Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Comfort of Dogs

All the love in the world.
There is something about the love of a dog that is completely unexplainable. It's nothing they do, per say, that is particularly helpful to daily living. They don't talk, or offer words of advice when life's got you down. They require lots of care, their poops must be picked up, and they are always, always, like toddlers.

And yet, when things aren't going well, when you're feeling sad, or frustrated or scared, nothing beats cuddling up with a mutt.

Ah, a life with dogs. Pictured here: Rocco & Sugar.

We've got two. Sugar, a  black lab/American bulldog mix, and Rocco, a jack russell/rat terrier mix. When my son and I rescued Sugar, she was about a year and a half old. Her black fur was thick with dandruff, and she smelled. She had an episode of diarrhea as we were driving her home from her adoption, and she attempted to cover the pile with the few treats we'd given her. At some point in her life, she'd run from her foster home and had been hit by a car, causing her to endure a handful or surgeries for the five months prior to my meeting her. Sugar was terrified of her own shadow. Somehow, she knew we'd take good care of her, and she tried to settle in. She wasn't much of a cuddler, but when I found myself alone at night, she'd come onto the couch where I was sitting, and lay beside me. Slowly, she'd nudge me to the edge of the couch, and I'd hang tight, nosing my face into her warm fur.  Just having her there made me feel safe. Occasionally, she's put her nuzzle onto my lap and sigh. Something about her trusting me made me feel worthwhile and loved.

Sugar's the quiet one.

After a year of Sugar living with us -- only eating when being hand fed raw meat, running from the littlest noise, and pacing the house but never really relaxing unless she was in her crate -- it was brought to my attention that she might need a pal, another dog to help her relax and come out of her shell. I searched for a dog that seemed like s/he might be a good fit. There were so many cute dogs, and truly, what did I know about finding a pal for Sugar? Her easy going demeanor made it easy for her to get along with any dog, but would any dog be kind to her? I wanted the best fit but had no idea how to find that.

The Petfinder listing that stole my heart. 

After meeting a few dogs, who were rescued before I even had a chance to apply for them, I ended up with Rocco (who was named Bastin, before we changed his name). A little ratter, with the biggest ears I'd ever seen, seemed to be the one. He'd been living in a foster home with 13 other dogs his whole life. So, dog friendly for sure. Ah, what profiles don't tell. He barked and barked and barked, and if anyone tried to pick him up, he gnarled and bit them. But we'd already taken him, and were committed to making it work.

Sugar and Rocco became fast pals. And despite Rocco's (still) incessant barking and occasional grumpy nipping, he's become the furry love of my life. Having both dogs has changed everything. They are entertaining, wonderful to snuggle up to, interesting to watch, and something about their presence simply calms me.

They love each other.

I wish I knew why. I have an amazing husband who is everything to me. He's loving and attentive, and provides an indestructible support for my life. My son, and my three stepchildren, are wonderful bundles of energy, full of stories and laughter. They keep us busy and always make things interesting. But something about those dogs...

When they are jumping at the door, barking at visitors, squirrels, cars, etc., comfort is not the word that comes to mind. Their canine demands are less than inviting. I command them, unsuccessfully, to Shush! then proceed to roll my eyes and wish they would just. be quiet.  And when I am holding both leashes in one hand while using the other to unceremoniously pick poops up off the lawns of neighbors, well, I could live without those moments. But when they look up at me with those sweet wide eyes, mouths agape, tongues wagging, the feeling of complete unconditional love emanates from them.

Wag goes the tongue.
Perhaps that's it. No matter how I look, what kind of mood I am in, or how I'm behaving, my dogs' loyalty is consistent. They always want me to run my hand across their back, tug on their ears, or cuddle up beside them on the couch. It's a total acceptance of who I am, and that is by far the most comforting feeling in the world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Through the Trees

I wasn't raised to incorporate exercise into my life. Even now, with a gym membership, yoga classes, boot camp, and a town ripe with runners, getting motivated to workout isn't easy. There are people who wake up, hop out of bed and go to the gym, or for a run, and that's how they start their day. Exercise, for that type of person, is as necessary as oxygen.

Most people that I know use exercise as a means to maintain or lose weight, but in truth, proper exercise is beneficial for the body's long term (and even daily) living. We all know this, but since the long term benefits don't satisfy our immediate gratification need, it gets lost in translation.

While visiting Disney World this past spring, my stepdaughter and I both noticed how many overweight people were zipping through the parks in motorized chairs, many of whom had extra large sugary drinks in their hands. It's this very thing that keeps me motivated; the fear of not being able to do things without assistance. I don't know what's ahead for me, regarding my health, but I am going to do my best to lay solid groundwork.

There is an online 30 day squat and plank challenge run by Mirzuk Fitness that I've signed up for, and part of the point of the daily practice is that it takes 30 days to make a habit. While habits can be broken, I am banking on this habit building premise to give my son a more fit life that with which I've been presented.

School was not in session today, and my son had afternoon plans to go into the city with his father to get his ID card for art school. This meant no afternoon cross country practice. I asked his trainer if we could maximize the morning hours by having him run with my son. The location he chose was a county park in town. It's got miles of trails, a great place to run.

The beginning of the path my son ran with his trainer this morning. Total, complete heaven on earth.
While they ran, I did my squat and plank challenge workout, then read a few pages from a book I'm reading for a study group. The park was quiet, with dogs and runners passing only occasionally. Though it was cool, the sun shone down through the trees. I thought about the gift my son has been given, a morning run with his trainer, Jeff Eades, someone who's run ultramarathons and serves as a (very cool) mentor to my son. I hope that, years from now when he is heading out for a run, he'll remember this morning run as the one that got him into the habit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Best of You

Life isn't about the finish line, it's about the path you take to get there.

After posting my last blog entry, Keep the Good Ones, Ditch the Rest, I got a slew of messages and comments about the topic. The comments ranged from "I completely agree," to "Lighten up". All of the responses were great because they helped me see the perspective of others, but none changed the way that I feel.

Honoring our lives means many things. It means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, feeling love, having friendships and just enjoying life. It also means, at least to me, minimizing drama as much as possible. I am not filming for a Housewife series, which means I am not getting paid to up ratings by including myself in circles with unhealthy people. On more than one occasion, I've had to make something up and excuse myself from a lunch/dinner/situation where I felt the direction had taken a turn for the worse. I am fast becoming a self-preservationist.

Last week, my close friend asked me to take a seven week TRX group training session with her, at our gym. It was the last thing that I wanted to do (my past TRX experience had been awful), but I agreed to do it because it gives me the opportunity to see her while getting a workout. We've talked while walking beside each other on the treadmill, or while curling dumbbells, but in those situations, the intensity of my work is self-directed (meaning, it's easier to do less). Group training includes a forced push by the trainer, and peer accountability. Today, the group training began. I had a morning packed with things to do, including sending out emails to everyone participating in a fundraiser with which I am involved. One hour before the group training began, my friend sent me a text that read "One hour! Woot woot!" Though I hadn't yet paid, and technically could have backed out, I committed to my friend and told the trainer I'd be there. It was up to me to stay true to my word, even though at that moment it was tough. As I chugged my coffee and scooped back my oatmeal, I thought to myself, "This TRX idea was stupid," and also "I need to get more sleep."

I arrived at the gym, and saw my friend's happy smile when she'd seen that I made it to class. I talked to the trainer about past TRX experience and injuries, and we began. An hour on the clock. It wasn't easy. We warmed up with more squats than I thought humanly possible. I wondered if I'd be sore for yoga tomorrow. I wondered what my husband was doing in the weight room. I wondered if I should drink more water. And then the wondering stop. The work became more difficult, and each accomplished task gave me a feeling of pride. I focused on my body, my muscles, and felt good about the work. This TRX class, as it turns out, was a really good idea.

I got back into yoga in much the same way. My friend Tray had been going for about a year, each week inviting me to join her. While I have always loved yoga, I hadn't practiced for a while and felt uncomfortable getting back on the mat, fat and out of shape. In a moment of weakness - or perhaps strength - I agreed to go, and there it was. I couldn't back out. A year and 30 lbs. lighter, I am fully committed to my twice weekly practice.

Me with my friend Tray, after practicing yoga on the lake together, the morning of my wedding.

It's amazing what happens when you find something that changes the way that you feel, whether it be about your day, your life, or most importantly, yourself. Not only did I get to spend an hour with my friend and work out with her (which is motivating because she is a powerhouse), I also learned that getting back to hard working exercise made me feel good about me.

And that's what yesterday's post was all about. It wasn't about other people being bad or failing me, it was about choosing to create a life that supports me at my best, so that I feel good about myself.

I will start sharing links again on the DG Files facebook wall so that it's easier for people to comment. Follow me there, by clicking here.

Keep the Good Ones, Ditch the Rest

My friend KT is a straight shooter. She has said, on more than one occasion, that she has no tolerance for bullsh*t. In fact, each year on her birthday, she mentally sorts through the people who are considered to be friends in her life, and decides who among them truly are good friends. If they are toxic or drama filled, she boots them from her life. It's not a majorly obvious action... no facebook unfriending, no calls made to say, "You're out!" Instead, she gently edges away from them and moves forward with her life.

Now, let me begin by saying that I believe in lifelong friendships. These are the friendships that allow you to be yourself, the ones that allow for a 2 a.m. call when something goes wrong. They require both parties to be active participants and for both people to care about one another. I have a few of these friendships, and I treasure them.

A true friend, C, has always been there for me. Without fail.

Devoting my time to real friendships is an idea worth developing; it requires both commitment and time. Having time means eliminating the faux friends who are not much more than placeholders (time wasters). I've joked that I'd like to copy KT, and begin the trim down. Sometimes, I've even toyed with the idea of letting go. But I never really followed through. I got hooked into keeping toxic people in my life. Either I'd keep the friendship alive out of guilt, or I'd do it, selfishly, out of need. My life has been packed with superficial friendships made of people that showed up for the drama (perhaps to watch the train wreck that was once my life), or people who wanted to kill a few hours with a willing participant. But now, with a fully packed life, I've come to the realization that I don't want to spend my time stoking fires of old acquaintances that I believed were true connections.

It's heartbreaking, for sure, putting away the idea of a friendship that I thought existed, tough remembering moments that felt real with people that seemed to be friends for life, only to discover that they never were. But it's a crucial step to live a fulfilling, joyful life.

The idea of ending a friendship, with the same permanence one might having after leaving a lover or a bad job, is a tough one. Deciding to follow through takes guts. About a week ago, I posted something about this idea on my facebook page. The response was amazing, and I realized that I wasn't alone. This touchy topic of friendship breakups is long overdue.

Just tonight, I read a blog post from health coach Mary Ellen Zung, who is sending me her posts as part of a ten day sugar cleanse.* Friendships seem unrelated to a sugar cleanse, you'd think. However, she writes that "many people crave sweets when they are lacking supportive relationships"  and that "healthy relationships [among other things] will satisfy our real hunger for life." It makes sense, and it's given me that final push required to make big changes in my personal life.

I am making conscious choices to keep friends that have proven to be real, who have my back, and who like me for who I am. I will put my time and effort into nurturing and growing those friendships and, the extra time (time that I might have used to call a faux friend for coffee) will now be spent nurturing my life, caring for my family, or putting up my feet and cracking open a book. Hey, it might even be used to go for ice cream with a true blue buddy.

I am curious (hopeful, excited) to know how you feel about eliminating acquaintances, those who zap you of energy or don't consider your feelings, from your life? Are you up to the challenge? If not, why not? Please comment below. You can totally comment anonymously. See the photo below for what to look for (just click the option, Anonymous).

*While I know and believe that sugar is a real craving, and is physically addictive, I have no plans of completely eliminating it from my life. I will, though, work toward eating it mindfully and in moderation. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Beware the Vine

I made the choice early on to live in a quiet neck of woods in a small Morris County town, where we have lakes, grassy hills, and tons of trees. In fact, homeowners cannot cut down trees without applying for a permit with the town first, and getting approval. There is a steep fine for not abiding by this rule, and our Shade Tree Commission goes to great lengths to enforce it. We take our trees very seriously.

As I've gotten older, I find myself being more and more grateful for the gifts nature provides, looking to the trees for solace (as opposed to searching out a group of people that I could chat with to kill time). Last week, while waiting for my son's first cross country meet to begin, I soaked in the rolling hills and beautiful large trees that surrounded the race area. While walking, I was tempted to reach out and run my fingers through the thin branches of hanging leaves, until I noticed the three leaf pattern: matching sized side leaves with one larger big leaf between them (forward facing). This is the classic poison ivy leaf pattern.

The hanging leaves, even the thin branches at the center of this tree, are poison ivy leaves on vines. There were so many that, had you not paid attention, you'd have thought they were the tree's benign leaves. Looking at the upper leaves off the main branches of the tree, you'd have seen the tree is a maple tree.

I looked closer to try and understand how much of the tree was taken by the poison ivy. Shockingly, most of the trees had climbing poison ivy ropes, with leaves at eye level. It is a public park, and the poison ivy is part of the landscape, for better or worse. Still, I wondered how many people might have walked through these branches, unaware that they were poison ivy; how many might have found themselves with the rash and wondered where it came from. Perhaps, passing this info to you will prevent you from grabbing a poison ivy leaf. A neighbor once taught me the following precaution, "Leaves of three, let them be." If you keep that in mind, you'll be in good shape.

Look at the leaves of three (beginning at the left of this photo, midway up, in focus). That's poison ivy.

While I am not a trained gardener, living here has made me quite familiar with the stuff. People think that poison ivy leaves are supposed to be shiny, or green, or red, or smooth. Well, it's all true, at different stages. The one thing that is always true is the size pattern (to note: there is a strange weed that has a similar pattern but has thorns, which poison ivy does not).

Seasonally, the leaves change color. They get bigger, too. Bigger than a human hand. So don't confuse the size with safety. While dogs and cats can rub up against the poison ivy and won't get a rash, the urushiol (the oil that causes the rash) can rub off onto furniture or you! causing you to get the rash without being exposed to the vine.

Be mindful of the vine. It contains urushiol, as well. The vines get hairy (think, Thing, from the Munsters). You can get poison ivy from the hairy vine, even if it's been trimmed from the tree and is dead. 

The vine attached to this tree - the thick, hairy one - is a poison ivy vine. If you look near to the vine, you will see the small leaves of three. There are also other weed leaves, and the trees leaves, so the poison ivy is somewhat masked.

I know more than one story of people who burned logs and branches, unaware that they were burning poison ivy. In one story, one of the people inhaled it and had a reaction in their lungs, requiring hospitalization. In another, the smoke caused a huge rash on my friend's face, also requiring hospitalization, intravenous steroids, and more.

You can easily make yourself aware of what poison ivy looks like in all seasons, and it's vines, and prevent yourself from getting a rash. If you bump your wheelbarrow (shovel, ax) into it, there's a solid chance that the urushiol oil is on the wheelbarrow and must be properly cleaned. I am obsessed with this vicious little vine, and while walking with my kids, my husband, anyone really haha! I point it out.

Take note, be aware, and then go enjoy nature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There Is A Season - Turn, Turn, Turn

Ten years ago, and it feels like yesterday.

It's official. I'm old.

Old is a relative term, so I owe it to you to qualify that. To some, a 45 year old is a spring chicken. To others, a peer. But as I watch my son walk through the front doors of his high school, or down a busy NYC street with friends, away from me,  I wonder where the time has gone. The child who used to look up to me, now towers over me by more than a handful of inches. His voice, a deep man's voice, is a far cry from the little one that used to ask, "Mama?" It goes in the blink of an eye. I didn't believe it when people told me, as I held my babe in arms crying for more milk, that time would pass faster as he got older. I couldn't fathom having a baby out of diapers, let alone a young man in high school. Alas, here we are.

I couldn't be happier seeing my child make the leap toward independence. We were joined at the hip, and there were times when I thought I'd be going to college with him. He's healthy, thank God, and is now choosing to pull away from me. He spends times with friends, goes to art classes in the city, and daydreams about his life in Los Angeles (the one he assures me is just a few years ahead). I ask "Do you miss me sometimes?" He shrugs, "Not really, Mom." I ask, "Will you miss me when you are living all those miles away?" He replies, "I don't think so, Mom. Nah."

This is good. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely bittersweet knowing he doesn't need me anymore. It's also freeing, knowing that my son is ready to lead his own life. I don't have to worry that he will be upset at the thought of taking the next step, and I don't have to feel guilty having joyful times that might not include him. He is confident and self-assured. He wants to have his own life, to grow up and go out into the world. It's good news, and it's good for him.

But for me, well, I'm already missing my baby.

Given all this, along with the fact that I remarried in June and now have three more kids to love (my husband's), I've had to rethink my life. When I look back at these years, what will I remember? Exercising that practice now, I remember traditions, big moments, and valued time with people I loved. But I also remember crying a lot over things that didn't matter. I remember running in circles, planning events that meant nothing to me, the details of which are mostly forgotten. I notice all the things I wasted time on and wish I'd done it differently. Hindsight is always filled with clarity, isn't it? If only I knew then what I know now. Of all those past things -- wasted time, energy, money and love -- I wish I focused more on my son and less on those who didn't matter. I can't turn the clock back, but I can change what's happening now.

My friend Kim P. recently told me that if she could do things all over again, she'd take her kids out of school for fun day trips and spend more time with them. This resonated with me. I can't pull my high schooler out for fun adventures, but I can soak in every moment that I do have with him.

And it's because of this that I've decided to end my candle making career and close my business. I will still make them for the local yoga studio (because those small, fabulous batches feed my soul), and maybe a few dozen candles at the holidays, if my heart sees fit. But for these next few years, I'll be hanging onto every minute I have with our kids, grabbing onto the fact that I am fortunate enough to stay home and be with them. In fact, I'm white knuckling it.

I'll be writing about my experience of going back to being a stay-at-home mom, sharing recipes, frustrations and more. Please keep posted xox