Saint Patrick’s Day Dogs

Last weekend was full-on St. Patrick’s Day celebration time in Chattanooga. This, of course, included a parade. And what better way to celebrate that to dress up dogs in green costumes and walk them en masse in the parade?
Since I had a photography workshop scheduled on Action, I planned for us to meet in the park where the dogs would congregate so the group could practice getting shots of moving subjects. Well, some dogs were moving, anyway. Some were pretty content to sit around gazing at all the action.

I managed to grab a few shots of my own. Unfortunately, with daylight savings time having kicked in the weekend before, the sun was already glaringly bright by the time the dogs showed up at 10AM.

There was no green beer in the park and no drunken antics, but plenty of silly dogs performing tricks of their own creation. There was a silly mutt who preferred vertical motion over horizontal–he kept jumping straight into the air at his person, as if the excitement was too much for him.

A little too close to get the whole dog, but cracks me up none-the-less

A little too close to get the whole dog, but cracks me up none-the-less

Then there were the dogs meeting and greeting. Dogs greet one another differently than humans. Some start with a nose sniff. Nose-to-nose, they look like they are exchanging eskimo kisses. However, a dog in the face is really considered a breach of etiquette. Polite dogs approach from the side and start with a much less human-tolerated greeting by sniffing the opposite end of their new acquaintance.

Sometimes I imagine humans greeting like dogs. Looking, then looking away. Looking, then pretending to look at something else. Showing each other our sides. Approaching slowly, stopping to sniff the grass from time to time. Ultimately circling one another to sniff butts. That’s the part that just goes against the grain, isn’t it? But do you ever wonder if there was a time in human history when this was considered polite behavior?

I suppose it doesn’t matter–it’s not a behavior I advocate for humans. However, as humans, we really shouldn’t expect our dogs to greet the way we do. We put them into such stressful situations. Can you imagine being walked around in a collar and on a leash and being expected to greet strangers in the park but not in a way that’s considered polite by our fellow humans? Restrained, restricted, unable to escape and forced to face potential foes in this highly vulnerable position. Add to that a silly green costume.

It amazes me that the dog parade went as smoothly as it did. The occasional dog was walked away from the crowd when it became overexcited or encountered another dog it just couldn’t tolerate. But in general, dogs are so intent on pleasing their humans, they tolerate strange circumstances. Some even appeared to enjoy being dressed for the occasion.

It’s hard to find a better example of selflessness and tolerance that in our faithful furry friends–wouldn’t it be nice if we could follow that example?


Being Busy

Every time I believe I have reached the absolute peak of busyness, that if I have one more thing to do I will simply collapse, I get busier.  I remember when I thought I was incredibly busy 20 years ago.  I had a job that required me to work a lot of extra hours maybe one week every other month.  What was a long day then is just a normal day now.

I played softball in the summer, volleyball in the winter, and even tried the corporate bowling league one season.  I had the highest handicap ever achieved by any participant–at our first match, my highest score (out of 300 possible) was 37.  My handicap was largely responsible for my partner and I taking the league championship that year–I decided to retire from bowling after that.

I went on ski trips, played cards once a week, socialized regularly with friends.  I guess I was busy, but I spent a larger percentage of each day doing things that were just for fun.

These days, the constant incoming stream of information, multiple mailboxes continually filling, Google beckoning whenever I don’t know the answer to a question, Facebook friends posting interesting articles and stories keeps all of us jumping from one subject to the next nearly continuously.  Newsletters, informative articles, and don’t even get me started on YouTube.  It’s not a tube; it’s a black hole–no one really knows if or where you come out if you dare to enter.

Almost every person I know describes themselves as having ADD.  I’m not clear on the medical diagnosis of ADD, but I’m reasonably certain that it’s statistically improbable that every person I know (mostly adults) actually has ADD.

Yet, that doesn’t stop me from wondering about myself.  I walked into the kitchen 3x the other day, forgetting what I needed as soon as my foot crossed the threshold. I never did figure out why I thought I need something from there.  Is being so distracted all the time combined with the overwhelming amount of information streaming through our lives that makes us so scatterbrained?

And what about those moments when you sit down to do something that you really ought to spend time concentrating on only to have your brain start pinging you, wanting to know when the next interruption is coming?  I have to believe that our brains are becoming more and more trained to look for any distraction to avoid concentration and deep thought.

And is that what ultimately leads us to jam pack our calendars for every minute of every day?  Our secret desire to constantly hop to something new?

I don’t know.  All I know is that if I don’t shutdown now, I will be writing in my sleep.

A New Year

Here we are.  A new year.  Another marker of the passage of time.  So, taking stock of some of my 2013 high/low lights:

I experienced complete and utter presence in the moment repeatedly while learning how to handle birds of prey.  I also began to understand how much more I have to learn.

I sat silently with my husband on a cliff in South Cumberland State Park and listened to the wind blowing through the pine trees, experiencing the simple joy of knowing that the wind, the trees, the rocks, my husband, and I were all connected in that moment.

I listened to a troubled friend with an open heart and felt their pain with empathy and without judgment.  More frequently, I fell back to my old habit of listening, judging, and trying to fix.

I spent an afternoon visiting with my bestie that was so relaxing, we both fell asleep and napped.  There was a time in my life when I would have thought that was a bad thing, but sleep is the ultimate vulnerability.  To be with someone and feel so calm and so at ease that I can sleep in her presence now seems like an amazing gift.

I stopped in places I had never seen while on a road trip with Tisen.  I paused in my constant push to get somewhere faster to stop and see what was a few miles from the highway, discovering bison, quiet fishing lakes, and a historical village.

I took a walk through a historic plaza in the middle of Madrid on a sunny day in February  and feasted on local fare at a tiny restaurant with 6 tables, served with the warmth of family by the couple who owned the place.  I experienced food made with love and hospitality.

I deepened my knowledge and appreciation of photography, pushing myself to a place where I feel comfortable that I know what I don’t know and I know what I want to work on next.  What I appreciate the most is that it truly is all about the journey–there’s a new discovery every time I look through the lens.

I lost sight of some of the things that are of the greatest importance to my health and well-being.  I injured my back in the spring and stopped rowing and riding, only to re-injure my back when I started again weeks later.  I haven’t been on my bike in months.  Eating has become something that happens when someone hands me food or I’m so hungry I feel nauseous.  I not eating well and I am not eating enough.  I also stopped finding time to meditate.  All of this has added up to sleepless nights, frenetic energy, anxiety, and physical discomfort.

So, I guess I know what my goals for 2014 are:  more moments fully experienced.  Less time trying to do more.  More time recharging myself.  I guess that means it’s time to stop writing and go to bed.

Backup Plan

Book ends

Book ends

Tisen is a one-human kind of guy.  Or, at least, he has trouble showing affection for more than one person at a time.

Twiggy, on the other hand, seems to treat everyone as her new best friend.  Her dad commented that she didn’t even seem to care when they went out of town,–she didn’t miss them.  I laughed and said, “It’s not that she doesn’t miss you, it’s just that she always has a backup plan.”

As I watched Tisen stress over whether he was losing out on any portion of affection that he felt was his while Twiggy lied contentedly on the floor, I suddenly wondered if Tisen was living whole-heartedly while Twiggy lived with one foot out.

Book ends looking the other way

Book ends looking the other way

Let’s face it–Tisen is all-in.  He’s put everything he’s got into me.  I am the the center of his universe and if I’m gone, or even if I’m there but paying attention to something else, he feels anxious.  While this seems extreme and dysfunctional, at the same time, when I leave and come home again, Tisen goes nuts.  He experiences a euphoria of joy that his wagging tail cannot keep up with.  He throws his body against the couch and runs along it, thumping his tail down the length of it.  He grabs a toy and is so joyous, he cannot stand still.  Eventually, having burnt off the burst of energy that comes with me returning home, he climbs into my lap and has trouble deciding if giving me kisses or flopping over for a belly rub is his first priority.

Twiggy's demonstration of how interesting she finds me

Twiggy’s demonstration of how interesting she finds me

Twiggy, on the other hand, looks up when I come home and wags her tail a few times.  When I sit on the sofa, she stands, stretches, and then climbs next to me and demands to be petted.  She occasionally looks curiously at Tisen, as if she’s trying to make sense of his antics.  I am just a friend that passes in and out of her life periodically.  But, her reaction is not far from her reaction to her parents coming home from a trip.

This seems to be the core difference between having a backup plan vs being all-in.  If you have a back-up plan, you don’t have to worry about what happens if the current situation changes.  If you don’t, when you’re all-in, when things go your way, it’s a huge celebration.  But when things don’t, it’s conversely depressing.

I remember playing Canasta with my family once when I had an incredible hand.  I was ready to lay down my entire hand and win the game except for one card.  I just needed a good draw on my next hand to be able to go out and win.  I started sweating waiting for me next turn–if someone else went out first I was done.  I had no backup plan.

And boy, when I won, I felt like I’d just won the lottery!


I don’t have photos to go with what I want to write about today (thankfully).  In looking for photos, I stumbled across these macro images of bloodroot flowers, blooming in the early spring, lasting only a few days, and then blowing away in the wind.  This seems like the perfect symbolism for the topic on my mind.

I scanned the names of the dead from the Aurora massacre, hoping not to recognize any of the names, having worked with many colleagues in the vicinity.  I didn’t.  But it broke my heart anyway.

I cannot imagine what makes a person start buying weapons for a war and then go wage that war in a local movie theater.  It’s the most troubling part of the whole thing:  Why?

There have been times when I have said I wanted to kill someone.  What I meant was I wanted to have the power to make the other person regret whatever it was they did that upset me.  Even in my fantasies this is accomplished via a stern and thoroughly brilliant speech.

I ponder this feeling for a moment.  I wonder where the line is between being angry and imagining some sort of reckoning where we are righteous and brave and we smite our enemy versus actually resorting to physical violence?

I also wonder how much the anger and frustration I unleash upon the world creates more anger and frustration in a domino effect.

When I used to ride my bike 26 miles to work and back, if I rode with the expectation that cars were going to run me over and the attitude that I wanted to “kill” them for it, I frequently got honked at, buzzed, and generally terrified by passing cars even though I did not perceive myself to be riding any differently.

When I rode so thoroughly enjoying the ride that I didn’t have any space left for anger, I realized I smiled and waved at drivers whenever they did anything considerate, feeling grateful they were thinking of me.  No one ever honked at me when I rode with this attitude.  I didn’t get buzzed and I wasn’t terrified.

Is it possible we ultimately can prevent killing sprees with something as simple as a smile?

If we can make a connection, can a potential killer see us as real?  That is, see us as they see themselves–intertwined, interdependent, beautiful flesh and blood?  Shouldn’t finding that connection, nourishing it, keeping it alive as long as possible be our top priority no matter where we are, who we’re with, or what we’re doing?

Maybe we can’t stop someone from becoming a killer, but maybe we can at least reduce the number of people who walk around fantasizing about killing people.  And maybe that will lead to more smiles and a little more joy all around.  After all, if I’m going to get gunned down by a homicidal maniac, I’d like to have spent the time I had smiling.

Home is Where the Holstein Is

I spent four days back in Columbus for both work and personal activities, although I’m afraid I had too tight a schedule to see everyone I wanted to see.

There was one “person” who was particularly upset that I didn’t manage to work him into my schedule for four days straight:  Tisen.

My poor boy suffered greatly from the lack of a mother.  No one told him (in a high, happy voice) he’s the best dog in the whole world for four days.  No one rubbed his armpits in the exact spot he likes so well.  He didn’t get to take any of his toys with him on walks. And no lap was acceptable to rest his head on while mine wasn’t an option.

In spite of all our efforts to create a bond between Tisen and Daddy so that Tisen would be OK without me, he was a very sad boy indeed.

Over the past few weeks, Pat has become the sole feeder of the dog.  The good news is that even though Tisen was depressed, he kept eating for the most part.  But, he wouldn’t cuddle with Daddy on the couch.  As long as I was gone, if Pat called Tisen to come lay with him, Tisen would run and hide, sometimes even going to the bedroom and getting in his crate.

Pat was worried enough about Tisen’s strange behavior, including sleeping most the day, that he didn’t take Tisen to doggy day care, thinking Tisen wasn’t up for it.

As I drove home, I could think of little else besides my poor boy suffering from my absence.  I confess I may have driven a little faster than was prudent.

When I got to our door, I knocked loudly, but I heard nothing inside.  I dug out my key and swung the door wide, calling “Hello?” No one.  I walked the rest of the way into the apartment to discover it was empty.

Two friends I didn’t get to see in Columbus had stopped in to see us at home.  Pat was out walking with them and Tisen and hadn’t heard his phone buzzing when I’d called.  So much for my emotional homecoming.

Instead, I drove over to where they were to pick them up.  Tisen seemed not to recognize me at first, but then he started running at me and licking my face.  Later, our friends commented about how much perkier he seemed now that I was home.

Currently, I am laying on the bed typing this.  Tisen dozes on a blanket on the floor right next to the bed.  He dozed off for a while, but then started awake and immediately lifted his head to check and see if I was still here.

Since I didn’t have a chance to take any new photos tonight, I pulled together a montage of Tisen photos.  While many are not such great images, they all helped get me through the four days of separation.

Separation Anxiety

We want to go to dinner tonight.  Without the dog.  However, we haven’t crate trained him and so far he’s been afraid to even walk into the crate and check it out, so now is not the time to try the crate.

We decide to experiment before leaving.  Pat sneaks into the bathroom hoping Tisen won’t notice he’s there and I step into the hall.  I lurk in the hall holding my can of pennies, listening for any sounds of barking or pawing at the door.  When he scratches, I shake my can.  He stops.  I can hear him sniffing at the crack under the door.  I can’t tell if he knows I’m standing there or not.  After he’s been quiet for several minutes, I decide it’s time to reward him for being calm.  I go to open the door and discover I’ve locked myself out.

I text my husband and he comes out of the bathroom to let me back in.

Next, I decide to try 5 minutes to see how Tisen does.  I sneak back out into the hall (this time leaving the door unlocked) after getting him interested in his simulated dead squirrel toy.  I hide around the corner this time.  Unfortunately, I am across from a neighbor’s door.  I hope they aren’t watching me through their peep hole, wondering what I’m doing in the hallway holding a Christmas canister (my can of pennies is a small Christmas tin that Pat’s mom’s famous rum balls were delivered in).

Tisen is quiet.  Other than one loud sniff, I do not hear anything at all.  I look at my watch.  I get to 3 1/2 minutes and suddenly the door opens, my husband looking for me.  I go back in and learn that Tisen figured out Pat was hiding in the bathroom and was scratching at the bathroom door.  So much for that test.

Eventually, we decide to leave a note on the door with our mobile number so our neighbors can reach us if he’s making a lot of noise and head out for a quick dinner at Taco Mamacitos next door.

When we return,Tisen is having a conversation with the next door neighbor’s dog.  When we open the door, Tisen is frantic.  He leaps at us, nipping at our hands like he’s lost his mind.  He pants uncontrollably.  I wrap him in my arms, firmly push him into a sit, and talk to him soothingly to get him to calm down.  When he calms enough to let him go, I start getting ready for bed.  He follows me into the bathroom–a room he has avoided since his bath.

When I sit on the couch, he plops next to me and pushes so tight against me I fear my pants and his fur are going to merge at a molecular level.  Apparently I have gone overboard spoiling this dog–after 4 days with us, he’s having separation anxiety.  Sigh.  A new thing to work on.

Book Smarts

There’s an expression about being book smart vs street smart.  The idea suggests people are either smart in theory or smart in practice.  In reality, of course, no one is really all one or the other.

For example, I can study how people move their bodies up stairs, determine an appropriate exercise regimen, and create a plan that will make me better at climbing stairs using book smarts.  But I can’t actually get better at climbing stairs except by, well, climbing stairs.

Since there is no room for trial and error when hang gliding, knowing what we’re doing and why helps.  And, since hang gliding truly is the application of physics, it makes sense that getting rated as a pilot would require some book smarts.

Here is where I run into a line that divides book smarts from street smarts.  I am able to read the material through once, review it quickly, and then score what would be an “A.”  However, when I return to the training hills, I am unable to translate what the material said into what my body does.  This disparity between concepts in a book and physical application frustrates me.

But today, we are in my element.  We are taking our final two tests.  I read through the materials and took notes the day before.  I think we will be done around noon given that it’s only 10AM.

As it turns out, I finish up my second test shortly after noon.  Pat, on the other hand, has not finished the reading material for the first test yet.  Mind you that Pat is someone who fully understand mechanics and physics in a way I never will.  However, his in depth understanding of how things work doesn’t seem to help him speed through test taking.

At 2PM we run out and grab a bite to eat at the closest place around. It’s a combination gas station, convenience store, hamburger joint–an honest to goodness family owned place.  After filling our stomachs, we return to the office and Pat takes his first test.  I, thankfully, have my iPad for amusement.

I’ve gotten through an episode and a half of Glee by the time Pat takes his completed test up to the desk.  After a while, I hear him talking.  He has met Matt Tabor, the owner of Lookout Mountain, and they are gabbing.  I finish the second half of the episode I’m watching and decide I need to intervene.

It’s an interesting conversation and I get sucked in.  I eventually remember that my goal was to get Pat on task and I remind him I am waiting on him to finish his second test.

At 6PM, we have to leave because they are closing for the night.  Pat has 15 questions to go on the test, but he calls it a night and we head on home.  Since completing the test now requires backtracking, I am more irritated than he is.  I remind myself that this is fun.

Voice Quake

I spend most of the day on the phone today.  Three of my calls are me presenting for an hour straight.  Throughout my day, I notice my voice.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m losing my voice.  It dips awkwardly and then cracks or tremors slightly as if I’m nervous.  Or, sometimes, I get a tickle in my throat and get an annoying cough to go with it.  Other times, I feel like my voice is booming.  The thing I can’t figure out is why.

My voice frequently sounds nervous even when I don’t feel nervous.  Then, when I notice my voice shaking, I worry that I sound nervous, which makes me nervous.  Most of the time, I just talk on through it or pause to clear my throat and then it seems to ease.  Every once in a while, it just gets worse and worse the longer I talk.  When this happens, I feel a growing tightness in my throat, like it’s closing.  As I continue talking, my throat keeps squeezing and I eventually choke on my words, literally.  Then, I have to stop and cough.

I haven’t really tried to compile data on what I’m talking about when this happens, but it seems like it could be something as innocuous as sharing product information.  I haven’t noticed any correlation between my level of confidence and my cracking voice–it seems to happen randomly.

I decide I should do some research.

What I learn is that my voice could be affected by many things.  One of which is fatigue.  Do I talk too much?  Oddly, on a day of 3 hours of presenting plus 5 hours of phone calls in which I participated in discussions, my voice acted up the worst on my first call.

Another possibility is the structure of my airway.  Apparently some airways are more apt to introduce vibrato than others.  But again, why is it that it’s so variable if it’s a physical thing that causes my voice to quake?

Another article suggests that the problem is a combination of not using my chest to resonate and aging, warning that the quake in my voice will only get worse if I don’t learn to use my chest.  Apparently I am overworking my vocal folds.  This turns out to be an ad for a voice coaching service.

I am intrigued.  Should I buy the DVDs?  Can I improve my voice?  Would it help my career?  Could I truly speak more authoritatively?  The DVD set is $297.  I think I’ll pass.

Next, I find a multitude of web sites that tell me throat problems develop when the throat chakra is not open.  Apparently, if I fail to speak the truth, express my feelings, or deny my values in any way, I am opening myself up for voice issues as a result of this chakra.

I have to say that I was raised firmly within a scientific paradigm where objective evidence in the form of the double-blind study is king and things like chakras sound a lot like voodoo.  The thought of healing a chakra to speak clearly seems a bit like, well, nonsense.

On the other hand, finding that modern medicine often falls short on treating simple problems without causing bigger ones, I have researched a lot of approaches to well being that fall outside classic scientific research.  When it comes to curing what ails me, I take the mindset of “who cares if it’s a placebo effect if it works, doesn’t cost much, and isn’t harmful?”

What I know is that yoga makes me feel significantly better both physically and mentally.  I also know that yoga is supposed to have something to do with chakras, which I have never really taken much interest in understanding.  But, it goes to follow that if practicing yoga makes me feel better, then maybe trying this throat chakra crap is worth a go?  Maybe I shouldn’t call it “crap” if I’m going to give it a go?

So, I have decided to try a few exercises I found online for one week to see if there is any improvement.  It’s free, does no harm, and should be an interesting experiment.  Not a scientifically sound experiment, but an interesting one none-the-less.

My hypothesis:  perhaps my voice is telling me something.  Through performing simple exercises to “open the throat chakra,” maybe I’ll figure out what my voice is trying to say.  Worst case, it will be relaxing.

If that fails, maybe I’ll try the DVDs.

Waking Up

I get up at 5AM so I can be at the gym by 6AM and be awake. I only need 15 minutes to get ready, but I need an hour to be functional. It’s early for a workout. I get to the gym and realize I didn’t turn my phone on before I left–I wouldn’t have received any cancellation texts.  It gets to be a few minutes after 6 and I see no evidence that anyone else is here for the class I’m attending, including the trainer.

This is an anxiety producing situation for me. I don’t know why. Even if no one shows up, I’m at the gym and can get a workout in on my own. However, I get stressed when I’m supposed to be meeting people and we don’t hook up. I worry that I’m in the wrong place and we missed each other. Because, after all, if my trainer came in and didn’t see me, I just know he would assume I didn’t show and go on without me. And, even though the front door is only 20 feet from the treadmill I’m on, it’s entirely possible that the 200+ pound trainer could sneak by unnoticed and that he would never think of turning his head.  It’s ridiculous, but I do this to myself every time I meet someone until the situation becomes familiar.

The trainer arrives about 2 minutes after 6AM (depending on which clock you’re looking at). I am now stretching in the hallway outside the training room door. While I prefer to stretch in the women’s locker room, it’s too anxiety producing to be out of sight. Now that I know the trainer will arrive a couple minutes late, I will factor this into the next class and not be so anxious.

As it is, I follow him into the room and stand there feeling awkward while he tries to get his stuff situated to begin the class. My presence and readiness to start rushes him and he forgets to turn on his music, set up some equipment, put away his hat. Next time, I will wait outside until he tells me he’s ready.

As it turns out, I am the only participant today. Apparently everyone else thought 6AM was too early. I am at about 60% of full capacity with my cold. I am still tired and I’ve been laying around too much. I go a little easy today, but my shoulders and chest are still exhausted by the workout.  By the time we are done, I’m debating whether I want to walk before work or wait until after.  But realistically, if we don’t walk now, we won’t walk later.

When I get home, I write. By the time I get Pat out of bed and get myself ready, there is little time for a walk. We’ve also realized we have nothing to eat. So, we do go for a walk, but it’s just to the store and back. We pick up some cereal and milk so we can eat breakfast.

Even keeping it quick, I am racing back to get to my first call of the day by the time we’re done. I don’t know where the morning goes sometimes. I get up hours before work to have time to take care of the things I want to do. I like getting those things in at the beginning of the day. Somehow, making time for me first thing in the morning sends a message to my brain that I am a top priority–I will not sacrifice my health, my needs, myself for the sake of my job.

I have a fantasy work morning that goes like this: I sit on the balcony sipping coffee, watching the sunrise, maybe shooting a little. I finish my coffee and do yoga for a while, ending with some meditation. After feeling completely and totally relaxed, I write for an hour. Then, I go for a walk with Pat along the riverfront before starting work.

Theoretically, since I get up at least 3 hours before my work day starts, I should be able to make this fantasy reality–well, other than the sunrise during coffee. I don’t really know what happens, but my real morning often goes more like this: stumble out of bed, get the coffee going through bleary, half-shut eyes. Check email for emergencies. Answer a few mails. Check calendar for first meeting. Pour coffee. Write blog. Start researching some trivial point that has little to do with my post. Finish post, realize it’s getting late. Wake up Pat. Jump in shower, get cleaned up and ready to go. Decide to log on while waiting for Pat to get ready. Try to answer a couple of emails and then realize I’m out of time and we can’t go for a walk now.

Ah, I see what happens–I start working first. Funny thing how priorities work. How many times have I said, “I want to . . . But I just don’t have time”? Yet, I manage to make time for so many other things–like obsessive email checking. I tell myself “What if someone needs me?” In reality, what I think drives me is the fear that maybe no one does. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be easy to let them wait until office hours?

Tomorrow, maybe I will try leaving my phone in airplane mode until after I’ve finished that walk with Pat.