Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Long Road to Venice

I-285, I-675, I-75, FL-681

River waited patiently by the door in the Tucker motel room as I sipped my coffee and packed up the car for our long trek to Venice.  I took him for a little walk before we hit the road. 
 We drove for maybe half an hour when I saw a sign to a town called Griffin. I could use some gas, so I thought it would be fun to do it there. Once I got off the main Interstate, I realized Griffin was going to be about ten miles out of my way, so the fun wore off and I turned around. I spotted a gas station in McDonough, just before getting on the Interstate.
Next to the highway was a BBQ place and a shack next to it, selling peaches. I didn't realize that I was hungry until I saw the BBQ sign, so I pulled in. There was a man and a woman standing there as I looked at the menu. It was kind of like a food truck, just a ramshackle lean-to with kitchin equipment inside. The menu was tantalizing, and as I was deciding what to get, the man standing nearby mumbled something. I have a hard time with the southern accents. I almost always have to ask them to repeat themselves. In this case, not only did I not understand him, but he was wearing one of those ridiculous blue tooth phone earpieces, so I didn't know if he was on a phone call. I asked him, 'Are you talking to me?' and he explained that he'd been standing there half an hour, and he doesn't think the guy is there. I laughed inside. Half an hour and your'e still wondering?
Right at that moment, a busy-looking young man ran out with something in his hand, said "I'll be right with you gentlemen" as he ran past and handing the woman a lid for her beverage. He then turned to us and asked us if he could help us. I asked "are you making food?" and he told me that the guy wasn't here. "So, are you selling peaches?" I asked? That perked him up. "Yes, Sir!" he said and ran to his place behind the counter in the peach shack.
Long story short, I got some peaches. Some that are ripe and ready and some that will mature over the next few days. I couldn't very well leave Georgia without peaches, could I?

So back in the car, we drove and drove until I decided I wanted to stop for a latte at Starbucks. Next to the Starbucks, in Tifton, GA, there was a patch of grass that River was very attracted to. There was an opening in the fence, so we went through and hung out on the parkway for about twenty minutes. I drank my latte and River explored and rolled around a bit as the cars whizzed by. 

All caffeinated and grassy, we got back in the car and continued down I-75 until we passed the state line. Shortly thereafter, we stopped in a rest area. It was about 4pm which is the time I like to feed River. After feeding, we had some fun exploring the lichen-covered trees and chilling out in the shade.

The cicadas in the trees were incredibly noisy in spurts. It seemed that whenever I got my phone out, in an attempt to capture their loud rapture, they would go silent. Shy, I guess?

As I was checking into my Motel 6 in Venice, a couple of guys came into the office and stood behind me, waiting to be helped. River was checking them out, and I was keeping my eye on him. I never know what his reaction to strangers will be, so I have to be ready to intercept if necessary. River and one of the men seemed to connect, and River approached him to sniff. The guy didn't give River enough opportunity to feel safe around him before reaching out to pat him on the head. Well, that's definitely River's trigger, and it set him off. He loudly barked and everyone was surprised. I pulled him back and used my chain technique to quiet and calm him. I was kind of embarrassed. Only because I should have told the guy not to pet him. It is exhausting sometimes, always telling people to back off the dog. I was tired and a little bit spaced out from 8 hours of driving, and I watched it all unfold. In my head, i could see that River was going to burst, but I didn't muster the words to intercept. Fortunately, I was quick on the deflection. But if I were quicker, and told River to do something BEFORE he blew up, I might have prevented the whole situation.

So, we checked into the room and I started looking for food for dinner.I found a local sports bar that claimed to have The Best CheeseBurger You've Ever Had. Well, that was certainly tempting, although I think I've heard that claim before.

I asked for no onion and subbed Swiss cheese for American. No burger with American cheese is ever going to be "The Best I've Ever Tasted" blech. But this one was really good. It was basic, but all the flavors and textures were just how I like. Hot and juicy with a hint of real cheese flavor. Freshness, supplied by the veggies and a little bit of pink in the center of the meat without feeling raw. The fries were good too. I wish they had asked if I wanted condiments, because I never use them. Instead they gave me a superfluous plethora of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, but not a single napkin.

I'll be here in Venice for four days, and I'm going to be teaching four Nia classes here. I hope to also get to the beach at some point. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gorgeous Georgia

Strangers here say "hi" to each other.

I didn't do any highway driving today, so no map.  I spent most of the day on Friday, hanging around the motel room.

I ate some soup, tuna and bread out of my ice chest and cleaned out the car. I accumulate junk, and without the occasional purge, it can really pile up. I found a search engine online that will tell me where the nearest Crystal water filter dispensers are. I found one outside a Kroger store and filled up my three jugs.

I found a great burger on Thursday night, which I blogged about here.

And I checked into my motel room. I've stayed at this place before and it perfectly meets all of my criteria for a perfect Motel 6 experience. I blogged about that here.

My burger blog is done chronologically by the date I ate the food, but the Motel 6 blog is done alphabetically by region. The reason for that is that for the Motel 6 blog, I am creating a database for myself, so the next time I set out to plan a road trip, I can look up the Motel 6 in the area and remember my impressions and experiences there.  But for the burger blog, I'm keeping a journal and don't really intend to look things up in it later.

I shaved and showered, fed River at then took off for my evening Nia class at Firefly studio. Sandy was my host, and we used her regular studio rather than the bigger studio. I ended up liking the intimacy of the smaller studio much more than the big one, but some of the student were laughing afterward that they'd never really had to navigate around each other so much before due to lack of space.

It's a good thing I allowed an hour for a 15 minute drive.

There were 13 students in class. We got real sweaty in that small room. A quirk of this group was that they only used the back half of the room. I exaggerate, but they kept drifting further and further back from me. This is another reason I like the smaller room; because when they did that in the big room, they got really far away from me so that I had to yell for them to hear me. But today, the people in the front were being reminded by the people in the back to please move forward and give them some room.

I know that I didn't stink. I made a point of it because both times I was in Atlanta before, I did. Not me, but my clothes. When I came through with Goldfinger and with Frankie Say Nia, I had an established costume I was wearing, which sometimes didn't get washed in between classes. And both times I was here in the past was one of those times. So this year I was sure that I used freshly washed gear and that I was showered and deodorized. Maybe it was my breath this year, since I'm doing the no toothpaste thing. hehe. I teased them goodnaturedly. It's funny behavior. My tendency is to move closer and closer to the teacher all the time.

There's a movement we do in Amazing that I call the helicopter. The movement came to me from the folks in Santa Monica, but I didn't get a name for it from them. As I practiced the routine at home, I'd be asking for a pearl but nothing would come. It's a side travelling with a big arm circle from the shoulder in the frontal plane, one complete circle for each side step. The other arm is held out, stationary, parallel to the floor. We travel four counts in each direction and then back for a full bar. I began calling it The Windmill, because I was trying to think of what that circular motion reminded me of. But it never really felt exactly right. And then, a while ago, while I was teaching it to a class, I said Helicopter instead of Windmill. That's when it started to feel right, and then something else interesting happened. I make small, quick circles with my outstretched, unmoving hand. It felt necessary to make it a helicopter. And, as it turns out, it's a fun and challenging movement. It feels like something Carlos would've come up with; simple but takes a bit of coordination. I love to watch the students' faces light up as they gradually get what I'm doing.

After class had ended and we were all post-Nia chatting, I noticed a woman was spending a lot of time with the crystal that I left out for everyone to connect with. Later, she came up to me and said that she loved what I was doing with the crystal, gathering all the energy from all over the USA, but that she had moved it. I had set it near the microwave, and she cautioned me about putting the crystal near any electronics. She also told me that I could rinse it in water and, with my intention clear, only wash off the unwanted microwave and electronic energy, while keeping the human energy intact.

River hasn't been itching quite as furiously as he was in Texas, but he's still got a bit of a rash on his belly, and he's still super over-reactive when I lightly scratch him. But he's getting better. Today as we were lounging on the grass after feeding time, a man walked by, dragging some roll-aboard luggage and talking on his cell phone. River stared at him for a bit, and I guess the sound of the wheels and the force he was using to project into the phone (must've been a long distance call) freaked him out. He started barking. Another reason I say "Thank you for the bark!" It helps me hold him back when he gets riled up. Before he could bark, all of his energy went into running toward the threat. But now that he barks, he might still be lunging toward the threat, but there's also a force pushing him back. So that helps me contain him. And it increases the likelihood that he will hear me and actually calm himself down enough to lie down and bark his frustration out.

Another last minute change of plans. Originally, my plan was to go to Tallahassee tomorrow and in the morning go to Venice, Florida, where I will teach four classes. Awkwardly, my first class there is at 10am, which meant I would have to leave Tallahassee by 4am to give me enough time to get there comfortably. And that meant I would need to get up by 2:30am! And I was fully willing to do this.... until today. Suddenly it seems to make much more sense to drive all the way to Venice tomorrow. Even though it's a long drive, it's not crazy long. It's only 7 1/2 hours. I like to keep it below 6, but I've also done as much as 9 hours on more than one occasion. But, 7 1/2 hours of driving seems like a much less evil option when weighed against the prospect of waking up at 2:30 am, driving four hours, teaching a Nia class, and then having to wait four more hours before my room was available. What was I thinking?!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Alabama Adventures

This morning at 4am, I was awaken by the neighbors, calling up to the upper floor from their car, right outside my door. River, actually is what woke me up. He responded with a loud bark. The neighbors had what seemed like a pretty long shouted conversation from across the parking lot. Finally the loudmouth got in her car and drove off and we fell back to sleep.

A couple hours later, i hear a lot of dripping coming from the bathroom, like someone is taking a shower in there. I go in and see that there is a waterfall coming from the lighting fixture in the shower stall, it's splashing all over the floor, which explains why it was a bit wet when I checked in last night, and why it seemed like the shower stall floor hadn't been cleaned. Obviously whenever they shower in the unit above, I get the run off. Gross.

And then finally, it was actually time to wake up and get ready for class.  I had about an hour of driving ahead, so I got up and out in plenty of time.
I-20, I-65, US-31, US-278, US-431, US-78, I-285, US-29

We arrived at the civic center with enough time to run on the grass for a little bit before getting set up for class. About ten people showed up for the Woodstock Experience. Last year, when I was here, I taught a workshop on How to FreeDance.  A few of the participants from that were there today, but it was less than half of the group. I talked a little bit about Anything Goes and about taking my choreography as a mere suggestion, and I explained how I envisioned this class to be an homage to the original music festival. Much to my delighted surprised, this group took me at my word. I start the class by having everyone wander around lost, and then I start the music, and without saying a word, go into my very simple warm up choreography. For two songs, I don't usually speak, as Jefferson Airplane does a fine job underscoring my movements. 

Every other time I've taught this routine, the group immediately connects to my movements, and within moments of my saying that this is meant to be freedancing, are doing my exact choreography. But today, they didn't. They kept wandering around, some of them were kind of doing what I did but no one was following exactly. I found that I had to actually give some cues to stimulate full body warm-ups, since they weren't doing my movements. It was great. 

I was a bit concerned too about the 10 minute Ravi Shankar raga and if I could sustain holding the space for them to freedance. It is a fairly tame bunch. Not the most adventurous, and very comfortable in their comfort zones. And despite the obvious fact that it was not something they were used to doing, they went along with me and after my giving them a few carefully planted suggestions and enough time to settle into the music, even the most staunch resistor was finally joining in and exuding that magic glow that comes from totally free dancing.

I was very impressed with the ladies in Cullman.

We also had a young girl with us, named Ally. I'm not good at telling ages in children, but I'd guess she was four years old. She was dancing with us, and she was well in touch with her free spirit, so for one of the songs, I had everyone follow her.  She didn't know that's what we were doing. She was so caught up in just being herself. But we got some great moves from her.

It's interesting that my Woodstock Routine so far has had two juvenile participants. I don't get children in my classes that often, but maybe there's something about this particular routine that inspires women to bring their daughters. In both cases, the child was interested and participating for about half the class, and then went off to explore other fun and games. 

I have been having all my students on this trip commune with my crystal. I ask them to tap it, hold it or give it a hug so that it can exchange energy with as many people as possible across the country. I joked not to hold it for too long, since it now has so much energy in it, it might be overwhelming.

Ally, who had just eaten a Hershey's Kiss (a tradition post-Nia ritual in Cullman) gave the crystal a chocolatey kiss. 

After class, we all met at a local deli called Berkeley Bob's. Inside, a guy on an accoustic guitar was singing Wish You Were Here, by Pink Floyd. I got noticed when I walked in with my tie dye shorts on. I fit right into this place. I asked the woman what was good and she recommended the Reuben, so I got that. It was really good. My producer Ann, bought my lunch for me, which I always appreciate so much. Thank you!

We chatted with some of the students who came to lunch with us and then River and I got in the car to head east. I wanted to stop and visit the Talladega National Forest, which was on my way to Atlanta.

As I was passing through a town called Gadsden, it flashed in my memory that I was out of River's food and needed to find a Petco. I quickly asked Siri and found out that I was less than two miles from one. It was on the road I was on. I needed to make a U-turn. I must've subconsciously seen it, or smelled it because I think I thought about it just as I was right in front of it. Kinda weird. 
Our next stop was on the way out of Gadsden, headed for the forest, still. I spotted a filtered water dispenser and stopped because two of my jugs were empty. Well the quarter fell through the slot and didn't register in the machine. I hit the coin return and nothing came out, and I hit the Dispense Water button and it was inactive. So I jostled the flap that covers the coin return tray and I must've loosened up the last ten people's lost quarters, because it was like a slot machine paying off! I grabbed the quarters and took off without my water. I still have one full one, so it's not a crisis situation yet. 

I made it to the Talladega forest according to my navigation. No sooner did she say "You Have Reached Your Destination" than I saw a sign saying "Leaving Talladega National Forest". I guess I found a narrow section of forest. I turned around, hoping to find something more interesting, but I didn't. And it was getting late, so I didn't want to spend a lot of time driving around looking for pretty trees to look at. So I just got back on the highway and headed to Atlanta. 

Right as we passed the state line into Georgia, I saw a beautiful rest area. One of the best I've ever seen, maybe the best. I fed River his dinner and we ran around on the expansive lawn. The grass was so nice and soft and clean, that I actually took off my shoes and ran around barefoot. I know it's kinda nasty because it was a Pet Run Area, but I didn't see any poop and the grass felt really good. 
I hit the tiniest bit of traffic going through Atlanta, but considering it was 6:30pm, I think it was actually flowing really well. My motel is in Tucker, a suburb of Atlanta.

I checked in and consulted Zomato and found a pub that served hamburgers down the road. I ordered a Greek burger for pickup. It had feta cheese and tzatziki sauce. 

It was so delicious. I asked for it cooked medium rare, and it came very pink in the middle. It almost ruined the experience for me as I was worried whether it had reached a high enough internal temperature for safety. I ate it anyway. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

"Bama Bound and Babe Business in Birmingham

Today I was on a mission to get to Mini Birmingham. I needed to extend my maintenance agreement soon or my oil changes, air filter and the like would no longer be 'free'.  I would have just paid the fee to Seattle Mini, but my representative there told me I had to go in physically because they needed to scan my key.

Well, that wouldn't be possible, considering I wasn't planning to be home for months, and I was about to go over the maximum 36,000 on the basic maintenance agreement. So I started contacting Mini dealers and giving them my situation and my schedule to see if i could come up with a match.

And, on a whim, I also decided to make a bee-line for the Mini Dealership in Birmingham, where I was staying that night, and seeing if someone could squeeze me in without an appointment.

US-98, FL-85, US-331, US-31, I-65, I-459
Fortunately, it was doable. The guy was busy with someone, but that gave me some time to feed River his dinner out on the lawn while he finished up. And then I got my turn. He ended up telling me that he didn't even need to scan my key. If I had elected to upgrade to the full warranty, then he'd need to scan it, but just to extend the maintenance, he only needed the mileage.

So we think that Kayle, from Seattle Mini, told me a fib so that I'd go in and she could upsell me the warranty. But what ended up happening was it cost her the commission for the sale, since I was forced to look elsewhere. Thank you Gareth at BMW of Birmingham. (BMW owns Mini).

Destin, Florida, where I was yesterday, was calling itself "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village" which is cool. I also passed through a town today called Lucerne, AL, which, according to the sign is "The Friendliest Town in the South."  It was a superlative day.

I took mostly farm roads and there wasn't much of note. I wasn't really motivated to take any pictures, except on one road that was shaded by the big trees lining it on either side. It was a nice break from the relentless  sunshine, but I don't think it would have photographed well. My phone was in my bag, anyway, and I didn't feel like fishing it out.

If I were to give each state I've been in recently a driving quirk, I'd say:
Florida - Speeding and Tailgating
Mississippi - Talking on Cell Phone and Driving 10MPH below the flow of traffic
Alabama - Household Pet Road Kill

Yesterday, I was in Alabama for only a couple of hours at the most and I saw a dead dog and two dead cats on the side of the road.  Today, I saw another squashed cat. I almost never see household pets, though I do see my fair share of road kill on my travels.

The thought entered my head today.  Why do we have to add a "U" after "Q"? It makes no sense to have a letter than needs another letter to appear with it every single time. Why not just make the Q into a letter that doens't require a U. If it's required every time, then it's pointless. And what happens if you don't use the U? Qite a perplexing qestion.

I only stopped once, to give River a pee break and to stretch our legs at a Rest Area off US-331, just north of the Florida/Alabama state line.  And on my way from the Mini dealer to the motel, I stopped to get gas in Bessemer.

Bessemer is a suburb of Birmingham, and might be the saddest place I've ever visited. Entire shopping centers of vacant stores. And the signs indicate that the stores that couldn't survive were pawn shops and dollar stores. I don't think I've ever seen more vacant buildings than I've seen since entering Alabama. Lucerne, that friendly town, had a store that was out of business with a sign in the window saying, "This Sign is For Sale".

When I pulled into the Motel 6, or what I thought was going to be the Motel 6, I found myself in a private condominium driveway.  So I turned around and noticed another car pulling in as I pulled out. I got back on the street and took the next driveway instead.  I could see the sign, and my navigation had told me to turn, so I was a bit confused. The second driveway I pulled into seemed to be a vacant lot. I stopped and took this picture of the elusive Motel 6 from this parking lot.
Not Motel 6; a school. 

As I was driving out, a fellow stepped out of one the bungalows and asked "can I help you?" I told him I was looking for Motel 6 and he pointed to the obvious sign. "It's right there." I laughed,
"Yes, but I can't find the driveway, I thought this was it." I was actually surprised to see a human being. I thought maybe he was a homeless squatter.  "No, this is a school." he said to my surprise. I thought, really?  With all the grass growing through the cracks in the asphalt? I thought no one had been here in years.
Anyway, I kept it cool and he gave me extensive directions, which basically amounted to telling me it was the next driveway, just passed the closed down bank. "But you can still see the sign so you'll know it's a bank. "

As I pulled out of the "school" I saw that same car that had followed me into the condo. He had stopped in the driveway of the school and was talking on his phone, gesturing toward the monolithic Motel 6 sign that seemed unreachable. I almost called out to him, "follow me!" but I figured he'd find it, since it was just the next driveway.

 I got back to the motel room and found a BBQ place that got decent reviews on Yelp. I have been having good luck simply asking Siri, "What's the best BBQ place around here?" And he answers with one selection. I usually end up going there. Today was no exception. And the BBQ must be slim pickin's around here because it was not good. It didn't warrant the high marks, in my opinion. I wrote about it in more detail on my Burger and BBQ blog, but I will say this here: I am not a fan of food that makes my hands messy. Just a qirk of mine, I guess. This is why I almost never get ribs, and had I known the combo platter included both ribs and fried chicken, I might have gone a different direction.

Another peeve of mine, which is weird, considering my lifestyle. I usually don't like eating outside. If the sun is directly on me, I hate it. If there are bugs, I'm annoyed. I don't like wind blowing things into my food or blowing my napkin away. I don't like eating near traffic, a la sidewalk cafe, or near pedestrians for that matter. I don't like to eat where it's very noisy, and I dislike eating in dark, shadowy places where I can't see my food. I don't like having the TV on while I eat, but I don't mind soft, peaceful music. I'm not fussy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Southern Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle

Wow, did I make a discovery today.
On a whim, I decide not to follow my original plan, which was to visit the De Soto National Forest on my way to Decatur, AL. I was to stay two nights in Decatur and teach my Nia class once, then move on to Atlanta, GA. Well it turns out, it makes just as much sense to go to Destin, Fl for one night, and then up to Birmingham for a night, and teach my Nia class on my way from Birmingham to Atlanta.
I was missing the beach and Destin came up in two different conversations, so I went for it.
So glad I did.

I-10, US-90, FL-281, US-98

I was going to take I-10 the whole way to Florida, but I saw a sign that indicated the coastal scenic route alternative to I-10, so I quickly veered onto the road that lead me to US-90 and all the coastal towns of southern Mississippi.
I loved the white sands and grassy dunes and ample parking and vast open spaces of the beach in Pass Christian. 

I also loved Long Beach and Biloxi, though the latter actually had casinos and looked like party zone. It was dead quiet, though. I was obviously there during off season. The scenic route was paying off, though. I was really enjoying my drive and experiencing the gulf coast. 

This was a dilapidated old boardwalk with a caution sign that has also seen better days. River was quite intrigued by the whole thing. He wanted to investigate but wouldn't go near it. 

After getting enough beach time, I cut back onto I-10 right about the time I crossed over into Alabama. 
 And I stopped to fill up the gas tank just past Mobile.

Shortly thereafter, we crossed into Florida and I switched to US 98 via FL 281. 

I got into a town called Gulf Breeze, and couldn't resist blasting the song of the same name from an old Nia routine. We checked into the Motel 6 room in Destin, FL, which was a cute little beach town with beautiful white beaches. It was a bit touristy and popular, but I noticed a fairly unused National Seashore just about five miles west of Destin, so we went back there. 

Thanks to my National Parks Pass, I didn't have to pay, and we have a fun time here. The decline of the shore was so slight, that we could walk 25 feet out from the beach into the water and still only be in water a foot deep. It was a brand new experience for River to be able to come so far out off the shore. 

There was supposed to be a mexican food truck parked just a block from the motel, so I took River on a walk to get some blackened fish tacos. The truck wasn't there, but on the way back, I passed a good barbecue place and ordered some meats to go. I wrote the details on my BBQ blog, but it was basically pretty good. I was really getting into the pork and beans. They were so sweet and smokey and the juice was thick. I got the 'spicy' hot sauce, but it was mild. 

I have put over 5555 miles on the car since I started this trip three weeks ago. I got an alert from Mini that I need to extend my warranty. It expires after 36, 000 miles, which I'll reach in a few more weeks at this rate. I have to physically be there to extend the warranty, so now I'm trying to play catch up with Mini Dealers. I've contact Mini in Birmingham and Atlanta, and let them know my dilemma and my schedule. Maybe tomorrow one of them will be able to help me. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Texas Part 10 - Leaving for Louisiana

It was after 11am before I finally got my act together and started driving out of Houston.  As usual, I wanted to get a little driving in before stopping for gas. But I didn't get far. In fact, I believe I was still in Houston when I did stop.   And then I stopped again very soon thereafter, when I spotted a place in The Highlands/Baytown called River Terrace Park.  I couldn't get it to show up labeled in the map, but it's the dot near Pasadena, just east of Houston.

I guess it's technically in Channelview.  Anyway, we had a great time exploring this park/picnic area/boat launch on Old River.
We saw a turtle

He found a place that combined two of his favorite things, grass and still, fresh water.
I dont' know how safe and clean this water was, but he was having such a good time, i couldn't bring myself to stop him. I did give him a bath later, though. 

After swimming, he dried off by rolling around in the dirt in the parking lot.
Its a good thing I check my tires before driving off or I would have squished this lizard. 

So then we got back in the car and River discovered a new position. Today he was getting into resting his head on the platform that separates the boot from the back seat and watch the world go by out the rear window. 

I got hungry around Winnie, Texas and stopped for what will be my last Whataburger. I think of it as a Texas treat. I don't know if I will continue to see them as I travel further east, but this is my last one. I bought it at the drive through and took it across the street to a truck stop where I ate it standing up near my car, as River lied on the concrete nearby.

Somewhere in between Orange, Texas and Vinton, LA, I crossed over the state line and tried to take this picture of the sign welcoming me to Louisiana.  I mis-timed it.

The next exciting thing that happened was we drove over the Mississippi River. I wish it was more romantic. I know that it's an important River, and I do feel like driving over it is somewhat auspicious, but it's not a thing of beauty. I wish it were. It's cocoa brown and speckled with barges and industrial smokestacks line the shores. The bridge we were on was a web of steel girder and the traffic on it was thick and slow.  This video captures it well.

We stopped for gas in Baton Rouge and I let River take a break from the car to lie on the grass.

I had the idea that I should do some of my exercises while he rested. I am on a project to reclaim my abs, which includes adding random exercise sessions back into my lifestyle. So I laid down a blanket on the grass near him. I was about to take my shirt off so I could start my crunches, when he made his way to my blanket. But both of us were stopped by noticing the ant hill I had partially covered with the blanket. The little critters were scurrying all over the place, including River's legs. He hopped around, shaking his legs until I ran over and brush all the ants off.

After that, River was ready to get back into the car. I never got my exercise in.

I wanted to stop in New Orleans to feed River his dinner. I had set my navigation for Bourbon Street, but as soon as I got there, I knew that this was no place for a nervous dog. It is a beautiful city. So alive and so historical; vibrant, cultural and loves to party. I drove for a few minutes through the French Quarter, driving slower than running people, swerving around people taking pictures in the middle of the street, taking a detour to avoid a jazz band.... listening to the music, the crowds,  taking in the sights, the architecture, the smells that are all so unique to New Orleans.

The cab drivers did NOT appreciate my lackadaisical lookie-loo driving. It was nuts, so I couldn't really take pictures, though I wanted to many times. The only one I took was while stopped at a stoplight downtown.  Once we got into the French Quarter, I was busy navigating through the madness and making sure River stayed put. The most I could afford was to be present in the experience; photos were out of the question.

Well, I couldn't find a place to park, and didn't feel comfortable getting River out of the car in the midst of all the chaos, so I just drove up and down a few more streets in the FQ and then got back on I-10 for Slidell.

It was after 8 by the time we checked in the Motel 6. I fed River and then myself and blogged, paid some bills and went to bed. There will be no Nia for me in Louisiana. We leave tomorrow.

Locating the Lost Abs

I've been on the road for three weeks and adjusting gradually to life on the road.

One of the things that offers a great challenge, even in the best of situations, is eating healthy and finding the time and motivation for exercising. Yesterday, I took a picture of my belly for someone who requested it on Facebook and was shocked to see that my abs were covered with flab.

I'll be 50 years old in 23 days.   So I've made myself a challenge:
To take steps toward reclaiming my abs before my 50th birthday.

I'm going to start with two very basic steps.  One is to do daily ab exercises.  I do feel like my abdominal muscles are strong, I can feel them under there. But building them up more can't really hurt the cause.

The second, and I think more important step is that I'm going to swear off of eating junk food and candy out of the vending machines late at night. It's very clever how Motel 6 always places those vending machines where you can see them as you check in.  And I'm highly suggestible after a long day. But no more. I'm putting my foot down and making a commitment to having no more vending machine snacks.

I'll check back in after a few days of this to see if it's having any effect.  Here is the picture I took that started the whole thing.
May 22, 2016
Ok, so now it's been three days.  Three nights of skipping my midnight junk food snack, and three mornings of 100 crunches. I took this picture in the mirror this morning. I don't know if I'm just psyching myself out, but it does seem like I'm noticing a difference already. I'll keep at it and will hopefully continue to see improvement.  So far, what I think I see is that there is a little bit less flab in general, and the muscular cuts are barely starting to show. What do you see?
May 25, 2016

I haven't stopped eating my burgers or BBQ, and have made no other changes besides elimination of the vanding machine and adding some exercise first thing in the morning.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Texas Part 9 - Nia in Houston

I-75, I-45, FR-1960, I-10

There are so many different highways weaving throughout Dallas, I couldn't seem to get on the right one. It took me a few tries to finally get on a trajectory out of town, but when I did, I let myself get a good distance from the urban hustle and bustle before I stopped for gas in Ennis. 

At about 4PM, River's usual feeding time, we stopped at a grassy picnic area in Leona. We spent about twenty minutes stretching, running and rolling in the grass after eating. I also applied some Frontline flea and tick repellent to River's coat. I thought I had brought some heartworm medication, too, which I need to give to River now that we're in mosquito country and considering River's love for high grass and marshy swamps. 

I'll pick some up the next time I get him a bag of food. Since I feed him frozen raw meat, I shop for him every three or four days. 

We settled into the motel room in Houston. 
Since it was after 8pm, all of the interesting restaurant choices were closed, so I ordered a Domino's Pizza for dinner and had it with the last of my fermented cucumbers. I left the empty jar on the bathroom counter, and the next morning found that it had captured a flying cockroach. 

I stayed up too late, chatting on Facebook and writing in my blog. In the morning, too early for comfort, I woke up and put on my tie dyed shorts and headed to NiaMoves to teach my Woodstock Experience routine. 

Ten people showed up and we had a great time recreating the Woodstock Experience in Houston. 

We had scheduled a playshop for the afternoon, but we miscalculated the level of interest that the Houston community would have in creating their own routines.  No one was signed up, so I figured no one was going to show up.  I had the afternoon free to take a nap and catch up on my sleep. 

When I first drove into Texas last week, I saw a sign proclaiming friendliness as a characteristic of Texas driving.  Um. Nope.  In Dallas and in Houston, I've encountered a lot of selfish, inconsiderate drivers.  I don't understand what the big deal is about letting someone change lanes?  It doesn't seem to be a problem in other places. That blinking light on my car means I want to be in the next lane, so don't close up the space I was aiming for by gunning it toward the car in front of you. We're all going to the same place, why don't Texans want to let me in?  It literally makes no difference if I'm driving in front of you or in the lane next to you, we'll all still get where we're going. In most places, when you turn on your blinker, the traffic in the next lane makes room for you to enter. But in Texas, they'll speed up to block you from making your move. 

Also, they don't seem to understand the concept of merging onto a highway.  Isn't it the responsibility of the person entering a highway to match the speed of the traffic? and not to pull into traffic going ten MPH slower or faster than the current flow. And shouldn't they find an open space to enter. rather than casually begin to sideswipe me unless I brake, gun it or change lanes.  What they tend to do in Dallas and Houston is to act as if they do not see any highway traffic and they force their way into the lane, regardless of what's occupying that lane. In my first ten minutes in Dallas, I had to veer out of my lane three separate times, or I would have had the front end of my car clipped by an inconsiderate driver. with Texas plates.  And I imagine it would have kept happening to me, but I quickly realized, "OK this is what they do here," and kept out of the right hand lane when approaching an onramp.  So, I'm sorry to say, friendliness does not define Texas drivers. 

Maybe they should install a couple of these signs in Dallas and Houston

On my third day of driving in and around Houston, it starts to become more clear why this was happening. Everyone must be frustrated at the driving situation here. It's a bit convoluted. The highways are undermining access in certain cases. For example, when I'm driving on I-10, I see the Motel 6 sign and I take the exit it indicates. I see the property on the other side of the highway, adjacent to me as I exit. But then I drive for literally a full mile down the frontage road before I find a place to get on the other side of the highway. There was a road sign that indicated for Motel 6 to make a U-turn. 

That actually kind of impressed me. In a way, it seemed like at that moment the universe was bending over backwards to take care of me. After driving all that time, I was starting to think something was amiss and that my navigation had recalibrated when I missed a turn. So to see that sign just reassured me that I was indeed taking the intended route. So I flipped a U-y and drove for another minute and a half to the motel. I guess it's something you get used to if you live in Houston, because these ridiculously long U-turns seem commonplace here. 

There is so much new construction going on that my navigation often tells me to take a road that doesn't exist anymore, or to take a long route, when a shorter one has been built since the last software update. And my position sometimes flips from place to place as it realizes that I'm not where it thought.
It's frustrating, and I find myself wanting to assert my place on the highway out of that frustration.  So now I totally get why drivers begin to act as they do as they drive here for any length of time.

I forgot to bring toothpaste on this journey. I've been on the road now for three weeks and haven't gotten any. I've been brushing with a dry brush, or sometimes using baking soda. I've been flossing at least twice a day and oil pulling about twice a day, too. And I've got to say that my teeth actually feel more clean than they have in a while. I've come to the conclusion that the minty flavoring in toothpaste, fills my mouth with 'freshness' and makes me feel like I've cleaned my mouth.  But without that mint flavor, I actually spend more time carefully brushing each tooth. So that the only thing that makes me feel like I've cleaned my teeth is when I actually clean my teeth. I am convinced that my teeth are getting cleaner because I'm not being fooled by the mint flavoring. And I'm consciously flossing more frequently than I ever have in my life. I'm curious if I'll ever want to go back to using toothpaste now. 

So I'm napping and I hear... click click, click click. I determine it's coming from the air conditioner. All I see is a dead bug lying on its back, when suddenly it clicks and jumps up into the air, slamming itself into the bottom of the air conditioner and clicking back down onto the laminate floor. That's what I'd been hearing. Another one just scurried across the wall. I double checked that all of my food supplies were well sealed. 

I met a dear friend, Georgia at a burger place called Shepherds Park Draught House. The burger was excellent and I'll go into more details on my burger blog page. And the conversation was also delicious. Georgia and I have great conversations, and I could have stayed there, chatting with her all day, but she had to go run some errands, as did I.

I found a filtered water dispenser and refilled my jugs and then I located a Petco, but as I was climbing out of the car, realized that I had brought enough cash to pay for my lunch, but no more than that. I didn't end up paying for my lunch, anyway; Georgia did. (Thanks!!) But I still didn't have enough cash to buy River's food, so instead I went back to my motel room to get ready for class.

I stopped at Petco on the way to the studio and found out that only vets can sell heartworm medication. So, River is still unprotected, but he will eat.

I got to the studio WAY early, which was nice. So I found a park just a few blocks away, put River on his 50 foot leash and we had a fun time walking around and I took that opportunity to feed him, so he stayed pretty close my me, even when other dogs came into the park.

There were about ten people in class and we did Amazing. It was delightful. And this is the second time I've taught the routine in a place that helped me choreograph it. Part of the "Texas" song came from Houston, and part from Dallas. Although, funny enough, no one who contributed was present in any of my classes in either place. What a wonderful world.

I will update with pictures and videos here when I can.

Angela Mestre was my host. She just recently bought the NiaMoves studio from Helen Terry and Kristie Bryant, who used to be my host. Angela did a great job and also took me out to dinner after class tonight, which I think is swell. We went to a place called Barnaby's Cafe, named after the owner's dog. River did pretty well lying at our feet, until certain parties walked by our table. He is very selective about who freaks him out, and now, he's not shy about loudly letting me know when he's upset by someone. I am oddly comforted by the sound of his panicked barking, because it took us so long to teach him to do that. I love that I know exactly how freaked out he is, and that I can employ the proper distraction or release the appropriate amount of energy from him.

Angela reminded me that I haven't been meditating enough. And she's right. Now that she mentions it, I can tell I've not been finding time to do that. So I'm grateful to her for the reminder and I will make a point of setting aside a designated hour, rather than how I have been doing it, capturing moments to do it, here and there, when I could, if I could.

After getting back to my motel room I washed and folded my laundry. So far, I've found four cockroaches lying on their backs in my room. None of them were dead. The one that clicked was the first one. There were two more on Sunday morning when I woke up and then again in the evening when I got home, a fourth.  The two this morning, both started to wiggle when I picked them up with a tissue to throw them away. So I flushed them down the toilet. The one in the evening I saw on the floor while I was using the toilet. River came wandering into the bathroom area since I hadn't yet brought his crate in from the car. I pointed at the cockroach and he went in to investigate. The next thing I know he's chomping on it. I wondered if it was still alive and kicking and when River's nose felt the moving feet, he couldn't resist biting into it. I hope it tasted good.

I guess they're being poisoned? I don't know why they're all lying face up... slowly dying?

So, with that thought, and NO plans for tomorrow, I will go to bed for my last night in Houston.

NO, as in New Orleans, hehe. After 12 days in Texas, it's been fun, but it'll be nice to get back to America.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Texas Part 8 - Nia in Dallas

I got to sleep in today, since I didn't have to be in Dallas until the evening. But I still managed to dawdle in my motel room, sipping coffee and chatting on Facebook until almost noon, when I had decided was the latest I should leave.

I took the interstate route but avoided the toll roads.
I-35N,  I-35E, I-20N, South Loop 12

I made it to the motel room in plenty of time to eat, feed River and drive to the studio arriving about an hour early. Jackie, the owner of the studio was there and the room was available, so she let me in and I practiced a different routine for about half an hour until students started showing up.
My host was Jan, but she was out of town so I was subbing her class. We did Amazing and had a great time. I learned a few new variations. I love to watch the students. Whether they are struggling or being creative, they sometimes show me aspects of the movements I hadn't considered.
the Amazing post-Nia glow
Move Studio, Dallas

I've decided that when my crystal  temporarily disappeared a while ago, the message I got was that I was ignoring it. So now, after each class, I ask all of the students to touch it. It gives it a strong purpose and helps me remember to take it with me when I leave.

Thursday, I slept in. took River for a walk in the rain and then went back to my room and took a nap. I guess I was behind on my sleep, but not after today. All caught up.

I left for the studio allowing lots of traffic time, since it is rush hour. Class started at 6pm. I didn't hit very much traffic, so I got to the studio early enough that I had time to stop at the Kroger in the next shopping center down to refill my water jugs with filtered water.

A strange phenomenon happened in class today. I was there, in the room, half an hour before class time, dancing around while I waited for the students to gather. They started to gather and I was chatting with some of them. I was asking some of the students who were in my Amazing class the night before how their bodies felt today. If there was anything screaming at them. But they all said they felt... well... amazing.

The phenomenon occurred when I was up at the stereo with my host, Jule, getting the microphone to work. That was when I noticed that the room was full of people, so I figured it was getting close to starting time. I glanced at the clock in the mirror and thought to my horror that we're ten minutes late getting started. Some of the places I visit do that. I never do. I'm a 'start at the starting time' kinda guy. I figure if someone shows up past the start time, they should expect to miss the beginning. ANYWAY, I was a bit confused by the mirror, so I turned to see the clock face on, and it was only 5:50. The phenomenon was that it was ten minutes before class and the room was full of people! That's a new one on me.

This was the third time I taught Orchestra for anyone besides my camera. I incorporated some of the notes I got in San Diego (the second time I taught it) and the ones I got in Seattle were already incorporated. I presented the beginning of Bolero with more clarity. And I feel much better about the problems I was having with Fifth Symphony by adding in some slower moments and giving the signature movement a name and a more masculine energy.  I changed the ending of Bolero a little bit, too. I didn't mean to; I just "accidently" did the "wrong" thing and it turned out really nice. It felt more balanced and it synced up better with the dramatic change at the very end than it ever has before. I also took out the 3 count travelling; now it's all 6 count travelling.  I also added a 'prepare' movement in between the first set of side kicks in 1812 Overture. It all feels much better this way; I better write it down.  I'm excited that it's growing and improving.
A student who was trying Nia for the first time, spoke with me afterward. He told me that he had prior experience with martial arts and working out at the gym, but this was the first time that he had ever felt joyous while exercising. He said he felt jubilant from the beginning to the end, except for some moments when he was welling up with emotion. But, he said, it was all good and I might see him in the morning, when I would return to teach Amazing one more time.

After class, Jule, her husband Maurice, River and I were standing near the cars in front of the studio. Maurice was reaching down to pat River.  So what's going through my head: In my experience, what Maurice is doing usually results in River tolerating it for a few seconds, then his hackles will rise, and then he'll freeze, then if it continues, he'll grimace and growl. And now that I've taught him to bark, that's another very important step he takes in his progression of communications. After the bark comes a snap. And he might connect or might not, but he's not looking to hurt anyone (though he easily could) he is just communicating his fear of the situation. I've learned that the best thing to do is to avoid troublesome situations and know how to read his communications and answer them in a way he understands. So I was girding myself for all possibilities as Maurice stroked him, but River did something that surprised me; he softly rolled onto his side and lifted his belly for Mo without even being asked. I think my mouth dropped open and I stood there not believing my eyes. For a moment, I didn't recognize River, and at the same time a felt proud of his progress.

After that, we went to eat at a dog-friendly place called the Lazy Dog on Belt Line Rd. There were at least a half dozen dogs on the patio, and there was only maybe 20 tables. The first table we chose was too central, and the energy of the dogs' proximity started several canine hissy fits, so we had to relocated to table next to a wall, so River didn't feel so surrounded. Then he was fine. He was a little restless and curious, but not a problem once we took him out of the danger zone. I got a burger and blogged about it on my burger page.

The parking situation here at the Motel 6 in Irving is unfortunate. There's a red line painted at the end of all the parking spaces; it says Fire Zone. The implication is that you aren't supposed to be hanging out past that line, so that a fire truck could get through if it needed to. But there are so many monster trucks here that even I, in my Mini Cooper, feel like I'm being crowded as I drive through it.

In the morning, I packed up the car and took River for one more walk around the motel grounds.

There was still a lot of time before class started, and we never got the chance, so I wanted to swing by and check out the Trinity View Park. Trinity is a river that flows through Dallas. The park itself was mostly a large grass field with some ballparks. I didn't see the river, but I didn't really get out of the car, either. Pressed for time, I just took a quick look.

I got to the studio, again, in plenty of time. I got into the room, got set up and stretched while the students gathered. I taught Amazing for the second time at Move Studio. Some of the students from Thursday were there, but most of them were brand new to the routine. And some of the students from Orchestra the night before were there, too. We had a fun sweaty time.

Afterwards, several of the students gathered at the Starbucks around the corner as is their Friday morning tradition. I joined them, and River lied at our feet.

It was well after 1:30 before I hit the road. The traffic was thick and slow going through downtown Dallas. I took a few wrong turns, since my navigation seems to be out of date. I consistently have problems with my Mini Navigation in Texas.  Eventually I made it out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Texas Part 7 - San Antonio

Short driving day and not too early of a start, I was up at six to be out of the room by 7:30.

I took I-35 from the Motel 6 in San Marcos to The Synergy Studio in San Antonio. It's in a shopping center called The Pearl. We got there in plenty of time to take a long walk and shoot a picture in front of the studio.
Adelle Brewer was my host. She and Joanie Brooks have a great group of experienced Nia students that are so fun and easy to teach to. I had a great time sharing my Woodstock Experience routine. This is the first time I have taught the routine on this trip. SInce the focus was on FreeDance, and I knew I had the routine in my body, I decided not to review my music before class, but to go in cold and let the spirit of Woodstock move me. 
It was so charged with energy.  It makes such a difference, teaching to group that has very little resistance to anything. It allows me to explore so much more than when I'm teaching to groups that I have to hand-hold through the experience. So today, I was coming up with movements on the fly. I really felt like Nia was moving through me. It was delightful. 

After class, Adelle wanted me to have some authentic Mexican food since I was in San Antonio. She took me and another student to Carmelitas on Broadway. I got three soft tacos, each with different kinds of meat, and they were all delicious. She was right. The food tasted very authentic and freshly made.

After lunch, River and I were going to find the River Walk, but on the way, we saw a giant park that no one was using. The grass seemed to go on forever and was littered with trees that grew in funny sideways formations. Some sort of balls of fluff accumulated in the branches of the trees. (I kept listening very carefully for the faint singing of Whos, )

We ran for a bit and lounged a lot. I sat on one of the sideways trees and meditated. It was so nice. 

We took the farm roads home instead of the highway, but I didn't see anything too spectacular. 
I did laundry, and did some homework. I made myself a cheese and avocado sandwich for dinner and had a very relaxing evening.