Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Daily Dose of Dog Walking

There is nothing like the love of a dog... except maybe the love that we have for our furry friends. My two dogs, Sugar and Rocco, are potentially the only beings on the planet that love me unconditionally and without judgement, and they provide a comfort that no human can rival. I absolutely treasure them and wish to provide them with all the good things I am able.

In much the same way that parents hire babysitters and nannies to care for their children, dog owners must do they same for their pups. It's no small task, watching and caring for a dog (or two or three) and it's important that we find people that we trust.

My schedule has grown hectic, and though I work mostly from home, I find that I am out for hours at a time while my pups are stuck in the house. Sometimes it's for work, other times I am just running around with the kids, at football games or track meets. I don't want to worry that my poor dogs are sitting in a dark house, or haven't been out for a potty break. In my opinion, they deserve love, some fresh air, and the chance to relieve themselves at least once during the hours that I am away. I began looking into having a daily dog walker for my little ones, and found that help was right around the corner.

There is a local business called Helping Hand Pet Care Services that's run by a woman named Patrice Petronaci. Patrice is a total gem at working with dogs. Sugar, who can at times be skittish, was completely at ease when Patrice visited our home. What's great is that her services are specifically geared towards daily walks, so you can get your dog on the schedule and not worry about any conflicts. In addition, your dog(s) get to know her, and the walk is part of their daily routine. It's a treat to look forward to. And at rates that hover around $18 per walk, it's a totally affordable service.

It's also great for people who might be home but would prefer to contract the job out to someone else (ah, one walk that you can let someone else handle... especially with cold weather ahead). Yes, please!

If you haven't yet tried it, having a regular dog walker is a great thing. It provides consistency, routine, and exercise that your dog craves. Since she is coming into your home and taking care of your beloved pets (she takes care of other animals, too), it's important to choose wisely. If you are in the area, I highly suggest giving Patrice a call. She will come out and meet your mutt(s), and do a free evaluation, based on what you're looking for and how many animals* she will be taking good care of while you are out.

Helping Hand Pet Care Services is available for those living in Mountain Lakes, Boonton Township, Boonton, Denville, Lake Parsippany, Rockaway, and the surrounding area.

Call Patrice at 973-229-5968 to schedule a time to meet and get started!

*Patrice also cares for cats, birds, bunnies and other sweet creatures. Just ask!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Small Town Takeover

When you're here, you're home.
The Red Barn restaurant

Not everyone lives in a small town. Those of us that do know both the up and the downsides to small town life. The perks are huge. People know your dogs, your kids, and are always looking out for their well being. There are lots of community events, both at the schools and through the town hall, that are either free, or that benefit some aspect of the town. 

I've noticed that, lately, things here are starting to change. Our post office is nothing like what it used to be. Just a year ago, it was a place where people talked as they waited in line, where the clerks knew the locals and would talk to them about their lives, asking how they've been, and sharing stories. I knew that when my letter crossed the desk and went into a bin, it was in good hands.

Now, though they still manage PO boxes and take mail, our mail goes to a neighboring town where it's sorted and put on the truck to go to Newark. It used to be that when I'd send mail in town, it would be there the very next day. It went from my hands to the post office and then out for delivery. Now, it leaves and goes to the neighboring post office, and then to Newark? Ridiculous, and what a waste of gas. While it would be just as easy for me to drop at a friend's house, I like the idea of sending stamped, postmarked mail, and it saddens me to know that, despite my efforts to save our post office, this has happened. I miss my old mail carrier, Rob, who stood with me while I was on the phone with my doctor waiting to see if I had a brain tumor, and who hugged me as I cried tears of relief and said, "I'm okay". I miss going into the PO building and listening to Ferdie sing, or chat with Gabi as she would go through my packages. Alas, the wheels are in motion.

There are other things that could slip into the same role, if we don't pay attention, and I think it's important that we guard them. Our police department currently has dispatch (I think) during the day, but on the off hours, our calls go to another town, 20 minutes away. This was done in an effort to save money. I miss calling and asking who's on, when I have a less than emergency call but just need a little help. Fortunately for us, our police officers are still widely available and helpful, and have an active knowledge of our community. They talk to the kids as they walk home from school, and are sure to be familiar with residents in town. On Halloween, the town closes streets to car traffic so that kids can walk without worry while trick or treating. The police are here to help redirect lost children, answer questions, and let the kids know that they are here for them.

We have a great pharmacy here, too, that's independently owned. The pharmacy, Preston Drugs, will deliver your prescriptions to your home (or your car, if you prefer) so you don't need to get out in bad weather or if you are sick. Still, people choose to go to big box pharmacies, which I don't understand. Now that A&P is closing, the opportunity for people to move their prescriptions to a local, smaller drugstore is available (don't allow them to transfer to Walgreen's just because they'll do it for you, please). Preston has a tab on their website that will help you transfer your prescriptions. Another local option is Main Pharmacy in Boonton. Though I am not familiar with it, it's been in town forever and is a favorite of many locals.

Small shops are what keeps the American dream alive. Say what you will about that dream being dashed -- I know what you are thinking -- but this is still our country and we have the power to make big changes.

Instead of going to chain restaurants, go to indie owned places. We have some great restaurants around here, including Hapgood's in Mountain Lakes, The Reservoir Tavern (locally known as the Res) in Parsippany, Matta Donna in Boonton, and both The Red Barn (breakfast and lunch) and 900* in Towaco.  Rather than shopping online or at the mall, take your business to great places like Simplify Marketplace, which is owned by ML resident Beth Moran. They have pretty much everything you'll ever need, including home goods, personalized stationary, hand made items, jewelry, accessories, Laker apparel, and baked goods. In Denville, you can get home goods and ladies' apparel at two shops on the same block, owned by the Olenowski sisters: Surprises In Store, and Sisters. For footwear, I personally love Shoe & Sneaker Barn (also in Denville). The point is that there are so many opportunities to support our small towns that it would be silly not to. 

And finally, if you are able, please mail cards! Notes, birthday greetings, holiday greetings. Maybe our post office is changing, but let's not allow the art of letter writing/card sending fall by the wayside.

It's so important to nurture and support the places and people that bring joy to your life. Look around and see what it is that you love about the place that you live, then be sure to put your attention there. It's truly the little things, that we sometimes overlook, that we would miss the most if they were gone. Be proactive and keep them strong. Shop local.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Before Sunrise

I've never been a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you (fearfully) that it's true. After giving birth to my son, people were convinced that I'd get up early. The baby would force it. Babies get up early, they said.  My son is my only child, so I had the luxury of sleeping when he slept. The house went to pot, but I was a well-rested mother. While I would be forced to wake up early, I'd nap with the baby, every few hours, so it didn't matter much. When he gave up his naps, I began putting him to bed at 11 p.m. so he (we) could sleep 'til mid morning. 

When he started nursery school, I put him in the half day classes that started at noon. Same for kindergarten. First grade was rough for both of us, with an 8 a.m. homeroom bell, and he was late more often than he was on time. Slowly, I adjusted and got up, fed my son, and got him to school. It was no easy task and it's not been pretty.

All these years later, our two dogs need an early morning walk each day. My husband has taken on the duties of that walk, citing my angry morning demeanor as the reason he'll lose sleep to get it done. I'm up to take my son to school, but the dogs want to go out before we leave, so it would require me getting up an extra half hour early.

It wasn't until this weekend that I decided it was time for me to put my big girl pants on and start waking up earlier. It was a tough choice, because it means that I will be going to bed before my husband gets home, which cuts into our couple's time. I've tried to wait up at night for my husband, who works until nearly midnight, but in that circumstance, both of us are exhausted, and it's just not healthy.

Setting this alarm was tougher than it was for me to wake up to it.

I told him it was time that I start getting up to walk the dogs. He was hesitant. No way did he want to deal with me, grumpy, each morning. Begging him to give me a chance, I told him I'd go to bed early so that I wasn't mean and exhausted in the a.m. He agreed to give it a shot.

Last night, Night One, I was in bed by 10 p.m. and falling asleep close to 11. It was a major change and boy, am I tired. But I did it. It was nice. The sun was just coming up, during the dogs' walk, and the day felt fresh. I woke twice during the night, at 3:30 a.m. and nearly 5, probably because my body has gotten so used to so little sleep. Ironically, I was surprised that I didn't oversleep, and that it took until late afternoon for me to feel, well, exhausted. 

My husband got the opportunity for a full 8 1/2 hours sleep, which made me feel like a better wife, knowing that he isn't sacrificing his sleep; our time together (though a little less) was wonderful. He was productive, not exhausted, and we both seemed to be more present.

Tonight is Night Two, and I am hoping that my commitment to the early to bed mentality remains strong. 

Are you a morning person? Getting into the groove isn't easy, so I'd love to hear your tips for happy morning wake-ups.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Cost < Reward

Kids aren't cheap. We all know this. In the past two weeks, I've spent more money on compression shorts, pants, and both long and short sleeved Nike Pro apparel for my son than I care to tally. Tonight I didn't have to do the math; the tally was presented to me by the Dick's cashier who asked if I wanted to charge the whooping $165 I'd racked up on the few items I bought for my son's cross country meet tomorrow. (It's going to be cold, so we needed long everything.)

After leaving Dick's, I stopped into the grocery store to buy him a 12-pack of Horizon single serve chocolate milk cartons (his post-run beverage that he shares with his friends), some Clif bars, and string cheese. While checking out, I requested a measly $20 in cash back, asking the cashier if she could give me a ten and two fives. She looked bothered at the thought of breaking it down as per my request. "If I have it in the drawer" she snipped. I apologetically (and sort of casually) explained that it was for my son to have at his meet tomorrow, in the event that he wanted to buy a snack. "If I give him a twenty, he'll spend the whole thing," I said.

It struck her, a mother's plight. She started to talk about how costly it is to raise kids. She didn't say this with anger or resentment, but from a place of knowledge. She explained that she is the mother of four children, and she works two jobs just to pay for their college tuitions, and to live. Her eldest daughter finished medical school and is currently an internist, her second youngest son is now starting the master's part of his medical degree. She has one son in the military, and one who is going to County (she pulled him out of his original university, despite his scholarship, after seeing that he was partying too much and fearing for his well-being). She told me that she recently said to her son, the one that's in med school, that once he gets a job, he and his sister (the other doctor) will have to take care of her financially, because she's sick of working two jobs. She said this with a laugh. It was clear that she'd do anything for her kids. In fact, she already has.

The job of a parent is a big, important one.

There are many parents I know who put themselves before their children. They take money that would be used for their kids, and put it towards the things that they want for themselves. They choose to do things socially that sacrifice the time they have with their children. They believe that it's their time to live their lives. But what about their kids, the ones who need to be raised and guided? When people choose to have children, they should commit to raising them for 18 years, being present and available. In the grand scheme of things, it's a short period of time. Those 18 years of raising (the good, the bad, and the plain old gnarly) are a gift that we, as parents, are fortunate to have. Our kids will grow up, move out, and have their own life, just like we do. We want them to answer our phone calls, choose to visit, and most importantly, to look back fondly at their childhood.

What could possibly be more important than that?

When Thinking Pink Means More Than Jumping On the Bandwagon

You don't want to wait until you find a lump in your breast to get a mammogram. If you haven't gone for your mammogram, you are from one of two schools of thought: it won't happen to me, or it will happen to me and I don't want to know.

I understand. At 44, I took my mammogram script and put it in my purse, where it quickly got swallowed up by the vast mess of papers, receipts, and wrappers. I was engaged, and that took precedence over a mammo appointment, in my mind. It was forgotten.

I once 'boobicon'ed my Facebook profile picture in support of breast cancer awareness.
Getting a mammogram would have been more proactive.

The following year (this year), I went for my annual exam, got another script, and lost it in the same way that I lost the previous year's script. I knew, though, that I needed to get my mammogram, so I called the office to get another one, this time with my married name on the script.

I sat on it for a few weeks. I'd get the mammo done, I would. But the thought of scheduling it, making time for the appointment, taking a shower and not putting on lotion or deodorant... such a pain to deal with. That is, until I found a lump.

I was getting out of bed, and the right side of my right breast felt tender and sore. Being post-menopausal, I knew it wasn't premenstrual breast tenderness, or a clogged milk duct, but it felt like that kind of pain. I put my hand to the soreness and whoosh, there it was. A lump.

Wait. What? This could not be. I just had a breast exam three months ago. And yet.

I freaked. I woke my husband up. "Feel" I said. "There's a lump." And when he nodded yes and said "It's probably a cyst", I started to cry. He felt it, too. It was real.

Breast cancer awareness month was approaching, which ironically only made matters worse. Everywhere, there were stories about lumps and prevention, both good and bad stories, and I just wanted to know that I was okay. I'm okay, right?

I called the imaging center immediately for an appointment, but when they heard I had a lump, they wouldn't book it. They told me that I needed a script for an ultrasound, as well as the mammogram script. "So when you call with a lump, you can't get in for a mammogram?", I asked.  It seems counterintuitive. I called my doctor's office four times before I got a nurse on the phone to ask her for a script for an ultrasound. "I am a 45 year old, post-menopausal woman with a lump. I know that I am not the most pressing or important patient in your office, but I'm scared," I said. The nurse understood and immediately got on it.

My appointment was booked for two weeks from that day. And today the two weeks are up. It's finally time for me to know what's going on. Hopefully, it's nothing, and I'll have learned to put my health first and get that yearly mammogram.

But for now, I don't know what will happen, or what is ahead, and frankly, I am scared. Really, really scared. For the people who think it won't happen to them, I ask, "Then, who?" But I am supported. My husband is nothing short of a saint, and he's always here for me. I have good friends, a few of whom are cancer survivors, all of whom will lend a listening ear. I have a supportive loving family.

And hopefully, I have nothing. Nothing more than a benign cyst. Or lumpy breasts.

But now, I don't know. I won't until I go to my appointment and the radiologist does whatever she does to let my doctor know what's up.

And if it turns out that I am A-OK, I will take my health more seriously, eat better, exercise more. I will advocate for women to get routine mammograms, even if doing so seems to be a pain in the neck. Because while taking the time out to go for a mammogram may be inconvenient, it may also be saving your life.

Note: I am writing this in the hopes that women feel moved to schedule their mammograms, and that they do self-breast exams. I am also sharing my story so that people understand that the process to getting checked sometimes takes drastic findings. I am not writing my story to have people stop me and inquire as to how I am doing, and while I appreciate your concern, I prefer to hear from you via message. Thank you.