Monthly Archives: August 2011

Four Legged Lessons

For five years I worked at the ASPCA.  Day after day I watched neglected and abused animals enter our front doors. Day after day I was inspired by the resilience of their hearts – their ability to love again. I fostered a lot of dogs but never adopted. One Friday, a Daschund/Chihuahua puppy was placed in the palm of my hands and was asked, “Will you take him home for the weekend?” That was 13 years ago. And Lyle is the most consistent male relationship I’ve had.

Every day I love him more. Every day we understand each other more. I have learned a thousand things from him. But here are just a few:

Stretch: Each morning, very first thing, Lyle basically does a full sun salutation and then rolls on his back and writhes around. He does this each time he sits too long too. I sit bent over a lap top all day, sometimes 14 hours. So I am trying to do the opposing stretch each time I get up from my desk so I don’t grow a hump.

Don’t be cool: Whether I’m gone 5 minutes or 5 days, when I return I get the same greeting from Lyle. There is jumping, running and pure joy. When I am excited to see someone, I play it cool. Even though my heart may be jumping and running inside, on the outside, it’s more like, “Oh you’re here. That’s cool.” But I am trying to show people how truly happy I am to see them (without licking them).

Be open about what you want: If Lyle wants attention or food or to go out, he is very clear about it. There’s the stare, then the nudge, and then the talking, not barking, he actually talks. I’m afraid to ask for what I want, I might seem needy. But no one will ever know what you unless you tell them. I recently applied for a job I wanted badly, and at the end I channeled Lyle and told my interviewer that this was my dream job and I really really wanted it. He told me that someone who is passionate about the job was exactly what he was looking for.

The most important thing I have learned from Lyle is not as easy to put into practice. And that is: The best way to really know someone is to smell their butt.

-Jen

We’ve only had Zuger, our greater swiss mountain dog, for four months. At 6 months old, he is still a very big puppy (topping 65 pounds currently). In my short dog ownership, we’ve gone through lots of – ahem – ingestion and elimination cycles with issues at both ends as to be expected.

The great thing is, he treats each one like it is brand new…. meaning, he doesn’t get hung up on whether he was sick yesterday or ate something he didn’t like, he just dives in completely oblivious to the past, focusing on what he is eating or expelling at that moment. BTW he isn’t territorial about food, just very very focused, treating every kibble like it is manna from heaven.

In the last few years I’ve tried hard to develop my ability to be in the now.

It is not easy when you are balancing work, working out, husband, extended family… and so forth. It is so easy to get caught into futures or rehashing past.  I can’t say I’ve “learned” to be in the present from him, but he actively teaches me this every day. The life bonus I get by taking the extra moment to really give him a good rub down starting from his head through his chest, taking more time than I would have imagined necessary when introducing him to new person, food or activity (especially when trimming nails), and understanding when some good quality time on the couch will make both of our days much better.

-Michaela

Not until writing this blog entry did I realize that Ellie is going to be 2 next month.  I can’t believe I’ve had her that long – I don’t remember what life was like without her around (although if I took a look back at my credit card statements I’m sure it would remind me that I was at the bar with friends more than I was in my own home).

That said I’m sure the biggest thing Ellie has taught me is to slow down.

Pre-Ellie, I rarely spent a night at home.  I was always going out for dinner, drinks… different activities – always having a great time but never slowing down.  At first, Ellie had some pretty bad separation anxiety so I started staying home more to work on that, leaving for short amounts of time to get her acclimated (side note – now it’s me that has the separation anxiety).  Once I started slowing down and staying put for some time, I found other things that I enjoyed doing… reading again, making jewelry, reality TV, cooking… the list goes on.  But it reminded me that it’s okay to stay home and have some alone time (ironic since I was living alone and working from home… alone… but in any case).

I’m sure she’s taught me much more than that, but right now I’m having a hard time thinking through the barking… the weather is finally getting nice enough to leave the windows down and she insists on talking to all of the neighborhood dogs.

-Erin

I am a long-time dog owner, currently have two dogs (Oz and Monte), and believe you’re guaranteed smiles every day when you live with a dog.  So, it’s a challenge choosing one thing I’ve learned from my companions.  But, I think the most important lesson they’ve taught me is to always be willing to reach out.    

Dogs don’t let the fact that you’ve just scolded them or taken away their favorite possession make them withdraw or interact any differently than they did an hour ago. They let it go and face the next moment with the same hopeful, trusting attitude.  They are still excited about any communication or activity.  They don’t let their confidence get impacted by a negative interaction or feel any less worthy because their action wasn’t aligned with expectations, either someone else’s or their own.

 This is both an important and difficult lesson for me.  We make mistakes, and so do our loved ones.  We can’t let that influence our willingness to be the one to reach out to our partner, our family, or our friends.  That’s true even if we’re hurt, we’ve tried too many times, or we’re just having a bad day.

I’ve learned many lessons from being around dogs for forty years and I aspire to be more like my dog in many ways.  If you want to see some of the lessons our canine friends provide, check out this dog philosophy.

Now, where are my guys for some more smiles………

-Lori 

I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, even bad things.  The dogs we have now came to me through bad circumstances but were meant to be ours.  We had a dog, Andrew, when we lived in the country that was the sweetest mutt.  He belonged to the neighbors and they totally mistreated him.  My neighbor was out of work and Andrew was very destructive, tearing up our other neighbor’s Christmas decorations and misbehaving (as puppies do).  When my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year I told him to go to the neighbor and pay him anything he wanted for the dog. 

 I’m sure he felt that he got off pretty easy that year but it was the best present I’ve ever received.  He brought Andrew to me on a night when it was sleeting and Andrew had been chained to a tree in the back yard with no shelter.  I loved that dog to pieces.  The problem was that while he loved us, he also loved the neighbor’s kids and he tended to sleep right in the middle of the road between our houses.  It wasn’t that big of a deal because 1) we couldn’t break him of it and 2) we lived on a dead end road.  But, the worst finally happened and he got run over.

A few weeks later I went to a pet store in the mall and they wouldn’t sell me any dog because I said that the dog would spend most of the time outside.  Then I went to a dog pound in St. Louis (so deplorable that it has since been closed) and found Valentine.  The volunteer took me straight to her and when I saw on her card that she was picked up on my birthday, I knew she was meant for me.   Ten years later she is still the sweetest girl but she’s protective of me when my husband isn’t home.  Plus she’s smarter than many humans.  She wanted me to say here that she is NOT a dog. 

Last year we lost LB, our Jack Russell.  His death was so traumatic for all of us but especially for Valentine who was very lonely.  We found Cooper on-line at a nearby shelter and went and picked him up (after Valentine approved) the day we tearfully scattered LBs ashes in the back yard.  Cooper was totally meant for us too.  He is silly, sweet and oh so entertaining.  I’m sure Valentine is second guessing giving her approval when Cooper is aggravating her to death. 

And the dogs we have deserve every bit of love and spoiling that we do.  Things happen for a reason and while I miss our doggie family members who have passed on, our big happy family is exactly as it was meant to be. 

– Susan

What have you learned from your dog?

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Survivor: High School Reunion Edition

Why didn’t I know that my high school reunion weekend would be an absolute blast?

I arrived just in time to learn that my friends had been permanently kicked out of the hospitality room at the hotel, at 5:00 in the afternoon!   The hotel was surprised that high school reunion attendees congregated and talked in the hospitality room?  Really?

So, I escaped day one with no bathing suit required.  Then in a lucky twist, Saturday started out overcast and later saw light rain.  So, I got to hang on the beach and by the pool without looking conspicuously overdressed, even though I never took off my cover up!

I don’t know what I was worried about or why I thought I wouldn’t have anything to say to these people.   Many of them knew me on a daily basis back in the day and I have known some since elementary school.  There was absolutely nothing to prove and lots of catching up to do.  It was like the years hadn’t even passed.

Except now I dance.  One of my coffee cups says ‘dance as though no one is watching you’, and I did!  My feet aren’t hindered by shoes much since I work from home and they didn’t appreciate my dancing like a crazy person in heels.  But, I planned ahead, and just switched to flat sandals after I developed blisters.

It was hilarious to see seven of my male classmates dancing around in shades and various accessories, like boas, chaps, and red wigs, to ‘YMCA’ and then serenading our female reunion coordinator.

My classmates
My classmates!              Original, uncropped photo by Jeffords Studio

Then there is the person that none of my friends remember from high school, and it wasn’t a large class.  (We even verified that he is, in fact, in multiple year books.)  But, now we know him from the reunions.  He came all the way from Washington State for the reunion, again.

When I was young, I thought you grew up and became more responsible, more admirable, more “grown up”.  Then I became “grown up” and realized everyone still has most of the same characteristics or idiosyncrasies they had when they were young; they are just older.   Most are still just as outrageous or funny or sweet as they were.  We still feel like those teenagers inside and stayed up until 3 a.m. both nights to prove it!

I heard somewhere that it’s good to have friends who remember you from your youth and my reunion supported that theory.  I don’t think I even noticed the grey hair or wrinkles on my friends.

Everyone was disappointed to leave when Sunday rolled around.  So, rather than wait for the next five year reunion, we’re planning a group trip the year of our next milestone birthday.  And, I’m planning to spend the upcoming holiday weekend in South Carolina with a classmate I hadn’t seen since graduation, yet we picked up right where we left off.  I’m sure I’ll smile for days straight again.

Good things definitely come from high school reunions!  Make sure you go and see what surprisingly good things come from yours!

~ Lori

Another believer in the Souza verse

Family Vacations: Memories in the Making or Blood Bath?

Is including your entire family a dream or a nightmare?  For my family, it’s been a dream and we just had our fifth multi-generational family vacation.  This seems to be a trend that many others are starting to adopt.  My family started taking family vacations together 5 years ago when my parents asked that we all go on an Alaskan cruise for their 45th wedding anniversary. I was skeptical at first as some in the family had not been getting along and I feared someone would either jump overboard to escape or be pushed by a pissed off family member.  As it turned out everyone had a blast and before it was over we were planning our next family adventure.

We hadn’t been spending much time together for various reasons including geography.  We all have busy lives and were pretty much going our own way even during holidays but we totally reconnected during the Alaska trip.    We actually found that we had a lot of fun and even liked each other!

When you’re older, sometimes the only time family gets together is when someone dies or gets married which are usually very demanding and leave little time for really catching up. But on a vacation, everyone is relaxed and jovial, ready to get along.  For 10 days this summer we went to Colorado – this time for my parent’s 50th.  We included not only Grandma, but also several great friends.

The whole gang !

I got to spend quality time with my parents, grandmother, siblings, nieces and friends.  It was a perfect vacation. When we weren’t lazing about visiting, playing games, and eating (A LOT!), we were four-wheeling and white water rafting.  There is nothing better to get your mind off of the every day.  For one, the scenery is amazing.  For another, if you take your eyes or focus off of the path in front of you you’ll end up in the ditch, off the side of the mountain or high-centered on a rock.

My neices and I taking a break from 4-wheeling.

We have a pretty cool set up now too.  After the Alaska trip we decided we were going to try to do more family vacations.  To help finance it, several of us went in together to buy Grandma a new house a few years ago.  She pays us rent which goes directly to our family travel fund.  We add to the fund each year at Christmas instead of buying gifts for each other.    Now when we get together at Christmas we eat, drink, pow-wow about where we are going next and start making reservations.

For some, spending even one day with family members is hell on earth.  But for my family it’s not.   We appreciate our yearly vacation reconnection and are grateful that we enjoy each other’s company.  We’ve had some great trips – cruises to Alaska, the British Isles, the Mediterranean, and now a road trip to Colorado.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Susan

I meditate. I drink green tea. I light candles. And I still want to smack someone.

Recently, I was at one of those trendy food trucks waiting to buy one (one!) chocolate chip cookie. I was behind one other woman in line and the cute, 20 year old, overly tattooed food truck chick stuck her head out the window and said “Who’s waiting for cookies?” And we both cried in unison “Me!” So she turned to the woman in front of me and said, “There are only three left, how many do you want?” The woman said, “I’ll take three.”

Seriously. Three. Not “Two – to leave one for the nice lady behind me.” Three!!  And then came that old familiar feeling. My face got hot, my chest got tight, my hands shook, I pulled my favorite tool from the snarky toolbox and said “Really?!” I stormed off, no doubt looking like a crazy person, but I wouldn’t have been responsible for my actions if I stood there (which in my mind involved grabbing the three cookies from her and shoving them all in my mouth at once ala the Cookie Monster).

It wasn’t because I wasn’t getting a cookie. Lord knows I don’t need a cookie. It’s because I am constantly amazed by people’s lack of awareness of the world around them; the lack of empathy; the self importance. And it pisses me off.

We are always talking about finding peace and tranquility, letting go of rage, and anger management techniques. I try all of the techniques; I am a huge fan of meditation and highly recommend it.  I’m not talking about getting angry out of impatience or jealousy. It is injustice that gets me going. But I think it’s justified. The greatest accomplishments of this world were achieved because people got angry enough to insist on a change – the American Revolution, equal rights, the Arab Spring – do you think any of these  important changes would ever have happened if people just sat around going, “Well now that is a just a darn shame.” No! People stood up! And yelled! And whether it is civil rights, or an unsafe street corner or the self involved jackoff knowingly taking the last cookie on the food truck line, people will remain deaf to injustice unless a few voices are raised.

Maybe you are reading this and thinking, “Jen is merely justifying her bad attitude with this social justice angle.”

And maybe I am – so what?! You want to make something of it??!! Intellectually I know that when I get angry, my heart rate increases, I have been known to yell and throw things and get in all kinds of trouble. But I do think there is another benefit to anger. It’s healthy. Let it out. Rid yourself of what is bothering you. If you don’t and you keep it bottled up inside, that bad energy has to go somewhere and it turns into migraines and ulcers and tumors.

Buddha, by most accounts the most laid back dude of all time once said, “Anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I am a big fan, Buddha. Love your work. But a girl can dream.

Oh and by the way, I was still hanging out in the food truck area for a while, and that cute food truck chick came over to me with a cookie sheet full of fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies and gave me one for free and told me she understood why I got so mad. That cookie tasted especially sweet. And think of the calories I burned storming off!

-Jen

Want to start meditating? Join me for the Chopra Center August 21 Day Meditation Challenge! It’s a great way to learn how and get in the habit of a daily meditation.

How Much Better is it to Give Than To Receive?

I’m not sure about you, but Spring seems to be the busiest time of year in my personal life.  Between the weddings (engagement parties, showers, bachelorette parties, and actual wedding), babies (showers and birthdays), graduation parties, and everything else that’s going on, I’m spending a small fortune between March and June.

So I wonder – how much is the “right” amount to spend in each case?  For me, it totally depends on who the person is in my life (and how much I like them at that moment), what the occasion is, what my bonus was that year J… a whole slew of factors.  I know plenty of people, though, that have a standard amount for each occasion.

So I did some searching to look at others opinions.  Here is some of what I found:

Wedding

According to theknot.com, the only event surrounding a wedding that actually requires a present is the bridal shower – because you are supposed to “shower” the person with gifts.  They have a complicated way to figure out how to spend on each gift which requires math (not complicated math but if you know anything about me I’m not very good at math, so looking at it made my head hurt.)

Forbes.com recently did an article that said “nothing less than $50. While the average expected expense for a gift from a friend is $70, the newlyweds targeted $129 as the average cost of a gift from a family member.”  This is for the wedding gift – they didn’t include anything on the other events.

Fabulous and Frugal says the nationwide average is $75 (if I’m reading that correctly).  They say it depends on where you live (cities average $100 and smaller towns are around $50).

Baby

There is surprisingly less on this one.

The blog Someone Spoil Me says this one ranges from $15-100, and up to $500, depending on your budget and your relationship to the parents.

This site says while the average person spends $20-30, the average baby gift sale on websites is $60-120.  I’m not sure I agree with that statistic but I’m not here to debate average baby item prices.  I’m definitely not an expert in that area – ask me the cost of the average toy for small dogs and I will take you on any day of the week.

The net of it:  It seems like I’m following the rules, spending what I can afford depending on the person and the occasion.  Jen told me I need to just lose a few friends, and that would solve my problem.  🙂

What do you think?  Do you follow a ‘standard’ for each occasion or are your gift spending habits all over the place like mine?

– Erin

Gray Hair – Deny It or Defy It?

At what age should you go gray?  Everyone has their own opinion on this – we thought it would be fun to share each of our perspectives here.

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I found my first gray hair in my early twenties and spent an hour each week in front of the mirror pulling them out one by one.  By my early thirties I was traipsing to the salon every 6 weeks for a “cut and color“.  In my early forties I had about had it and wanted to just go gray.  My hair dresser , Michelle, kept telling me I was much too young to let my hair take its natural course.   She only charged $35 so it wasn’t that big of deal.  

 But I was only going to Michelle because it was fun but I had been going to her for over 20 years and it was time to move on.   I made a pact with a woman I met at a women’s leadership conference that we would both go to a real salon and get an expensive do.  Well, I kept my word and went to THE Salon in St. Louis. 

I learned a very expensive lesson.  Once you go to a real salon, you can’t go back.  I loved the color, the products, the ambiance and Nicole.  My first bill was almost $200 (I had to get the right products!).  Every appointment since has been well over $100 – most closer to $200. 

I now have to color my hair every 4 – 5 weeks with a touch up in between.  My natural color is now as white as white gets and it grows faster than my grass.   

Enter do it yourself hair color…and thank God!.  I’ve been filling in with that to keep the bills down. But yesterday I went in again for my official “cut and color”. To say it simply, Nicole was horrified at the number of colors in my hair.  She asked why I would think of touching up a week before an appointment. 

Are you kidding? Why ?  Because I had to leave the house!!!  I was meeting some old friends for happy hour then I had a business lunch on Wednesday.  I can’t go with a 1 inch white streak down the middle of my head. 

I have had grandchildren (from my step-kids) since I was in my early 30s.  I loved the reaction when said something about my grandkids.  People would react with shock, ”You look much too young to have grandkids,”’ but  I no longer get that reaction – ever.   I feel like a brunette and I don’t want to look older but has the time finally come? Only the bottle knows…

Susan

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I had long been a highlight type, but in my early 30’s realized that my color had progressed so far towards a blonde I would never be that I had to draw the line. One day a stylist noted that my natural color was a nice brown. It was such a simple statement but one I had never thought of so I decided that that was it, no more color.

Over 10 years later and I’m streaked with brilliant white. More so than my older – or younger – sisters and brothers mind you. Still have a good amount of brown, but truth it, I just don’t really care. That isn’t to say I don’t care about my looks. I love me a nice stylish haircut, but I can’t imagine the bills and the hassle of continuous color. On top of that my husband likes the way it looks, and ultimately it just is what it is. I’m not 20, go figure.

I’ve read about women being fired for being gray, and other career impacts and god love em, if they want to fire me for that, have at it! Ultimately my modus operandi is to do a good job. I’ve been lucky, been in generally good work situations and have been rewarded for the job I do. I plan on keeping it that way.

Meanwhile, my white stripes get whiter and more numerous but I swear… they make my headstands much stronger!

Michaela

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I’m fortunate to not have any gray hair yet.  My sister who is three years younger just started getting a few (a WIN for me in this case – she can eat ice cream and Doritos for dinner with no consequences and I gain weight by just watching her).  It’s funny because I haven’t really thought about what I’d do until this blog post. In my close circle of girlfriends none of us have ever dyed our hair – at all.  I’ve watched people try new hair colors and styles, but for me it always seemed like too much to keep up with.  I only get a haircut when I start getting the feeling that I HATE my hair, and then I just get it cleaned up.  (Note: I’m the same person that wrote the blog post about getting her dog groomed every month, so it makes no sense.)

So I will go on what I *think* I will do. 

I’m pretty sure I will dye my hair… until a certain point and then I want it to be beautiful silver like my Grandmom’s.  What that “point” is will remain to be seen, as will how I can go from brown to silver in a hot second.  Stay tuned… and if you have any suggestions for the instant silver please let me know J

Erin

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I will dye till I die!! I didn’t really start getting a lot of grays till I turned 40 and then I woke up one morning and was about 3 weeks from becoming Bea Arthur. So I get a cut and color every 6 to 8 weeks (to the tune of $150) with a touch up in between. I even keep a “Tween Time” touch up stick, for emergencies, which is basically a brown crayon that makes brown run down my face with the first sign of sweat. But contrary to Michaela whose “husband likes the way it looks,” I would love to have a husband who doesn’t mind if I go gray (it would also be awesome if he didn’t care that I was fat or held down a job) but I am not going to find one walking around looking like one of the Golden Girls. Is it a lot of work and expense? Hell yes. But being a woman is a lot of work – there is shaving, tweezing, waxing, make up, manicures, pedicures, heels, underwires, moisturizers and Spanx. You can’t always do it all; you’d never get out of the house.  So I say do the one that has the most impact, and that is a gorgeous head of shiny brown hair.

– Jen

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I don’t even know if I’m gray.  If my eyesight continues worsening faster than I gray, I may never know I’m gray.   I started highlighting when responsibility interfered with being in the sun.  I later tried to go with my real hair color.  (If you’ve done any research about the beauty industry’s toll on our furry friends, you’ve probably considered alternatives to hair color – and mascara.  I definitely ask any new stylist about their brand’s policy on animal testing.  Check out the Concerned Consumer list for more information. )  Anyway, I found out that my natural color is the definition of ‘mousy brown’.  It’s dull and boring and drags my pale complexion right along with it.  My great-aunt had gray hair that looked blonde.  I’m hoping for that and ignoring the fact that I look absolutely nothing like that side of the family.  A girl can hope, right?  I guess I’ll quit covering my gray when I discover I’ve gone blonde, I’m old enough that I just don’t care if I always looked washed out, or my conscience makes me quit.  Until then, I’ll keep pretending to be a blonde.     

~Lori