Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Fond Farewell

It has taken me a month to be able to write this post. On October 9, we said a final farewell to our little furry friend, Duncan. Life had become a struggle and we finally had to admit that it was time.

We found Duncan, or maybe he found us, when we had been dogless for over a year and were starting to look for another canine companion to join our family. This little guy, a miniature poodle, was found wandering the streets of a nearby community and was picked up for transport to the local pound. A dispatcher instead called Love-A-Stray, a local rescue organization, and that's how we found him. After being neutered and having nine teeth pulled, Duncan came home to us.

We have no knowledge about Duncan's past, but he became an indelible part of our family. He was old - probably about 17 when he passed away. He had a deformed spine, giving him a hunchbacked appearance. He almost never stretched out straight but instead curled into a tight ball of fur.

Speaking of fur, Duncan's was originally apricot, but by then was mostly white and very thin along his ridged back. When we picked him up, he had a raging ear infection that took months to tame. One ear stood straight out at all times. Sometimes it looked as if he was sending semaphore signals with his ears.

Duncan was very hard of hearing - this could have been the result of a long-term ear infection or just because of his age. He heard only sudden sharp sounds - the slam of a door, or a sharp clap of hands - but he could not tell where the sound was coming from. He rarely spoke - Duncan barked only twice in the entire 16 months or so that we had him, both times when he was very happy and excited about something. I think he didn't speak because he had nothing to complain about.

In the last year, Duncan's field of vision narrowed to a small area in which he could see movement and the contrast between light and dark. If he got confused about where he was, Duncan would stand perfectly still, staring down toward the floor. He stood so long that we worried he had gone senile or had had a stroke. But he was just waiting. If you moved your hand or foot through that little space he could see, he would turn and follow you, obviously happy. I think he was brilliant that way - he could have wandered about, walking into all kinds of hazards, but instead he stayed put waiting for someone to find him. I recall that our son learned in Boy Scouts what to do if he ever got lost in the woods - stay put and wait for rescue. Smart dog!

Duncan was a snuggler. In his last few months, he especially loved to lay in my arms, with his head on the crook of my elbow, dozing while I watched TV. I would sit there until my arms fell asleep, not wanting to disturb him.

I knew we would only have him for a short time, but I didn't want to face the facts - no one does. When we finally took him to the doctor's for the last time, Duncan did not go quietly. He struggled and fought to the end. He was a scrapper, probably all his life.

Our friends tell us how lucky Duncan was to have had the life we gave him - a caring home, a soft bed, plentiful food, love and affection. But honestly, we were the lucky ones.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Green as I Can Be

Everywhere you turn, somebody is urging you to "go green" - act in an ecologically preserving/restoring way. Frankly, some of the urgent "go green" messages are just plain dumb.

A major oil company wants to impress with its green attitude, reinventing itself with alternative energy sources or methods. I will admit to skepticism here. I mean, how great is your commitment to sustainability and conservation when your entire stable of products is based on burning fossil fuels?

While I applaud green efforts by anyone, we need to face reality. There is probably no completely environmentally sound lifestyle or business practice. Think about it. You grind your fair-trade organic coffee beans to make your morning coffee. Even if you use a metal mesh filter, thereby saving a paper filter from the landfill, you're not completely green. You used either tap or bottled water to fill the pot - that tap water most likely went through a filtration or treatment system, the bottled water came from a jug or bottle. You used electricity to pump and heat the water and brew the coffee. Do you add your coffee grounds to your garden, or pitch them in the trash?

Recycle aluminum, paper, plastic or glass? Does the energy expended to recycle something exceed that needed for new production? Are you really practicing sustainability if you purchase carbon credits to offset your flight to Vegas?

There is no perfect sustainability, as far as I can see. So here's what I am doing about it. I take reusable shopping bags with me most days (I am occasionally forgetful, you know), even though I sometimes have to push to get the store to use them. I print on both sides of the paper whenever possible. I reuse paper that's been printed on just one side, or on only one part. I drive a hybrid vehicle and get 52+ miles to the gallon combined highway and city driving. I reuse plastic containers for food instead of plastic wrap or foil. We are changing our light bulbs to low-energy bulbs as they need replacing. I recycle clothing and housewares to charities whenever possible, and I've given away things using FreeCycle.com instead of the trash. I combine trips in my automobile, planning out my errands by the side of town I am visiting. I am the champion of turning off lights when not needed. I recycle my trash for curbside pickup. And I even use Blackle instead of Google to save minuscule amounts of electricity.

Here's where I could do a better job: batteries, wasted food, wasted packaging (buying bulk instead of individual servings), unplugging chargers and appliances when not in use, walking or bicycling more. Really, I need to try to reduce in addition to reusing and recycling - I don't really need so many possessions...except my books, and those I tend to buy from (and resell to) a resale shop anyway.

I know - no matter what you and I do, it falls short. But if we are doing something at all in the right direction, I think we're making the world more sustainable. I am willing to keep trying new ways to save our planet, and I am glad to know so many others are doing the same. Thanks - as the author Terry Pratchett wrote, "ONLY YOU CAN SAVE THE WORLD!"

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Maintaining my point of view

Another summer is almost over. A summer full of trips, weddings, parties, food, wine. You may know that I am dieting. My goal for the summer has been to maintain the weight I worked so hard to lose.

I've done it! for the past 12 weeks or so, I have managed to maintain my weight loss, yet still enjoy the parties, food and wine. Now that life is returning to "normal," I hope to settle back into my diet routine and continue losing.

Why is it so hard to stay faithful to a diet plan? Why do I feel deprived and resentful - or even obsessed - if I don't have the cake or sangria or nachos? I wish I knew. Not that knowing would change my behavior, of course.

Last night I ate two - count 'em, two! - pieces of wedding cake. I have no idea why. So...back on the wagon. Tomorrow is a new day, and I start over every day. I just finished reading a memoir of a medical intern. A woman whose husband died, leaving her alone and sorrowful, offered the author some advice that I think is profound. Often, people will say "Live like it's your last day" or "Live like you are dying" - meant to inspire us to look at life with new eyes.

Her advice was, "Live like it's your first day." Every day is new - a fresh start. I like it.
On Sunday, August 24 I staggered off the urban trail after 60 miles. The occasion was the Cleveland Breast Cancer 3-day, a grueling 60-mile hike through lovely neighborhoods, scenic parks, quirky little communities, and stark urban miles with nary a shade tree in sight. Did I mention the heat? The mercury climbed to 90 the first two days. Unfortunately, many of our pit stops did not include shade - oops!

Anyway, the 1,200 walkers who participated raised over $3,000,000 for breast cancer research, awareness, education and support. Some of the walkers were survivors, others walked to honor someone special. I wore a Miss America-type sash bearing the names of 11 women who have been touched by this devastating disease. My wonderful donors contributed over $3,200 for this effort.

One of the names on my sash is Lois Hatch. Lois was my bridesmaid 28 years ago. She handstitched a quilt for me when my son was born 24 years ago. She fought breast cancer twice and lost the second battle in 2003. She is the reason I took on this challenge.

Now, I'm not usually an outwardly emotional person, but I shed a lot of tears this weekend - especially at the end of the trail. When I reached the entrance to the Cleveland Convention Center, I was startled to hear a roar - a stadium cheer went up as I entered the space. A gauntlet of cheering people - walkers who had arrived ahead of me - stood in two long lines, forming a path. They clapped and cheered and held out their hands to touch me as I passed by, tears streaming down my grubby sunburnt cheeks.

Two women who had befriended me on the trail - Kitty, a 1-year cancer survivor, and her sister Beth - shrieked midway down the line and the three of us hugged and jumped up and down for a moment. Then I passed through, was given a victory shirt and a pink rose, food and water. Then I turned around, found Kitty and Beth and began cheering the walkers arriving after me.

The next day, I felt stronger (but a bit stiff) and able to walk tall (that part is figurative - I actually hobbled gingerly, trying to avoid pressure on my blisters). I found myself thinking, "Next year, I'll do this differently" and then catching myself. Next year??? Am I nuts? I knew I wouldn't be walking again in 2009 because the event is planned for the day of my mother's 70th birthday celebration. Except that when she found out about the conflict, mom offered to reschedule her party, and then some friends offered to join me as a team. It looks like I may do this again.

Many thanks to everyone who made this possible. My donation website will be active until about September 24 - if you would like to contribute to the dream of a world without breast cancer, please click the 3-Day icon in the right-hand column. Thank you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Smiling even though I'm wearing (ugh) pink

First, you have to understand that I don't like to fund raise. For years, I have done only the minimum for the charities I otherwise support, either on my own or through my husband's employment. But then along comes a cause that I didn't know I wanted to support.

Second, understand that I don't like pink. Yet I have two pink blouses and a pink skirt in my closet - and that's another essay topic. I won't buy anything that professes to support the Komen Race for the Cure ONLY because these things tend to be pink. I will donate, but don't try to make me wear or display pink. Glad to have that off my chest.

That said, I find myself campaigning to raise a substantial amount of money for breast cancer education, treatment and research. My website is pink. My collateral materials are pink. And in August, when I camp amid hundreds of others in between long, hot, sweaty days of distance walking, my tent will be pink. Blechh

Why am I doing it if I dislike pink so much? Because my friend, Lois, died of breast cancer five years ago. Because my friend Joyce is fighting breast cancer now. Because another friend's mom is dying of breast cancer. Because 200,000 women (and men) will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and 40,000 will die. Because I don't want me, or any of my family members, to become a victim.

The Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk brings together thousands of men and women across the country. Each day, for three days, they walk about 20 miles - 60 miles total - raising money and awareness of the dreaded disease, making friends, and healing hearts. Veteran walkers tell me the miles pass quickly and (almost) effortlessly as they chat and hug and laugh and cry together. Boy, I hope so!

I have thrown my lot in with these sturdy women and men. On August 22, 23 and 24, I will earn my blisters and (maybe) work off a pound or two. I hope I will make new friends, and I hope my walking and talking will keep Lois' memory alive.

If you are moved to help, please click the Donate button in the 3-Day photo at the top right of this blog. And please think kindly of me in August. I can use all the help I can get!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A little off the back, please

So I've been dieting lately. If you know me at all, you might say "So what? You're always dieting." And it seems that way. My earliest recollection of trying to lose weight was when my mother enrolled me in TOPS with her - Take Off Pounds Sensibly. I must have been 11 or 12 at the time. All I remember, though was having to keep a food diary. I am the world's worst journaler, as evidenced by how infrequently I post to this blog!

Over the years, I have tried most mainstream diets. Weight Watchers - three or four times (or more). Nutrisystems. Atkins. And even when not on a formal weight loss program, I have "watched" what I ate, living on my own made-up program.

And the results? Sometimes I lost weight - a few times losing 25-45 pounds. But always, after a certain point, I gradually drift away from the eating program and back into old habits. I get bored, or tired of being vigilant, or something. And then I regain the weight, plus a few for extra measure.

So I've been dieting lately. I found a program that fits me, instead of one I have to adapt to. I eat six times a day, and almost no wheat. I get my carbohydrates from fruits and vegetable, of which I eat 7-9 servings a day. And I've lost 33 pounds to date in 4+ months.

The wheat thing. Very interesting. For the past 5 or 6 years I have noticed that immediately after my evening meal my sinuses fill up and I start sniffing and hacking. My son's former girlfriend, who was obsessed with wheat allergies and convinced she had one (her physician said otherwise) was sure I also had an allergy to wheat. I brushed it off.

When I started the current diet and stopped eating bread, (1) I didn't miss it - what a shock! (2) my nasal passages stayed clear, (3) my heartburn/acid reflux disappeared. Hmmm. When I occasionally break bread, (2) and (3) return. Things that make you go hmmm.

The good news - I've lost two+ sizes, I enjoy Greek yogurt with blueberries for breakfast, my husband thinks I'm sexy and I have enough energy to deal with my new job and any stress that heads my way.

Here's my big secret for weight loss: I start over every day. Whether or not I've been successful - whether I gave in and ate the birthday cake or queso and chips or whatever, I start over the next day. And somehow that has worked for the past 20 weeks.

I think I'll keep trying for a while. Maybe this is the time I break the curse and find a way to maintain. Watch this space for updates. If and when I hit a loss of 50 pounds, I will post a new photo. Cheers!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Keep the Change

Today I am thinking about change and how our acceptance or struggle with change affects our lives.

When it comes to change, I am of two minds. I am easily bored, so change is often welcome. But I like routine in certain areas of my life, and anything that changes my routine means I might forget things or skip steps.

I like the excitement change can bring - new concepts, new people, new things to learn, new thrills. But I like things that are comfortable and dear - my leather reading chair, my books, a cup of sweet Irish breakfast tea. I want everything to be where I think it belongs, whether it's in my kitchen or my favorite store. And when stores change their floor plans or someone puts the good flatware in with the everyday, it makes me crazy.

Much of our stress comes from change or the anticipation of change - anxiety, sadness, fearfulness, even dread. But there are good stressors, too, linked to change: excitement, anticipation, joy, exhilaration. As negatively as the "bad" stressors affect our health (mental and physical), "good" stressors have an equally positive effect, I believe.

I am thinking about change because this week I changed jobs. I have gone from a comfortable role managing internal communications for a large organization to a new and unfamiliar role as a communications consultant for a major human resources consulting firm. I have so much to learn that I have assigned myself the descriptor "sponge."

There are "bad" effects of this change: I developed many friendships through my previous job and worry that most of them will fade away over time; also, I enjoyed a comfort level working in a familiar industry with known audiences and problems.

But the "good" effects amount to more, I think: New friendships, new challenges, and new opportunities await me; a shorter commute - I didn't realize how much the commute affected me over the past 18 months; and most strikingly, the knowledge that I have been recognized for my experience, knowledge, and abilities by others.

We all know people who fight against change. Some of the ones I know like that are negative, angry, and frustrated. They often live their lives in a reactionary mode - things "happen" to them; they don't affect or control things.

It's so much healthier to recognize change as inevitable, find out how it truly affects you, and then find a way to either accept and work with the change or find alternatives, whether that means a new job, kicking a habit, or opening yourself up to new experiences and relationships.

One of the reasons my husband and I get along so well is that we both face change in a similar fashion. We may mourn, briefly, whatever is passing, but we face and scrutinize change, and frequently embrace it. We both have family members who cannot face change this way, and it's very sad.

Change, then, if you can. Change, when embraced, can mean personal growth and self-fulfillment. If the change you face does not appear to lead in that direction, ask yourself how you, yourself, can change so that you grow and are fulfilled. I hope you come to find change as rewarding as I do.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A New Year, but Old Questions

Today is January 1, 2008. I'm not much of a resolution-maker. Instead I think about things - lots of different things - and wonder about them. Why they are the way they are, why don't they work better, why don't we change things.

Like...chenille sweaters. Chenille sweaters are a failed idea. I know, chenille is soft and cuddly and warm, especially a micro-fiber chenille. On the flip side, though, they shed incessantly on everything. I can't wear one to a nice restaurant, because it leaves fur on the tablecloth and chair back. I can't wear it in the car, because it leaves fur on the seats, doors, and seat belt, ensuring I will enjoy chenille fuzz on all my other clothing.

I can't wear it to work because of the fine coat of fur it leaves on my office chair, to be transferred to my back every day for the rest of the month. Plus I will have had to wear it in the car to get to work (see previous paragraph).

Wash a chenille sweater often enough and you may succeed in defuzzing it. However, doing so strips the sweater of its capacity to warm the body, leaving holes and weakening the strands. So just throw it away.

Did I mention I love sweaters? Recently I set up a series of wire cubes for storage, then sorted all my sweaters by style (cardigan or pullover) and by color. Even after pulling out a number of sweaters for donation to charity, I counted between 50 and 60 sweaters.I know, no one needs 60 sweaters. My son says I can't possibly wear them all in a season, but he forgets that (a) we live in an area with a very long sweater season, and (b) I'm a woman who is often chilly.

A great sweater will be thick, soft and cozy, with a loose fit, arms that are roomy and long, but not so long i have to roll them back, and a v-neck or loose turtleneck. It can be wool or acrylic, but washable (not shrinkable) is best. And no chenille!

Color - hmmm. Until I sorted and filed my collection recently, I didn't realize just how many red sweaters I have. I think I'll be branching out to different colors soon. In fact, I don't even own a black sweater...yet.

Now I'm a bit chilly, having removed my only (and last) chenille sweater. I'm going to defuzz my turtleneck, then snuggle into a great non-chenille sweater for the evening. We'll spend the rest of New Year's day nibbling snacks, eating leftover pasta for dinner, and watching football. New Year's can be a great holiday, can't it? Happy 2008!