Currently

This weekend Ian’s uncle came to visit, and since it rained for almost three days straight we spent much of our time eating and drinking our way around town—indoors, of course.

In what turned out to be a grave a miscalculation of value due to the weather, I had rented two lenses from LensRentals.com to try out on the new 70d I just got last month. Despite all the rain I still needed to get out and see what they could do, but Ian and his uncle were good sports and let me drag them around whenever we had a break in the rain. (Stopping at several bars along the way probably helped my cause, I’m sure.)

Ian’s uncle is a cool dude—a former prison guard at a medium security prison, he’s now retired and stopped here on his way to Cherokee, N.C., where he was going to gamble on the house for a few days. He regaled us with stories of his time in the Air Force and as a lieutenant in a correctional facility, and as a boy growing up in very, very rural West Virginia, and we introduced him to more craft beer than he knew could exist in one town. I figured out early on that in order to not spend the entire next week hung over I needed to act as the designated driver while we were out on the town, and I think that was probably the smartest decision I could have made. Those boys can really drink.

Stella gets some scratchin'

The upside to the rain, though, was that when it cleared for a bit yesterday we had some nice afternoon weather for back porch-sitting. I used the opportunity to conduct a little photoshoot with Stella, who was happy to finally be able to spend some time outdoors without getting soaked.

But now it’s Monday and it’s about to rain again. Last year when we moved to Chattanooga in July, it rained almost every day for a month. Everyone kept telling us that it was so strange for this time of year, but it looks as though the strange might have become the norm and the non-stop July rain is repeating itself.

Stella celebrates the Fourth of July

On Friday, Ian and I packed up and headed to Murfreesboro to celebrate the Fourth of July with family and friends—and Stella, of course. This was the first time in the three months we’ve had her that I actually felt like I understood why people think having dogs is fun. Wait, that sounds worse than I meant it. It’s just that she’s been so much work and we really haven’t taken her out to do much fun stuff for more than an hour or so.

She was so good at Ian’s mom’s house, though. We grilled out and everyone hung out in the back yard talking, drinking beer and playing badminton and cornhole. We tied Stella’s 30-foot lead around a tree, and she hung out there with us. She got tangled in the chairs and table some, but everyone who was mingling around would just pick up a chair or call her to walk around the other side of the table to get her untangled. For once I actually felt that she was an easy dog. She wasn’t scared of anything or anyone and was happy to just be part of the crowd. Ian’s sister’s dog, Dom (an old Chihuahua), was there and so was our friend Alex’s Shih Tzu, Chloe. Chloe was happy to play with Stella, but Dom didn’t want anything to do with either of them. He’s a cranky old man, though, so he gets a pass.

We weren’t sure how she would react to fireworks that night and had brought along several treats and an unwashed shirt that smelled like me to put in her crate and hopefully keep her calm. It turned out we didn’t need any of that, as she wasn’t scared of the fireworks at all. She was pretty tired after an exciting day, and ended up laying down under my lawn chair to watch with the rest of the crowd. Our last firework was this huge (really awesome) mortar that had about 20 shots in it, and I think that might have made her a little nervous. She got out from the chair and started pacing around a bit, so I took her inside and put her to bed and she didn’t make a peep. Of course, she was ready to go the next morning at 6:30 and didn’t care that we were all hungover and exhausted.

After I took her for a walk around Ian’s mom’s neighborhood, though, she was like a different dog than she is at home. She was content to lay around on the floor or the couch with us and watch TV as we convalesced. I’ve literally never seen her stop moving for more than 30 seconds unless she’s sleeping, so this was an encouraging development. We left her at Ian’s mom’s that night and headed up to his dad’s house in Mt. Juliet (where I ate ribs for the first time in years!), and Sunday when we came back to pick her up she hugged me. Arms on shoulders, licking my face, burrowing her head in my hair. It felt a little like what I imagine picking a real child up from grandma’s house would feel like. Go ahead and barf at the sweetness.

Now that we’re back home, though, it’s been a struggle to get her eating her food again. I don’t know if she’s sick or if she just doesn’t like her food, but it’s starting to worry me a bit. Last week I bought her Natural Balance dry food (Sweet Potato and Bison flavor—a grain-free, limited ingredient food that is regarded as a high-quality dog food) and started transitioning her over last Wednesday. She was doing good, but I think eating scraps on July 4th spoiled her because when we got home she refused to eat. This morning I realized that she just picked out the new food from the mixture and left the old, so I think tonight I’m going to try just giving her the new. There isn’t too much left of the Nutro, and I’m sure I can donate it to a local shelter if she won’t eat the rest of it. I just hope her issue is that she got tired of it and wanted something new, not that she’s sick. Or that she’s going to refuse to eat dry food at all. Canned decent dog food is expensive and really not something I want to have to budget for (we’re talking $120/month minimum, and she’s still growing).

More adventures in puppy obedience class

Last night was the fourth class in our six-class obedience program, and Stella did so-so. I’d give her a B for the first part of class and a C for the second half, but I think she just gets bored. An hour seems like a long time to expect a puppy to pay attention when there are all these other puppies that she could be playing with instead! And treats left all over the floor. And weird and intriguing smells.

She still lacks more focus than most of the other dogs in class, but I was able to get her to sit and lay down on cue so that was cool. Last night a boxer took the prize for worst dog in class, as he literally would do nothing but lay on the ground and bite his leash. I felt bad for his parents; the woman was mortified and obviously exasperated, and eventually the teacher asked the husband to come up to the circle and try to help but this dog was just over it all. The teacher even applied bitter apple spray to his leash and that didn’t really make a difference. He just lay there on the ground rubbing his face on the floor and eating his leash. Eventually he got his act together and would sit/lie down when asked away from the group, but he really didn’t participate much in any of the activities.

As unruly as Stella can be and as much focus as she lacks, I want to kind of pat us both on the back for not collectively losing our shit—in public or in our house—like this boxer and his parents did last night. They were yelling at him as quietly as they could without making a (bigger) scene across the entire building, yanking on his leash and grabbing at his face. I mean, I get it. Dogs can be really freaking stubborn and annoying. I will holler after Stella when I catch her going to grab some cat poop and I have yelled at her a time or two when she has chased Gordo (ok, and I might have yelled “Get your fucking leash on!” the other day after a particularly challenging morning where all she wanted to do was jump at my face). But I have never spent several minutes in her face screaming at her, and I definitely have never yanked on her leash or grabbed at her as a punishment.

Sitting there watching this scene, I remembered how my dad used to yank and hit our border collie, Mollie, and it made me really sad. I started petting Stella’s ears and telling her she was a good dog, and who knows, maybe she sensed my discomfort because she started paying better attention to me and sitting/laying much more quickly when told. It was probably just the treats I was giving her, but I’d like to think she realized for a minute that we were in this together. I’m lucky to have a dog who doesn’t completely lose her shit during training exercises, and she’s lucky to have an owner who doesn’t teeter on the edge of abuse when she doesn’t do what I ask of her.

“You have brought shame upon our family”

That phrase was uttered several times last week during our first puppy obedience class with Stella. It’s not that she’s a bad dog, she’s just easily excited by other dogs. And people. And the smell of treats. And bugs. And her tail.

To say she’s unfocused would be an understatement.

The class she’s in teaches basic obedience but also allows you to socialize your puppy with other dogs. Well, before and after class. You’re not supposed to let your dog play with other dogs during class, and Stella does NOT get that at all. If she were a kid, she’d be getting sent to the principal’s office for talking too much.

Tomorrow is our second class, and I hope she does better. I’m not sure how long it takes dogs to recognize they’re not in a brand new environment, but I kept telling myself she was losing her mind last week because everything was so new. We’ll see, I guess. At least she wasn’t the worst dog in the class. That honor goes to the black lab who had to be given a chew toy because he kept crying/barking/chewing his owner during the introduction portion. Oh, and there was a cattle dog who looked to be a senior in there. I’m not sure what that dog’s deal was, since this class is supposed to be for puppies who are between 5 and 10 months old.

There are things she is really good at that are important to us, though, like riding in the car and how she acts toward the cats. She is such a good car-rider—she’s learned how to jump into the back seat and doesn’t fight us when it’s time to get in or out, and she isn’t nervous or jumpy when we’re riding around town. She’ll usually sit up and look out the windows for a while, but after a few minutes she’s content to lay down and take a quick nap.

She’s also better than I could have ever expected with the cats. I’m almost afraid I’m jinxing myself by admitting this out loud, but she is very respectful of them. She has gotten good at not chasing Gordo anymore, which I am pretty sure we owe to King Boo and can’t take any credit for ourselves. She still tries to play with them, but as soon as they hiss at her she’ll back off. Most of the time, though, she ignores them in favor of her toys or Ian and I. Considering that was my No. 1 fear about getting a shelter dog, I feel very lucky and relieved.

We took her to a local growler shop on Saturday (they’re dog-friendly, like many places in Chattanooga), and she did really well there, too. She did want to jump on anyone who walked in the door and said hi to her, but I kept her on a short leash and she eventually laid on the floor at my feet. (Giving her treats to stay in her “down” position helped, too.)

Even if she never learns how to walk on a leash properly, if we can end up with a cat-friendly dog who behaves at bars, I’m going to feel like we hit the jackpot.

Five things I miss about Murfreesboro

Ian and I have lived in Chattanooga for nine months now, and while it often feels like we’re still brand-new here, Murfreesboro feels less and less like home when I pass through it every month on my way to Nashville for work.

That’s not to say there aren’t still things I really miss about it, even beyond friends, family and the general nostalgia I’ll always feel for it. In the past months, I’ve found myself missing some very mundane things that I haven’t really found a replacement for in Chattanooga, including:

1. A good grocery store. Now I know what all you East Nashville people were talking about with your food desert. There are no Krogers in the Chattanooga area, and I’ve been to six Bi-Los and they are all shitty. Well, there’s one up in Red Bank that’s so-so, but Bi-Lo doesn’t really carry the brand of staples that we eat so I always end up leaving there feeling like I spent a bunch of money on crap I don’t want to eat. We can’t afford to do our full grocery shopping at Whole Foods, either. We did find an amazing Publix a couple months ago—it was so great that I kept running around finding “our” foods and exclaiming “This place is tits!” The only problem? It’s way the hell out in East Brainerd and takes a good 20 minutes to get there, 30 if we go before 8 p.m. even on a week night.

2. Our vet. I do like the Chattanooga Cat Clinic’s vet, but their staff was pretty rude and actually endangered BK’s life back in the fall when she had a reaction to her rabies shot and they kept telling me she was acting normal when I knew for a fact she wasn’t. Now that we have a dog we’ve had to find a new vet that sees dogs, and while I like the staff and the vet at the place we took Stella to on Saturday, it’s old and dingy and dirty. I miss Dr. Barker at the Barfield Animal Hospital—we took our cats there for nearly 10 years and he and his staff were excellent. He saw us through Gordo’s bout with depression, BK’s random allergy troubles and was the one who cremated Evil Twin when we had to put him down. He always suggested ways to treat our cats without spending a ton of money and found a way to blend compassion with realism into his practice that I haven’t seen in many vets. Plus, his staff was really outgoing and friendly and we knew our cats would be in good hands whenever we had to leave them there overnight.

3. Julia’s Bakery. I’m sure there are amazing bakeries in Chattanooga, I just haven’t found them yet. Maybe I should make that a goal for the summer.

4. Knowing where I am at all times. (OK, most of the time.) Murfreesboro was spread out enough that I could drive out into the country and not really know where I was, but I would always eventually find a landmark that brought me back into town. Ian calls me Towelie (“I don’t even know where I’m at, man!”) because I tend to be directionally challenged, but at least in Murfreesboro I knew how to get anywhere I needed to go. I might not have always taken the most direct route, but I knew that city like the back of my hand. In Chattanooga, not so much. It is really fun getting to explore a new city, but it’s been nine months and I’m still having to rely on Google Maps to get to new (and sometimes not-so-new) places. Probably because I work from home and don’t get out and drive around as much as I need to in order to learn the layout of the city.

5. Our old liquor store. We lived right down the block from a place called Murfreesboro Wine and Spirits that must be an anomaly in Tennessee. It had a great wine selection, was reasonably priced and had knowledgeable and helpful employees. So far in Chattanooga I’ve found liquor stores that have all of those things—but not all at the same time. Riverside, my favorite, has a great wine, liquor and beer selection but has rude employees and their prices are just so-so. The wine shop next to Whole Foods has really helpful and kind employees, but they’re small so their selection isn’t great (surprisingly, their prices aren’t the highest I’ve found). I’ve been to a few places with decent prices, but they’ve been in not-so-safe areas (think bars on the windows and cops arresting people nearby) and haven’t had much of a selection. Chattanooga is a pretty booze-heavy town, though, so I know I just need to keep exploring before I find “my” liquor store.

Oh, I should mention that so far the best place I’ve found has been Beverage World, which is actually in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. It’s only about 15 minutes from my house, so I probably should stop by there more often. It’s out of the way, but they’re open on Sundays, sell high and low gravity beer along with wine, and I’ll benefit from Georgia sales tax. Ok, maybe I did find “my” liquor store after all.

A different kind of happy Halloween

This year was the first time in nine years that Ian and I didn’t have any trick-or-treaters on Halloween, since we now live in a building with a door code.

Well, let me rephrase: It was the first time in nine years that we didn’t have to worry about the possibility of trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Because we had such a long commute in previous years, we didn’t get home until 7 p.m. or later and a lot of times missed most or all of the kids. So it was nice this year to not worry about the possibility of our house being egged because we weren’t home when the hooligans were out.

My friends with kids posted pictures of the young’uns all dressed up and on the town, so I still got to see a bunch of cute and clever costumes. But I also got to go get a massage and go to the gym instead of having to sit at home wondering if some 17-year-old asshole with no costume and a plastic Kroger bag was going to show up at 9 p.m. demanding candy.

So, yeah. Good Halloween.

Rotten

Ian and I were all excited because we thought we had found our new grocery store. The first Bi-Lo we went to was not good, but then we went to the one in Red Bank and were impressed. It’s next to a liquor store that has a great selection of Prosecco. It has half of an entire aisle dedicated to vegetarian and vegan dry goods.

But we discovered the squash we’d bought was rotten in the middle. And the ground beef Ian bought had a rip in its packaging and was spoiled, which we didn’t notice until he had thawed it out to cook.

Maybe we’ll try the one on Signal Mountain Road next.

And yes, I realize how mundane and awful I am for blogging about grocery stores.

Rediscovering the mundane

As we were preparing to move, I thought about a lot of things. For weeks my brain was a flurry of planning and organizing and strategizing and stressing as I tried to figure out how to keep everything in line so that when Ian started his new job we would have somewhere to live and all of our stuff would eventually show up.

It all came together pretty well, much to my surprise. The fact that Ian’s new company provided us with relocation assistance helped a lot, as did having saved up my vacation days so I could deal with the movers, but I think only having a couple weeks—only two weekends—to find a place to live really made us narrow down our priorities quickly and not waste time nailing down our moving plans.

When we finally got Ian, the cats and myself all together in Chattanooga, and all of our stuff was moved in and mostly unpacked, I realized I hadn’t given any thought to the mundane yet frequentl tasks I had taken for granted. Like grocery shopping. Yes, there is a Whole Foods within walking distance, but we aren’t millionaires so we can’t afford to do our regular weekly shopping there. We had lived at our house in Murfreesboro for so long that it was just second nature to head to Kroger when it was grocery shopping time. Or Publix if I was planning on buying a lot of produce. But in Chattanooga? No idea.

First off, there are no Krogers here. Which isn’t a bad thing, but after 16 years of living in Murfreesboro I had grown accustomed to seeing a Kroger on every corner. Google showed me that Bi-Lo was going to be my best choice for a close, decent grocery store in my area, and there were three within a couple miles of our apartment. The first one we went to was small and had a shitty selection, but the next time we tried one in Red Bank and it was awesome. We went back last night and I discovered they have a huge vegetarian/vegan selection of items throughout the store. I used to love Bi-Lo, but all of the Murfreesboro ones were bought out by Publix a few years ago. I love Publix, too, don’t get me wrong, but it is a little more expensive and I just have a weird nostalgia for Bi-Lo.

And despite living here for nearly three months now, I can only tell you with certainty where one gas station is in this town—and that’s only because I can walk to it from my apartment. (I don’t drive much anymore, so I have only gotten gas a couple times.) Finding the bank was easy because there are a ton of branches for my bank all over the place. I still haven’t found a new primary care physician, but I don’t know if I will. My insurance doesn’t require a referral if I need to see a specialist, and I don’t have any chronic conditions that would require a PCP (knock on wood). So I think I’ll probably just go to a walk-in clinic the next time I get sick. That’s what I ended up doing most of the time in Murfreesboro, anyway, since my PCP never had same-day appointments.

A lot of moving feels like starting over. I guess it is, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s kind of neat that even the most mundane tasks have become an exercise in exploration. Even if that does mean I’ve become an old lady.

The kindness of strangers

So far everyone I’ve met here in Chattanooga—whether it’s been at an event or just randomly at a bar—have been really friendly. But it’s strange—they always seem shocked when Ian and I tell them we just moved from Nashville, until we amend it to say “Well, we worked in Nashville but lived in Murfreesboro.” Then they nod their heads and say, “Ahh,” as though that explains something.

We’ve had several people, mostly bartenders, tell us after finding out where we came from that we’re the nicest people they’ve met at their particular establishment. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but it makes me wonder if a bunch of people from the Nashville area have come to vacation in Chattanooga over the years and were just total dicks. Or maybe the places we frequent don’t have a lot of regulars and they’re just being kind because we are friendly, polite and tip well.

Either way, it’s nice. In a curious way.

The new, still

We’ve lived in Chattanooga for three months now and it all still feels new. I can’t remember if that’s what it’s supposed to feel like when you move to a new city. The last time I moved I was 18 and relocating for college. Well, for many reasons, but I was starting college. It was really easy to make new friends because everyone was doing that, whether they’d lived in Murfreesboro their whole life or had just moved there, too.

This time around I’m not making friends as quickly, but there are other things that are easier. I have Ian, my partner-in-crime. I have the cats. I didn’t have to live in a dorm and then try to buy furniture on minimum wage when I got an apartment. Basically, I am not completely broke and alone this time. And Ian and I are having what we’re calling our Blow It Out Year, where we’ve been going out almost every night to get to know our new city. Most places we can walk to, so we’re getting to see little nooks and crannies as we stroll by. Things we’d miss if we drove everywhere.

I don’t want to compare my two “move to another city” experiences too much because they were at completely different times in my life. Both times I was ripe for change, but for completely different reasons. And both times I fell in love with my newly adopted city.

Murfreesboro was so good to me. I built a family there. And now I can’t wait to see what Chattanooga has in store for us.