Puppy School– Day 1

Buddy had his first canine good citizen class tonight. I am counting it a success that we didn’t get kicked out yet. I am not fully confident that it might not happen next week.

It was a small group, just Buddy, two other dogs in the class, and the trainer’s dog. Thank goodness there weren’t any more there tonight or Buddy might have completely exploded! You see Buddy likes to play. He’s a big fan of other dogs, as long as he can chase, wrestle, and more recently, try to mate with them. Trying to work separately on basic skills causes his little mind to overload and for him to simply quake with anxiety.

The plan for the night was to start with practicing loose leash walking. That’s a tough one for Buddy. Add in the other dogs in the room and that his foolish human was remembering to use the clicker and praise, but failing to consistently provide treats, and we weren’t getting very far. The class was held in a large gym in the local high school. Every time we got in the same within 20 feet of one of the other dogs Buddy would start to pull and whine and move into a full on bark. “MOM, LET ME PLAY!” and we’d need to turn and go the other way.

Then the trainer suggested that we work together on stay. I explained that Buddy and I had worked on stay quite a bit and that just yesterday he started a strange new response. Every time I say “stay” he confuses it with “lay down” and he lays down. The trainer gave it a try and sure enough each time she said stay, he laid down. When he didn’t get a treat for laying down he tried rolling over to see if that might work. She suggested that we start over with that piece of training and gave me some guidance on doing a short stay and using a release word. But, by now Buddy was far too entranced with the other dogs in the room and cared almost nothing for treats, not even the really good ones. She encouraged me to treat him for just being quiet.

So, Buddy and I found our corner of the room and just worked on a little bit of sit, stay, lay down, and look, while mostly just getting praise and treats for every moment that he was able to let another dog near us without whining and barking.

Thank goodness for that last bit of the hour together when the trainer let us all let our dogs off leash and Buddy was free to play. Still, that wasn’t all the best either. First of all, gym floors are really hard to get a grip on if you’re a bumbling puppy trying to speed after the big guys. Buddy did a lot of slipping and sliding and at least one flip that I think may have worried the other people in the room for a moment. Then there were Buddy’s teenage hormones. Thankfully, all the young lady dogs had already been spayed. Buddy will be neutered soon, but for now is still testing his manhood as much as possible.

We’ve got some work to do. But, for now Buddy is a happy and tired puppy. School was quite the adventure! More stories next week!

Sweet Holidays

About one and a half years ago I changed my diet. I didn’t go on a diet. In my experience, diets are almost always temporary fixes that don’t lead to long term solutions. I opted instead to change the foods I eat for a lifetime in order to live longer and better with hopes that it would help decrease my seizures and help with the bouts of depression that I’d been facing.

I worked with an old friend who now is a medical professional to test my food allergies. We found nine. Not surprisingly, most were things that I was eating daily, things like potatoes and cane sugar. I was craving these items just like any other addict would crave the substances that harm them. So, my list of harmful substances in hand I cleaned out my kitchen and began again.

It was tough at first, but I began to quickly see the benefits and they kept me going. Over time I lost 50lbs, found greater energy, began to be able to sleep through the night again, felt mentally clearer, and stopped needing to run to the bathroom every two hours. The change of eating habits definitely has helped my life a great deal. It’s hard to say whether it’s cut my seizures or not, but I’m down to about one a year which is much better than bouts of them every few months where I was a few years ago.

Over the holidays I decided to try an experiment to see how my body has healed in the last one and a half years. I decided that while I was visiting family for the week between Christmas and New Year’s that I wouldn’t stick with my healthy food choices. I wouldn’t go overboard, but I would allow myself things like sugary Christmas cookies and cheesy potatoes if I wanted them.

It is amazing to me the impact that food has on our bodies. There were many meals this past week that told me immediately that they weren’t right for me. I wondered how I handled the food roller coaster for the first forty-five years of my life. I’d find myself eating some food that I’d once loved; processed macaroni and cheese, buttered noodles from Noodles and Company, rice crispy bars, all these heavily processed, sugar laden, super carb foods that were one minute tasty on the tongue and the next causing me to say “ugghhh, I should not have done that.” Food should not elicit that kind of response.

Over the week I found that most of my allergens I can live with or without and not care too much, but there is that one demon. Yes, you probably guessed it, sugar. I am only allergic to cane sugar, but just eliminating that from my diet significantly cut my overall sugar use. When I reintroduced it this past week, I suddenly found myself reaching for more and more Christmas cookies even though I knew that within the hour I’d want a nap. Every day I slept for about an hour in the afternoon. Every night I got up at least once. I could see and feel the changes in my complexion and just my body overall even in just nine short days. And, the cravings were amazing. It is a strange thing to find myself thinking about the next cookie or piece of chocolate or whatever.

I am glad that I did the experiment and glad to be home and going back to my normal way of eating. I’ll probably be juice fasting for a few days to rid myself of toxins. Then, I hope I can keep passing all the sugary processed stuff everywhere and get back to being healthy. Wishing you all the best of health in the new year.

The New Year

It’s probably been more than 30 years now since my father and I made that trip to Canada. I remember sitting in passenger seat asking Dad about the old days. I wanted to know about his life, about where he’d come from and how he’d become the man he was. He told me stories of my grandfather who I’d never had the good fortune to meet. Grandpa died in 1935 following an appendicitis attack. My father was seven years old and emulated grandpa who was a well respected dairy farmer in the area.

It was in that conversation so many years ago that I asked my dad about what he wanted to do with his life. He told me about wanting to be a dairy farmer like his father had been. He told me about how life had gotten in the way of following his dream. He made choices, choices that were difficult but that he felt were right. He set his dream aside for marriage and children. He chose a full time job off the farm to keep his growing family fed and clothed. He put his family first and though he did crop farming he never got cows.

When I looked into his eyes and saw the sadness of a dream never realized I made a decision that defined my life. I decided in that moment that I would never look back on my life to see I hadn’t fully lived.

That decision has led me to living in eight different towns in three different states, leading community organizing efforts and fighting multinational corporations, traveling on three continents, hiking hundreds of miles, and now working at a university.

It’s been good so far, but recently watching my now aged father and a much younger family member who’s been dealing with major health issues, I’ve been thinking. My life has become rather routine and there is much to do, to see, to learn. It seems a year to write down some of those things that I’d like to have happen as a reminder to myself and a public commitment. So, here it goes. Presuming that I succeed with my efforts, there will undoubtedly be updates throughout the year. I hope you’ll read on and share the experience with me. I wish you the best in the new year! Here’s what I’ll be doing to grow.

  1. Writing at least 50 blog posts (here’s the 1st one!)
  2. Reading/ listening to 50 books ( I’m starting with “The Education of Will” by Patricia McConnell and “38 Nooses” by Scott W. Berg)
  3. Getting back on track with my healthy eating habits
  4. Running a 10k or 1/2 marathon (I haven’t decided yet, but I know more than 5k and probably not a full)
  5. learn to play guitar
  6. finish at least 3 or 4 knitting projects
  7. Get Buddy started with his therapy dog training
  8. Cutting my screen time significantly, especially facebook time

Those are my big goals for the year. My hope is that these will bring me more happiness along with some new skills, improved physical health, knowledge, and some cool projects. I hope you’ll find positive growth in the new year as well. Take good care!

Small Dogs

I don’t like small dogs. Let’s just start it that way. I mean I’m not one of those actively anti-small dog people who really wants to boot them down the street, but I don’t like small dogs or at least that’s what I thought.

I am a fan of big dogs. My last dog was a bit over 50lbs, not huge but a big dog and she was perfect to me.

So, when I went to get a puppy a few months ago I looked at the big puppies. I scanned the shelter websites ignoring anybody who was clearly going to run the risk of growing up to be a yappy little ankle biter. Then, I made the big trip to the Lakes Area Humane Society and met Buddy. He was a big little guy so he fit the bill, right? Well, there was the question of the paws. There is a commonly held belief that a dog’s size can be determined by the size of their paws. Buddy has small paws.

Hmm… what to do? Well, there really was no question. How could I say no to the happy little guy scampering all over my lap, clearly just loving life? I chose not to pay too much attention to the paws and instead listen to the shelter staff person who told me that they believed he probably had lab and husky in his mix. He wouldn’t be huge, but he’d be a big dog.

We met up with my friend Bob later that day. He noted the paws and commented that Buddy may not get very big. I remained in denial with my commitment to his lab and husky traits.

Looking at various puppy weight calculators, most estimate that Buddy will someday weigh about 60lbs. He’s five months now and just under 30lbs and stands at about knee height to me. A trainer friend told me just the other day that at five months, he’s likely to only grow another two or three inches. While I have seen some tools that suggest he could grow as much as four inches, I am beginning to strongly suspect that my already sturdy little dude may someday strongly resemble a barrel. I think I may be the caretaker of a short, round canine for life.

Right now his tail is big for him and his head is already a bit small for his body. I’m pretty sure that no matter how much he grows, he’s going to be a unique looking fellow. I appreciate that. One of the great roles that dogs play in life is that they teach us about love and acceptance. He’s already doing that, it seems I am falling in love with someone that I wouldn’t have expected in this four legged goofball wonder. Stay tuned to find out who he may grow up to be.

Transitions

I had a dream a few days ago.  It’s that time of year when the dreams come to the surface and I have to ask myself where the stories are coming from.  It’s strange sometimes being a white girl who’s had the good fortune of having traveled with traditional Anishanaabe people.  It makes the questions much tougher, the more you know about yourself the more questions that you have sometimes. 

Anyway, in my dream I’d gone home and was visiting my 90 year old father and while there he passed on in my arms.  It wasn’t a nightmare, not at all.  In the dream, I got to say my goodbyes, watch the life leave his eyes, and hear the death gurgle as I lay his head down on the pillow.  It was gentle and it was ok.  He was ready to move on and see those who he misses and hasn’t seen in many years. 

It’s a strange thing to have a dream like that.  Dad is still kicking.  I talked to him later that day, told him I love and that I see him in my siblings and my nieces and nephews.  I think perhaps the dream was a reminder to let him know that even when he’s gone, he’ll still be here.  We won’t forget him.  He has made all the difference in our lives. 

Still it’s a hard time.  Dad has been graced with good health and a strong mind for most all of his life.  In his ninth decade he’s slowing and his mind isn’t working as it once did.  I find myself wondering how to deal with this.  I want to go home and see him for the holidays and at the same time I want to see the man that I knew when I was growing up and he’s gone. 

The man who taught me so much no longer recognizes some of the people and places that he’s known for years some days.  He doesn’t have Alzheimers or anything like that or at least nothing has been diagnosed.  He has old age. He knows that his mind isn’t working as it used to.  He misses his memory and his cognitive capabilities.  As his mind leaves, it is almost as if who he was is already dying while his shell remains. He is getting to mourn his own death while we watch it together. 

I am reminded that death is not all about sadness.  It is about a transition to the next phase.  I wonder how this transition goes?  How do I simply sit with this both feeling the sadness and being open to the joys.  I suspect that there must be joy and other feelings too.  It’s just a question of feeling them.  


Hardening

Is it becoming hardened to the world?  Is that what’s happened? Is it ok?  Is it a good thing?  Does it need to be addressed?

I went to see the movie “The Hate You Give” a couple weeks ago.  A woman I knew was there with a friend of hers and their teenage kids.  The adults were talking about how one of the kids had absolutely devoured the book and questioning how they’d respond to the movie.  The kids loved the movie. They also seemed to have the power to take it in as both normal and fiction.  I found myself questioning whether I could have done that in the same nonchalant way when I was their age.  I suspect not.  I’m guessing I would have been troubled.  Though I do kind of wonder about their power.  After all, I was busy being troubled by many things as a teenager that I had no words for, but they looked at ease. 

Then I look at myself.  My work hosted a discussion last night on the prevention of sexual violence and sex trafficking.  We had a good room full of people and excellent facilitators.  They shared some powerful research about what’s happening in Minnesota.  I found myself looking about the room at all the students and other community members and wondering “how many here have been affected?” but not really feeling. 

This isn’t new.  I’ve been doing community organizing in one form or another for nearly 30 years now.  There was a time when discussions like that of last night would have sent me off in anger to organize, to take part in a rally, to do something.  Now, sometimes I just sit and reflect and don’t feel the anger or the sadness or maybe I do, it’s just deeper where I don’t see it. 

I still do work.  It looks different.  I spend a lot of time with college students asking them how they’ve been sustaining themselves.  I measure the invitations to get involved in local efforts and choose the ones that I believe will build community while addressing issues of concern. 

You know it does frighten me that I or those teenagers can look at any form of violence and see it as part of the place and time in which we live and not be at least a bit angry, heartbroken, and fearful.  We deserve better.  

Hardening is a form of protecting self, but isn’t softening that as well? How can we be both soft and pliable and strong to face the painful realities? That’s the ongoing question.   I keep working for an answer.


Snapshots and Goodbyes

Somewhere in the stacks of photo albums and boxes of loose pictures that fill my life there is a photo of me at probably about four years old. I’m wearing a red shirt with sailboats, blue pants, and I suspect my saddle shoes though I don’t think they were visible in the picture.  My hair is a mess, but that’s been true since I was two and it started to appear on my head.  My head is tilted back and arm outstretched, reaching up to embrace my Dad who’s smiling down at me as I’m sitting on his lap at the kitchen table.  

I found myself thinking about that photo again last night after talking with my sister JoAnn.  She’d called to see if I’d talked with Dad lately.

Dad was probably about 47 in that picture, my age now.  He was living a full life.  He worked hard between his job at the power plant, farming, selling seed corn, raising a family, and just trying to live the life his beliefs told him was right and good.  He also had a lot to smile about good friends, good family, a good life all in all. 

He still has a lot of those things at 90.  Some of the family is gone, but we’ve added a lot more too.  Many of his friends have passed on, but some are still here and some of the children of others remain and still care about him. He is a lucky one to be surrounded by caring people.

So, why thinking about the photo? Well, JoAnn called to ask how Dad was doing when I talked with him.  We’ve been lucky for a long time.  Too many people these days watch their parents slip away into other worlds of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Until recent years, Dad was both mentally and physically doing really well.  It’s probably only been in this past year that he’s begun his journey to saying goodbye. 

Physically, he’s doing well for 90.  He uses a walker, but hey he’s walking. I can only hope for that at his age.  But memory is getting hard.  It’s tough to recognize the time of the day or night sometimes he needs a reminder about coming to meals.  He still loves to visit and play cards.  It takes a little while to get back into the game and remember the things that once came almost naturally like shuffling. 

It’s little things here and there.  He has a great home with wonderful staff who watch over him, family, and friends who visit almost daily, and my sisters and their families who take care of his needs from day to day.  I guess it does take a village. 

Still, I think about that picture and ask myself, how will we say goodbye?  With the mental declines of aging it could be days or years, but it is a process of goodbyes that we have begun.  I suppose all I have is how Dad and I end each phone call with I love you and blowing each other kisses.  He hasn’t forgotten that yet.