Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Songs of the Decade

I got this idea last weekend when I was out running. A great song came on my IPod and I thought to myself that it might be the best song of the past decade (turns out the song is 15 years old, oh well). So I figured I'd make a top ten list. Problem is that I can't figure out what criteria to use or even if I should use the same criteria every year. And I feel like I should mention the best 1-2 dozen songs of the year out of the 2000 or so that are released every year. But then this blog would be long and unwieldy so I'm going to try to be as brief as I can:

2000- Babylon by David Gray. Great lyrics. Great sound. Very different than anything else that was out at the time. Pretty surprised that it became so main stream and popular. Honorable mention to Ms. Jackson by Outkast and Stanby Eminem.

2001- Izzo (H.O.V.A.)by Jay-Z. Very catchy song. Great beat. Good for dancing, working out or just driving in the car. Introduced a whole new slang to the general public. Honorable mention to No More Drama by Mary J. Blige and I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me (I know, it kills me to admit it but that song still gets crazy radio play and is extremely catchy. I really liked it until I realized I was singing about Jesus).

2002- Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis. Like many country songs it has a great story and there's a moral. Still on of my favorites. Honorable mention to Your Body is a Wonderland by John Mayer and I Can by Nas (who inspired this whole blog with one of his hits from the 90's).

2003- What a fantastic year for music. Kanye West Through the Wire or Jesus Walks are equally deserving for first place. It's nice to hear a hip-hop song with good lyrics and an original sound. Honorable mentions to Luther Vandross Dance with My Father and John Mayer Daughters, two great songs that make you want to hug your parents/kids. And to Jet Are You Gonna Be My Girl and The White Stripes Seven Nation Army, two songs that rock from two innovative bands.

2004- Because of You by Kelly Clarkson had the best lyrics of the year and she proved that she could write her own lyrics and break through the inane American Idol pop image and prove herself to be a great artist. Even though Skin by Rascal Flatts has lyrics as good as Clarkson's song she gets the nod because she wrote hers. My Chemical Romance proved that they weren't just for 14 year olds who like to wear eyeliner with Helena and I'm Not Ok. And the Killers and Los Lonely Boys put out songs so unique and catchy that they're still played in heavy rotation (Mr. Brightside and Heaven, respectively).

2005- It's a tie between Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood and Gold Digger by Kanye West. Honorable mention to Jack Johnson for Better Together and all the booty shaking club hits from the Black Eyed Peas and Mariah Carey.

2006- Welcome back R & B! Jennifer Hudson's rendition of And I am Telling You along with her Oscar winning performance in Dreamgirls was a fantastic FU to the idiots from American Idol. That song just gives me chills when it's sung well. Ne-Yo brought back the heart ache and the pain that is the R & B ballad with So Sick and Sexy Love. Honorable mention to Ok Go for the most creative video in a long time for Here it Goes Again, Gnarls Barley for the most creative debut sound ever with Crazy and to booty shaking hits from the Scissor Sisters, Justin Timberlake, Busta Rhymes and Christina Aquilera.

2007- Thanks to Brad Paisley for keeping country light with I'm Still a Guy and Ticks. He's been doing it for years but these two are just great. Another great "I love myself" anthem from Mary J. Blige with Just Fine. Paper Planes from M.I.A. brought her unique sound to the mainstream and Love Is a Beautiful Thing from Phil Vassar gave us a wedding song that didn't make you want to jump off a bridge.

2008- Mrs. Officer from Lil Wayne is hilarious. I find myself smiling, singing and dancing every time it comes on the radio. Don't Think I Don't Think About It and a whole album of quality country music from Darius Rucker. It's the first time since Charlie Pride that a black American was topping the mainstream country charts and selling out concerts. Honorable mention to Poker Face and Paperazzi from Lady Gaga, who clearly doesn't care what people think of her, and to Coldplay and R.E.M. for coming back to their roots.

2009- Hats off to Susan Boyle for I Dreamed a Dream because every time you hear her sing you think of her Cinderella story. 1901 from Phoenix and The Great Defector from BellX1 prove that even though American alternative music has become repetitive teenage pop, Europe still has a lot of talented, unique bands. And to Miley Cyrus. Not for that mind-numbing "Party in the USA" but for "The Climb". Many people that I know didn't even realize that it was her until they'd already starting liking the song. This is proof that after she's done being Hannah Montana, goes through rehab and makes a sex tape, she can come out the other side as a legitimate artist and not just another "Where Are They Now?".

So what I learned through all my Internet searching is that Rolling Stone, Spin and all the other so-called music experts filled their lists with a lot of pop drivel and with multiple bands that sound almost identical. I also learned that there is a lot of music out there that I have never heard and that this completely subjective list is in no way thorough or complete. Bring on the criticism.

Monday, December 28, 2009

New Airline Restrictions

I'm getting pretty aggravated with all the changes that have taken place over the past few years and the ones that are being proposed for air travel. It would be one thing if all these restrictions prevented a terrorist attack but they don't.

Let's see, you can't bring deodorant and bottle of water on a plane any more because any liquid or gel bigger than 4 oz might be an explosive. Ok, so I have to put all that in my checked baggage which I now have to pay $25 to check. And I of course have the option of buying snacks from any one of the airport restaurants that are waiting for me past the security gate. Never mind that everything is at least 30% more expensive that it would be at your local grocery store. It just seems like a racket to me.

Now they are proposing to limit usage of portable electronic devices on flights. Did I miss the news report where the terrorist set off a bomb with his IPhone, laptop or mp3 player? The other proposal that I've heard is that passengers aren't going to be able to walk around the cabin during the last hour of an international flight. Well that's fine. They can just blow up the plane earlier. Is it me or do these restrictions have nothing to do with the incidents that have happened?

The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria had been notified that this guy was a potential threat and they didn't put them on a watch list or suspend his Visa. So he hopped on a plane and tried to blow it up. Why isn't anyone focusing on what's wrong with our intelligence system instead of enacting more restrictions which wouldn't have prevented this incident?

This guy had the explosives sewn into the waistband of his underwear and a syringe with the igniting chemical taped to his thigh. None of these things were detected with our existing security infrastucture or with any of the ones that have been proposed. Now if this guy would have flown out of Seattle where they have a full body scanner at the check in, he would have been caught. The scanner would have noticed an anomaly on the scan and he would have been taken away for a strip search.

But he didn't fly out of Seattle because he probably made sure that the he flew out of an airport with limited security restrictions. Only a handful of airports have the body scanning technology because it is expensive and because civil liberties groups have protested that it would be an invasion of privacy. First of all, these scanners are not x-ray vision. You do not see a nude image of the person in front of you on the screen. A generic human body shows up with indicators of where any anomalies exist. Second of all, if a TSA gets to look at every one's business all day but catches the next idiot who tries to blow up a plane, I'm okay with that. My life is a lot more important to me than my modesty. I would think the cost of human lives would outweigh the cost of these scanners in the minds of airlines, civil liberties groups and the government.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Me and the Girl Scouts

I am currently reading Jen Lancaster's latest book "Pretty in Plaid". Lancaster is one of my favorite authors because she humorously reminisces about her life. It's a memoir and a comedy/self-help book all rolled into one. This book focuses on how Lancaster developed her sense of style when she was a young child. She talks about being a Girl Scout and wanting to have tons of badges on her sash to spice up her uniform. She forged her mom's signature on several check lists to pretend like she had completed all of these badges and presented them to her troop leader. Even though her troop leader suspected that she was lying she gave her the patches. Eventually, Lancaster feels guilty about lying and starts earning some of the patches that she has lied to get.

I was a Girl Scout for six years. I was a Brownie for two years, then a Junior for three years and a Cadette for 1 year. In addition to being a Girl Scout, I attended 4-H camp with my school for 9 years. Usually the camping, crafts and wilderness survival tasks that we did in 4-H were much more challenging than those that we did in Girl Scouts. I don't think I ever liked Girl Scouts because I found very few girls that I had things in common with and I found a lot of the troop leaders to be rude and cliquey. Most of the girls went to public school together so they knew each other outside of Girl Scouts and their parents knew each other too. My mom worked full time, was a caregiver for my father and was raising my brother who was 5 years younger than me. She didn't have time to volunteer so she rarely came to many of the events. Because I went to private school I had a completely different group of friends than the other girls in my troop. I was also the only black girl in every troop I was ever in. That would not have been a big deal if I bonded with the girls but because I already felt like an outsider it only made me feel more excluded.

My mom loved the Girl Scouts. She thought it was a great organization. I think she secretly hoped that by hanging out with a bunch of girls that I would have more girl friends and be interested in doing more girl things. That definitely didn't happen. I wasn't allowed to quit the Girl Scouts until I switched over from private school to public school in 7th grade. I had to do one year as a Cadette and if I still didn't like it I could quit. That last year was brutal. I was getting used to public school and making friends and was embarrassed that I was still a Girl Scout at the age of 12. It was such a goody-goody prissy image that I didn't want to project. I definitely acted out in school to overcompensate for the Girl Scout stigma.

I have a number of awkward and unhappy memories from my years in the Girl Scouts. But the memory that sticks out the most in my mind is of my time as a Junior. I diligently completed 9 patches on summer vacation one year. My mom quizzed me on the checklists and looked at my projects to make sure that I had done everything required before she signed off on my patches. I presented my book to my troop leader at the end of the summer and she accused me of being a liar and said that I had not followed the correct procedure to get these badges. I had done everything like I had always done it and like the other girls in my troop did it. I couldn't wrap my little 10 year old brain around what I had done wrong. I was devastated. I never told my mom what happened. I'd like to believe that she would have done something about it but I can't be sure. After that my hatred for Girl Scouts grew exponentially. I had a big chip on my shoulder and put forth the least amount of effort with the most attitude at most Girl Scout events. Any fond memories that I had of Girl Scouts were erased from my memory.

I think that at some point my troop leader spoke to my mom and told her that Girl Scouts wasn't right for me. My mom hinted at this but never said it out right. I think that's why she gave me an out after 7th grade. She thought that maybe once I became a Cadette and had a new troop leader and met new girls that I would love it but I didn't and quit immediately after serving my one year sentence.

Looking back on it now its hard to imagine that race didn't play a role in the troop leader's decision to deny me the badges. If she thought I was lying why not talk to my mom? Had she done this to other girls? It didn't look like it; all my peers had several more badges than I did. It was so embarrassing at events that I looked like a new or lazy Girl Scout because my sash was so empty. Did she talk to other girls' moms and recommend that their daughters quit? Maybe it was the combination of being black and in the upper middle class that bothered her. Maybe she wanted to send her kids to private school and couldn't afford it. Maybe it had nothing to do with race at all and she just didn't like me. I don't know how you could become a troop leader in charge of helping young girls develop in well rounded women and intentionally kill the spirit of one girl.

I hadn't thought about that in years but just reading that passage in the book reminded me of it. It's amazing how a memory that you have completely forgotten can come back to you in such vivid detail with the right trigger.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas Eve

I have always loved Christmas but I have grown to love it even more since I met my husband. When I was a kid, Christmas was much more hectic than it is now. I appreciate the freedom of Christmas now that I look back at the Christmases of my youth.

My brother and I were not allowed to wake our parents up until 7 am on Christmas Day. We were so excited to open our presents that we usually stayed up past midnight and woke up before 6 am. Since we weren't allowed to go downstairs where the presents were, we spent this time playing video games in my brother's room. Even well into my teens I can remember sleeping on the floor in my brother's room on Christmas Eve. We of course had to sleep in the same room to make it fair. If one of us woke up before the other and the other one decided to sneak downstairs that would ruin the day for us.

After opening all our presents, we had a huge breakfast and enjoyed all our new gifts. We spent most of the day in our pajamas watching Christmas movies and eating junk food. Late afternoon we got dressed up and packed the car for the one hour drive to my grandmother's house.

There are a lot of relatives on my mother's side of the family so it wasn't out of the ordinary for 30+ people to squeeze into my grandmother's 1500 square foot townhouse. This part of Christmas was annoying as a kid because all these people that you only saw every once in a while were in your business. They were asking tons of questions and making stupid jokes that proved how little they knew about you. As a kid all you could do was stew (unless you wanted to mouth off and risk getting a spanking) as your distant relatives talked about you like you weren't there. The day wasn't all bad though. The food was always fantastic, you got to hang out with some of your relatives that you actually liked and didn't get to see very often and, most importantly, more presents. My brother usually fell asleep in a food coma on the drive home while my mom and I bitched about our family (Thanksgiving generally went the same way except we didn't get any presents).

Christmas changed as I got older. My senior year of high school I spent two weeks in Germany to visit a friend of mine who had moved away because her dad was in the Army. I opened my presents the first week of January when I got home. My family hadn't opened the gifts that I had given them so we all opened presents on that makeshift Christmas. It was nice to be home but none of the Christmas magic was there.

The following year I went away to college. I was home for three weeks over Christmas between semesters. Both my brother and I had found our independence during my time away and me being home was a big adjustment for both of us. I remember my brother sneaking out on Christmas Eve and going out drinking and smoking pot with his friends. When I went in his room at 6:45 am to see if he was ready to go downstairs to open presents I found a very hung over, half-stoned brother with little interest in Christmas. It made me a little sad because I had been reminiscing over my memories of all the great Christmases that we had enjoyed when we were kids and the reality of this new Christmas just didn't measure up to my expectations.

I quickly realized that losing the morning Christmas ritual wasn't such a big deal. My brother and I were too old to worry about getting spanked so we enjoyed talking back to our relatives and correcting them when they made their stupid comments. The drives home were a lot more fun because my brother joined my mother and I in our relative bashing. We spent a lot of hours laughing until we cried once we had escaped from our relatives to the freedom of the highway. Christmas as an adult is great because if you are subjected to someones bullshit you can tell them they are full of shit without ruining the day.

Up until I moved to New York in 2005, I lived within three hours of my relatives or was home from college for several weeks at a time so travel wasn't an issue. My relatives are now at least 6 hours away. Traveling is much more difficult and has to be planned well in advance. The 200 inches of snow that we get every year makes it dangerous to travel in the winter so after my first year here I just stopped doing it.

My husband's relatives are spread out over several states so it wasn't uncommon for him to go 3 or more years without seeing many of them. Because his mother was sick for much of his life, he spent Christmas at home with her and the relatives came to them. She passed away in early 2006 and he moved to New York in the fall of 2006. He had rarely traveled for the holidays in the past and saw no reason to start now.

Having a husband who has no desire to deal with all the stress of traveling on the holidays and putting up with family is a beautiful thing. This is one thing that we have always been on the same page about. While he sees his relatives a lot more now that he's with me we always travel outside of the holidays when flights are cheaper, the weather is nice and it more convenient for our schedule.

Our traditions:

Thanksgiving Day morning hike with the dog followed by a big breakfast at a home and a trip to the movie theater. I make a big dinner for just the two of us with all of our Thanksgiving favorites. I go shopping early the next morning and he goes to work.

Christmas Eve open stockings and go to the movie theater and have dinner out. Christmas Day open presents, take the dog for a long walk and then come back home. Christmas dinner at a friends house or at home alone.

New Years Eve dinner out, maybe a little dancing. Fall asleep a little tipsy soon after midnight if not before. New Year's Day college football, hot chocolate and general gluttony.

Happy Holidays Everyone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Where is My Pond?

I will admit that I have always been a big fish in a small pond. I was never popular on a large scale. No one voted me to be anything in my yearbook. In my school of 2000+ people a lot of people probably didn't know who I was. But within my small cliques I was the top dog. Up until 7th grade I attended small private schools. I was very outgoing and enjoyed being the center of attention. I was downright obnoxious most of the time but I loved the attention that I received. Even when I switched to a different private school for 6th grade it didn't take me long to establish myself as the alpha there as well.

Things changed when I started going to public school. There were hundreds of kids any many of them had known each other since nursery school. I didn't know anyone and I felt like I had nothing in common with these people. But it didn't take me long to realize that through smaller group activities I could be the center of attention again. Through music, sports and clubs I was able to once again be the big fish. The transition from intermediate school to high school was fairly easy. All of my friends from intermediate school went to my high school. My circle of friends continued to grow through my involvement in extracurricular activities. I loved a lot of things about high school. It was great for my self esteem and made my already over sized ego grow even bigger.

For college I went to a school that none of my friends were going to. I was two states away from home and everything that was familiar to me. I was very homesick at first but by the end of the week cliques had formed in my dorm and I was the big fish again. I really came into my own sophomore year when I became involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. College was even better than high school. By the end of college I knew who I was and had the confidence to go out and start my adult life. With every move after that I was able to maintain the same social success. My entire social life developed from friends that I made in sports or at work. Even though I always started at the same place (new town, no friends)I always managed to develop a great social life. But New York has been different.

For the past 5 years I have essentially worked from home and I have not found a karate school in my style or other sports group near me. I have no opportunities to make friends. I have tried different groups here but nothing leads anywhere. I'm proud of myself for putting the effort out and actually leaving the house but sometimes I feel lonelier when I'm among other people than I do when I'm at home alone. Sitting in the back of Zumba class watching everyone chatting with each other and feeling completely invisible makes me feel very embarrassed and small. I don't like that feeling. At least when I'm home no one is watching me and thinking "Why doesn't that girl have any friends?" or some of the more damaging thoughts that come into my head when I'm feeling sorry for myself.

When I first moved to New York, my old friends were super excited when I came back into town. There would be a dozen people waiting to go out to dinner with me and hang out. People also came up to New York to visit me a couple times a year. We would go out dancing and party like old times. Over the years, I have lost touch with many of my old friends. The few that I still associate with seem to be busy when I come into town. I usually end of eating by myself and hanging out in my hotel room. Or worse, when they are available the night out doesn't live up to my expectations. We seem to have less in common and a lot more awkward moments. We never have as good a time as I remembered us having in the past. When I first moved to New York I was excited that I had to travel to Pennsylvania regularly for meetings and conferences. It was a great way to catch up with people without dipping into my own money. But now its just a reminder of how much things have changed.

Okay, so I'm done feeling sorry for myself. I have to believe that at some point one of the activities that I try will lead to me having a social life. I have to try harder and step outside my comfort zone more. I don't have to be the queen bee again but it would be nice to at least belong to a hive.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Consequential Stangers

Yesterday I saw my neighbor Steve return home after weeks in the hospital. My husband and I weren't sure if he had passed away or not so we were happy to see him come home. He was brought home by ambulance. Two hospital supply vans unloaded a wheelchair and various medical supplies to turn his house into a makeshift nursing home. My husband and I have both been there before with our parents. You are happy that your family member is well enough to come home from the hospital but you are also sad because you know that your home life will be forever altered to accommodate your new patient. When we saw another ambulance pull into Steve's driveway this afternoon we wondered if it was all too much for them and Steve's family decided to send Steve back to the hospital. Unfortunately Steve's wife had taken ill and the ambulance had come to take her away. Two car loads of family members followed the ambulance down the road. Some of them carried plates wrapped in aluminum foil with hopes of salvaging their Thanksgiving dinner once they arrived at the hospital.

Steve lives directly across the street from me so it is difficult not to notice things going on at his house. But I make it a point to notice; I have an interest in Steve's well being. I have only had a few conversations with Steve over the years. I'm guessing that Steve is in his early 90's. He likes to sit on his front porch and observe the neighborhood. I wave to him when I walk my dog and when I pick up my mail. We exchange a few cordial words about how great/terrible the weather is now and again but we are essentially strangers.

Steve is a consequential stranger in my life. I heard a story on NPR a few months ago that described a consequential stranger as someone that you barely know who has a big impact on your life. The mailman, your favorite waiter, the guy that waves to you every time you go to the park- these are all consequential strangers. You might not even know their names but they become a part of your life.

When I had storm damage to my house a few months after moving in Steve came over and introduced himself to me. He gave me some pictures that he had taken of the damage, a piece of paper with his phone number and extended an offer for me and my pets to come over to his house if my house wasn't safe to live in. Most of the other neighbors just slowed down and stared at the house as they drove by. A few came over and knocked on the door but it was just to give me their business cards and try to make some money off my situation. Steve was the only one who seemed to genuinely care about how I was doing. Ever since then he has been my favorite neighbor. I have become accustomed to observing his daily routine through my picture window. I missed not seeing him for the past few weeks while he was in the hospital.

Now Steve is too sick to come outside and sit on the porch. We see nurses and family members going in and out of the house but we don't see Steve any more. I know that it is only a matter of time before he passes away. The thought of never seeing Steve again makes me sad. Eventually his kids will sell the house and some young couple will move in but it will always be Steve's house. On this Thanksgiving day, I am grateful for my friends and family but I am also grateful for the many consequential strangers who touch my life every day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Southern Hospitality

Every time I go to visit friends and relatives in the deep south I am reminded of how rude people are in the north. Every where I go, people holding open doors for each other and saying hello to perfect strangers. Complete strangers that we passed on the street waved to my husband and I when we went on our morning jog. The friendliness of the wait staff in restaurants was unbelievable. It actually made me feel a little ashamed of how rude people are here.

While my family is from the south, I grew up in Northern Virginia which isn't very southern at all. It's maily a D.C. suburb with a mix of different cultures from around the world, not just the U.S. But even in my pseudo southern upbringing, I was accustomed to doors being held open for me and people saying hello to me as I passed them. When I first moved to Pennsylvania to go to college I was shocked by how rude the people were. I can remember stopping at a rest stop with my mom and not a single person holding a door open for us. I hadn't even arrived at school yet but it was clear that this was a whole new world that I was entering.

It's been 15 years since I first left Virginia. While I would consider myself to be a fairly considerate person, I know that I am not nearly as neighborly as I once was. In general, I don't think people are as hospitable any where as they used to be. As a society, we have become more brash, more rushed and more self centered and less concerned with helping other people. But there is still a marked difference between how people act in the places that I have lived and the south.

I will admit that one thing that was apparent in the south was how behind they were in other areas. There is limited recycling so a lot of things get thrown in the trash that would be recylced elsewhere. There is a lot more staring going on when people that are different walk into the room. I noticed a lot more loose dogs and cats running around. Obesity is a much bigger problem. The separation between different classes is defined by race much more than it is in other places. So while I wish people were more friendly in New York, I would much rather deal with rude people than live in a time warp.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Too Busy to Be A Good Dog Owner

I love people who were mediocre dog owners before they had kids who then become horrible dog owners after they have kids. "We can't walk Riley because we have to watch little Max" or some other lame excuse gets thrown around and accepted way too much. Unless you're Octomom that just doesn't make any sense. So you don't watch TV, you don't go out, you don't do anything except watch your children 24 hours a day seen days a week? I seriously doubt that.

I have a co-worker who has two overweight black labs. They are very high energy dogs but very sweet. She keeps them locked in the basement all day long and then lets them out in the backyard when she gets home. She says she doesn't walk the dogs because they don't walk well on the leash but they get so little attention I'm surprised they are even house trained. She goes to happy hour at least twice a week after work. She has two children but they are both in school all day. She is always at the water cooler discussing the latest episodes of Dancing with the Stars, the Biggest Loser, etc. Sounds like someone with a lot of free time to me. Not surprisingly her kids are very bad. Just like the dogs, they receive no discipline or structure and run wild. I find myself playing with her dogs and disciplining her children every time I go to her house.

To her credit, her husband does travel a lot and she is left with managing many of the household duties herself. But he earns well over $100,000 a year and she makes a good salary as well. They lead a pretty lavish lifestyle with frequent vacations, a big house, luxury cars, daily meals out and lots of toys for the kids and themselves. They definitely have the financial means to hire a dog sitter, take their dogs to a doggie day care or invest in some quality dog training.

She gained 60 lbs with her second child but managed to find time to walk on the treadmill for an hour every day while watching TV to take the weight off. It's too bad she doesn't care as much about her poor dogs as she does about the size of her ass. The problem is she had the dogs well before she had the kids and she claimed to never have time to train or exercise the dogs when it was just her and her husband. I think people get dogs because they think they are cute but they don't realize that having a dog is like having a child. It is a big responsibility and it takes a lot of time, money and patience on your part to do it right.

I have volunteered at no kill rescue organizations that were very strict with their adoption requirements. Dogs were not adopted out unless the perfect home was found for each dog. We did home visits, interviewed references and made sure that person's lifestyle matched up to what we felt the dog needed to be happy. Unfortunately this can't be applied to the Humane Society, ASPCA and other public rescue organizations that have limited funding and space. Is it better for two dogs to go to a home where they'll get minimal exercise and attention than for those dogs to be put down? Of course it is.

The rescue groups are not being frequented by this type of bad dog owner. My co-worker and many other people like her get their dogs from pet stores and breeders on a whim. They don't want damaged rescue dogs. They haven't sat down with their family to determine if they have the emotional and financial means to properly care for a dog or what type of dog suits their lifestyle. Many of these dogs end up in shelters once the owners realize that being a dog owner is a lot of work. These are the dogs that I adopt. The dogs that have been abandoned or abused by the only family they have ever known, or worse yet, the dogs that have never known a family.

While I think private rescue organizations are great, those dogs are generally not at risk for being euthanized to make space for additional dogs. There is never a shortage of pure bred dogs at the shelters. Even if you have your heart set on a specific breed you should always check with your local rescue groups to see what dogs they have. Unfortunately my favorite breed of dog, the German Shepherd, is always well represented at shelters and I don't anticipate ever having a problem finding one at my local ASPCA. But if there were no German Shepherd dogs or mixes available within a couple hours of my house I would adopt another breed of dog. I cannot imagine any situation where I would turn to a breeder or pet store to get my dogs.

I don't have time to read or write as much as I'd like. Sometimes I make excuses for not working out or pick up dinner because I don't have time to prepare a meal. I don't have the time or the patience to have children or to keep in touch with all my friends and relatives regularly. But I always make time for my pets. Like brushing my teeth, going to the bathroom and eating, they are just part of my regular routine. I chose to adopt pets. After that I am obligated to everything related to their care.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Dream House

I grew up in a large house that my parents built on a couple acres of land in a northern Virgina. Beyond our property boundary was a pond and woods. Since there were no houses behind my house, the pond and the woods felt like an extension of our property. Since we lived on a cul-de-sac we also benefited from a bike bath that the town had put in to run from my neighborhood to several other neighborhoods and to the high school for kids who walked and biked to school. The bike path also lead to a basketball court and a creek. I have fond memories of riding my bike to my friends houses, walking to school for special events and wading in the water and playing basketball with my friends and family. We always had parties and barbecues at our house because it was a great location. I couldn't have asked for a better living situation.

Unfortunately, developers bought the property behind my house a couple years before my family moved out. They drained the pond and cleared out some of the wooded areas to make room for additional housing developments. The basketball court, creek and bike path are still there but perverts and other undesirables have taken over the wooded area surrounding the path so it isn't safe to explore any more. The man who bought our house ended up putting up a large fence to separate his property from these new unwelcome neighbors. I distinctly remember that the only houses that had fences when I was growing up had pools. It was sad to see that my idyllic little Virginia town now needed fences to protect its citizens from the outside world.

I have lived in apartments, townhouses and dorm rooms of various sizes over the years. I have lived in the city, in a college town, in both rich and poor suburbs of major cities and dealt with all the good and bad things that come with each of them but nothing has come close to the house that I grew up in. The house that I live in now is very close to what I want. It provides more than enough room for my husband and I and our furry family to live comfortably. We have about an acre of land, an in ground pool and live a short drive away from a medium-sized city.

The only problem is that I live in a large neighborhood with hundreds of houses and am surrounded by major roads on all sides. If I could move my house to a more rural location and at least triple our current acreage I would be much happier. Unfortunately, all the areas where my husband and I have visited that fit this mold are not very diverse.

When my husband and I go to events in these towns I rarely see another non-white person and am blatantly stared at by complete strangers. When running in road races in these towns, I have seen people cheering for everyone in the race stop clapping when I pass by and avert their eyes only to hear the clapping start again after I pass. I try to say hello to everyone that stares at me but am often met with a blank stare. Didn't their mothers teach them that staring was rude? And be clear here, I'm not talking about children (while that happens as well) I am talking about adults.

Even people in the neighborhood that I live in now often express their surprise that I am educated and friendly. Apparently I do not live up to the stereotypes that they have collected after years of ignorant media images. The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince, these are all completely contradictory to the lives that some white people seem to think that black people live. I bought my house before I met my husband so the looks and comments that I got from contractors, neighbors, etc, while generally not blatantly racist, were completely ignorant and offensive. I'd like to think that I'm just being paranoid but my husband and friends have noticed these things when they're with me as well. I don't want to give the impression that these things happen every day or that no one is friendly but the ignorant, unfriendly people have a much greater impact on me. I can go weeks without a problem and then will be slapped in the face with such blatant racism that it makes me want to go in my house and never come out.

The beauty of Northern Virgina and many of the Washington, D.C. suburbs is that class is primarily dictated by money and not race. The D.C. suburbs are filled with politicians, diplomats, college professors and various other professionals who want a short commute to the city but don't want to live there. I was exposed to rich, middle class and lower income people among all races growing up. While there were plenty of incidents of people being racist towards me or my friends and family, I never felt like I wouldn't be able to live somewhere because of my race. The general openness of the most people outweighed the negativity of the ignorant few.

My husband and I have discussed moving closer to Rochester or Buffalo, much larger cities in upstate New York. Aside from the increased racial diversity, living close to a bigger city will also account for some of Syracuse's other shortcomings. The short list includes: bigger airports with cheaper flights and more possible destinations, a better selection of concerts and cultural events, a bigger selection of national restaurant and retail chains, black hair salons and stores that sell ethnic skin and beauty products, more job opportunities, alternative medical facilities and more social groups and clubs. We frequently drive for 90 minutes or more for many of these things.

Sadly in making this decision we will never be able to live as far from the city as we would like. I'm getting tired of being the ambassador for black people. Just once I'd like to move somewhere where people don't consider me a credit to my race, the exception to some rule, not like other black people, etc. It's hard to convey to other people how difficult it is to go through life listening to people talk about how racism is dead when I still deal with it on a regular basis. No matter how successful I am financially, I will never be able to live any where that I want without serious consequences to my emotional well being and that is depressing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

One Uppers and Fake Questioners

You know the people that I'm talking about. The people who couldn't listen if their life depended on it. The people who are so geared up to respond to what they haven't listened to you say that they often start talking before you're done telling the story. I can't stand these people but I am surrounded by them and, at times, I admit that I am one of them.

I am not a person who opens up to people very easily so when I decide to confide in someone it hurts my feelings when they don't listen. It makes me less likely to confide in them or any one else in the future. The most recent situation that I encountered was with another German Shepherd rescuer. He complimented me on my dog and asked me where I rescued him from and what his story was. I barely got one sentence out before he told me about a German Shepherd that he had rescued that was in worse shape than my dog at the time of rescue. He might as well have said "Oh yeah, I can do better than that." If you just want to talk about yourself then go ahead but don't try to justify it by pretending that you care about what I have to say. This is a pretty mild situation but it is a perfect example of the one upper. Everything that he has been through is worse, more difficult, more gruesome, more trying that anything that you could have ever been through.

This annoys me a little but what really hurts me is when its more serious topics. My weight, my father's death, his illness, racism, sexism and abuse that I have suffered, person tragedies that my family and I have been through, etc. These are the topics that people frequently steamroll me on to tell me about their dad who died from cancer or how their babysitter hit them when they were a kid. I'm not saying that your feelings are less valid than mine but I'm not going to talk about myself when you need a shoulder to cry on and you shouldn't either. People often claim that they are empathizing with me by telling a story that they think relates to my situation but they aren't. They are one-upping me and not being a friend.

I don't understand why its so difficult to just listen to what someone else is going through. If you have some unresolved issues that you haven't dealt with then do that on your own time. If I come to you to cry on your shoulder then you should be available to listen to what I have to say. Nothing that you say in response should be about you. How you dealt with a completely unrelated situation does not help me deal with my situation. It devalues what I'm going through and that is not cool.

The fake questioners are a little trickier to spot. Sometimes it seems like they're asking a question that is harmless like "Do you always rinse your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher?" But really its just setting the stage for them to criticize you. When I responded to this question from my former roommate she went on for 5 minutes about how wasteful it was to wash the dishes before putting them it in the dishwasher and why did I have a dishwasher if I was just going to wash the dished by hand and how her father did this and it was a completely obsessive compulsive behavior that drove her mother crazy, blah, blah, blah. My former roommate is the queen of the fake questions. Everything to how you drive, picking up your dogs waste, the type of clothes you wear, etc. are all subject to her criticism because she is perfect and everything she does should be emulated. She will usually try to comment on it in a joking way so that if you tell her she's being an ass she says "Oh I was just joking, why are you so sensitive?"

I've gotten pretty good at preempting the fake questions by shutting down the line of questioning the moment it starts and calling the person out for their behavior. If you want to criticize or make fun of the way that I do something then have the nerve to do it without any false pretense. But be aware that what you think about how I live my life is not important to me. You live your life the way you want to and stay the F out of mine. If my habits are so annoying to you that you can't spend time around me without being critical of me then go be somewhere else. Your lack of self esteem and need to be critical of others is your problem.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Dogs Revisited

So last week I had convinced myself that I couldn't care for two dogs the same way I care for one dog. It was more expensive, what if one dog was sick and the other one wasn't, how could I not play favorites, etc. I don't know if that's how I really feel or if I was just trying to convince myself.

Maybe Chale wouldn't have so many issues if he had a well balanced brother to ease his anxieties. If I got both dogs at the same time and there were no territory issues then things shouldn't be too difficult. One dog will inevitably pass before the other one but that doesn't mean that the new dog that I get to be with him will be a puppy. I know that I'm a good enough dog owner that I will wait until I'm sure my old dog is okay before I bring another dog into the picture and that I won't bring a 1 year old hyperactive puppy into my house with an 8 year old mellow dog. And really, if I don't think the old dog is ready then I won't replace the dog that passed. I have to give myself more credit than that. If anything I'll probably become an even better dog owner because I'll be so paranoid that I'm going to screw things up that I'll over do everything.

Yes, having two dogs will be more expensive. But with pet insurance those costs will be much less than they have been for all my pets up to this point. When I first got Chale, pet insurance wasn't available that covered genetic conditions so I didn't see the point in getting it. Of course now there are insurers that will cover hip displaysia, epilepsy and other genetic conditions. It makes me happy that the thousands of dollars that I've spent on him over the years will not likely be repeated on a future dog that is insured. I insured my cat earlier this year and will insure every pet I own in the future. Even if the monthly premiums balance out what the insurance company reimburses me for I would much rather pay a little bit each month than put $5,000 on a credit card in an emergency situation (like we had to this summer with Chale).

My mother has a four year old Maltese and a 14 year old Shiba Inu. When the Maltese was first introduced into the household the shiba was not very friendly. But over time they became buddies. The Maltese has a lot more energy than the Shiba so he gets additional walks and play times separate from his brother. But the Shiba gets massages and gentle play time alone to make sure his little joints are doing okay. They still play and walk together daily but they don't do everything together any more. My mother realized that they had different needs and changed their routines to accommodate their different life stages. They were both much happier when my mom stopped trying to force the Shiba to keep up with the Maltese and started pushing the Maltese to burn more energy.

I see a lot of people who have multiple dogs and seem to take very good care of them. I've seen people with 3-4 dogs who seem to manage without any problem and other people who neglect their one 5 lb dog. The bottom line is that if someone is a bad pet owner it doesn't matter if they have 1 dog or 3, those dogs are going to suffer. But as a good pet owner, I know that my heart and my patience can handle life with two dogs if it means 2 less dogs sitting in a shelter and twice the wet doggie kisses and snuggle time.

Monday, October 26, 2009

In Laws

I hate those TV shows where people constantly hang out with their families and everyone is best friends. The kids tell their parents everything from the first time they have sex to who they think the cutest boy in their class is. All the siblings love each other and hang out together even though they are years apart. I don't know if I would say that I envy these people, I am definitely intrigued by them. I had those friends in high school and college whose parents were super cool and ended up hanging out with us. On one hand I was jealous that they had such a great relationship with their parents but on the other hand I thought it was a little creepy having your parents in all your business.

I did not have a traditional upbringing. My father was too sick to parent for most of my life so most of his influences on me were indirect. My mother had a difficult time coping with having two children and a sick husband which prevented her from being available to us emotionally. She provided my brother and I with a lot of material things to make up for the lack of parenting. We were spoiled rotten but there were no real boundaries or discipline in our lives. When we were younger I stepped in and parented my brother when I thought he needed it. We also experienced the normal sibling rivalry and fighting that most people go through.

Now that we are adults, my brother and I get along great. We have very similar personalities and keep in touch regularly. I still tend to provide "parenting" when its required but he doesn't need it nearly as much as he used to. My mother and I have more of a sisterly relationship than a mother-daughter relationship. We talk on the phone at least once a week for a couple hours and talk about everything from her joining a dating site to why my husband and I don't want children. I tend to be the big sister in the relationship, giving her advice and a push when she needs it. I think this is the role that my father filled in her life so I think she will continue to lean on me pretty heavily until she gets into another relationship.

I think my unique relationship with my mother and my brother makes for pretty relaxed in-law relations for my husband. When we visit my family, we can stay with my mother and still enjoy ourselves. My husband and I can go out and do things on our own without worrying about hurting her feelings or her guilting us into taking her along or not doing anything at all. She will join us when invited to go to the movies, bowling alley, etc. We can sit in her house and have a conversation with her without censoring ourselves. She neither smothers us nor ignores us. And if she does get on our nerves we can just tell her because she is no thin skinned. We see her more than some of the other relatives because its only a six hour drive and we don't have to spend a lot of money on a hotel. She is not religious and is politically fairly moderate to liberal so we share most of the same views on current events. Admittedly, she usually has a list of projects for us to complete when we come to visit since she lives on her own and the closest relatives are pretty far away. And my husband does have to listen to me complain when she's been leaning a little too heavily on me during our weekly phone conversations but, for the most part, I don't think he has a lot to complain about.

My brother and a few of my cousins are just like good friends to me. My husband and I can hang out with them like we would any one of our friends. There is no strain and they dislike members of my extended family as much as I do. Along with my mother, they make up what I would consider my immediate family. These are the people that my husband and I must visit and talk to regularly. While any travel is a bit of a chore, I usually look forward to these visits and am in good spirits after them. I cannot say the same for my husband's family.

He has one sister who I blatantly refer to as my favorite. She is married with two kids and we always have a lot of fun when we go to visit them. We do stay in a hotel when we go to visit them because we enjoy our personal space and neither of us has the patience to spend a long period of time with children. We always enjoy our visits with them and keep in touch regularly through social networking sites and the occasional phone call. While they are very religious and conservative it doesn't affect their ability to have fun. They are capable of being true to their faith without being too strict with their children or too repressed in their daily life. They seem to realize that there is nothing in the bible that says being faithful is equivalent to being miserable.

My husband also has another sister and a brother who are much older then him. My husband has fond memories of fun times that he had with all three of his siblings when he was younger but something happened to two of them after they got married. They both went from being mildly religious to being cult-like in their faith. My husband also has an aunt who filled the mother role for him in many situations in his past. Her and her husband are essentially my mother-in-law and father-in-law. All three family members warrant individual blogs for me to thoroughly explain their personalities and why they drive me crazy. But the common problem is that they all have selective memories where my husband is involved.

Much like my relationship with my father, my husband's mother was sick for much of his life. The main difference is that my husband was stuck living with and taking care of his mother because he was the youngest and all of his siblings had moved away to raise their families and live their lives. When my husband came to visit them he was happy to be free of the burden of taking care of his mother for a few days. When they came to visit him and his mother the impact of her illness was reduced because there were multiple people to split the tasks among and because she was in very good spirits because she had company that she didn't see often. While I am confident that my husband enjoyed these visits I also know that none of them really know who he is as a person even though they like to think that they do.

My husband's mother died four months after we met. While she knew me as a family friend my husband never had the chance to tell her that we were dating. Her death prevented the much warranted outburst that had been building in my husband for years. He never got the chance to tell his family how pissed off he was at them for deserting him. He had his own apartment near his mother for a few years before her death but he was still responsible for many of her daily needs. They know that he quit his job and moved to another state to start fresh to be with me a year after we met but they do not know that he was planning on making this change long before he met me. He never got the chance to take a stand and put himself first while his mother was still alive. They do not know the full extent of the substance abuse that my husband suffered through when he was trying to cope with this life that he did not chose. They barely know his likes and dislikes because their point of reference is the boy that he was 15 years ago, when they last spent significant time with him, and not the man that he is today. While my husband has become extremely skilled at biting his tongue around his family and putting his needs second I am not okay with this.

I try to be supportive of my husband but it is difficult not to point out how selfish many of his relatives are, how delusional they are about their relationships with my husband and how much they take him for granted. Part of me feels bad that we see my family more than we see his family but a bigger part of me knows that he can only handle his family in small doses because he can rarely relax and completely be himself in their company. So we will continue to visit the good sister and hope that the rest of them eventually come around. Because if they don't one day they are going to push my husband too far and he is going to unload years of anger and frustration that they are not ready to deal with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rude People As Usual

I love Panera, Thruway rest stops and other places that offer free WiFi. It allows me to get work done when I'm not at the office without going blind by trying to do everything on my blackberry. So why is it that no matter how far in the back of the room I sit or how many seats are available in the area, some asshole always sits right next to me.

This morning as I enjoy my souflee and smoothie in Panera before I head out to a meeting, I am enjoying the pissing match between two "businessmen". I put businessmen in quotes because they clearly come into Panera every morning and bitch about how difficult their lives are but neither of them has a laptop, blackberry or anythign else that they could use to work. One of them is about 350 lbs and wearing a flannel shirt and sweat pants. The other one is in a track suit. I don't want to judge other people but what kind of business are these people operating? Neither of them seems to be very motivated to leave here anytime soon. They are moaning about the government and the stock market etc, they know the names of all the employees at Panera (who also seem to know who they are); it's like an episode of Grumpy Old Men live in here. I think you have assigned seats when you come in here every day and it doesn't matter how many seats are available you always have to sit in your same spot every day even if it inconveniences someone else who was there first. I guess I just have a bad habit of chosing the wrong seat. Maybe if there were name tags on the seats that said "Reserved for loud, smelly fat guy who reeks of cigarette smoke and breathes with his mouth open" I would know not to sit next to that table.

Incidentally, I am here to have breakfast before a 9:30 am meeting. Panera is closer to my meeting location than to my office so it is a common stop for me. I will be here for about an hour total. I am not wearing a track suit or a flannel. I am not talking loudly on my cell phone or trying to prove how smart I am by talking about current events at the top of my lungs. I had a complegtely different blog topic selected but was so overwhelmed by the insecurity of the men near me that I had to change topics. I think I might have to relocate to my car and squint at my blackberry in peace so I'm relaxed for my meeting!

Relatives aren't Automatically Friends

My wedding was fantastic because everyone partied together. I think it was the first time anyone in my family saw me drink and dance (that tells you how fun other weddings have been) and the only time I wasn't self conscious about my behavior around them. A wedding is that unique, once in a decade (in lifetime in some families) setting where all bets are off. You can sing the lyrics to Baby Got Back at the top of your lungs while doing the lambada with your high school boyfriend 10 feet away from your grandmother and no one will blink an eye. My wedding was the best party that I've ever attended. Everyone told me it was one of the best parties, not just weddings, that they'd ever been too. The problem is the familiarity that some of my relatives are trying to establish with me post-wedding as a result of the success of the wedding.

Don't get me wrong, I think its really awesome that people bring up my wedding every time I talk to them even though it was over a year ago. But I shouldn't have to sit in my uncle's living room for hours because he wants to hang out with me because we danced near each other at my wedding last year. I don't know how dancing until you were drenched in sweat and your feet were sore translates to sitting on the couch and having conversations about nothing while the TV drones on in the background. The guilt trips that I have been receiving from my family members about not spending time with them or talking to them on the phone forces me to either give in to their requests and be miserable or be a bitch and blow them off. It's not like they're inviting me to an event. They seriously just want me to sit in my car for 6 hours to sit at their house and do nothing or, worse yet, they want to sit in their car for 6 hours and invade my house and disrupt my life.

Up until 5 years ago, I lived no more than 3 hours away from most of my mother's family (my father's family has not been in my life since his death). So I attended almost every wedding, baby shower, holiday dinner, picnic, etc. without being too inconvenienced. At the time I was single and my dog was younger and healthier so traveling to all these events wasn't' that much of an imposition. Also, a lot of my friends from high school and college lived nearby so I could do the family thing for a few hours and then go out and party with my friends. My husband and I have been together for 4 years (three of those years living together), my dog is almost nine years old and has a number of medical problems and I live at least 6 hours away from my closest relative. All of my close friends have moved to other states; the friends that are left really are more acquaintances than friends and are as much a pain in my ass as my family.

When my family went from seeing me multiple times a year to seeing me once a year or less, they freaked out. Suddenly they didn't know me and were desperate to spend time with me to maintain these imaginary relationships that we had. Now really, they never knew me and they still don't but for whatever reason they associated seeing me regularly with knowing me. I could ask my family 10 random questions about me that any one of my friends would be able to answer with ease and my family wouldn't get a single question right. But the wedding made them think that we were pals and they want to see me and talk to me all the time to relive the fun they had at the wedding. No way is this okay.

One of my cousins had a baby last October. I have not met that child, I did not attend the baby shower and I'm not sure that child even knows that I exist. Another cousin has a 6 year old child that I haven't seen since she was 2 years old, the last time I went home for Christmas. I'm pretty sure that child doesn't know I exist. My cousins do not care about this any more than I do. We are not close and they do not really expect me to be a part of their lives. Many of them have not met my husband and did not attend my wedding. They are thirty somethings like my husband and I and have their own lives; they get it. Their parents and my other older relatives do not get it. They think it is a travesty that I have not met my newest cousins. They frequently reference how close the family was when they were kids and how they spent all this time with their extended family, blah, blah, blah.

I am close to some of my relatives. I talk to my mom and my brother all the time and see them at least a couple times a year. I am close to three of my cousins and attend their special events and keep in touch with them. But we all have things in common and go out and do things when we visit. We have things to talk about and don't experience long awkward pauses in our conversations. We often commiserate with each other when we discuss how tedious it is dealing with some of our other relatives. I wish I could just say to my other relatives " DNA in common does not mean that we are bosom buddies. Get a life and leave me alone!" But of course I can't do that. I must walk the line between my happiness and their neediness and compromise much more than I'd like to. My husband and I joke that we should move even further away so its even more difficult for people to visit us (believe me they aren't really psyched about coming to Syracuse) but that will just make it more difficult when we have to come visit them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Dogs

My husband and I have had a lot of conversations lately about having more than one dog. I have never had more than one dog at a time. But, Chale is the first dog that has been completely my responsibility. Every time I see a story on TV about an animal hoarder or some other terrible situation where a dog has been in a bad situation, I want to save that dog and make his life better.

I have friends and relatives who have more than one dog but, to be truthful, a lot of them are not great dog owners. The struggles that they have would likely exist no matter how many pets were in the house. A friend of mine who is a good dog owner said that having two dogs was like having 4 times the work and expense. He is a good dog owner who currently has one dog but who has had two dogs at a time in the past. The food, the training, the vet bills, etc. are already a significant part or our budget. I can't imagine doubling what we currently spend on our animals without sacrificing the financial stability that we have worked so hard to achieve.

Chale has had a lot of health problems over the years. Thinking of all the money that we have spent on him and having that number doubled is difficult to imagine. Even if we were financially blessed enough to afford to properly care for two high maintenance dogs the emotional toll would be too much. The bond that I have with Chale is so strong that I worry about making that connection with two dogs equally. If one dogs needs acupuncture or some other special treatment what will the other dog think when I'm taking that dog to the vet all the time and leaving him alone? How would I not have a favorite? Could I realistically be as emotionally involved in both dogs as I am with Chale? When one of the dogs passed how would I help the other dog cope? Would I replace the deceased dog? How would I know if the old dog was ready for a new brother and how would I select a dog that suited his temperament after he had already lost one brother? The cycle of constantly burying and then replacing one dog while continuing to nurture the other dog would be too much for me to bear. I know that most large dogs live for about a decade. While it is difficult to imagine, I am emotionally prepared to lose my dog when he reaches the end of his life. But I don't think I could continue to care for another dog while watching the first dog age and knowing that his time was limited and then saying goodbye to him.

Unfortunately, some dogs only live for a few years while others live much longer than expected. Going through this emotional roller coaster with two dogs would make me a total wreck. I couldn't deal with losing two dogs close together or having an old dog like Chale with a set routine and then introducing a new dog, like Chale was 8 years ago, into the household. That wouldn't be fair to the dog or to me.

I know that other people do it all the time without all the drama that I've created in my head. But I also know myself and my capabilities. Because really what I want is to rescue hundreds of dogs, not just two. To be in a position where I could start my own little Dog Whisperer ranch and take all the dogs that no one else wants. That would be my dream retirement. If the dogs were my purpose, my job and I had a staff of people to help me run it. That would be amazing. Because I could still have my one pet dog but I could also help other dogs. I just wouldn't have to mother and care for all of the dogs as if they were my own. I could feel like I was making a difference without sacrificing my own sanity.

I'm 33 years old. My husband and I have no plans to have children. I think it really is possible, upon retirement, for my dream to become a reality. Even if its on a small scale I am confident that I will be able to make a difference one day. That knowledge keeps me from running to the German Shepherd rescue down the road every time I hear a sad story on the news. I may only be able to save one a time for now but I know, in the future, I will touch many more.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Fat People and Children

I went to the home opener for our local minor league hockey team this past weekend. There aren't any pro sports teams here in Syracuse so the minor league teams get a lot of attention. Syracuse ended up winning 6-1 (which is a rarity if you are familiar with Syracuse Crunch hockey)and the fans were very into it. There were a couple of really good fights and it was a nearly perfect evening. Unfortunately, the woman sitting in the seat next to me and the children sitting behind me made it difficult to completely enjoy myself.

First of all, I hate people who show up late for sporting events. Especially when its the first game of the season. They had already introduced all the players and sang the national anthem when a morbidly obese woman and her family sat in our row. My problem is not with this large woman attending the game. My problem is with her sitting next to me, a stranger, instead of next to one of the three people that she was related to that came in with her. The seats at the War Memorial are similar to most older arenas: stadium-style, flip down, metal seats. When this woman sat down beside me, her body not only took up her chair but spilled into half of my chair despite the arm rests built in on either side of each seat. I was forced to turn sideways because I couldn't sit all the way back in my seat. I was visibly uncomfortable but she did not change her seat. I don't think I could have said something to her without coming across as some sort of "Fat Hater". The worst part of it was that her husband kept getting up to buy food and she was eating through 2 straight periods. It was very difficult not to have very rude comments going through my head the entire night. I was extremely sore by the time we left the game and had a hard time falling asleep when I got home without the help of Advil and a heating pad.

When people ride on planes and are too large for one seat the airline makes them buy two tickets. I know that this can be embarrassing for the person but I can't feel sorry for them. You knew you were that large when you walked in the door and you knew that you're butt wasn't going to fit into those little seats. This has happened to me before at the movies and on airplanes and it just sucks. So why people should act surprised or offended when people bring up their size is a mystery to me. If no one points out that you won't fit into one seat then will you magically fit? Is it fair to the other patrons that they will be uncomfortable because someone wanted to be politically correct and not point out your obvious size? Much like rides at amusement parks that show height and weight limitations, arenas and other public setting need to start doing the same thing. With more than half of this country obese, this problem is only going to get worse.

The children issue is one that I 100% blame on the parents. Much like dogs who misbehave, it's the owner's fault that the dog is bad and their responsibility to train him to be a good citizen. Kids kicking my seat, elbowing me in the head, smacking me with their hands while they jump around like monkeys on Ritalin, shaking my chair, yelling in my ear, etc. remind me of why I don't want to have children. There are plenty of well behaved kids but they never seem to be sitting next to me. The parents seem happy to have their children entertained for a few hours and just let them act up. My parents would have never let my brother and I get away with that sort of thing. They would have told us that we were being rude and made us apologize to the person and then apologized themselves. And really, one icy stare from a stranger after you kick their seat is generally enough for the average kid to realize that they're annoying someone and cut it out. Once again, this is a theme that repeats itself in movie theaters and on airplanes. I suspect that a lot of these kids will grow up to be rude adults, much like their parents. Parenting seems to end for some people right around the time the umbilical cord is cut.

Short of flying first class or buying an entire section of seats at sporting events and concerts, I don't think this problem is going to go away. But I have to admit that my bias towards morbidly obese people and people with children continues to grow with each negative experience. I picture myself living in one of those communities that don't allow children when I get older and going to 4:30 early bird dinner specials to limit my exposure. Either that or barricading myself in a house at the top of very steep hill that only moderately fit people and people with long legs can climb.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Black People Don't Listen to Country Music

Well that's not true actually. I am a black person and I love country music. Both of my parents are black people and they also listen to country. It is not all that I listen too but it is a good part of it. I have met black people who only listen to country and I would imagine that they have dealt with more scrutiny than I have.

Growing up in the south it seemed like everyone listened to a little country even if they didn't want to admit it. I was rarely the only black person at concerts or dance clubs. I always got a few looks but nothing nasty. People were actually generally nice to me and invited me and my friends to hang out with them. I was always asked to dance and I rarely felt excluded. It wasn't until I moved north of the Mason-Dixon that I started to feel like I was being judged and stared at for being the black person at the country shows.

I don't have any friends in New York who listen to country music so I no longer go line dancing or to many country concerts. My husband, who is white and doesn't listen to country music, went to see Rascal Flatts with me earlier this year because they are one of my favorite bands and I hadn't been to a country music show since college. I felt like I was the show. I could feel people staring at me for a lot longer than was polite. People weren't talking to me. I usually meet one or two new friends at concerts and we danced and sang songs together throughout the night. But any small talk that I initiated with my neighbors was met with silence and a cold stare. But to my credit, I danced and sang along to all the songs and had my own little party. It was a good time, not as good a time as it would have been with my friends in Virginia, but it was fun.

All black people listen to rap music. This isn't true. Have you seen MTV lately? A lot of rap videos and a lot of white viewers. Most of the cars that speed through my upper middle class neighborhood with their base booming and rap music blaring are white teenagers. Do you really think Jay Z, Snoop Dogg and other rap mega-superstars are famous by only having one minority group of the population listening to their music? My husband listens to a lot more rap and r & b music than I do which suprises people because apparently you only listen to music that is made by people who look exactly like you. That's like saying Obama is president because every black person in the country who voted, voted for him. Which is impossible; that would have left him with about 30% of the vote, certainly not enough to become president.

Korn. Rob Zombie. Garth Brooks. Alan Jackson. Indigo Girls. Tori Amos. John Mayer. Luther Vandross. A Tribe Called Quest. All concerts that I have been to and loved. My musical tastes span across several genres. So I would encourage the ignorant people to open your closed minds and get past your stereotypes. You might realize that you have more in common than you think with people that look different from you. And if you get out of your box and extend a little kindness you might make a new friend and teach some of the other ignorant people a lesson.

Fat Karate Instructors

I have studied martial arts since 1995 and one thing that has always amazed me is how many morbidly obese karate instructors there are out there. Now I'll admit that I need to lose about 20 lbs and cut my body fat in half to be at a healthy body weight but I am very average size for a woman. These people must have been in top physical condition at some point and then they just let it all go. We all gain weight over the years but there is a difference between needing to go up a couple of sizes in your clothes and having to buy your pants online.

My first karate instructor was awesome. He was right out of a movie: middle aged, super fit, kind of scary. He spent most of time during class teaching techniques to the students; he rarely worked out with us. It was obvious that he was working out on his own time to maintain that level of fitness. When we went to karate tournaments or seminars I would notice how some of the other instructors were really fat. I was glad that they weren't my instructor and wondered how beneficial their training was to their students.

I understand how it happens. You become a 5th degree black belt and open your own karate school. There isn't anyone there to challenge you so you have to have the willpower to challenge yourself or seek out people who are more knowledgeable than you to continue to grow as a martial artist. So you spend all your time building your school and passing your knowledge along to your students. That ravenous appetite that you had when you were working out 12 hours a week is still there but you are no longer working out regularly so the pounds start piling on. The food is filling the hole that karate once filled. If you don't find another hobby to commit yourself to once you stop regular karate training then overeating is just as easy a vice to pick up as any.

A handful of my karate friends turned to excessive drinking and partying when they stopped practicing regularly. Others gained weight. Some found something else to fill that part of their life: children, spouses, a new career, etc. I'm sure it might seem odd to someone who isn't a martial artist to understand how karate can be such an important part of a persons life. What you have to understand is that a martial artist, a true martial artist, not someone who took a few classes at their local mall franchise karate school, but a real martial artist is defined by their practice. Before I started karate I didn't have a sense of who I was. It was like there was this piece of me missing that I could never explain and karate was the answer. My self esteem, my friends, my personal choices, everything changed after I started karate. When I stopped practicing karate after 10 years of consistent training I lost myself. A new job, moving to a new house, meeting my husband all took my attention for a while. But while I found myself fulfilled in areas of my life that I hadn't been previously I still felt off. It wasn't until I started training again this year, after 4 years off, that I felt like I was myself again. i proudly show off my bruises and complain about my sore muscles. I feel like a martial artist again and I love it.

My previous three karate instructors were morbidly obese. I found fault at each of these schools because the training didn't compare to the training that I had received at my first school. It wasn't until after I left these schools that I realized that each of these men were miserable. That they had lost themselves at some point and that they weren't happy in their lives. I wasn't in a position to help them and honestly, even if I had inquired, I doubt I would have been able to do anything to help them. My current karate instructor reminds me of my first instructor. He is intense but happy. His life appears to be in balance. He works out with us all the time and talks about his workouts outside of the dojo. I feel like I have found a great school to train in for the first time in a long time but I can't help but think of the instructors that I have left behind and where life has taken them. They remind me of how dangerous it can be not to cultivate my spirit. I will not let myself become like them; I will not lose myself.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's Wrong With College Football

1. Pre-season rankings. How do you know a team is number 1 this year if they lost half of their team to the NFL at the end of last season and half of their current starters are freshman? I know they do it in college basketball too but in college basketball their postseason success isn't determined by their ranking. Which brings us to....

2. The BCS and bowl game system in general. So explain to me why its good for college football for mediocre teams from big conferences to play in 30 meaningless bowl games rather than to use some of those same games for a playoff? I went to a Big Ten school and I think that automatically giving the Big Ten and other big conference schools a place in bowl games without any consideration for how good other teams are is ridiculous. We will never know which team is the best because if you aren't in a big conference then you can never be a national champion. If you don't have some human selection committee, like they do in college basketball,in addition to the polls then college football will never get it right. Strength of schedule, AP and USA today polls with input from biased coaches and sports writers and other strange statistics that play into the BSC formula are not an accurate assessment of which teams are the best. Lets be honest, the bowl system rewards big time schools with big time money (that they really don't need) and the bowl games in no way reward the most gifted teams. People don't get excited about post season college football the way they do about college basketball and March Madness and they never will unless something changes.

My proposal would be a 12 team playoff. The top 8 teams in the BCS get an automatic bid into the postseason (I don't think we'll ever get rid of the BCS completely). Then a panel of experts selects 4 at large teams to also be in the series. The top four teams in the BCS get an automatic bye and do not have to play the first week. The #5-#8 teams in the BCS play against the 4 at large teams. The four winners of those games face off against the #1-#4 teams in the BCS in the second week of the playoffs. Then the third weekend you have the final four teams face off to determine who will play in the national championship game which would be played a week later. The 4 bowl games that host these playoff games and the national championship would rotate every year with a pool of tickets set aside for the home teams to buy once they are determined. The teams that are in this pool would be announced the last week of the college football season which is typically around Thanksgiving. These teams would be out of eligibility for other bowl games which could still honor the conference ties that they currently have. We already know that the results of most of the 30 bowl games are meaningless so lets not pretend like they are anything more than an exhibition game in a really cool location and and excuse to take a vacation on your university's dime.

3. Crappy non-conference schedule. This is a personal gripe but its not just my team that has this problem. As a Penn State alumni and proud football fan, I am sick of the 4 cupcake teams that have been on our schedule every year since my freshman year in 1994 and I'm sure many years before that. Why is everyone surprised when we lost to Iowa last weekend when we were tested by the likes of Akron, Temple and Syracuse in the previous weeks? And really, was anyone surprised when USC beat the crap out of us in the bowl game last year? We don't play teams of that caliber on a regular basis so why should we expect to be able to hold our own against them? Our opponents in previous years have included such football powerhouses as Rutgers and Coastal Carolina. Virginia Tech played Alabama as a non-conference game for their first game of the season. Yes, they lost that game but by playing against big time schools they have made their program better over the years. We will never win another championship unless we start to do this as well. We should have never been ranked #5 in the first place. If we would have gone undefeated this year and went into a national championship game ahead of Virginia Tech (who I hate with a passion) if their only loss was to Alabama, a much better team, I would have been pretty disgusted with the system.

I still love college football but it is in need of a serious overhaul.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where Have You Gone Dave Matthews?

I love live music. I went to my first concert when I was 11 years old and I have been addicted ever since. I have seen 100+ live acts in my 33 years and plan to see plenty more in my lifetime. This past week I saw The Dave Matthews Band for the sixth time. I hate to say it, but I think I have outgrown this band.

I became a fan of The Dave Matthews Band (DMB) in 1994, when they released Under the Table and Dreaming, their first major studio album. When I saw them for the first time in January 1995, it was a life-altering event for me. It is the first concert that I can remember where every song, every note, everything was perfect. Even the crowd, which can often ruin an otherwise great concert, was perfect. The next three shows were very similar to this show: enthusiastic but respectful fans, great sets, great atmosphere.

People started referring to DMB as the new Grateful Dead because of the cult following that they elicited. I wasn't one of those fans who followed the band from town to town but I had every album and listened to them constantly. I prided myself on being one of the fans who had been around since the early years before MTV and pop radio started playing them in heavy rotation.

My fifth concert experience in 2004 was pretty miserable. The crowd was very young, mainly teenagers and college kids but also plenty of pre-teens there. I was almost 28 at the time and felt like a senior citizen. DMB only played a couple of their upbeat hits that night. The set primarily consisted of extended versions of some of their slower hits and newer, more obscure songs. Goodbye brilliant musicianship, hello endless jam sessions with little to no melody. But the crowd of high teenagers loved it. They weren't there for the music, they were there to do drugs, hook up and be seen. The lack of crowd sing-a-long at this show was kind of eerie compared to the earlier shows.

DMB albums started to turn south at this point as well. It seemed like the band, like most of pop culture, started to cater to the tween to teen generation of kids. The music became simpler and less unique. The concerts were merely background music for the live after school special playing out at the shows. But of course, this is when they received the most critical acclaim. Everyone and their mother became a DMB fan at this point.

I didn't buy the next few DMB albums. What I heard on the radio didn't inspire anything and barely resembled the band that I had fallen in love with a decade ago. When the newest album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, came out earlier this year it seemed like the old DMB was coming back. Musically this album sounds like the old DMB. The music is good again and the lyrics are more thoughtful and less pop. My husband had never seen them before so I decided to check out the band on their latest tour.

We bought lawn seats to the show this year. I had stadium seating right in the middle of 90210 at the 2004 show and it sucked. At least on the lawn we could distance ourselves from the rowdy, high, drunk, rude teenagers that were there to put on a show and not witness one. We were happy when we found a lot of people just like us (music lovers that weren't trashed or 12) near the back of the lawn area. There was plenty of ridiculous behavior in front of us but we were able to distance ourselves from it and have a good time.

While this show was much better than the 2004 show it was no where near the epic experiences of the earlier shows. They played a few of their upbeat hits but once again seemed to focus heavily on the slow, dirge-like songs. While their new album is good, playing almost every song from that album consecutively rather than mixing them in with older hits was a mistake. They lost the crowd for several songs at a time. A lot of the people at the show didn't seem to know there was a concert going on. These people were having very loud conversations with each other and on their cell phones. There were walking around, sending text messages, laying on the grass making out or dancing manically to the drug-induced hippie beat in their head whether or not music was playing or not.

My husband and I left early on in the encore to avoid traffic. People had started leaving in significant numbers 30 minutes or so before we left and a lot of people left at the same time that we did. DMB started to play some of their classic hits during the encore but by then we had our fill. Sitting through 2 hours of mediocre music to get to the good stuff if just unacceptable.

Of course the band didn't notice the droves of people who left early because all they could see were the crowds of trashed teenagers pushed up close to the stage. These people "danced" non-stop and screamed every time a new song started. The band couldn't see the back rows of the reserved seating or the big empty spaces in the lawn. If you check out Live Nation or some of the other concert websites you will see glowing reviews of how great the concert was and how DMB is the best band around. These reviews were written by the teenagers.

So while I feel like I can be a fan of DMB again, I doubt I will go to another concert. They are catering to a different group of people and I don't really want to hang out in that group. DMB now joins Counting Crows, another band that puts out brilliant studio albums but is horrible in concert, as a band that I must love from afar. If you like jam bands that will turn a 5 minute song into a 30 minute opus to mediocrity then you should go get tickets to the show. Otherwise, save your money and enjoy the music at home.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Dog Pet Peeves #1

People who don't pick up their dog's poop. If you're in the woods its okay but in a neighborhood or at the local park with lots of people it's just rude. You people are the reason that dogs aren't allowed in a lot of places.

Parks and trails that provide poop bags but no trash cans. Seriously, one of our favorite 3 mile hikes only has a trash can at the beginning of the trail but it has poop bag receptacles all over the place. Who is the genius....

People who walk their dogs without a leash when they are in very busy places. That's great that your dog is well trained and all but you have no idea what he might react to and it makes me nervous to watch him roaming all over the bike path 100 yards ahead of you as bikers and other dogs whiz past. I love you people who yell "My dog is friendly" as me and my leashed dog approach you and your unleashed dog. Well is my dog friendly? Will our dogs get along? How will my dog react to this strange, wild dog jumping all over him? My dog and I have both been bitten by "friendly" dogs.

People who don't walk their dogs at all. If one more person says "I can't walk my dog" I'm going to scream. If you never taught your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, he isn't just going to pick it up naturally. It's not second nature to him; you actually have to do some work.

Ditto for people who get mad at their dogs for not "eliminating" in the exact place and time that you want. If you don't exercise your dog regularly or properly house train him and he messes in the house, that's your fault. If he goes in the house, the 5 minutes that you left him alone in the yard probably didn't do it for him.

People who stand in their front yard with their high energy dog on a leash. Seriously, would it kill you to walk around the block? I'm sure Rover is enjoying standing in the front yard while you yell at him to go to the bathroom so you can get back in the house as soon as possible.

People who keep their dogs in crates too much. If you want to crate train your dog fine, but don't use it as a cage that you can put your dog in because you don't want to deal with him when you have company or when you're too tired. The same goes for leaving your dog in the yard, garage, bathroom, basement. Dogs needs interaction with other dogs and people. If you aren't willing to put in the time and incorporate that dog into your life then you shouldn't have a dog.

People who bring their dogs to road races, festivals and other events where there are tons of people. Usually I see these people yanking their dogs around and yelling at them for being interested in all that's going on around them. I know you like to hear people say what a cute dog you have but it's incredibly frustrating for the dog and the good dog owners around you to see your dog trapped at the Carnival all day. He would much rather be sleeping in his warm bed in his favorite spot at home. Same goes for people who drag their dog around town on errands and then leave the dog in the car for hours or people who take their dog on trips with them only to have the dog locked in a hotel room or boarded for several hours at a time.

People who carry their small dogs every where and don't walk them or exercise them. All dogs need exercise. Just because your dog weighs 3 lbs doesn't erase the fact that he is a dog that has the same basic exercise and behavioral needs as other dogs.

People who say their dog gets plenty of exercise because they are in the yard all day. Well that's like saying that because you have a gym membership you're super fit. It doesn't work that way. You need to interact with your dog and play with him. You can't just throw him in the yard and expect that to cover his exercise quota for the day. Electric fences or real fences, an unattended dog is susceptible to bad people and other animals that can hurt him or at risk for running out of the yard because he is bored or excited. Do you know how many dogs get hit by cars every year because their owners left them alone in the yard and they escaped? Do you know how common it is for a dog to run through the electric fence barrier if the stimulation is strong enough?

People who smack their dogs. If you don't' train your dog and then he acts badly you can't punish the dog for that. If your dog has developed bad habits then work to get rid of those habits either on your own or with a professional trainer. Spot doesn't understand that you are smacking him on the butt because you don't like him jumping on people when they come to the house. He has probably made the association that bad things happen when people come over and it will just keep getting worse until he develops a fear of people. Fear will lead to worse behavioral issues and possible aggression later. When you scream at your dog and smack him you are doing that for your benefit, because it makes you feel better. You are not doing anything for that dog.

People who leave their dog unattended in their yard without a fence (electric or otherwise). These are the dogs that you see roaming from house to house. The dogs that follow you when you're walking your dog or when you out for a run or a bike ride.

People who buy dogs from pet stores. Puppy mills supply these stores. Reputable breeders don't sell their dogs to pet stores.

People who won't even consider rescue because they want to know where their dog came from and they want a guarantee that the dog will never be sick. Sorry folks but dogs get sick. It's unfortunate fact of life no matter where you get your dog from. I've actually had people say to me" You got him from the Human Society? I didn't know they had dogs like that". Really, some people are that ignorant.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Adoption Diaries

I have always had a fascination with adoption. While I don't want to have children, I have always felt that if I did I would adopt. I'm guessing that whatever it is inside me that drives me to rescue animals that other people have cast aside and deemed "less desirable" than other animals is what would drive me to adopt a child.

I have seen every episode of a An Adoption Story on Discovery Channel Health at least twice. Unfortunately they stopped making new episodes several years ago. So I was very excited when I heard that the Women's Entertainment (WE) was reviving the show. I have watched two episodes and don't plan on watching any more. The new show only focuses on open adoptions of newborns and doesn't even present the other types of adoptions that are out there.

I can understand the appeal of open adoption to a young mother who doesn't feel that she can raise the child but doesn't want to lose all communication with the child. And I guess if you really want to have a newborn baby then open adoption would appeal to prospective adoptive parents as well. Personally, if I carried a child to term, that would be my baby. I would find a way to make that child fit into my life. After being pregnant for 9 months and going through labor and all the emotional highs and lows that accompany the miracle that is childbirth I would be emotionally destroyed if I gave up that child. My husband had a vasectomy. We knew we didn't want children so we did the responsible thing rather than deal with an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy. But if we were in the <1% of people who find themselves pregnant after surgical sterilization then we would make it work. I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. Whether you want to call it religion or spirituality, I would not fight the universe if it were so determined to give my husband and I a child. I would accept that there were forces much greater than us plotting our future and not question it.

Millions of people do it every day but I just can't get past the adoptive parents having to share their child with the birth mom forever. The obligation to keep the birth mom in the child's life would just be too big a price to pay for me as an adoptive parent. The best part of the old show on Discovery Channel Health was that it focused on all different types of adoptions. There were open adoptions but there were also adoptions of older children domestically and abroad, the adoption of babies and infants domestically and abroad and the adoption of children by foster parents. By showing all of the different types of adoptions and how successful and happy the families were in the end it opened people's minds to the other options that were out there if you couldn't or didn't want to have a child naturally.

There is no shortage of parents looking to adopt newborn babies in this country. On the flip side, there are plenty of children that age out of foster care every year. Meaning that they live in a group home or foster families until they reach 18 years old and then are thrown out into the world to make a life for themselves. Can you imagine waiting for parents year after year after being abandoned by your birth parents? I can't imagine the psychological damage that this does to a person. The movie Antwone Fisher, starring Denzel Washington, tells the true story of someone who went through the experience of aging out of foster care and how it affected his life. The movie received mixed reviews but the message from the story is undeniable: growing up without a solid family structure prevents you from having a fully developing emotionally as a healthy adult. Note that a solid family structure can exist in a home with a single parent, grandparents/aunts/siblings and from a gay couple and an unstable homelife can come from a two parent household.

I think open adoption is a great option for people who insist on having a newborn child and I think it is a much more reasonable option than fertility treatments that lead to litters of children and present a greater health risk to both the other and the child. But I think that by only focusing on the segment of adoption that doesn't need any promotion, WE is doing quite a disservice to the general public and the unadopted children of this country.

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