Saturday, May 25, 2013

DOGBLOG (second time around)

Laurie and her baby Brody
Lately I've been dreaming about getting a dog, but I remember the challenges of raising a puppy, so maybe an adult dog would be better than enduring the aggravations of potty training, furniture chewing, and rough housing.   I wonder what breed of dog I might get.  Would I want another loyal Labrador Retriever, or would I like one of the new designer dogs, who resemble a retriever but have hair instead of fur, so don't shed, like a Poodle.   Maybe I should go to the pound, and let my heart lead the way, and then again I could be more strategic, make a short list of breeds and check off the pros and cons.  Do I want a lapdog, like Brody, a King Charles Cavalier, whose only goal in life is to be held constantly, and preferably by my stepdaughter, who has been his mommy surrogate from the day she brought him home?  On the other hand, if all Cavaliers, like Brody, bark at suitcases, backpacks  and people with red hair,  I'll have to consider another breed.   

Sweet Scarlett and Rhett 

I've always loved Poodles, the Standard kind, but after meeting Rhett and Scarlett, who live with Billy and Mike at The Reynolds Mansion in Asheville, maybe an English Bulldog would be fun, but I'd worry about the snoring. 

Riley, a Coton de Tulear

Here's a breed I'd never heard of before-- a Coton de Tulear, the official dog of Madagascar.   I fell in love with a Coton named  Riley.  I bench sat him once while his owner went inside Peet's Coffee and ordered a cappuccino.    Riley reminded me a little of  Stanley, a Bichon Frise puppy I owned briefly a long time ago, and after reading about the idiosyncrasies of this breed online,  I know why I had the deja vu.   

Stanley, the Bichon Frise, waiting for his bath

Coton's are high maintenance dogs, like Stanley.  He required laborious combing and brushing every day and frequent bathings because of his sensitive skin.  Stanley's  allergy to grass and other outdoor living things were some of the reasons why after three weeks, I returned him to the breeder.  Honestly, it probably had more to do with my not having the emotional bandwidth at the time to care for a fussy dog like a Bichon Frise.   In addition to a stressful job and an aging Labrador Retriever, I was freaking out because, out of the blue, my husband confessed he still loved his high school girlfriend and wanted out.

Dogs have always been central to my life, although I didn't grow up with them as a child.  Without checking with my parents first, my uncle gave us two puppies from an unplanned litter his family dog had, but the puppies mysteriously disappeared during my first week at summer camp.  I always suspected that my anti-pet parents had something to do with this, but I gave up asking the questions to which they had no answers, except to say over and over, some day when you have a home of your own, you can have a dog.

That day came in 1969 when my then-husband brought home a
Pam and Bruce, the dog!  1972
yellow Labrador Retriever puppy as a surprise.   We named him Bruce, after the well-known comedian and satirist of the time,  Lenny Bruce, never knowing, of course, that thirty years later I would marry the love of my life, whose name is also Bruce.  Like my now husband Bruce, my then dog Bruce was sweet, but unlike my now husband, my then dog was hyper and poorly behaved.  Years later I realized it was not the dog's fault but ours.  We were unprepared for the challenges that owning a dog presents.  We didn't know the first thing about training, but we showered him with love and took him everywhere we went.   

When our Bruce dog died, it was the only time I ever saw my husband cry.   Losing a pet is traumatic.  Bruce was only nine years old,  which is young for a Labrador Retriever, but he had cancer, and there wasn't anything our vet could do.    Eventually, we were ready to love another, so we began to scan the newspaper  ads.  We also went to dog shows to meet dog owners, and eventually we crossed paths with Stuart, a Labrador breeder from across the Bay.  He told us that his bitch Nellie would be bred to a famous stud dog named Lockerbie Brian Boru, and there would be a yellow puppy, since Nellie was yellow and Brian was black.   We didn't know anything about recessive or dominant genes back then, but we were vulnerable and got sucked into putting a hefty deposit on not just a puppy, but a show quality puppy, since those show dogs were really gorgeous.    So here we were; one month we were ignorant about dogs, and the next month we were buying a show puppy.  

Weeks after the successful breeding,  we drove 300 miles south to meet the stud dog,  Brian,  who had the record for siring more champion Labrador Retrievers than any dog in history.  When we arrived at the owner's home, we were graciously led into the master bedroom to meet the famous Brian, who was sleeping in the middle of a king size bed and dreaming of another sexual conquest, I'm sure.   To our surprise,  rather than seeing a gallant, athletic dog, we saw an aging, arthritic one, but genes are invisible, and he still had what it took to breed.   We told Stuart we wanted a yellow female,  but as it turned out, there were no yellow females in the litter, so we came home with a black one we named Bristol.  Genes don't always make promises, we found out, no matter how hefty the deposit.   
Ch. Gatwick's Bristol Cream

I won't go into the details about the several years we showed 
Bristol and Pam 1983
Bristol, except to say that, in addition to loving the show ring, she was an exceptional pet.   The politics of the dog show scene grew weary, so after Bristol became a champion and had two beautiful litters, we said goodbye to our crazy dog show friends.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, see the movie Best in Show.)  

Bristol had two puppies who were very special to me.  Porter, a mellow black male, became my constant companion for 12 years,  and Tommy, a beautiful yellow male, I sold to a man who is still one of my best friends today.  

Tommy, Bristol, and Porter, 1984 

I'm sure that when my friend, Deb, reads this post, she will roll her eyes and remember a time when a dog, a bunch of them actually, almost got us into trouble on a bike ride.   We were doing a metric century in the hills outside of Fresno when I saw a ramshackle house with a pen in the yard full of darling puppies scampering about.  "STOP!" I shouted to Deb, as we rolled past.   "Look at those adorable pups."  Deb and I have a lot in common, but a love of dogs is not one of them.   Because she is such a nice friend,  she put on her brakes and came to an abrupt halt.   In a matter of   seconds,  my bike was on the ground, and I was on my knees oohing and aahing over the furry puppies who looked like Border Collies.  There were a half dozen at least, all enclosed in a pen made of chicken wire, in the middle of a very overgrown yard filled with debris and rusty vehicles that looked similar to the junky properties I saw in North Carolina last week.  

Immediately,  a beefy looking man with a ratty beard and dressed in dirty camouflage clothes emerged from the house, and in a very stern voice asked,  "What's your business here?"   In my usual chatterbox way, I asked questions to show I knew something about dogs, and that I was not going to steal a puppy.   In the meantime,  Deb, who was quietly observing the man and his unusual surroundings, noticed he was wearing a belt with a swastika symbol emblazoned on the metal buckle.   I was totally oblivious.   She also noticed other bizarre stuff  around his house and realized this man should be avoided.  That's when she turned to me and said, "Pam,  it's time to go."   Thankfully, I then realized he was a weirdo too.  We jumped  on our bikes and rode out of there as quickly as possible.  At a rest stop a few miles away, a rider told us that the police were actively monitoring the area we just rode through because there was a crazy guy who lived on the route and was known for hassling cyclists.   Now, whenever Deb and I are riding, and I see a dog I want to check out, she jokingly reminds me of our scary experience near Fresno.

To get my dog fix I take a walk in downtown Los Altos where there seems to be an unofficial dog show every day.   In one of the stores where I shop, I'm greeted by a very friendly dog named Cody, a Barbet.  Cody
Cody at Gitane, a wonderful store in Los Altos
trots up to me as if to say, "Mademoiselle, may I show you a fine pair of jeans?" Then he jumps on the sofa beside me, so I can love him to pieces, which I do.    He's kind of like Riley, the Coton, who is kind of like Stanley, the Bichon, so I'm beginning to think that I might have a penchant for high maintenance dogs with fuzzy faces.  A far cry from a Labrador Retriever.

My good friends have a Briard, another uncommon breed.   LuLu swims in their pool, sleeps in their bed, and makes me smile whenever I visit because she's so beautiful and full of energy.

LuLu Kahn

 I know that what I'm about to say might upset some of my cat friends, so I'll apologize in advance, but I'm a dog person at heart.   Even though I own two beautiful cats, whom I adore, I think that dogs are much more fun.   Generally speaking,  they are more social, more responsive, and more loving on your terms, not theirs, like a cat.   Dogs say please when they want something,  I'm sorry when they are naughty, and thank you when they are appreciative.  You can take your dog out to breakfast, lunch or dinner as long as there is outside dining, unless you happen to live in Germany, where well-behaved dogs are allowed inside restaurants.   You can train a dog to come, sit, stay and heel, but most cats can't be trained, except for that exceptional feline with three million views on YouTube who plays classical music on the piano.  (Click on link to watch video.) 

Truthfully speaking, dogs are a lot more work than cats, who are comparatively easy.    Cats don't take up much room, don't require outdoor exercise, are able to groom themselves, and I love to hear them purr with contentment.   I like that my cats greet me when I walk in the door,  but what I hear is feed me not Hi, I'm happy to see you. 

So all this comes down to the reality of my life.  Forget the dreaming.  I can't have a dog, dammit.  Why?  Because we travel all the time, our small townhouse has no yard, and my Tonkinese cats, Sophie and Indie, were here first and would have a fit if I brought home a dog.  So I say to myself,  OK, Pam, you can't have a dog, but you can still dream.  

Dogs on Parade 



Montreal Jack

Miso and Tofu 

Friday, May 17, 2013


Day One
Grilled Cheese Mania Food Truck, Harrisonburg, VA

Eating a grilled cheese sandwich in our rental car in a parking lot in Harrisonburg, Virginia was not how I expected to spend my first day on our driving trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but due to poor visibility because of  nasty fog, we were forced off Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  Thank heavens for the TripAdviser app on my iPad because they rated Grilled Cheese Mania as the number one eatery in Harrisonburg.   This was not your typical American-cheese-on-white-bread grilled cheese, but a sandwich called Mama Mia made with fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, basic pesto,  sriracha hot chili sauce and grilled on rye bread.  Bruce loved his Triple Lindy --  cheddar,  colby, monterey jack blended with baby spinach and topped with crisp bacon crumbled and grilled golden on sour dough.  We were enjoying Southern comfort food prepared in a dainty little food truck parked permanently at 1321 South High Street, just on the outskirts of town.  Emily and Jordan, our charming chefs,  told us that when owner Kathleen moved to Harrisonburg last year, her daughter came up with the brilliant idea of a grilled cheese food truck, and in just six short months, the reviews have been nothing short of outstanding.   

To give you some idea how foggy it was on Skyline Drive, we
nearly rear-ended a slow-moving pickup truck that we didn't see until we were almost on top of the vehicle.   Believe it or not,  but this was my second attempt at traveling this scenic route that is aptly named one of the most beautiful drives in America,  but both times I  had to get off the parkway because of bad weather and poor visibility.   The words to Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you,  a popular early American folk song, popped into my head as we drove back down the mountain and got on the Interstate.  

Day Two

Thunder, lightening, and the kind of heavy rain that soaks through to your skin in 20 seconds was in the forecast, but Bruce was optimistic and thought that once we left Roanoke, the fast food capital of Virginia, and headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), the weather would improve.   He was partially right.  The sky was foreboding.  There were dark clouds everywhere.  The fog hovered above us, but at eye level, the scenery was pretty good although not great light for taking pictures.   The forest was alive with spring color.   Newly-leafed oak, beech and maple trees glistened after the early morning rain.   The dogwood and wild cherries were blooming, and it was really beautiful except there were no sweeping views of the mountains or the scenic valleys below that we hoped for.  Sporadically, it rained so hard that we couldn't hear each other talk.   

Meadows of Dan, Virginia 

Around noon I was thinking about lunch, so I said to Bruce "Let's pull off the Parkway and see what there is to eat."   The turkey and cheese sandwich for $3.06 at Poor Farmer's Market,  an iconic general store in very small town called Meadows of Dan, was the only healthy item on the menu.   I'm not sure it was real turkey or real cheese, but I ate it anyway.  

The guys from Meadows of Dan

I looked around the store and thought Wow,what great photo ops, so I asked a few of the locals, who were drinking beer and rocking away by the warm wood stove, if I could take their picture to publish on my blog Biker Chick Gone Crazy.  

Posing for photos in Poor Farmer's Country Store
Laughing at me like I was a city slicker dressed in a designer gown and wearing  high heeled shoes, one of the guys said in a thick Southern drawl,  "Sure 'nuff,  honey, you go right ahead.  We are dying to be famous."   Here you go fellas.  Your pictures are now on Biker Chick Gone Crazy, your claim to fame!

Just because I didn't think you believed me.

I called our Tennessee friends Anne and Ben and told them we were only 79 miles from their home in Bristol, where they kindly invited us to spend the night.   "So, we should be seeing you pretty soon then, right?" Anne queried, but once Ben heard we were driving on Route 58, he knew we'd be a while because of all the switchbacks on the steep mountain road.  Our first hint at the slow ride ahead was a sign that said Trucks and Trailers not Advised for the Next 50 miles.

When we reached a town called Mouth of Wilson (I kid you not),  
hail started bouncing off the windshield, making so much noise that I pulled out my iPhone to record it.  We stopped the car for a few minutes because the accumulated hail on the road looked like snow, and the idea of needing chains momentarily crossed our minds.   

The purple asparagus turns green after it is steamed

In Bristol we were greeted with hugs  from Anne and Ben.  Their property is lovely, and everything was  green and lush unlike California which is brown and dry this time of year.  Besides riding bicycles (they are about to embark on a self-supported cross country bicycle trip on the Northern Tier in June),  Anne makes prize-winning quilts, tends a hearty garden, and Ben, a retired oncologist, keeps honey bees and makes a variety of beers, including a porter, which I loved.  I met Anne in 2009 when we both rode the Northwest Loop, a 1500 mile bicycle ride through Oregon, Washington and Idaho.  Ever since I saw photos of her garden on Facebook,  I've been dying to taste home-grown asparagus, and after the exciting drive through the mountains and the surprise hail storm,  Bruce was eager to relax and drink some of Ben's home-made beer.  Everything was delicious.    Thanks, Anne and Ben.  We had a great time.

Day 3
The beautiful dining room at The Reynolds Mansion

Billy Sanders was out front picking weeds when we drove up the hill to Reynolds Mansion three miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina.    Billy greeted us as though we'd been friends for years, and showed us through the beautifully restored colonial revival mansion, which is also the home he shares with his partner Mike and two English bulldogs named Rhett and Scarlett.   We immediately felt right at home and loved that, in addition to the historic features of the house, Billy and Mike have added mementoes of their own family history, like painted portraits of their mothers that reside over the fireplaces in two of the mansion's well appointed rooms.    The elegantly furnished house was built in 1847 and is steeped in elaborate history that involves Senator Rice Reynolds and has ties to the Hope Diamond.  Billy, displaying his Southern charm, explained that becoming an innkeeper was a dream he'd had since high school, but he got caught up in the corporate world before

The Linda Room where Bruce and I stayed at The Reynolds Mansion 
making his dream come true in Asheville.   For a couple of years He and Mike worked hard and shed a few tears of frustration in order to bring the mansion to its lovingly restored state.  He now sees his first responsibility as a steward of the mansion's history, and his second is to continue to provide exceptional service to his guests.  There's much more information about Reynolds Mansion if you click on the link and also look on TripAdviser, where it is rated the number one bed and breakfast in Asheville and the second best in the country.   P.S.  I told Bruce that I hoped he wouldn't mind, but I'd adopt Billy in a heartbeat, if he'd have me.

Day 4
The Biltmore House, 175,000 square feet

I was craving exercise,  especially to burn off the gazillion 
calories I'd consumed the previous four days, and six hours of walking through one of the world's grandest estates was a perfect way to do it.  If you have never been to the Biltmore House, located a few miles outside of Asheville, please put this historic landmark on your list of special places to visit.  I could write an entire blog post on our tour of this 175,000 square foot house, but words wouldn't do it justice.  You have to see it to believe it!   Here are some facts:   The 250 room house was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt, a descendent of one of the oldest and best known American families, and modeled after a 16th Century French chateaux by architect Richard Morris Hunt.  
Pam and Bruce in the Biltmore Gardens
The gardens and immense grounds of the 125,000 acre estate were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who is also well known for creating Central Park and other famous historic landscapes,  such as parts of Stanford University and the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. 

Day 5

"Love my moonshine"
Asheville is one of those unique towns where there is style, sophistication, and Southern charm, but there is also a culture based on the stereotypes of Appalachia and hillbilly life.  The best way to observe this is to stroll the streets, talk to the locals and listen to their stories.  A man covered with tattoos told me he lived on the streets because his mother kicked him out of the house for making moonshine.  He claimed to be a musician but that may have been a euphemism for panhandler. 

Street Musician in Asheville
It's easy to pick up a Southern accent if you stay long enough.  A one syllable word is pronounced like two.  For example, my name is Pa-am, and some two syllable words are pronounced like there is only one.  Ben in Tennessee told us that the word owl, as in bird, which we Yankees would pronounce with two syllables -- Ou-wel, they pronounce with one, like Aul, if you follow me.  

Listening to local stories and Blue Grass music on the street in Asheville

Residents of Asheville exude Southern hospitality in the shops and in restaurants, as they are warm and welcoming people.   The food is excellent, and the executive chef at Curate, where we had a delicious dinner one evening, won a James Beard award and has been nominated again this year.   Asheville's many art galleries and shops were fun to explore, even those selling kitsch,  but what we loved most was talking to street musicians and listening to great blue grass played on a washboard,  harmonica, and banjo.    As I listened to the local music, I thought about our visit to Oman and conversations with the Bedouin people just six weeks before, and I marveled at the amazing differences in our world and my good fortune to be able to experience both.  

Great music

Day 6 and 7
A permanent resident at Cataloochee Ranch

Bruce read about Cataloochee Ranch in National Geographic Traveler magazine and thought we should stay there for a couple of nights.  The ranch is still owned by the descendants of the Alexander family who developed the beautiful property in the late 
1930s with a main guest lodge, dining facilities and several deluxe
cabins scattered about, all with beautiful views overlooking the Smokey Mountains.  

The view from our room at the ranch

As described in the article, the ranch had an authentic wrangler feel, but since we are not horse people, our plan was to hike, enjoy the scenery, and take photos of wildflowers.  But that was not to be because the weather was cold and foggy, and the hiking trails were muddy.  From the map it looked like our best bet was drive into Smokey National Park not far away and check out Cataloochee Valley, where one might be lucky enough to spot elk, and we hoped to find the Boogerman trail which friends had recommended.  The drive through the park was spectacular, and although we never found Boogerman trailhead,  we did hike four 

A beautiful trail
miles alongside a rushing creek with several one-hand rail bridges. One hiker warned us about a coppermouth snake he saw near an old house along the trail, but we never saw any copperheads nor any cottonmouths,  and we never saw elk either.   On the other hand outside the park on some of the back roads we did see blatant signs of extreme poverty and residential decline, and we were genuinely appalled.

Meaner than a junk yard dog

Day 8

With only one day left of our trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains, we didn't want to waste time lingering over breakfast at the ranch,  so we checked out early to drive another route through Smokey National Park that Bruce sketched out when he planned our itinerary.   Richard at the Ranch told us that the Southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway was, in his mind, the prettiest of the 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, and I must say I have to agree.  Maybe it was because the weather was sunny for a change, and the visibility pretty good. 
Now I know why they are called The Blue Ridge Mountains

The early evening light was ideal for taking pictures, so we lost track of time, and suddenly it was 7:30, and we were still on the Parkway when we should have been down the mountain looking for a place to spend the night.  At mile marker 412, we exited the BRP and entered Pisgah National Forest, which led us to the charming town of Brevard, North Carolina, described in a brochure as one of the coolest small towns in America.   And we thought so too.   "Let's try and find a reasonably priced motel where we can park our car out front and not have to drag luggage through a lobby and take an elevator to our room,"  Bruce said, and I happily agreed.   When I did a Google search on the iPad for motels in Brevard,  Sunset Motel popped up.   Cruising through town we saw a drive in restaurant straight out of the movie American Graffiti and the Sunset Motel was out of the 50s with a double room that rented for $79 per night.   The rooms were recently updated, and we had free wi-fi.  A sign at the check-in desk said their rooms would not be available for people living within a 35 mile radius.  Hmmmm?    
The sign at the Sunset Motel

Now that we're home, memories of this trip will remain vivid when we listen to the bluegrass CD  we bought and hum along with our favorite tunes like Blues in the Bottle and Turpentine Farm. 

Woolworth's Luncheonette, Asheville

Roadside Attraction

Another Roadside Attraction

God provided parking at a reasonable price in Tennessee

Next time I will bring my bike