jolie introduced me to the Goobersmooches gradually. I’m not sure if she was afraid they’d scare me off or if she was worried that they wouldn’t react well to me, but we all got along just great.

After the long drive, I was ready for some relaxation with the pups. Patrick and Magoo seemed to be having a competition to see who could give me the best, most thorough facial, but Roudy and Aliah would join in and help from time to time. Merry and Goldie were the most laid back of the bunch. Lovely pups, each and every one of them.

There wasn’t a dull moment during the visit to Goobersmooch Acres. Jolie and I went to Gators & Friends, a local petting zoo, while Jim smoked ribs and worked on things at the house. I can’t remember the last time I’d been to a petting zoo, and I had a great time feeding the various animals. And then, of course, there were the ‘Gators. Jolie made sure we got there in time for feeding time, which was announced by a keeper shaking a big bucket of what sounded like kibble. As the gators slowly gathered, so did the crowd, and the water roiled as the alligators competed for the kibble that was tossed in the water.

After the feeding, I got in line for the photo op. I sat on the patio bench, and the keeper handed me a baby alligator, whose little snout, I was happy to see, had been taped shut. I am still fascinated by the feel of his skin and the coolness of his body. He had eyes of different colors - I’m not sure if he’d been injured, or if that is common. Definitely a moment to remember.

After an excellent rib dinner, Jim took Jolie and I the scenic route to Shreveport for the MudBug Festival. We passed areas that looked remarkably like Oregon, and true Louisiana bayous - it was just beautiful.

Just so you know, a Mudbug (aptly named) is also known as a crawdad. The music at the Mudbug Festival was loud, the crowd was dancing, and there were long tables piled high with bright red boiled crawdads. Too bad I’d already eaten ribs for dinner! I wasn’t up for an order of boiled crawdads that night (even if I had any idea of how to eat one), but I did try a breaded fried mudbug. It mostly tasted like fried breading.

After the festival, we walked along the river - there's a great fountain there that children were running through.

There was one more VIP that I met while in Louisiana - a little guy named Elbie. I'm thinking there may be a whole new chapter about to start in my life, but time will tell.

You can see photos of Sewing Day on Jolie’s Facebook page - we had a great time making pajama pants. We used my machine, because Jolie’s Singer has a ton of attachments, some of which look like teeny-tiny torture devices, and I felt much more comfortable with mine. Her pajamas turned out beautifully - a great first-time pattern-reading project!

The next leg of the trip: Hurst, Texas, to visit my sister, Pam!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chadron State Park

We took our first trip of the year, to the oldest state park in Nebraska - Chadron State Park. We've been here before - last year we rented a cabin here in late April. It snowed. I decided next time, I'd reserve a cabin for a couple weeks later, hopefully after the last snow and before the ticks became very active.
The last time we were here, on one of our walks, I looked at all the rest of the cabins and decided which one would be just perfect for us. This is it. It has a deck that faces east, so we could eat breakfast in the sunshine, and be able to sit and read in the shade later on.
It's isolated - at the very end of a loop, so the only traffic going by would be someone going to the cabin below ours.
The interiors of the cabins are great, too - there's a screened-in porch, two beds, a table, bathroom with a flush toilet and a shower, a stove, a modern refrigerator, and a sink. All the plates, silverware, pots and pans and cooking tools are also included. Takes all the discomfort out of camping, for sure!
Once we got settled in, it was time for fun. We went hiking on one of the many trails that wind through the park. Jo had a great time chasing his Frisbee in the large, grassy area in the center of the loop, and both he and Star loved exploring.
And wrestling, too.
Then it was time for dinner. Star and JoLee supervised, of course. They even kept an eye on things while Harry went inside to check on a cold beer.
After dinner, it was time to relax. After all, we had a big day coming up - a visit to Toadstool Geologic Park!
In the morning, there was a shimmering layer of frost everywhere. Star was a bit chilly, so she wore Harry's hoodie for a little while - just 'til the sun got up.
But after the sun was up, she warmed up nicely. In fact, she got downright relaxed.
Here, the trees are just leafing out. It was beautiful. Even Harry started to relax!
Today's destination: Toadstool Geologic Park. According to a web search, it's a "must see" for anyone in Western Nebraska.
This is a "destination," for sure. You could never accidentally run across Toadstool Geologic Park. It's waaaay out in the middle of nowhere.
These are part of what's known as the "Badlands."
I was a little worried about running into rattlesnakes, so I kept the pups on their leashes. It wasn't terribly warm, but in short order, the pups were panting. They drank an entire bottle of water on our 1 mile hike!
The dirt reminded me of the top of a home-made oatmeal cookie. Once we got farther into the rock formations, vegetation grew more and more sparse, and the rocks and soil grew more and more peculiar. Still, there was so much beauty!
The dogs had a good time, even though there was one place where we had to help them across a fairly large crack, using a combination of cajoling, pleading, and finally a good heave-ho. Good thing they wear harnesses! The interesting part to me was that these dogs have traversed much bigger cracks and steeper slopes - it seemed to be the crumbling soil that made them uneasy.
At the end of the end of the trail was a replicate of a soddy that had been here years ago. Just the thought of anyone actually living here left me shaking my head in wonder, but the soddy's thick walls left the interior cool and comfortable. Star took full advantage of it.
Then it was back to the cabin, for some more rest and relaxation.
And a beer.
The dogs were so tuckered out that they didn't even see the bunny, right down the hill from the deck!
The next morning came too soon. We got everything packed up, JoLee assumed his favorite car-riding position, and we headed back to Lincoln.
We stopped for lunch at Lake McConaughy, in one of our favorite camping spots.
We're back home, and the dogs are all sleeping around me. It was a great trip - although way too short. Until next time, happy trails!