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If At First You Don’t Succeed

8 Jun

Morning, readers! Today is all updates leading up to a couple more posts this week so hang with me while I talk about doubt and trying again…and again…and sometimes again.

First, last week this blog broke 1,000 views! Hooray! It’s not a tremendous amount of readership but it’s a personal best. I can’t think of anything else I’ve written having that many reads so pause with me while I soak in that, admittedly unimpressive, accomplishment.

Kay! So this week has been a bit busier than usual– you know, by my unemployed-home-for-seventy-five-percent-of-the-day standards. Hubs and I visited my family this weekend where I got to break from Southern Pines-world and meet with an old friend from my hometown. At times it’s jarring to me that I don’t share the same closeness with some of my friends as before married life. Not that I would say we’ve drifted apart, but that it’s hard for me to describe what I do in my new life. If I say I went for tea, I describe the cafe because we no longer share the same coffee shops. If I say I’ve been meeting new friends at church, I feel the need to talk about the place and our choices and what those people are like because we don’t run in the same circles. It’s not a bad thing and sometimes it makes a friendship more interesting. You get to be completely surprised when you share a similar experience in totally separate ways.

But then there are people that I’ve truly lost touch with and suddenly wish that I hadn’t. I remember past moments when I told myself I wanted to be friends with him/her forever and I feel a pang of loss that I have to stop and mourn. Some of those losses are okay or even good and some make me feel like I’ve really messed up and my life will be less full because of it.

Anyway, then we came home and I spent most of Monday doing a deep clean that I’ve slipped into doing twice a week. Usually on Mondays and Fridays, I turn everything upside-down so I won’t have to take any of the quality time from our weekend to clean. That night I picked up some steaks to grill and we had a tiny date night while we finished watching some movies I rented on Sunday. Then at 9:50 we raced to the Blockbuster drop-off to avoid a late fee and slipped them in with two minutes to spare. Fun!

But the real news is that I’m officially trying my hand at growing vegetables again. It’s a little late for the ones we planted outside but since we have a handy-dandy sunroom, we decided it was still a good time to plant tomatoes in pots. My parents graciously donated the materials so we have some completely free food growing in our laundry room.

See?

Those are the cherry tomatoes. Aren’t they cute? We also have Roma tomatoes and a couple other, bigger species. I’ll probably have to stake the smaller ones and the bigger ones are already in cages but will need to be staked soon too.

And while I was shopping for potting mix, I decided to shop for ingredients for homemade dog treats. I snatched a simple recipe from the net that only needed oatmeal, whole wheat flour, water, vegetable oil, fresh mint and parsley, and garlic. No one had fresh parsley but I finally found the mint in Fresh Market and everything else was readily available. Got some cute cookie cutters from Wal-mart and a rolling pin.

What I forgot about this recipe is that it would be more like making bread than mixing brownies so I would say I was…pleasantly annoyed when I remembered that I would have to knead and roll the dough. Looking around, I decided that the dining table was the only suitable surface in the house so I cleared and washed it and then dragged out the memories of mom and grandma making breads and desserts to learn how to knead. At the end of the day, I had twenty treats and some dough left over which I froze. (I think you can do that.) They feel and break a lot like a sugar cookie–kinda hard but soft in the middle.

Presh?

The parsley and mint in this recipe help with breath and also upset tummies while the garlic aids in flea prevention. Pretty nifty right? Since the materials were really cheap and will last for a few batches, a bag of twenty cookies only winds up costing me around $2-3 a batch. I give the dogs one after each meal so this bunch will only last around 5 days. I’ll probably make a few batches this week while the mint is still fresh and freeze the rest.

Flowers for my girl and stars for my boy. See the mint and parsley?

Oh, yeah. And the dogs love them!

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Coming Soon: A Very Late Peek into this Week

2 May

I haven’t done a teaser post in a long time and I thought it was about time to bring it back. I don’t normally blog on Mondays; instead I usually clean for most of the day and take some time to research and write. Since Hubs is going to be late getting home today, though, I thought I’d use the time to announce some things.

Only have two planned happenings for this week so far. One, I’m going to be showing you my brand new and very small vegetable garden. If you’re not a gardener (yet), mine will not in any way embarrass or guilt you into starting something. It’s pretty humble for the moment.

Two, I’ll be launching a new project page which I’m calling The Brilliant Catalog. Where this part of my blogging is way more general and probably only appeals to people who actually know me, the catalog will be a sweeping catch-all for things that inspire me in art, science, religion, and some other things that make me feel vulnerable and impassioned. It’s mainly something I’m trying to boost how much time I actually spend on my craft. I think visually creating  a space to see these things and talk about them will make me more likely to weave them into writing. It should be fun so I’m pretty excited!

I’ll also be doing some community round-up for a book club I’m starting this week. It’ll be focused on Twenty-somethings and an exploration of contemporary literature in all its forms. I’m nervous but if I find even a couple good members, it’ll be really rewarding for me.

For now, I have some pictures to share for the Marco fans.

A face his mama loves to death.

For those of you who don’t know him, here’s his story: Hubs and I picked out Marco from an animal shelter when he was only a few months old. We don’t know for sure if he was a rescue or if someone just brought him there for decency’s sake but when we brought him home, he liked to hide under things. He would only come out from under the coffee table to eat or pounce on Luca so we named him Marco Polo (because we had to play a little hide and seek to find him, get it?). As he grew up, Will and I noticed two unusual things: one, there was a stripe expanding right down the middle of his nose and two, he wasn’t a very active puppy. When he was around five or six months old, we took him to the vet in concern for his reluctance to go on walks and told the vet that he seemed like he was hurting. The vet gave him a quick physical exam and chalked it up to growing pains which are common in large breed dogs.

Well, after Will and I picked him up from the vet where we boarded him for the wedding, Marco came home and played too hard in the yard. He collapsed and we couldn’t move or touch him without hurting him. We knew it was serious when he whined because he’d never done it before, no matter how much he seemed uncomfortable. A couple x-rays later and the vet confirmed that Marco had a rare condition in which he was born without hip sockets. A consult with a surgeon gave us only one option: an FHO operation that would remove one of his ball joints and stop the pain in that leg. With a whole bunch of loving prayers and donations from friends and family and even some people we’d never met, Marco had the surgery within a month of his diagnosis and started to recover pretty quickly. Today he’s still a little lazy but he can run and play when he wants to without pain or discomfort and the whole journey has definitely been worth it.

Okay, I mentioned last week that Hubs and I volunteer together at the Humane Society and it was there that we learned just how fortunate Marco was to meet us. Black dogs are usually the last to be adopted from shelters and are often put down or left in the care of shelter volunteers for years, some living their whole lives in a kennel as we saw was the case with one unlucky girl at our local center. Among animal adoption circles, this phenomenon is called the Black Dog Syndrome.

Black dogs are hard to photograph because their features tend to blend in and for some reason, they automatically look more aggressive or undesirable to potential adopters. However, dogs don’t know how they look to humans or even how they sound and some of these not-so breathtaking animals are the perfect companions. Marco, for example, has more markings than the average black dog but his colors indicate an aggressive breed which couldn’t be less true of him. While he may be intimidating to look at and even sounds a bit scary with his deep bark and a growl that he uses to talk to everyone, Marco is a bit of a Ferdinand. He loves all people and is gentle with other dogs and especially children. Oh, how he loves kids, even teeny-tiny ones that hold on to him while they learn to walk. I’ve seen him smell and lick and a baby’s fingers before. He doesn’t know that he looks scary, he just has a gentle heart.

I take a lot of photos of our boy because in a way, he’s the perfect spokesdog for shelter animals and especially black dogs. He’s a dog that probably very few people would have taken on, much less likely that they would have invested hundreds of dollars in medical care for him, but he’s a perfect and sweet dog who really only wants to please and be hugged…and occasionally eat inappropriate things. Dogs like Luca who are beautiful and energetic are easy to love but if you can learn to love a Marco, there’s a really deep reward.

In some ways, he’s even more beautiful and precious to me than our Aussie Princess.

Remember, black dogs need love too.

Luca the Jumper

20 Apr

The princess, sitting pretty.

Today I’ve got to dish about my constant work-in-progress–my mini Aussie, Luca.

She’s a great dog and many of my readers have met her so you may know that she has a very lovable, playful personality. Australian Shepherds are among the most intelligent breeds of dogs, right beside their more popular cousins, Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs. With all her smarts, she stays out of trouble and instinctively guides other dogs to do the same, herding them at the dog park when things get to be too much for her liking. Aussies, specifically, are known for being independent and intuitive animals. She learns what I like and does that without being told and even more than that, she can also read my movements and feelings to predict what I’m about to do. On our walks, she knows I want to turn around before I do it or she can feel when I’m sick, often licking places where I hurt.

In many ways, she’s the perfect companion but the cost of her intelligence is that she’s very high maintenance. It’s a very common drawback to having a smart dog, actually. Although she’s easily trainable, I have to manage her energy because sometimes she’ll put all her mental powers to work on an activity that’s not totally healthy for her.  For instance, her favorite past time (or what would be her favorite if I allowed it) is watching out our window and barking at everything that passes…for hours. Since she knows better than to do something negative like chewing up things, she fixates on things that her instincts tell her are good things for me. Unfortunately for my little girl, she just doesn’t have an off switch for those instincts and the only thing I can do to help her relax is play with her and exercise her.

I’m slowly learning some activities and routines that really seem to help her stay calm but today I specifically want to talk about something that I’ve nearly mastered with her and something you may have an issue with as well.

Luca likes to jump on people.

A lot of dogs have this problem and I suspect that there may be different triggers for different dogs. For Luca, there’s a problem that will never go away.  Luca is a very pretty and friendly dog. Which means that when people see her, they automatically get excited and try to approach her. If Luca was a more mellow dog, this probably wouldn’t be as much of a problem but since she has such a high energy level to begin with, when she senses that other people are excited to see her, it just takes that energy overboard. She barks happily and tries to put her front paws on people, almost shoving them.

I’ve also noticed that some days Luca is very nervous when she does this. She’s panting heavily and barking sometimes when she tries to randomly jump on me. This usually happens after I’ve been gone for awhile and I come home and ignore her. Sometimes ignoring her makes her calm down more quickly but other times it really makes it worse.

Here are the things that I’ve found generally help her not to jump on people:

I guide them into the house through an area where I can control her: I try to bring people to the back door because it’s an easier area for me to block her from jumping. I have to put myself between her and our guests and send her away by pointing away and telling her no. Basically all this does is tell her that people coming in are my people and she’s not allowed to jump on those who belong to me. I also try to tell our guests to pretend that the dogs aren’t there…which is hard for anyone. After they’ve cooled down a little, they can give them affection.

I try to remind people not to knock: Both our dogs respond strongly to knocking or ringing and that’s not really a bad thing. Loud noises should put a dog on alert but right now, it’s better for Luca not to get that intense. Instead I listen and watch for people to arrive and I meet them outside  for the ritual above.

I speak very quietly to the dogs when I come home: I don’t make eye contact with either, I just put my hands down for them sniff and whisper my greetings. Then I keep going about my business. As Cesar will tell you, an excited greeting is great for a child but not so much for a dog. They really don’t need to be consoled when you come home and they can sense that you’re happy to see them without any words.

We practice the wait command: Which is basically “stay.” Luca will do this when no one is approaching right now but loses her mind when people come in. We’re working on this, though.

Just so you know and you don’t feel discouraged about your own situation, this whole not-jumping operation has been in the works for about a year. Some dogs can learn not to behave a certain way in a matter of days or weeks but when the behavior is instinct-deep, it might be something you have to manage every day for the rest of that dog’s life. You just have to remind yourself that what’s annoying for you is probably unhealthy for your companion and is worth the time and effort.

By the way, I don’t have a single submission for a guest post. Pleeeease? Please send me some help? I’ll love you forever!

The monkey sleeping on his giant bed.

Things to Try With Your Vet-Shy Dog

13 Apr

As some of you probably already know, I have to take my little Marco to the vet pretty often for check-ups. Because every time he goes there he has an unpleasant experience (like that time he got neutered, or the time he got his ball joint removed, or that time I had to board him for the wedding), he naturally associates the building and people with pain or discomfort. When I took him in February to have his thyroid checked and he growled at his vet, I knew I had to start re-wiring his perception of the place. If you have a similar problem with your dog getting cranky in new or uncomfortable places, I hope these things can help you too:

Marco really is a cute boy. I don't care what you say about his ears.

Take a bag of treats with you and reward your dog every time he allows someone to handle him. This is the ultimate trick for re-training your dog to think of something as a good experience. Nothing has more power over a dog than his sense of smell and the taste of food so it makes sense that it’s the best way to change a dog’s behavior. Find out what your dog’s favorite treat is and be sure you give it to him any time he cooperates. If he’s really on edge, he may not immediately take the treat. This is because a dog is actually only able to focus one thing at a time. If something terrifies him, he can’t think about the food until his fears are calmed. Just be patient and wave the treat under his nose until the smell distracts him. After that, it should be a piece of cake.

Also in the smell vein–think about wearing lavender-scented lotion or perfume. Just like for humans, the smell is relaxing for dogs and can take the edge off if you have an extra sensitive pet. The same idea can apply for any space, too. If you’re boarding your dog or taking him somewhere unfamiliar, rubbing some lavender scented oil on his bed or on a blanket can be soothing.

Watch for radial dominance. I don’t know that this is the actual term for it so let me describe what I mean. Sometimes when a dog is in an uncomfortable area, he will try to control what’s around him and will establish a certain radius where other dogs or people aren’t allowed. He can also tie this radius to you, thinking that he needs to keep a protective circle around your position. This is very natural for a dog and is close to what they would do as a pack animal in unfamiliar territory. If you notice your dog is sitting very alertly by your feet and shows a little aggression when people approach, just get up and take him for a quick walk around the room/building/area. He’ll stop worrying and become immersed in smelling and being curious. Curious is good and positive for a dog. It’s always the direction that you want to direct your dog when he’s showing fearful aggression.

If your dog is still tense, give him some mental exercise. While I’m walking my dog around the room, I’ll make him sit before we go in or out a door. I’ll pick things up around the office and let him smell them or let him do a trick for a treat. You could possibly take a chew toy or one of those toys that makes dogs work for the treat. Anything you can do to keep him focused on something he likes will keep him completely happy.

I tried all of these things last weekend when I took Marco in for another check-up and I’m pleased to say that there was minimal growling and he even got played with some children in the office and greeted a pet pig. So give them a try next time your furry friend is having trouble adjusting.

Sorry for the leave of absence, everyone. I’m back as much as I can be now. This may be a shorter week than usual but I have some personal issues to work out in the coming weeks and it kinda needs to take priority. Hopefully this will all result in some wonderful wisdom that I can pass down to you later. 🙂

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!