Pets’ Prep for Pregnancy

dogsandpregnancyAre you one of those parents-to-be who reads pretty much every article and book you can get your hands on?  I think it’s fair to say I fall into that category…I look at this time as my training: I’m a student of parenting before this baby comes home in my arms.  So needless to say, as a dog owner, I’ve read at least half a dozen articles about helping one’s pet adjust to a new family member.

These articles all make similar suggestions to help ease the transition: set things up so your pet can see the new stuff for the baby, let your pet smell an article of the baby’s clothing before bringing him or her home from the hospital, even pay a little less attention to your animal who may be accustomed to getting lots of your uninterrupted affection.  But some changes have already started taking place in our home that we could not expect, so I thought I’d share a few shifts that have raised our eyebrows in wonder or made us laugh.  Perhaps you can relate.

THE PROTECTOR ROLE HAS SHIFTED

Our dog has always made it clear she is my protector, but a recent change has become apparent in the protective order  in our home.  When thunder or fireworks filled our neighborhood, I used to be the go-to person our pup sought for consolation.  Even during the month of July as the celebrations seemed incessant in our neck of Colorado, she would turn to me first, and if another went off, she may duck into my husband’s chair.  In recent weeks however, I have been generally abandoned in this regard.  The line of safety seems to now be: dog protects me, my husband protects the dog.  With any startling, she runs to the non-pregnant person in our household.  Perhaps she knows I have someone new to protect who is now filling out my mid-section generously.

EATING MEALS TOGETHER

Do you have one of those dogs who devours food the moment you lay it out or the kind who dabbles in it through out the day?  Our canine has taken turns doing both, but a new tradition has recently begun.  By the time she gets up in the morning, breakfast is usually already in her bowl.  Rather than eat though, she rests in the kitchen as I prepare breakfast, watches me sit down at the table, moves to her bowl, looks back up, and only once I start eating, like a polite guest at a dinner party, does she start consuming her meal.  It is not as consistent at dinner, but she still does this often in the evenings as well.  Is she just making sure we both get to eat?

WALKING IS GETTING HARDER  

So as third trimester is well upon us, my energy level no longer leaves me enjoying a 2-3 mile walk in the heat of the sunny summer day (big shocker I know).  I try to get in about a mile with my dog, but was feeling guilty, and confessed this to my husband one night.  Seeing my concern, he said: “All you need to do is ask and I’m happy to help with these types of things.”  Sure enough, starting the next morning, he shortened his gym work out by 15 minutes and immediately came home to take our dog out.  I rescued her about 14 months before meeting my husband, so her loyalty has remained pretty clear, but in the past, she jumped at the chance to go for a walk, even with just him.  On this morning, she was not about to leave my side though.  Despite his calls, she stayed on her bed beside me (also still in bed) until she was leashed and harnessed.

The walk lasted about a whopping 5 minutes as she was apparently pulling to come back home the entire way.  So my husband brought her back and tried the next day.  Same thing happened.  By day 3, she ran in his direction when she heard her leash come out, but they only made it to the front of our next-door-neighbor’s house.  That trajectory continued for about another week until another shift came.

For the past couple of days, when my husband grabbed the leash, our dog walked to the edge of our bedroom, peered down the hall at my husband, then leaped up onto our bed and snuggled up beside me.  Her tail was wagging like she was looking forward to going out, but body language clearly indicated, this is who I need to be with right now.  She’s a Shepherd mix, so protective instincts are innate and manifesting in funny new ways.  On days when they did walk- they never made it beyond the house next door.

 

I have read that dogs can smell a difference in pregnant women (changing hormone production) and that clues them in to a change.  Perhaps pets notice that movement changes or they see and wonder about the rapid weight gain.  All the new furniture and items in the house probably clue them in, not to mention mom’s fluctuation of moods and often tears too.  Our pets tend to be very intuitive creatures.  For my fellow expectant parents out there, have you observed any funny changes in your pets’ behavior?  If so, I hope you’ll share, or at least remember to laugh at the funny shifts in life.  Happy day!

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What Types of Friends Do You Value?

When you look around your circle of friends, are they truly the type of people you want surrounding you?  Do they help you be ever-more the person you want to be?  Do they engage with the world in meaningful ways that you respect and admire?  Then as you look around, turn your glance inward: are you the kind of friend to yourself and others that you desire?

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship for several months now.  Initially a couple of finger-pointing-300x185interactions with people led me to think about who my true friends are and what I really value in them.  These experiences lit up a hyper-awareness and time of reflection as I’ve engaged with friends since then and tried to remember the image of a finger pointing out mean three are pointing back at me.  So it seems reasonable that any standard held for others must be one I uphold for myself.  Here is a chance to consider some of the traits you may seek in friends…

 

A Genuine Listener

listen dogTo be honest, this was the first trait that struck me as vital to being a true friend in my book.  Someone who listens without an agenda to teach me something or prove a point.  A listener who is open enough to consider where I’m coming from out of genuine care.  Thank you Kritika for showing me this.

 

Humor

Not everyone is blessed with the gift of being funny, and some may struggle to even mildly learn the skill.  I know I’ve always wanted to be funny, but let’s face it, we can’t all be great comedians.  At our wedding, my vows brought mostly a few sentimental tears while my husband had our guests rolling with laughter.  I get to appreciate that he brings something to the table with far greater potency than his counterpart.  

Another consideration is that some of us live more serious existences than others.  Do you tend to prefer conversations with complete sobriety, a sprinkling, splash or ongoing waves of humor?  Do you have friends who bring what you’re looking for?  And even if you aren’t that funny, do you show your appreciation of those who are?

 

Motivator or Empathizer

I have found that there tend to be very different types of listeners.  Commiserators and motivators at times are found in the same person, but more I often I think they are separate individuals.  Do you know who to call when you just want someone to hear you and say: “Wow, sorry, that sounds rough!” and someone else when you know you could use a little: “Dust yourself off and I’ll help you back up on the saddle.”?  

 

Honesty, Tact, and… What You Think Someone Wants to Hear

avocado-fat-jokeDo you prefer the friend who tells you there is something in your teeth at a dinner party or the comrade who tells you look exquisite no matter what?  In the honest framework, there is also tactful and then there is knit-picky or unable to let things go.  Some of us are gifted with more gentle ways of giving feedback than others.  Like humor, this can be a skill to learn, while for others it may come more naturally.

 

Acceptance

Do you know anyone who absolutely loves you -just the way you are?  Isn’t this why we love having dogs for pets? A dog will faithfully comfort, accompany and adore you no matter how your hair looks, what right or wrong thing you say, and will endlessly forgive you for showing up later than you planned.  While I’m all for healthy personal boundaries, there are people who for one reason or another put you on edge and then there are those who put you at ease because it feels like they truly accept you as the person you are.

Kindness

Is it just me, or is this the factor we (at least under stress) tend to struggle with the most around those for whom we have the deepest regard and the closest relationships- including ourselves?  When I started at one of my previous jobs, I walked into my office the first day to find a pearl of wisdom left on the whiteboard: 

be-kind-quote

The Dalai Lama’s simple, poignant statement remained as a wonderful reminder all three years I taught at that school.

There are countless other points you can consider, from respect, to shared interests, to people you like learning with and from.  The bottom line: friendship is a choice.  You get to decide with whom you associate in your free time (even on social media), how you treat others and how you treat yourself.  So I hope you invest your precious time with the kinds of people you truly value and who value you.

 

Finding Home

 

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“Home is the love that lives inside you….” –Heidi Barr

Do you remember when you first felt at home?  I remember even in childhood, I sought to find a place that truly seemed like where I belonged.  I recognized that the place I lived my entire life strangely did not seem like home. In my twenties, I started to feel a sense of home as I followed my heart.  By gradually growing into the person I wanted to be, I found increasing happiness. But it was only after a very difficult series of events at the conclusion of my third decade of life when I truly found that comforting sense that I had sought for so long.  Only recently, I began to recognize that such grounding is not about a physical location; it is a product of pursuing my dreams and accepting myself and others as beautiful: flawed and flourishing, just the way we are.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

This sense of home was not an easy discovery though.  It came after going through years of incredible struggle that allowed me to develop the inner strength required to eventually walk away from everything. I moved away from my home of over a decade and close proximity to all of my close friends I had developed in that time.  I quit a job of 7 years in a community I truly loved in order to pursue a Ph.D..  The next step was choosing to love myself enough to care for my needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual.  I stopped overeating and started jogging.  I set boundaries for how I wanted to be treated, which led to the end of a devastating marriage.  I then let go of starting grad school at that time because I knew that with all its stress, it would probably be more harmful than helpful in light of the other changes in my life. Eventually I chose to leave a religious community that had once felt comforting but over time, became a place in which I felt incredibly isolated and unhappy.

Needless to say, there was a lot of change in just a few months. Sure I had moments of self-doubt, fear of the future, and even overwhelming grief.  I didn’t dwell in them though.  I  allowed them to come, be acknowledged through tears, prayer and reflective writing, then I let them pass.  I focused on the task at hand. I kept my plate pretty light in order to heal, but wasn’t entirely crippled.  I recognized that only through a hike can we truly appreciate a summit. I knew that someday there would be a series of summits and hikes that felt more manageable ahead.  Sometimes we face those Everest type journeys in life.  I certainly didn’t want to get stuck on a snowy cliff, so with one gradual step at a time, the hike was eventually concluded.  Now I feel like I’ve made it down safely and headed out on several wonderful adventures since then.  None quite so intense, but then, I’ve grown stronger from each trip.

So wherever you are in your journey, whether struggling up an Everest or gliding down a Dinky Hill, I hope you breathe deeply enough to enjoy the aroma, look around enough to appreciate the view, and pace yourself so your next step can move in the direction you desire.

And find someone to smile at each day.

 

Thanks to photographer Hristo for the incredible summit view.

Dare to Dream

 This week my partner and I walked our dog down the dimly lit streets of our neighborhood, bantering about what we might do had we won this week’s Powerball.  He encouraged: “Everyone has to dream.”

Sometimes it takes an opportunity to utilize one’s imagination.  There are those dreams that we can and some of which we ought to fulfill, like building a dream career, falling in love with a wonderful person who treats you the way you deserve, or developing a hobby that interests you.  Then there are those dreams, like holding a family gathering without awkward drama, living in a nation free of political corruption, or raising your child in a world in which there are no longer religious wars.  These loftier dreams may not actualize in your lifetime, but how energizing to the human spirit is it to hope, imagine and ponder?

What do you believe is possible?  

This past week I read to my students Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doreen Rappaport and Bryan Collier.  The book was thought provoking even for a group of 3-5 year olds who are just starting to grasp the concept of inequality.  But even with such deep-rooted societal problems that racism causes, these young children grasped the heart of Dr. King’s dream.  As one of my students shared with her family over breakfast the next day: ”Love is the key and it doesn’t matter what your skin looks like.”

What do you value?

Imagine how Dr. King would feel hearing those words today from such a young child?  Our world still has a long way to go, no doubt, before racism is completely eradicated, recent Oscar nominations attest to that.  However, a world in which a mixed-race man can be elected president of the USA, or where people from any ethnic background can legally marry, when we see people of all colors in every stratum, it shows that some people’s dreams, through working together, can and do shape the world.

What changes do you see?

It is not always easy to go after our dreams.  We only reach them if we dare to stretch beyond our comfort zone.

So whether you want to become a writer or find a cure for AIDS, I hope you will ask yourself:

What do I dare to dream?

Living Life Fully: Today and Every Day

As I sat in a leadership session at work about 16 months ago, my boss dispersed gifts to each staff member: copies of Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book: The Way of Mindful Education.  Gradually, I’ve dabbled in it for over a year, but the last few weeks have been a time of stepping into a life more cognizant of and aligned with my goals and what truly brings me joy.  One of my great loves is uplifting, contemplative reading.  So the Mindfulness book has become a frequented part of my daily quiet time.

In a culture that focuses on multi-tasking and increasing productivity, slowing down to focus on the present moment and surroundings seems  counter-intuitive.  But research is picking up on this concept and finding that it actually develops greater focus and productivity, on top of some other spiffy perks including lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future (Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life).”  

Recently I found a quote on a friends FB page that really hit home the importance of fully embracing the moment.

“Oh my God, what if you wake up someday, and you’re 65,or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written: or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy: and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart.  Don’t let this happen.”  -Anne Lamott

So what are you wanting to try that you haven’t yet?  What have you put off or been too afraid to attempt?  If it’s laughing more often, pick up a funny book (I recommend my recent gem of a find, Parenting is Easy: You’re Probably Just Doing It Wrong by: Sara Given).  Want to try your hand at poetry, take 15 minutes and just try to write a haiku verse about whatever is outside your window.  Plan on your attempts being full of flaws initially, but if you don’t try, you will never master something, let along know if you even enjoy it.  So embrace the moment, listen to the sounds, smell the surrounding aroma, acknowledge how you feel, and take in the view before your eyes.  Now is the time to enjoy your life.  So consider how you want to spend your time and go for it.  What have you got to lose?

For some great illustrations and a simple step-by-step mindfulness exercise, I really like the blogpost by hworsham: Mindfulness: An Excuse to Eat Asian Food .  

Grit: The Beauty of Overcoming

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

While heading home late on Christmas Eve, I asked my driver: “What inspires you?”  He thought for a moment, then answered: “Stories of overcoming.”  That was it! I thought to myself.  That is what makes this holiday so significant.  That is what  draws people to reality shows like Biggest Loser, or even the title of Survivor speaks to what is accomplished, and the dramas are all about skilled people who overcome one challenge after another.  We find hope for humanity in witnessing success after a difficulty.

Consider the story of Rudy, the classic tale of a young man who has a dream, a love, a great flaw, but he perseveres unflinchingly until his dream of playing football at Notre Dame comes true.

To be honest, I always questioned how this story was so loved because it focused on supporting someone’s dream that seemed (to me) pointless because, let’s face it, Rudy never became a great player.  But maybe that’s the whole point I’ve been missing.  Maybe pursuing a dream isn’t just inspiring because someone becomes great.  I wouldn’t want children to only try in classes that they are going to earn A’s.  Growth and strength tend to develop through the experience, the practice, the journey, not the ending point.  These trying moments along life’s path are what increase what is being called “grit.”  Author Paul Tough points out that psychologists list grit as one of the most important characteristics of successful individuals.  They may not be highly successful at everything they try, but those failures and challenges that are part of the human experience are what develop happier people, individuals who have learned how to overcome difficulties (http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/05/why-grit-is-more-important-than-grades/).

Today’s helicopter parenting techniques prevent this development.  Parents trying to sway a teacher or even college professor’s grade selection for their child doesn’t exactly help a child learn about his or her own merit.  I once learned that the mother of a job candidate (who had no connection to anyone at the school) called the office to encourage the director to hire her daughter.  Talk about an effort leading to the opposite result that parent desired!  If a parent picks up her child every time he falls, how are his legs ever going to be strong enough to get up and walk independently?

How will such a generation solve challenging problems at work or overcome difficulties in relationships?  How will it handle deep questions like: Do I truly make a difference in the world?” or “Am I doing enough?”  

A little piece of advice from the educator Dr. Maria Montessori :“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”  And for adults- may we try harder, stretch higher, and attempt to walk a few more difficult trails than ever before.

Here’s to a year of developing greater inner beauty and strength!

Desire to Inspire

What -Lifts your spirits? -Drives you to create?  -Touches your heart?

I’m not referring to those touching moments that “give [you] allergies” as a dear friend of mine refers to emotional movie scenes that leave him with moist eyes.  Rather, I mean the kind of matter that transforms you, that makes you want to grow, that urges you to try new adventures, and dare to be a little better than you are.

Dr. Seuss wrote about such an awakening in How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  In a moment of fear that he’d lose all the Who’s Christmas goods, the Grinch struggled to save all he had stolen.  Then “in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. ”

People are inspired in so many ways, no two of us exactly alike, but yet we have so much in common.  For some, it is the stories of perseverance and overcoming obstacles –consider how many blockbusters have hit theaters in the past week with this theme: Joy, Star Wars and Concussion— just to name a few.  Others find it in music.  On Thursday, for example, while singing with nearly 300 people, I was touched by the passion the composers poured into each piece.  Their work has touched hearts so significantly that it continues to be popular centuries after their conception.  Another perspective I found while reading  most recent blog post about how she finds solace and motivation through perusing the work of photographers (see [Insta-Happiness for a Gypsy Soul]).

We find sources that heighten our awareness and push us to grow in a number of ways, but it tends to be through engaging and pondering in one way or another.  Sure we can sit in a chair and watch a film, listen to a song, or see a photo that has no impact on us, regardless of the content.  But if we make the effort to look beyond the surface content, to ask questions like: Why that work was created?  How much effort went into its formation? and What motivated its maker? we may find a far greater appreciation for creativity and lessons that may ignite a spark in each of us.

So whether you’re listening to a great Ted Talk (https://www.ted.com/talks), reading an epic novel, or planning the trip you’ve been dreaming of, take a moment to consider how you relate, are impacted by, and perhaps even motivated by the influences in your life.

Here’s to being inspired!

 

 

 

Daring to Dive

Do you ever have those moments when ask yourself: “Why am I doing this?”  I suspect everyone at least occasionally has one of those poignant experiences when you question your motives.  Are you really doing what you do because you want to?  Is  for ease?  Let’s be honest, we all cave at moments to simply indulge in what comedian Jim Gaffigan affectionately refers to as “McDonald’s”.  Or is it out of anger, remorse, duty, or even fear?

Recently I’ve been having a lot of these thoughts, trying to be really honest with myself about what I want my life ahead to look like.  I’ve had to face a harsh reality: my career of over a decade that I put years of sweat and love into preparing for and excelling in will never allow me to grow in many ways I want to.

So what is one to do in this situation? There’s always ignoring the dissatisfaction and settling with what you know.  There is the chance to attempt something new with potential to fall hard on your face.  But, there is also that chance you will achieve or even exceed dreams that are otherwise unattainable.  You never know what you can do unless you try.

This crossroads is where I found myself last week as I sat on my plush sofa one snowy day, reading through Glassdoor’s Top 100 Jobs list and trying to be brutally honest with myself about how to best blend my professional and personal goals.  This terrifies me.  I am the person who always has a safe plan and a fall back.  I was the kid who slowly and cautiously got into the pool, starting by just dipping my fingers and toes.  When the ski slope seemed to steep, rather than dive bombing down and risking numerous falls, I slid down on my rear-end, refusing to even attempt the scary task.

Why am I like this?  A moment of clarity came this weekend as I was baking holiday treats with my mom.   As we rushed to shape mini pie crusts, she pointed down at a crust I had just finished and said, “This is unacceptable.”  I looked at her for a moment, paused, and we both burst into laughter.  There is undeniably a tendency among the women in my family to be perfectionists.  My sister, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were/are all intelligent, hard working,  and in my opinion, pretty phenomenal human beings.  Each generation is a little less high strung than the previous, but there is still work to be done.

As I sat, watching the snow fall peacefully to the earth, feeling fearful about my future and tempted to give up on my aspirations, a friend reminded me, “Dawn, you’re not perfect…and that’s okay.”  Thank you Captain Obvious!  But really, I needed to hear those words and just face the fact that it’s okay to not have all the answers or only pursue what you know you are going to rock.  Sometimes we need to fall, and even fall hard before we can truly soar.

Khalil Gibran wrote: “To go forward is to move toward perfection.  March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.”  I think it’s fair to say I’m not planning on reaching perfection any time soon, but I think it’s time to take that dive into something new.  It may not be very graceful, but it’s okay to take risks.  Without them, do we ever really live?