Full-Assed Friday: Best In Shelter

Hey. It’s Full-Assed Friday. And I have a guest post. Sweet!

When Julie Davidoski from Go Guilty Pleasures first contacted me about doing a guest post I was pretty psyched. Her timing is so good she oughtta be a drummer. I’m working a second gig this week and have clashing show tunes duking it out for my last remaining brain cells. It’s not pretty. I’ve spent the past hour trying to write a coherent introduction for her post.

Julie claims that she doesn’t do much that’s full-assed, but I beg to differ. She certainly saved my ass this week. Here, she interviews her friend who works with an excellent pet rescue shelter in our state.

Best in Shelter

by Julie Davidoski

 Unlike our beloved Accidental Stepmom, I don’t do a whole lotta things full-assed. Don’t believe me? Examine the 4-foot tall weeds in my backyard, or, if you dare, my spice cupboard. When it comes to raising my dog, Uncle Jesse, however, my derriere is unequivocally rotund.

Uncle Jesse is a multi-generational Australian labradoodle I purchased in 2010 from a well-respected breeder, after hours (days, weeks) of research to find a dog compatible with my husband’s allergies. I wouldn’t trade Uncle Jesse for anything (not even a lifetime supply of champagne and E.L. Fudge cookies), but I often question my decision not to adopt.

Recently, I interviewed friend and animal advocate, Jennifer Brewer. I’m excited to share our conversation, with the sincere hope that you might spread the word.


J. Davidoski: Tell us about your organization. Also why that does or does not make you a better person than me.

J. Brewer: 1. No way I’m a better person than you. 1a. Actually, there’s no way I’d admit to being a better person while you’re blogging about me. 2. I’m involved with 11th Hour Rescue in Rockaway, NJ. They pull high risk animals from shelters, and find them homes. They do not euthanize;  even difficult to place dogs are kept until they are adopted.

J. Davidoski: How did you get involved?

J. Brewer: My husband and I are supreme dog lovers. During the five years we lived in an apartment that didn’t allow pets, he converted me from a “pedigree” dog person to a “shelter” dog person. He told me about the feeling of rescuing a dog’s life. He’s persuasive.

When we bought a home, I went online to find a rescue, and I found 11th Hour. I decided we would adopt from them.

J. Davidoski: So you were always an animal lover? Remember our Janis Joplin jackets with the fake fur trim? Could we have gotten more attention with real fur?

J. Brewer: We couldn’t have gotten more attention no matter what we tried.

J. Davidoski: What should you be wary of before adopting a dog, and specifically a shelter dog?

J. Brewer: Spend time with the animal BEFORE you commit. #2 – if a shelter doesn’t ask for references, walk away. They don’t tell you the truth about the animal’s history.

J. Davidoski: Like that unpaid parking ticket [your dog] Shunderson had. What about parents? Are there other considerations?

J. Brewer: Parents should adopt animals. Teach your kids about generosity and compassion. Like every activity with your kids, be involved – make sure you’re getting the right animal. Many people just want a puppy…now. They have no plan for after Christmas, when their kids won’t pick up the poop in the blizzard.

J. Davidoski: Related question: If you could send one message to potential pet owners, what would it be? (Besides picking an awesome name, like, I don’t know, Uncle Jesse.)

J. Brewer: Shelters are never fuller than at the beginning of the year – when the holiday glow has worn off and people have abandoned their now unwanted presents.

J. Davidoski: So if I have a Slap-Chop, will they take that, too?

J. Brewer: You’re on your own with that shitty gift. And, let me just say, that pitbulls are FABULOUS. They were bred to be nanny dogs, to watch children and love their families.

J. Davidoski: Hey. That reminds me. Though I don’t know why. What kind of dog do you have?

J. Brewer: Well… I… er… have a pit.

Editor’s Note: Brewer owns a gorgeous pitbull-mix, Shunderson, a former shelter dog. He’s one of the sweetest pooches I’ve ever met. He’s twice the size of my boy, and puts up with Uncle Jesse’s sassiness like a saint.

Jennifer and Shunderson


J. Davidoski: Do you get dirty looks at the dog park?

J. Brewer: I wish that was all we got. People ask us to leave, to leash Shunderson until they can take their dog out. Ridiculous. Do I have enough money to let my dog maul someone????

J. Davidoski: Very similar to what happens when I go outside without make-up.

J. Brewer: You go outside without make-up????

J. Davidoski. Well. No. But imagine! What’s the biggest obstacle in overcoming the number of unwanted pets?

J. Brewer: People think shelter dogs are bad. They’re far less damaged than most people I know. Besides, TONS of shelter dogs are surrendered by breeders and pet stores who couldn’t unload them. If you want a certain breed or age, the right dog can be rescued. Purebred puppies are stuck in shelters, too. And they’re euthanized.

J. Davidoski: After reading this article, people will be dying to know how they can get involved.

J. Brewer: Donations. $10 matters. Dropping off old towels and blankets. Bleach and paper towels are the biggest request of every shelter. But the best way is to go on Petfinder.com and find the rescue nearest you. If you want a dog, ADOPT. The average cost of basic food, supplies, care and training for a shelter dog or cat is $700 to $875 annually. I hope people donate… and to local shelters. I love the ASPCA, but they have LOTS of donations.

J. Davidoski: Yes, that’s why I asked – people think their donations get lost in the sauce.

J. Brewer: For pet owners, when you go to Petsmart, give the buck at checkout to help homeless animals. They can’t get jobs. They can’t collect unemployment. There’s no bailout for pitbulls.

J. Davidoski: They can’t even play guitars and write signs asking for money.

J. Brewer: Exactly. If you can’t donate or volunteer, spay or neuter your pet. The world needs animals, just not anymore than it already has.

J.Davidoski: Okay. I am so keeping you from [more] booze. Is there anything else you would like to share?

J. Brewer. More than FIVE MILLION animals are killed in U.S. shelters EVERY YEAR.


J. Davidoski: I am picking up what you are putting down. Thank you!!!

J. Brewer: Crazy dog lady, over and out.


I hope you’ll take a minute to check out Julie’s blog and the shelter site:

Julie Davidoski: Go Guilty Pleasures

The Shelter: 11th Hour Rescue



Full-Assed Friday: Ural

My friend Jason drives a Ural.

A Russian-designed sidecar motorcycle. That he commutes to the city in.


I think it’s badass, and therefore a fine candidate for Full-Assed Friday.

Jason was kind enough to meet me between shows on a Wednesday and for the small bribe of a grande triple-shot iced vanilla latté, talk to me about his Full-Assed commuter vehicle.

So. Why a Ural?

Well, first of all it’s cool. But when my wife and I moved to New Jersey we thought we were going to need a second car. I knew it would be a beater and I was going to end up being the one who drove it, so I suggested this instead, because you can pretty much drive them year-round.

What’s the history of the Ural?

Supposedly in about 1940, before the Nazi invasion of Russia, Stalin’s engineers got ahold of five BMW R71’s from Swiss intermediaries. They reverse engineered them and made the Ural. They were manufactured in Leningrad until the mid 1940’s, when production was moved to a town called Irbit, in the Ural mountains. They were purely for military use until the 1950’s and then they began making consumer models, but still only for sale in the Soviet Union. They gradually began to export them to European countries, but it wasn’t until after the collapse of the Soviet Union- somewhere around ’91 or ’92- that they began to export them to the US. Today the US is the largest importer of them in the world.

How has the design changed over time?

The only significant change is they upgraded the electrical system on the newer models. It has an electric start now, which it didn’t used to have, but it still has the old kick start. It has an Italian alternator now- a Denso- and a disc brake on the front. The metallurgy is better, just from the evolution of metallurgy. Other than that it’s the same bike.

What model do you have?

Mine is a 2007, which I bought at Adirondack Ural. There aren’t very many of these around, and so not many people that deal with them. It’s more like an ATV that you can ride on the street than a motorcycle. Because they’re so unique and uncommon, it tends to be a pretty eccentric group of people who ride them. There’s an online community of Ural owners who are a wealth of information. They’re the ones who made it possible for me to get the bike back on the road after my accident.


Tell me about your accident.

I was stopped, facing a van in a turn lane. We were both making opposite left turns. Everything looked clear and I went but a car came flying from behind the van right at me. The car hit my sidecar side, I flew off, and then the bike flipped. I wasn’t hurt.

I got zero help from my insurance company, but everybody on site was great. The guy that hit me and another witness got out and helped me right the bike and move it off the road, out of the spewing gasoline.

How did the people in the online community help?

They basically made it possible for me to do the repairs. There just aren’t many people who know how to service Urals, so you really rely on the community. I didn’t have the mechanical knowledge before this, and with their help I did everything except the body work.

It is normally a high maintenance kind of bike?

Definitely. It will run pretty much all the time, but in order for it to run well you have to do a lot of tinkering. The good thing is that you can fix it. A Ural comes with a set of tools and you can do just about any mechanical repairs or tweaking on it that you need to with these tools. That’s a big draw to a Ural. It was designed for soldiers to ride, and they needed to be able to fix it in the field while being shot at. It’s so simple it’s like a giant lawnmower.

What’s the draw to motorcycles for you?

I grew up with them. My grandpa was a biker. I rode a motorcycle before I rode a bicycle. I started on motorcycles at age five and didn’t ride a bicycle until I was about thirteen.

What kind of motorcycle did you have at age five?

It was a Suzuki RM50 that belonged to my neighbor. We were in Detroit and moved out to the country when I was five, and my neighbor was a big Motocross guy. He was sponsored by Honda and placed 8th nationally in the AMA one year. A farmer near us let him set up a track in a corner of a field he wasn’t using, and he taught me how to ride.

Your grandpa was a biker- was he affiliated?

There was a big biker war across the Detroit River with Canada that he was somehow involved in. I think he may have been in and out of clubs, but he was mostly done with that by the time I can remember. He and my grandma still had the lifestyle though. He was covered in tattoos and had this really long ZZ Top beard. I didn’t even know his real name until I was in my teens. It was just “we’re going to Nana and The Beard’s house.”

What kind of bikes did he have?

The one constant that he had up until he passed away was a 1947 mint condition original Indian Chief.


Nice! What happened to it?

He willed it to me, but they didn’t have any savings because, you know, they were bikers. So we sold it so my grandma could get the proceeds. He also had a Road King for a while, a Goldwing, a BMW. The Indian Chief was the constant though, and it only came out on special occaisions. Like they would go for rides on Memorial Day.

How did your grandpa influence you?

He took away the taboo on motorcycles for me. There’s a stigma attached to them which I see past- it’s just a way of life to me. I feel more comfortable on a motorcycle than I do in a car. The first time I ever went fast I was six years old and sitting on his gas tank. He took me screaming past my house at over a hundred miles an hour and as my dad tells the story, he could hear me wailing away over the engine having the time of my life, and my mother started crying. Dad knew I was doomed to ride from then on.

From my dad’s whole side of the family I get that independence thing: be your own person, and if you don’t think something is right, don’t do it. Speak up.

The Ural isn’t a very fast bike, is it?

No. The fastest I’ve ever had it going is 63 miles per hour. It’s kind of like a Jeep in that it may not go very fast, but you can take it anywhere. The frame is all one piece, the side car doesn’t come off. That makes it very sturdy. Then the sidecar has an engageable drive. Most sidecars are just passive, but with this, you can flip a lever, engage the drive, and then it’s like a three-wheeler. You can take it over sand, dirt, rocks, snow, anything.

Who rides in the side car?

My dog will get in it happily up until the point that I start the engine. My wife rides in it and also my friend Emile when we commute in together.

Does your wife like it?

She likes it better now since the accident, because it looks cooler. When I had the body work done I got a custom paint job, put more chrome on it, got to trick it out a little bit. Before the accident, she said she felt like an old person in a bathtub, because it kind of looked like an old man’s bike. But now she says she feels like an eccentric person in a bathtub.

Do you have any trips planned for it?

I want to take it up Mount Washington. I’ve also had a lifelong dream to ride a motorcycle across the country- I probably get that from my grandpa. He had taken the Indian cross-country four or five times.

Through my friend Jake I found out that there’s a network of back roads and two-tracks called the Trans American Trail. It goes from Tennessee to Oregon and barely ever hits pavement. I’ve been planning that trip for a while but it keeps getting pushed back because of life and work. There’s a similar network of roads called the Puppy Dog Route that runs through Vermont, and I’m planning a four day trip there in October. That will be the test. If I can make it through that, I have no concerns about doing the Trans American Trail.

Are all those back roads still there in Vermont since the hurricane?

I guess I’m going to find out! I’m confident that I’ll be able to get through- or around- anything in the Ural. And if I start running out of time, I can just bail and head back.

How about all y’all- do you have a favorite motorcycle story to share? Ever ridden in a side car? What’s your ideal commuter vehicle?

Full-assed Friday is a regular feature on this blog. It’s where I share something interesting, funny, or just plain different. I take suggestions and do guest posts. If you’re interested, contact me at accidentalstepmom at g mail dot com.

Full-Assed Friday: Missionary Position Part 2

For this week’s installment of Full-Assed Friday, we’re back with Lindsey, my former babysitter who grew up a missionary kid in Zimbabwe. To read the first half of our interview, click here.

Baobab tree. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

What is the main goal of the mission?

Ultimately to spread the gospel of Jesus, but it’s also humanitarian. There’s so much need.

My mom tells the story of when they first came over and were attending a local church. She was insisting that they weren’t going to hire a maid and gardener. Because you know, in the US, that’s a serious luxury, and she was coming from the position of not wanting to spend the money that donors had pledged for the mission on taking care of the home when she was fully capable of doing it herself. But a local man stood up to her and said, “You selfish woman! Do you think they will listen to you when you won’t give them a job?” That was the start of her new perspective.

How much of your childhood did you spend in Zimbabwe?

We first moved there when I was two. I spent the rest of my childhood there except for second grade and ninth grade, plus two other three-month trips. Then I went to college in Ohio.

What was the town like that you grew up in?

First my dad started a church in an area where there were lots of farmers and farm workers. The church was in the Shona language, which he grew up speaking. Because of the immersion, I could speak it too. Later he also started a church in English.

There are two completely different cultures in Zimbabwe. The first place we lived was a small town, and though I wasn’t entirely aware of it at the time, I was the only white kid in my school. I remember everyone always touched my hair. It was the old style British schooling there, but there were gaps in the education that my mom, who was a teacher, would fill in for me afterwards. She was always teaching me things. We stayed there until I was in fourth grade.

Then we moved to the capitol city of Harare. The school was super strict. I got in trouble early on for responding to the teacher once with “what” instead of “pardon me”. Sports were mandatory.

Describe a typical day when you were a kid.

If I were going to use one word to describe my childhood, it would be “idyllic”. The days were long and happy, school was hard work but not a struggle, I made friends easily, we had a yard to play in, we had pets.

Even though we would go out and meet with people in the villages, I was largely unaware, or maybe uncomprehending, of the political and economic angst in the country. Then I started to become aware of the prejudices. Like, I had white friends and I had black friends, and knew only the warm and wonderful sides of both. Then I would hear a white friend refer in a derogatory tone to “that cook boy” or worse, another derogatory word. Inherited prejudices take time to fade from the “Old Boys Club”.

(Lindsey’s accent goes back and forth between North Jersey and South African during this part of the interview, which makes me happy.)

Now, white people make up only 0.5% of the population, but when I was growing up, they were almost always the upper middle class. All the actual workers- maid, gardener, servers in bars or restaurants, any manual laborers- were always black. Racism has begun to fade through the generations, but the whites have maintained many advantages. It’s very difficult to break that down.

Even though our livelihood was solely dependant upon sponsors and pledges from people in the States supporting the missionary work, we were considered part of the rich white people.

How does the pledging work?

In the years that they come back to the US, my parents spend a lot of time connecting with the people and churches that sponsor their work. A lot of it is just being accountable: saying, here’s what we did at the hospital, this is the drought relief program we’re implementing, this is our AIDS education, here’s what’s happening in the Bible College. They do always try to reach out to new people who might be interested in furthering their work.

Did you help with or participate in any of the programs your parents worked on?

I went with my mom to a lot of kids’ Bible camps, kind of the equivalent of VBS here. I remember one place we went was on one of those giant ant hills. It was so big that they had carved steps into it. Those were the bleachers. The entire elementary school sat there. You probably could have put about two hundred kids sitting on that ant hill, it was so big. We would sing songs and play games.

One of my scariest moments came at this camp: the Nyau dancers arrived. They’re a secret society- no one is supposed to know who they are. They wear stilts and grotesque masks and represent spirits passed on. They are said to channel these spirits and therefore they’re granted immunity for any actions they perform while in this guise. Many rumors surround them, that they may have people beaten or even killed for not showing them the proper respect. It’s obviously a very different set of beliefs from Christianity, so when they came through during one of our Bible camp meetings, everyone was scared to be there, scared of what they would do. People ran off, even the teachers.

What contributed to your decision to stay in the US instead of returning to Zimbabwe?

Well, I haven’t really decided not to become a missionary, it’s more about that this is the right place for me to be right now. I finished school, I got married, I began teaching. . . I have student loans to pay off and that wouldn’t be possible were I to become a missionary right now, even though I do have a standing job offer to teach where I went to school over there. I may decide to do it one day.

Gold light hour at Kariba Dam

What do you miss about Zimbabwe?

Open sky. . . it’s just not the same here in New Jersey. Also the pretty sunsets, clear stars, the smell after it rains- that smell is different than it is here. I miss my favorite places in the entire world: Kariba at Kariba Dam, the Zambezi Valley, where there are elephants and it’s beautiful and wild. There was this strange feeling that’s hard to describe, of being a third culture kid- of relating and belonging. I grew up there. People are really warm in Zimbabwe. It’s pretty much the opposite of New Jersey, where people flick you off for not turning fast enough out of your driveway. I can’t think of two more opposing cultures than Zimbabwe and New Jersey.


What’s your favorite Zimbabwe tradition?

Tea time. Even though it was originally a British tradition it’s been fully adopted by everyone. If you go over to someone’s house, you’re expected to have two cups. The only thing is that a lot of people like to drink the Rooibos tea, which I don’t really like, but you still have to drink two cups. I just love the whole idea that everyone stops and takes time out, and just has tea, and spends time with their friends and family- every day.

What’s your favorite Zimbabwe food?

I have two. One is Biltong– it’s kind of like a beef jerky, but not. It’s made with beef but also game, and I know it has coriander in it. The other is Boerwors, a type of sausage that you have at a South African Braai, which is like our barbeque. Sadly, I haven’t been able to get either of these here. There are only two South African groceries that I know of. One is in Atlanta, and the other is in South Carolina.

Did you ever have any animals around your house that we would consider exotic?

 Mostly snakes. Spitting cobras, Green Mamba, Boomslang. We had dogs that went with us everywhere and looked out for snakes.

I remember helping cut the heads off of chickens when I was about five. My dad had helped our gardener start a business with chickens and eggs and I would help hold while he chopped, and then I’d watch it run around without the head. I never thought anything of it.

I’ve been in a car that was being chased by an elephant.

I’ve been in the back of an open truck with a lion less than twenty feet away.

When I was about thirteen, I was sulking in the tent while we were camping because my mom wanted me to get up and I thought it was too early. My mom made me get up anyhow. Right after that, a hippo came through, and he stepped on the tent exactly where my head had been on my pillow moments before. I was scared of animal encounters every time we went camping.

Another time camping I thought I heard something. I was always thinking I heard something though so no one ever paid attention when I said I heard something. Everyone told me to be quiet and go to sleep. This time though, sure enough, when we woke up in the morning there were new elephant tracks not fifteen feet from where we were sleeping.

We were staying at a type of hotel once. Well, first we got there and there was a hippo in the driveway and we had to wait for it to move. Then we went in and outside one of the bedrooms we could see a tree moving. It turned out there was an elephant right there eating from the tree, so close I could have reached out and touched it. So we all crowded into the room, about eleven of us, and the elephant started farting. It was so loud! It went on for like half an hour, and we were all in there the entire time just laughing and laughing, listening to this elephant fart. I laughed until my eyes were out of tears.

My dad has had nearly every wild animal encounter you can imagine. He’s been treed by a rhino, chased by a hippo, had to kill a rogue buffalo. . .

Do you ever run into any other missionaries there, like competition? Ever see any Mormons?

Well, I did run into a Mormon on the plane to Zimbabwe once. He was just heading over for his two-year mission. It was after finals week, so I was already fried, and my mom had sent me a list of things to bring home, like sugar and cinnamon. I had been sleepless from finals and then I was up all night packing and shopping and he ended up being seated right next to me. He talked a lot. The entire flight, actually. It. . . was interesting.

But you don’t have mission territories like the Avon lady? If you meet a Mormon on the street there you don’t have to rumble?


That’s good.

(at this point we received a string of interruptions from children and dogs, indicating our time was up)

Any final stories to tell?

One time we heard a gunshot near our house and called the police. After an hour and a half, a policeman arrived at our house on a bicycle and asked if we had a gun he could borrow. That was different.

all photos by David Lagan