Border Collie Wisdom

Perfectly executed Ruby snow loop

This afternoon we returned from a few days in the relatively snow-less mountains to 12 inches of fresh powder at our house. Hubby was dying to get in the snowshoe trek I had so carefully avoided in Steamboat. Realizing I was beaten, I acquiesced. We geared up and headed out onto the open space behind our house, four people sporting snowshoes and one four-legged leader. (We have a border collie. She’s neurotic. She’s intense. She’s smart. Hubby would tell you that she’s a lot like me, only slightly furrier.)

As we hiked along together, I noticed that Ruby kept making loops in the pristine snow. She would run out away from us, turn, run back toward us, and complete her loop. She did this over and over and over. Large loops. Small loops. Skinny loops. Fat loops. Nearly each time she would take off she would return and cross over her starting point to close her loop. She was systematic. Someone walking along after us would have to wonder at her repetitive, circular art, her snowy crop circles.

Steve and I have spent most of our lives in the company of dogs, but nothing we experienced before now prepared us for life with a border collie. Often noted for being the smartest dog breed, they are truly special. Before we got her, I did a lot of reading. One book advised that you should not get a border collie unless you’re prepared to spend your days trying to outsmart your dog. That sounded like a challenge. I like challenges. Sure enough. Ruby is an enigma, but she’s never dull. I can both respect and relate to that.

She is closest to her true self when she is running off leash on the open space and her border collie instincts take over. Today, as she was making her rounds (literally) as we hiked out on our snowshoes, she was positively blissful. At one point, I swore that she must be trying to write something to us in the snow. I’m sure if we could have taken an aerial photograph of her loops we would have seen messages, trotted out with characteristic border collie fury and wisdom: “Forge your own path. Finish what you start. Find joy in nature. And, for dog’s sake, walk me more often, you losers!”

Okay. Maybe I’m reading more into her loops than I should, but I still feel like my dog is trying to teach me something. Maybe it’s just that there is a great yet simple joy in being present on a long walk on a winter’s day.

 

Sadistic Puzzle Makers Suck

Three missing pieces. Seriously???

I like to do puzzles. I know it seems low-tech and old-fashioned for a gal who is perpetually attached to her iPhone, but I enjoy the mental work involved in piecing together a picture. And, there is something so insanely gratifying about spending hours working on a puzzle and finally seeing it through to completion. Too many things in my life are never truly finished. I do laundry, put it away, and tomorrow morning dirty clothes have magically reappeared. There is no personal gratification. If I do a puzzle, however, I end up with actual physical proof that I accomplished something. It’s borderline miraculous.

I am truly OCD when I work on puzzles too. I will happily work along for hours in an oblivious fog. Eventually it will dawn on me that the house is unreasonably quiet. Looking up, I will notice that it’s 11 o’clock and my entire family has gone to bed without me. At that point, the obsessive compulsive bargaining begins. I’ll go to bed right after I find the next piece. It’s a little game I play with myself. Ask me how many times I find that piece and go right to bed. The answer is never. I often will end up getting three hours of sleep a night until I finish the stupid puzzle.

This week I opened a small puzzle (750 pieces), just enough to keep me busy in off times for a couple days. My family helped out, but mostly it was me spending hours staring at the cartoon drawing of One Hundred Dogs and a Cat. I was about two-thirds to puzzle completion when I got the sneaking suspicion that there might be pieces missing. I had my kids scour the floor for missing pieces. They couldn’t find any. Knowing all too well how not thorough they are in the “looking” department, I too crawled around on the hard wood floor under the dining table. Twice. Nothing.

Sure enough. When every last available piece of the puzzle was placed into the framework, there were three conspicuous holes in the art. Oh, how I hate that. It seems unfair to work so long at something only to have it not totally complete. It was a brand new puzzle too. I had opened the plastic package myself. I was diligent about carefully laying the pieces on the table and vigilant about making sure none were being swept onto the floor for the dog to mangle. Yet there they were. Three holes in an otherwise perfect puzzle. Oh…the humanity!

This same thing happened to me with two other puzzles in the past year: One Hundred Mice and a Cheese and One Hundred Elephants and a Mouse both were missing pieces as well. Not to sound paranoid and delusional (on top of obsessive compulsive), but I am now absolutely convinced that Ceaco (the puzzle company) is screwing with me. Somewhere in a factory there is some sick, sadistic puzzle maker who is purposely dropping a couple pieces from what would otherwise be a whole puzzle onto the floor at work just to mess with me. I hope he knows there is a toasty place in hell for him where he can work on incomplete puzzles for eternity. I hope you enjoy karma, jerk.

 

By George…Bailey

It really is a wonderful life.

A week ago I wrote a post entitled God’s Plans. My basis premise was that too often we become dissatisfied with where we are in our lives because it’s not where we think we should be. I know that I struggle with this quite often as a stay-at-home mom with a post graduate degree. After all the work I did in my younger years to become something, how did I let myself end up in an unpaid position folding laundry and chauffeuring kids around?

Today, as part of our Christmas movie marathon here in Steamboat, we watched It’s A Wonderful Life. When I was younger, it was my favorite Christmas film. As I’ve aged, however, it’s been replaced as favorite by other stories. As I was watching today, I pondered why it was no longer my favorite. Sure it’s a bit dated and hokey (especially when my kids make me watch the colorized version I abhor). When the bell rings on the Christmas tree and ZuZu talks about the angel getting his wings, I nearly lapse into a sugar coma. But, the overall sweetness of the film is not what has changed how I feel about it.

Truth is that the story hits a bit too close to home. I understand exactly how George Bailey feels on his critical night. Overcome with bitterness for what he feels is his great failure to do anything “important” with his life, he lashes out at his family. He forgets all he has and focuses instead on what is lacking. He believes his life is pointless and that the world would not be any worse off had he never been born.

It’s A Wonderful Life chronicles George Bailey’s midlife crisis. And, I can relate. But, if I can relate to the breakdown George suffers as he fears he is about to lose the business his father built, the thing that changed his life irretrievably from what he hoped it would be, then I should be able to relate to his epiphany too. Blinded by his self-perceived failure, George nearly fails to recognize the enormous gift he received by taking a different path. Only when presented with a vision of the world without him does he understand what he truly has.

I am George Bailey. I get shortsighted and fixate occasionally on what I’m lacking rather than what makes me rich. I bet I’m not the only one either. Instead of relegating this movie to the bottom of my Christmas favorites list, I should watch it more often as a reminder that concentrating on what I didn’t become doesn’t change the positive things that I am instead. George’s story is not a story about Christmas. It’s a story about life, a wonderful life, one I probably fail to acknowledge often enough.

Boys Will Be Boys

Boys will be boys

Here are 5 reasons why I am immeasurably glad I gave birth to boys instead of girls:

1) Their ability to pee standing up. This little convenience has saved us so many times on long car trips where there are no bathrooms for miles. I will even admit that there have been occasions when we have handed our sons empty water bottles in the car while we’ve been stuck in never-ending traffic on I-70 and let them have at it. Okay. It’s a bit gauche. But, you know what, I bet their little pee hoses have saved us unnecessary trauma at filthy rest areas all over this country.

2) Colorful and interesting word choices. Every single day I get to hear phrases including words like hot lava, explosion, death ray, imperial cruiser, and Uranus. In fact, my 8 year old just told his brother, “I’ve got my stun gun.” So precious. And way more fun than conversations about American Girl dolls. (Unless you recount the conversations when my boys combine hot lava, explosions, death rays, imperial cruisers, and Uranus in a story involving American Girl dolls.)

3) Whoopee cushions. ‘Nuff said.

4) Mud is better than glitter. Mud can be cleaned up. Glitter is sparkly herpes. Once you acquire it, you can never truly be rid of it.

5) Darth Vader is better than Barbie. Barbie has a Malibu townhouse, a pink convertible, and Ken. Darth Vader has galactic power, a Death Star, and the ability to force choke people without even touching them. Darth Vader – 1, Barbie – 0.

 

Don’t Touch My Cupcake

Someone wants to lose some fingers!

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” ~M. F. K. Fisher

I have an issue. I hate sharing food. Hate it. And, now that I truly reflect on it, “hate” might not be a strong enough word for the feeling that stirs deep inside me when someone eyes something I’m quite happily, peacefully nibbling on. I guess I’m sort of like my dog that way. If I walk into the room where she is eating, she will glare suspiciously at me out of the corner of her eye as if to say “Don’t even think about it, lady.” I have no interest in ingesting her dog food, but she’s not taking any chances. I get it. She and I are simpatico that way.

I blame this deep-seated food selfishness on my mother. I suppose because so little of what she had while we were growing up was hers and hers alone she coveted her food. My sisters and I were not allowed to touch a morsel on her plate. I distinctly remember being in restaurants with her where we would ask for a bit of her meal only to be told, “If you wanted this, you should have ordered it.” Touché. We learned quickly that what was on our plates was solely ours and that no one had a right to it unless we offered it first. Actually, I’ve simply considered it good etiquette not to ask for a bite of another person’s meal. If they want to share, they will offer. And I never want to share so I never offer. End of story.

I only bring this up now because 16 years ago I married into a family of food sharers, and I have struggled with this little complication ever since. The other night we were out to dinner with my in-laws, and the food sharing conversation began. Phrases like, “Oh….that looks good!” and “Wow. How is that?” dotted our table. As soon as the comments began flying, I bristled. In their defense, my extended family loves to eat and they are generous food sharers. They are foodies with extensive palates and insatiable curiosity about foods and flavors. And, while I understand their desire to trade food with others to sample new things, like my dog at her stainless steel dish I cower defensively over my plate when the food talk starts. If you wanted this, you should have ordered it.

The other day hubby and I were home together but making separate lunches. I had acquiesced to release the leftovers I truly wanted so that he might have them. In exchange, I had grilled what I considered to be a second-rate alternative, a ham and swiss cheese sandwich. He gave it an admiring once over. I snapped at him.

“You had your lunch. Back off.”

He wisely determined it was my low-blood sugar condition talking (the one that makes me meaner than a bear after hibernation when I’m hungry), and skulked away.

It’s not that I’m anti-sharing. I will happily share most of my things without a second thought. But if you want to keep all ten of your digits in tact, you’d best keep them away from my food. I haven’t bitten anyone for stealing food off my plate yet but, like my docile and seemingly sweet border collie, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Not a Fantasy

"Win some/Lose some" is a lot less enjoyable of a sentiment when it comes to the playoffs.

Sometimes things are harder than they should be. I had all these grand plans to be good about writing every day. And, now here it is, 10 p.m. and my blog lies neglected. In my defense, it was a busy day. Spent my morning cleaning the house to host hubby’s birthday dinner. Later there was grocery shopping, shoe shopping for the boys, preparing food for dinner, wrapping gifts, picking up cupcakes, and then entertaining Steve’s family for dinner. And, don’t even get me started on clean up afterward.

But, sometimes no matter what you put in place things just don’t work out the way you plan. Today, for example, Aaron Rodgers (my #1 draft pick and star player) was supposed to lead the undefeated Green Bay Packers to yet another victory, this time over the sub par Kansas City Chiefs. Aaron Rodgers was supposed to score mercilessly multiple times on Kansas City so I could eke out one last game for my fantasy football team this season. Apparently, Aaron Rodgers didn’t get my memo. The Colorado Cougars went down in a football of flames.

Like most people, I have a tendency to get frustrated when things don’t go the way I had hoped they would. I handle sadness, anger, and rejection better than I handle disappointment and frustration. I’m starting to realize, though, that there are only two ways to handle unexpected roadblocks: 1) find a new way to your destination or 2) sit down, catch your breath, and enjoy the scenery from your current location. So, tonight I’m whipping my way through 350 words just to keep my promise to myself to publish something every day for a month. And, tomorrow, I begin my forced early retirement from fantasy football with a promise to myself to enjoy the rest of the ride to Super Bowl Sunday with my players even if it’s not for the win. It’s all good.

I’m going to work harder on focusing not on my setbacks and struggles but on finding the most appropriate way to deal with them. Maybe with a bit of patience I will be able to avoid becoming one of those people who complains about the things that happen “to” them instead of making other things happen “for” them? Maybe I can even get to the point where the end of my fantasy football season doesn’t even faze me? Oh, fine. I’ll start with a smaller goal. 😉

Christmas Break Is An Oxymoron

What happens to my kids when they are out of school for way too long.

Today is the first official day of Christmas break for my kids, which means that for the next 11 days (not including weekend ones), my children will be in my house. Yes. IN it. I will not get my usual 6.5 hours of requisite peace and quiet daily, the same peace and quiet that keeps me from understanding why some species eat their young. I can look forward to knocks on the bathroom door, toys scattered everywhere, and the sound of my own scream as I yell, “Who didn’t flush?” They’ve only been out of school for 23 hours and already the house looks like a herd of wild bison have trampled through. At times like these, I can’t help but contemplate this thought: “Whatever happened to the good old days when kids worked in factories?”

Oh…and did I mention that my husband is off for the next week too?

I hope Santa brings me vodka for Christmas. Just kidding. Sort of.

 

My Tebow Two-Cents

Is forced Tebowing for a blog photo considered an act of child abuse?

Tim Tebow. In Denver (and probably in other places in the west where the Broncos are the “local” team to root for), Tim Tebow is a big deal. I can’t go a day without hearing his name, seeing his face, or reading an article about him. When the Broncos acquired Tebow, a raised eyebrow was the only interest I could muster. Before last season when he allowed his teammates to shave his head monk-style, he got a bit of my respect for being willing to make light of himself and for being an unbelievably good sport. Then he was only allowed to QB three games last season, and he fell back to the recesses of my brain. This year, however, is a different story. He is everywhere, and I am loathe to admit that he’s gotten my attention. I’m sure I’d be sick to death of him and all the hype surrounding him if he wasn’t just so dang interesting.

The man is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He completes an average of 37.5% of third quarter passes, but somehow pulls together in the fourth quarter to average 61.3%. His plays aren’t pretty to watch, but his competitive spirit gets the job done. His teammates truly believe in him. He stands on the sidelines singing Christian hymns, congratulates the opposing team when they make good plays, and shrugs off even the toughest physical blows with minimal complaints. His post game interviews are textbook. He’s sloppy and yet capable of being smooth. I don’t get it.

I’ve gone back and forth on my opinion of him as a player. Like most of ESPN’s Sport Center guys at the beginning of this season, I wasn’t sure that Tebow’s QB style would be effective in the NFL. Now I’m not sure that his last-minute, come-from-behind victories this season are indicative of the fact that he will prove the naysayers wrong and become a great NFL quarterback. However, like many of ESPN’s Sport Center guys today, I’m no longer willing to say that he won’t either. I simply don’t know what to think of his potential, and I’m not crazy enough to take any guesses or place any bets on his ultimate success.

 
The one thing I am willing to say about Tim Tebow, though, is that he sure seems like a good person. If you have doubts, watch this. Even if you don’t believe his outward expression of his Christian faith has any place in the National Football League, you have to admit that he is a refreshing change from quarterbacks (not mentioning names but have some in mind) who will drop the F-bomb on the field when things don’t go their way. What Tebow has is a positive attitude and a deep faith that gets him through whatever he faces. I have to admire that. He’s an underdog, and I’ve always rooted for the underdog.

I have no idea how the Broncos will end this season. I have no clue if Tim Tebow will go down in the annals of NFL history as a top-notch quarterback. And, there is no way you will ever catch me Tebowing. Ever. But, for the spirit he’s brought to the Broncos this year, for the way he’s energized the fans, and for his constant examples of kindness, optimism, and good sportsmanship, he’s got my respect. I wouldn’t mind one bit if my boys looked up to him. And, that’s the best endorsement I can give him.

Identify the Essential

What peace looks like to me

In trying to figure out what I could write about in a few spare moments on this insanely busy day, I decided to search for some zen thoughts. I consulted my closest friend…Google. Today, Google generously presented me with this article about 15 Can’t-Miss Ways to Declutter Your Mind. My mind is always whirring, which is why  I am trying to focus on living now and zen.

The article is especially relevant at this time of year. I scrolled through its suggestions and my mind got stuck on this idea today: “Identify the Essential.” I have a nasty habit of biting off more than I should chew. It’s never more than I can chew. It’s just more than I should force myself to chew. I am a highly energetic doer, so I nearly always manage to find a way to accomplish anything I set myself in motion to do, even when that means sacrificing sleep, time with my family, and peace of mind. I too often take on the unessential in an attempt to make things “more special”. It’s ridiculous, really.

 
Let me give you an example. Right after Thanksgiving, I started thinking about ways to make the holidays more memorable for the boys. So, I added things to our to-do list to add in these memories. I bought gingerbread house kits, tickets to see lights displays, and crafts for us to do as a family. I scheduled trips for skiing, ice skating, and play dates. And, I added all these things to our already packed holiday calendar. All this has accomplished is making me more frazzled than I already was. I’m shoving my kids into the car, dragging them off places in a tizzy, and I think all they’re really getting out of my attempt to create positive holiday memories for them is a lasting impression that their mom becomes even more psychotic each and every holiday season.

So, next week, we’re packing our bags and heading to our home away from home to relax. We might go skiing or snowshoeing. We might go skating, sledding, or to the hot springs. We might cuddle on the couch with the snow falling outside and watch Christmas movies. Or we might just stay in our pajamas, playing board games and doing puzzles. Maybe we’ll just nap and rest up for Christmas? All I know is that after an entire month of self-inflicted chaos, we’re going to take four full days to focus on the essential…time together. Because deep down inside I know that what is essential to my boys is time with us. Sure. They love their Christmas gifts. When the trees are taken down and the gifts are long forgotten, however, what they will take away from the holidays will either be memories of stress and discord or memories of fun and togetherness. I think they’d prefer the latter.

God’s Plans

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

My life has not turned out at all like I had originally planned. When I was an innocent 18 year old in 1986 heading off to the University of Colorado, I planned to get my PhD, become a writing or literature professor, travel the world, read great books, and see amazing things. I had no plans to get married or have children because I felt my personality was not suited for either of those things.

Fast forward to 1999. I’m married because I met a fantastic guy who made me feel 100% comfortable and loved and who was a blast to be around. He was also willing to put up with me for the rest of my life, so there you go. I’m finishing my Master’s degree and working on my incredibly specialized thesis on sophistic rhetoric and its applicability to modern technical communication (yawn). I realize there is no way I actually want to pursue my PhD because I can’t see myself in a working environment with the professors who would be my colleagues. I mean, who wants to spend their days listening to some overinflated coworker carrying on about how he is the foremost authority on diary literature of women in the 19th century (double yawn)? Add to that the prospect of a dissertation and suddenly the professor gig is not worth the effort.

Jump forward twelve years. It’s 2011. I have my Master’s degree, am still happily married, and now am the career-less stay-at-home mother of two sons. Huh. I earn no paycheck, clean toilets (and if you’ve ever cleaned the toilet in a boy’s bathroom, well…all I can say is Ewwwwww!) and do laundry, and manage our small household. Not at all what I had planned.

There are days when I truly struggle with where my life is now compared with where I dreamed at 18 it would be. I never expected to be here, and yet all the choices I made brought me here. This means I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Even though I understand this on an intellectual level, my ego still has difficulty accepting that the life I created is not outwardly successful as I imagined it would be. I struggle not because my life is not great, but because I can’t seem to relinquish what I thought was supposed to do.

Once I saw a bumper sticker that has become a regular mantra in my life when I am struggling: “There are God’s plans and there are your plans. Your plans don’t count.”

I need to remember that not all divergent paths are negative ones. The detours I’ve taken may have led me off the map I had set for myself, but they’ve still gotten me somewhere. It might be a more circuitous path, but life is about the journey and not the destination, right? So, maybe the secret to success isn’t in the achieving all your intended goals. Maybe it’s in appreciating the experiences you’ve had, especially the ones that were never part of your plans. Most of my greatest joys have come through things I never thought were supposed to happen. Maybe I’m not off track. Maybe I’m actually onto something.