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MelissaBelle Chimes In
It me, Shady again. For those of you who do not know me, I am MelissaBelle's dog and I took over her blog last week. I have been hanging around this site all week. I am learning lots of things about people, and my person MelissaBelle, in particular. I am not ready to give up the blog just yet. My dog ears are picking up all kinds of things. I would like to tell you about something I saw here that many of you seemed interested in. Ms. Frannie1964 posted a question about phobias on the home page this week. It caught my eye because Frannie said she had a phobia about driving and it sounded like what I thught my Mom had. I have heard Mom talking about not driving, but the word phobia was new to me. I read all about the other phobias a lot of you mentioned...none of the phobias were as surprising but it was a surprise how readily you all 'fessed up to them! Snakes, spiders, bridges, aging...you all have alot ot be worried about. It made me realize this place really is cool. Everyone has someone to talk to and something to talk about and everyone listens and comments and commiserates. You ladies sure have built up a nice place to meet and talk.
Oh, so anyway back to the driving. Mom talks about the driving thing a lot lately. She does drive but only on very familiar roads in our town and neighboring ones. She is the first one to admit it has held her back from doing some things she'd really like to do, but when something has to be done she does manage it. Once when her husband broke his collarbone she drove everywhere anyone in the family needed to go for 12 weeks. When she had to pick him up at night after a minor accident in a hospital in another state, a few people offered to drive her. All she would accept was an offer for a companion. She insisted on driving so that she would know she "could" have done it on her own and so her son would see she could do it too. Sometimes other things come up, like a required insurance course for her job that is 30 minutes away, and she got up every day for three weeks and made the drive. She used to think that things like that would "cure" her, if she could do this one drive or that one trip, the agony of would slowly go away and she'd be able to drive anywhere! It never quite works that way for Mom though. The discomfort is always there; she continues to dread driving and always lands right back where she was, avoiding it whenever possible. She has a pretty good reason for her hesitation, but that's a story for another blog....
Mom spent years trying to hide it, thinking it was a phobia or a self inflicted disability of some sort and would never have talked about it the way you all did in that question thread. She used to make up excuses so no one would know. This made her very unhappy and uncomfortable. She had to lie to get a ride or about being late or whatever. The reason she talks about it all time now is because shortly before she turned 40, she just made up her mind to accept it. Once you accept something yourself, everyone else has no choice but to accept it also. It is not unlike what I was saying about all us dogs in the house last week—Nikki has gotta be the guard dog and I have to be the spoiled one. Mom does not call that stuff a phobia and she does not think her apprehension about getting behind the wheel is one anymore either. Driving is not walking or talking, and not doing that alone (when one is capable) is not a disability she can heal either. She has given herself permission to say things like "I'm sorry, I cannot attend because I do not drive" or "would you mind if I rode with you? I prefer not to drive" or "Yes I know it is 20 minutes longer but I prefer the train/the back roads". This is more freedom and control than she has had over where she goes and how she gets there ever before in her life. Getting out in front of it totally disarms everyone who might otherwise raise an eyebrow or perhaps be critical of her decisions. The words "I don't drive" are not unlike the words "I am 40". It just is who she is.
Ms Frannie 1964 and everyone on that thread seemed to be in a place like Mom is now about these things. I guess that is what is so great about getting older. As for me, I have to go to the vet after Christmas. I get really stressed out there and I cannot do anything about that either. Mom will take me and stay with me and make it as easy as she can for me. It is not far but she would take me anywhere I needed to go if she had to. She is a good driver and she loves me, too so I'll be safe. That is part of who she is too.
It's me again, Shady...MelissaBelle's youngest black labrador. As promised, I am back and blogging after a nearly three month absence. I decided that after telling you all so much about our recently deceased golden retriever mix LoJack ( http://fabulously40.com/blog/id/melissabelles-shady-past-11779 ) that it was time you heard some more about me and any my older dog sister Nikki too. Mom and I have been working out our creative differences on the story ever since. We have finally settled on a more realistic tale, as opposed to the scandalous tell-all I started with to liven things up. Apparently my creative license was not appreciated. So, if you are up for some more dog tales...here we go...and let me warn you that despite Mom's editing this is another long read!
On the very same day that my Mom brought me home from the pet store nearly 9 years ago, she took me to the vet. I did not even have a name yet. I was very small and shy and cute (and I still am), but she wanted to make sure I was healthy too. The doctor was not swayed by my puppy eyes or my soft shiny fur—he gave me a very thorough and objective examination. After it was over, he picked me up, patted
my head and handed me back to Mom with this summation "Everything looks fine, I think you should keep her". My Mom was taken aback by his words. She had taken me for an exam only to do right by me and to see if I needed anything...of course she was going to "keep me". No matter what. She told him so, too. I had a feeling right then and there that I had landed in the right place.
The vet is of course a very caring and compassionate man and a great doctor. He was just doing his job and figured since I checked out okay that this was what Mom had come to hear. I think most people who will take the time to read this blog believe what Mom does; a furry friend is family and there is no looking back once they enter your life. After meeting my new brother LoJack 4 years later and helping Mom with her volunteer work over the years I understand now that kind of unconditional love is not always a given. It is not always possible to give your pets the life I have had...whether one becomes unable or is simply unwilling. The vet, as it turns out, has met a lot of people like that too so he likes to be careful. I am lucky enough to have a Mom who understands what you can get in return for that kind of attitude. I don't like to think about it, but there are a lot of dogs that do not get the chance to find a proper forever family.
I would have understood that sooner, but it seems there was a lot about the household I entered that I did not know until now. After I helped Mom tell the story of LoJack and how he came to live with us, I started asking some questions about what it was like around here before I arrived. I already knew LoJack came to us only about 4 years ago and is now waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge. My sister, a 12 year old black lab named Nikki, was here for four years before me and I have known her my whole life. By the time I entered the scene; she had settled in and found her place in the family. It seemed to me that she has always been happy and made Mom happy so I assumed they must have just decided to grow the family. In reality, Nikki and Mom had not hit it off so well for the first few years. No one told me because they barely even think about it now...Nikki was part of the family from day one just like I was and one just does what one needs to do to learn how to make it work, don't they? "No big stories here, Shady...take your pen and find something else to write about." Mom told me. "Step away from the laptop...no scandals or newsworthy events in this back story!"
As it turns out, Mom herself cannot explain what is was about me that made her want to try this whole puppy thing again! Puppies are a lot of work and me, well let's just say I have some issues (more on those later). I have come to learn that Nikki was not such an angel after all. I never would have guessed that when I met her...she was Dad's hunting buddy and Mom's only company when he travelled (which was a lot back then). These days, Nikki is pretty mellow. Arthritis has her measuring her movements carefully now and she needs a lot of extra care. Still, at her core there are a lot of things about her that are just like they were the day she was born. She runs to her dish no matter how her legs hurt and eats every meal as if it might be her last. She does not like it when people sneeze and will get weirded out every time. She hates it even more when SHE sneezes and walks around mad about it for a few minutes after, as if one of us has made her do it against her will. She dislikes pillows and knocks them off every bed and sofa whenever she sees them—well maybe she does that because she actually likes to play with them but either way, there are none left unattended at my house. This list goes on and on so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say that Mom and Nikki had to work out their early differences without either one of them changing who they are. I believe this is why they are so happy with each other now.
Nikki was just the kind of puppy I was not. She had tons of energy and loved to play and retrieve stuff. She was very brave and alert. She was the first one in the litter to approach when Mom knelt down to meet them all, and the only one who chased the ball when Dad threw it. She was the last puppy in her litter to drop for a nap after a lot of playtime. These things made her stand out and ultimately she was the pup they chose to bring home from the breeder. Turns out some of these things also convey dominance, a word Mom did not know then but came to know all too well in the year that followed. One of the trainers we had said Nikki had the strongest dominance he had ever seen in our usually eager to please Labrador breed. Mom never had a dog before and Nikki was really low on the eager to please thing. She sensed Mom's uncertainly and instinctually tested her over and over. I'll let Mom step in here and recount some of the typical interactions between them that first year for you.
"Sometime soon after I removed my umpteenth shirt, with Nikki still attached to it, and added it to the pile of ruined clothes I had accumulated in the last few months I started to crack. This tiny puppy had such a grip on it, it was stretched to the floor and I could not walk without dragging her with me anyway. The trainer warned me, biting my clothes was the same as biting me. It cannot be tolerated, it is aggressive behavior. Even if it is coming from a tiny 10 week old black fuzzball. She does not break skin but she is growling and snarling and clearly angry. Nikki pulled these stunts constantly and I knew as she got bigger it could be dangerous. Nikki always kept her distance from me, standing with her ears alert and watching me constantly. She never let me pet her or sit by her or do anything with her (except feed her). I was beginning to wonder when she ever slept. She was always carefully assessing if she could really trust me. Could I handle some dog emergency like a bear attack or whatever the heck it is that scares Labrador retrievers? And so she tested me like this over and over—in a sneak attack. I wondered when or if she would ever be able to be a real part of my life, to be in the same room with me even without both of our nerves being fully on edge.
I consulted with many trainers and they all had very strict regimens and rules—no rewarding with treats, training walks with the use of choke and pinch collars, do not allow her on furniture or to walk through a door ahead of you and so on. Following one trainers advice, I tethered her to me 24/7 with a short leash. This way she was never more than 4 feet from me and I had a choke collar to correct any undesired or ominous behavior, such stealing food or a even a menacing growl, before it escalated. Nothing would get by me this way. I felt silly with a choke collar on this little pup. I rarely had anything to correct—Nikki never chewed up furniture legs or stole socks or did any typical puppy mischief. She still growled and attacked me and for that I never had time to stop it. One day, as I got her ready for a walk and swapped out a longer leash she did her usual routine of furiously nipping at the leash while I tried to clip it to her. We got all tangled up near the basement stairs and before I knew what happened...we tumbled down 12 steps onto a concrete floor. I broke several bones in my foot and Nikki hurt her paw. I brought her to the vet before I even worried about my foot. Her paw was not broken (I think I broke her fall) and he offered to keep her overnight and spay her as we had planned to do soon anyway so I could get myself to the doctor. I came home alone, bruised and battered and with a broken heart too. Would this dog ever trust me?
I knew then that something had to change. I decided that when she came home, things would be different. I went against what every book and trainer said. I went "soft". Not because I believed it would work per se or that it was what she needed, but because it is more who I am. Nikki got to sleep in our room after that. That alone made the most difference. She also got treated to walks on a retractable lead where she could sniff and explore instead of the regimented "heel" walks we had been attempting. I baby talked her and gave her occasional treats and special meals and invited her on the furniture. Combined, it all began to make us more relaxed together. We started to know what to expect from each other. Although it would still be many months before she would lay or sit close to me or show me any affection at all, the sudden physical attacks ceased. I had taken the first step to gaining her trust—I stopped trying to be something I was not.
Several people along the way asked why I didn't just "get rid of her". That never crossed my mind. She was still my dog and she did not ask to live here. When time and trainers did not cure it, I told myself it was my obligation to make it work. Looking back it was more than that. I loved her from day one. Our conflict was our bond. We both needed to grow up a little and we needed each other's help to do it. Looking at us now together, no one would ever known we had a problem. Nikki got to figure out who she really was, too. She is a tireless watchdog and now that I have earned it, she is loyal to me to no end. She is still always alert and watching me, but it is in her capacity as protector and she does not rest until I do. We both know our roles now."
Nikki does a lot for our family, but mostly she paved the way for yours truly. She left the role of snuggle bunny wide open for me to fill. I got to sleep in the bedroom from day one and I never saw a choke collar or any of that other crazy trainer stuff. I am still the same puppy I was 9 years ago as well, and Mom took the time to get to know me and what I need right away thanks to the lessons she learned with Nikki. For example; if you call me, there is only a 50-50 shot I am going to show up. If there is a dog on TV, I am going to try to crawl behind the TV set to meet him. If the vacuum comes into the room, I am going to leave. If I smell fresh coffee, I am going to try to get some. If it is raining out, I am not going any further than the outside steps to do my business. If I see a bug and can catch it, I am going to eat it. If you set something soft down anywhere, I am going to lay on it. When the doorbell rings, I am going to grab my favorite bone and hide—every time. As a matter a fact I hide from almost everything new until Nikki tells me its okay. Even then, under no circumstances will I allow myself to be in the same room with goldfish—something about them is just not right. Gee, I guess my list goes on and on too. Suffice it to say without Nikki to pave the way; I might be in some other family right now. Nikki takes care of the serious business around here and I am happy in my role as cuddle partner and face smoocher. This is definitely where I was meant to be.
Mommy gets the best of both worlds with us and Nikki and I have a good life. We will get to age gracefully and be spoiled a little like LoJack was as we get older-we have earned it. Lots of other dogs deserve it too. Maybe you have a dog or a cat like that? If you tell me and my Mom a little about them, we will help you blog about them if you want. Maybe if we tell enough stories, all the dogs and cats in all the shelters will get another chance to find the right family, too. I am going to have my own blog outside of this place soon, “Dog Eared Tales“, in support of Mom’s business to help raise money and find homes for homeless dogs. We both hope you will be a part of it.
Well, it is day 2 of my personal 21 day meat free challenge. Cynthia and Vikki have joined in too (http://fabulously40.com/group/id/the-21-day-challenge-516) and I am hoping to hear more about what they have been eating and how they are doing soon. So far, so good for me. There have been some unexpected results for me though, both on Day 1 and in the days leading up to it. I thought I would share them here in case anyone else is considering doing something like this, especially in a household like mine. I don’t mean to imply it will be like this for all of you, or even “wish” all of these on any of you, it’s just my usual “tongue in cheek” way of giving you the scoop over here:
1. When you announce your plans at home, be prepared for others to have immediate concern and a lot of questions. Maybe not so much about why you are doing it or how you will keep healthy, but all about them, and what will they eat and do they have to do this too and is it going to take a lot of time?
2. When you announce your plans here, be prepared for tons of support and tips and stories from those who have done similar challenges or are already meat free all the time. You will be enourgaged at every turn and have a lot of thank yous to say! You will also get to know some of the people here better than you did before.
3. When you go to make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, after preparing a lovely “meat” dinner in advance for others in the house, be prepared for them to ask if they can have one too. Then proceed to make it for them first, misjudge the amount of bread in the house and not have enough left for yourself. If this happens, resort to soup from the pantry.
4. When someone leaks your challenge efforts to the in laws (despite the fact that they really do not need to know), be prepared for them to say something about your weight and diets or how it is natural to eat meat and I am wearing leather and drinking milk anyway aren’t I...and all the things that this is not about (for me).
5. If you are not doing this challenge for weight loss be prepared to think twice about the fat and calories in the veggie options you choose anyway, because well, why not? It is a logical next step but you won’t feel overwhelmed by it because technically, it is not the challenge. It will just start to happen. You will just consider what goes in your body more carefully be default...at least that is where I am at for Day 2, lets hope it lasts!
6. Despite having grocery shopped for the family alone (and shclepping countless bags under protest) for years and years, when you try to make a special trip for veggie recipes staples, be prepared to have someone tag along. This is either to confirm that is where you are “really” going or because they have important questions and comments like “Wow, this is gonna be expensive.” or “All this for just 21 days? We are just gonna throw out the rest of that sesame oil later...“. This will likely be the same person who has no less than 4 mustard varieties and a dozen differen barbecue sauces cluttering your refrigerator door—because those are very necessary.
There is nothing like a change in routine for people to show their true colors, and for others, (like me) to realize just how robotic and routine their life has become. Meat free, smoke free, fat free, whatever it is that is on your mind to change in your life—21 days is a great place to start. We’ll see how I am around day 18—but for the moment I recommend it highly!
T minus zero! I am out of time, and the 21 day meat free challenge begins for me tomorrow. I am excited to have new foods and recipes to try, but a little nervous too. My plan was to shop tomorrow, and do some serious cooking and stock up on premade veggies meals this weekend. Someone else in the house thought it might be a good time to defrost some venison and make some jerky in the dehydrator. It takes a LOT of meat to make even a little jerky/ The fridge is completely full as it thaws and marinates in preparation...oh the irony! I don't have nearly as much ready as I had hoped.
It is less ironic and more intentional, I believe. I am not going to say a word about it. This challenge is not about meat, or an attack on someone's hunting habit. It is about control. I picked one of the only things that feel within my control these days and I am trying to test it. That one thing is what and when I eat. Will I let someone get to me? Will I cook two dinners each night or eventually decide that I am not responsible for making sure adults, who have much more time than I do, do not starve? Will people who are directly affected help me with it, or even bother to ask why I am doing this?
So many things need to change in my life, and very soon. I am tired of feeling helpless. My sentence is almost up, I can feel it and I know it is me that has to end it. Either things change or I change alone. The house, the kid, the job, they can all survive with a little less of me—actually with the exception of my son they will all be fine with none of me and I am starting to think that I would be fine to give them just that. So this is a baby step I know, but is where I need to start. I have had a few false starts for larger issues but lacked the confidence to see them through. The big sweeping changes that have to happen are very frightening and have ultimately paralyzed me for several years. So I'll start here and see if I can do even this small thing for myself that seems to make others unhappy. Or will it be like some of the bigger changes I have tried, where I usually decide that the only way to keep everything in check is for me to remain miserable. If I can resist that urge to settle for that yet again on this much smaller scale, the next step can be bigger. I know in my heart people are responsible for their own happiness—I accept that I am (and give up that right over and over again)but everyone around me is too.
2009 has been a crazy year. Despite the fact that I have done nothing to improve my situation under the guise of keeping the peace, I was not able to stop a lot of pain and misery. My dog still died, my son still lost his way, people complained about my moods or my distant attitude or things I asked them to do and members of my family still got sick or broke or worse. People are still unhappy. Maybe my approach has been all wrong. What is so great about me that makes me think just my presence, or in some cases a very half hearted presence, can fix everything? It is like the flight attendants, and most recently Mz V in her blog earlier this week, always warn us; "first put your own oxygen mask on before you attempt to help others". My oxygen mask is buried under layers and layers of complicated change and hurt. I am hoping a few adjustments and some control will make it easier for me to breathe. If not, I'll have to start building the courage to go digging for that mask after all.
Either way, I know everyone here will keep me honest...so keep sending the recipes please. Ask me often what I am eating and if I am sticking to it. Let me know you are listening. Hold me accountable. If I slip up don't let me give up, please help get me back on track! If you can muster it, join me as Vikki has, or make your own challenge of any kind and go for it along side of us.
Thanks for listening today, and every day. When you listen and react it reminds me that sometimes all one has to do is speak up, to ask, and things can get better.
All this talk of diets, meat reducing, (soda) pop kicking and general deprivation reminded me of a story about my son from years ago. When he was about 8 or 9, my nieces (devout Catholics) were at his birthday party (in February) telling him they were glad the party was before Lent because they planned to give up cake and cookies.
My son didn’t really know what that meant, so they went on to explain that every year for the season of Lent they had to give up something. This year it was cake, last year candy, the year before soda and so on. I was a little surprised at his unfamilarity with it as we had many friends who did the same thing but figured he just forgot what time of year it was. My nieces failed to mention that once Easter came, they could go back to normal and so my son looked at them in utter horror as he tried to absorb it all...then he loudly exclaimed:
“So every year, year after year, your life just gets more and more boring? Mom, is that why we don’t go to church???”
We all had a good laugh about that one...
For those of you who were worried I was going to blog/brag about my Chocolates by Cynthia one at a time, have no fear. I have heard you loud and clear and will now focus on my top 3. What can I say? Day 2 was a lot more eventful than Day 1. Top 3 was very difficult to define, as they were all wonderfully good but in the end I chose these three by only a slight margin:
White chocolate and espresso—never would have guessed that one as I am not a big coffee drinker. These have a good bite of espresso coffee tempered with white chocolate, almost like cream in your cup. It also scored extra points for possibly being larger than some of the others—always a plus!
Macadamia nut butter cup—forget Reese’s cups, this was amazing. I could eat the filling plain with no chocolate and this not a feeling I have about a lot of candy.
Caramel filled butterfly...Oh...my...God. The best caramel ever and now I know why. There is no corn syrup to goo it all up, just wholesome creamy goodness. Perfect filling to chocolate ratio as well. And it is lovely to look at!
That’s enough about me...I am declaring an open forum for anyone who has had Cynthia’s chocolates—do you agree with my top picks? Lilikoi filled was hard to leave out, as it is so unique but in the end it was edged out ever so slightly...I kmow a lot of you would rate that number one...care to to make me change me mind and force a retraction?