Friday, December 5, 2014

America's Best Kept Scenic Secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some more shots from our trip:


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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tasty Treasure in Small Town America

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

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

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

Me and my legit Kentucky Fried Chicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dealing with a Destructive Dog

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

Lily going home for the first time

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

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

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

The Chronicles of Lily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And boy did I pay for it!

10 Helpful Tips I Learned The Hard Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Neighbor of a Nightmare

In May of this year I got my first apartment.
First order of business was going out and adopting a dog from the local city pound. I got a 1 year old lab and named her Lily.

I moved into a cute, quiet first floor complex and was very pleased. April through July I did a whole bunch of traveling, so I wasn't home much, but had no problem with the place while I was there.

One day I was drinking coffee and sitting out on my on my patio with Lily, when an elderly lady approached and asked if she could pet my dog.

Soon we began talking. She lived in the apartment next to mine, and her door is the first thing I would see when I open my front door. She told me that she has an aggressive guard dog that she worries about attacking anyone who comes in to her apartment. She made mention of the "Beware of Dog" sign that I had up on my front door. I told her Lily was not aggressive at all, and that the sign was more for my peace of mind that anyone who may want to mess with me, might think twice if they see there's a dog inside.

The conversation ended and she walked away, and I thought, "What a sweet little lady."

A few days later I was leaving, and she stopped me in the walk way. She said she had a specialist doctor who was helping her manage her chronic pain. She said her SSI check was late, so she had no money to get gas to go to her doctor appointment. I gladly reached into my wallet and handed her $5.

The next morning I woke up and found a folded up note left at my door. It said she had reached her final straw and kicked her husband out and was seeing an attorney to file for divorce, but that she couldn't afford to keep living there with out her husband's pension money. She asked if she could come live with me.

I was headed out of town for two weeks, and I quickly brushed off the idea thinking that no matter how nice I am, there's no way I am letting a stranger live with me(aside from the fact that there was zero room for her.)

When I came home later that month, I saw her husband was back with her, and I was glad things had worked out for her.

The next time I saw her, she asked me where I went to church. She said she didn't always have a ride to her church and asked if she could carpool with me some time. The conversation was nice, and I told her my regular Sunday schedule, and said I'd be happy to bring her to my church or take her to her church since it was close to mine.

She asked me about where I worked, and I told her I work at a facility for traumatized and misbehaved youth. When I told her the name, she told me she knew it. She said that 10 years ago God healed her of schizophrenia, and before that she saw a psychiatrist at my company. She then went on a long and disturbing rant about how psychology is a tool of the devil to destroy families, and that all psychologists are demon possessed.

By the end of the conversation I was thinking the woman was not quite as sweet as my first impression of her.

Later that day I was giving some things to some friends of mine. They (a female couple with a son) came to my place to pick it up. She must have heard the noise, and she opened her door and stood there watching our commotion. She said hello to their son, then waved me closer and whispered in my ear, "Is that one of them lesbian couples?"

 I pretended I didn't hear her, "What was that? Sorry I didn't hear you. Oh hey let me help you lift that!" then went to help my friends load the stuff in their car.

Just as soon as they shut their car doors and began to drive away, she came out to the parking lot and screamed while shaking her fist, "Filthy spawn of satan! It's your kind that is destroying this world!"

I don't know if they heard her or not, but I was extremely embarrassed and insulted that she would be so hateful towards my friends. Any kind thoughts I had towards the woman went away in that moment.

It wasn't long after that, that the letters started coming.
First it was every other week or so between a letter, then once a week, then a few times a week.

At first they asked for money for this or that. The most she ever asked for was $800. Other times she asked for rides places. Other times she asked me to bring Lily for a playdate with her dog(the one she previously said was aggressive.)

I ignored them all because I was upset about what happened with my friends.
But after a while I decided I wasn't being very Christian, and I needed to try to be more helpful to her.
So the next few times she wrote me letters I went and knocked on her door and offered her advice on what to do, since I was just as broke as her and had no way to help her but knew organizations and government programs that could help.

Then I went out of town for a few days, and came home to several letters from her.

Over the next few days I got multiple letters from her a day. She would come knock on my door at all hours of the night asking to use my phone, or wanting to complain about something she saw on the news.
The letters started getting way weirder too. Asking me if I would go on a date with her 60 year old mental disabled son, asking me to come sleep on the floor by her bed to make sure she didn't stop breathing in the night, asking me to let my dog play with hers so her dog could learn to stop attacking other dogs, and asking me if I could get my pastor to come bless her home because the demons keep getting in even though her pastor had already blessed it. She thought her pastor's blessing didn't work because he had been divorced in the past.
With in a 3 week span I had piles of letters from her.

I  finally took to facebook for advice on what to do, and got a large response with everyone saying it needed to be reported somewhere.

The next day I awoke to this disturbing letter.

I went and knocked on her door.

She answered and her dog stuck its head out the door. She tried to push it back with her foot, and the dog viciously bit her leg.
She told me her husband had left her, and she felt a stroke was coming on.

I insisted on taking her to the hospital, or calling for help, but she adamantly refused, and asked me just to check on her now and then, and maybe bring her some food because she was going to run out of anything to eat in a few days.

That day, with deep hesitation, I called Adult Protective Services and told them everything that was happening.

A few days later an APS worker showed up looking for the woman, and I pointed them in the right direction. Later that day the paramedics showed up, and I saw the APS worker following the elderly lady as she was taken out of her apartment on a stretcher.
I felt then that I had done the right thing in calling APS.

I went out of town again for a week, and sure enough, when I returned she was back and there were more letters. That night she knocked on my door a few times per hour wanting to talk about random things. I stopped answering her knocks at 11pm, and she kept coming back and knocking until 3am.

The next day I went to my landlord and complained. I was fed up. She was harrassing me with piles of letters and knocking on my door all night, she had insulted my friends, and she refused any help I could offer her. I was losing my peace of mind over her.

When I finished telling the landlord all she had been doing, the landlord's jaw was dropped. She had never heard anything like it in her 23 years of managing apartments. She said she would have to get back to me on what she would do, because she needed to get advice from others higher up and more experienced than her.

The next day my landlord contacted me and said the woman legally had to be given a verbal warning to stop with the letters, and that if it didn't work she would be given written notice that if she continued it was grounds for eviction, and she would be evicted if there was a third infraction.

This is when things started getting ugly.

A day came where I was going out to my car to get something, the woman was standing out by her door and saw my dog bolted out the door. I tried to grab her collar, and yelled, "Lily no!" but she was hyper and raced out to run around the area. I chased after her and finally got her and dragged her back to the apartment.
The woman was still standing there when I came back, and she started screaming at me about how she was going to report me to the police for not following leash laws, and that my dog needs to be put down because she is going to hurt someone.
The next day this was on the door:

Then a few days later the police showed up at my door. They said they had received a noise complaint that my dog barks non stop all day and all through the night and that it is causing an elderly neighbor with insomnia to get sick, and that the elderly person has had to be hospitalized in the past just to get away from the barking.

I told them it was just an angry neighbor trying to get back at me for complaining to the landlord, and I told them the truth, that my dog rarely barks. Luckily for me, my upstairs neighbor was coming down the stairs just then and backed me up that he never hears my dog bark.

The police handed me a warning citation, saying that if another person complained about the barking within the next 90 days, then I would be fined $100.

Right near this time, for unrelated reasons, I had decided to move back into the ORU dorms. Soon I sent Lily to stay with a friend, and moved all my stuff out of the apartment.

I had one last night in the apartment. I had, had a very difficult day at work and came by the apartment just to do final cleaning after work. It was close to 1am, when there was a knock on the door.

I looked out my peephole and it was her again.

I let out an annoyed sigh, then decided I could deal with her this one last night. As soon as the door opened, her finger was pointed right in my face, yelling at me. She said her grandson had been sent to my work, and how dare I do this and that to her precious grandbaby.

I was too tired and already frustrated by my bad day, so I couldn't put on my "Sweet Anna" face that night.

I responded in the same tone she was using and said, "I don't really care!" and shut the door in her face.

And thus ended the saga of the crazy neighbor.

How about you? Have a crazy neighbor story?