Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Some Problems Cannot Be My Problem

No permanent dog for us these days. We've decided not to keep Jeb the foster dog. He is a great dog and is, in fact, the most well behaved dog that I have ever had. He doesn't run wild when off leash. He doesn't pull on the leash. He is super mellow around the house and like to just lay around. He lays in the shade at the park and doesn't run away even when other dogs go by. He completely ignores the cats. He is an almost perfect dog. He is a bit doggy-smelling, has fleas, and there is the whole separation anxiety thing (which makes one feel like they have a 50 pound furry ball and chain attached to them on a regular basis).

But here is the unanticipated context. I have a baby who still regularly keeps me awake for 1.5 to 2 hours in the middle of the night. I have a baby who likes to crawl up to the dog, grab his fur, and poke him in the eyes. I have a three year old who is extremely demanding and wants a lot of attention. These are my challenges, problems, realities, what-have-you. These are some of the elements of my daily existence. It turns out that within that context, adding a lot of scratching, licking, rattling around, separation anxiety, and other day to day needs of another living being isn't really working out for us at the moment. I do love the dogs, but all dogs come with their quirks and issues. Now is not the time in my life for extra quirks and issues. I've got a bunch of unavoidable, these are mine, can't give them away, type of quirks and issues already. So for now, as bad as I feel about it, I'm going to have to pass on the elective quirkiness and neediness. Maybe in another year or two.

What Did I Do Before?

So my daily existence looks something like this:

work day: get up at 5:55 AM. Take foster dog for 20 minute jog. Change clothes, throw yogurt, granola bar and tea bag into canvas sack, drive to work. Work until 5:30 p.m. Drive home. Play with girls for half an hour while Mitch makes dinner (pick tomatoes with Lucy, turn Josie upside down, pet Jeb the foster dog). Eat dinner. Wash girls. Watch 30 minutes of Sesame street with Lucy. Put Lucy to bed. Collapse in exhausted heap on couch. Watch 1.5 hours of something on t.v. - typically some t.v. show like the Wire on DVD. Talk to Mitch for 20 minutes or so about our life. Go to bed exhausted. Repeat.

weekend day: get up at 6:30 a.m. with Josie. Play with Josie until 7:00 a.m. when Lucy gets up. Walk foster dog or run foster dog and girls to dog park. Hang out with girls until 9:30 or so when Mitch gets up (I get to sleep in until 9:30 one weekend day per week). Put Josie down for her nap around 9:30. Around 10:30 go do something with the family (zoo, park, beach, etc.). Have lunch. Put girls down for nap. Take own nap. Get up in the afternoon and go to the park. Make dinner. Play with girls. Wash girls. Put girls to bed. Watch dvds. Go to bed.

Sometimes we manage to squeeze in some laundry or vacuuming or grocery shopping. I typically read a little bit (like 15 or 20 minutes) in the evening. Sometimes Mitch squeezes in a quick sail. Sometimes I go out for tea with Elise.

Life is good and I like hanging out with the girls and Mitch. Still there are days when I wonder where the days go. How can the whole day go away without my finding time to clean the bathroom, let alone do some yoga? I try to think about what life was like before the girls and it seems like it would be such an uninterupted sea of available time, it is somehow unimaginable. I know that wasn't how it felt at the time and I had difficulty finding time to clean the bathroom before I had kids too. What did I do with all of that time before? Before their were two little people with needs on the scene? I can totally see how people lose themselves and their lives in the parenting process. I can totally see how you wake up 20 years from now saying, "who am I and what did I used to like to do???"

We're trying to make sure that won't happen to us but whoa, those girls do suck one in... Here's to maintaining at least some sense of self with the gardening, tea drinking, book reading, friend talking to, and occasional yoga. If anyone remembers what I used to do in my previous pre-child existence, let me know...

A lot of nothing for something recently

Recently I've had some disappointments in the expenditure department. I feel the need to vent about two of these nothings for a whole lot of somethings right here right now. Call it working through my buyer's remorse.

Nothing for Something #1.
So we are fostering this dog, Jeb (see earlier entry). Jeb has serious separation anxiety (scratches the door and barks like crazy whenever we leave him alone) and I wanted a professional assessment of his both potential cures for his separation anxiety and also the likelihood of his biting our kids so I asked for a recommendation of a dog trainer from the dog rescue group that we got Jeb from. I called the dog trainer and scheduled an extremely expensive consultation (when I say expensive, read more than $100 but slightly less than $200 for a 1.5 hour consultation). The trainer assured me that after our consultation I would have plenty of material to work with. Instead, said trainer showed up, threw around some treats for an hour, told me that all dogs bite if they are pushed over their limit, and then gave us a totally impractical method for training the dog out of his separation anxiety (the plan involved Mitch and the kids getting up 10 times a day and leaving the house for ten seconds and then working up over weeks and months to the full two hours that we are regularly gone during the day). For me, the entire consultation left me in tears, made me feel hopeless about the dog, and made me conclude that we couldn't really keep him. It was the worst use of hundreds of dollars that I have made in years (the only rival was having to pay $300 for teeth fillings- talk about paying for pain and suffering).

Nothing for a whole lot of something #2:
I've been longing for a professional haircut for months. My hair has grown out into a mid-length mess and I wanted to get a stylist to cut it into some sort short shag. I finally had time to schedule a hair appointment and got a recommendation from a friend. The haircut experience was delightful - love the head shampooing, love the cutting, love the blow drying. Unfortunately, despite my clear direction that I don't blow dry or curl my hair or do any of that stuff on a regular basis, I still ended up with a haircut that doesn't look that great when left to its own devices. Another frustrating waste of...$50.

I'm not a big fan of spending money in the first place. So suffice it to say that I am even less a fan of spending money for a depressing, tear inducing interlude about my foster dog or a haircut that after the blow drying and goo installation has worn off looks like it was done perhaps by an inspired eighth grader with a touch of some nerve impairing syndrome.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Gardening and the Girls

Our garden continues to progress. We now have too many tomatoes. We took some to a kid's birthday party that we went to today. Lucy loves to pick them. I put some in omelettes for dinner last night. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. We are temporarily in a strawberry hiatus, I think because I didn't water the garden at all last week (I usually water it once a week). We had our first cucumber this week. It may be our only cucumber since the plants got nailed in the great heat spell of 2008 (I was in Pullman. Mitch did a great job of watering the front but the plants in the back got hammered). The hot spell killed two of the plants and now they are getting eaten by some mysterious insects. But at least we got one cucumber.

Lucy continues to love gardening, singing songs, making messes, and playing in the park. One of her new favorite games is hide from Jeb where she hides and then the dog finds her. She currently doesn't like sleeping by herself and complains a lot at bed time. She claims she is looking forward to the day when Josie shares her room, we'll see about that.

Josie is a speed crawling fiend and especially kicks her crawling into high gear if she sees that the door to the backyard is open and that she might be able to make a break for it. She loves to stand up and that is totally killing our peaceful nights. Now she wakes up in the middle of the night and stands up in her crib crying for long, long stretches. We tried to let her "cry it out" last night and that was a dismal failure. Picture an hour of crying ending in Josie still crying and Mitch and I practically crying too. So that's out for now. We think Josie will be walking soon since she can now stand by herself for several seconds at a time.

She went to the doctor for a check-up and she said that she was perfect. She is doing year old type stuff at ten months (what a genius) like picking up cheerios with the two finger grip, not the full finger rake (who knew that being able to pick up a cheerio made you a genius. It turns out that we are all more brilliant than we thought...).

They are the girls. We love them. They make us crazy.

Time to go walk to the smoothie store or go walk around the harbor.

Jebediah Ventura, Foster Dog

So I've been hard at work on the dog adoption front. I tried to adopt a sheltie-mix named Xena from a local dog rescue group. It turned out that they wouldn't let us adopt Xena because they thought we weren't active enough (???). The dog was in a foster home with some guy who takes her to the beach ten times a day so they have turned down adoption applications from about 4 different families. Anyway, I was getting pretty bummed out about the whole dog adoption thing. I had made one too many visits to our local dog pound which is full of pitbulls and chihuahuas. Then last weekend, the same dog rescue group that rejected us as a family for Xena called and asked whether we would want to be foster parents for a dog that was turned in the previous Sunday, a Aussie shepherd mix named Jeb.

So we all went to meet Jeb and Lucy liked him and he seemed to like Lucy. Mitch continued to be not thrilled about the whole idea but gave his reluctant blessing. So last Sunday I brought Jeb home for a visit. The deal with fostering is that Jeb stays at our house and we get to take him for a test run so to speak. If we decide not to adopt him, we can start taking him to the dog rescue group's facility in town to be viewed for adoption on Sundays. If we decide to adopt him we go in and fill out some paperwork and pay a fee.

So far it is a mixed bag. Jeb is a great dog. If we decide not to adopt him, I think I will be leaving the dog adoption quest on the shelf for a while (another year?). He is great with the cats (completely ignores them and now they are both pretty much over it, although Kathmandu still slinks around quite a bit). He is essentially a very lazy dog. He pretty much just lays around the house and watches the world go by. He is great with Lucy (we like to play find Lucy at the park where Lucy hides and then Jeb finds her and she gives him a treat). He doesn't bark much at all although he has started to bark now when someone tries to come in the house.

There are two main issues. One is...he is a dog. Maybe having a dog when you already have two small kids is not the best idea. Mitch phrases it this way, "Do I come into your office and add things that make your job harder??" On the one hand, having Jeb around for Lucy is very entertaining. On the other hand, he is one more living, breathing, animal who has needs in an already full household. So now that we have a dog, both Mitch and I are seriously considering whether having a dog is a good idea.

The second big issue is three personality quirks that the dog trainer is coming tomorrow to discuss. First, he has major separation anxiety and barks continuously any time we leave him home alone. This isn't o.k. when you live in a high density neighborhood like we do and when your duplex mate works at home for a living. In addition, he now also claws at the door when we leave him home alone. So we've got to resolve that if we want to keep him. His two other problem areas are that he snapped at Josie once when she was yarding on his fur. He's got to leave or ignore her when she bothers him. He's doing better with this and I've let her bug him quite a bit without any shows of aggression. And finally, he doesn't show any food aggression but I can't get him to give up a rawhide chew once I give it to him. I want to be sure that he knows that we are in charge and that involves giving up things he wants if I ask him to.

On Jeb's plus side: he has a wonderful fat tail, he is lazy and happy go lucky, he doesn't bother the cats, he walks well on the leash, and he "finds" Lucy.

So Jeb is just visiting for now. We will wait to see what the dog trainer says tomorrow and try to decide his permanent fate by next Sunday so that we can start taking him to adoption days, or not.

Does a week day off by any other name taste as sweet?

I work four ten hour days a week. This schedule has a number of advantages, not the least of which is eliminating one day a week of driving a 44 mile commute. One of the other big advantages is a full extra day a week with Mitch and the girls. I also get a few extra hours at work to myself at the end of each work day. These hours are often my most productive. I usually work Monday through Thursday and have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off every week. But for six weeks every summer, I change to a Tuesday through Friday schedule so that my schedule better matches ten high school students who work for us for six weeks every summer. They work Tuesday through Saturday and start at a brutally early 7 AM instead of the 7:30 that I usually start.

I have no idea why, but having Monday off instead of Friday totally sucks. Somehow the extra Monday doesn’t even feel like the weekend. And by the time Friday rolls around, even though I’ve had Monday off, I’m exhausted. There is just something inherently more lame about a Monday off than a Friday. I know all of the typical three day weekends are Mondays. I can’t tell you why, but somehow once Sunday has passed, it feels like the weekend is over. Even if I have another day off. And during the work week, having to work Friday just makes the week seem so LONG. Call me a whiner (I am definitely whining here), but Monday and Friday are not equal. I can’t wait until the second week of August when I get to go back to my privileged, beloved, Monday through Thursday schedule.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

So Goes the Garden

The tomatoes trying to take over the universe...

Well we finally had to reign in the tomatoes and cut down the sunflower. The tomatoes were majestic but they were taking over the entire neighborhood. It was only a matter of time before I got up in the morning and went out to get in the car only to find it completely covered in tomato vines.

I had to bring in the big guns to get the job done. Yes, Mitch Allen, big fan of gardening that he is (not) came out with the mega-shears and started cutting off branches left and right. Both Lucy and I were appalled but it had to be done. Lucy kept asking, "are you cutting down the whole garden Dad?" We harvested about ten pounds of green tomatoes that I will try to ripen over the next two weeks by putting them in a cardboard box with a banana. We'll see how that goes. Lucy loved picking up all the green tomatoes (we have been trying to keep her from picking them for months now).

I must say that I am not the best gardener. I like planting things but I'm not so keen on the maintenance. My idea of maintenance is watering once a week and occasionally picking ripe strawberries and tomatoes. As Mitch says, my garden is like me, very enthusiastic and productive but a somewhat lacking in the organization department...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Book Review: What is the What by Dave Eggers

I got What is the What from my friend Tiffany as a Christmas present. I had wanted to read it for a long time since I really like Dave Eggers. I tried reading it several months ago but couldn't cope because it seemed too dark and depressing. The book starts with a Sudanese refugee being mugged in his own house in America. I mean the poor guy lives through famine, violence, refugee camps and finally makes it to the U.S., only to be mugged in his own house!

I picked the book back up while I was visiting my dad the weekend before last. It is incredibly well-written and tells a very compelling story, that of the Sudanese lost boys. An entire generation of Sudanese males lost their families to civil war violence and had to walk hundreds of miles out of the country until they found safety at refugee camps in Kenya. Even then, they faced many struggles in just day to day living. A large number of Sudanese relocated to the United States and are now trying to make lives for themselves here.

The voice of the main character (Achak Deng) is very compelling and the story that he tells is amazing. Eggers does a good job of interweaving an interesting storyline but also explaining the political back story on how the violence in Sudan got started in the first place.

I highly recommend this book but don't try to read it when you are already depressed. In the end it is an amazingly positive book because Achak Deng is such an amazing person. But on the way, a lot of terrible things happen to him and it is hard to read through if you are already down in the dumps.

Random Daily News

Not much to report from daily living here in Ventura I'm afraid. I feel better about writing blog posts when I have some sort of theme or short essay format in mind. I've got nothing. But rather than languish unattended and let my blog get all dusty in the corner, I'll just post some random noise from daily living.

Mitch, Lucy, Josie, and I had a great four day weekend. Sometimes I feel like the government is stingy and is looking after your tax dollars a little too well. But one of the ways in which the government is incredibly nice is that if a paid holiday happens to fall on a day that you normally don't work, you get an extra day off so that you don't get shorted a paid holiday. Since the fourth of July is a Friday this year (and I don't work Fridays), I got to take Monday off instead. So we just had a blissfully long four day weekend.

Our four day weekend was plenty of time to get a little cleaning done around the house (mop the floors, vacuum, do some bush trimming in the yard) and still do lots of fun things with the girls like go jump at the bouncy place, take Lucy to a stamping party at Ray and Sandy's house, and spend lots of time at the park. I also made my rounds of all of the dog adoption places in a 40 mile radius of my house.

The weather was lovely and we spent lots of time outside. Lucy is really into wearing dresses these days (she calls all dresses "ballet dresses"). Since she is such a gonzo climber, runner, faller, nut job, we make her wear pants under her dresses. So these days she regularly looks like the hippie girls I went to college with who wore jeans under their dresses. It is a crazy adorable fashion statement for a three year old.

Josie is her usual chipper self. She is quite the land stander these days is likes to torment Lucy by pulling all of Lucy's toys off the shelves in the living room. She also crawls FAST and regularly tries to make it out into the backyard if we leave the door open for a milli-second.

The cats have fleas (damn cats). They have also been unusually affectionate recently because Seth and Elise were out of town (no neighborly petting for them). I notice that tonight I have yet to see Katafanga and low and behold, Seth and Elise got back last night...

Other than that, my tomatoes are taking over my entire raised bed garden and Lucy's school sunflower has gotten spectacularly large. We will cut it down soon and give room for Lorenza's sunflower to take over its spot. We didn't get around to trying to tie up the tomatoes this weekend so that will have to be a fourth of July project. We re-did about half of the side yard a couple of weekends ago. I hope to finish that project over the fourth of July weekend as well. I had to get rid of the lovely purple flowers I planted when we first moved here. They are too sprawling and have to be trimmed every month to make enough room to get the stroller down the walkway. So now a new approach, small grasses and rocks. See it here------>

That's about all there is to report from here in Ventura.