You’re an idiot, but we can work through this

I sometimes project the illusion that life is perfect since Josie Junebug came to live with us. The truth, however, is that two members of the household are immune to her charms and remain resentful to this day. Those two individuals are our teenage cats.

Before her, they were the adored pets of the house. Now, they are forced to cohabitate with a giant slobbering beast. She tries to play with them, which is as tempting as as a freshman playing tackle football with a senior. She drinks their water with all the grace of a blender-weilding toddler. She lurks as they eat, has a resounding bark, and is gassy. She hoards the comfy furniture.

Our more outgoing cat smacks her as she walks by, for the mere crime of being annoyingly alive. The other, more reserved yet also vengeful, likes to plant himself passively in Josie’s path, a living blockade.

Yet, there are two particular occasions where tolerance is practiced.  One such case is in the prewashing of dishes. As we load them in after supper,  Josie works from one side while one of our cats stands on the door and works another angle. There is a complete lack of drama.

Nearly every day in our house concludes with a bit of calm, found only when the kids are in bed. My husband and I usually sit and watch an hour of television. Having emptied our laps and hands of the louder offspring, our fur babies all find their way into the living room, settling in as close as possible for cuddles and petting. This also, apparently, is a tolerable neutral zone.

With presidential campaigns coming to a close, I find myself hoping, after all the months of ever-more-bitter vitriol, that we can also find a tolerable neutral zone in this country.  Every time I opened Facebook the last couple of months, I found myself slammed with each side’s newest “how could you vote for Major Party Candidate after reading this” post. On the upside, the nastiness was enough to help me cut way back on my mindless Facebook habit.

ellen

I’m not naive enough to hope, or even ask, that after the election, we all put aside our differences. I do have concerns, for the first time in my privileged life, about our transfer of power being less than democratic or peaceful.

I do hope we can remember, though, that whatever the outcome, we share many goals for ourselves, each other, and this country. Even though our country has been fighting like (you know it’s coming…) cats and dogs, even those two famed enemies can put aside their differences to accomplish some common goals.

Everyone deserves peaceful homes and loving cuddles. So, please, let’s find a way to work through this.

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Worst Day Ever

Disappointment hurts. It’s raw and personal. Why weren’t you good enough? Why do good things pass you by? Why did you feel like the Universe was pointing you in a direction that included an emotional spiked-pit trap? 

Too often, we’re encouraged to “brush it off,” and our instant-fix society would certainly rather you self-medicate rather than be unhappy. Anyone remember Soma pills from Brave New World?

So, why would one ever choose to be discontent? Pain is part of living. A yoga practice usually starts by “checking in” with your body. Where does it hurt? How do you feel? Don’t judge or push away any discomfort. Breathe it in and know: this is what it feels like to be _____.”

Disappointed.

Pain
Princess Bride, 1987

I was working in the kitchen last week when my four year old trudges through mumbling “worst day ever.” Wow, what happened to him? I went to the living room to find out. He had to stop playing video games. Seems like a bit of an extreme reaction to an adult. We learn to modulate and reason out our emotions. But maybe there’s something to be said for just embracing how you feel for a few minutes. I think it does help us experience life and move on. 

The mirror of my son’s grumbling is that anytime he gets good news–going to grandma’s, pizza for dinner, new library books–that is the BEST day ever. How great that must feel. Learning to embrace the moment and drink it in means cultivating gratitude for small victories.

Toddlers and dogs really excel at living in the moment. Every now and then, Josie Junebug spends more time than usual in her crate because we have somewhere to go for the evening. Clearly, those occasional long days are her “worst day evers.” More often, though are good days: being with her family, exploring her yard, savoring a Kong, meeting new people to tell her how beautiful she is. As my husband and I sit in the quiet of a day’s end, we look over at her smile or her exhausted sleep and proclaim it for her: TODAY was the BEST day ever.

Feel your heartaches. Don’t judge or be hasty to push yourself into how society wants you to feel. Rest, pray, learn your lessons, nurture yourself through them. Then do anything in your power to make tomorrow the Best Day Ever.

 

A Punxsutawney Miracle

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.

When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success.

Trainers’ guides to introducing a puppy to a crate go something like this: crate training should be a gradual and positive experience so that your puppy learns to accept the crate as her happy den of comfort. Start by leaving the door open and littering the floor of the crate with treats so your puppy willing enters…

Josie Junebug’s crate introduction at our house went more like this: Welcome home, adorable girl, here’s your crate, go in it.

I admit, it was abrupt. In our defense, we had not raised a puppy before and were told when we adopted her that she had been crate trained at her foster home. So, I guess we just assumed she would take to it with the grace we expected.

She spent the first night whining and barking at the top of her lungs for forty minutes, every hour. I cowered under my pillow thinking “oh, what have I done? Dogs are smelly, loud, and trouble.” I was convinced I had forfeited all domestic tranquility for the next decade and a half. (Note that this is the kind of thinking that stems from anxiety and exhaustion.) Though it was a long, frustrating, worrisome night, I felt it was important not cave to her whining.

The second night, we moved her crate into the kids’ room so she wouldn’t be all alone. She whined for twenty minutes, sans barking, after which she slept through the night without incident. From that rebound, she quickly adapted to keeping quiet and not eliminating in kennel.

When it was time to return to work (after Thanksgiving break), I was very anxious about leaving her in a crate all day. My husband was surprised: “I thought you were all pro-crate.” The funny thing was, professionally, I had no problems putting other people’s dogs in kennels all day. Turns out, as a [dog] mom, I’m a total sap. Still, though, she could not be trusted to hold her bladder or avoid the temptations of destroying all we possessed.

I knew from counseling clients that it was important from the beginning to avoid  nuisance barking and separation anxiety. So, we were consistent and no-nonsense about putting her in her crate at night and while out of the house. Though she accepted her fate with slumped shoulders and pleading big brown eyes, she had to be carried to the kennel every time. The optimist in me thought “thanks for the sixty pound deadlift, Junebug.”

I’m sure her crate would be more comfortable (and quieter) with a mat or blanket. We bought a cheap rug at Aldi (my husband pointed out that, at $8, it cost the same as every toy we tried on her). She left it alone the first night, but chewed it so thoroughly the second that I felt it was safer to trash it. So, until we save up enough for a chew-resistant pad, kennel time means cold, hard, nail-tapping drudgery on the plastic.

Then, on Groundhog’s day, I get a surprising text from my husband. Josie Junebug voluntarily crated herself! Recognizing the signs of their morning exit routine, she slinked in of her own volition! Now resigned to her lonely schedule, she “kennels” on her own.

I certainly would not claim she has embraced her kennel as a comforting wolf den. We could have handled the whole situation better by working systematically on crate acclimation. A few days, I fed her in her crate so she’d have positive, short duration exposure while the cats ate in peace, but I forgot to do this consistently. Working full time, managing a house, and caring for two kids and three pets keeps me busy. Though I’m quite organized, consistent training (of dogs and kids) is not one of my strong points.

 

Our crate training journey wasn’t graceful, but you know what? In less than three months, we got where we wanted to be.  What lesson did I ultimately glean from all this? Follow your own path. When it comes to relationships, be it marriage, raising kids, or training dogs, I think compassion and the pursuit of mutual understanding will guide you to success. After all, it’s not about me asserting my will over her, but about us all discovering how to live together. To that end, I have just as much learning to do as anyone else.

February 29, 2016: a reflective post

Leap boldly into your day.

Twenty four extra hours to live fully,  love deeply.

Strive for goals that seem further away than the day you determined to succeed.

Breathe and eat and rest through a day special and yet the same as all the others.

Argue,  protest,  scare yourself with your anger,  because there are those powerless and too weak to do so for themselves.

Create,  rend,  reinvent that which  you no longer wish to carry.

Honor and rebel against tradition and expectations–yours and others.’

Leap Day is a strange surprise in the calendar. Once every four years, a whole ‘nother day, and unless it’s your birthday, not a lot of direction on what to do with it. Aside from playing leap frog all day, the best suggestion I found to celebrate was to take a picture. So we did.

The fun thing about Leap Day is that it occurs just seldom enough to be special but often enough to a repeated occurrence in our lives (Lord willing, as we say in the South). Four years from now, my son will be in school. My daughter will count her age in the double digits. Josie Junebug, of course, will no longer be a puppy.

And what about me? Hopefully, I’ll be on  book tour for my latest best-selling novel. Perhaps I’ll be waking to the sounds of waves crashing outside the window. (Awesome vacation waves, not end of the world tsunami waves.)

far better

In four years, who will be our President? Will we have made any progress in race relations or peace in the Middle East? Will our oceans be any cleaner or the bees have made a come back? What planets will mankind have traveled to?

Aside from the promise of entertaining the world with my literature, what else will I have accomplished? What strangers will I have fed? How many children will I have comforted? How invasive will my footprint be on the Earth?

In the comments, share any unique Leap Day traditions you have and what you hope the picture of your life will look like at the next Leap Year.

Product Review: Outward Hound Fun Feeder

Anyone know of any pet speed-eating contests? One of my fourteen year old cats would be a shoe-in. Josie Junebug has learned from the best. In an open bowl, she can finish her meal in under thirty seconds.

Being a big-chested broad, I’m mindful to watch for bloat. Some dogs regurgitate after eating too fast. I’m hoping that slowing her feeding might decrease her silent-but-wicked gas. When she settles down for the night, she looks like someone sold us a basket of deer legs for a pet; yet her adorableness is interrupted by her un-lady-like flatulence.

The first slow feeder I bought was OK, but there were two main problems. First of all, despite the rubber no-skid feet, it slid all over the room during the eating process. Secondly, the dimensions given apparently described the footprint of the bowl and not the interior feeding capacity. It barely held two cups, though the product description stated that it held five. 

The Outward Hound Fun Feeder is working much better. Presumably because of the flatter design, it stays put during use. Also, it easily contains her three cup meal portions. The puzzle walls deflect food back out of the bowl if you haphazardly dump kibble in as you would a traditional bowl; more careful and slower pouring is required to avoid spillage. An obvious side benefit is the colorful cute design. At $10, I consider it a solid investment in her health and a successful enrichment device.

Thankfully, she has not yet learned to dump it like the dog in this review. I attribute it to her youthful naivety since she’s generally a pretty bright girl.

This feeder has slowed feeding time from around thirty seconds to closer to seven minutes.  video here

When you eat, know that you are eating.
When you eat, know that you are eating.

Maybe I should buy something similar for myself to encourage slower and more mindful eating.

Leave a comment: do you eat like a ravenous wild dog, or have you mastered the trick of civilized self-feeding?

 

The Gift of a Renewed Habit

Reclaiming a healthy routine seemed impossible to do for myself, but when a beautiful brown-eyed girl entered our lives, it became effortless.

Before my daughter was born, I woke up 45 minutes earlier than I needed to every morning for the sake of self-development. I would be sure each day started with a positive thought of intention, read something spiritual or personally progressive, and end with a set of simple calisthenics. Every self-improvement guru will advise you to do this. So will this anal-retentive blog author.

Unfortunately, once the sleepless nights of motherdom hit seven and a half years ago, I fell out of this habit and never managed to restart it. As a matter of fact, the stresses of long-term joblessness in my household and the addition of a scrappy son have, for years, dunked me continuously under the waters of chaos. I can honestly say that the loss of this one clarifying habit has, for me, been the main contributor to a chronic sense of “not having a handle on things.”

predawn
Stepping into the predawn, starting the day with a breath of fresh air. (Thankfully, she doesn’t poop until later.)

This habit gently resurfaced in my life a couple of months ago, and it should be no surprise to the reader that I owe it to the adoption of Josie Junebug (Greatest dog in the world). You see, I felt guilty that, after spending all night in her crate (to insure she didn’t chew up the entire downstairs whilst we slept), she got only a short reprieve before returning to her crate while we were at work and school.

The Monday after Thanksgiving break, my alarm rang half an hour earlier than usual. What had seemed insurmountable for years suddenly just happened. Since that day, and every work day since, after showering and dressing, I liberate her from the evil crate (her sentiments, not mine) and am rewarded with grateful adoration displayed via entire rear-body wags.

Friedrich Nietzsche picture quotes - He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how. - Inspirational quotes
Reclaiming a healthy routine seemed impossible to do for myself, but when a beautiful brown-eyed girl entered our lives, it became effortless.

I drink my coffee while it’s hot, not having to set it aside to pour chocolate milk, or cut up an apple. In 15 minutes, I am able to read more of C.S. Lewis’s  Mere Christianity than I could accomplish in hours while wearing the Mommy Hat. I put away the clean dishes, accomplishing something before I even leave the house.

In the stillness of predawn, my dog and I peacefully step into the day together.

 

Leave a comment: What good habit has your pet (or loved one) inspired?

 

 

Haiku on Our Street

My friend called during our New Year’s Eve revelries to let me know I was the winner of the haiku contest at our local Hippie Hot Spot. If you don’t have such a place, you need to go find one, right after you finish this post. The Irvington Wellness Center quickly became one of our favorite places to visit when we moved to the East side.

The truly funny thing is that, when my husband and I were looking to buy our first house, we told our realtor, “We don’t have a strong preference for any particular part of town–as long as it’s not on the East side!” Lucky for us, my awesome friend (same who called above) was born and bred on the East side and changed my tune. Turns out, our perceptions of “the East side” really referred to a few rough neighborhoods smattered around. One problem I’ve made my peace with: when you choose big city living, “good” and “sketchy” neighborhoods can be pretty closely interspersed until you get waay out into some named City Suburbs. But don’t get me started on urban sprawl–that’s another day’s rant.

Back to topic: this is the first time in my life, including growing up in a smaller town (pop 60K) that I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of a neighborhood. We don’t technically live in Irvington, but since we’re a five minute drive to the main drag (counting the ridiculously long traffic light at the end of our street), I claim it.

What’s so great about it? Well, aside from living the childhood dream of that Sesame Street experience, here’s a few reasons: ironically, as part of a community, you become more of an individual. People recognize you, even if they don’t know you. Also, maybe this is just me, but there’s a sense of responsibility for your community. You see trash on your street? You pick it up.

The kids feel like celebrities when we walk down the street on a nice day and run into people we know. Seriously, I’m not really a chatter, but we stopped for forty minutes one day to talk with a lady from our church. The day the kids and I went to drop off my haiku, we ran into my friend (same friend, but I swear I do have more than one) in the parking lot. Library story time means that now we wave to Mr. Joe every time we visit. We have a communal sense of “our” pizza place,  “our” brewery, “our” gift shop, “our” wellness center.

Simply said, it’s awesome.

Anyway, what the heck does any of this have to do with Josie Junebug, world’s best dog? Well, thanks for hanging in there with me. My winning haiku was about her. Enjoy.

irv tree
Holiday tree with handmade ornaments at Irvington Wellness Center. Kids made bird feeder pine cones after Kid Yoga last week.

 

New Puppy

Babe with four foot reach

and wood chipper for a mouth

Dear Lord, help us all!

 

 

Do you write haiku?

Please leave one in the comments.

Are people out there?