What I Learned in My First Week as a Parent

kids

A little over a week ago we accepted our first foster placement. A 2-year-old and 3-year-old sibling group would be coming to stay with us. We were nervous and excited to finally get the chance to welcome children into our home. We’d been preparing for this moment for over a year and after many phone calls and placements that fell through, these kids were coming for sure.

I opened the door and was greeted by two adorable little children. With wide eyes, they surveyed the house without making so much as a peep. We introduced ourselves and showed them their room. The 3-year-old went straight for the books. The 2-year-old was a bit more cautious, wanting to explore a bit first. And just like that, we were the parents of two toddlers.

These past few days have felt like a lifetime and we’ve learned a lot. Parenthood is no joke and we’re pretty sure someone, somewhere is laughing at us for thinking it would be easy.

It’s not easy

I am not sure we truly knew what we were getting ourselves into when we said we could take two kids at a time. Going from no children to two toddlers has been a major adjustment. In fact, the kids seem to have adapted far better than we have. Endless free time was all of the sudden filled with castle building, playdough playing, coloring, reading and just about any other thing we could think of to keep two little ones entertained. And that was just in the first two hours. I thought back to when I smugly thought, “I won’t let my kids watch TV for hours on end or play with a tablet. I can’t believe how much those parents let their kids play on their phones.”  I would have instantly placed an order for two iPads if it meant I could sit down for two consecutive minutes. I get it parents and I’m sorry.

Showers aren’t necessary

I have considered it a victory if I could just brush my teeth and maybe put on clean clothes. If I have 10 minutes where I don’t have to supervise a child, the last way I want to spend it is in the shower. This is going to be a great way to conserve water.

What’s patience?

After a successful trip to the grocery store with two toddlers, I went to put the cart away and passed a mom getting her daughter, who looked about 5, out of the car. The little girl was messing around, of course. The mom snapped, “Hurry up, we still have to get your sister out. I don’t want to be here all day.” Pre-kid me would have thought, relax lady, be nice. Post-kid me smiled and wanted to offer to buy her coffee. I get it parents and I’m sorry.

There’s a new level of tired that I never knew existed

As a low energy person in general, I thought I knew tired. It turns out, I wasn’t even close to understanding. When I got out of the car without turning it off and wondered why it was beeping at me, I realized that sleep or the lack of it, really does mess with your mind.

No one messes with nap time

I’ve had several friends who had to cancel or adjust plans because it would have impacted nap time. I thought, “Can’t you just shift it a bit, just once?” No, you can’t. And no way in hell do you want to. Nap time is sacred and not to be messed with. I get it parents and I’m sorry.

I get why people bring new parents food

Becoming a foster parent is much like bringing a baby home from the hospital for the first time, yet most people don’t really treat it that way. Meal trains are often set up for new moms to help make meal time easy and to be sure they are getting enough to eat in between caring for the baby and being completely exhausted. We quickly learned that preparing a meal for ourselves and then having the chance to eat it was basically an Olympic event that we certainly weren’t getting any medals for. We lost 5 pounds in the first week. Our once hearty diets now consisted of Goldfish crackers and toast. We’re not mad about the weight loss.

It’s like a booze-free hangover

A friend who had just had twins had once told us that he felt like he had a perpetual hangover. We laughed at the time but now I realize that the description is entirely accurate. I’m tired, have a slight headache and I’m a little queasy. All I want to do is eat fatty food and lay in bed.

Even if they are asleep, you probably won’t be. Because anxiety.

Having two little humans sleeping in my house has brought an entirely new level of anxiety into my life. It’s getting better but I am pretty sure I woke up every time the heater came on, every time Kyle turned over, and every time there was even the slightest chance I heard a noise for the first few nights. Not to mention all those times I just got up to make sure they were still breathing.

I’ve never done so much laundry in my life

We have limited supplies so that definitely requires more laundry than normal but still. If clothes aren’t covered in food, sheets are covered in poop, or maybe we just don’t really want to wear this outfit anymore because it’s not pink.

They don’t need a whole lot of stuff

As foster parents it is impossible to prepare for every scenario that might come your way. We have very little in the form of toys or supplies unlike most parents of two toddlers. But it turns out, kids don’t really notice. A few books, a ball or two, and a few other toys have proved to be more than enough. Even with what little we have, they still don’t even play with all of it. They have their favorite items and the rest gets ignored. I hope I remember this when we have children.

Netflix and Amazon Prime are worth every penny

There are a few things I have considered to be gifts from God; Netflix, Amazon Prime and well, daycare. Although these kiddos don’t love watching TV, having the option of endless TV shows is still a must. And the ability to buy 500 wipes for 10 bucks and get them the next day without having to put anyone in a car seat is worth every dollar I ever paid for Amazon Prime.

Kids are amazing

Despite the major challenge and exhaustion of it all, these two little people amaze me daily. I’ve always loved kids but to watch two kids come into our home, who don’t know us and don’t really know why they are here, adapt, bond, and be incredibly sweet and loving is a humbling process to witness. I have already learned so much from them and I’ll always be grateful to them for what they’ve taught me in such a short time.

We don’t know how long they’ll stay but I can say that they’ve given us a new appreciation and respect for parents. The judgment trap is an easy one to fall into and I’m glad these two little people have officially slapped the judgment right out of us in the form of sleepless nights, a trashed house, and more poop than I ever thought possible. I get you parents and I’m sorry.

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Saying no is the hardest part

Learning to say 'no'

We decided to pursue becoming licensed foster parents around 2 years ago. We weren’t entirely sure what we were getting into, and still don’t, but we knew one of our biggest challenges was going to be learning and accepting our limitations so that we could say no when a situation wasn’t right for us. We’re yes people. ‘Yes’ is our comfort zone. ‘Yes’ is easier in the moment and we deal with the consequences later.  In our past experiences, we know that we’ve had a tendency to say yes when we really mean no. When it comes to giving up free time or taking in a homeless dog, the consequences were minimal even if it might have caused some frustration. However, with a child, the side effects of saying yes when you really want to say no could be enormous, devastating and cause more harm to that child than they’ve already endured. Not to mention cause undue stress in our home. Both of which are exactly the opposite outcomes we wanted out of this process.

In order to become a foster parent, you have to take a 30-hour class designed to prepare you for the experience and all of the potential scenarios that might come your way. Of course, there is no way you can be adequately prepared in 30 hours. In addition, you take the class long before you have a child in your home. In fact, we finished our class months ago. Talking about anger, sadness, loss, neglect, abuse, and all of the other elements involved in fostering a child, in an abstract sense, is easy. Applying it to an actual child, in your actual life is an entirely different story. The common theme though and what stands out from those 30 class hours, is the ability to identify needs and your ability to meet them. This includes both your needs as a family and the needs of the child. So, we’ve talked ad nauseam about what we could handle, what we couldn’t, what our strengths are and what our needs might be. This process was meant to help make the decision making process easier. And yet, saying no doesn’t get any easier.

A placement typically starts with a very generic phone call. You might learn the child’s age, sex, and maybe some very general information about their background. It’s easy to detach at this point. It’s easier to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on very simple details. No, that age won’t work. No, we can’t take that many kids right now. In addition, you aren’t actually committed at this stage. You are basically agreeing to learn more and you may never hear about the kids again, at all at this point. However, when you say yes, the next step is a call from the child’s caseworker. This is when you typically learn more information, when you start to get invested. You start to imagine this child or children, you learn about their story, and you start to visualize having them in your home. You start setting yourself up to open your home and your heart to them as a parent. This onslaught of emotions all takes place in the length of a 10-minute phone call. That’s because at this point, if you say yes, it’s the real deal. Arrangements will be made to have the child brought to your home.  It’s also at this point that the ability to say no becomes an all-consuming, crushing experience. The children don’t know you and you don’t know them, but you know that in this child’s world, filled with so many ‘noes’ already, all you want to do is be their yes. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

I said no today. We tried so hard to say yes. We tried to rationalize the situation, to talk ourselves into it. We wanted to say yes. We’re yes people. But in the end, we knew that this was a ‘no’ we couldn’t say ‘yes’ to. We didn’t go into this to be super heroes or to have unrealistic expectations of our own abilities to play a role in a child’s life that is very broken. We didn’t go into this with an arrogant attitude, thinking we could be those people that could simply erase years of hurt, damage and abuse. This isn’t a community service project, it’s a child’s life.  We so badly want to be a positive force in these children’s lives, to help them, but it is so much more than that. We went into this knowing that we could make a major impact in a child’s life but only within the confines of what we could reasonably handle. For that reason, we knew that saying no was the best thing we could do for these kids. So with a twinge of guilt, some sweaty palms and a heavy heart, I said no today. Then, I took a deep breath and knew it was the right decision, even if it wasn’t an easy one.

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On the eve of my 31st year

This is 30

Last year on this day, I was a 29-year-old who wasn’t entirely thrilled about leaving the twenties behind to enter a new decade as a 30-year-old. However, I was excited for what this decade would bring and the changes that would come with it. Today, as I sit here eating an amazing flourless chocolate cake a friend made for me, I can’t help but reflect on the last year, the inaugural year of my thirties. While I always felt that my twenties were marked by youth and growing up, my first year of my thirties definitely proved to be the first year I really felt like a grown-up. While I can’t believe I am about to embark on another birthday, this year also felt long and was filled with many big moments and accomplishments. I didn’t feel quite ready to be 30 but I think this year proved that I could handle it.

We did adult things like hire an accountant, buy new cars, and install new light fixtures in our home.  We had the sad task of caring for a foster dog in her last few days and ultimately decided to put her to sleep. We found another dog a really great home. I made a giant birthday cake. We traveled to Connecticut with Camp Soaring Eagle, along with 30 children. Kyle celebrated his 30th birthday in July. We took our first legitimate vacation, since our honeymoon, to France. We tried to give up coffee, and quickly reconsidered. We hosted Thanksgiving and vowed to never make that mistake again. We attempted, unsuccessfully, to take a family Christmas photo. We did some not-s0-adult things too, like make reindeer with our feet, you know, for Christmas.

2014

We tackled a major goal this year, starting in April with weekly classes. Classes were followed by paperwork, interviews, home inspections, and various other details, all so that in November, the day before Thanksgiving, we were officially licensed foster parents. For children. We started getting calls immediately. I have fielded several calls, for nearly 20 children ranging in age from newborn to 8-years-old, in just about a month’s time. A lot of preparation, a lot of discussion, a lot of waiting, and a lot of anxiety has come with each and every call. We’ve said yes to almost all of them and have been placed with one. A little girl, who didn’t stay very long. We’ve learned a lot though, even without getting a long term placement, about the need, the struggle for the children, the foster system in general and perhaps most importantly, about ourselves. More on that in another post.

While this year doesn’t look much different than it did at this time last year, I know it is infinitely different. I’ve officially grown up, despite my best efforts not to. I’ve moved forward in big ways and I can’t wait to see what 31 brings.

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Foster dogs: Meet Penny

Little Penny

It’s been months since we have fostered a dog, the longest stretch, in fact, since we started fostering a few years ago. Some circumstances had changed, life was busier and we just never came across a dog that we thought would be a good fit despite the overwhelming need for temporary homes. It’s crucial when you foster dogs to have boundaries, to know what you can handle, what you can’t and what will work best in your household. There is no point in taking a dog in knowing it won’t work out, only to have to move it again. The goal of fostering is to provide stability, to provide a home environment where a dog can thrive and you can really determine their true temperament. It can take anywhere from a few hours, to a few days to even a few weeks for a dog’s true personality to shine through depending on their history. Moving a dog from home to home doesn’t help anyone, especially the dog, so we’ve determined what works for us and what doesn’t and we do our best to stick to that. My weakness and preference are senior dogs. They are often harder to adopt out despite the fact that they are almost always potty trained, mellow, and still have plenty of love (and life left) to give. They fit in well in our house since our dogs are also mellow, older and lack patience for puppies or high-energy dogs. They can be left home alone without incident and they sleep through the night. All major wins in my book.

Emails started circulating about Penny, a senior dachshund who was in desperate need of a quiet place to go. I did my best to ignore them, hoping someone else would step up. Until, of course, no one did and I knew it was time. Penny isn’t just a senior, she’s a special needs senior. She hardly moves, she needs help eating and she sleeps 99% of the time. It was difficult to tell, though, whether this was her normal state or if this was what happened due to the recent trauma in her life. Despite what people think, dogs can shut down, they can give up, and they can grieve.  Penny was adopted as a “senior” (probably 7 or 8) at the humane society by an older woman. She was a lap dog and the center of this lady’s life.  Circumstances changed when the lady began to age herself and began to suffer from dementia. Not only could she not care for Penny any longer, she didn’t even know who or what she was. She came in to rescue scared, confused and completely devastated. Her estimated age is anywhere from 12-15. She looks every bit of her age and is by far the most frail dog we have had. When I agreed to foster I didn’t know what I was getting. I knew she was a senior but I didn’t know the extent of her situation.

She is deaf and mostly blind. I think she can see shadows or some other movement but that’s about it. She can barely sit up without falling over. I feed her by hand and offer her water out of a spoon. She shakes almost constantly when she is awake. Bladder control is hit or miss. If I feed her too much at one time, she throws up.

She’s not a dog that will ever get adopted. She will never be someone’s pet again. She has no more love left to give but she is in desperate need of love and compassion. She needs a quiet place to spend her days, someone to feed her and someone to keep her wrapped up in her favorite blanket. I can do that, if only because I hope someone would be willing to do the same for me.

On the up side, her sense of smell is very much intact and at the first hint of food she perks up. For ease of eating, I’ve opted to give her baby food. She can’t get enough. She drinks heartily and she gets agitated when I sing to her so I know she still has some smarts left. I think about my own dogs who at almost 8 and 9 are closer to the end of their lives than they are to the beginning. I think about what would happen if something happened to me and I could no longer care for them. I think about how I would want someone to cater to their needs, to feed them baby food from a spoon and to do multiple loads of laundry if they just so happened to wet the bed. Because I believe in karma, I am putting every ounce of that into this dog. Because I know it could happen, my dogs could need someone someday and I need to believe that someone would honor their sweet little lives, without knowing a thing about them, simply because that is just the right thing to do.

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Giant cakes, birthdays and why Pinterest is rude

Cake FailA friend of ours recently died after a battle with kidney cancer. He was too young, he had too much left to do, many more birthdays he should have celebrated and many more memories to make. I like to make a big deal about birthdays anyway but watching another family grieve over their father and husband, makes it seem like we should make even bigger deals about birthdays. We should never complain about getting older, he would have given anything to get older — wrinkles and all. We should celebrate every birthday like it was our last because you just never know.

So for my mother-in-law’s birthday I decided to make her a cake. Not just any cake though, a cake that says every birthday should be the biggest celebration ever because no matter how long we live, birthdays are limited. I am going to make a cake, I thought,  that puts all previous birthday cakes to shame. This cake is going to make other cakes jealous.

6 layers. 3 flavors. Two kinds of icing.

One huge disaster.

Pinterest gives off illusions of grandeur. It makes you think you can do anything. It makes you think that making giant cakes are easy. It makes you think that in just under an hour you can have a professional cake sitting on your counter. It makes you think that your layers won’t stick to the bottom of your pan and you won’t have to chisel those suckers out with a metal spatula. It makes you think you can evenly spread icing over 6 layers of cake without getting a single crumb in the frosting.

My frosting has so many crumbs in it, it looks like I put cinnamon in it or that I have some jacked up version of not-fun-at-all-fetti going on. At least one full layer is still charred to the bottom of the 6 cake pans I used. Pinterest is laughing at me right now.

My cake IS giant though. So giant in fact that I went ahead and left one layer off of it. It didn’t seem necessary when it was already 2 feet tall. I had to remove a shelf from the refrigerator in order to get it in there. It’s also burnt. The edges are crunchy. I hoped to make up for that with excessive frosting. It leans to one side because it isn’t entirely even, probably because half of the cake is still in the pans. There is frosting all.over.the.kitchen. My dogs currently have a sugar high because they were eating all the frosting I was dropping before I had time to wipe it up. I just went ahead and threw the frosting bag away because I couldn’t even imagine having to clean it.

I can’t wait to cut it open though. I wanted one of those amazing ombre cakes (my spell check wants to change that to hombre and I am thinking an hombre cake would have been a better way to go) that Pinterest keeps throwing in our faces. I am hoping that is the silver lining. That everyone forgets what it looks like on the outside because they are in awe over the multi-colored layers within. Time will tell. Pinterest is still laughing.

I bought her a bottle of wine too. But after that experience, after six layers of failure, the only solution was wine. I am drinking her birthday wine with frosting in my hair. That cake though, I’ll never forget it. It will be the most memorable birthday cake ever, for me at least. Until next year, when I hope to top it.

Life is short, eat ugly, burnt, giant cake.

No other cakes are jealous, in case you were wondering.

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What I wish someone would have told me about owning a business

Business tips

Owning your own business is many things. It’s frustrating, exciting, difficult, humbling, exasperating, overwhelming, and amazing. It is all of these things all at the same time. We’ve only been business owners for about 4 years but we have learned so much in just that short time. There are a few things I wished someone would have told us but like many things, experience is the best way to learn. In hopes of helping out other aspiring business owners, here are a few of my tips for surviving in the world of small business.

Don’t undervalue yourself (or over value yourself)

There is a common thought that if you are new, you should charge less to attract customers. You also may charge less because you don’t think you can charge more than someone who has been in business and has a lot more experience. Depending on your business, that is accurate to some degree but in other cases, not so much. In the service industry your price reflects quality and customers are most often willing to pay more for what they think will be a better service. If you are selling goods this doesn’t necessarily apply but people aren’t as interested in getting a deal when it comes to a service, they are interested in getting a high-quality service and they’ll pay for that. There will always be someone who charges more than you and always someone who charges less which means your price should reflect only one thing – your value. Experience, education, equipment and things like that all come in to play but so do the elements that make you, you. Your interactions with customers, your availability, your unique approach to whatever the service is etc. Research fair pricing, you want to be fair and in the ballpark of what is expected. But you also need to take into account what you actually do. Everything you do related to your business needs to be accounted for or else you are essentially working for free. Working for free leads to burn out and frustration really quickly. Don’t under estimate the value you bring to your customer.

Of course you don’t want to overcharge either. You can’t buy a nice camera and start charging professional prices even if you do take great photos. But you shouldn’t sell yourself short either. It’s a balance and the trick is finding it.

Get an accountant

Math. It hurts my brain just thinking about it. An accountant will be one of your most valuable assets. Not only do they take a huge burden off of you but they also are in the know on various ways you can save money or do things differently so that you can make more money/pay less taxes. Even if you think you can’t afford it, get one. Best money I ever spent.

Learn to say “No”

I’m not good at saying no in general. But in business it is essential. You can’t advertise in every publication or donate to every good cause. You can’t work 24 hours a day or be open 7 days a week. I suppose you could but eventually you’d find yourself in a bind. Set limits and stick to them.

A business is an education

You most definitely will learn as you go. Be prepared to make mistakes and be prepared to embrace them, learn from them and move on. Talk to other business owners, learn as much as you can from other people on what worked for them and what didn’t. It may not all apply to your business but the more you can learn the better. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This isn’t easy. Any business owner will tell you that they are still learning things even after decades of being in business. Things change and evolve, business is a constant process of learning and growing. Make that your expectation and you won’t be as disappointed when things don’t go as planned.

Keep your overhead low

It’s tempting to have a fancy office, nice equipment, the best technology, etc. but it may not be worth it. If something doesn’t actually make you money, you don’t need it. Start small and work your way up. In most small businesses, if you aren’t working, you aren’t making money. So there is no point in having an office full of nice things sitting there, costing you money that could be going straight into your pocket. People aren’t hiring you because you have a fancy business card or the best printer ever, keep reminding yourself of that. With that being said some overhead is essential to making your business work and to maintaining your sanity. Don’t bury yourself in work because you are afraid to hire help for a few hours a week. When it comes to supplies, a basic computer will do the job as well as a fancy one. Association fees, memberships and various other things add up. Remember that anything you are paying for isn’t going into your paycheck.

Don’t compare yourself to other business owners

A few points up I suggested talking to others, learning as much as you could from how other people do things. I stand by that, but the tricky part is learning not to compare what they are doing and typically their success with yours. Someone in the same business as you may seem to be way more profitable or much busier but the truth is you rarely know the whole story. People come to you because of you and trying to be someone else isn’t going to get you their success, it is going to hinder yours. People find success in different ways and at different rates. Should you learn from others and tweak your process or improve if necessary? Sure. Just don’t get caught in a trap of thinking that what you are doing must be wrong just because someone is seemingly more successful than you are.

No one tells you what to do

Self motivation is tricky. The lack of it is the reason I generally only make it to the gym 3 days a week instead of the 5 I commit to every Sunday. Or the fact that I only stay 30 minutes when I continually tell myself my goal is an hour. This is the biggest blessing and curse of business ownership. People that work for others think it is glorious that you don’t have to answer to anyone, that you don’t necessarily need to meet deadlines and that you can just come and go as you please. “Just take the day off” they think… it’s not that simple. A successful business runs only if you run it properly which means you have to keep yourself in check. You have to make the phone calls, place the ads, pay the bills, work overtime, even when you don’t want to and even when you know no one is going to fire you or get mad at you if you don’t. You need to be organized. You need to be able to get things done without being told. Without that, you only hurt yourself.

Not everyone will like you

This is a hard one. It is in our human nature to want to be accepted, to be liked. In the world of business, this is a huge check in humility. Not everyone is going to like your service, your product, what you offer and that is okay. You don’t like everyone either so what do you expect? Do the best you can and don’t worry about the rest. Don’t invest time in trying to convince people that you are better than they think you are, invest your time in keeping the people happy that already know you are great. There are going to be some people who absolutely love you, that refer anyone and everyone to you and think you are a gift from God. Put your energy into those people and don’t let the people who don’t suck any of that away. We don’t live in a game of Monopoly. There are several options for a reason. Don’t take anything personally, just stay the course.

Find an outlet

It’s going to be stressful. There are no paid holidays, no paid vacations, no paid sick days. There won’t be two weeks every year sitting in a bank just waiting to be used up for some vacation, exotic or otherwise. In the beginning especially, it is going to be non-stop. Make time for you and spend your free time doing something you love with no business talk in the mix. If you work with your spouse this is even more crucial. It is so easy to want to talk business constantly. Turn it off and do something else, if only for a few hours each day.

Remember why you started in the first place

Most people who start their own businesses do it because they love what they do. They want to work for themselves. It’s so easy when you love your job and when any ounce of effort you put in benefits you and only you (not some corporation), to want to spend every waking moment working. In some cases you have to spend every waking moment working just to keep the doors open, but like any job you are working to support your life so don’t forget to live it. It’s easy to feel an obligation to your customers and to some degree you should, but make time for you, time for your family. Don’t feel guilty about taking time off, people will survive without you. You’ll be more valuable to your clients when you are rested than when you are over-worked and in need of some time off. The clients you truly want will understand that. Those that don’t can go somewhere else.

Help others when you can

Having your own business is a huge blessing (even if it sometimes feels like a curse) that not everyone has the opportunity or the ability to do. Pay it forward by helping other business owners who are starting up, volunteer your time and donate to worthy causes. One of the best things about being a business owner is having the ability to decide how you want to run your company and how you want to manage your funds. Dedicate a portion of your earnings to charity, sponsor little league teams, give that high school student an after school job. When the stress of being a business owner starts to wear on you, you’ll be able to look at what good you’ve been able to do and that will remind you that it is all worth it.

Have you started a business? What are your best tips?

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Make like an Olympian and save a dog

One of the big stories to come out of the Olympics, that has nothing to do with competition or medals, has been the many stray dogs surrounding the Olympic complex in Sochi. Russia ordered the extermination of the dogs likely because they were a nuisance and much like trash to be discarded, they were just trying to clean up and present a nice appearance. There’s a good chance most people would have been happier to see stray dogs roaming around than to hear of their imminent fate and outrage ensued. Luckily several people stepped up to the plate including locals and various Olympians. People came together to rescue many of the dogs and several will catch a flight home to the US to live the life of luxury with some of the world’s best athletes.

While I find these stories to be very heartwarming and I am glad someone stepped up for these dogs, this isn’t a problem isolated to Russia. There are dogs here that are killed every day, dogs who could use this kind of press and dogs who are just as in need of a hero. We might not be killing them because we are hosting the Olympics, but we are killing them and that should cause just as much outrage.

According to the Humane Society, about 2.7 million dogs are put to sleep each year in this country. These aren’t aggressive, sickly or dying dogs, these are healthy, adoptable dogs. They are puppies, someone’s once loved pet, dogs that still have a lot of life and a lot of love to give. Count to 11. Every 11 seconds a dog is unnecessarily killed because shelters are full, because no one wants them. Don’t sit by as we order the extermination of dogs in our shelters simply because they haven’t made world news.

Get to your local shelter and be an advocate for the dogs dying in our cities. Spay and neuter your pets, support your local rescues, and when you want a dog, don’t just buy a pet, save a life. For every dog that will be shipped to the US from Russia, there are at least 100 just like it in a shelter in your state. Be the hero for our dogs.

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A year ago today

Grandma Margie circa late 80's?

A year ago today, I spent some of the last semi-normal moments with my Grandma. After hearing that she wasn’t doing well and the end was coming, I packed my things and drove to Phoenix. She was still walking around, still eating, still able to have a somewhat normal conversation. She was by no means herself but it was better than the days that followed.

We watched the State of the Union address. She mostly talked about how ugly Boehner is and how smug he looked. She wasn’t really listening but her commentary was far more interesting to me than the speech itself. I was drinking wine, she was drinking lemonade. When I told her I’d be spending the night, she immediately told my Grandfather to go open the vent in the guest room. He jumped up, I told him he could wait until a commercial. He was the only one actually paying attention to the speech.

She needed help doing basic things. When I first arrived she was reluctant to let me help her or even see her struggle. Even during those last days she wanted to protect me from seeing how much she had declined. A few days later she had given in and was actually requesting my help over my Grandfathers. She must have realized that despite her best efforts, I was well aware of her new state. Or maybe she realized it was my turn to take care of her and that I wanted to.

When her house cleaners came to clean the house, she started to cry. She hugged the woman that had been cleaning her house for years and apologized for how she looked. Through tears she said, “Look how bad I’ve gotten, so fast.” The house cleaner cried too.

She was an incredibly intelligent woman and it was so difficult to see the change in her mental state. She seemed dazed, confused and was even hallucinating. Whether that was a side effect of medication or a side effect of dying, I’ll never know.

I made her meals and her tea, we shared almonds as a snack, and we talked about her wedding. She showed me where she had stored away my Barbie dolls. I sat by her side as the hospice chaplain visited and tried to ease her fears about dying. She cried, knowing that no matter what, this was a journey she was facing alone, despite being surrounded by family.

A few days later she was confined to a bed and not long after that she had slipped away into a deep sleep that she’d never wake up from. I’ll always cherish those moments even though they were difficult to witness. A year ago today I was talking to my Grandma. Pretty soon I won’t be able to reference time I spent with her by “a year ago”. She died on February 19th.

Sandy

Today we found out her dog died. She loved her dogs. Sandy was particularly clingy in the days leading up to my Grandma’s death. At one point Sandy was nuzzling up next to her while she was trying to eat lunch. My Grandma said “Ouch” when Sandy hit her leg and my Grandad jumped into defense mode. He started to move towards her while already telling Sandy to go lay down. Without skipping a beat my Grandma yelled, “I’m the boss!” Which meant, the dog stayed, painful bumps or not. A year ago today, my Grandad was coming to terms with the reality that he was about to lose his wife. Today, he is coping with that anniversary and the fact that he lost the dog that my Grandma loved.

A year ago today was one of the best and hardest days of my life. It was one of my last truly vivid memories of my Grandma and also the day that I too had to accept that the disease was killing her, that she was dying, that my life moving forward wouldn’t have her in it. Today, I hope she is sitting with her donkey and all her dogs from over the years, having a beer.

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Dogs make poor decisions and why they need seat belts

Charlie

In Arizona, not wearing a seat belt is against the law if you are in the front seat or if the passenger is a minor. Children are also required to ride in car seats up until a certain weight limit. Regardless of the law, most people wear a seat belt whether they are a passenger in the front or back, a minor or an adult. We do it because we know the risks and the fact that they can be life-saving in an accident. However, when it comes to dogs, most people don’t think twice about putting them in the backseat, the front seat, or even the truck bed without any sort of restraints. I cringe when I see a dog riding in a truck bed. It was one of my Grandma’s biggest pet peeves and she’d make a comment about it anytime we’d see a dog on the road. They could jump out, fall out, and certainly if there was an accident, the dog would be toast. But I never really thought twice about putting my dogs in the backseat unrestrained. In fact, I often smile when I see a dog with their head out the window, happy as can be. Not anymore.

Yesterday on our short (less than a mile) drive from our clinic to our house, the unthinkable happened. We drive that route several times a week, often with the windows down. Charlie sits in the back seat with his head out the window and Woobie stands with her back feet on the back seat and her front feet on the center console. Just a few days ago we were discussing doggie seat belts. But not so much for Charlie, more for Woobie. We knew her prime position in the front seat would land her straight through the windshield if we were ever to have an accident. We never considered either of our dogs jumping out the window, especially while the car was moving. But, we thought, it was just a mile and for any longer trips, she does have to sit in the back. The idea, like so many, was never acted on.

I rolled the window down about halfway, like I always do, so Charlie could put his head out. We were about halfway home when I heard a weird noise almost immediately followed by a yelp. I turned back to see Charlie’s leash going out the window. It took me a few moments to register that my dog just went out the window, while I was driving on the highway. I immediately started to shake, preparing myself for the worst. Behind me I could see that several cars had stopped and I had no idea what I’d be walking up to. I fully expected to see Charlie limp on the road potentially run over, potentially unrecognizable. But then before I saw him I heard a man say in a gentle and calming voice, “Come on buddy, it’s okay.” As I approached, I saw the man holding the leash and Charlie walking along side of him, visibly shaken up and confused. His face was bleeding from several areas but no major visible injuries. He was walking just fine — not so much as a limp. I immediately picked him up. Another person who had stopped said he rolled several times. The man who went to get him told me his dog was killed when he did the exact same thing. The man assessed his injuries, continued to pet Charlie, and told me to take him to the vet. I thanked the man for his help and his compassion and we left.

I completely lost all sense of what was going on in that moment. I stopped my car on a dime in the middle of the road. I immediately jumped out without even thinking a car could be whizzing in my direction. That in itself could have lead to an accident. The very preventable situation could have lead to a very serious incident in so many ways that I don’t even want to think about.

Charlie is a mellow dog, he is often scared to jump off the bed or to walk by a box that he is unfamiliar with. He’s not hyper nor do I think he was jumping out after something. I think something spooked him, he panicked and the window was open just enough that he was able to jump right out. But, of course, I’ll never really know what inspired that lapse of judgment. What I do know is that if he would do that, any dog might do the same. In fact, once I told the story I was surprised to hear that several people’s dogs had jumped out of car windows.

He broke a tooth, has some road rash and a few superficial wounds, a slight concussion and likely some soreness but I know it could have been a lot worse. I know I could have run him over, the many cars behind me could have run him over, or the impact alone could have killed him.

Today, while I nursed my bruised patient monitoring him for more serious issues like a brain bleed, I researched dog seat belts. I knew the value of getting one for the dog’s sake but some other valid points were made that I had never considered. In a high-impact or even a low-impact crash, a dog flying out of your car becomes a high-powered projectile which can be a serious threat to other people in the area. In addition, a dog who survives a crash but is outside of the car can become aggressive due to the trauma of the incident and serve as an impediment to first responders. The people will be priority in any accident, not a dog, so your dog likely stands a better chance overall if they are secured in the vehicle, not running loose at an accident scene — assuming they survive at all. A serious accident over the summer near Phoenix, left one dog dead and other lost in the desert for weeks. Amazingly that dog was eventually reunited with his owner. A dog seat belt seems like a no-brainer. As a life-long dog owner, I have never put my traveling pets in any sort of restraint in the car, not even on long trips. Today, that changes. We wouldn’t put an infant or a toddler in the car without a seat belt or child seat and we shouldn’t put our dogs in a car without one either — whether we are driving a mile or several hundred.

Charlie is lucky and so are we. Today, he is wagging his tail and milking every bit of this. He was thrilled to get a jar of baby food for dinner because I thought hard food might hurt his mouth. In fact, I had to tell him earlier to stop jumping around. By all accounts, his brain is not bleeding and overall he is fine. Today, we aren’t mourning a dead dog, so instead I am hoping to let my experience serve as a lesson so that none of you have to face the worst-case scenario. While I don’t suspect we’ll be opening the windows any longer or at least not so much that a dog could ever feasibly get out, I also will have the peace of mind that if something does happen, we, all of us, will be a whole lot safer.

*I purchased a Solvit Pet Safety Harness. When I receive them and test them out, I am happy to let anyone interested know how it works and how the dogs feel about it. There are several varieties though and they are inexpensive leaving no excuse not to be sure your dog has one! If you have a dog, make it a priority to get them a harness before putting them in the car. And maybe consider keeping your windows closed.

Photo by Tangled Lilac Photography.

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Turning 30 and Setting Goals

Alicia: Through the years

‘Tis the season for goal setting and starting fresh. As a child I never liked having my birthday right after Christmas. I could never have a pool party. In many cases we were still on Christmas vacation which made birthday parties and school celebrations difficult. People often combined my Christmas and birthday gifts, something that would never happen if you were born in June or even February, or completely forgot all together after the madness of the holiday season. My birthday would often get lumped in with the rest of the holiday festivities making it lack that specialness that you only get once a year on your birthday. But as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to start completely fresh, at a new age, all at the same time. I typically consider the start of my new year to be the day after my birthday. So in preparation, I’ve compiled my goals for the year. I hope that posting them will hold me more accountable as we all know that goals are all but forgotten by mid-February. Feel free to check in to make sure I am making progress.

Today, as I start my first day as a 30-year-old, I am looking forward to a new year, a new decade, and what I think will be some of the best years of my life.

  1. Blog more. If we are comparing to last year, ‘blogging more’ wouldn’t be all that difficult so more specifically I’d like to shoot for once a month minimum. I used to follow several niche blogs and wondered where I fit in when I started this blog that didn’t fall in any niche. But then I remembered I started this for me, to write about what I wanted to so there really was no reason my posts had to fit a specific theme.
  2. Pursue more of the things I enjoy doing. Blogging falls in line with this. I started freelance writing as a writer and I loved it. Writing is what I like to do but I hardly ever write anymore.  So I’d like to find a better balance of the work I have to do and the work I like to do.
  3. Start and finish one book per month. No excuses.
  4. Schedule a family photo session. Kyle and I haven’t had professional photos taken since our wedding and with the surge of camera phones I have realized we hardly have any photos of us at this stage of our lives.
  5. Make my physical health a priority. I hate working out, always have. However I was blessed with a good metabolism and little need to worry about exercising. As I get older that seems to be changing. The time is now to not be a lazy ass.
  6. Eliminate gluten from our diets. Read Grain Brain and Wheat Belly and see if you still want to eat wheat.
  7. Plan weekly meals, grocery shop and cook accordingly. Along with this, limit eating out.
  8. Volunteer more time and donate more money to local causes where we can make a bigger impact.
  9. Put more money towards our retirement funds. Self-employment has its perks, retirement packages aren’t one of them. It’s up to us to make sure we don’t have to work forever.
  10. Put grass in our backyard. I really hate rocks.
  11. Start our family whether through biological children or adoption.
  12. Spend less time on social media and more time actually being social. Perhaps it is time to take Facebook off my phone.
  13. Be more positive and less judgmental.
  14. Clear the clutter. Do a major purge and get rid of stuff we aren’t using.
  15. Stop buying stuff we don’t need. No more buying clothes simply because they are on sale. Buy only things you really love.
  16. Make extra payments on student loans so we can get those suckers paid off.
  17. Be more encouraging and less critical.
  18. Host more dinner parties – just for fun.
  19. Go on a trip out of the state.
  20. Send surprise packages or even just cards to people. People love getting things in the mail especially for no reason.
  21. Take the dogs on more walks. We used to walk daily now we hardly ever go out. I’d like to walk several times a week.
  22. Plant a GMO-free, organic garden and supplement with the local farmer’s market as much as possible.
  23. Keep things neat and tidy throughout the week so we don’t have to spend our weekends cleaning house and doing laundry.
  24. Start doing yoga regularly. At least a few times per week.
  25. Go on more hikes. We live in a BEAUTIFUL part of the state filled with endless trails and we almost never take advantage of that.
  26. Floss daily. Why is it SO hard?
  27. Eat breakfast daily. Coffee doesn’t count.
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