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The Food Chain

9 Nov

So a couple months ago (so long!), I shared with you guys that I don’t really like to cook or even eat all too much and that one of my goals was to learn to love both of these things while Will was gone and I had free range over the kitchen and grocery shopping. Okay, well, let me back up a bit and let me further explain why I’m not always a big fan of eating.

When I found out I was struggling with low blood sugar, my doctor told me to eat a heck of a lot more. I was supposed to eat more substantial meals and to snack in between, eating something every two hours. Here’s the thing, I already ate until I was full before. I wasn’t starving myself and in fact, since I went to a nutritionist my senior year of college, I have a great knowledge of what I’m supposed to be eating and how my nutrients are being accounted for. I was getting three balanced meals a day with an occasional snack and I was full and happy with that. When I had to start eating more, it became work. Dreadful work. Have you ever tried to eat when you’re not even hungry? It’s awful. The food doesn’t smell good to you, the texture feels all wrong in your mouth, and it sticks in your throat all the way down. On top of being generally unpleasant, the increase in eating was having a minimal effect on my symptoms. Not worth it.

So when Will left, I knuckled down on my research and while I won’t force it all down your throat in this post, there’s a lot of convincing evidence out there that indicates whole-foods, plant-based diets can prevent and even reverse most degenerative diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and most surprisingly, cancer. (If you’re intrigued, there’s a really great documentary available through Netflix called Forks Over Knives that’ll give you a good place to start.) I started to think that if a basically vegan diet could help reduce the incidence of diabetes by naturally regulating the body’s sugars and digestion, it could almost definitely help me. Not eager to be medicated and/or miserable for the rest of my life, I decided to go vegan.

It’s been amazingly helpful and even fun for me. I don’t get pesky migraines from low sugar anymore, thus no more ugly nausea, thus greater energy and happiness. I sleep better, I focus easier, and I can deal with the stress of…well basically owning life all by myself.

Furthermore, I love my food and I love to cook it! It’s easy to clean because everything I use can be cleaned up with water (haha, no more salmonella threats!), I don’t have to worry about something being cooked thoroughly enough because the worst thing that can happen is something gives too much crunch or smush, and I’m using things I would never otherwise use like my zester and sifter and peeler. I know what you’re picturing, though–plate of soggy vegetables with some beans in there– and that’s not what it’s like. Sure, I was a little worried my food would be boring too at first, but then I found out how decadent and rich vegan meals can be. This is what my food looks like:

Stuffed squash with apples, cherries, couscous, almonds, and homemade honey-dijon.

Almost-raw and energy packed veggie and lentils salad with vinaigrette.

A curried vegetable soup with beans and brown rice.

I’m not eating meek little steamed veggies here. I’m using cumin and coriander, sunflower oil and balsamic vinegar, couscous and quinoa. My kitchen smells like paprika cream sauce and lemon zest. I’m love being a vegan because it means I go into the grocery store and really take stock of the exotic foods aisle. I’ve discovered how much saffron threads cost and how tamari tastes. I feel better, I’m doing the earth a favor, and it’s an adventure. For me, it’s the perfect fit.

Peace and Quiet

20 Jun

Sooo, sorry about last week. While visiting Will’s family, my car broke down and I was stuck staying with my parents until the parts came in. I’m back home now but unfortunately, I’m still car-less until this weekend. It hasn’t been an awesome experience but I’m thankful that we broke down so close to my family and I was able to spend some quality time with all of them.  Now you know why last week was all dead air here on the blog and I’m pretty behind on my reading and writing goals too. I’m letting it go, though, and writing up last week as vacation time so I don’t have to feel guilty for doing a whole lot of nothing. Which kinda leads into what I’m talking about today: the value of quiet-time.

I have to be careful about how I spend my time and who I spend it with because I have a tendency to become very solitary. I truly don’t mind being alone for long periods of time and in fact, I usually enjoy it.  I like to go out for lunch by myself sometimes and spend some time with a book at a cafe. I like to take the dogs to the park and walk around on our own. I love people very much but I don’t necessarily prefer their company  all the time. I’m a classic introvert in the way that I need lots of time to recharge after being social so my life is a balance of spending time with people and then taking more time to do “me” things.

Being like this makes me somewhat of an expert on taking time to rest and just be still. It’s very important to me but I also think it should be an important part of everyone’s life. We spend so much time working our minds and filling our time with insignificant worries and thoughts that often silence can feel nerve-wracking. If everything is quiet and still, something must be wrong, right? It’s as if peace has been equated to laziness or being unsociable in our society. I feel myself being told to watch more TV or text someone while I’m waiting. As I’m writing this, I’m also watching TV and that’s kind of the norm for everything. I listen to music while I’m cleaning, talk on the phone while I’m playing a video game. I’m guilty.For me, the constant sound–the constant words–are exhausting. I live for words and yet I overload so easily. I want them but at some point they start doing more harm than good.

About a month ago, before my yoga class started, a middle-aged woman leaned over to me and introduced herself. We exchanged small talk and she started to tell me how much she loved yoga classes. Her life was so stressful, she explained, that the gym was the only place where she got to have any quiet. At first I felt a little ashamed because my life is usually the opposite of stressful and I have all kinds of time for peace and yet…I still related. My favorite part of the class is the very end when we get to lie on our sides in the dark, essential oils in the air, and just bask in the pure silence. When I leave, there’s an afterglow of relaxation that I feel trailing behind every step I take. I come home and lean my whole body against my husband, who is typically working on dinner at that time, and just sigh. He starts to talk and I shush him because the stillness is so nice.

In a way, I’m most myself in those moments. I can feel every part of my body– all the space I have inside that doesn’t need any filling at all. I feel empty but absolutely overflowing with self-awareness. I’m alive and deep and dripping with rest, like I’ve emerged from pool or lake after a long swim into its deepest parts. I feel sexy too. I’m not thinking about the skinny stick of a starlet from some tv drama who looks better than me in a bathing suit. I’m not too worried about our bills or job prospects. I just feel instead of thinking.

I doubt anyone can get to that place and be allowed to stay for too long but I think everyone can find and feel it for as long as she needs every day. It might be that you only get ten minutes of quiet on your way to work or you have to take a five minute walk on your lunch break, but you deserve every last minute you can make for yourself. Turn off the music, the TV, your phone and then stop thinking about all the things that keep you preoccupied– your plans for dinner, your social calender, your next paycheck. Let go and create a moment for yourself, as long as you can manage, that’s completely silent. Do nothing but reside in that empty space inside of you. And I know how mystic and unattainable that sounds but you have that place and you need to be inside it every day to appreciate and love yourself. You can read, you can journal, or maybe meditate if you’re into it. Just take a break for some quiet time. It will do you good.

For me, this time is very close to what worship looks like. So tomorrow I’m going to write a bit more about how silence can be enriching and how worship is more than just singing in church.

Love always,

Brytani

Because sometimes healthier living means consulting a professional:

30 Mar

Flowers my Hannah gave me for my birthday!

I took (or should I say dragged) myself to the doctor yesterday because for the past month or so, my energy and strength have been waning and I’ve dropped a few pounds for seemingly no reason. When I could barely complete an exercise routine, I decided it was time to have some tests run.

I, like many people, hate going to a doctor. They’re generally not personable, they usually seem too busy for you, and they almost always give you a pat answer for any concern. Still, there are legitimate reasons that you need to force yourself to seek professional help. Here are some things I have learned warrant a visit to a medical professional:

First off, and probably the most obvious, recurring pain. Do I need to go on? Most people don’t need to be talked into seeing a professional when they hurt. Pain is your body’s way of giving you a warning that you can’t continue something or you need to take it easy. I know, it should just leave you a post-it note.

Sleeplessness, exhaustion, inability to focus, or dizziness/disorientation. If you suffer from any of these on a relatively frequent basis, go see someone. Your body is probably telling you that you’re not giving it what it needs but there’s also a chance that you aren’t coping well with some change in the way you live. Your doctor can tell you if you need to see a mental health expert and/or run tests to find any problems.

Severe and/or painful anxiety, panic, or some other pain related to stress. These things can actually injure your heart with time and you may need medication or help from a mental health professional. Sometimes these things can be linked to unlikely sources like dietary needs so don’t try to fix it on your own or let it get out of hand.

Unexplained weight loss or gain: It’s not unusual for women to fluctuate in their weights but pay attention to how your body usually works and be aware if something isn’t normal. There a few conditions women are especially susceptible that can explain big weight changes and they’re all worth treating or correcting.

Digestive issues: If you have pain or irritation or any other ugly symptoms that are persistent, it never hurts to ask about it, even if it is embarrassing.

It’s just as important to periodically check your lifestyle with a professional. I visited a nutritionist last year to be sure I was eating right and turns out, I wasn’t! I went to a counselor a few times just to talk about my concerns with my anxiety levels and ability to hold long, long grudges. I got a personal trainer to teach me healthy running habits and went to a spa a few times to have a therapeutic massage. It’s nice to treat yourself and let other people show you how to be healthier and happier.

Above all, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking a problem is nothing. It never hurts to ask and if you’re really bothered by something, make sure you have it looked it and tested, even if your doctor insists there’s nothing wrong. You have to live with it, so don’t leave until you’re satisfied. Demand examination and if you have to, request a second opinion. Doctors aren’t usually trying to be jerks but the truth is, they see so many generic problems that they’re sometimes too quick to label something. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask for more information or even do your own research.

Here are some questions you might want to ask on your next visit:

What would be the ideal weight for me and how do you recommend that I reach that goal? The upside for losing weight is fairly obvious but actually, being under-weight can be just as unhealthy as being over-weight. Not weighing enough can make you much more susceptible to disease and injury. When I kept hurting my back, my doctor said gaining a few pounds in muscle around the area would really help protect it. So make sure you know and are comfortable with your ideal weight.

How is my blood pressure? What do those numbers mean? This is a big one for both men and women and most people don’t understand the measurements for it. Your doctor won’t always go out of his/her way to tell you that your vitals are a little low or high so be sure you pay attention to it yourself.

How can I avoid the flu or a cold? Most people know the simple ways you can prevent them but your doctor may be able to recommend certain vitamins or techniques for boosting your immune system.

How much exercise should I be getting? There are a lot of competing numbers for how many days or hours you should exercise every week. If you don’t have a schedule that works for you already, talk with your doctor about your concerns and needs and he/she should be able to tell you what they recommend to meet your goals. They may also be able to give tips on which types of exercise will help you most. Did you know that yoga helps with circulation and bone alignment? Pilates is actually great for people with asthma because it works to cleanse the lungs.Your doctor probably knows these things.

Mention any dietary concerns. Are you looking for a good multi-vitamin? Do you feel like some changes in your diet could help with energy? Ask away about what meal plans could make your lifestyle easier.

That’s all I’ve got for today. You guys can share your own tips and experiences in the comments, if you like. I’m going to take a little rest but I’ll pick up with the final result of my bookcase efforts on Friday. 🙂

“That Girl” Is You (In a Good Way)

28 Mar

I have to go on a bit of a rant and tell you what’s inspired me to talk about today’s post. So, without further ado: Bridal competition shows and how much I loathe their very essence.

I’m not talking about Say Yes to the Dress or even My Fair Wedding (as ridiculous as that one is). I’m talking about shows that invite brides to judge each other on their wedding days, or, worse yet, pursue plastic surgery for the occasion. I think they’re despicable and heartbreaking because they take something that all girls have known since their teen years– that feeling of looking in a magazine and wishing you looked like that model or maybe watching someone you knew and wanting to be like her– and twists it into an insecurity to plague you on what should be a day of unconditional love and acceptance. What’s even more sad to me is that the brides on these TV shows care more for what other women are saying and how they’re judging their day than how their grooms feel about them. I mean, what drives a woman to look past someone who loves her and supports her with all his heart? How can it ever be more important to please women who don’t even know them or to fulfill some screwed up body image issues? What is it that’s brainwashed us into thinking we are never, ever good enough?

I’d like to say that I’m completely immune to that thought process but I don’t think anyone can ever be that thick-skinned. My insecurities are placed more in my intellectual weaknesses than my appearance, though. Just pick on my extremely poor math skills and see how quickly I descend into a deep, dark depression and fits of high-pitched weeping. I’ve never been particularly fond of my legs or my teeth but actually, it doesn’t really stop me from dressing whatever way I want or smiling with all my teeth bared because, truthfully, having a good time is more important to me than having someone think I’m beautiful. So…I’d like to think that I’ve done a pretty good job of overcoming those middle school body image issues.

I’m actually a little proud of the way I handled my wedding day. I picked a dress on my first visit, after trying on only five. I didn’t work out or tan…at all. In fact, I took a job to help pay for the wedding that had me working inside, behind a desk for eight or nine hours a day, so I was a little softer and paler than usual. I didn’t even have time to shave or put on deodorant before the wedding. Really, I think it would have been pretty easy for me to feel ugly. Instead, I took in all the love around me and meditated on the joy I felt in the meaning of the day.  All day long, I really think it was the surprising thickness of God’s presence that made me glow and gave me energy to get through everything.

But this post isn’t just about how to handle your image on your wedding day because, really, it’s an every day struggle, isn’t it? When you go to get dressed, do you have a brief moment when you say, “I’d like to put together an outfit like the one in the magazine,” but then immediately think, “No, I could never pull that off?” When you see someone wearing a jacket or some shoes you wanted to buy, do you ever think, “it looks good on her but it would never work on me because I’m not that cool?” I do it occasionally.

And because this entire blog is about being the best person you can be under any circumstances and doing things that make you happy, I feel like it’s time to share some vulnerable things that really help me overcome self-doubt.

1. Train your thoughts on the people who love you. Just forget everyone else– the strangers on the street, the people in your past, your jerk of an ex-boyfriend– and think about how little they care about what you wear or how much money you spent on something. Think about how they care more for your personality and your heart than those material, silly things. Do this every single day. Ritualize it if it helps. Wake up in the morning, go to your closet or your bathroom, and just focus on how good it feels to be loved and supported by your friends and family as you get dressed and ready for the day.

2. Think about the things you want to change and why. Because sometimes when you really understand why you want something to change, it becomes less important–less monumental. Maybe someone in high school made some stupid remark about your arm hair that scarred you for life. Maybe confronting that in your mind and mentally telling off that bee-yotch will make it feel less hurtful. (Wait, what was that? You don’t think you can do that? Don’t let some punk make you feel bad about who you are. Don’t give his/her comments merit by letting it eat at you forever. What did he know anyway? I saw him picking his nose in the school parking lot one day. And she had elbows like ostrich legs, I remember.) If it’s something that’s really bothered you for as long as you can remember…well, maybe it’s time to have a stern talking-to with yourself and really come to terms with that thing. Remember that the less you care about something, the less other people are likely to notice it.

3. If there’s something that bothers you and you can do something about it, do it. Just don’t let it control you. Make a reasonable plan with yourself. If you want to lose weight or tone up or maybe just get a little sun, there’s nothing wrong with that. It shouldn’t take up a significant amount of your time, though. You shouldn’t be thinking about it EVERY time you sit down for a meal or get dressed or go out with friends. Let nothing take away from how much you enjoy your life.

4. Every time you think you’re not good enough in some way, immediately remind yourself of the things you are good at. So what if you have ugly toes? You have great abs and that’s all anyone focuses on when you’re at the beach. Just be careful not to turn this into bashing someone else to make yourself feel better. Remember that everyone struggles with things and part of breaking the cycle is being honestly supportive of other people, especially among women. Too often we rely on mentally or vocally bringing down another girl because we’re having a tough time dealing with something. I’m telling you, you feel so much better about yourself after lifting someone up than tearing her down. I got to show a Lowe’s attendant how I did my hair a couple days ago and it made my week. Anyway, keep your virtues rather than your vices in the forefront of your mind.

5. Take an evening out of every week to just take care of yourself. Paint your nails, take a bath, exfoliate those toes. You will be surprised how much you feel better about yourself after giving your body some attention. It’s probably my favorite part of my week and I usually follow it with time for prayer and meditation. There’s something about taking those tiny steps toward self-improvement that makes every part of you feel more beautiful.

And above all, remind yourself every day that you are the only you in the world and you can be anything you want. You absolutely are “that girl.” So wear the outfit you’ve always wanted, ask out that boy you like, or just leave behind some insecurities. Live as well and happily as you dare.

What are some things you do to feel better about yourself?

Healthier Living Habits

23 Mar

I’m going to change the forecast subject of this post because for the second time this week, there’s something bigger to talk about than what I hinted on Saturday. Though I think being a good environmental citizen is tremendously important for myself, future generations, and the other organisms sharing life on this planet, I think healthy living has a variety of appearances and meanings for different people and we each have our reasons for following our own path in that sense. And that, actually, is why I started this blog. I believe everyone is (or probably should be) constantly trying to improve the way he/she lives in whatever way they imagine that is. We should all probably be trying to make ourselves the happiest and healthiest we can be.

For me, I embrace every decision as one that affects not only my mental and physical health, but also my spiritual well being. I believe I’m asked by God to stay healthy, fit, knowledgeable and wise, and also responsible for the things my lifestyle produces. Part of my obedience in that has been to educate myself on what I eat, where it comes from, how it’s raised or grown, and how that affects not just my body but the place where I live. I also pay attention to the waste I produce and the things I’m throwing away.

Now, I don’t want to push any agenda because I have absolutely no hard feelings toward people who choose to live differently, but if the things I’m talking about aren’t things you even think about…it might be time to take a look at the way you’re living and make your own conscious choices.

Here are some (uncontroversial) things that Hubs and I do to keep a happier and healthier living environment.

Well, first, I clean. Often. And not everything at once, but I generally move from room to room throughout the week and make sure everything is neat and sanitary. I have a particularly hard time getting our guest room to stay neat because that’s where Hubs and I usually wind up changing clothes. (We have a weird closet and storage situation. Just don’t ask.) Okay, I’m not going to tell on myself or my husband but I do an unusual amount of laundry sorting in that room and what I’ve learned when it comes to laundry is this: Don’t make things harder on yourself than they have to be. Put a basket wherever you find you tend to drop clothes. I always keep one in each of our rooms and a third that’s just for folding and holding clothes that were worn but aren’t dirty.

Seriously, when it comes to cleaning and neatening, you can make your own rules. I don’t like my mess to be seen, but if you look in my drawers or containers or closets, things really aren’t that organized. You can keep things wherever they work and take whatever measures to keep the peace and order in your home. I put a bill box directly where I know Hubs writes the checks because I don’t like not knowing what mail can be thrown away and what can’t. It’s not a pretty solution but it works and keeps me from being frustrated.

Also, it helps to come up with a rotating schedule or checklist for cleaning duties. I make a simple schedule every week for this purpose. You may think it’s help motivate me to clean but actually, I do it so I don’t go into overdrive one day and clean absolutely everything (badly) in a few hours. Because I’m a brand new nester, I still struggle with the feeling that everything needs to be perfect all the time. There is that (nonexistent but still mentally present) chance that someone could come over without calling first and that causes me no end of anxiety sometimes. The schedule helps me feel a sense of order and balance, even when things could be a little more tidy.

My comforting checklist.

Next, I pick healthy foods that I love to eat. I don’t try to get fancy and eat tofu (which I hate) or eggplant sandwiches but I find ways to make healthy meals with foods that I love. This isn’t hard for me because I tend to dislike junk foods and gravitate heavily towards fruits and vegetables. Also, Hubs is on a really strict diet called the Paleo Diet and it restricts us basically to meals that consist of lean meat and fruit or vegetables. So meals are simple enough for us and I like to snack on things he can’t have when he’s not here, such as my very own lovely bruschetta which I make for lunch at least once a week.

Our colorful produce drawer.

I normally don’t even buy foods that aren’t good for us but I do have a sweet tooth and sometimes I just have to give in and buy some little candy bars or cookies. When I do this, I hide them carefully behind things that are better for me and it usually works to deter me from overeating. For instance, if I buy a bag of Kit Kats, I’ll put them behind some lowfat popcorn or place cookies behind some yummy yogurt so I can trick myself into a healthy diversion. I do still treat myself to naughty food often enough but it helps. I apply the same theory in our kitchen organization by leaving healthy choices out in the open. I keep our fruit and breads on a rack while everything else gets stashed away.

See?

For my own reasons, I only like to indulge in a meaty meal once a day and the others are vegetarian-ish. I’ll tell you why if you ask but otherwise it’s not something I like to push and I won’t discuss it here. Anyway, this structure in our kitchen and in our shopping relieves a lot of the need to go out and eat because it makes what we have at home look so much more desirable.

One more thing before I stop for this week.

We recycle. In the corner of the last picture, you can see the organized chaos that is our current recycling situation. We don’t have recycling that comes to our house so we have to store it inside and Hubs takes it to a center every Saturday. I feel utterly sinful when I throw away plastic so a lot of what we recycle are plastic bags and drink containers. Also, I have an addiction Snapple peach tea so there are a lot of glass bottles leftover from that. We don’t eat a whole lot out of a can, but when we do, of course we recycle those too.

I take it a step beyond recycling, though, and consider the things we buy to cut down on our waste. For example, I buy the larger water bottles (24 oz.) because then we have fewer bottles to recycle every week. Also, if I’m considering buying fruit, I always pick the kind with less packaging (I do this for everything we buy, actually). Fruit that comes in slices is especially bad for wasteful packaging (think apple dipper bags) so I generally get whole fruit instead.

Okay, I’m going to stop lecturing now because…IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! And I’m going to just opt to continue this later. Perhaps next week when we will be considering starting our own garden. Until then…Happy Birthday to me!

Overcoming Apathy in Your Fitness Routine

24 Feb

Hello, again!

So, I decided to mix up the order of things today and talk about ways to motivate yourself to exercise. First, let me tell you, I do not believe you need to be fat or unhealthy to exercise regularly and stay on a healthy diet. I am, as you may have noticed, a Christian and God has whispered to me that what I do with my body is a reflection of how grateful I am to him for what he has given me. Like the parable of the talents, I believe we are asked to work with what we have and to improve on our lives and others’  using our blessings. There are many references in the Bible, and especially the New Testament, about the sanctity of the body as God’s temple, including 1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful…I will not be brought under the power of any…Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!… Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at  a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Now, all of that basically means that your body is God’s and that we should honor it as his dwelling place, letting nothing rule our bodies. On top of this, I believe that when I vowed to my husband, “until death to us part,” that I was also promising to live as long as I possibly can and staying healthy is most definitely a part of that for me.

In the past few years, I’ve tried a variety of sports and exercise routines including running, martial arts, yoga, pilates, and more conventional gym routines like strength-training or aerobics. One thing I know, you need to truly enjoy what you do for exercise to stick with it. Don’t be afraid to try new things and stick with it as much as you can, but realize that if something makes you miserable or you get nauseous thinking about that activity, you need to find something that works for you. Exercise releases endorphins  and is meant to make you naturally happy and almost high-feeling. If your routine isn’t doing that for you, something is very wrong.

Once you’ve found something that you like, it’s still not always easy to motivate yourself to actually get up and do it. After all, there is that episode of the Housewives of [insert suburban city/state here], or there’s some book you need to finish reading, or maybe you really need to call your sister and catch up. Heck, you haven’t flossed in awhile! Trust me, I’ve come up with the dumbest reasons not to go to the gym so I can really speak from experience when I say you sometimes need to trick yourself into getting excited. Here are some things that help me:

1. Go shopping: After you’ve picked an activity that makes you moderately happy, take yourself shopping for clothes or equipment that you can use. Pick some cute shoes! Buy some awesome sports bras! Get that pink thigh-master or those teal resistance bands. Pick things that you really like to look at, things you think are exciting or cool and could work in your routine. Once you’ve bought it, you’ll be more likely to actually put it to use and it’ll help build enthusiasm, especially when that girl with the great guns on the treadmill beside you leans over and says, “Nice shoes! Where’d you get them?”

2. Put the things you’ve purchased in a place you look at everyday: Arrange them in cute ways, any way that pleases you to look at. I have a hot pink yoga mat that I keep sprawled behind the couch. It doesn’t matter that I don’t actually use it at home, I like to look at it and it reminds me, “Oh, yeah! I have that class tonight!” If you have equipment in the back of your closet somewhere, haul it out and put it on display.

3. Make a gym buddy: Whether it’s that girl from work or your trusty iPod, come up with a supporter. Maybe making a playlist helps keep you focused while your running the track and makes you feel less awkward. There could be someone you haven’t even thought about who’s been meaning to go to the gym more often too. Keep your mind open and look for possibilities.

4. Tell people about it!: Ever joined a gym, refused to go, and then had someone say, “hey, how’s that gym membership working out for you? Didn’t you join one a few months ago?” Well, I have! It’s a great motivator. No one wants to say, “yeah, but I’m so lazy I never go.” I’ve told people on purpose when I started a new routine, hoping that they would ask me about it later and I would be motivated to keep it up just so I wouldn’t have to feel embarrassed. Also, this may help you find that wonderful gym buddy.

A Walk in the (Dog) Park

23 Feb

4. Walk the dogs more often

I should have expanded this goal to say something more like, “train the dogs to be healthier and happier.” First, I have two perfect dogs– one, a female mini Aussie named Luca and the other, a male Lab mix named Marco. Luca has intense energy and with all her shepherd intelligence, she can easily slip into overly-anxious or obsessive behavior. She definitely thinks that she knows what’s best and that independence is something I have to constantly keep under tabs. Marco, on the other hand, is easy. He’s laid back and highly trainable/obedient. However, he has some health problems, one of which being that he has no hips sockets and has had some pretty serious surgery to eliminate any resulting pain from his condition. He’ll never be an athletic dog but he can definitely run and play with the best of them.

Now, before I proceed to tell you how much time I spend training my dogs every day let me remind you:

1. That I am unemployed. 😀
2. There are numerous health benefits resulting from a close relationship with your dog.

Okay, confession time. I’m training my dogs all day in some form or another. We focus on them feeling comfortable and at ease in our home: not rushing to the door when they hear someone coming or feeling the need to follow me everywhere I go. They no longer dash out of every open door and they’re getting pretty good at not jumping on me or my husband when we come home. We practice walking for thirty minutes every other day to build trust and respect and they’ve learned to stay calm and enjoy exercise while listening to me.
I tell you all of this because I’ve tried something new and I want to share my advice but it’s important to know your dogs first and recognize that he/she may not be in the right mindset for it yet. So!

Before going to the dog park, here’s how I recommend you prepare yourself and your dog/s:

1.  Start taking them for walks and observe how your dogs respond to you. Do they listen unconditionally? Are they pulling you all over the place? If you don’t feel in control, I wouldn’t recommend tackling the challenge of the dog park just yet.
2. Try to bring your dog around strangers and other animals. Is he aggressive or extremely anxious? Does he continue to bark at them or refuse to let people pet him? If you observe your dog being unfriendly, it may be better to continue training for awhile.

If these behaviors are under control or totally absent, I think it’s time to take a trip to the park! Dog parks are helpful in training because they expose dogs to a variety of personality types and unfamiliar situations. Not only will the experience aid them in trusting you more, but it will force your dog into a state of balance. They’ll need to find common ground and set healthy boundaries with other dogs and they’ll also have an opportunity to learn. (My dogs learned that water is fun! No small feat.)

It’s not always as simple as walking in and unleashing to set all these benefits into motion, though. Like I said, I have an anxious and over-protective little girl so I had to do a little tricking to make everything kosher with her. Here are some things to try if you have a less-than-receptive dog:

1. Make sure you bring treats! Now, owner etiquette usually prohibits giving treats to other dogs without their owner’s permission but if you want to draw some attention and create common ground, open a bag of treats and watch the dogs gather around. This will give your dogs the chance to see you interact with the others in a familiar and positive way and will give them the clue that this is going to be a good experience. Also if, God forbid, a fight breaks out, a whiff of a treat will often distract the dogs from whatever is bothering them.
On this note, please don’t be alarmed if your dog growls or even “argues” (barking, growling, full-on focused) with another dog. It’s a very natural way of establishing the rules and dogs will work it out between themselves about 95% of the time. If doesn’t stop after a minute or so or it gets worse–treats!

2. Walk your dogs around the perimeter of the park. This sets a very physical and real boundary and it lets your dogs sniff and familiarize. You should see them relax almost immediately because walking with you is comforting (reminds them of something they know) and they’re getting the heads-up on who else is in the park. They can prepare this way.

3. Get to know the other owners. Not so much for social reasons but it definitely pays to pay attention to their behaviors. You can often tell a well-behaved dog from a bully this way. Do they stay close to their dogs? Do they ever call them out on naughty behaviors? Are their dogs jumping all over them? If so, you probably don’t want your dogs to play with theirs. It’s kind of like kids at a playground. If a kid is pulling his mom’s hair, he’s probably a brat.
Again, there’s some owner etiquette here. If you see someone’s dog misbehaving, it’s better just to get yours out of there than to tell the owner. It’s kind of like telling a parent they should discipline their kids better. Doesn’t usually go over well.

4. Bring water and bowls, if possible or necessary. Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t bring toys, though. Your dogs will not be happy when a boxer takes off with their favorite stuffed animal.

That’s all for now! I’m continuing to socialize my dogs and hope to add more tips in the near future. Also, pictures!