Friday, October 29, 2010

My Perfect Space

Yesterday while talking with my mom, the topic of dream studio spaces came up.  Of course me being who I am, my imagination exploded and I began piecing together the different parts of what I would consider the perfect studio space in my perfect house.

So for the sake of something to pass the time and to indulge my silly frivolities I'm going to post a few pictures I've found that pique my interest!  Enjoy!

the obligatory easel that I can't do my art without

I love the idea of lots of natural light, a good amount of surfaces for all the papers I seem to accumulate, and the necessary tools for my hobbies.  Of course what studio would be complete without techniques to maximize the use of the probably small space I'll have to work with!  Below I'll just share some great ideas that I love that I will very likely use someday in my personal space!

chalkboard paint!

Okay so you've taken up sewing.  You buy some thread, you buy some buttons maybe, and possibly some ribbons, scissors, trim, cording, snaps.... oh no where are you going to put all this stuff?!!

utilizing doorways - yes!

the mother of all crafting spaces - wow!

Well that's enough daydreaming for me today I think!  What are your ideas for your perfect space? :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Pixel Chronicles

I thought I would do a separate post with the newest installment of The Pixel Chronicles!

Pixel is still very much being rehabilitated, and is coming along slowly but surely.  Recently she had a traumatic experience where a fan in our computer room fell off a shelf and landed on her while she was in her bed, and she's been very jumpy since.  Eventually she'll be back where she was, but for now we're taking things slow.

We are beginning to hone in on some of the more specific things Pixel is afraid of, what her triggers are, and what types of situations she is truly afraid of and what she's just uncomfortable with.  We have discovered that she is afraid of men.  Now we've been speculating that she must have been abused before by a man and that is why she jumps away when a man approaches her, or when a man enters the room and she stands up, alert and afraid.  But I read an article in a periodical today about rescue dogs and how adoptive parents of rescue dogs often make the mistake of assuming that an unsocialized dog is actually an abused dog.  Often dogs have just never been exposed to and socialized to be around whatever that trigger happens to be (in this case: men).  So now our task is to slowly show Pixel that men are not a threat to her, and that they can mean a lot of fun.

The way I have begun this mental exercise for Pixel is by introducing calm male figures in a safe environment.  The men approach Pixel with their backs to her, and sit down next to her, facing away from her.  Initially Pixel leans away and avoids looking in their direction at all (her mechanism for dealing with a frightening or stressful situation is avoidance).  Eventually, though, her curiosity will win and she will face the male and after sometimes several minutes she will even lean towards him and sniff him cautiously to investigate him.  This is the first step in her socialization with men.  The next step, when she is comfortable with him, is accepting treats from the man.  This is another long process that can take weeks to perfect, and we still aren't quite there yet.  We only just began this in the last couple days.  I am confident, though, that she will overcome this fear and we'll be able to move on and address the next one with equal success.

And eventually these fears will all be dealt with, and sometimes we'll have setbacks and she'll appear to 'relapse' occasionally, but we will deal with those too.

I also started Clicker Training with Pixel today.  For those of you who don't know, clicker training is a method of training that uses positive reinforcement.  It was invented by some psychology students, and has been used to train pigeons, whales, dogs, cats, even people!  It's very simple, and in just one day Pixel has already learned how to lie down!  To understand the significance of this, we've had Pixel since April 30th of this year and the only thing we've been able to teach her is sit, up (getting up on the couch, a chair, or the bed) and in (getting in the car).

I will keep you posted on the progress we make with the clicker training and the rehabilitation as it happens!  I'll also share our success stories and our failures in the hopes that you won't make the same mistakes we do!


Friday, July 2, 2010

Disney Wish List!

As a kid my dad always made sure we had a lot of exposure to the best animated Disney movies. He encouraged us to see all the new ones that came out, and all of his old favorites. We owned a few VHS Disney movies, but there were a lot we didn't own that I always wanted. After I moved out of my mom's house I no longer had any of those movies.

So I thought I'd make a list of the Disney movies I'd like to add to my library of DVDs, that way when we have kids I can expose them to some great Disney classics!

Okay so here they are - all my personal favorites!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dog Parks

I'm going to broach ground that may or may not offend some people. I am willing to take that chance in the hopes that maybe (just MAYBE) someone will read this and take to heart the things I am about to say.

Answer True or False as the statement applies to you:

1) – You are unable to understand (read) your dog’s body language.

2) - You are unable to read any dog’s body language.

3) - You expect your dog to behave the same way that he does at home.

4) - You are very sociable and easily distracted by conversations with other dog owners.

5) - Your dog does not ‘recall’ reliably.

6) - Your dog is terrified of other dogs.

7) - Your dog has a history of aggression toward humans.

8) - Your dog has a history of serious, damaging aggression toward other dogs.

9) - Your dog is not current on his vaccinations.

10) - You watch ‘The Dog Whisperer’ and are expecting the ‘pack’ to fix your dog.

Be honest, now :) If you answered 'True' to any of these statements, you might want to avoid Dog Parks.

I have only had Pixel for 8 weeks and I have already learned an amazing amount about dogs, dog behavior, dog parks, dog owners, etc etc. And I have to say that Dog Parks and Dog Owners are the ones that really leave impressions.

People who frequent dog parks and are also good, caring owners think about things like Who is going to be at the dog park today? Are their dogs going to be well-behaved? Are they up-to-date with their vaccines? Are they going to be with responsible humans? Can I trust these dogs?

If you are one of the people who asks these kinds of questions, it would appear you are in the minority in some dog parks. Of course it depends what time you go (off-peak times are the best times to experience dedicated, responsible owners and their well-behaved dogs), it also depends on which dog parks you go to in your city (you know your city and the reputation in different neighborhoods).

Mostly, though, your experience at the dog park comes down to the owners. Do they walk their dogs regularly; does their dog obey their human's commands; can they control their dog when it is necessary? These kinds of questions aren't a matter of opinion or a matter of different styles of owning a dog; they are ESSENTIAL to a dog's well being and health (ask anyone with a well behaved dog and they'll agree).

There is nothing more irritating than seeing an owner at the dog park frantic, running after their dog as he's playing a game of Chase with a new dog he's just met. What is going through this owner's mind? Does the owner think their dog is going to chase the other dog down and pummel him? Do they think their dog is going to catch up to the other dog and GET pummeled? Why does that thought even cross their mind? Do they understand dogs at all? Can't they read both of the dogs' body language to tell that neither dog has any ill intentions? And if not... what are they doing here? How can anyone live with an animal and know so little about it?

Also irritating is seeing punishment for no good reason. Often seeing this behavior can quickly go from mere irritating to downright infuriating. Here is the scenario:

Young man shows up at the park with an American Bulldog who we can all see is clearly still a puppy. His floppy ears and excited demeanor say it all, "I'm ready to play!" As soon as the maybe 6-8 month old dog gets sight of the group of dogs at the other end of the park, he immediately start springing toward them; straining at the end of his leash to be let go. The owner, frustrated with this excitement, yanks on the leash hard enough to send the puppy sprawling backwards adding in a harsh "NO!" This goes on for a while until the owner gets sick of trying to correct his distracted dog, and then eventually he lets the dog off the leash and away he runs! Immediately the owner yells after the dog, "NO!! Come!" So in a completely distracted, hyper state of mind this dog bolts off to play (that's why we came here right?), the owner lets him off the leash to go where his focus is, and he gets angry (oookay where's the sense in that?) Here we see one of two reactions to the dog running off. Either the owner runs after the dog, or he sulks around the dog park for a while brooding over his hyper dog. If he goes after the dog, he'll probably get close enough to lunge, reaching out to the dog just in time for the dog to see the bent over reach and he'll think the owner is ready to play and he'll dart away happily. Frustration increases, maybe some more frantic yells, and around and around we go.

It's not hard to see what this owner is doing wrong. But how many times have you yourself been guilty of this? How much do you REALLY know about your dog? If you're feeling defensive right now, chances are you know you've got some work to do. So go over there, to where he's laying down and get to know him! Play with him, walk with him, learn his mannerisms, watch how he reacts to the world around him, find out what excites him and what doesn't, take him somewhere he'll have fun and watch him at play and learn the way he communicates with other dogs!

Chances are you don't have a dog for decoration, so get over there and let him be a part of your life and be a part of his - so there is one less worry on those trips to the dog park :)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Doggy Tips

Just a couple more things I've learned about rehabilitating dogs in the last few days. These tips come from a combination of reading Cesar Millan's Cesar's Way, watching the Dog Whisperer, and experiencing things that work and things that don't with Pixel.

- Never share affection with a dog that is in an unstable state of mind. This includes saying things like "It's okay", "It's alright", or touching of any kind (petting, patting the head, etc.) When you do, it reinforces the unstable state of mind. Always wait till they are not fixated on something, not practicing avoidance, and acting calm.

- When sharing affection with a dog that is being rehabilitated, always pet underneath not on top. Petting the top of a dog's head pushes them down and tells their brain to hold their head down (reinforcing low self esteem). Petting under the chin or on the neck or even on the side or belly tells their brain to lift the head, be proud, be confident (raiding their self esteem)

- When leaving the house for walks, always leave the house first; in front of the dog. And never leave the house if the dog is excited or anxious. Wait until she is calm to leave.

- When getting ready to leave for walks, avoid using an excited tone of voice ("ARE YOU READY FOR A WALK?!") This will be counter-productive to waiting until the dog is calm to leave the house.

- When out for walks if you have your dog sit at crosswalks (personal choice really), it isn't necessary to say "Come on" or "Okay" or "Let's go". Just go. Cesar explains this by saying in the wild dogs' pack leaders don't use verbal indications of what they want the pack to do, they just lead and the pack follows. Your dog will know what to do when you start walking after you've stopped, because you are the pack leader and they are your pack.

- When you are rehabilitating a dog, using Cesar's "No Touch, No Talk, No Eye Contact" works like MAGIC when the dog is in an unstable state of mind. While it is in our nature to comfort, console, reassure another person/animal in distress or afraid (by looking at them, talking to them, even hugging or petting in this case), if you do this to a dog who isn't in the right frame of mind, you are reinforcing their fear/aggression/instability.

- When training a dog to come when called in the house, only call once then if they don't come, go get them with leash in hand. Gently put the leash on and lead them where you would like them to go. Over time this will tell the dog: "I better go, because she's going to come get me anyway." Eventually you won't need the leash and the dog will just come when called.

- When training a dog to follow you or come to you outside (especially if he tends to run away from you when you release the leash), Cesar uses this simple method:
Walk with the dog on the leash in one hand. Reach a point where you drop the leash, turn around and walk the opposite direction and once you get a good distance stop and wait. The dog will then realize that he isn't running away from you, you're moving away from him. He will then come back to you. It may not happen right away, but doing this over and over will tell the dog's brain that he belongs with you because you are the pack leader!

That's all for now! Stay tuned for more tips!


Monday, June 14, 2010


When you are busy, especially with a new task, it can be difficult to find time to remember to constantly keep your life in perspective.  For me, I have designated this blog as my draft table.  Here is where I come to decompress; to reflect; to take stock and externalize my stresses, fears, hopes, and moments that stick in the spiderwebs of my memory.

The rehabilitation of a timid dog is so much more of a challenge than I would have ever expected.  Don't get me wrong, I never thought helping Pixel overcome her fears and trepidation around people would be an overnight project.  But I also didn't realize how it would become 3-steps-forward-1-step-back sort of scenario.  Let me elaborate...

When I first brought Pixel home, I borrowed a book called Inside of a Dog (shown below) from a friend of mine that was essentially about Dog Psychology.  It talks about the roots of the domesticated dogs we know of today; how they have developed; and the place they have in our modern lives.  This book taught me about the all too common mistake people make of believing that dogs are just humans in dog suits.  We 'humanize' dogs, and believe that they feel things the way we do, see the world the way we do, and experience memories and hopes, love and hate the way we do.  In fact, these are the most common reasons for problem dogs.  Human owners refuse to allow their dog to live a 'dog's life'.  They stop dogs from sniffing each others behinds because of the clear boundaries humans have set up for one another that would prevent such an uncouth first meeting with another human in this manner.  An interesting quote from the book on anthropomorphizing (seeing, talking about, and imagining dogs' behavior from a human-biased perspective, imposing our own emotions and thoughts on these furred creatures.) :

We might judge an animal to be happy when we see an upturn of the corners of his mouth; such a "smile", however, can be misleading. On dolphins, the smile is a fixed physiological feature, immutable like the creepily painted face of a clown. Among chimpanzees, a grin is a sign of fear or submission, the farthest thing from happiness. Similarly, a human might raise her eyebrows in surprise, but the eyebrow-raising capuchin monkey is not surprised. He is evincing neither skepticism nor alarm; instead, he is signaling to nearby monkeys that he has friendly designs. By contrast, among baboons a raised brow can be a deliberate threat (lesson: be careful toward which monkey you raise your eyebrows). The onus is on us to find a way to confirm or refute these claims we make of animals....

As a result of reading this book, I try to always remember that Pixel is a dog, and has the needs and desires of a dog.  She smells the world first, then sees it, then hears it.  She experiences the world from 2.5 feet off the ground. She enjoys things like following trails of scents, investigating another dog's urine for the food they have eaten, their age, where they have been, their gender, and even whether or not they have an illness.  I have begun to see the world from a completely different point of view when I am with Pixel.  I can see the best grasses to chew on now, when walking on a new path somewhere, I can tell where the best places would be to run off the trail into some long grass where bouncing above her eyeline is the only way to give chase to another dog or animal.  I also know now the polite way to introduce yourself to a dog.  This is perhaps one of the most important thing I read in this book.

When a dog approaches another dog, they don't squeal with delight the way humans do.  They don't rush forward and thrust a hand out and pat the other dog on the head and coo and babble 'baby talk' the way humans do.  When a dog introduces herself to another dog, she approaches the dog from the side or from the rear, sniffs his behind, and allows him to do the same.  Then they move to the face and have a good sniff, and if they are mutually interested in the other dog they will either frolic companionably for a moment or they will grow bored and wander away to find the next interesting scent.  What we learn from this is that when you want to introduce yourself to a dog, you never approach the dog.  You allow the dog to come to you, and investigate you with her nose.  Let her find out what she can about you, then when she is comfortable, you can talk to her and possibly even reward her with a pet or a treat.

This brings me quite perfectly to Pixel.  Now Pixel is very shy around people.  As a stray she had minimal experience with people, and those she did have experience with were probably the people who captured her, put her in a cage and brought her to the Humane Society.  While rehabilitating Pixel into human society I have to be diligent in instructing new people around Pixel that they aren't to touch her or talk to her before she becomes comfortable around them and sniffs them first.  This is one of the hardest parts of her rehabilitation, because most people don't realize that their automatic reaction to a dog is also the most inappropriate, and telling them as much often illicits a stunned, reproachful attitude as if I'm saying to these people "You are not good enough to talk to or touch my dog."

Other difficult aspects of Pixel's rehabilitation into the human world is accepting affection (or knowing what human affection is at all), the restriction and control of food by humans, and (this may surprise some people) the concept of "play".  For Pixel, petting in any way is foreign.  A person's hand being on her can and often is uncomfortable, and she is unsure how to take it.  As she makes progress with her rehab she is learning that petting can be enjoyable and creates a bond between her and a human.  "Playing" for Pixel is restricted to running after another dog, running through woods or grasses as fast as she can, or being chased by another dog or several dogs.  Ropes, balls, and other assorted 'dog toys' for Pixel have no meaning.  They hold as much context in Pixel's view of the world as a frying pan or a computer mouse.  Our rehab on this front with Pixel comes when we bring other dogs around and show her Tug with a rope or Fetch with a ball.  Eventually she will understand that these things are good exercise and engage her mentally (what dogs consider 'fun').

The food control is our latest attempt at rehabilitation.  For Pixel getting food was as complicated as foraging for it, scrounging up scraps from human garbage, etc.  Because Trust is pivotal in Pixel's integration into human society, she needs to trust us enough to be able to take food from us, and know that only through us she can get access to food.  This will be instrumental in showing Pixel that the human world is nothing to fear.  How we do this is very important.  To understand food in the dog's world you have to likewise understand that how most people feed dogs is incorrect.  Think, if you will, about wolves in the wild (where domestic dogs originated).  Wolves hunt every day, they run, they follow scents, and when they are exhausted after such a hunt they are rewarded with food.  Dogs are similar in that they require physical exercise before they are in the right state of mind to eat.  Dogs, like wolves, are ingrained with a survival instinct in regards to food.  They eat when food is available, and they eat as much as they can because they don't know when they may eat again.  This instinct is so strong that when offered food on a nonstop basis, the dog will continually eat (simulating, for a human owner, that the dog's appetite is insatiable and they must, by our standards, by VERY hungry).  Left unchecked, this can create pretty serious overweight dogs.

To wrap things up here (because this is exhaustively long!) I am going to share a number of very useful things I have learned so far about dogs and about Pixel specifically.

- To overcome something a dog is afraid of, bring them to a calm state of mind by telling them to sit.  Only after they are no longer nervous and sitting calmly does a dog overcome their fear

- When correcting your dog, never use their name.  A dog's name is, for them, associated with 'positive' only.  So when you correct them using their name ("Butch, no!"), you are confusing them and the correction will be useless.

- When training your dog to act in the way you would like him to act, ONLY reward and praise when they are doing what you want them to be doing.

- Never 'comfort' or 'reassure' a dog that is afraid or exhibiting aggressive behavior.  "It's okay" and "Don't worry" are human statements meant to reassure the human mind.  The tone is that of praise, and what you are doing when saying these things to your dog is that it is okay to be afraid or aggressive.  In the instance of fear, ignore the fear.  In the instance of aggression, correct the behavior.

- When correcting a dog never use physical violence.  Hitting your dog is not correction, it is abuse.  To get the same effect, use what Cesar Millan calls the 'bite simulation'.  Make a 'mouth' with your open hand; fingers splayed.  Gently tap this 'mouth' on the back of your dog's neck.  This simulates an alpha dog's bite, or a mother dog's bite.  It will both distract and correct your dog without the use of violence.

- When leaving the house to go on walks, never let your dog go out in front of you.  This makes your dog think they are the dominant member of your 'pack'.

- When walking with your dog on a leash, never let your dog choose where to go.  Hold the leash next to you so that she is walking beside you, and when you want to, 'allow' her to sniff or investigate something.  This will establish your position as a dominant member of your pack and will make walking off-leash easier later.

- When walking with your dog off-leash, allow him to explore the world around him, but command him to come back to you on occasion and 'check in'.  Simply calling him to you, and praising him when he comes will establish the hierarchy in your 'pack'

- Walking your dog around the block so that she can 'do her business' is not exercise.  Throwing a ball around for her is also not exercise.  Likewise, being limited to the backyard is not exercise.  Your dog needs proper exercise for her breed in order to feel that she has done her job.  Do your homework about what sort of exercise is right for your dog (e.g. Retrievers need to retrieve, greyhounds need to run, collies need to herd, etc.)

- Don't fall into the trap of classifying your dog's behavior as a victim of their breed.  Cesar Millan teaches that dogs are ANIMALS then DOGS then BREEDS then NAMES.  This means that dogs are dogs are dogs, no matter what breed they are.  Dalmatians do not behave a specific way because of their breed, they behave the way they were raised to behave.  Cesar makes sure to differentiate between 'problem' breeds and 'powerful' breeds.  There is no such thing as a 'problem breed'.  Problems occur when an owner doesn't understand or meet the needs of their dog.  'Powerful breeds' however are very real.  Pit bulls are the classic example.  They are a strong dog both in will and in physical strength.  But their behavior is formed by the way they are raised, not by their physical form.  Again, do your homework and don't use the fallacy that your dog is the way he is because of his breed.

There are a lot more things I've learned, and as I continue to learn interesting, useful things I'll try and share them here!

Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying your four-legged friend as much as I'm enjoying mine!

For more information about your dog and her life with you, I recommend Cesar's book Cesar's Way (shown left).


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Pixel Update week 2

t's time for a Pixel update!!

Since last Friday when we brought her home, Pixel has learning to trust us (me much more then Eric for now since I spend more time at home with her), but she comes when called, learned to lay down to get her collar on for her walks, knows how to sit before crossing streets or when I stop when we're on walks, she understands bones are hers now, and even takes special treats like pig ears!  She is quickly learning that strangers are 'good' and 'affection', so that is fantastic.

Freyja has also begun accepting Pixel, and they'll both sleep on the bed with me when I'm reading at night.  They'll also sniff and regard each others' faces up-close without fights, growling, hissing or any aggression which is SO great.  Freyja has also stopped giving me those 'I poisoned your coffee' looks haha.

I've been watching a lot of the Dog Whisperer, and am reading a book called Inside of a Dog which is a fantastic resource to learn about how a dog thinks, not how people think dogs think.  I highly recommend it, especially if you're finding your dog is anything less than what you want for a dog in your family.

Stay tuned for more Pixel updates in the future!

Sunday, May 2, 2010


week ago I met a dog at a local Humane Society that I absolutely fell in love with. I had several conversations with the supervisors at the shelter and after a couple long conversations with my husband; we decided to adopt this beautiful beagle/hound cross and name her Pixel.

Pixel was a stray when the Humane Society found her. She was reported three months before she was caught in the industrial section of the city. When they finally did catch her and bring her into the shelter, she was a little underweight but nothing serious, they checked her out for diseases and did the whole workup and found nothing serious. They spayed her and sent her along to the shelter to be adopted.


When I first brought Pixel home my biggest fear was actually how she'd react to Freyja, my long hair domestic cat.  She is a bit of a diva and I had a feeling she'd be more of a problem than Pixel... but I also had no idea what kind of exposure Pixel had had to cats before.  So I cautiously opened the door since Freyja likes to wait there when she hears the keys in the lock, and sure enough when the door opened she had her face right there to greet me.  Well she was sure surprised to see a doggy face when the door opened.  She let out a nervous little meow and backed up slowly.  Pixel, however sniffed her and barged in right past her without a second glance.  I was over the moon!  She didn't try to eat her, didn't growl, didn't lunge at her... just total indifference!  Freyja was another story.  She spent the next hour stalking her while she explored all the fun new smells in every nook and cranny in the apartment.  Their first meeting was a complete success!

Later that night was a bit different... Freyja was getting more and more curious about this new animal in her meticulously kitty-marked house, and kept testing to see how close she could get to Pixel to sniff her.  The first time she got too close, Pixel was sleeping on a blanket next to Eric's computer desk and Freyja inched closer and closer till Pixel woke up and lifted her head, startling Freyja causing her to spaz and claw Pixel's nose.  Pixel barked once and Freyja RAN out of the room.  Pixel didn't like Freyja getting too close after that little scratch on her nose, so she tried growling to keep Freyja at a distance after that.  We reassure both of them that everything is okay, in soothing tones, and get them both to calm down when things start getting tense and there's only been one other bark since then.  Just a warning bark, nothing serious.  After that, they've decided to give each other space and it's gone great!


Now that I've brought her home I've started to really see the deep-rooted damage that she's had done to her. Even gentle correction causes her to flinch, and cower on the floor as if she's expecting a blow (making me want to cry even thinking about it), she doesn't understand affection from people in any way, and is fairly uncomfortable with people touching her (standing very still, head lowered, tail tucked), and she is hesitant to take treats when being praised (but thankfully rarely refuses them).

Pixel spends most of her time inside either in her crate, or on one of the three beds we have for her (one in the living room, one in our office, and one by the bed in our bedroom). After just a day in her new home she has grown cautiously more and more comfortable being around my husband and I, and she’ll sit on the couch with one of us (but not both of us; she prefers to be a little distance away), and she’ll snuggle up on the bed with one of us (but if both of us are on the bed she won’t go up). So we have seen progress in that area, and we can already see she is coming around the idea of affection, such as her tail doesn’t tuck quite so much and she holds her head a little higher each time, and her tail wags when she knows she’s going out for a walk.

The real problem is her fear of being inside. Once she is inside she’s pretty okay. She sleeps a lot and finds comfortable places to be alone, but when we’re finishing up a walk and we get near our place, she freezes and immediately starts trying to pull away from me. Gently coaxing her up the walk takes a lot of time and often she’ll thrash to get out of her collar (we’re going today to get her a harness so we don’t have to worry about her getting out of her collar and bolting). It takes a lot of patience and gentle guidance to get her to even consider going through the door and up the stairs to our apartment. But it’s mostly just that dead-stop fear that she gets that breaks my heart. And often when we’re back inside she’ll pace around by the door for a while or go over to the balcony and whine at the door to be let out onto the porch.

All in all I am happy with Pixel. She is an easily lovable dog, and I believe with a lot of patience and hard work she’ll be an incredible dog. I’ll be updating frequently with progress she’s made because everything from this point will be exciting progress!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dream House

Yeah, yeah we all have that dream house we think about.  Here are a few thoughts on mine.

The kind of house I'd ideally love to have someday is a classic Century Home. A property with mature trees is always a BIG selling point.

Ah yes the porch.  This is a deal breaker for me.  If the house doesn't have a big beautiful country style porch, I won't buy it.  I have dreamed my whole life of having a porch big enough to have rocking chairs, plants, and a hammock or porch swing.

Something I'd love to have in my dream home are dark wood floors.  Black Oak (as seen in the bottom right), is a personal favorite.

Another deal breaker for me; the kitchen. I love the country kitchen above all other kitchens.  In my family, when people are over chances are they're in the kitchen.  This means you have to have a good enough kitchen to entertain in, and cook in simultaneously.  

Terra-Cotta floor tiles are one of my favorite features of a classical country kitchen.  Another must is a cutting-board island.  Of course we all love the stone/granite/marble countertops in our kitchens, but the island isn't for decoration, it's for practicality.  Another feature I'd love in a kitchen is oil-brushed copper faucets and a deep country kitchen sink.  I like the thick, durable ones that you can really clean with.  None of that prissy hardware in MY kitchen, thanks!

And of course the living room.  The living room is where we will probably do all our entertaining that isn't in the kitchen (or likely where I'll do all my reading! - no TVs in our living room; toss that stuff in the basement!).

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Principles of Principles

Principles. Miriam Webster defines the word Principle as:

Main Entry: prin·ci·ple
Pronunciation: \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French principe, principle, from Old French, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at prince
Date: 14th century

1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles (a man of principle) c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device defines the word Principle as: accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.

5.guiding sense of the requirements and obligations of right conduct: a person of principle.

I am only going to focus on these specific definitions as principles relating to things like science and math aren't the definitions I am talking about (hence there only being specific definitions quoted here).

Defining your principles

Growing up I remember being confused about the concept of my own morals and principles. I remember thinking to myself: what are my principles? What base concepts have I assigned value to in a way that I could consider them my principles? As I gained knowledge from experiences I had, I began to develop and refine and acknowledge my own set of principles that I felt good about. These principles guide me in my life every day, and help me make decisions that I would otherwise have trouble making. I value my principles more than anything else, and am adamant in sticking to those principles.

Having no principles

When I come across someone who either has no strong principles or doesn't actively adhere to any specific principles, it bothers me a great deal. Likewise when a person flaunts behaviors of someone who holds to no particular set of values or principles, I find it very difficult to trust them. Trust to me is very important (I think it's safe to say it is one of the most widely-accepted traits that people value). If I meet someone, or see someone I know exhibiting behaviors akin to someone of no principles, I no longer feel like that person has any set of rules with which to govern themselves in their life. If that is true (or even remotely possible for that person), how can I trust that I, too, am not one of the mediocre landmarks in their blind stumbles through life?

What lack of principles can look like

Let's use an example, to help illustrate this point. I know someone of so little moral standing that I have cut this person completely out of my life. Let's call this person Elizabeth. Elizabeth lives her life to please all of her immediate desires. She cares little for those who get hurt in the process, or how her actions affect others. When I made the decision to cut Elizabeth out of my life, I did so after years of deliberation and stalling. It didn't used to be easy for me to recognize a cancerous influence in my life, and make the decision to remove the proverbial tumor. Those around me knew and generally agreed with my decision and saw the change it made almost instantly on my personal well-being. I moved on, and tried to reflect on the decision with the reassurance of my principles.

Elizabeth didn't. Elizabeth is still living her life with questionable principles, and continues to cause pain to those around her.

The kicker is this: Elizabeth is not the only Elizabeth I know. I have known many over the years. And what never fails to amaze me is how accepting and forgiving those around them seem to be about their behavior. 

What types of behaviors do these Elizabeths (both men and women) display? Actions I find under questionable principles include conniving, manipulative lies and rumors, being unfaithful or disloyal to those around them, shallow, self-centered and judgmental commentary and passive aggressive dramatic tantrums.

Are principles a dying trend?

What is most remarkable is these types of people rarely hide it from anyone... yet they are often surrounded by people who either simply don't care that they are that kind of person, or choose to be blind to these behaviors.

I'm often curious why so many people surround themselves with these types of people and actively ignore their worst behaviors. Is it for the sake of being surrounded by people; no matter the content of their character? Is it to help boost that person's own self-esteem; to know that they are of stronger moral fiber than Elizabeth?

Are those with strict principles a rare breed of person who can take a stand and stay there? Are we a dying breed of person who has values and principles without the guilt or pressure of religious tenets? Or are these Elizabeths a dysfunctional genetic glitch who refuse to live by anyone's rules; including their own?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Out with the old...

Spring Cleaning.  What does that term mean to you?  Do you even bother to do it?

I definitely do Spring Cleaning.  From as early as I can remember, I have had an affinity with cleanliness, organization and order.  Winter represents for me what I'm sure it does for many people who have to bear the snow, salt, wet, cold bitter months from Novemberish to Aprilish: hibernation.  For me this means accumulating a lot of garbage in the form of receipts, old bills, paystubs, old calendars, birthday and holiday cards, and assorted other kitsch.  When March hits that's about the time that I get fed up with the windows closing out the cold air, the tumbleweeds of cat fuzz rolling around the corners of every room no matter how many times I vacuum and dust, the stacks of un-filed paid bills, and all the other miscellaneous 'I'll do that later' stuff.

This year I've had a bit more time on my hands to really get down and clean out the entire apartment, because (woe is me) I recently lost my job.  So for the past couple weeks or so I've been going room to room cleaning out everything.  Yesterday I tossed three garbage bags FULL of junk.  Today I've spent the day on the floors.  I have hardwood throughout so it's a little more complicated than just running a vacuum around or steamer or whatever.  So I've picked up all the throw rugs, beat them into submission so they'd release all the dust and winter memories onto the floors, hung them outside to air out and freshen up; vacuumed all the hardwood floors to free them from the dusty ickies; mopped the kitchen and bathroom; and covered the area rug in the living room with baking soda to soak up all the smells from who-knows-what since I can't very well just pick it up and hang it outside to air out.

When I'm cleaning I'm a big fan of natural cleaners.  My favorite (much to the chagrin of anyone living with me) is vinegar.  It has got to be the best cleaning agent I've ever encountered and I use it generously while cleaning.  I use it on floors, windows, faucets, appliances and anything stainless steel.  Faucets are where it really shows its powers though.  Vinegar has this neat property that allows it to eat right through soap scum, so what I do is clean off the faucets in the bathroom and kitchen and then soak some paper towels in vinegar (I don't usually dilute it but I'm sure you could), I leave it like that for about half an hour (not long enough that it dries or anything), then remove the paper towels and wipe the faucets clean and hurray they're nice and clean and sparkly!

Another easy kitchen recipe for clean tiles is simple water and baking soda.  It does a great job if you just spray the tiles down then scrub with a sponge.  If you've got those nasty stains from months of not cleaning your shower (like me haha) you can add some kosher salt and scrub a little harder.  A good rinse when you're done and your shower is sparkly like new!  A tip someone told me at my bridal shower last summer was have a squeegee in your shower and give all your tiles a good swipe when you're done showering and it's wet and it keeps your shower cleaner longer so you don't have to get in there and work up a sweat nearly as often.

A good alternative if you don't like the smell of vinegar enough that it turns you off of these ideas, is undiluted lemon juice or club soda.  I haven't tried the club soda, but the lemon juice definitely works wonders.  Especially on kitchen surfaces.  I use lemon juice when cleaning my wood cutting board since it's a food product anyway and it does great things for getting out stains.  I try to use as few artificial cleaners on food surfaces as possible.

Anyway, hope all of you in Southern Ontario are enjoying this great weather we're having and you take the opportunity to do some Spring Cleaning in your lives to prepare you for a fresh clean Spring and Summer to come!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The me inside me

The eldest of seven kids; the first girl; the influence; the one to rely on; the one to blame...

The oldest of seven.  For anyone out there who is the oldest child in a family, they can understand how simple and how very complex that classification is.  If you are the oldest in a big family, you can understand the complexities of this dynamic even better.  I want to tell you what it has been like for me.  I am going to explain my perspective and my feelings and how I viewed what happened around me and my position in my family from my point of view.  I am sharing as my experience and may not necessarily accurately reflect my position in the large dynamic of my family as well as it would if you were to read abut the experiences of my siblings, my parents, or my friends growing up.

I will tell the bones of the story as fast as I can, then I will add the meat after.

When I was born my mom was 18.  She was not married.  My biological father was not in the picture.  I was the single most important person in my mom's life.  Everything she did was done for me.  This concept was one of the very first impressions I ever fully understood about my life when I began to be able to identify what was going on around me.  I was a novelty, and this is something that still strikes me to this day.  I knew even from a young age that I was a point of pride for my mom.  I had to be.  I had to be polite and smile and like to have my picture taken. I had to like meeting new people and I had to stay well behaved.  I was the center of attention in my mom's life, and while I couldn't understand the depth of the meaning behind what it meant then, I understood in my own way that I was a reflection of my mom.  This was very important.

My first sister was born when I was three years old, after my mom married Ben (who quickly became my life's prominent Father Figure).  She was my Dad's second child, and first daughter.  When she was born, my identity changed and my place in my family changed.  I was not the baby anymore.  I was an older sister.  This was the first step in many that would take place over the next 21 years.  Steps that would further and further me from a position of who I was, and instead thrust me into the role of who I was supposed to be.

When I was five years old, my Dad's son came to live with us.  He was one month older than me.  And that was where the similarities ended.  Every part of him was the complete opposite of who I was.  We had different ways of expressing our emotions; he got in trouble in school where I excelled.  He had few friends and picked fights while I had many friends and rarely drew teachers' attention unless it was from socializing.

When I was seven, my second sister was born.  She was the pride and joy of our parents.

When I was eight our world took a fateful hit to its foundation that we would never really recover from.  My dad was diagnosed with Melanoma. At the same time, my brother's problems in school and at home were getting worse, and we moved the family to California one last time so that my dad could say goodbye to his family there.

Sparing you the grisly details of the next four years, we moved back to Washington to resume medical treatment for my dad and many things changed. My brother became too much for the family to handle, so as per my dad's suggestion, my mom sent him to live with his grandmother back in California. My family fully adopted religion as a life-raft during my dad's battle with cancer; a battle in which he ultimately lost when I was twelve years old.

This is the point where I have to step back and try to explain what happened at this age for me.  There was the Caryn that existed in my family while my dad was alive.  And there was the Caryn that was borne into creation after my dad died.  The me that I was before my dad died was innocent and confident in my belief that bad things didn't happen to good people.

This me shriveled to a shell of herself in the months before my dad lost his battle.  Nothing was certain.  My mom sent my brother away because my dad knew that my mom wouldn't be able to handle his disciplinary problems on her own without my dad, and I lived in constant fear that she would do the same to me someday; that if I didn't live up to some kind of standard, that actually being sent away was something real and tangible that could happen to me.

My entire happy, carefree, innocent world was flipped upside-down and what was underneath was murky and hard to understand.  The morning I found out my dad was gone, that me left for good.  The me that I became was no longer a child.  I couldn't find joy in the simplicity of sitting under the shade of a tree hatching plans for a fort or deciding where I would ride my bike that summer.  It felt as though the warmth of the sun had been replaced by a sickening false representation of what sun was supposed to feel like.

My family did not talk about what had happened.  We went to church for solace and I imagine to maintain a grasp on the world outside of our eerily quiet house.  My mom wasn't the same either.  She retreated into her own world.  She withdrew into her computer and her life on the internet and she quickly became linked to her computer with a deathgrip none of us could penetrate.  With one parent gone and one escaping into a different world, I was left picking up the pieces that used to be my life the best I could on my own.

The me that came from that experience was borne out of confusion and what I thought was necessity.  I became angry at the unfairness of it all.  This anger was stoked by abandonment and being ignored deep inside me and simmered constantly for the next twelve years.  It would boil over often and I would explode with a rage so pure and so toxic that it would scorch anyone around me.  And each time my rage would explode I became more and more of a stranger to my family. The me that once was became a stranger to even myself and was replaced with a black hole of silent loss.

When I was fifteen my mom decided to remarry a man she had known for some years online.  He was a man from Canada.  We packed up our lives in Washington, we said goodbye to everything we'd ever known, and started new lives in another country.  And for a while things only got worse for me.

The stranger to my family that I had become grew to be a monster in our new life.  I never understood how to express my emotions about what had happened in our family.  I was confused, lost, angry and distraught at the lack of communication and expression in our family.  These emotions overwhelmed me, as I couldn't identify what they were at the time.  All I felt was confusing, mixed emotions that made me sick when trying to burrow out from under. 

Fury was the easiest way to release the pressure that would build up inside me.  I had gone from the polite, well-behaved, well-mannered girl that I was supposed to be as a child, to a confused, alienated, angry teenager because I wanted to be something that wasn't assigned to me.  With no way to decipher my own emotions, I stewed in them.  I angered my family, I caused fights with my sisters which would come to cause irreparable damage in the years to follow, and I became a stranger to myself.

When I was sixteen I began to make plans to get out of my family's house as soon as I was legally able.  I felt suffocated and stifled living where no one knew who I was; where my own family saw someone in me that I hated and wanted to get away from.  I felt they aggravated the worst parts of my personality and I saw no choice but to get out.  As my senior year of high school was coming to an end, my mom and her husband broke the news that they would be moving out of town and if I wanted to stay I'd have to move out or I'd have to say goodbye to all my friends (again) and move with them.  It wasn't a choice for me.  I packed up everything I owned and I moved out.  This was the beginning of the healing for me.

At this point in my life I began to deconstruct everything I had known about myself; all the walls I had built up; all the misconceptions were torn down, and I began to reintroduce me to myself.  It was the hardest undertaking I have ever tackled.  And almost ten years later I am still not in what I would consider a completely 'healthy' state of mind.  It required me to evaluate my entire life; my belief system, my identity, my feelings and my relationships.  I am only now beginning to mend the relationships that those years of anger and bitterness damaged.  I will still find myself dipping into that pit of anger at the core of me, but as the years pass and as I come to terms with who I am and become more and more okay with who that me is, that pit of anger gets quieter and colder and harder to reach.

What makes this process harder for me is that some members of my family have never quite forgiven me for those years of who I was.  To some I am still that angry teenager who packed her things and left with no regrets.  There is a perception that I am still that person who was more comfortable with a scowl than a smile.  The pain I feel is almost indescribable when I know that some people still see the person they remember all those years ago when we all lived together.  It is equally hard for me to describe the growth that has gone on in my life to bring me to where I am today.

Internally, I am content knowing that I have done as well as I could have done, under the circumstances, and with the help I have had.  I have had a strong support system of friends, and have enlisted the help of counselors and professionals to help me where I knew I didn't have the resources to help myself.  I have identified why I have felt the things I have felt.

I have also learned that I am prone to attracting people into my life who see my weaknesses and exploit them.  People who will, without abandon, pull me back toward that person I used to be.  It takes a lot of effort to cut those people out of my life so that I am not tempted to fall back into my old, destructive habits.  These things and so much more are who I really am and it kills me knowing that some of my family has actively decided to not recognize the person I actually am today.

I hope someday I can stop outrunning a reputation burned on the minds of those who are supposed to know me the best.  I hope someday I can stop allowing my family to sidestep the uncomfortable, ugly, dark underbelly I know us to have and that we can all walk together in honesty and truthfulness.  For now all I can do is work on me and be an example to those around me.  I know I am who I am supposed to be, and I am okay with that me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Fireside to Bedside

ooks.  Books surround us each and every day.  They are present as soon as we are old enough to hold them, and remain a constant in our lives for as long as we want them around.  Take what a book is, and ponder for a moment the meaning behind books.  To do this for me, I have to gaze backward to a time before written word.  To a time when the elders of the tribes of men would summon their families around them and they would weave their tales of heroism, lineage, and the world as they knew it.  Knowledge was passed delicately and respectfully down through the generations in a manner that was revered and cherished.  Then came a time when there came to men so much knowledge that they begun documenting it.  Totems, tablets, carvings and paintings began illustrating the details of history to be used as a guide for the generations to come.

Men began developing written language, and with it came a fount of knowledge never before experienced.  Scrolls could be carried to other tribes; knowledge was shared and the curious minds of men gazed beyond the borders of the world they understood.  Men found the desire to learn, and learn they did.

It is this innate thirst for knowledge that captivates me about humanity.  It is conversely what discourages me about humanity.  We have the ability to expand our horizons to lengths that no other humans have had the access to in our history.  Around us is a world full of possibilities, histories, sciences, arts; the building blocks of what has brought us to where we so comfortably sit in our computer chairs browsing our favorite meaningless websites, filling our minds with hollow information and empty promises of growth and achievement...

I am just as guilty of ignoring the possibilities that I am afforded as a privileged North American.  But to see generations ushered balefully into the positions of power in our world without the knowledge of where we have come from, what outcome can be expected but neglectful disrespect for fellow man?  How can we, as a people, ever hope to be looked back upon as respected members of the human race when our biggest contributions are achievements to better ourselves instead of bettering humanity as a whole?

When did selfishness and the Me begin outweighing neighborliness and the Us?

I began reading something recently suggested to me by my husband.  I don't often read books of this kind, and I'm beginning to question my love for books as being a love for fiction.  I believe I will have to reevaluate my love for the written word, and expand my library to include works of Self Development and not just Stephen King (wink).

For you Social Workers out there, likely you will have either read this book or something similar during your studies at whatever College or University you've attended.  I am putting it on my top 3 most recommended books of all time.

It is called This Endless Moment by Wayne C. Allen.  This is the summation on the back of the book:

"This Endless Moment is a book for people on a serious quest for their identity.  This book clears away the myths, half-truths, and misconceptions that keep us from living fulfilling, clear, and meaningful lives.  Using stories, illustrations, and common-sense advice, the author guides his readers to increasing levels of understanding and self-responsibility."

I am only 19 pages in, and I am already deeply moved by it.  I would say it will likely pan out to be the most influential book I have ever had the honor to read.  For this reason alone, I am very thankful we developed beyond story telling around the fire and gained the fortitude to document our lives with written word so that we can have books like this in our lives.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Baby Cravings

ormones.  Anyone over the age of (what?) ten these days can attest to their powerful pull on our lives.  We begin feeling them as confusing, exciting, strange emotions that rage through our bodies as adolescents.  Of course this is just an assumption, but I would imagine most of us learn to live with the occasional surges of hormone and it just becomes a part of our lives.  This is something most of us in North America learn about in school, we have friends who experience it, we have parents who can tell us stories of how they dealt with it; essentially we have many outlets with which we can comfort ourselves knowing that others have gone through it and this too shall pass.

Baby cravings.  Irrational and perfect, beautiful and tragic.  These kinds of hormones are something unique I can say with confidence I was never warned about.  It began when I was about 23/24 and has grown to great proportions at my ripe old age of 27. I have been noticing that I am barely capable of handling the wracking waves of teary, gut-wrenching yearnings I have to hold a baby to my breast and smell its hair and look into its face and know that little person came from me.  It is a hormone that only a maternal person can know.  When you are out in public, and those around you are gazing reproachfully and disdainfully at a squalling infant at the back of the restaurant/grocery store/department store and the only thing you can feel is longing and an almost magnetic urge to rush over and coo to the infant, murmer soft sounds and rock it to sleep with a hummed lullaby.

My logical, analytical brain can dissect such a series of events and hormones and see it for an animalistic, maternal sense of purpose older than civilization.  But what amazes me is the absolutely beautiful lack of logic and sense our hormones have.  They overrule our plans, they interrupt our carefully constructed lives, and throw us completely off kilter.

What is frustrating is attempting to convey all of these feelings, emotions and deep-rooted cravings to a man.  How can we, as women, even hope to explain these things to a man in terms that they can empathize with and understand?  If I were to tell a man that hearing a baby crying makes me want to weep with the inability to console the child, and also the yearning to have that child crying for me; wanting something only I could give it, would he understand that?  Would he understand the absolute truth of wanting a baby to care for, that relies on me, that needs me to survive?  Would he be able to comprehend the strength of my need to have a piece of me and my husband to make a whole new person?

And for that matter, what is it like for a man to want a child?  Is there a comparable Paternal instinct to have a child from their own seed?  Do they feel the pull from the center of them so strong it can cripple your heart and fill you with emotions that run so deep you are unable to say in words all of the things you are feeling?

If only these cravings could be sated with a trip to Dairy Queen and a guiltless indulgence with no collateral damage.  If only I could turn off these emotions so that I can continue with The Big Plan.  If only my husband (and men in general) could completely understand just how irrational and yet how perfect the desire for motherhood is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

College... and then the rest of your life

 stopped by my college today.  I was there to say hello to an old professor of mine, and give him a rundown of how my career has grown since I graduated.  One would think that wandering the halls of your Alma Mater would bring to the mind nostalgic feelings of kinship with the institution.  Actually instead of nostalgia, it felt like home to me!  I joked to my mom later when we spoke that I think it is a sign.

Before I graduated, I spoke to my program coordinator and earnestly told him that if he ever needed someone to come back someday and teach the future students I would be honored to be on his team.  I still have my ear to the ground for any openings for which I would be qualified, but for now I have to suffice with drop-ins and updates on occasion.  It was a nice trip to the college, albeit a busy trip since the halls were littered with cheerful bouncy people (read Student Council) heading up a fund raising event for the Haiti earthquake victims.

Now I am all for humanitarian and relief work where it is needed but I will be happy when this one is behind us.  It seems like everywhere I look there is another Haiti relief fund raising hey-look-isn't-our-business-public-relations-happy event going on.  I do not agree with trendy disasters for the sake of publicity.  It hangs in the air like a stereotypical sleezy used car salesman.  You just feel dirty being around it...

On a lighter note, the real estate market is looking chipper lately in my region.  I have had my eye on the market for about six months now, as my husband and I will begin shopping in about two years (fingers -and toes- crossed).  What I am interested in is a 3-4 bedroom, 2-3 bath, dedatched century home with a finished or partially finished basement.  I know what you are thinking isn't that what everyone wants?  And the answer is yes.  But I am also hedging all my bets on the trend I have seen with the renovated Century homes going up on the market for cheap because a family member died that lived there and the family wants to sell the house quickly.  It sounds sort of morbid I know... but one man's garbage and all that right?  I will get my pretty little Century home and it will be beautiful!

Until next time...