Monday, December 17, 2012

a broken heart

Of course I've been crying often this weekend. Friday I wanted to hug hug hug my children when they walked through the door. So I did. But I also (inexplicably) snapped at them. And again on Saturday. And again yesterday.

And today, I cried after I dropped Josh off at seminary and just felt like the whole world was too much to manage. So I asked David for a blessing, picked myself up by my bootstraps and made lunches.

And then the dog peed on the floor when Kate let her out to say hi to the neighbor boys picking up Sophie. And I started to sob as I cleaned up the mess (telling myself it was because I'd had to clean up four messes yesterday and I'm. just. not. cut. out. for. this. chaos.)

And then I came home after dropping off carpool and the drycleaning (in my pajamas...and of course I saw people I know) and I cried again. And so I took a nap. (Five hours of sleep a night for weeks on end doesn't make this momma happy.)

And then I read this: What Six Looks Like and that did it to me again.

As I read it and wept (it was more than crying this time), I realized that most of what's going on in my head is just plain messy grief. I remember the first time I realized grief could just make the whole world feel off without realizing that I was really mourning. It was my brother's birthday, a year after his death. I had been doing just dandy for a long time, and I thought about him that day with love and remembrance, thinking I was handling it OK, but everything just felt SUCKY. I was mad at everyone in the house, I was frustrated with myself, and then I forgot to pick up the kids from their first day of school because it was an early out day. It was while talking to my mom that I recognized the truth: I was just plain sad and mad that my brother was dead, that my world was different than it had been, that I missed him and wouldn't get to wish him a happy birthday, that I couldn't be sure of the future anymore.

And today feels like that day, but bigger. Bigger, because while I ache ache ACHE for the families whose loved ones were ripped away so terribly, so awfully, so horribly, I also ache for the family of the young man who committed this atrocity. I ache for the boy he once was, for the pain he felt and the pain he caused. I ache for those who struggle with mental illness and for their families. Until you've lived with mental illness, seen its ravages on someone you love, you don't understand the immense pain, the questioning, the agony that it can create. And once you've seen it or lived it, you understand that there are very few black and white cause and effects for those in its grips. I'm sure most have you have read this blog post: Thinking the Unthinkable. It is powerful and terrifying and reminds us that those who struggle with mental illness (both the individuals and their families) need our love and support and dang it, an overhaul of our nation's mental health care.

And finally, I read this blog post from Ann Voskamp. For some of you it may feel too trite: God is there in the midst of this horror? And yet I know He was there, in the teachers who protected, in the first responders who showed care, in the nation's love and outpouring of grief for the fallen. And I also believe He sent angels to those who needed them most. And I believe He wept for them and He weeps for us.

So I'm going to accept that not much will get done today. I will grieve the loss of life, the loss of innocence, the loss of trust. I will grieve that our nation will get enthralled in chaotic debate about gun laws and responsibility, in placing blame. I will grieve that sometimes it feels as if there IS no peace on earth.

But there is. And there will be. There will be peace while I hear about the happenings in French class from Sophie after school. There will be peace when Kate plays "Joy to the World" at her piano lesson this afternoon. There will be peace when we gather our family around the Christmas tree tonight to read another story. There will be peace when I read an Old Testament story to Benno, snuggled in bed with his stuffed animal fox. There will be peace when my son and daughter play at an orchestra concert together tomorrow night, creating crazy beauty with so many other crazy beautiful teenagers. There will be peace because we will all make it and recognize it. It's how we survive grief. It's how we create hope: by being inside the blackness and lighting our own little candle against it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So You're Thinking about Getting a Puppy...

(This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Lori, who TODAY welcomed Ester, their foster seeing-eye puppy! I'm so excited for her. She will be an amazing puppy mom and I'm sure knows way more about raising puppies than I do after reading the 100 page seeing-eye dog manual.)

Saturday was the seven week anniversary of Maisie joining our family. I thought I would wait at least six weeks to make a full report on her arrival and its impact on the Greenhouse, as that seems to be the minimum time for me to begin to adjust to new circumstances. Babies, resolutions, tragedies, and now a new puppy: I seem to settle into the first phase of the new normal after that first month and a half (unless it's a move, and then I think I must always plan to give myself three years to feel normal. Ha. But also not ha.)

Ahhh, the joys of a new puppy: their sweet little faces, their little licking tongues, their scampering, prancing, and soft soft fur. Could there be anything so loveable? They're like sweet little animated stuffed animals, pawing their way into your hearts.

People all say, "Oh, puppies are so much work, like a new baby."

And to this, I say, "Yes." And also, "No." Because while my new babies certainly kept me up at night and took constant supervision, my new babies did not have piranha-sharp teeth, or knives for nails. And also my new babies didn't chase down a five year old to gnaw at his hands or pull his hair with their teeth. And also, my babies wore diapers. 

Puppies do not wear diapers.

Oh, and really, puppies should wear diapers.

So here's the good news: Six weeks has passed and life is truly finding a happier place.

But here's the bad news: Those six weeks might have really felt like six looooong months.

So I thought I'd do another Public Service Announcement to let you know what to do if your family starts to beg you for a puppy and you start to feel your resolve to say no wavering:

Run. And practice saying no.

UNLESS you are really willing to open your heart and home (and by default, your carpets) to a little peeing and pooping vampire with a gorgeous face and a loving heart: in that case, say yes and learn from me.

#1 Buy yourself this book before you even get your puppy: My Smart Puppy

Is it really that important? Yes. Yes it is. I did much reading on how to train dogs when we Natalia joined our family almost seventeen years ago. I was so grateful for all the advice I read. And My Smart Puppy is better than all of them. It provides clear, simple and great advice, and is very very specific about how to address hard puppy behavior. Bonus: It comes with a DVD. We waited three weeks before I bought it, thinking I remembered how to train a puppy. I needed help.

#2 Buy the gallon sized refill bottle of Nature's Miracle, along with the normal spray bottle. And also the Costco package of paper towels.

Nature's Miracle is a miracle. No, really. It is. I love it. I rely on it. It is a great friend to the puppy-loving household. Because here's the truth: your puppy is going to pee in your house. I hate to tell you this. I do. But it's likely that your puppy will probably pee in your house a lot. A LOT. And that is even if you are crate training, even if you're doing the umbilical cord thing with the leash, even if you're always watching for cues. And then she'll start understanding how to let you know she needs to go outside. That's great. And then she'll be more reliable, which is nice. But just when you think your cute puppy has got the whole housetraining figured out, she'll get riled up by your son, run around and then pee under your dining room table and you'll be grateful you can refill your spray bottle again. (I hear that the 1.5 gallon sized bottle with the special nozzle isn't a great idea. It leaks or something. So stick with the basics.)

My process: lay down paper towels, then many layers of newspaper, then another paper towel, then a rag. Then jump up and down on the pile of papers. Then spray the living daylights out of the whole area. I mean SOAK the carpet so the Nature's Miracle goes down into the fibers. Let it sit for a while (even overnight if you're busy), and then if you want you can blot up the Nature's Miracle if you want. I don't usually. And it works, darn it. Hooray.

(Last night we found another wonderful use for NM: taking care of the mess when your child has a bloody nose and runs for the bathroom, leaving a trail behind. It's great stuff, people.)

#3 About housetraining: Get a bell for your back door. 

My friend Michele told me about this one, and it's pretty slick. We attached a string of bells to the back doors both upstairs and downstairs. Before we took Maisie out, we say "Outside", take her paw and have her hit the bell. Then out we'd go. Within two days, she was hitting it herself to go out. When she hits it, we immediately take her out, even if we think she doesn't need to go. If she is faking so that she gets some outside time, we pick her up and put her in her kennel. If she isn't faking, she gets lots of praise.

#4 Keep this phrase running around in your head: "You must be confused."

This is a gem from My Smart Puppy. If you find yourself upset with the dog for not making it outside on time, or nipping at your hand yet again, or tearing up another sock, just force yourself to shake your head and say, "Oh, you must be confused." Somehow, this phrase has the ability to take me from angry to a lot more loving. I'm practicing it on my kids, too, and it sometimes even has the same effect.

#5 Keep the puppy with you all the time she is not in her kennel.

ALL the time. Not most of the time. ALL the time. That way you can watch for cues and drop everything to take the puppy outside and not be surprised later when you find out what she's been up to when you took that 2 minute break in the bathroom. I just hooked her leash to a kitchen chair or table leg, or a doorknob, or my belt loop.

Which leads to #6...

#6 Please kennel train your puppy from the very first night. You will be grateful.

You need to be able to take a break from your puppy, so get her used to the kennel. You will have some LOOOONG nights. The first night Maisie was here, I ended up sleeping on the floor in front of the kennel with my hand poking through the door so she would stop whining.

That wasn't my favorite night.

But the next night I slept in my bed with the door turned towards me and she only whined three or four times.

And the next night was even better.

Except I didn't think about this little piece of advice:

#7 Maybe don't get your puppy right before winter hits.

Or you'll be outside 4 or 5 times with a puppy with diarrhea in the middle of the night with sleet falling on your head while you wait for your puppy to go to the bathroom where you've designated, but where she doesn't think she wants to.

Which leads to #8...

#8 Don't feed your puppy treats. Use her food as her treat.

Turns out some treats lead to diarrhea in little puppies. Who knew?

Well, now I know. And so do you. I just wouldn't want you to learn it the way I did...on another LOOOONG night.

And amazingly, kibble works great as a training treat. Maisie thinks it's way more awesome to get food from my hand than from her bowl.

#9 If your puppy hates the kennel, use a food-stuffed Kong as a bribe.

Trick I never knew with Natalia but I wished I had: stick kibble in the Kong, then seal it with peanut butter. You can give it to the puppy like that or put it in the freezer to make it trickier to access the food. I only give her the Kong in her kennel when I'm leaving for a while. She loves it and runs right to the kennel.

#10 Take care of nipping quickly.

When your puppy nips, say "NO BITE" firmly (but not angrily. Remember: "You must be confused.") and take her immediately to her kennel. Leave her there for a brief timeout, then take her out, train her, and give her immediate praise for good behavior. After two days of this kind of training, Maisie's out-of-control nipping dropped by way more than half. She's doing so well now that she gets a timeout only once a day or so.

#11 Make your kids start helping (and picking up poop) from Day 1

Self-explanatory, really. My kids rotate days of responsibility. They complain. The first few weeks, one cried every time it was her responsibility. But they don't complain as much any more. And if they don't pick up the mess when they're supposed to, they have to pay a fine.

In short, training (thank you, My Smart Puppy) and consistency have allowed us to survive the puppy days with our little Maisie. And seven weeks later this is what we have:

A puppy who tolerates being dragged everywhere by everyone and even tolerates being forced to practice the piano.

A puppy who knows Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Shake, Speak, Dance, and Jump (she knew all of these commands at 12 weeks. I was blown away. It was seriously fun to watch her pick things up so quickly.)

A puppy who runs full speed to my children as they come home from school with a wagging tail and a leap into their arms.

A puppy who eats socks (OK, so we haven't fixed all our problems.)

A puppy who loves to play tag with us around and around and around the house.

A puppy who is starting to learn to run with me.

A puppy who is totally chill with taking a bath or a shower and getting the hair trimmed out of her eyes.

A seriously happy puppy who is rapidly becoming a beloved member of the family.

It took some work and tears and frustration to get here, but I can honestly say I adore the little ragamuffin. She makes life more complicated (I just started exercising again...that was way too long of a break) but I really do believe that most things of worth come with a price. And the price we've paid for our sweet Maisie is now feeling worth it. I wouldn't have said so that first month. I was having MAJOR dog-owner remorse. We all did at different times. But now that we've done a lot of the work, I love having a little buddy around. And it will just get better.

Monday, December 3, 2012

One Thousand Gifts

For my birthday in October last year, I bought myself this cute little gratitude journal. I had been inspired over and over again to pay more attention to the good things in my life, to be more grateful, and I thought it would help to have a pretty place to record them. Like so many of my good intentions, this one took some time and some more promptings to begin, but finally on December 2nd I began my gratitude journey.

I didn't originally start with any kind of end in mind, but after reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (thanks to Catherine for the inspiration), I decided that I would work towards listing 1,000 gifts within a year. Yesterday was that year mark. 

I finished this morning.

In my continued attempt to be gentle with my failings, I am declaring that one year and one day isn't so bad.

The outcome of my experiment with gratitude?

This year has changed me.

My heart is more tender. My eyes are more quick to find beauty. I am quicker to remember to forgive. I see God's hand in the beautiful and good things in my life, as well as in the struggles, the conflicts, the bad, and the ugly.

I'll be honest. I'm still a mess of a soul. My kitchen isn't cleaner. (In fact, you should see it right now.) 
I'm not more organized. I still struggle with not being snarky. I let days go by without remembering to study my scriptures. I haven't repaired all the broken things in my life.

But I now have tools to manage the dark times, the bad thoughts, the laundry, the relationships that hurt, the extra 5 (ok...15) pounds, the worries.

The most important tool of all is the one that I was guided to nurture last year: finding a way to express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the mess of life. The list in the cute orange book is an outward expression of an inward change. When I wake up feeling overwhelmed by my weaknesses, I force myself to think about my gratitude for them, for the humility that comes at another failure, for the new day I've been given. When I'm disappointed at an unkindness, I express gratitude for the chance to practice forgiveness. When I look at my piles of laundry, I think about how blessed we are to have more than enough clothing to keep ourselves warm. When I feel grumpy about how tight my pants are, I force myself to recognize the enormous blessing of having more than enough food to eat and that my family never goes to bed hungry.

As I force the thoughts to flow, my heart is often softened. And if it's not softened enough to feel perfectly happy, it's softened enough to allow movement towards happiness. I saw this earlier in the year when I was often angry and bitter about some hard situations. As I was finally prompted to express gratitude for the hurdles I was facing and for those who I felt were creating so much pain, I found myself able to release my bitterness, to open myself to desire joy and peace for those I felt were wounding me. If I started to let my mind dwell on the darkness again, I made myself fight the battle again. And again. And again. And eventually there was peace and grace and beauty out of the ashes of my anger.

This took six months of writing down blessings. It did not come overnight. But it did come. And while I still fight the impulse to be unkind, to dwell on slights, I find that getting to the place of peace and forgiveness is generally a prayer or two (or ten) away and I now have faith that I can get there.

While I was surprised at the joy that gratitude for hard things has brought, I've also been happy to find the increased pleasure I've had in already good things. Noting blessings and gifts has allowed my heart to be touched by the sheer gorgeousness in relationships, in the seasons, in sitting with a five-year-old and reading Christmas books. It's as if I have a magnifying glass on the world and can see details of grace and beauty that may have been unnoticed before.

Here are a few samples:

#20   A few hours of sibling peace as they sorted Legos
#50   Not having to clean up after a dog
#140 That Tiernae is the new Relief Society President and not me...
#141 That I know if I were called to be RS Pres, the Lord would strengthen me
#251 Apples and peanut butter
#323 Constant forgiveness, constant grace
#454 Being strong against the forces of carrot cake, whoopie pies, and chocolate chip cookies
#459 Nighttime walk under the stars
#677 My blue and purple heels
#679 Inspiration about the protection of covenant keeping
#760 David's stint as the human pinata
#761 That David's fall as the human pinata did not result in more damage
#762 That we have insurance to pay for the ER trip for the human pinata
#765 Maisie not peeing in the house while David and I were at the hospital

A few months into my journal keeping, I noticed that the spirit started nudging me in a new direction: service. As I become more grateful for my own life, I find myself more able to see needs in others and try to do small things to help. I'm not great at this yet. It's taking a lot of effort to get myself to act consistently, but I have faith that this is a worthwhile effort and that I might find myself transformed by my efforts to serve as much as I have by my gratitude.