I Handed Away My Heart

I handed away my heart. It happened accidentally—I meant to hold something back. A little lifeline to reality: my dog would only be in my life for a few short years.

But now my heart is breaking. Each crack created by a change in my dog as the tumor in his brain grows. Each time he runs into something, each time he stumbles and falls, each time he looks blankly at a favorite toy and leaves it behind, I feel a new tear.

We are both disintegrating—I in my chest and he in his head.

I am so honored to be loved by this dog. A dog who came to us as a foster dog from the local shelter. They had nursed him for 2 months after his previous humans had tried to starve him to death on purpose.

How could I not have given this boy my whole heart? He loved me. He had no reason to trust a human ever again, but he claimed me as his and went all-in. He has been my constant shadow, convinced I was not safe in the world without him by my side.

How could I withhold any part of my heart when my heart was all he asked for? My heart and squeaky toys. My boy gave me, and his squeaky toys, unconditional love in a way that only a dog can.

A dog reaches into that soft and squishy place that reminds us what is most important in life—-tapping into the essence of our humanity. A dog gives us the hope we are better people than we thought we were and inspires us to be better still.

To be entrusted with another being’s happiness and his very life reminds me I am powerful, tender, needed, loved. My responsibility to him requires me to be patient, kind, gentle, forgiving. And somehow, it’s easy to be patient, kind, gentle, and forgiving when the smallest smile makes a dog’s tail wag. Dogs are masters of positive reinforcement.

But I’d forgotten what a tricky thing it is to keep your heart safe. After all, it’s been 6 years since I last lost a dog. That’s the trouble with dogs. You think you’ve prepared yourself for the shortness of their lives. You think you’re going to be just fine. And then the day comes when you are faced with the reality that the end is near. That’s when you realize you’ve handed away your heart. Even if accidentally.

Babies and Bath Water

Many years ago, when more and more corporations were putting PCs on people’s desks, opening up access to email, the internet, and (egads!) even instant messaging, multi-tasking became a hot topic in large corporations.

A group of managers in my then-organization were sent to a training class. The class proved to them that no one is more efficient multi-tasking than performing tasks in a single-threaded fashion. This has been demonstrated over and over again in many studies since.

Yet multitasking is only increasing. We wonder aloud how we got to a place where multitasking on a smartphone has now become part of our basic social interactions. Remember when it was considered the epitome of rudeness to have a cell phone in a restaurant?

For me, multi-tasking socialization started in the work place where I often carried on multiple instant message conversations, worked on an email response, and “listened” to a conference call all at the same time.

But the behavior has carried over to my personal life in rather frightening ways. A laptop, iPhone, or iPad is always handy and my face is often pointed at one of them–my attention hopping from messages, emails, posts and often forgetting completely why I picked up a “device” in the first place.

One of the things I have said I love about photography is that it is a form of meditation. I set aside my distracting devices and focus my attention as well as my lens. When I look through the viewfinder, even more distractions are removed, limiting the view of the world to just the portion I include in my frame. The mind quiets, the chatter stops, texts go unanswered. For those moments, there is only me observing something fascinating and working to capture it.

But how to carry this focused attention over to personal relationships?

I tried an accidental experiment this weekend. I put my phone on the sleep setting, meaning it would not notify me with events from the virtual world. Then, I spent some time with my spouse. Friday night, we even went to dinner without our phones. It was a scary moment, but we managed to entertain ourselves by talking to each other.

What was interesting was how awkward it felt to know we were going to have a conversation with no access to Google. No photos to look at. No funny posts on Facebook to share. Just us talking off the tops of our heads like the internet didn’t exist. But at the end of the evening, we felt like we’d actually spent time together vs spent time in the same room.

That said, I am not about to get rid of the technology in my life. But it begs the question: if technology has contributed to new detrimental behaviors negatively impacting my relationships, productivity, and enjoyment of life, how does one extract the baby from the bathwater? It is possible to use the power of technology only for good?

Tail Wag

The other night,  I sat at my desk trying to wrap up a few last things.  My dog decided I had already been working too long.  He came over, tail wagging, playfully bouncing, and stuck his nose under my mouse hand, knocking it away from the mouse.  When I turned toward him, he jumped up to put his front paws in my lap and started licking my face and pushing at me with his head, clearly trying to motivate me to get out of my chair.

When I stood up, he started racing around in circles, tail going so fast I thought it might fall off. I couldn’t help but smile as we began our evening routine.

Even though I don’t leave for work physically, I leave mentally.  My dog has tuned into my work day and mostly just naps near by during the hours he’s come to expect me to be working.  But when he needs to go out or is just tired of being ignored, he won’t take no for an answer.  He’s become my alarm dog, telling me when it’s time to take a break if not put work away for the night.

I am reminded of something a friend said to me once about how people should greet each other the way dogs greet their people.  That if we would dance around with wagging tails when we were reunited with friends, we would probably all be happier.  It occurs to me that if we were all as willing to express our feelings and our needs so unambiguously, we’d probably all be a lot happier, too.

I rarely know what I need.  Even really basic stuff like needing to use the restroom.  I will be in the midst of my day hopping from one conference call to the next and have a vague notion that perhaps I should take care of one of life’s most basic and unavoidable needs and then forget until, hours later, comes a sudden moment of urgency that cannot be denied or postponed.

Not knowing what I need makes it nearly impossible to ask for it.  I am surprised and delighted every time my husband magically appears to deposit lunch in front of me.  Realizing I forget to notice when I’m hungry, my husband makes sure I have something to eat without me having to stick my nose under his mouse hand.  I think it’s the most romantic gesture there is, except maybe when he does laundry.

But since he often shows up with lunch in the middle of my work day while I’m in the middle of doing work, I don’t jump up and run around in circles wagging my tail.  He’s lucky if I make eye contact with him and smile before he returns to his own busy day.  Perhaps I will give that a try on Monday.  Note to self: jump up, wag tail, run around in circles excitedly when Pat brings me lunch.

Jumping Into Fall

Ahh . . .fall.  Every year I am surprised to discover summer truly is over.  More so since moving to Chattanooga where the temperatures stay summer-like longer and then catch you off guard with sudden dips that remind you you’re no longer used to temperatures in the 30‘s.

I laughed at myself the other day when 26 degree weather in the early morning caused me to put on both a down sweater and a mid-thigh down jacket over it.  I couldn’t help thinking back to Ohio where I once rode my bike 13 miles to work in pitch darkness when it was 19 degrees.  I have been southern-fied.  I suppose that is better than southern-fried!

Having discovered my new sensitivity to cold, I realized I was pre-maturely cocooning this fall.  I liken the feeling of cocooning to the feeling of dread I get right before jumping into a cold swimming pool.  There’s that pause, that moment of hesitation when I ask myself “is it really worth it?”  The colder the weather, the shorter the days, the harder it is to get out and get into the water.

Today, I reminded myself that every time I’ve ever jumped in a pool, I was always glad I did.  Much like I remind myself every Friday morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 that as much as I want to roll back over, I’ve never once regretted going to yoga class once I’ve gotten myself there.

It was this reminder that caused me to say to Pat, “Let’s go hiking” today.  We headed over to Raccoon Mountain, a combination Tennessee Valley Authority power station and recreational area.  It sounds like a strange combination, but the pump station makes a scenic lake and the surrounding woods provide miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

I was surprised to realize we had almost missed the fall color.  The top story of trees were all but bare.  Fortunately, the understory was still going strong.  With temps back into the 60’s, we didn’t mind the tiny sprinkling of rain and the foggy, overcast skies.  In fact, the leaves seemed only more brilliant against the drab backdrop.

Tisen romped along with us, charging down the trail to catch up whenever we got ahead of him.  His wagging tail and high spirits did my heart as much good as the woods.  His recent improvement with his allergies and skin issues has made all of us wag more.  (Of course, Tisen is the only one who doesn’t look insane doing it.)  This was the first time he’s been able to run free since he started feeling better.  He’s snoozing soundly by my side now–I think he wore himself out.

As did I–the fatigue of a little physical effort reminds me how little movement I’ve gotten in the past several months.  It feels so good to get out and move!  I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without it!

Bright Beauties

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As I look through my images from Sunday in the search for something to post today, I realize that I can’t remember going outside today.  My first conference call started early and I ran out of time to take Tisen on his morning walk.  My husband filled in for me on walking duty–I was happy to hand off given that it was pouring down rain.

My day remained jam-packed until 6:30PM when my husband came home and I looked up to realize I’d been sitting at my desk nearly non-stop for 10 ½ hours.

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That was when I actually did go outside.  Poor Tisen hadn’t had a mid-day break because I was too busy.  I took him out in a bit of a daze, having trouble focusing after having been looking 2 feet in front of me all day.  We did a quick lap around the smaller section of the park given that it was misting and threatening to break out into another honest downpour at any moment.

As I think back, I now remember that trek around the park.  The exercise class working out in the misting rain, the children up on the sledding hill, and running into a neighbor with a  tiny pomeranian puppy Tisen seems to be afraid of.   It was while I was talking to the neighbor that it dawned on me I hadn’t brushed my teeth.  I tried not to smile too much.

Appearing out of seemingly nowhere amongst what might be grass

Appearing out of seemingly nowhere amongst what might be grass

When we got back inside, I went back to work, trying to wrap up on a couple of items I hadn’t had time to finish.  But not for too long–one of my goals is to keep my work day to 10 hours unless it’s a dire emergency or pressing deadline.  I’ll get there some day.

Eventually, I turned to my photos.  It was the images of the yellow flowers whose name I once knew but now escapes me that caused me to wonder if I had been outside.  Doesn’t it seem like it would be hard to walk by such bright beauties without noticing?

The new snapgreatphotos.com model

The new snapgreatphotos.com model

 

Busy Bee

The bee escapes Tisen and lands on a flower

The bee escapes Tisen and lands on a flower

A word of advice:  trying to get a good macro shot of a flying bee is best accomplished without a dog on a leash attached to your wrist.  Tisen is not always the best photographer’s dog.  Particularly not when it comes to bees.  He is not fond of bees.

At least he didn’t eat my subject.

I sometimes wonder if I have an unconscious desire to make achieving the image I have in my head as difficult as possible if not impossible.  After all, you really cannot expect to get a good shot of a bee on a flower with a macro lens while you’re standing in the park with a dog trying to chase said bee.

I have a tendency to disguise creating obstacles as efficiency–I was both getting some shooting in and walking my dog at the same time.  Realistically, my dog didn’t enjoy his walk half as much and I didn’t come close to getting the images I wanted.

Once out of Tisen's reach, he flitted from blossom to blossom

Once out of Tisen’s reach, he flitted from blossom to blossom

It may have even taken more total time because I was constantly getting tangled in the leash and having to convince my dog to stop for a while in the midst of biting flies and mosquitos.  Perhaps I need to re-think my approach to time saving.

On that note, in case you noticed my blog posts have gotten a lot shorter the past few days, it is because I have started a second blog that has a simple photography lesson each day for want-to-be photographers who are using iPhones (or other simple cameras) and who don’t want to know any of the technical details.  Check it out at snapgreatphotos.com if that’s you.

It’s a fun challenge to work out lessons that aren’t technical at all. But, since I only have a small amount of time in the evenings to work on blog posts, I’m finding it’s tough to keep up on both, especially since I’m getting used to the second one.

For my friends who read my blog during breakfast, it should be a lot easier to get to the end of my posts before you finish your cereal now!  🙂

By the way, for my readers who are Tisen fans, Tisen is my main model for my other blog, so you can get your fill of photos of him there.  But, since he is my favorite model, here’s an iPhone image just for you:

Tisen modeling for me on a breezier day with fewer bugs

Tisen modeling for me on a breezier day with fewer bugs

 

Dinner Date

Tisen giddy with excitement

Tisen giddy with excitement

Tisen is experiencing the emotion of conflict of interest.  He loves Twiggy and he loves his mommy.  He just isn’t sure how to love both of us at the same time.

If Tisen and I were two humans with the same relationship, we would be in therapy.

I have never understood possessive, jealous people.  Any guy I ever dated back when I was a single person (E-gads!  It’s been decades ago!) who had issues with me having friends, having a career, and having interests separate from his didn’t last long.  (Well, excepting my first “adult” boyfriend, but that’s another story.)  I guess because I identify with Tisen in more of a mother-son sort of way, his possessiveness and jealousy seem simultaneously more strange and more tolerable.

Twiggy giving "the Look" that probably results in her getting what she wants 100% of the time

Twiggy giving “the Look” that probably results in her getting what she wants 100% of the time

Perhaps more tolerable because I don’t actually have to argue with Tisen and convince him that he’s nuts for being upset that I’m petting Twiggy.  I just pet Twiggy and let him deal with it.

It’s also more tolerable because it’s amusing to watch Tisen flip back and forth between wanting to play with Twiggy and wanting to remain between her and me.  When Twiggy moves away from me, he grabs and toy and follows her, trying to get her to play tug-o-war or keep away.  When Twiggy comes back my way, Tisen drops his toys, dives head-first onto the sofa, often landing completely across my lap.

Twiggy decides to take advantage of the fact that there are 3 humans present who are capable of rubbing her belly

Twiggy decides to take advantage of the fact that there are 3 humans present who are capable of rubbing her belly

Of course, Tisen eventually wears himself out and decides he really can share me.  Then Twiggy happily sits next to me and raises a paw so I will rub her armpit.

I got out my iPhone and attempted to capture a few images of our favorite dogs (in Tennessee–no offense to Paris and Bonnie who are, of course, our favorite dogs in Ohio).

Twiggy extends her neck to place her head directly under her daddy's hand

Twiggy extends her neck to place her head directly under her daddy’s hand

Low light and motion are not ideal conditions for shooting with the iPhone.  One thing that might have been helpful would have been to turn on the flash.  I’ve found using the feature in Camera! that turns the LED light on like a flashlight works better than using the LED like a flash.  It helps the phone find focus for one thing.  But, I think I end up with a faster shutter speed this way.  I’ll have to test this theory.

In any case, with so much excitement going on, catching either dog in a moment of “paws” (sorry for the pun) was a bit challenging.  Without the LED light on, the iPhone takes a very long time to find focus and fire, which makes getting decent images of moving dogs even more challenging.

Our guests and Tisen (Big Dog is also on the floor, partially cut out of the frame)

Our guests and Tisen (Big Dog is also on the floor, partially cut out of the frame)

This is the kind of situation where, if you want an image to capture a memory and you’re not really after a specific look, the iPhone is just fine.  But if you really want a stop-action kind of shot, a DSLR would be a much better choice.  Or even just a point-and-shoot with fully manual control and higher ISO settings.

None-the-less, I enjoy any pictures of the dogs.

Got Cravens?

One end of Cravens House with a leafless tree against background clouds

One end of Cravens House with a leafless tree against background clouds–can you spot Pat and Tisen?

After our little adventure at the Nature Center (yesterday’s post), we drove up Lookout Mountain a couple of miles to Cravens House, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Cravens House is not spectacular from an architectural perspective, but the history of the place, the view, and the fact that it’s a trailhead for many great trails more than make up for the lack of creative design.

We thought it would be a good destination to walk around with Tisen for a half hour or so, expecting to walk through the woods until we tired and then turn around and come back.  We were not dressed for serious hiking.  I had on my typical casual outfit, including a winter coat perfect for going to a casual dinner.  The exception was my hiking boots and rolled up jeans–just in case there was mud.  Pat also was dressed in his casual gear meaning a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and corduroy jacket that isn’t exactly warm.

This is only one of many monuments commemorating units who fought in the civil war, many of them from the Union

This is only one of many monuments commemorating units who fought in the civil war, many of them from the Union

When we got out of the car, the wind blasted us, immediately making it feel 15 degrees colder than lower down the mountain.  Snow flurries started falling from the gray, gray sky.  Tisen gave us a look when he hopped out of the van that seemed to say, “Really?  We drove all the way up here for this?”

We made our way across the wind-blasted lawn, the only ones out and about at this elevation.  We made a circular lap past Cravens House, then past the giant monument in the lawn and over to an odd looking half-modern, half-historical log cabin.  We paused behind the cabin, seeking shelter from the wind while Tisen sniffed.

The more historic looking end of the log cabin with a pine tree blending into the chimney

The more historic looking end of the log cabin

Tisen has a funny habit.  Well, he has many funny habits.  One of them is quite funny to watch, but has been very challenging to catch on camera.  He backs up to a bush, hunches up his back like he needs to heed the call of nature, and then sways his rear end back and forth under the tree branches, giving himself a good scratch.  He decided the shrubs behind the cabin represented the perfect opportunity for a good scratch.

A little more of Cravens House with a more visible Pat and Tisen

A little more of Cravens House with a more visible Pat and Tisen

This was about the time a car pulled into the parking lot and a man and a dog got out of it.  They’d come for a game of fetch.  The man was even less prepared for the cold than we were–he had no jacket at all.

The man didn’t see us until his dog came running over.  He apologized profusely, but the dogs greeted each other with proper dog etiquette and hit it off.  We asked if it was OK to let Tisen off his leash and soon, the dogs were chasing each other around the yard.  It made me sad that we don’t have a yard for Tisen to run around in.  He got the most exercise of all of us and completely stopped noticing the cold.

A less happy Tisen won't hold still for a picture when we took him for a post-romp bath

A less happy Tisen won’t hold still for a picture when we took him for a post-romp bath

Two Nickels

I was able to capture one nickel on edge, perfectly still

I was able to capture one nickel on edge, perfectly still

I noticed something interesting today.  I noticed I didn’t feel quite so bored.  Interestingly,  this seems to correlate with a sunny day.  Is it really that simple?

It was also a Tuesday.  Tuesday is a kind of mad-dash in the morning because the housekeeper comes on Tuesday.  This means, in addition to my normal morning routine that includes walking and feeding the dog, showering and getting myself groomed and dressed, we also ran around picking up and then I drove the dog to day care.

Guess what?  There’s rush hour traffic in the morning!  Even here.   And, of course, Tisen didn’t want to get out of the car when we got to doggy daycare.  He’s such a mama’s boy.  I had to lift him off the back seat of the van and then hoist him down to the ground.  It used to be a little easier–he seems to have picked up a few pounds of late.

Of course, once he got inside and one of his doggy friends showed up, he was all excited to be there.  He happily pranced back to the play room with his new best friend after a few doggy handshakes (which is a polite way of describing how dogs actually greet and get to know one another).

Back at home, Tisen seems to feel the need to keep a friend handy at all times

Back at home, Tisen seems to feel the need to keep a friend handy at all times

That task completed, I raced back home for my first conference call of the day.  And, of course, got stuck in traffic.  Traffic was backed up a good quarter of a mile.  It took an extra 5 minutes to drive the one mile between doggy daycare and our building.  Yes, it’s somewhat laughable, but 5 extra minutes to go one mile is a bit annoying.  Especially when you’re running out of time before your first conference call.

Tuesday morning also means I pack up my laptop and head down to the common area at the end of the hall where I can sit and work while someone else vacuums and scrubs back at home.  (How I appreciate the folks who do those chores for me!)  Since the common area is a large room in a corner of the building with lots of windows overlooking the riverfront, it’s a fantastic view.

This morning, there are other residents meeting in the room, so I must sit outside on the balcony so I can talk on my call without their voices interfering.  This puts me outside in the sunshine.

Apparently I need only 2 things to shake me out of my doldrums:  a slight change in my routine and sunshine.  That’s not so hard.

So, now that I’ve spent nearly all of my 500 words, tonight, feeling a little more creative, I had this idea of capturing 2 nickels.  I thought I would have one nickel sitting on edge, in sharp focus.  The other nickel I would roll towards the other, the motion of the rolling nickel blurring it as it strikes the one sitting on edge.

Up close tails--the second nickel is out-of-frame, flopping over long before reaching the first

Up close tails–the second nickel is out-of-frame, flopping over long before reaching the first

I’ll post that shot after I grow a couple more hands.

Fondness

Ahh.  Sunshine.  I guess it’s true that absence makes the heart go fonder.  After so many days of rain, the sudden appearance of the sun was almost shocking.  It started Thursday evening around sunset.  A break in the clouds allowed the sun to poke through.  The bank of clouds on their way out of town traveled quickly across the sky as the sun sank toward the horizon.

I can’t remember the last time I was so glad to see the sun, even if it was calling it a night.

Black and White Version

Black and White Version

This created something of a photographic challenge.  The clouds were dark and moving fast.  The great dilemma between getting enough depth of field to shoot the whole scene and needing a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the clouds.  The only way to achieve this is with a very high ISO setting.  That means some noise I’d rather not have.

Much like life, photography is an attempt to balance alternatives to get the best possible result since you can’t get exactly what you want.

But the glimpse of the sun made up for it.  It reminded me 2 lines from a poem a friend recently shared on Facebook:

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.

I started appreciating the sun more about 4 days in–the next 10 days of rain were overkill.  However, after a 2 week separation, I was about as grateful as it gets for sunshine.

Setting Sun in color

Setting Sun in color

I wonder if Tisen feels this way when I’m gone?  He seems just as excited when I return after taking 5 minutes to check the mail as when I’ve been gone for over an hour.  But when I’m gone for days, he goes absolutely nuts.  It’s like he’d given up hope and my sudden reappearance throws him into an uncontrolled frenzy.

I wonder how dogs keep track of time?  Tisen seems to keep a regular schedule during office hours.  He gets up once I’ve made my coffee.  He’s like clockwork about noon when he decides it’s time for his mid-day walk.  And he never fails to start pestering me to walk and feed him at the end of the day, although sometimes he gets started a little early.

But when it comes to the last walk of the day, he doesn’t seem to notice at all.  He’s content to lay on the sofa with us until well past his bedtime.  Conversely, if I walk into the bedroom, he goes to bed.  He does this with no regard to the time of day.

On weekends he doesn’t seem to have any sense of time at all.  He will sleep in later than I can on some Saturdays.  It’s almost as if he doesn’t believe I’m up and making coffee if he didn’t hear an alarm go off first.

Ah well, maybe that’s why a dog’s years are so much longer–they lose track of time.

Fading light

Fading light