Tuesday, December 18, 2012

26 Acts of Kindness...

In the wake of the tragic deaths of 20 children ages 6-7 and 6 teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012, there has been a huge swell of "acts of kindness". I think it's wonderful... and hope that it doesn't only last for the next week or two - this world needs more kindness. We can argue about gun control, mental health, and nature vs. nurture but nobody can argue the point that this world needs more kindness.

I was telling my mother that I can't shake the grief and she suggested helping others. I already do that twice a week during this season by volunteering at the Salvation Army but it wasn't enough. To combat the gloom in my heart, I have joined the "acts of kindness" bandwagon. I just carried out my first act and I'm so happy that I did it. I sent a Christmas basket to an old fella that I talk to 2-3 times per day for work because he's so very lonely. Sometimes he cries. I want to go meet him but I'm not allowed to do that. Earlier today I spent about 20 minutes at my computer trying to decide if I should do it... I could lose my job if someone found out. I walked away without placing the order and went back to my painting project.

As I was brightening the guest room with a coat of "Coastal Mist" blue, I was thinking about him. I'm not working at that job this week... I'm not actually working that job again for a few weeks. I will miss talking to him but I think he will miss talking to me more. There are others that talk to him but he seems to like me because I'm interested in him, his cat, his day etc.

While elbow deep in the paint bucket I realized two things: 1) Who could, with a clear conscience, punish me for an act of kindness toward an old man completely alone in this world? 2) Except for these few personal connections, I don't like that job anyway and if I get fired over this, it will be totally worthwhile.

I washed my hands and came back to the computer, placed the order, wrote a note about 26 anonymous acts of kindness, and that I hope this brings him some holiday joy. Before I could change my mind, I finalized the purchase. It will arrive on Christmas Eve day. I'm happy I did it... even if it comes with consequences.

Several months ago I had another "old guy" that I used to let talk when he was lonely. I would be driving somewhere and I'd let him just prattle on about his wife, his children, his career - I actually found him fascinating when most everyone else considered him to be a grouch. He wanted me to come to his home and meet him in person. I asked permission and was told no. He died a few weeks later and every time I think of him, I heavy-heartedly regret not breaking that rule and meeting him. What true harm could it have done? The man invited me as a guest to his home (and I have a background check on file to boot!)!

Back to the acts of kindness - I don't feel like ALL acts of kindness need to be anonymous. I actually think it's good to look someone in the eye and do something nice for them. Perhaps then they will be more compelled to pay it forward.

My husband and I carry out acts of kindness throughout the year - each year for Christmas we select a boy and a girl from the "Giving Tree" and donate all of their gifts, we buy boxes of food for the food pantry and drop it in the box before we even leave the grocery store, we always tack a few bucks on at PetSmart for "rescued pets", we donate clothing and items to local charities instead of tossing them or selling them... but when I mention these things in passing (my four readers already know we do these things so no recognition-seeking here), I get comments like "You are amazing!" but I'm not. We were taught how to be kind. We were taught when to be kind. We were taught that kindness matters. The world needs to re-learn how to be kind even when the darkness of events like September 11th, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or massacres of innocent people isn't in the immediate rear view.

As for 26 acts vs. 27 acts... not to mention 28 acts of kindness with regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, I am a bit torn. 26 is a no-brainer. I will ABSOLUTELY honor the memory of the children, teachers, and staff.

#27 - the shooter's mother (I refuse to use his name) - is harder. Although she CERTAINLY did not deserve to die in such a brutal, cold way at the hands of her own child, as a fellow gun owner, I hold her responsible to a degree for allowing access to her guns... much less access to a son that she had told friends more than once was "getting out of control" or that she would "need help soon" with him. As gun owners, our guns are not and NEVER will be accessible to anyone that a) Isn't licensed b) Isn't responsible c) Isn't appropriate to handle them.

And as for #28 - the shooter. The obvious objection is acknowledging him at all. However, part of me thinks that an act of kindness in memory of him would add more light to the world to counteract a wink of the darkness that he cast. I haven't decided yet. But I will.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Babies Lost...

This photo was taken 12/15/12 by a friend of mine in front
of the Sandy Hook Elementary School - I can't help but  reel from
the words at the bottom of the sign - "Visitors Welcome" .
It's just over 36 hours since the tragic, murderous acts at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and I can't seem to get myself together. I have avoided the news and the images. I do not need to hear the grisly details. My imagination has filled in the blanks about how terrified those people must have been and that is plenty.

I have not seen any photos of the children lost in this senseless act against the truly innocent but my mind has automatically super-imposed the face of every child that I have ever loved into those empty seats and I, like so many, cannot get ahead of the grief. It takes me by surprise when I'm least expecting it.

Last night I had to walk away from a woman at my husband's Christmas party. She was encouraging a newly-wed woman to get pregnant as soon as possible because being a mom is so awesome and (here's the part that made me walk away) women who aren't moms just never really "get it".

I haven't given birth to any children - I wasn't granted that privilege - but I have raised many children and have loved them like my own. I get it.

Tonight we attended the dance recital of my husband's cousin's daughter (a 12 year old that I love). Watching those children aged ~5 to ~17 dance with wide, sincere smiles on their faces aroused conflicting feelings in me with one wave after another. The first wave held the infectious joy of their youthful exuberance and the pleasure they were clearly getting from showing off months of hard work. The second wave was littered with the debris of reality that 26 families, just 45 minutes from my hometown, will never experience this joy with their beloved child/parent/sibling/grand-child.

A thought that keeps echoing in my head. These children, these people, these newly-anointed angels, probably have Christmas gifts waiting for them under a tree or in a closet waiting to be wrapped. How does a person deal with that? A child's gift they will never receive...

I may not have given birth but I get it. My heart aches for these families.

And yet, as my husband the police officer very gently pointed out today, as the country grieves for these lost children and the people that tried to protect them, someone, somewhere, is planning another assault.........

Moving forward every day with that last piece of knowledge crashing around in my soul colliding with my grief is almost overwhelming. But it is not the time for anger alone, it's the time for preparation. It will happen again but we can learn from this ultimate act of betrayal. To be prepared, vigilant, ready to act, and to trust your instincts is the lesson. Don't stop listening.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wise Spendthrift Advice...

I'm naturally frugal. I always have been. When I'm shopping I will spend extra time agonizing over larger purchases. Sometimes changing my mind multiple times before I walk out of the store comfortable with my decision.

Last year during a girl's weekend my friend and I went into a store where I found some boots that I REALLY liked. When I saw that they were $100 I slipped quietly into my inner struggle of whether to buy them. Once my very wise friend realized what I was doing, she asked me, "How often will you wear them?" She then went on to help me see the wisdom in projecting how often you might use something and then dividing the purchase price by that number thereby figuring a "cost per use" rather than getting hung up on the sticker price. She's so smart! So... I bought the boots, wore them out of the store and have worn them at least 100 times since then - that's less than a dollar per use!

Using that wisdom I've purchased a few other items that I use all the time and appreciate how much they have improved my life. Here are a few examples.

Our counter top surface is pretty limited and I was constantly reorganizing it to accommodate the wood block holding all of our knives. We also often ended up with multiple knives jammed in each slot because we had more knives than the block would hold. I decided that a magnetic knife holder would do the job and solve multiple issues. I found the one I wanted but it was $40... But we use it every day and it does knock out two of our space problems in one shot! It also keeps the knives where guest chefs can find them easily.

Another issue is around the wood stove. The biggest issue is that when wood is brought in from the wood house, inevitably the scraps of wood, leaves etc ended up dumping all across the rug from the door to the hearth and I had to vacuum every day. When I spotted the heavy duty cordura wood tote with ends in the Duluth catalog I bought it almost immediately. It was exactly what I wanted and more! It also is large enough to fill the wood box in two trips instead of the three or four trips that the old flat canvas sling required.

In the same picture with the wood tote is a steam pot for the top of the wood stove. We had an old one that looked like a kettle and it would often boil over which caused our brand new wood stove to rust (which makes me unhappy in many ways...). When we saw this one at LL Bean during a Christmas shopping trip, we put off buying it because it was pricey and we are both frugal. After my friend's advice... and more boiling over and rusting... I bought it. (I was actually kind of happy we didn't buy it that day in the LL Bean store because it's heavy we'd have had to schlep it around Freeport for hours since we had parked so far away.)

So... Every time we have a big purchase to make now we use the "cost per use" method to decide if it's worth it and have never been unhappy with our decision either way. It works for us!





Saturday, December 1, 2012

Good Help is Hard to Find...


After the flea bonanza with the diatomaceous earth etc over the past month or so (yes, it takes that long to get rid of fleas without harsh chemicals), despite vigilant dusting of common areas, our house is covered in a fine dust. It's everywhere. I just pulled the crock pot out of the cabinet and it even had dust on it in the cabinet! It's everywhere. Did I mention that it's absolutely everywhere? My hair is finally starting to relax - I was looking like a scarecrow there for a while as it dried my hair out so much! Anyway...

A week or so ago I looked at my husband, while wiping dust off of the baking goods I was packing to take with me for Thanksgiving, and hesitantly said "It's going to take us a year to clean up all of this dust. I'm thinking about hiring someone." He responded by saying simply, "I was thinking the EXACT same thing!" So I embarked on an enlightening hiring experience...

Having asked my neighbors for a referral and getting nowhere, I decided to put an ad on Craigslist.org. Never again.

The first person that responded (and sounded good in writing) was someone whose name my husband recognized immediately... as someone he has "met professionally" more than once. (I guess this is a benefit I didn't mention in my recent post about being married to a police officer.)

The second person to reply played the "military background" card. I'm a HUGE supporter of helping veterans get back on their feet so I, of course, put him on my short list of people to check up on. It turns out that he is a Level 3 sex offender and his most recent arrest was for larceny over $250 in a nearby town -  (He's also homeless in Hyannis and it makes me wonder if I've seen him at the Salvation Army when I volunteer there...) Thank you, Google. You were very helpful in turning up this information.

The third person sounded good in writing, her one reference that I could reach gave her a glowing recommendation (perhaps it was her mother...), and when I spoke to her on the phone, she sounded professional, ambitious, and ready to work. I invited her to the house for an interview and then sat there for two hours waiting for her to arrive or call. Nada.

There were others that didn't make the short list for in-depth checking on because I looked them up quickly on Facebook or Google and quickly found things that didn't sit right - one couple said that they were "professional cleaners" and then when I found them on Facebook, there were things that indicated that they were more likely professional take-me-to-the-cleaners.

Frustrated by the process (and happy that some idiot had flagged my Craigslist ad as "inappropriate" for some unimaginable reason thereby removing it before I got more than a handful of applicants) I called A at work and asked him if he knew anyone that might clean for us.

Right now, as I write, she's here. She's a hard-working Brazilian woman that dates one of A's co-workers. (We had initially stayed away from this arrangement as we were nervous about having to potentially fire a co-worker's spouse. After the Craigslist debacle, I'd rather just deal with that if it comes up than potentially have a sex offender or heroine addict in our house. A made a good point that he'd rather "keep the money in the [police department] family anyway. He's so smart.) She came by this morning to look at the job... and came back two hours later to start! I forgot to tell her that I only use eco-friendly products so the smell coming from the bathroom is quite strong... but I'll tell her before she comes back next time and I suppose the place could use a good scrubbing now and then.
Maybe I'll get her this as a Christmas bonus. :-)

She will be back. I can tell already. We initially said that it's a one-time gig preparing for visitors over the holidays but her price was really reasonable for what she's going to do... and I will organize all day and clean as I do it but the drudgery of regularly washing the windows, baseboards, behind the furniture etc just ain't my thing.

She had the job when her eyes lit up when she said, "I LOVE to clean!" Perfect!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Progressively regressing...

I excitedly picked up my new glasses the other day - two pairs of new frames with progressive lenses. As soon as I put them on, I felt like my head was swirling in water. No matter how I tipped my head I couldn't find a clear, comfortable view. The optician told me to tip my chin down... I tipped it until it was practically on my chest finding the most normal (but not really clear) view and spent the next 36 hours walking around with the "Angry Librarian" look (according to my husband) on my face. The damned things make me cross-eyed and nauseous. After 36 hours of wearing them, the headache was so crushing that I had to switch back to my old glasses. Switching back made my eyes cross while trying to re-adjust but it's better than with the progressive lenses!

Asking around I learned that it took one of my friends two weeks to adjust to her progressive lenses. Another said it took a month. A third said she's been wearing them for 15 years and they still don't feel natural to her and that you just learn how to tilt your head to find a clear point of view and deal with the blur.

I'm not so sure of what I'm going to do to stop the "Trombone Syndrome" of trying to find just the right distance to read/see certain things but I know one thing... I'm not going to wear progressive lenses!

Tomorrow's project is going back to the store and either getting my money back or getting new lenses in each pair - one for distance and one for reading.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Half Undone...

We are preparing to leave for a quick Thanksgiving getaway and I can't seem to get myself in order. I just looked around and inventoried the half-finished jobs that I apparently walked away from over the past 24 hours.

  • Laundry - I started it when my husband told me that the items he wanted to pack were "somewhere in the dirty laundry" which means I have to wash it all... and I just can't seem to get through it all even though there are only four loads. I fell asleep earlier this afternoon and woke with a start realizing that I still had three loads to go. We are leaving in three hours - I think - with effort - I can finish the last two loads. Maybe. (Sorry Mom, your son in-law might be at the table in his dress shirt and underwear.)
  • Dogs - I started the lengthy process of packing for the dogs' - food, food supplements, beds, leashes, treats, toys etc and apparently quit when I realized that we are out of dog food in the bin and the new bag is still riding around in my husband's truck. Apparently I couldn't move on from there as I just tripped over the half-collected pile in the dining room.
  • Baking items - I promised to make chocolate pecan pie and pumpkin cheesecake cobbler for the two meals that we will be attending on Thanksgiving. I was PLANNING to bake at least the pies last night but realized while pulling out the ingredients (which I always do now that I've gotten caught half-way through a recipe and realized I was missing a key ingredient) when I realized I was... missing a key ingredient. Therefore there is a plastic tub with half of the ingredients for both recipes in it... and the other 1/4 left to gather.
  • Dishwasher - Seriously... How does a person only half-finish emptying a dishwasher? I just noticed that I left two glasses on the top shelf and the silverware basket full. 

Oh jeez... the phone rang and I even walked away from writing a blog post about walking away... Sad. Time to turn off the phone, turn on the music, and get things ... Look! A bird!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Married to the Thin Blue Line...


I should begin by saying that my husband is not a policeman in a "big city". He does not confront gang violence, drug rings, or homicides on a daily basis. But he is a policeman nonetheless and he faces plenty of unknowns and "big city crime" even in the picturesque "drinking village with a fishing problem" where he works.

I always knew that he would end up in some type of emergency response career. When we were kids in grade school, he would burst through the doors to recess wailing like a siren. It was his calling. He detoured for a split second in college but quickly realized that architecture was not for him. He had a singular focus – something I have long envied – to become a cop and then to become the best cop he could be.

When we reunited in our 30’s, it did not surprise me that he had become a police officer. I wouldn't have had the opportunity for surprise even if I had wanted it as his mother updated me about his doings every time I saw her in the store where she worked. “A got married.” “A has a baby.” “A is a police officer.”  (and the one that should have clicked before it did...) "A got divorced." I thought I knew all I needed to know about him but was pleasantly surprised at who he had grown into during our 20 year absence from each other’s lives. But that is another story.

Our reunion, to the relief of our mothers, was swift and solid. During an early conversation between our homes – his on Cape Cod, mine in Vermont – he talked about his career choice with passion. He loved his job. He loved everything about it and never regretted for a moment the path he had chosen. I knew that he would never leave his chosen career for any reason and I admired that. I found comfort in his stalwart commitment to it.

During the first years that we were together, we still lived in different states. I didn't really get the full introduction to being the girlfriend/fiancĂ©e/wife of a cop until a year after we were married. My short visits weren't enough to really help me fully understand what I was marrying into.

What does the partner of a cop marry into? Simply put, they marry into a life that is not their own. It is a schedule that is dictated by moods, moons, money, and seniority. It is a life that is not easy on marriages or children or extended family.

I consider myself to be lucky as I have always been pretty independent. I have learned to travel alone, attend social gatherings alone, and be the sole representative from our union at family and other events. Having been unmarried until my late 30’s, I had developed those skills quite solidly. A year after we were married, we finally moved in together (another story) and it took a while to begin to realize just how handy those skills would be in my marriage.

For several years (and more often than not to this day) we arrived at locations in two different vehicles because we came from two different places. For several years we left events and went back to two different places. In fact, we landed at the Manchester, NH airport after our honeymoon and while he headed south to go back to work, I headed north. Odd? Yes. Necessary at the time? Definitely.

We are beginning of our seventh year of marriage and it is only in the past two years that I have fully come to realize how beholden I am to the schedule of a police officer. Each year we forecast his holiday schedule just after the changing of shifts on October 1 and figure out when we will squeeze in celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas – often early or late in the day around his schedule – sometimes on a completely different day from the rest of the world. Sometimes the stars line up so that he has Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. Most often he has to work at least one of them and fairly often he gets stuck working both. Each year we invite people to come visit us for New Year’s Eve as he always has to work – no exceptions. 

Holidays are relatively easy to plan for – you adjust and bend and it becomes the norm after a while. It’s the other 362 days of the year that are harder to adjust for most of the time. Three months after forecasting the holiday schedule we start all over again trying to figure out what the next quarter will bring with the next shift change on the horizon knowing that now he might work midnight shift or evening shift or swing shift. (Luckily the more senior he is, the more control he has over this choice... usually.)

More than once have we had plans to meet for dinner or at an event and the call comes that he has been held over because they arrested a drunk driver 10 minutes before shift change. Or he is stuck because they have to transport a prisoner to the county jail or the hospital and he can’t leave until the escorting officer returns. Or that his day has been so crazy busy that he needs to stay late and finish all of the paperwork.

More than once I have had to drop back and punt – rearrange the schedule so I can pick up my step-son or call our hosts or dinner companions to beg off or make a new plan. Most of the time, I don’t mind. It’s okay because he is really committed to his job. He loves it. He is well-liked, he is highly respected for the excellent job that he does, and more importantly he truly enjoys what he does.

Does that always help me keep my cool when I've done 100% of the parenting-laundry-cleaning-shopping etc for the past month because his schedule has been so crazy? No. I am ashamed to admit that I occasionally get hazy about how hard he is working and only focus on how much more work I have to do around the house. I usually talk myself straight before I dump those irrational thoughts on him but occasionally he has to put up with me until the anvil drops on my head and I wake up. Luckily he’s a very patient man.

Being the wife of a cop means that even at 5:30am or 11pm when you don’t even want to be conscious, you wake up enough to kiss him, hug him, look him in the eye to tell him that you love him and send him on his way with two words, “Be safe” to which he responds (or you can’t go back to sleep), “Always”. 

Being the wife of a cop means that he might leave at 6:30am and not be home until 1:30am the next morning if he's pulling a double shift. It means dinner alone, dog-walking alone, shopping alone, movies alone. It means figuring out how to entertain yourself at a moment's notice.

Being the wife of a cop means that you make a lot of the decisions about your home life on your own or manage these conversations between dispatches or via text message. It means giving up the notion that you are ever going to have a "normal" family evening every night.

Being the wife of a cop means that in order to stretch his salary, you have to put up with last minute overtime shifts or traffic details that he can’t turn down - Not because someone is forcing him but because he never knows when the next overtime opportunity might come and the money always comes in handy. And with the overtime shift comes the odd sleeping schedule – getting home at 6pm, going to sleep by 7pm, showering at 10:30pm and leaving for work at 11pm. And the odd eating schedule - making dinner for him at 11pm so he can eat it at 5am. And being a cop's wife means that you have to listen to people tell you how "over paid" cops are when they see their year-end salaries in the annual report. It means exercising  restraint and keeping yourself from launching into this list of everything cops and their families sacrifice for their "huge salaries" at the top of your lungs.

Being the wife of a cop in a relatively small town doesn't give you the luxury of knowing that he will be coming home that night. Tonight might be the night that some drunk driver hits him while he is standing on the side of the road making a routine traffic stop. Today might be the day that the mentally unstable person decides to end it all and wants to take a cop with him. Today might be the day that just about anything can happen and the man that you love, the one you pledged to love forever, the one who swore to protect and serve is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Being the wife of a cop means really listening to him when you express your concerns about his safety and he explains all of the ways he is trained and vigilant about avoiding all of those situations. It means trusting that he knows how to protect himself. But being a policeman's wife means aching when you hear the news of an officer killed in the line of duty knowing that somewhere someone is getting the call you hope and pray you will never get.

Being the wife of a cop means being flexible, able to rebound, independent, supportive, a good listener, and a bit of a politician.

Being the wife of a cop is not easy. But being the wife of a man that you are proud of in every way sure makes it a lot easier!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Election Hangover...

I don't sort through mass amounts of coded information or misinformation well and therefore campaigns of any kind overwhelm me. The recent Presidential election was no exception. There is so much being thrown at us that it is impossible to decipher what is fact, fiction, fantasy, reality, rhetoric, promise, lies, smokescreen, and bullshit. It's absurd at best and smothering at worst.

Seeing trash camouflaged as campaign signs on the road adds to my mental clutter by increasing my anxiety about where all of those plastic pieces of rubbish will end up. Are they recyclable? How many of them were printed? Are they even effective? The sheer volume of them does nothing to lure me into believing that one candidate is better than the other and I can't honestly see how it would do that for anyone else.

And then there's the mudslinging that comes with campaigns. It doesn't just happen between candidates or their representatives. It happens on a personal level too. Right up until the moment that I filled in the bubble on my ballot, I hadn't truly made up my mind about who I thought would do a better job as President of the United States. Each actually has something to offer... and each has drawbacks as well. That's my downfall - I see the good in everyone. I had to boil it down to key issues that affect me personally and that is how I made my decision this year. I usually think more globally but that's the method I chose this time around.

Am I convinced that I voted "the right way"? No. Did I do what I thought was right at the time? Yes. But opening up my Facebook last night as the results were coming in, I saw so many comments about "Obama won. Moving to Canada." or about how stupid the American public is for voting Mr. Obama in for a second term that I'm nauseated. Apparently so were many of my good friends which made me feel better.

Some responded to the polarizing comments with long, well-worded essays about tolerance and diversity being the backbone of this country. Others wrote short statements saying that if someone was going to berate them and call them stupid for how they cast their vote, they were no longer welcome as friends and simply "unfriended" the offenders. And one posted the image on the left with no words of her own but it spoke volumes to me.

I won't unfriend people for having a different opinion than I do but I will stick with my policy that how I vote and why I've made a certain choice is not open for discussion.

With that, I hope that the next four years move this country in a positive direction. I have always been taught to respect the position of President even if you may not agree with who is keeping the seat warm for the time-being.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Diary of a Dog-ma - The Terrierist

Front row: Glacier
Back row: Brody
Holding leashes: Husband
Our "new-ish" rescue dog Glacier has gained a reputation in our house which has earned her the perfect nickname - The Terrierist. We don't really know what mix of breeds she is (and we aren't about to pay to have a DNA test done) but our best guess includes: Yellow Labrador Retriever (basic body structure, coat, head shape), Bassett Hound (length of body and profound use of nose at ALL times), and Terrier (curled tail and small prey drive that makes all other things in the world irrelevant to her). We suppose there maaaaay be some Rockhead Beaver Hound (a made up breed for one of those breeds that insurance companies won't cover) or other variations in her but we don't really care.

The Terrierist has gotten her name honestly. She's like the sweet little old woman you'd never expect to be plotting some evil plan - she's just too angelic-looking to even consider that as a possibility. But make no mistake, after baking cookies for the church bake sale, she's headed back to the hidden room in her basement to fine-tune the plan. That's Glacier. She will be sound asleep (AKA plotting with eyes closed) on the couch snoring one minute (I've really got to get a good video of this - it's incredible how loud she is for her size!) and the next she will stroll by nonchalantly, grab Brody's rear leg to test if he's up for a wrestling match, and then walk into the dining room and pee on the floor. Mind you... she has been outside within the last hour (Opportunity #1 to do her business properly), she has walked right by me (Opportunity #2 to indicate a need to go outside and do her business properly) and strode past the door (Opportunity #3!) but she has ignored those opportunities and moved right onto Action Plan A which includes peeing in nearly the exact same spot in the middle of the dining room floor each time. (I really can't be too mad because she's only done it three times [once in the middle of the night and twice while I was sitting in the living room five feet from her] but when she does do it, it just seems so deliberate.)
Plotting.

The Terrierist likes to keep us guessing as to how she will strike next... like a few weeks ago when we had begun to trust that she wasn't going to chew anything so we started letting her stay outside of her crate in the dining room with Brody when we weren't home - She did this successfully for at least a week with no nonsense... then I came home one day and she had nibbled two pork chop sized holes in the slipcover (that my dear friend had made for us!) on one of the two arm chairs in the dining room.

And for today's strike, she hit where it hurts... Last year I found the most perfect pair of purple "warmies". (Warmies are the socks that my husband strongly dislikes because they can't go in the dryer and must be hung on the drying rack over the stove. Warmies can be wool, alpaca fiber, or a blend of fibers that will shrink and/or break down in the dryer.) This particular pair of socks were just the right length, thickness, and had just the right amount of stretch to be comfortable and stay up. They were perfect.

We have finally started having some real fall weather and I pulled out the warmies last week. I often go to sleep with socks on and slip them off after I warm up. If I'm conscious enough, I'll toss them in the general direction of the laundry hamper and then get them the rest of the way in the morning.

Saturday was chilly so I wore my perfect purple warmies... and tossed them toward the hamper somewhere around 2am (or maybe it was 1am - I don't know - the clocks changed and that always throws me for a loop for a few days). At 3:30am Sunday morning I had someone call out sick from work for a 7am shift so I had to get up very early and spend the next several hours in my office trying to cover that shift and a few others that had also come open throughout the morning.

When I finally came down to the kitchen, my husband said "I have some bad news. The Terrierist struck again" as he held up one of my perfect purple warmies displaying the completely chewed off toe area. I was not a happy Dog-ma and turned, with sock in hand, toward to offender now lying peacefully in her bed on the kitchen floor. "Naughty!" I said as I presented her with the sock. She nosed it and turned away like I'd offered her liver - okay... that's me that hates liver... - substitute liver with whatever grosses out a dog... which judging from her rolling in deer doo at Grandpa's farm last week, isn't much, and that sums up her reaction.

I brought her attention back to the sock and said again "Naughty! This is MINE. NO chewing. No! Naughty!" I then put the sock on the floor next to her bed... and she spent the next 35 minutes resting her chin on it before I threw it away.

She is the "run silent, run deep" type of Terrierist as she tends to begin to lull you into believing that her puppy nonsense is behind her when !WHAM! she slams you with the cold hard truth that she CAN and WILL do whatever she wants if and when the feeling moves her. yay. That's small and all lower case in order to emphasize my enthusiasm for this phenomenon. I have none. This does not thrill me.

When we brought Brody home he chewed up his bed in his crate twice then, just to see what would happen, we tried him out in the house for an hour then two hours, then all day... and he was an angel! He's never been in a crate since then (except when he would sneak into Glacier's crate to steal the peanut butter-filled Kong she had ignored while busying herself with the prime order of the day... chewing her way out of the crate instead of occupying herself with the tasty "busy treat".)

Brody has always been a perfect gentleman in the house - no peeing, no chewing, no garbage, no... no... wait a minute! He's NOT perfect! I just remembered when I bought chocolate covered Halva for my nephews for Christmas and Brody stole it out of a shopping bag and ate it... on our bed... smearing chocolate alllllll over our handmade quilt - I won't describe what it looked like when he was done but I was happy it smelled like chocolate when I approached...

Okay... I feel better about this. Glacier's got room to grow! YAY!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adventures of a (Itchy) Dog-ma - Fleas.

A few weeks ago I thought winter skin had set in even though winter isn't here... I had some itchy spots that I couldn't attribute to anything else since it's October.  I even complained to my husband that I felt like I had little bugs on my face in bed one night. He thought I was crazy as I quickly started researching bed bugs...

Then a few nights later at about 1:30am, I looked over at my white dog, Glacier, and saw a bug crawling across her face. As soon as it hopped away from my approaching fingers, I knew what it was... a flea.


The only other time I have ever dealt with fleas was when I moved into my summer cabin at the camp I worked at in California. I sat down on the floor and saw bugs jumping all over me... It took several weeks of bombing the house to knock back those little suckers and we certainly didn't want to deal with that!

As soon as I caught and ground between my fingers that first flea that I found on Glacier's face, I immediately went to work looking both dogs over carefully... and found both had fleas in their nether regions - not a ton but one is too many! Yes, it was 1:30am. Yes, I was home alone. (I'm sensing a theme here... Every time I had to wash skunk off our old dog Jericho, my husband was conveniently in another state. :-)) But regardless of time or on-hand staffing, BOTH dogs got a bath and all sheets, dog beds etc went right into the washing machine. I only got two hours of sleep before work... but it was worth it!

After 15+ years of dog ownership and nary a flea in sight, we suddenly had to become flea experts in a hurry. Thank you, Google! Here is what we've learned about how to manage fleas without the use of chemicals.

First... fleas are tenacious little buggers that require a multi-faceted, full-force, constant and steady long-term attack if you are going to get them before they get you!

Second... it IS possible to manage them without introducing chemicals or other harsh or toxic treatments into a home that is otherwise cleaned and maintained naturally.

Here's how...

The first step in the process is to toss all hosts (yep, you too!) into the shower/bath as soon as possible. Wash them with Dawn dish detergent - it kills them pretty much instantly and isn't too terrible on their skin if you rinse and rinse and rinse them clean. If they've got a thick undercoat, like Brody does, this step takes a while - be patient.

The next step, while the dogs are drying, is to strip everything - sheets, linens, dog bed covers etc and get them through a hot wash and dryer as quickly as possible. The detergent will take care of the mature fleas and the hot water and the heat of the dryer will also tackle the eggs and larvae. I'll bet that you are feeling all creepy-crawly now thinking about the eggs and larvae, right? Me too!

The next step is to purchase a good amount of food grade diatomaceous earth - we found it in 4.5lb bags and bought two bags for our 1,600 sf house that is about half carpeted/throw rugs and our half acre property. You can usually find this at garden center or the like. Do NOT use pool grade diatomaceous earth - it is different and can cause health problems for you and your animals. Always get the food grade!

Also purchase a big bag of baking soda - we found it at our local bulk purchasing warehouse.

And while you are out shopping, buy a couple of large bottles of organic apple cider vinegar.

Here's how and why to use each of them...

Diatomaceous earth (DE) - Wear a mask! DE junks up your lungs like any other fine particle. There is nothing toxic about it but lungs aren't designed to handle dust.
Diatomaceous Earth -
Off-white with a flour-like consistency

  • Sprinkle a generous amount covering all carpeted surfaces that your dogs have come in contact with (and ones that they haven't... might as well!) and including furniture etc. Then work it into the fabric with a broom or brush and leave it there for as long as you are comfortable - a few hours at least. Then vacuum it up. The vacuuming excites the fleas into leaving their cocoons and they get nailed with the DE and then they get sucked up and die. DE has fine, sharp edges that cuts the exo-skeleton of the fleas and dehydrates them (and slugs too!).
  • Then when your dogs are completely dry, rub a good amount of DE directly into your dogs coat including gently around the ears and muzzle. Don't forget the nether regions (taking care not to overwhelm the truly sensitive parts) and full length of the tail. The DE will stay in their coat for a day or so depending on how thick their coat is and how wet they get. Feel free to re-apply daily until the little buggers are gone. 
  • Sprinkle DE on dog beds or any other place that they spend time.
  • Walk around your yard spreading DE all over it. Repeat after the yard has dried if it rains - water "melts" the DE and renders it ineffective. Pay particular attention to areas where fleas hang out... like for us, along the fence line that borders our neighbors yard. He told us last summer that he had a flea infestation but Brody never got it.
Baking Soda - Wear a mask. See lungs v. dust explanation as to why.
  • Spread a thin layer of baking soda into all of the same places that you used the DE in the house. The DE only works on mature fleas but the baking soda works to dry up the eggs and larvae before they even hatch. Work it in with a broom and leave it for as long as you can - up to 48 hours if possible - and then vacuum up.
  • Toss some in with the washing that you are doing too - it can't hurt!
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar - 
  • Add a tablespoon or so to your dog's drinking water. The acid of the vinegar increases the pH in the dog's body and fleas don't like it. 
  • You can also make a spritz with one part water and one part vinegar and spray it directly on their coat. Rub it in well and really soak them well. Do this every day if fleas are bad, every other day as the problem eases.
Things to remember... 
  • Repeat the dusting and vacuuming every day or every other day for several weeks to make sure you've killed all of the fleas in the various stages.
  • Once you are done vacuuming, you MUST empty the vacuum bag immediately. In order to fully kill what's in there, you can freeze the bag for a few days before putting it out in the trash. That will keep them from crawling out and starting all over again.
  • Vacuum cleaners with Hepa filters can get jammed up with the fine dust so if you've got a shop vac, that's probably your best bet.
  • A clean dog isn't enough. A clean house isn't enough. You have to tackle ALL fronts simultaneously or you'll just end up chasing your tail... literally and figuratively.
  • Keep at these multi-faceted approaches for several weeks. If you give up early, you are giving in. 
  • DON'T go to the toxic stuff. It's bad for you, your pets, your family. It stays in your house much longer than you think. It's bad stuff. Don't do it!
This is the best website we found - http://www.richsoil.com/flea-control.jsp

Friday, October 26, 2012

Adventures of a Dog-ma... First Travels

I travel a lot. Therefore we are always in a constant state of what to do with the dog. Now it's two dogs. Brody is a piece of cake - when he was an only dog and I traveled to CT, I could swing in with no notice and drop him at my in-law's house for a little grand-dog time. Glacier has added a new wrinkle to the negotiations.

Despite being very friendly with us when we first met her, she has major "stranger shyness" that we weren't prepared for at all. (Luckily it manifests in hiding under things, not being aggressive in any way.) This means that new people, even people she's met before but doesn't see regularly, require a fairly significant breaking in period.... Therefore dropping the pair with Grammy and Grandpa isn't quite on the roster yet. Soon we hope!

So... Needing to be in CT for a few days this weekend while my husband worked multiple 16 hour shifts required bringing both dogs with me to my dad's farm for the first time.

We arrived after our four hour drive and Glacier leapt from the car thinking we had just arrived in heaven! Suddenly she had acres and acres of fields to run in. She and Brody could get more than 20 feet from me without me constantly calling them back to me. She could run at full tilt (which is REALLY fast!) without having to slam on the brakes for the fence. She cavorted like she's been imprisoned her whole life... Well... She kind of has.

Then as I stood there smiling because I'd just achieved saint status in the dog's eyes for bringing her here... she stopped, dropped and rolled... in the nastiest, gooiest, most prolific pile of deer diarrhea she could find. Despite my yells of "NO! Leave it! Glaciiiiiiieeeeeer!!!! NASTY!!!!!!!" she proceeded to roll in it so that from under her chin to under the opposite rear leg, she was striped like a barbershop pole. White dog. Green-brown crap. She was covered. I particularly appreciated the chunks waggling at me from her collar as she trotted happily back toward me. I didn't like her right then.

I spent the next twenty minutes holding my breath while washing her from head to toe with a sponge, pitchers of warm water, and some dish soap. Her happy wore off quickly. Mine was sulking elsewhere.

With that debacle behind us, we went to visit my mom who had just gotten home from rehab after her hip replacement. No dogs allowed. So I left the two pooches in the back of the car and went in for a visit. A few peeks out the window and they seemed fine. When I went out, the hazard lights were flashing, the brand new radio that my husband had just installed in my car had the volume knob popped off (it went right back on - PHEW!) and my iced coffee was spilled onto my seat. Frick and Frack were lounging in the "way back" like nothing happened but I soon figured out (because at our next quick stop she did an abbreviated version of her antics again with less disastrous results) that Glacier had spotted a squirrel and had bounced through every inch of the car trying to get to it.... With no luck. (Note: it was at this point that I texted my husband to resume the search for a dog gate for the back of the car.)

Back at the farm we went for another romp only this time, wiser Dog-ma that I am, I kept her on the leash until we were far away from the scene of the earlier slide-by crapping. She romped and ran with Brody happily for 30 minutes and had no further interactions with poo. "Yay!", I thought, "Perhaps I'm safe letting her run as long as she's far away from the pine trees!?"

She spent the evening hiding under my dad's desk... Hoping that he and everyone else that stopped by would just go away. And the next day the walks in the field went great... But exceptional Dog-ma that I am, despite pushing eight feet several inches back from the edge of the "way back" door, shut Brody's foot in the door and broke his toenail off. Poor guy. He was already limping from romping too hard... And now he's really got something to limp about!

Glacier met my mom and step-dad for the first time... And hid under the table and behind couches for the duration until we headed back to the farm for another romp in the fields. Thirty or so minutes into the romp, my previous delusion came to a sliding halt as she found a fresh pile of deer doo in the field and promptly gave herself the barbershop pole swirl again. And again I washed the danged dog with a danged sponge and danged pitchers of danged warm water... which I had wisely left outside knowing that it likely wasn't the last time!

I felt like the mother that wants to leave her kids at the playground so someone else can watch them for a while and I can go get a massage... I didn't though. I reminded myself that at home, I love Glacier. At home she's funny and entertaining.

Did I mention that neither of them ate a bit of food for 36 hours? Apparently the high-end extraordinarily expensive dog food is just too intolerable without ground turkey added. (Don't judge us... We are trying to fatten her up!) So... Off to the store for some wet food to mix in and at last two dogs - one limping, the other smelling like poop and Ajax - finally gobbled up some food and passed out on their beds.

Thus far the first trip has included poop rolling, poop eating (I won't say which dog - you'll have to decide if they lick your face), two makeshift baths, a broken toenail, a wet coffee butt, a narrowly avoided call to explain how my new radio got broken, barely any real food (poop doesn't count as real food), two pounds of diatomaceous earth to help combat the terrible flea year, and me sharing a queen sized bed with 100lbs of snoring dogs while their perfectly good beds go unused on the floor. I'm such a sucker...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adventures of a Dog-ma - Night Sounds...

Brody has had four years to break us in to his peculiarities so he's not getting much play in the blog about his oddities... but really, when I think about it, he doesn't really have any. Well... he does seem to have extremely vivid dreams and actually woke me up this morning with a low, mournful throaty whistle of sorts - whatever he was dreaming about was sad. So I woke him up and he was fine but he does get quite animated in his dreams complete with vocalizations and some fancy footwork! He also isn't a prancer or pacer when he's hungry or needs to go out, he prefers to sit directly in front of you and stare intently in your eyes until you catch a clue and take care of whatever it is that he needs. If you don't respond for a while, he goes and lies down and tries again later. He's really the easiest dog in the world!

Glacier, on the other hand, is a constant source of entertainment. She emits a high-pitched, muffled howl when she wants your attention, when she thinks we're going for a walk/ride/outside/or other such fun activity or when you walk by and she thinks you haven't pet her recently enough. She also reminds me a bit of my cat Charlie's old habit and races down the stairs in the morning to beat me into the living room where she lies in wait with her butt in the air and chest on the floor howling... and then as soon as I cross into the living room, she pounces on me and grabs my fingers in her mouth as we head to the door. She's a bit of a loose cannon.

The other night we had all settled in for the night - we'd finally kicked the two dogs off the bed (100 lbs of dog is a lot to handle when sorting out blankets and pillows!) and all was quiet. Glacier had tip-toed downstairs (we never heard her leave) and as we quietly watched our movie and were drifting off to sleep, we heard the tell-tale sound of her coming back up the stairs... She dropped her bone. It's a large bone (made to resemble a beef bone except it doesn't splinter) about 6" long and 2.5" in diameter. It's heavy. She had apparently made it nearly to the top step of our wood-treaded stairs when it slipped out of her jaws and tumbled like a slow-moving slinky to the bottom step. 

My husband and I looked at each other as the deliberate 12-13 "clonk, clunk, thunks" rang through the house as the bone  plummeted and when it came to rest without the sounds of shattered glass or whimpering dog, we erupted in laughter! Going to get the bone was clearly too much for her so she walked into the bedroom, flopped on her bed and let out a perfunctory old man groan. .

I have only ever heard one other dog make the noises that Glacier makes on a regular basis. A few months ago my sisters and I were walking with one of their dogs - a 9-10 month old black lab 70 lb "puppy" named Homer. We were just finishing up a five mile loop in the fast-approaching dark when we decided to check in on a neighbor's newborn calf and his herd of cows. Before we knew what was happening, Homer slipped through the electric fence into the pasture with the cows. He was a rookie with cows and with a newborn calf in there, we didn't know how the cows would react so we had to scramble to get him out as quickly as possible. After several efforts to coax him back through the live fence by separating the strands with some fiberglass poles we had found, we realized we were ONLY going to get him out by going in there and getting him. In the pitch black we finally found the shut off switch to the fence and my sister climbed in... but Homer wouldn't come any where near the fence (having gotten zapped on the nose the one time we got him to almost come through the separated strands) so she had to lift him up, carry him ~20 feet back to the fence, and hand him over the fence to me. All the way home Homer made noises I had never heard a dog make before - groans, grunts, grunts that morphed into yelps, groans that slid into howls - he was a sad sad puppy!

So now we have a dog that makes noises constantly. She's not a barker (thank God!) but she grunts and groans like an old man settling into his chair, howls, woofs quietly through her closed lips... and she snores. She snores worse than most men I know! The other night I was working in my office, which is the next room over from our bedroom, and for a second, I thought my husband had gone to bed... but it wasn't him snoring so loud that I needed to shut the door in order to concentrate - it was our 40 lb dog!

She has brought a lot of joy and energy to the house... and she is getting away from some of her naughty settling in/puppy behaviors... and we all love her. But sometimes Brody looks at her like she's a completely different species and totally off her rocker. She kind of is.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Being a Dog-ma...

Last night while I was lying on the couch wearing a 60 lb blanket (Brody) across my chest and a 40 lb blanket (Glacier) on my feet, I found a mass on Brody's abdomen. Of course he was so zonked out that I couldn't really move him to compare sides but it seemed to me like it was about the size of a super ball and gelatinous-like deep under the skin. I've never found anything like this on any of our dogs so I called the vet this morning to just have her take a look.

Our vet's office is five minutes from our house but even if it was further away, I would still take our animals there for one reason... they LOVE our animals and make them feel like they are only in business for these two dogs! The vet tech that answered the phone this morning gushed about how adorable Brody is (I had found out during our last visit that she actually has a picture of him on her personal cell phone - creepy if he was a child, cute since he's a dog) and that she hoped we could come in while she was still there so she could see him. Unfortunately she left earlier than our appointment so he had to just deal with being adored and ogled by the vet and the other tech.

When we arrived, I brought Brody in first and left Glacier in the car until I got him settled. The moment we approached the cubicle (foolishly upholstered with cloth!) that surrounds the check-in desk, he swung around and for a flash it looked like he was about to lift his leg on it. Apparently the tech's appearance at that exact instant changed his mind and I guffawed as I told her that he had looked like he was about to pee on it (since I was SURE he'd NEVER do such a thing)... and as we were laughing............ the little stinker DID lift his leg and pee on it!

I pulled him away before he got off much of a shot and took him outside briskly. I returned a few minutes later explaining that he'd never ever peed inside before (except one time he started to trickle on the couch while he was dreaming but he stopped as soon as we woke him up) as she was cleaning it up and she was laughing saying not to worry about it - it wasn't the first time (upon further inspection, it looks like he's about the 500th dog to have done it there). But it WAS the first time for Brody and I was mortified nonetheless! I'm just hoping that the news of his un-adorable behavior doesn't get back to Christine or she might not think he's such a doll any more!

So, with Brody secured several feet from his new favorite pee spot, I brought Glacier in and weighed each of them. Despite Glacier eating a full cup more than Brody each day of the really expensive "healthy weight" dog food, BOTH dogs gained a pound! Brody is supposed to be losing five pounds and she is supposed to be gaining five pounds! Eesh! Then we went in to see the vet and Glacier slid into her normal "standby position" under the bench - she's still getting used to the love - while Brody gave joyful kisses and then stood stock still while the vet probed at his belly.

After a bit of prodding and squeezing, it turns out that Brody's lump is most likely a "Fatty Mass" which is common in labs and is harmless (Phew!) but we need to watch it for changes. I'd like to say it's where the extra pound came from... but nobody would buy it.

Loving What I Do...

These past two weeks I've had to come face-to-face with the person that I feel had a strong role in getting me "laid off" from my job a few years ago so that she could get a full-time job there. It was really hard when I found out that she was going to be working with an organization that I currently do a lot of work with but I reminded myself of the good that came from it and faced her head on. She's super friendly and even now I'm not sure exactly how much of a pawn or participant she was in what happened - it doesn't really matter at this point - arm's length is close enough for me.

The first time I saw her, I kept it brief and light and I could tell that she was happy that I was nice to her - my last day at the aforementioned job I wasn't as kind as I could have been. I don't feel bad though because whether she was pawn or participant, she KNEW what was happening. She KNEW that in order for her to move from part-time to full-time, I had to lose my job entirely but on my last day she had the gall to stand in my office with a pouty lip and ask me what I was going to do next and ooze about how much she would miss me. For God's sake... when you've been blind-sided with a lay off and then had to stick around wrapping things up for two weeks, it's pretty damned hard to be nice to the people that had anything to do with it.

The second time that I saw her, we were alone in the office and I could tell that she was prying for information about how life has gone for me since the layoff. I bounced. I always bounce. I ended up in the job that I've got now that I love and with that, life is grand - I have no complaints! Yes, I made four times as much money at the previous job but I also had 50 times the stress. I also had back pain, a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, and felt the least appreciated I had ever felt in my professional career. Magically within weeks of leaving that job, the back pain subsided, the fibromyalgia diagnosis was lifted and stress was identified as the source of the constant pain in my hands and feet, and I moved on to a job where now I get thanked for doing even the most basic things. 

In my mind, I'm the winner. She ended up working there for three more years and let me tell you, it has aged her. A lot! She kept telling me how happy and beautiful I look now and I know it's because I am happy with what I do for work AND that it gives me time to do the things at home and with family that I didn't have time for during my previous job. I had come into that previous job with a promise that I could have the flexibility to go to my step-son's tennis matches and school functions - reality turned out that I was allowed to go to ONE tennis match and made to feel guilty about it before and after. I was miserable.

The last three years since I left there have been storied with both personal and professional joys and challenges but right now, I can honestly say that getting laid off from that job was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Aspiration

It's weird to me that the word "aspiration" means more than one thing: Strong desire, longing, or aim; ambition OR the act of inhaling fluid or a foreign body into the bronchi and lungs, often after vomiting.

I actually cannot imagine trying to sort out the English language if it wasn't my native tongue. But I digress...

I aspire to be graceful, not rich. I aspire to be kind in all situations, not right. I aspire to be considerate, not dominant. I aspire to live simply, not judgmentally. I aspire to be helpful, not bossy. I aspire to live in love, not intolerance. I aspire to be a person that I would invite into my life, not someone to run from.

I aspire to be like my mom who, among all of the things listed above, is also currently accepting a new hip into her body like she gets new joints every day! Good job, Mom! Welcome home!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Blame My Mother...

My mother takes Halloween VERY seriously. She loves this "holiday" more than any other. When we were kids, she would dress up become "Wanda Witch" every year as All Hallow's Eve approached. During certain years, when parents are a total embarrassment no matter what they do, this was not my favorite thing about my mom... but before and after those years, I thoroughly enjoyed my mom's enthusiasm for the season.

Wanda Witch had many incarnations over the years - sometimes she had elaborate, creepy hand-painted masks made of papier mache and sometimes she had green face paint with wadded up paper towel bits and Elmer's glue for warts. I don't think she ever wore a "store bought" mask... and neither did we. I'm not actually sure if we even knew that store bought costumes even existed!

A as Kojak (the bald skin cap and lollipop disappeared
by this time) and me as Police Woman.
On Halloween evening, we would spend an hour or two figuring out what we were going to dress up as and rummaging through boxes and closets to put together an outfit. Never did we ever run to the store for a costume - it was the 80's and we were raised by a frugal, creative mom who just didn't even introduce that as an option. None of our friends wore store-bought costumes either. We would occasionally get some face paint but more likely we decorated our faces with burned corks or heavy red lipstick smudged onto our cheeks, flour to gray our hair or whiten our skin, and ketchup for fake blood. I don't recall ever being embarrassed by what we came up with - more often than not, we had the more creative outfits at the parties we attended because we had a mom at home who totally got into helping us create costumes. She never freaked out about a cut-up t-shirt or shredded jeans (as long as they weren't new ones) and she never gave us a hard time about smashing her lipsticks to bits or staining our clothes.
Latka (from Taxi), Chachi (Happy Days), Daisy Duke,
Marcia Brady & the Incredible Hulk

To this day, we enjoy celebrating Halloween. A few years ago, the first Halloween after we moved into the house, we hosted a pizza party for the neighborhood and asked everyone (including the adults) to come in costume. We spent hours putting together our Shrek & Fiona homemade costumes and painting our faces and necks green. When we greeted people at the door, we were disappointed... nobody (except for a few kids in store bought princess dresses or spider man pajamas) came in costume! Not a single adult even put a silly headband on or anything. Hrmph. We realized that we weren't in Kansas Vermont anymore where we'd had some fabulous Halloween parties including themed parties like 70's TV characters, animation characters etc.

Me as "Carpenter Ant"
Years before when I lived in CT, we had HUGE Halloween parties that people went all out for and made (rarely bought) the most incredible costumes as well. One year a friend of mine and I spent weeks making our costumes out of rug padding and spray paint - his was a praying mantis and mine was a carpenter ant. The following year I made a dragon costume out of the same material and after being harassed throughout the party by the art teacher from the local school, I finally donated it to the school. (I kind of wish I hadn't... I'd like to pull that thing out again one of these years.)

Those parties were SO much fun but we figured out quickly that clearly we don't have the same type of friends/neighbors here on Cape Cod. What a bummer.

A and me at the Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival
But... luckily we have a weirdo family and last year we held a party celebrating my nephew in-law's first anniversary of being free of testicular cancer by hosting the "Jungleberry Ball & Testicle Festival" on my brother and sister in-law's farm in TN. The party was a hoot and included an ugly dress contest for the ladies and an ugly vest contest for the gents. Some of the entries were fabulous - my nephew Matt found a faux leopard fur vest that was hideous, my niece Anna looked like she'd stepped right off the plantation with her big flower-print dress and complementary hat, my brother wore a Halloween themed sweater vest that I'm pretty sure our grade school librarian once wore, my sister in-law wore a black and pink shiny little number with a top hat - the entries were hilarious!

So... Halloween is just a few weeks away and we need to figure out some way to celebrate. Perhaps the carpenter ant will make another appearance... or perhaps I'll disappear into my workshop with some new materials and see what else I can come up with - I've got some old textile quills that would make a fabulous porcupine! One thing is for sure, we'll be the only adults on the block dressed up again... and that's okay because I know that in CT, despite recovering from hip surgery, Wanda Witch will find a way to ride again!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Easy on the Sauce - Apple, that is.

I returned from my trip to Vermont last weekend with less than half our usual haul of fresh apples from Boyer's Orchard & Cider Mill in Monkton, VT. Here's why... We always go in October. There is always the "we" of A and me. We always go with our good friends. We seem to always to go to Boyer's on a rainy weekend when n-o-b-o-d-y is out picking apples. So this year it was completely off - I went a few weeks early because of our friend's housewarming party. A couldn't go so I was flying solo. My friend's baby was asleep when it was orchard time so I went alone. And it was a LOVELY fall day so absolutely E-V-E-R-Y-B-O-D-Y was there picking apples.


Cider donuts. Heaven on earth.
We usually make nearly a half day affair out of it by leisurely picking or selecting bags of apples, sitting on the deck of Boyer's eating said apples, drinking cider, nibbling on gobbling cider donuts (which, by the way, are a little slice of heaven!) and playing "What's this gourd remind you of?". But this time there were soooo many people there (I've never had elbows thrown in the little store. I've never had to wonder if I'd find parking. I've never had to jockey for position to check out. As a matter of fact, for the past few years I've spent quality time discussing recipes with the really friendly ladies that work there - no time for that this year!) that I parked, ran in, received a few flying elbows of one particularly rude woman, grabbed a peck of MacIntosh apples for cooking and a half peck of Empires for snacking (I'm not proud but I think that I ate six Empire apples on my way back to Cape Cod...), slapped down my cash, and hit the road.

My actual sauce and apples!
Now that I'm home and it's been rainy and I've been able to use up a-l-l of the apples that I bought, I'm really disappointed that I didn't get the usual half-bushel of apples. In past years we've had to bake huge desserts for people and otherwise figure out ways to use up the wilting remainder of the apples but not this year. This year I embarked on making the easiest apple sauce I've ever made... and we've proceeded to eat apple sauce with nearly every meal since then. And because it's been rolling out of the fridge faster than I can put it up for later, I've got to figure out how to get some more apples PRONTO or the dead of winter will surely bring on the scurvy! It's a good thing that I'm headed to Connecticut next weekend so I can stock up at the orchard near my family.

So... the easiest apple sauce in the world - ready? Get a pen. Get a piece of paper. Here it is!

Water
Apples
Honey (optional)

Easy, eh?

Okay... here, in a tad more detail, is the actual way to make the world's easiest (and tastiest) apple sauce!

Do you remember earlier posts when I've talked about being lazy? Yep, this falls perfectly in line with my grand goal in life of working smarter, not harder. Therefore, get out my favorite kitchen appliance - the crock pot!

We use one of these to core
and cut up the apples then we cut
each wedge into four chunks.
Put just enough water in the bottom of the crock pot to cover the bottom surface, core and chunk (leave peels on) about 12-14 (depending on size of apples and your crock pot) Macs or even sweeter apples of your choice, toss them in the crock pot set on low for 5-6 hours and let cool a bit. Test it once it has cooled a bit but is still warm to see if it is sweet enough (some tart apples need a little help) and add a tablespoon or two of honey - it doesn't take much!

Put the apple mash through the food mill using the largest disk for lumpier sauce or smallest for smoothest to remove most of the peels. I think it's fine without doing this step but this does actually infuse some air and bulk it up a bit so it's not heavy. In terms of yield, I find that the average medium to large apple makes about 3/4 cup of sauce when made this way.

Preserve in the means you choose - you can either can it in mason jars or freeze it in zip-lock bags with all of the air squeezed out. If you are like me, most of it won't make it to that stage but heck, there is always batch number three for me to try to get some stored for the gray months.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seven Years and Five Months to Freedom

No, I'm not in jail. Well, not real jail but we are imprisoned in some ways. Everyone that has a car loan, mortgage, credit card debt, medical bills or any other kind of debt is in a jail of sorts. But we can see the end of the sentence and we are so excited about it!

No, we aren't going to rob a bank. No, we aren't counting on winning the lottery - but we wouldn't turn it down if we did! No, we aren't counting the days until an unknown wealthy relative kicks the bucket. We are investing in our debt. That sounds silly I suppose. Let me explain...

Last week we took a class at the local adult community school called "Becoming Debt-Free" (or something like that). We weren't exactly sure what to make of it but after two hours of listening to the instructor and crunching our numbers, we were high-fiving each other with the idea that we could be debt-free, including our mortgage, in less than 10 years! When we got home, we re-calculated using actual figures and realized that we could be debt-free in just over SEVEN years if we stick to the program!

For people like us who work hard, don't spend wildly, and have big dreams for an early retirement, that is music to our ears!

It's not a difficult concept - it's just a matter of bucking some conventional wisdom, committing to the system, and sticking with it no matter what. We can do that!

The fellow that we took the class with, Blanchard Warren, had retired in his late 50's (like we want to do) and realized that he had a lot of debt holding him back so he set out to clean it up... and he succeeded! Now he goes around Massachusetts and teaches regular people like us how to do it too! It doesn't take a miracle or any additional income, it's just a reallocation of the money that you are already paying out - brilliant! I had already been doing something similar and we had seen huge advancements in polishing off our debt but this system put us on the fast-track to freedom.

We were so excited by the prospects that we made even further adjustments so that we can ideally be done even more quickly. To think that in just seven years (or so) we can have the freedom to travel more extensively, buy/build a farm in Vermont like we've been dreaming about, indulge in the toys we want (Mustang and firearms for him, Jeep and cameras for her), and, of course, squirrel away even more money for retirement... is SO exciting!

I talked to the "big cheese" at the company that Blanchard teaches for (he called me personally after I had signed up for more information during the class) and told him that I was spreading the information about the class and system far and wide. He didn't have the usual "Hey, that's proprietary information that we charge money for" attitude that most business owners have. He said, "That's great! There are lots of free and inexpensive tools on our website that people can use! Call me any time if you have any further questions!" That's pretty cool in my book so I'll give him some free publicity too!

Thirty Days of Glacier

She floats! Kind of...
Our new rescue dog Glacier has been with us for a month now and she's finding her place in our home nicely. We've discovered some things about her that have made life more interesting than we expected but so far, so good.

The first thing we realized is that even though she's had a litter of pups and the rescue estimated her to be about two years old, she's more likely just over a year old. And since her first year of life included, at the very least, being neglected and raising a litter of pups, she never had the chance to be a puppy. Now that she is finally in a place where she can relax, she seems to be revisiting her puppyhood and letting some of those inner puppy behaviors out.

Finding her "inner puppy" has been entertaining in most ways... and challenging in others. Just when I think we're starting to figure her out, she throws us a new curve ball that we really didn't expect. For instance, in the early days here she flipped out and peed when left in the crate (despite being "fully crate trained") so we tried leaving her out in the kitchen/dining room with Brody while we were away during the day and she was good! Now... she's started chewing things and so it's back to the crate she goes while we are out - No more peeing in it as long as she's got a peanut butter filled chew toy to occupy her. And she has begun enjoying rearranging things - sometimes it's carrying my shoes around (which she just looks at me innocently as if to say she was just bringing it to the living room and had no intentions of chewing on it), sometimes it's hauling the mat that the water bowl sits on across the dining room (sloshing it as she goes) so that Brody can reach it from his side of the baby gate during meal times. Some times it's stuffing her head deep into the metal toy bucket for just the right toy and prancing around proudly with it... then dumping it in the middle of the living room rug and going back for a second bobbing-for-toys venture only to repeat the process until the bucket is empty. Our house looks like it's populated by two year olds with toys scattered everywhere!

Her personality is funny too. There are times when she's got the ambition of a garden slug - like right now when she's passed out in "her" chair. And sometimes she is bouncing like a Tigger while trying to get Brody to play with her... which usually includes leaping or clambering over him, and/or mouthing his back legs or ears until he gives in to a full on wrestling match... which, when it involves 100 lbs of dog, has resulted in furniture displacement. She also likes to let you know what she's thinking by tossing her head back (like she's flipping her ears out of the way first) and performing a modified howl. I like to ignore her first request because the howl is just so darned cute! Apparently she doesn't appreciate my delay tactics though because the other day she started nibbling and pulling on my toes to get me to pay attention to her. Silly girl!

And she's developing new skills daily as well... The other day while I was away (before she was relegated to the crate again) my husband came home to find her sleeping soundly in "her" chair in the living room. The problem was that Glacier and Brody had BOTH been on the dining room side of the baby gate when we left in the morning. He wasn't sure exactly how she had managed it but later that evening, she was proud to show off her ingenuity. After A had fed her in the dining room and closed the gate so she and Brody could eat (they are separated not for aggression but for volume - Brody needs less food and Glacier needs more food) in peace... She apparently had finished her food and decided it was time to join the family in the living room... and proceeded to c-l-i-m-b rather ungracefully over the baby gate.

Also while I was away she educated A about her ability to squeeze under the fence in places we never expected! He went out to get her and there she was looking at him from the outside of the gate.

The next day she chewed the arm on the slip covered chair in the dining room AND the new boxers that I just bought for A while I was away last weekend... and now faces being in the crate when we aren't home until we are sure she won't chew anymore.

Snuggle buds.
Despite her puppyness, we are really enjoying her and so is Brody. He can't seem to stop licking the inside of her mouth (it's gross but better than licking the other end!) and despite having six dog beds in this house (two on each floor), they enjoy cuddling up together on one bed - especially "their" king size bed that we occasionally manage to steal back from them.

We ARE looking forward to when we can trust her and she can have the run of the house like Brody does when we are out but she's got a little maturing to do before then. It will come though because she's very very smart! She has already learned several commands which she performs quite well as long as the wind doesn't blow and distract her - it doesn't take much.

We ALL start puppy school next week so hopefully that will move things along quickly with her development! We don't want her to lose her funny personality, just not to come home to boxer bits and torn up grocery bags. That seems reasonable.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Low-Carb Heavy-Veg Lasagna

My summer cooking hiatus is drawing to a close. I realized a year or two ago that this is my pattern - cook often and eat well during the cooler months and eat quicker (though still more healthy than not) foods that don't require much preparation during the hotter months. Luckily the hotter months are considerably fewer where I live!

With the weather turning a tad cooler (well... it was pouring rain and cool this morning but sweltering and humid this afternoon so it wasn't exactly the perfect time to return to cooking) my desire to start cooking again hit hard last night... especially after having trail mix and popcorn for dinner. (No photos available of that stellar meal.)

Needing to dramatically up the veggie intake after that well-balanced meal last night, I went to my "Sin-less Temptations" board on Pinterest and looked for something appetizing. Recently I pinned "Zucchini Lasagna" - a recipe that replaces lasagna noodles with thinly sliced, baked zucchini. After two trips to the grocery store (thankfully it's very close) I had everything necessary to make this dish.

Here is my slightly adapted version of the recipe:
5-6 medium zucchinis sliced lengthwise as thin as you can
1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 cups 1% cottage cheese (next time I think I'll use fat free - 1% is a little "loose" for my taste)
2 tbs fresh minced garlic (I use a lot - feel free to cut back)
1 large white onion
2 cups fresh spinach (uncooked)
2 cups fresh broccoli
2 cups fresh mushrooms
2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 tbs parmesan cheese
1 large jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (or make your own with diced tomatoes and herbs which is what I'd usually do but I was running behind)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Lay parchment paper on cookie sheet. Spread zucchini slices flat on parchment paper and salt lightly (to help draw out the water in the zucchini). Bake for 5-8 minutes each side. Set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

While the zucchini is cooking, brown the turkey, add onion, and garlic to the turkey and cook those as well.
Roughly chop the broccoli and spinach but no need to cook it - it will cook in the oven.

Spray a large baking dish to prevent sticking. Layer the meat sauce, veggies, cottage cheese, a little mozzarella cheese, and zucchini until the pan is full. Top with a little mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Be careful not to overfill the dish as it does bubble up a bit.

Bake for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

And the review is....

Two thumbs up! In reality, this ends up as more of a veggie bake than a lasagna. It gets pretty soupy because of all of the vegetables which I guess could be avoided by cooking and draining all of the veggies first but I actually quite liked the soupy-ness of it - The "soup" was quite flavorful!

I think that my mother would have put something like this in front of us as kids and billed it as "Hungarian Goulash"... which in retrospect I think really was just the night she cleaned out all of the leftover veggies from previous dinners and made something darned tasty (but not very pretty) from them.