July 11, 2017

that time i made a mural

I'm not a crafty person. It just isn't my love language. I don't have an eye for picture walls, I almost always wish I'd chosen a different color scheme, I lose patience for tiny details.
I do like to paint. Especially when the painting involves copying other pictures or... tape.
Enter my mural project.
When I moved to Tucson, my little mouse house had a butt-ugly wall. A fenced-in yard, which makes Bixby SO happy. But in that yard, a really, reeeeeally ugly wall. A wall that I decided to fix. I googled some stuff, decided on a geometric pattern, went to Lowes (got laughed at a little, they didn't believe I was gonna finish or that it would look good I think??), bought four little containers of paint and a bunch of masking tape - NOT painting tape, I got that as well and it would not stick to the wall - and went at it. Until I got bored. The project took a few months, when I could have honestly knocked it out in a week.
But it's done now, and I'm really pleased with the result, and here are the photos!
So here's the inspiration, it's called Red Red Rhombus by Melanie Mikecz. The photo links to a place where you can purchase the print if you'd rather not make an enormous version of it yourself.
Bixby was super helpful. This is the wall as it was when I moved in - not the most welcoming or aesthetically pleasing.
First round of taping! I also drew this out on paper before putting it on the wall.
Every other box was painted. I only used red, white, blue, and yellow and just mixed them in little paper bowls.
Removed the short bits of tape, retaped on top of the painted parts, painted the other boxes within each long strip, removed all the tape except the top and sides. Then I retaped some more.
If I were going to be living here any longer, you would also see a photo with cute little cactuses and tomato plants and stuff lined up in front of the wall. As it is, I'm peacing out of this house by the end of the month. Hope the landlord and the next tenant like it!

July 4, 2016

Southeast: Miami & Orlando

This one is hard to write, because it's the very last one.  Florida bookends my trip down the United States rabbit hole.  I was there a year ago exactly, watching fireworks over the marina, internally twirling over the backpacking trip I was about to begin.  I expected to go to Spain and Chile and maybe Maine for a summer of sailboats, and I didn't yet know about the heartbreak of Allen, South Dakota, or how gut-wrenchingly beautiful Highway One is, or that at one point I'd wind up shin-deep in grapes.  I was naive and excited, and Florida was the first domino of the journey.  Fast forward through all of it, through tears and loneliness and awe and sickness and Bixby, and I was back in Florida, a last hoorah, the last stop before the road trip ended.

I drove, because I'm stubborn.  Because this is how it was supposed to be, and this way the Austin mishap only stole New Orleans from me AND I could see Brittany, my incredibly delightful friend from college.  So I loaded up the car again, leaving my ever faithful companion with my dad for the week (bye, Bix), and hit play on the seventh Harry Potter audiobook.

This actually turned out to be problematic.  The seventh Harry Potter book is the one in which George Weasley's ear gets blasted off, and when my own George Weasley the Hyundai Elantra was forced to relate the story of his namesake's accident, his own painful memories came flooding back, it was just TOO MUCH, and he decided not to stop when I told him to.  In normal human terms, I was driving down I-4 in the night and the rain and the traffic and I pushed the brakes and the car did nothing different so I pushed them again and still nothing happened and I considered pulling off the highway but we were on a bridge and there wasn't room for me between the cars and the concrete wall and I forgot to pull the emergency brake and then my lovely car ran into the back of a jeep.  Fortunately, all that happened to the jeep was a tiny little ding in its plastic bumper, but poor, poor George Weasley's nose was all kinds of smushed.  He is a faithful little bugger though, and the only things broken were the AC, my pride, and the very obvious and tragic crumpled hood - we were still a go to drive the rest of the way.

I have no pictures of Orlando.  All we took were snapchats, little mandala memories gone after ten seconds, so I have no physical reminders of what happened.  But - Brittany and her roommates and I were together almost the whole time.  We ate lots of sandwiches: sandwiches in tea shops with art on the walls, sandwiches dripping with brie in a shop with cheese grater lampshades, leftover sandwiches reheated in Brittany's oven.  We wept through the final Hunger Games movie on a rainy afternoon.  We spent a night downtown, a loud uber ride to cobblestone streets strung with lights and music and people swaying in high heels.  We watched Toy Story curled up in the living room, an homage to the DisneyWorld culture that permeates Orlando.  It was the girliest time I had spent in a while, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

And then Miami.  Miami is sort of my second home, and I've been enough that there are routines.  Mornings buying miniature muffins at the bookstore, evenings eating at our favorite Coconut Grove restaurants.  Walks with the dogs around the marina.  We went shopping and got our nails painted and hair blown out - crucial Miami vacation things.  Joy and Lewis and I went to see The Good Dinosaur, aka Lion King round two.  I stayed over Thanksgiving, so we spent one day cooking and cleaning and eating and eating and eating and watching football, except instead of sweaters we were in sleeveless dresses and shorts.  Joy and I went out for a night that began with wine and a cheese plate and ended with handstamps and slushie drinks.  And the boat!  Anna Carol and Greg got a boat, and we drove out to No Name Bay one afternoon and jumped in.  Swimming in Florida, as far as I can tell, is almost always bearable, but even in Florida, swimming in November is cold.  We did it though, dog paddled around the boat in turquoise water, raced storm clouds home past Stiltsville.

Because it just wouldn't be right for things to go smoothly, when I started home I found out a nail had lodged itself in my right back tire, one of the ones I'd purchased just before the road trip started.  I got the spare tire on with some help, and drove to a nearby auto shop, where they told me they couldn't patch it and I needed new tires for the front wheels anyway, so it'd be best if I just bought a set of four brand new tires.  It was more than I could afford, but the other option was abandoning George Weasley (NEVER) and taking a flight home.  So one late start and four shiny new tires later, I was back on the road, risking George's wrath and playing the Harry Potter audiobook.  We drove back up the same highway, one of the very very few times I'd had to double back on myself over the course of the trip.  I chugged all the way up Florida, blasted "Going to Georgia" through the peach state, and cringed through South Carolina, which seems to consist solely of sex shops, gas stations, and South of the Border.  There had been talk of a motel, but after spending close to $500 on the tire fiasco and being just a couple hours from home when I started to wear thin, I drove all the way from Miami to Chapel Hill in a day.  Home safe and home for good.

So that's it!  That's my road trip, that's my quarter life crisis, that's my great adventure.  The US of A I saw summed up in a series of blog posts.  Spacious skies, cactuses, poverty, snow, big horn rams, ziplines, amber waves, gas stations, waterfalls, religion, starbucks, bridges, racism, wine, purple mountain's majesty, love and hate and everything in between.

Happy America Day, y'all.

June 15, 2016

Southwest 3: Albuquerque and Austin

I was so so lucky to have another connection in Albuquerque to cushion the blow of leaving Tucson.  Didn't hurt that New Mexico is beautiful and deserty but with the added bonus of More Trees, but I was even more appreciative that I got to see Sarah's brother and sister-in-law and finally meet her precious baby niece.  John, Erika, and Nora (eep!) were such welcoming hosts.  I got in late, but not too late for us to eat dinner at Monroe's, which was this deliiiicious New Mexican restaurant.  We actually bundled up in winter coats, continuing the weird weather roller coaster I'd begun in CA. 
The next morning I had enough time to hang out for a while, so we went for a hike with Nora and the puppies, which ended abruptly when a strange man started yelling at us to turn back.  And also howling.  It was fine.  We turned back, but other than that it was a great hike!  Really cool landscape.  Nora is such a little sweetie, and I enjoyed spending time with the sister-in-law of my sister-friend.  Bixby and their dog Peter got along swimmingly too, and Nora loved having a whole other dog friend to play with.
And then I left again and drove to Austin but I stopped in a few spots along the way.  I drove though Fort Sumner, so obviously I had to see Billy the Kid's grave.  I saw fracking machines, which looked like really strange and giant birds pecking into the earth, and I could smell them before I saw them.  I bought a pair of shoes at a gas station, but I promise they were cute.  I stayed at a Motel 6 in Lubbock.  And then there was Austin.
What happened in Austin was I put my wallet on the trunk of my car and started driving, and then that little pocket of some very essential items was suddenly gone.  I retraced my route twice, and it was still very much gone, probably blending its little tan-and-gray self into the big tan-and-gray Texas landscape.  I didn't know what else to do but drive to North Carolina.  And so I drove to North Carolina.
HOWEVER!  Three very incredibly lucky things happened after that minor catastrophe/major setback.
First: I thought I had $75 on my person: twenty stashed in my car, a twenty-five-dollar gift card, and thirty dollars left over from the MST still in my pack.  75 dollars is not enough to buy the gas necessary to get a person from Texas to North Carolina, let alone the hotel room I would surely need since it was already early afternoon and the drive alone is twenty hours.  BUT sometimes not unpacking all the way pays off, and when I went to get the precious and small amount of cash out of my backpack, my beautiful beautiful SECU credit card with my very own picture on it was nestled beside the bills.  I suddenly had money and a photo ID, and things were not so bad.
Second: When renting a hotel room, you need to provide a driver's license, and my driver's license was somewhere in a city I had driven fast away from.  I knew that this requirement existed, but for some bizarre reason, I know my driver's license number by heart.  (Pro tip: save this info in your phone!  Also, if you have an extra driver's license, stash it in your car somewhere!)  When I offered the bare bones information I had and the credit card with my picture on it, the kind kind kind man behind the desk told me not to get him into trouble and handed me the key for a room on the third floor.  Thank you, stranger.
Third: After eight thousand caffeinated drinks, after driving over the Mississippi at night, after hitting traffic in Houston and Atlanta, after tearful phone calls and many podcasts and Bixby faithfully riding shotgun - after all that, I got home.  And the next day, my dad called me to let me know a wallet-shaped package had arrived in the mail from Austin, TX.  "Open it," I told him, trying not to be as excited as he was.  Inside was my wallet, coins and all, missing some punch cards that presumably fell out when it flew off the back of my car.  And a note: Hi Anna, I found this wallet at XXX address. Thanks! Tony.  I googled the return address, but it was just a post office.  Thanks!!  THANK YOU!  You are the best person, Tony!!!  I hadn't bothered canceling any of the cards because I a) have to believe that people are fundamentally good and b) am lazy, so I was immediately back in business and ready for the next leg of the trip.  Can't stop, won't stop, here I come, Florida!
Next up, How George Weasley the Hyundai Elantra Busted His Nose (and His Feet) and other adventures I had in the Sunshine State.

June 9, 2016

Southwest 2: Tucson

Guys.  Guuuuuuys.  Tucson was my favorite.  Am I allowed to say that?  It was.  I tell people this and some of them are all, "Tucson? Really?" and some of them are like, "TUCSON. YES."  This grass-between-my-toes tree climber who grew up pretending to be a woodland fairy fell head over heels for the statuesque cactuses and the endless brown orange earth.  Have you read Stargirl?  No?  Go read Stargirl.
...Alright.  Now that you've done that, you get Tucson.
These are the things that happened:

1.  I didn't get in until after dark, which is always a little disconcerting.  Durham dance pal Leslie and her now-fiancee Adam introduced me to this delish mexican (southwestern? new mexican? i was never really able to distinguish) restaurant and my bike did NOT! get stolen off the back of my car.
2.  I zipped over to my couchsurf host's house and met him and his brother (hiiiii FRANZ AND CHRIS) and they were great and Bixby lurved them and I finally watched Jurassic Park for the first time in my entire life.  We also went to their parents' house because their parents' neighborhood has a pool/hot tub and we bopped back and forth between the two and the sky was the clearest blue you've ever seen and the cactuses were green and reaching and there were mountains in all the corners in the distance and I was like okay, Tucson, I like you.
3.  I went shopping on 4th Ave, where they have the best bookstore and a hippie shop and a place with raspberry soda and a little boutique where all this stuff was practically $5 so I bought a dress that didn't fit.  Hooray!  Sarah and Erika and I facetimed while I ate a salad.  I got a little baby cactus that I velcroed to my car and drove around the rest of the US and then killed on account of cactuses need water too.  Not a lot, just not none.  Sorry, baby cactus.  Also: Hub ice cream.  Swoon.
4.  Bixby was like a celebrity on a leash.  After traveling around the country with a dog, I will tell you where they love dogs the most and that place is Tucson.  Everybody wanted to say hi and pet him and learn his name and I was so proud of him and it was great.  I feel like he really flourished in Tucson.
5.  AND MAYBE THE BEST PART OF THE ENTIRE THING IS THAT GENEVIEVE LIVES THERE.  Gen is one of my favorite people on the whole planet.  She knew me at the most embarrassing and awkward time of my life and loved/s me anyway.  She had a bonfire at her house and her dad was there too and her fiancee Mikey and her friends and I brought Franz and we drank beer and they played music and everything was great.  We did other fun things too, like Try to eat at a restaurant that Hillary Clinton dined at once but there was an absurd wait so Go to a different restaurant and eat really good food and also margs and then Barhop around downtown Tucson for a while.  Great great!  Her friends are cool!
6.  Sunday was brunch at Mikey's grocery/restaurant place and watching the Panthers play football and then the All Souls Procession, which I had sort of adjusted my schedule for and was absolutely the highlight of the Tucson time.  We all got together for face painting and eating and then the parade started and it was the most magical thing.  All of us, all hundreds (thousands?) of us walked around in our masks and costumes for this strange and sacred ceremony with music and praying and an enormous urn.  We dropped in names of people who'd died over the past year and then they lifted the urn up and lit the whole thing on fire and it was sad and happy and beautiful and we danced across the stage even though we weren't supposed to.
7.  I left the next day (sad face).  BUT!! not before Gen asked me to be a bridesmaid in her September wedding, which means: I get to go back.  And guess who just bought her bridesmaid dress last night.  See ya soon, Tucson ;)

April 16, 2016

Southwest 1: Joshua Tree & the Grand Canyon

Written November 4, 2015
It's 5 o'clock (somewhere, I think here, my phone has been lying to me off and on and we've gone through so many time zones/daylight savings time shifts/etc/augh my internal clock is shot to hell but right now it's not dark but it's definitely thinking about it so we'll go with 5).

It's 5 o'clock, and I am supposed to be at the Grand Canyon right now.  Instead I'm in Williams, Arizona sprawled across the orange and tan comforter characteristic of a Motel 6, watching the snow fall and fall and fall, an hour south of the American landmark I was most looking forward to seeing.  Two days ago, I could gladly walk around outside barefoot.  Today, I can't even drive down the road for a takeout pizza.

My weather app tells me it's 28 degrees and the high tomorrow is only 37.  It's not going to get above freezing until 10 a.m.  The Grand Canyon may have to wait.
I am so glad though, so so glad, that I got to experience Joshua Tree.  I guess I remembered the name from the U2 song, and the name - Joshua Tree - just sounded so romantic.  And it was conveniently between LA and the Grand Canyon, so that's where I stopped for a night.
I left Los Angeles with the windows down, my left arm out one side and Bixby's head out the other.  Nobody else's were open, and I pictured their little LA heaters blasting in the 60-something degree weather.  We drove east, really east, not just a little side jaunt on a connecting highway, for the first time on the trip.  Got gas in California for the last time.  Bought food for camping at a store called Food 4 Less for the only time.
When we got to the park, I went into the visitor center first thing, where the ranger recommended Hidden Valley Campground for the wind cover and, when I told her I was traveling with a dog, warned me about the coyotes.  She'd seen them stalk a small dog while its owners set up camp, completely unaware.  But there were no bears in the park.  Mountain lions, sure, but I was promised I wouldn't see those.  And I tell you what, worrying about coyotes is a piece of cake after worrying about bears.  The only thing you have to do is put all your food stuff in the car and not let your dog off leash. Check and double check.
Joshua Tree was stunning.  Almost comically stunning, because joshua trees are some of the ugliest plants I've seen in my life.  They're like stunted, furry palm trees, or maybe like the trees in The Lorax but muddy-colored.  They're actually not trees, they're some sort of plant related to the yucca, but they're as tall as trees, short trees anyway, and they stretch out across the desert until the flatlands spike up into mountains.  Joshua trees don't grow in clumps, which I found odd, but are spaced fairly evenly apart.  Each gets its own muddy, furry, joshua bubble.
Rising up between the joshua trees are enormous rock formations.  Now take what you're imagining and double it, at least.  HUGE.  Eighty feet tall?  A hundred and twenty?  I'm awful at estimations.  You'd look at them and see a rock climber or two and then you'd look harder and see five more, climbing up the crevices, perched in the nooks and crannies of these boulder skyscrapers.  And the sky!!  We had some clouds, but they crouched near the horizon and didn't interfere at all with the crisp, clear blue or, later, the blanket of stars blinking down at us.  
We heard coyotes a few times after dark, and Bixby got all worked up each time they howled.  There were lots of them, some closer than others but none close enough to see, and their cacophony was a thing to behold.  Bixby answered them, barking and shaking and refusing to stop until they did.
Written April 16, 2016

Spoiler alert: I got to see the Grand Canyon.
We got up the next morning and peaced fairly early.  It's funny, I remember my bootprints in the snow at the motel, but I don't remember the drive from Joshua Tree to Williams at all.  We stopped at gas stations, I'm sure, and we probably listened to a podcast or two and some musicals and inevitably Girl Talk, but once we got out of the park I don't remember anything except the snow.  It was a novelty at first, a few flakes on the ground, but it quickly turned into a full-on snowstorm that was dangerous to drive in.  Like I mentioned in the entry I wrote and saved months and months ago, I was supposed to go to the Grand Canyon, but I had to put it off because I didn't trust my driving or my car to get me there safely.  So instead we went to a Motel 6 and watched cable tv.
By the time we had to vacate the room the next morning, the snow had cleared enough for us to drive the two-lane road due north that led to the Grand Canyon.  I thought about skipping it, since it was an hour in the exact wrong direction and going would put me in Tucson after dark, but for goodness' sake, I was about to be an hour from THE GRAND CANYON, so I called my couchsurf host to let him know I'd be later than anticipated and turned left instead of right off of I-40.  
And oh, it was worth it.

We didn't stay long.  I was eager to get on the road, eager to see people I knew and to settle in a place for more than a night, didn't want to get there too too late.  But the parking lot filled with cars, the air still brisk from snow, the stubby pine trees, the sidewalks and signs pointing the way, and the canyon laid out in front of us - it was the most exciting thing.

They have fences at the Grand Canyon.  It makes sense, but I didn't realize for some reason, I thought people just didn't get too close to the rim.  But everyone was pressed up against the fences, goggling over the edge of it, using selfie sticks and chattering.  I felt strange being there alone, but it was just me and Bix for all the small moments, so it made sense that it was just us for - not the biggest moment, maybe the most renowned moment - too.  
There's this quote from a book that pops into my head whenever I am awestruck by nature.  Nicole Krauss is describing an event, this terrible but incredible event, and she says, "How can I explain that we took this personally?"  There is nothing personal about the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree.  They are ancient and established and have nothing to do with me individually.  And yet.  I stood there, in both places, and looked at the landscapes and felt small and amazed and - knowing there was absolutely no reason to - took everything so very personally.