Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Checking the Balances: What's Working, What Isn't

Image Credit: Digitalnative

This blog, ostensibly, is about my attempts to balance the various areas of my life. Usually, that takes the form of balancing the mental work, the thoughts, the philosophies, the contradictions, the purpose. Every once in a while, though, I like to check in on the balancing of the day-to-day stuff, the mundane work of it all.

See, I've always had a tendency to over do it. In high school, I layered jobs on top of one another and could often be found working two or three at a time. Some of this was the need for money. Most of it was the need to stay busy. I do not function well without activity. I crave the structure within the chaos, the way floating in and out of roles sharpens the edges of my own crafted identity.

I may have taken on a bit much this semester. I'm working full time, taking two graduate-level classes (I meant to only take one, but then they sent out the syllabus for the one I intended to drop, and, well, you know how it goes), still learning my role as a new mother, and adjuncting one English class. On paper (or screen), I know that looks a little crazy, but it's working. I swear it is.

Those things just seem to fall into place. Sometimes, though, the little things catch me completely off guard. I have no problem figuring out how to read for two classes while still finding time to grade papers, play with my daughter, talk to my husband, and watch a movie now and then. But ask me how I'm going to make dinner or get the bathroom clean, and we're in a whole other sphere of existence.

I've managed to get a handle on some of those little details, but others still baffle me. Here's a look at one issue I've recently gotten on top of and one that's driving me mad.
What's Working-Food 
Not that long ago, I was completely perplexed by how to handle the fact that I--and the rest of my family--had to eat food. It was so time consuming and so expensive. I also knew we weren't eating very healhfully. We were eating out two or three times a week, and not even enjoying it. I was grocery shopping haphazardly and throwing away meat and veggies that spoiled before I ever got around to making something with them.

We'd tried weekly grocery lists in the past, but before long we were back in the old habits. We recently switched to eating almost entirely whole foods without preservatives, which meant that a weekly shopping trip didn't really work--the food wouldn't stay fresh long enough. That seemed to be the trick, and everything has finally fallen into place. We now grocery shop as a family (which takes longer, but lets us spend time together) on Mondays or Wednesdays and then again on Fridays or Saturdays. We plan out dinners for each night, but--and this is a big change that shouldn't have taken me so long to figure out--I also buy a couple of emergency dinner plans that will stay good longer and can be made in a hurry (pasta and a jar of spaghetti sauce, a couple of frozen pizzas). I'm wasting less food, we're eating out less, and--though I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me this when we first switched to healthier food--we're actually saving money.

Cooking the food is also a family affair. I do most of the cooking, but my husband and I use this time to talk about our day--which usually becomes a debate on some current event or another. Meanwhile, we put our daughter in her high chair and she plays and babbles along with us. This pattern will probably evolve as she gets older, but it works for now.

What's Not Working-The Dog

This is my dog, and I love him, but he is driving me crazy.

Now, don't start hating on me. I'm not thinking about getting rid of my dog; he's part of my family. We adopted him a little over two years ago from the Humane Society, where he had spent the first 11 months of his life after being nearly starved to death as a puppy. The previous "owners" had mutilated his ears--I assume in an attempt to "crop" them--which is why he looks a little like funny.

He is an affectionate, loveable goofball who has never met anyone--human or animal--he didn't want to befriend.

He also likes to eat baby bottles and breast pump parts as well as trash, diapers (dirty or new), and Tupperware containers.

This is mostly our fault. He's not getting enough time to run and get rid of the excess energy that defines him. We could alleviate this by taking him on walks, but he's horrible at leash manners. Horrible. Embarassingly horrible.

We're not neglectful of our role as authorities. He's been to obediance training, and he passed. He knows all of the commands and he likes to show that he can listen. He'll sit, stay, lay down, shake, go where you point, get in his crate, and come when called. He will sit, patiently waiting to be released for his dinner as long as we want. When he gets on a leash, however, he loses that part of his mind, and becomes fixated on pulling as hard as he can in whatever direction sparks his fancy. The commands no longer work because the part of his brain that controls hearing has shut down. When I asked the trainer from our group sessions what I should do, she looked at me with a sad sort of half-smile. "He's just high energy," she said reassuringly. Mm-hmm.

I've tried all the methods people have suggested. I've stood firm, refusing to move until he stops pulling. The result? We just never move; I stand firmly planted to the sidewalk like an idiot as my dog chokes himself with his front feet off the ground. Also, look at that picture. He is 75 pounds. This is no easy task. I tried a Gentle Leader to no effect. He has a harness that tightens if he pulls, but he seems oblivious to the discomfort this is supposed to cause. Without the harness, he'll just choke himself. He ignores treats, clickers, and loud noises.

So, we have a bored dog on our hands, which further exacerbates the problem because the energy he needs to get out and can't makes him even more horrible on the leash, so then he gets more bored and so on and so forth.

I think we're going to try an in-home trainer for a few sessions and see if she can help us figure out a solution. Anyone have any other suggestions?


  1. Do you have a dog park near your house? Ours is a life saver. We get to take a walk, the dog is off leash, and everyone gets their exercise. Your dog needs to be friendly to other dogs (sounds like he is) and would need a pretty reliable recall too. If not, is there a place you can go off-hours to let him run? We also have a park down the street with fences on all sides we let our dog run if we don't have time to make it to the dog park. Good luck! Way to go on the food - I would LOVE to go all unprocessed - I'd also love to hear what snacks you're packing for your daughter. That's my biggest challenge - snacks!

  2. There is a dog park nearby, and he is definitely friendly. He is a little hyperactive, so I am reluctant to give it a try, but I think it's pretty empty a lot of the time, so I could probably try it out when there's no one else there. Good thinking!
    As for snacks, she's still mostly on milk, and I'm just giving fresh fruit and veggies or pieces of whatever we're eating. I'm sure when she gets older and needs more solids, snacks are going to be a challenge.