Monday, June 29, 2009

Should I Relax, or be Productive?

"What did you accomplish this weekend?"
I hear that question almost as much as I ask it. Did I have a productive weekend, I wonder? And why is it I feel that I have to have accomplished a great deal not only during the week, but also on Saturday and Sunday? Whatever happened to a relaxing weekend, or even keeping the Sunday as a day of rest?

I'm not a workaholic, perfectionist or Type A personality. But I also don't enjoy puttering or sitting around and I hate having the television on during the day. Like many people, I guess I don't really know how to relax. Does a vacation sound relaxing? I know few people who come home from a vacation feeling anything but absolutely exhausted (and facing piles of laundry to do.) When I go home to visit family in Vermont, I am so short of time I try to pack everything in and visit everyone, and end up having little quality time with anyone. The only real vacation I took was to Disneyworld, where we woke up early every morning, followed an itinerary to make sure we experienced the most desired shows and rides, and stayed out until well after midnight, walking from parks to bus stops to hotels until our feet ached. I'm sure there are some vacationers out there who know how to sit on the beach, bask in the sun, enjoy leisurely dinners and come home refreshed, but I've never met one.

So, just like vacation time, I've never considered having a purely leisurely weekend. This past weekend I cleaned the fridge, went to a high school graduation, shopped for my church's 200th Birthday Party celebration, not to mention regular tasks such as cooking meals and walking the dog. Sunday I went to church, worked outside, weeded the garden, organized a closet, critiqued some stories, and called Mom.

I wonder if I can re-train my thinking. Can I ever feel good about abandoning the To-Do list and putting my feet up, visiting with an old friend, swaying on the garden swing with my husband, spitting watermelon seeds with my son, throwing a stick to my dog?

Maybe, in a way of thinking, that's productive.

What I Learned from My Dog: Appreciate every moment of every day. Kelly runs down the stairs, ears flopping, tail wagging. She picks up a toy joyfully. She doesn't do anything really important. But she is there in each moment, living it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Doing a Good Job

Six days a week we receive an unpleasant visitor. Armed with potentially desirable offerings, this visitor marches up to our front door, reaches into his bag, and then carelessly hands off what is rightfully mine.

We call him Grouchy Mailman.

Grouchy Mailman apparently doesn't like our mailbox. We live in a 100 year old house. There is a wonderful small door beside the front door, a tiny door with insulated sides which originally served as a milk box. (See the picture above. This is Hudson, our yellow lab, trying to fit out the milk box door!!) For more than 20 years, our newspaper and mail have been slid into the milk box, which I can open from another tiny door inside the enclosed front porch, allowing me to collect the mail without having to step outside in my pajamas.

But Grouchy Mailman decided that it was too much effort to be sure the mail fit into this box, so he began simply dropping my mail to the ground beside the steps. More than once I had to chase an envelope caught in the breeze. Since I conduct business through the mail, with vital communications from editors and--more importantly--pay checks, I was not pleased to think of what might be blowing away down the street.

I am not big on confrontation, but finally decided to nicely ask Grouchy Mailman to be sure my mail got into the box. After all, if it was big enough for a few bottles of milk, surely it was big enough for my envelopes. Not to mention, since I work from home, if something was too big to fit in my milk box mail box, he could have rang the bell and handed me the envelope in a jiffy. But my talk with G.M. did not go well. He flat out refused to turn the envelopes sideways, all that would have taken to make sure taller envelopes fit without falling out.

I suppose I could have called the post office and spoken to his supervisor. Maybe even should have. But I imagined this would have made G.M. even grouchier, and my mail might have suffered a far worse fate. So I ignored the little voice that said I was right, bought a new mailbox, and mounted it above our quaint old milk door. Now, at least, the mail is not on the ground.

Then I was talking with my mother-in-law, who lives across town, and she was telling me about her postal worker. He brings her stamps and lets her give him cash for them, asks her if she needs anything. He goes out of his way to smile and say hello and good morning. And recently, after having her mail held while she was away for a few weeks, he brought it to her personally when she returned, without having to go through any paperwork, so she wouldn't have to stand in line at the post office. He checks to make sure the seniors in the neighborhood are okay. I imagine G.M. would rush by, figuring it was none of his concern.

I know, our jobs aren't always a barrel of fun every day. Maybe Grouchy Mailman's back hurts. Maybe he got chased by a dog. But he's not helping himself by having a bad attitude. We can dread each day and grumble and complain. I do that sometimes. But we can also take the very same situation and put our heart into it and ask God to use us in some way that will honor him. I always ask God to guide my words as I write.

I like to think of these two mailmen; mine and my mother-in-laws. One grumbling and giving poor service, and the other smiling and seeking ways to go above and beyond to help others. Same job. Same town. Similar circumstances. Different attitude.

God, please don't let me be a grouchy mailman today.

What I Learned From my Dog: Kelly must be a good judge of character. She doesn't like the mailman either.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't Leave Me

Does this scene sound familiar? You’re getting ready to go out on an errand, pick up your pocketbook and your keys, and your dog appears out of nowhere, parks herself in front of the door and stares up at you with eyes that could melt a snowman. Or, he dances around your ankles, jumps up on your legs, and begs you not to leave in that way known best to dogs.

Kelly wants to be with me wherever I go. But worse, when I leave, she lies by the front door and waits dejectedly until I return. Although this devotion is sweet, I feel bad for her. In a way, I kind of wish she’d be like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, dancing around the house and having wild fun while I’m away. It makes me sad to think she’s just lying by the door pining away. It’s nice to be loved, but Kelly has separation anxiety.

I work from home, so my dog and I are together all day. She lies by my feet as I type. She follows me into the kitchen and up and down the stairs. We take breaks to walk and play fetch. Granted, I need her as much as she needs me. My kids are grown up and out of the house. She’s my little girl. But, like all moms, I want her to be happy and well adjusted.

I’ve considered buying another dog, so she could have a playmate. But Kelly thinks she should be the only dog in the world. She doesn’t always get along well with other dogs. For the same reason, doggy play groups are out.

It’s not that I leave her often, but when I do, I’d like her to feel confident that she’ll be fine while I’m away. I haven’t gone on a vacation in a long while, but I would like to. If Kelly is upset when I leave for a few hours, how will she handle my being away for a few days? The last time we took a trip to visit our daughter out of state, we brought Kelly along. We kept her in her crate when we went out to dinner. But Kelly barked the whole time and upset the neighbors in the apartment complex. If only she’d known to keep quiet for that brief time, she would have earned the opportunity to join us on the trip again. Now that option is closed.

There are many joys in pet ownership and many concerns. I will continue to search for ways to ease her anxiety and make adjustments easier. After all, I would like to visit my daughter again.And I'd like Kelly to know I'll always return home to her.

What I Learned From my Dog: The love of a dog is special and sweet. But Kelly reminds me that part of my responsibility is to foster a sense of security, and patience, too.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bugging Out

Check out this bug! Does anyone know what it is?

This bug was a little friend I found in the driveway last weekend. It didn't move while I watched it, but when I looked away and came back, it was gone. I love spotting nature in the city. It's always a surprising treat. Here are some of the animals I've seen around my house:

ribbon snakes
mourning doves
the thing that lives under the garage

Although I love all animals, some of these I'm not especially crazy to see in my yard. I love watching the squirrels. They tease Kelly and climb up a tree and hide, making clicking noises to taunt her. She stares up into the branches and barks, but never can find them.

Tell me about the wildlife in your backyard!

What I Learned From My Dog: Despite fascinating wildlife, a dog is still the best animal of all. Kelly only had to look at me with her big brown eyes to show me that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Baby Bird Returns to the Nest

The baby falcons are flying! They can fly!
I've blogged a lot about the baby Peregrine Falcons, nesting under a bridge in my NY hometown. Thanks to the DEC, I've been able to watch them in their nesting box, hatching, growing, testing their wings, and now flying!

Sadly, there is a parallel between Mama Falcon's plight and my life. Last year I wrote several articles about my son flying the nest--he was a freshman at RPI. I cried, I worried, I stressed out. Then I got used to it. Even enjoyed it.

Now, my baby bird is back home.

It's tricky navigating the strange new relationship between adult child and parent when the child comes back to the nest. Is it still okay to ask him where he's going and when he'll be back? (I still do!) Should I wait up for him? (Good thing I"m a night owl.) Sometimes he snaps when I ask him to pick up his room, then the next thing I know he’s sprawled next to me on the couch, trying to snuggle with his 6-foot tall frame. If I try to talk about something deep, however, the moment’s gone.

My son is working this summer. He doesn't mind when I pack him a bag lunch. But last week he was offended when I put his new allergy pill in a plastic sandwich bag, labeled TAKE AT NOON.

"I don't need my mommy to give me a little baggy with a little note attached," he whined.

The other night as I was climbing up the stairs to go to bed, I asked him to let the dog in.


After I brushed my teeth and got ready, and still no Kelly curled up in her little doggy bed by my closet door, I called down again.


Maybe I’m not putting a lot of faith in my son’s retention ability, but I couldn’t sleep until I knew Kelly was in. So eventually I stomped down the stairs and let her in. My son was sprawled out on the couch watching Craig Ferguson, enjoying his midnight snack.

“I didn’t know you meant NOW,” he said.

What is it about that makes parents think what they say is totally clear, while their child hears something totally different? Has this ever happened to you?

So I think we’ll have some challenges this summer. But for the most part it’s all good. We’re learning about each other. We enjoy playing cards, and going to the lake as a family.

And, it’s only 65 days, 3 hours and 28 minutes until next school year.

What I Learned From my Dog: Teenage dogs don’t think what you say is ridiculous, or what you wear is dorky, or refuse to do what you tell them. Perfect!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seriously, are you STILL sleeping?

Can one dog really sleep this much? Sheesh! I mean, Kelly certainly bears truth to the saying "sleep like a dog." I was worried about how much she sleeps during the day, so I did a little research. It turns out that most dogs sleep 12-14 hours a day. That made me feel a little better. But Kelly produces more than her share of zzzzz's. She might be on her way to setting the all time record for dog napping.

Since I work from home, I feel it's my responsibility to try to get Kelly active during the day. I take her on at least one long walk. I play with her in the yard. And I toss a ball for her to fetch. The thing is, Kelly doesn't like to play unless I generate the enthusiasm. I have to throw the ball, then say "Get it, get it, get it!" and chase after it myself.

Not that I can't use the exercise, but times like these I wish she had a little neighbor friend to knock on our door and ask "Can Kelly come out and play?"

Speaking of dogs sleeping, this video of a man singing puppies to sleep is so sweet!

Well, Kelly is snoring on the couch now, and it's a beautiful sunny day, so I think I'll wake her up and go out for our walk. Because if I don't, I might consider joining her and take a nap for myself.

What I Learned from My Dog: Sometimes we don't feel like exercising or being active. We could use a friend to encourage us. When I see Kelly playing, her ears bouncing and that spring in her step, I know she's enjoying it, and it's good for her too!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Doggy Paddling

Does your dog love to swim, or is he afraid of the water? When I was in high school, I worked grooming five gorgeous Newfoundlands for a local breeder. The owner was away on vacation, and I came every day and combed out those huge dogs, each one shedding a massive mound of hair. I would groom them outside on their deck. In the distance was a little pond on the property. Every time I had those dogs out on the deck, one of them invariably broke free and headed straight for the pond, where they just stood in the middle. They loved water that much! Once, one was in the house and even went right through the screen on the sliding glass door to get to the pond!

Our Yellow Lab Hudson loved to swim. He was a strong swimmer, and with his thick hide, he could tolerate the cold water in the early spring and late fall. Watching him swim was a pleasure.

Kelly loves the water too, but she's more of a princess about it. At first she's a little hesitant to get her pretty feet wet. Then she gets going, but her splashing isn't pretty. I don't think she has the stamina to last very long. But she does enjoy a nice dip on a hot summer day.

What I Learned from My Dog: If you really love something, go for it and give it all you got. But if you're only mildly enthusiastic, it's okay to dabble, too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Like a Bassett Hound at a Picnic

As we all sat under the soaring white tent, clapping and swaying along to the spirited worship band, a soaking rain shower dowsed the field around us. Would the sun come out in time to shine on our annual church picnic?

Well good news, it did.

But first we enjoyed a longer-than-usual, uplifting service with plenty of music, good messages, and as a friend commented "Just enough mistakes to make it real." This is an annual event at our church, although this year we had the added benefit of celebrating our church's 200th anniversary. I wrote and produced a bicentennial historical commemorative for the event, (along with my husband, who interviewed one of the oldest members of our congregation, and was the graphic lay-out genious of the operation.) It's filled with copies of historical documents, old photographs, and important dates and historical details. With a first run printing of 400 copies, we were happy to be able to hand out a book to each member of the congregation.

Okay, but onto the picnic! The food was fabulous-- bbq chicken, roasted pork, hot dogs, and four long tables filled with everyone's favorite dishes brought along to share. I bypassed yummy creamy potato salads, jello and whipped cream concoctions, and cheesy casseroles to opt for more health-conscious green salads, an interesting cold sweet potato and corn salad, and a whole grain pasta with veggies.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the dessert tent! These people can bake! Beautiful cakes of every size and shape, many decorated to celebrate our church's 200th birthday, brownies, cookies, and pies too. Fortunately there was enough fruit to keep those of us on a diet happy. Well, fairly happy. Okay, I did snitch one small brownie square.

A few people brought their dogs along for the picnic. I saw the most adorable Bassett Hound. But Kelly stayed home. When we returned, she acted like I'd left her for a month. I rewarded her with a game of fetch.

What I Learned From My Dog: This is going to be What I Learned from the Basset Hound at the picnic: Staring up at someone with food in their hand--quietly staring without blinking your with huge, sad, brown eyes--usually results in a handout. It doesn't hurt to have long floppy ears either.