Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Meet Cindy Jae

Early yesterday morning the girls and I hopped in the car and headed across town to meet this sweetheart.

For the next 14-20 months, Cindy Jae as her sponsor named her, will be under our care for training, socialization, and fun times.

Cindy Jae belongs to the Southeastern Guide Dogs school and will be returning there when her time with us is up to be trained as a guide dog for the blind. Part of our job is to simply teach her house manners and basic commands so that she has a good foundation for the school to build on. The most fun part of our job is exposure. We have to take her places so that she's comfortable in all kinds of different environments and situations.

When we picked Cindy Jae up, she was visibly exhausted and docile. We brought her home for a bit then decided that we would accept a friend's invitation to Monkey Joe's, a local place full of bounce houses and kids everywhere. Hey, she might as well jump right into the deep end and I figured she'd be pretty easy to handle since she was so tired.

We arrived at Monkey Joe's, took care of business outside, then put on her identification vest to go inside. We had to have a little talk with the manager who was a bit wary, but very nice and eventually let us in. It's amazing how being gracious and accommodating to others will often work in your favor. Do you want to see how our first outing went?

Here's Cindy Jae curled up in my friend's lap. Sleeping.

And here's Cindy Jae a little later stretched out in my friend's lap. Still sleeping.

The puppy did sit in my lap and look around for a little while before heading off to dreamland. All in all, I call it a complete success.

She spent the afternoon napping, then we headed out to replace the pet gate I bought (Cindy Jae fit through the cat door, rendering the gate useless). I put her in the floorboard by K's feet where she promptly...fell asleep. K stayed with her while I exchanged the gate, then we headed over to the SuperTarget to pick up a few groceries. This time, we brought Cindy Jae in. Even though I tried to get her to do her business outside, she waited until we were halfway through the store to pop a squat. So K took her outside, while I handled clean-up on aisle 8. Don't worry, I came prepared for such an emergency.

When we got home, C-Jae (which is what we've pretty much resorted to calling her, making her sound like a rap star) spent the rest of the evening falling asleep whenever she could. We'd wake her up and feed her. Wake her up and drag her outside. Yep, exciting times in the realm of puppydom.

She was still falling over tired when we put her in her crate for the night, but that did not stop her from whining and complaining...loudly...for awhile. I tried the tricks in the manual (both the old and the new) and nothing worked, so I finally just went to bed and she stopped on her own and slept quietly all night.

So what I've learned so far about puppies.

- It can take some time and a little walking before the puppy will actually go potty.
- You have to carry her outside in the morning, quickly, or she'll pee on the floor.
- Puppies will try to eat cigarette butts.
- Just like a baby, she'd rather play with (eat) the box than the chew toys inside.
- She's most active in the morning, which is my least favorite time of day.
- She sleeps the rest of the day. Something she and my cat have in common.

On the whole, C-Jae is very well behaved and is the absolute cutest, lovingest dog around.

And she's been sucking down water all morning, so we'd better head out for another walk.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's been a wonderful morning!

Why has it been a wonderful morning?

Because for the past week or so, I've suddenly noticed that I was having to buckle my belt on the very inside-most hole. I noticed that my jeans were looser. I noticed that a pair of slacks I almost took back because they fit too tight were suddenly just fine. Yesterday it occurred to me that a pair of jeans I recently bought a size smaller than usual were too big and, even with my belt buckled on the tightest loop, there was still a lot of slack.

This morning, on a whim, I pulled a pair of jeans from the bottom of the stack. A pair I haven't been able to wear in a couple of years. They slipped up and buttoned so easily it was laughable.

So now you're wondering how in the world I've managed to lose weight and inches and be almost completely oblivious to it, aren't you?

It's called no more benadryl.

For the past few YEARS, I've had to take massive doses of antihistamines to control my hives. We'd found a few food allergies, but it took a long time for me to discover and eliminate the biggest irritant - caramel coloring. It's finally worked it's way mostly out of my system and I've been down to just 1 medicine in the morning and one at night for awhile (with the exception of one breakthrough, but it's back under control).

You know how just one dose of benadryl will knock most people out? Just think of years of massive doses of it and every other antihistamine you've ever heard of. I felt like a zombie. No energy, no focus. The meds slowed down my metabolism and slowed me down so that even my daily activity level bottomed out.

If that's not a recipe for weight gain, I don't know what it.

Since the allergies have been under control and I've gotten off most of the medication, I'm moving more. Doing more. My body has been recovering from the constant onslaught. As a result, my body is shedding the weight the medications caused. I really wasn't looking for it and so it kinda caught me by surprise. A pleasant surprise.

Here's hoping the trend continues and I can pull out more of the smaller clothes my little optimistic self has been keeping around just in case.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chew toys

Today I dropped the oldest daughter off at a birthday party and took the younger one with me on an exploratory trip to a nearby pet store.

We don't shop at pet stores as a general rule. We have a cat, but I can pick up food and cat litter when I do my grocery shopping. No extra stops required.

It, however, occurred to me today that November 22nd or 23rd will be here soon. As in just over a week and a half. As in *next weekend*. What's happening on that fateful day, you ask?

We get a dog.

Not just any dog. A puppy. A puppy that we're raising for Southeastern Guide Dogs. For the next year or so we'll provide basic training and lots of exposure to different environments. This puppy will go with us on errands and field trips. We'll hang out with other puppy-raisers and do plenty of group training and events.

I've had dogs before. Growing up, we always had at least one, but we lived in the country and our dogs had no training and were free to wander at will. We never had an inside dog that we had to walk or teach to behave. It's been making me nervous. I have a comprehensive training guide that gives specifics on *everything* - from how to word commands to what kind of food dishes to use. That in and of itself is nerve-wracking to my little rule-following heart. How will I remember everything???

During our trip through the pet store today, we looked at pet gates with special doors that the cat can get through. We discussed the pros and cons of different crates with an associate. We priced food and water dishes. We talked about brands of dog food (did you they make food specially formulated for labradors?) I'm going to have to go back with one of the other puppy-raisers to see what they suggest. Then L and I got to the fun stuff. We looked at collars and leashes and we checked out the chew toys. Curiously, they looked a lot the chew toys for babies.

We picked out a chew toy that fit what I remembered of the guidelines from the manual and we made our very first purchase for the puppy that will be here next weekend. Seeing that chew toy makes the whole thing more real. It's actually going to happen after months of waiting. It has the dual effect of making me even more nervous and calming my fears a bit. It will just be a puppy. A cute cuddly romping puppy that needs a family to take care of her.

You want to know what else helped?

Go to the Southeastern Guide Dog website puppy cam and watch their current litter play. I don't know if it's the litter that will be coming to Charlotte or not, but they're really really cute. I was also extremely heartened to see that some of the toys in that pen violated the rules in the manual. When it comes to puppies, you have to be a little flexible.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My low-budget living room makeover

This post should be alternately titled, "One woman's garage sale stuff is another woman's treasure".

A few posts ago, I showed off the buffet I inherited from my grandmother. It's been a beautiful addition to my living room and I've been working to make the rest of the room look worthy of such a grand piece of furniture.

When you walk into my house, you walk right into the living room. It has a 2-story ceiling and white walls and I wanted to make it look warm and cozy with browns and oranges and reds and I wanted to do it without spending a fortune. Like what it would cost to paint the 2-story tall walls in here and the adjoining dining room. Or buy new furniture. I worked with what I had.

What I had was a black modern futon and a set of tables in dark wood. I had rich red-toned wood floors, two heavy dark gold lamps, and a few pillows, a few knick-knacks, and a beautiful antique buffet. What I had was no budget to work with so anything else I got had to be cheap.

And this is what it looks like tonight.

When my parents were down last month, we decorated the buffet and my mom was wonderful enough to buy a few decorative items to use there and I found a few inexpensive additions.

I wanted some trim to dress up a small lamp, so I went to the fabric store where I found some wonderful fabric heavily clearanced that would be perfect for drapes. Sure, it was a little more floral than my ideal, but at $3.50/yard, I wasn't going to be picky. Buying the hardware at Wal-Mart saved a few dollars and the rods are still pretty.

The next day was The Nester's yard sale and even though she swore she didn't have many cute things, I came out with a huge bag full and I only spent $8.50. So, Nester, do you recognize this pedestal?

A little spray paint and some furry trim and it's a completely new creature. Then her bird found a new home on top of my wire house.

Some old pillows and fabric remnants from that garage sale became new accents on my couch.

I even made small pillows for the extra dining room chairs that wandered away from my table.

The Nester's old pillows were far cheaper than buying new pillow forms from the craft section. When I was recovering the pillows, I decided to iron the edges under and topstitch them to make it easier to fit the pillow in and sew it closed. Mr. at Home came in and he knows enough about sewing to know that I was "supposed" to sew it inside out. I was trying to explain the different design and he exclaimed, "Oh, like a ravioli!" Why, yes, exactly. It's like sealing a ravioli.

The Nester lives way around on the other side of town and I had trouble getting back out to the loop after I left her house. I ended up shooting over it and I had to turn around in a neighborhood. Where there was a yard sale sign. And I figured, hey, why not. I could ask the quickest way to an entrance ramp AND see if there was anything else I *needed*. That's where I found this mirror.

Which I brought home and spray painted and hung on the wall. And paired with this little spray from the 75% clearance shelf at Target that I enhanced with a few orange-y flowers I got from The Nester.

In addition to making 6 pillows today, I edited Mr. at Home's paper for business class and took the girls to a local fall festival. It was in a town center filled with little shops, one of which was going out of business and I found this little bird house on "going out of business" clearance.

I love how the little birds hung out a fall wreath and I have a feeling they'll be putting out a different one for Christmas.

And those sticks in the vase? Those were in my backyard. Add a couple of sticks of berries left-over from a project years ago and it's a free version of the latest in home decor.

So a whole new warm and cozy living room filled with not-so-new stuff that I love.

Monday, November 2, 2009

K the Softball Legend

K plays softball. Have I mentioned that? She's on her 4th season, 4th team, 4th set of coaches, and 2nd association. We've had awesome fundamental coaches, excellent strategy coaches, and coaches that were so bad we didn't play in the end-of-season tournament because they didn't know about it.

We moved across town last year and K is playing in a different association that is part of a different league with different rules. In the spring, K had to get used to the girls doing most of the pitching and she handled the transition well. At the end of the season, K learned there was an all-star team and a travel team and her goal became to do whatever it takes to get invited to those teams.

So for the first time, we are playing fall softball. It's a slightly smaller group with our association fielding 3 8U teams instead of the 4 it had in the spring. The biggest change is that all the teams have taken it up a few notches. The girls pitch more consistently, field more accurately, and hit more regularly. I don't know if they've all developed that much more body control since the spring or if only the more serious players participate in the fall, but it's been exciting to see the level of play improve so much.

We've slogged our way through a wet autumn season with weeknights and weekends committed to softball games. When we've wanted to camp, we've had to suck it up and stay for another game. When my grandmother died, K missed several games while we were gone. She couldn't miss any more and be eligible for the tournament, so we had no choice but to be there every single game. Thankfully, she made it to the end of the regular season healthy and ready to play every time.

Our team had a fantastic record. We got a brand new coach who amazingly stuck right in there with the seasoned and dedicated guys who've been coaching this level for ages. Our record was exactly the same as the others. Our team is full of tall girls and every single one of them can hit and hit well. Our coach knows the game and how best to use each girl's strengths and we went into the tournament last week fully expecting to do well.

So far, we're 5 games into the double-elimination tournament and our team is still alive and kicking. We have lost one game, but we're in until we lose another. There are 4 teams left in the tournament - the 3 teams from our association and one team from a neighboring community. We have to win 4 more games to win the championship and we have an excellent chance to do just that. And K is one the reasons we have that chance.

K has become an excellent softball player. She's extremely patient at the plate - never swinging at the first pitch and shows absolutely no nervousness when she falls behind with 2 strikes. She can wait out a ball or foul off close pitches until she finds one she likes and sends it sailing into the outfield. Even with genetics making her a slow runner, she still manages to squeeze out a few doubles. When she's in the field, K normally plays 3rd with a stint or two in right field because she's one of the few players who will work to back up first base every time. She can make the throw from 3rd to 1st base accurately and she's strong enough to get it there in the air.

Most importantly, K is a player who does what she's asked without complaining. She listens and learns. She's focused when she's on the field, always watching and moving and reacting when the coaches yell instructions. She wants to improve and will work hard to accomplish what she needs to. Those are the qualities that make her an excellent player, a valuable asset to her team, and those are the qualities that will serve her well in every area of life.

After all, isn't that why we have our kids play sports?