Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Modern Pavlovian Dog

Like many pet owners, I happen to think that my dog and cat are smarter than most of mankind. My cat comes when called—if she wants to. And, in addition to many amusing tricks, the dog understands the most important lesson of all: he loves to cuddle. What more could you need?

But recently, we've discovered something else the dog has learned. He now associates the "click" of the laptop closing with action. Over the past week, we've noticed that whenever we close the laptop, Beckett immediately leaps from the couch/chair/floor and is ready to do something. Go for a walk, maybe? Go outside? Go to bed? I'm not sure what. But whatever it is, he's totally prepared.

Once we noticed this trend, we started testing our theory. And the action is definitely precipitated by the sound of the laptop shutting. It's astonishing to behold.

What amazes me so much about it is not that Beckett taught himself this Pavlovian reaction. I just can't wrap my head around what forged such a strong connection in his wee doggie synapses between closed laptop and action. Honestly, when I think of us closing the laptop, I picture setting down the computer and settling back into the couch.

So maybe it's not a result of training, after all. Maybe he's just trying to tell us something. Is that the phone ringing? I'm dying for a Dr. Pepper all of a sudden .....

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Movie Extravaganza

I have a hard time believing it myself, but Keith and I actually went to 3 movies in 4 days between last Thursday and Sunday.

We usually refuse to leave the house. Because it's a nice house, and we have two wonderful pets and wireless Internet and Tivo and an HDTV. What's not to love? As long as I either 1) do the dishes, or 2) manage to ignore the mounting pile of dirty dishes in the sink, I'd usually rather be home than anywhere else.

But a strange confluence of events conspired to actually bring us out of our lair multiple times in a short stretch, purely for entertainment purposes. Such an event might not be seen again for many, many years. Possibly even decades.

Thursday night (a weeknight!) we went to see Spirit of the Marathon . We had heard about it from a few different sources, and knew that it was only playing one night across the country in select theatres. Surprisingly, it wasn't playing at the indie theatre just down the street from us, but it was at the multiplex less than a 10-minute drive away. I enjoyed the movie, and I also was surprised to enjoy the fact that it was an event. It wasn't really publicized much, and it was only playing one night, so if you were in the audience it meant you had a serious interest in the subject and you'd gone out of your way to be there. I noticed that everyone in the theatre laughed at many of the inside runners' jokes throughout the movie, and I enjoyed being a part of that group. It was also motivational since Keith is training for his first marathon in May. I don' t know if specialty documentaries with limited engagements might be a wave of the future, but I personally liked it and would be interested to attend more of these events.

The other influential factor in our run of theatre-going was that Oscar nominations just came out. And, not surprisingly, we hadn't seen any of the five nominated for Best Picture. When we first moved into our house, we thought it was fantastic that an indie movie theatre was a 10-minute walk away. Even better, Monday nights was $5 admission night. We started going to the movies regularly on Monday nights. Then life interfered ... we thought about reviving the tradition, but there weren't any movies we really wanted to see .... so in 2007, we went to very few movies at that theatre or any other. Hence, the lack of surprise at our dismal Oscar-nominee-watching record.

Saturday afternoon, we saw Juno. It was funny and cute, although it reminded me of a recent pet peeve. Why are there no movies about couples who intend to get pregnant? Even if you decide to have a baby, you still don't really know what you're in for. I think there's still a lot of potential for comedic gold! It doesn't just have to be when a high schooler is pregnant (as in Juno) or when a career-woman gets Knocked Up. But of course, that's my very biased opinion.

Sunday afternoon, we went back for Atonement. Ever since Bend It Like Beckham, I've had a bit of a girl-crush on Keira Knightley, and I'm a fan of WWII-era movies, so I was looking forward to this one. Keira looked lovely, of course, as did James McEvoy, but my immediate reaction was that I liked Juno better. This didn't stop me from wanting to hop the first plane to England after the movie was over, though.

Keith tried to keep the streak going, and suggested we see There Will Be Blood last night. But I had to put a stop to the madness. I was afraid the animals would forget who we were! And I was stressed out that going to the movies would stress me out, since I start my online tutoring this week so I'll have nine hours less free time than I previously had. I felt the need to preserve what unaccounted-for hours I had, and get in some quality time on the couch.

But hopefully we won't completely forget about the heady anticipation of actually leaving the house for purely entertainment purposes. We do still have three more Oscar nominees to see, and only a few weeks before the awards are announced. It just may happen!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Comfort of Lists

I find lists so comforting. Am I the only one who feels this way?

Last week I was feeling entirely overwhelmed. Between my new full-time job being up in the air, web design work on the side, thinking ahead to Little L's arrival, and a sink full of dirty dishes it just felt like entirely too much. I shut down. When Keith got home from work on Wednesday, he found me in the dark bedroom, curled up on the bed, crying. Trying to dry my tears on the dog's fur, but he wasn't being very cooperative.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Before I started this blog, when I had the job from Hell, I cried on a regular basis. Even though it's been a long time, Keith remembered the drill.

He handed me tissues and calmed me down. After the crying had mostly stopped, we talked about why I was having a breakdown in the first place and what we could do about it.

Then, later that evening, we started making lists. Separate lists for work-related tasks, preparing for the new arrival, house maintenance/upgrades, appointments that need to be made, and more.

Somehow, getting it all out of my head and onto paper (well, virtual paper via Google docs) made it all seem more manageable. Instead of the dishes being the straw that broke the camel's back, they were just one more item on the list.

I know some people think I'm crazy for my multitude of lists. I have lists of places I've been or want to go, books I've read, and of course countless to-do lists. But without the lists, I really would be crazy. I can't turn off the list-maker in my mind, and if I don't get it out of my head and into a separate list, breakdown ensues.

Breakdown that not even a bagel and cream cheese can solve. Or maybe it could. Next time I'm feeling overwhelmed, I'll try munching on a bagel with cream cheese while writing up my lists.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Think This Counts as a Craving

People have asked me before whether I've had any cravings. Up to this point, I've just shrugged my shoulders. I mean, I've wanted to eat certain foods at certain times, but I don't know that it was ever a strong enough urge to consider it a Pregnancy Craving.

It's true that Keith and I went to the grocery store once and bought pickles and ice cream. But they were BOTH for him. I swear! I enjoy pickles and ice cream, but I haven't had a need for either one of them that is so fierce as to overcome my complete lack of interest in ever leaving our house.

My sister Erin suggested that a craving would be when you NEED the food even after a certain amount of time passes. Say, it's been 15 minutes and you still can taste that food in your mouth. She thinks that would be a craving.

The subject of cravings came up last night when we were on the phone, and there was a commercial for cream cheese. People were eating smoothly spread mounds of cream cheese on lightly toasted, plain bagels. Immediately upon seeing the commercial, I wanted one. I think my mouth might actually have started watering. I interrupted our conversation to tell my sister just how badly I wanted a bagel with cream cheese at that moment.

I think it's also important to note that we don't typically stock bagels or cream cheese at our house. I can't remember the last time I've had a bagel with cream cheese. It's been a while, and it's a treat that, while tasty, I don't typically feel bereft without.

But last night, it was all I could think about. For a few minutes, anyway. Then Keith served his delicious pulled pork barbecue that had been roasting all day long, and I forgot about the bagel and cream cheese.

Until this morning. When I read the word "bagel" on a blog and it all came flooding back to me. I could feel the crunch of the bagel, and taste the sweet, cool cream cheese. I now want the bagel and cream cheese more than ever. I'm finding it a bit hard to concentrate, especially as I expound on how delicious such a culinary treat would be.

So I think this counts as a craving. Even if I forgot about it temporarily, it was still waiting to pounce on me again this morning. This evening, I WILL have a bagel and cream cheese, and I hope it's as fantastic as I'm imagining it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Responsibility Is PART of Pet Ownership, You Know

Beckett's fine. I think you should know that before I go on my rant. He's fine, but I'm very angry.

I took him on his walk this morning. I would say "as per usual," but with the cold weather/snow/me feeling crappy, his morning walks aren't as "usual" as they should be. But we've gone to bed ridiculously early for the past couple nights, so despite the cold I did manage to get up and out the door.

When we were almost home, less than a block away, I was already thinking about my grapefruit juice and cherry pop tart. My head was down, burrowed into my coat, because the wind was hitting us directly in the face. Therefore, with my vision restricted to the mere two feet of sidewalk directly in front of my feet, my first indication of imminent danger was the sound of a man shouting frantically.

I looked up to see a much larger dog bearing down on Beckett. His twin was close on his heels, and following behind the two of them was the frantic man, running in a t-shirt, boxer shorts, and loafers.

I'm never sure exactly what to do. Get between the dogs? Try and grab the dog myself and risk getting bitten? The first dog got to Beckett and immediately starting nipping at his hind quarters. He wasn't there to bark—he meant business.

The guy tackled the first dog and started dragging him away, but of course that meant it was the second dog's chance to attack. And Beckett, next to my legs and on a short leash, was a sitting duck. He nipped back, but he was at least 20 pounds lighter. It was definitely not a fair fight.

It probably went on this way for a few minutes. It's hard to tell when everything is happening so quickly, yet in slow motion. The guy would wrangle one beast, just to have the other loose. I would try and get between the attacking dog and Beckett, shouting "No!" and pointing my finger menacingly, but I didn't want to get too close.

Finally, Beckett and I broke away. I'm not even sure exactly how. If the guy managed to catch both dogs at the same time, or if one lost interest ... I don't know. I didn't look back to check. We just ran around the corner to our street to catch our breath.

Actually, I needed to catch my breath. And as we resumed walking, I noticed my legs were trembling. Beckett, however, was not phased. He trotted along, sniffing snow piles, peeing on trees, and even grabbing a frozen squirrel carcass for a treat. (Even though I felt bad for him after the experience, I still made him drop it.) I was very glad that Beckett was untraumatized and unhurt, but the experience left a very bitter taste in my mouth.

We live in a city. A CITY. With lots of people and animals in a small, condensed area. Why do dog owners refuse to take responsibility for maintaining control over their pets? It's the people who let them out into the yard without any boundaries, or the ones who let them off the leash while walking ... when they come and act aggressive towards our dog—and they always do—the owners act so surprised. What the hell did you think was going to happen?!? You're going to tell me this is the FIRST time you've ever let him off the leash, and really he's such a gentle dog at home?

That is completely irresponsible, and you are putting myself and my dog in danger because you won't be in control of your pet. And I just don't know what I can do about it. I understand that sometimes the dog escapes unexpectedly. I'm not talking about that kind of situation. I'm talking about when the dog owner willingly abdicates control.

As the innocent party, walking my under-control dog on a leash at all times, what am I supposed to do about it? If one of those dogs today was determined to seriously hurt Beckett, I don't think I could have stopped it. And the owner would have pretended to be surprised (although his immediate frantic reaction shows that he knows his dogs are aggressive). He would have said he'd never seen it coming.

We won't stop walking and running Beckett. He loves it, he needs it, and I think we would become irresponsible pet owners if we denied our dog this exercise. (Plus our furniture would be much the worse for the wear.) But I don't think a question of whether this scenario will be repeated again; it's a question of when. And whether we're all lucky enough to escape unharmed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2008 New Year's Resolutions

Okay, so I've established that there was plenty of room for improvement in my attainment of 2007 resolutions. So this year, I'm going to keep it simple.

2008 New Year's Resolutions
1) Have a baby.
As you can probably guess, from the fact that I'm posting on my blog, this resolution is already well underway. I'm in the second trimester, and my estimated due date is July 17. Keith and I are both more excited/nervous/scared/happy than I can really articulate. This is a step that we've talked about for years, and always knew we'd take someday, but just recently felt somewhat prepared to make a reality.

Or, to be honest, we've finally accepted that we will never really be "ready" to be parents, so right now we're probably as ready as we'll ever be! Keith has a good job that pays most of the bills, we've been settled in our house for a year and a half, and we've even managed to keep two pets happy and healthy for that length of time! What else do you need, really?

It's been hard to not write about it on the blog, when it's all I've been thinking about lately. So it's good to finally get the news out in the open! And if you don't want to hear anything about pregnancy, well, you might not want to visit too often over the next few months because I'm sure it'll be a big topic of discussion.

Obviously New Year's Resolution #1 has affected most of my usual goals (lose weight, run further/faster, etc.). I can't resist the urge to put down a few more goals here, but as long as #1 is accomplished successfully, everything else will be gravy.

2) Read 50 books, including 6 classics and 12 books by authors I don't know.
This might become a challenge in the second half of the year, so my goal is to try and get ahead before July. I bumped down my classics goal, since I never meet it anyway. The part about reading new authors was brought on by the feeling that, with focusing so much on classics, I just end up reading those or the same old mystery/romance authors I've already read. I really enjoy going into the library, picking a book at random, and hopefully finding a new favorite author. So I want to try and do more of that this year.

3) Eat healthy and stay in (relative) shape.
I always mean to eat healthy, but of course it's more important now than ever. Too bad I felt terrible during the first trimester, and all I wanted was McDonald's fries and Oreos! But the first trimester is over, and hopefully the nausea too (fingers crossed) so now I'll try even harder to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, drink lots of water, and allow myself the occasional cheat day, instead of cheating every other day of the week.

I also want to keep working out enough to not lose the progress I've made running. Ideally, I'd keep running 3 times/week into the 7th month, with a low weekly mileage (around 12-15 miles). I'm planning on running the Flying Pig 10k (since I am famous for it and all;), but of course this is just a goal to keep me motivated. I've been disappointed so far with how tired I've been. I'm hoping that changes in the second trimester, but I'll just have to wait and see.

The real goal is to prepare myself for labor and delivery, so I'm more concerned with my fabulous Prenatal Pilates DVD that my parents got me, and getting some childbirthing classes so I have the best experience possible.

4) Stop freaking out so much.
This is a huge life change, and one that freaks me out to no end. Every day. Just ask Keith, or my Mom. For my sake, Little L's sake, and the sanity of everyone around me, I need to learn to handle it better. Maybe some meditation, more sleep, less reading about all the possible complications .... other than #1, I think this will be the hardest resolution of all!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2007 Resolutions: Final Tally

I'm just putting the final touches on my resolutions for 2008. A list which, despite its lateness, will be uncharacteristically short. Possibly only one item long—I'm debating a few others.

But anyway, before I can get to 2008 I need to grade myself on my 2007 resolutions. Let's see how I did:
1. The Year of Nonfiction Writing
So. Not. Happening. More like The Year of Talking about Writing. But towards the very end of the year, as I mentioned last week, I shifted my nonfiction writing focus from travel to personal essay. I'm pretty excited about the new direction, but we'll see how it goes.

2. Start a business with Keith
Check! Bloom Web Solutions is a registered Limited Liability Corporation, we've had several clients (including one that actually pays us!) and our website is up.

3. Read 50 books (8 classics, 6 biographies)
As usual, I surpassed the 50 book mark, and I reached 6 biographies, but my classics fell short of the mark (6 total). Still, if it weren't for the resolution I'm sure I wouldn't have even read 6.

4. Run sub-30 min 5k
Check! I'm pretty excited about this one. After trying—and failing—to achieve this for 3 years, I race a 5k in June and finished at 29:15ish. Even better, I ran a 5k a month later in under 29 minutes, so the first one wasn't just a fluke. I may actually be getting faster!

5. Lift 6 times/month, keeping track on Fitday
Nope. I managed to keep this streak alive until August, when I only did 5 strength training sessions. To be fair, I consciously chose to stop focusing on strength training when I upped my running mileage while training for the November half-marathon. I still think it was the right decision.

6. Visit 12 new places in Cleveland area
Check! Probably 90% are restaurants, but there's nothing wrong with that!

7. Actually stick to a budget for 4 months
Check! I think we actually stayed within budget 5 months, total. The only reason this happened, I'll admit, is because of extra income from my online tutoring work and from our new web design business. So that's a lesson for me: a little extra income goes a long way!

8. Volunteer/give money to charity
I'm a slug. As always, my best of intentions fell victim to laziness and lack of time. This will also be on my resolution list, and someday I'll actually get there. And hopefully, from that point forward it will become a regular event.

9. Visit Sara and Jason in Toledo
Check! We had a great time seeing their house and hanging out with them.

So, of 9 resolutions, I met 5 and sorta met 1 (read 50 books, but not 8 classics). Not the best success rate, but I'm very happy with the things I did accomplish. Now onto 2008!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Temping Is Old* News

Well, I have my official job interview today.

Forget that I've been doing this job for over a year and a half. That whole time I've been a temp, unworthy of benefits or paid sick days or any indication that I couldn't just be replaced by another temp with a snap of one's fingers.

I've actually been really conflicted about staying in one position as a "temp" for such a long time. Am I selling myself short? Getting paid very little and with no benefits or paid time off? I also felt guilty because I felt like I was helping to prop up a seriously flawed system. By going along with it, I felt like I was saying it was okay to use people in this way. And by letting them pay me less than I'm worth, I'm preventing other people with similar skills from making a decent wage because employers know that there's suckers like ME that won't be so demanding.

But on the other hand, I like the people I work with and I actually find the job interesting and (occasionally) challenging. I didn't really want to expend the time and energy necessary to find another job. Another job that might pay better, but also had the possibility of making my life infinitely more miserable.

Mostly I stayed because I'm lazy and indecisive AND because I really admire my boss, who has told me multiple times that she is trying her best to wend her way through the bureaucracy and hire me full time. I have always believed that she meant to do right by me (not to sound like I'm referring to a pregnant junior in high school who just wanted a date to the prom). And today is the proof that she meant what she said. I'm really glad that my faith wasn't misplaced, and that the possibility of a "real job" has become more tangible.

On the other hand, to keep things kosher they are interviewing another candidate, as well as me. I can't decide how I feel about this. The job should be mine, right? So I feel bad that they’re wasting someone else’s time and energy on a job he/she won’t get. Yet, if they are seriously considering the other candidate, I’m going to be royally pissed and feel like I was completely mislead. Either way, someone’s not happy. So I guess in this situation, I should just hope for the happy person to be me!

Wish me luck ....

*BlogFriday word: Old

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Writing in A New Direction

I was pretty nervous about my writing group meeting last night, which surprised me. I've had the group review several pieces of my writing, and other than the first initial meeting, my only emotion has been pleasant anticipation to get feedback and comments on what can be a solitary pursuit.

But this time, I realized that there were tendrils of nervousness and fear writhing through my midsection on the drive over to the coffee shop. Where was this coming from?

I decided it was because my piece up for review was from a different genre than what I normally write. Actually, that's not exactly true. It was a personal essay, very similar to what I write on this blog. So you would think, with the blog being more than two years old (Is that possible?!? Crazy!), that I am accustomed to the personal essay genre.

And I am, in a blog sense. But writing a personal essay for actual (read: paying) publication feels different. The piece needs to be longer, and more in-depth. I realized that, to me, the biggest difference between blogging and writing An Essay is that, with a blog, I can just ask the question. Raise an idea. Put something out there for the universe to ponder.

But with An Essay, I must not only pose the question, but work through it and come up with some kind of conclusion. It doesn't have to be the perfect answer, but it must be the answer that I have found to be true for myself. Even if it's only a glimmer of an answer, there has to be some definite ending point. Oh, and I have to revise.

And that's new. And troubling. Putting it all together and revising is a lot of work. But I'm excited at the prospect. I think my blog is making me a better personal essay writer, and I think as I write more personal essays, I'll also become a better blogger. Is that the answer to writing success? I'm not sure, but since this is just a blog post and not An Essay, I don't have to know;)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Plus a Side of Dark Chocolate

Yesterday started off as a crappy day. When I woke up, I physically felt crappy. Plus, I was also not in a good place mentally. I know it was partly due to the post-holiday blues, and looking at the vast expanse of unbroken working weeks stretching out from now through the fall, with only a one-day holiday here or there to break the monotony. I don't know what else was involved; maybe I had a bad dream, or maybe it was something I'd eaten the night before. But I was NOT in a good mood.

Once I finally got up and moving, I headed over to my sister's place almost 2 hours after I'd originally said I'd be there. And I hate being the type of person who is running *that* late, so of course knowing how late I was also contributed to the black clouds raging over my head.

On the way, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few necessities. And by "necessities" I mean comfort food. Things that will make me feel better as soon as I put them in my mouth. Things with absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. I wish I didn't believe in using food as comfort, but I've been doing it for too many years to stop cold turkey on a day like I was having yesterday.

So I picked up a basket at the store entrance and went on a mission. At the check-out, I had a total of 4 items:
  1. Bag of Doritos
  2. Package of Oreos
  3. Large Hershey's bar with almonds
  4. Large dark chocolate Hershey's bar
It's come to my attention lately that when going into a grocery store to satisfy our cravings, Keith will insist on also buying some adult groceries. Something that shows your awareness that food is actually meant to sustain life, not to comfort you. He adds in a can of soup or whole wheat bread to offset the gallon of Moosetracks ice cream.

I feel no such compulsion. Do you have something to say to me about my purchases? You don't know what kind of day I've had! Judge not, grocery check-out boy, because you'll probably be buying these same items for your girlfriend in a few years, when she's having one of these days.

I've been half-heartedly telling myself I should try this whole "clean eating" thing that FitGeGe keeps talking about. I'm sure in the long run I'd feel better and be happier with myself. But now we all know that's not going to happen until this package of Oreos is gone. Good thing I should have them polished off by tomorrow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year's Resolutions To Come

Around this time of year, I usually review how I've done on the last year's resolutions and come up with some resolutions for the New* Year. I've done this for the past few years and I definitely like the accountability of it.

For me, the key to this endeavor is not to take my resolutions too seriously. I'd rather set high goals, knowing that I won't achieve all of them, then set low ones and stress out if I don't think I can reach them. For those of you who don't know me that well, I stress out a lot. All the time. Over stupid stuff. So I definitely don't need to set EXTRA goals so that I can have something else to stress about. Because I'm doing just fine in that category.

So far, I think I've done okay in the not-stressing department. I've achieved some of the goals that were most important to me, (get a house, improve my 5k race time, read 50 books a year) and other ones just didn't happen (spend time volunteering, read x number of classics).

This year, I'll again probably set some bigger, important goals, plus other goals that would be a real stretch to achieve, but that would give me a great sense of accomplishment. I need some more time to think about what exactly those goals will be, but I'll post some resolutions soon. There's my first goal.

*blogfriday word: New

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Blizzard 2007

Happy 2008! I'm sorry; I feel like I've been a real slacker on the blog of late. Hopefully now that the holidays are over, I'll be better.

These are images I meant to share before Christmas, but never got around to it. After attending a fabulous wedding about 4 hours away from home, we had the joy of traveling home in a blizzard. Here's a few pictures I took out of the car window, so we could show them to newlyweds Michael and Angie and they would understand just how much we love them, to brave THIS to be at their wedding.

I'm not sure that these pictures even properly convey how much the drive SUCKED. It just. kept. snowing. And the severity of the storm was inversely proportional to the distance from home, so it just kept getting worse. And did I mention the wind? Snow + wind = white-out conditions. Good times!

I would also like to point out that these pictures were taken at grave peril to life and limb, since I had to unbuckle and clamber into the back seat to reach into the wayback to fish out the camera from a bag. The things I do to amuse you people.