When Nature and grad school collide

March 21, 2011 § 15 Comments

This morning, as I prepared to settle in for another day with Chapter Two, I noticed that the cats were glued to the back door, just staring out the window. As this is not particularly abnormal behavior for them, I ignored it and ate my breakfast. Until ten minutes later, they were still there…and both were looking in the same direction…obviously at something. Peeping through the closed blinds above their heads, I saw what they saw: a rather industrious and clever little male wren who discovered an unused, meant-to-have-been-thrown-away planter on a storage shelving unit. Of course, I grabbed my camera, videotaped the wren (and his mate who joins in at one point), and got to shooting.

This is the trailer for the forthcoming documentary that will detail the lives of the wrens as they build their home, lay their eggs, and raise their little family. (Of course, these are all hopes…I worry that we will frighten them because we will walk past their nest on a pretty regular basis, since that’s the door Annie goes out of to go potty. We might have to rework our habits. And, yes. I’m willing to rework habits for the sake of a little wren family.)


Learning to say “no”…like you mean it

March 19, 2011 § 7 Comments

It’s Tuesday, March 15th, and I let my phone ring until the caller leaves a message. I don’t recognize the number, and I’m in “the zone” with my chapter. If it’s important, they’ll say so.

“Hey Amanda, it’s M. Listen, I’m going to be out of town on Saturday the 19th for the day, and I was wondering if you and Robert would be able to watch Penelope for me. Give me a call back as soon as you can and let me know. Thanks.”

As I listen to the message (twice), my insides twist up. I don’t want to call M back because I know I will have to deliver a disappointing response. I like M, I really do. He’s a funny guy and really kind. I love Penelope, his Boston terrier (who is no longer a pup but who I’ll always see as an itty-bitty baby, like when I first met her). I know Penny and Milton enjoy each other’s company, and I’m anxious for her to meet Annie. (I figure the more exposure Annie gets to dogs of all sizes, the better socialized she’ll be.) But this is not a good time. In fact, it’s really a rather bad time for us to be watching one more dog.

I take a deep breath and call M back.

“Hey! Did you get my message?” he asks happily, unsuspecting the rejection he’s about to receive.

I try to let him down easy.

“Yeah…about that, M…I just don’t think we can do it this weekend.”

Think??? I chastise myself. Never say think when you know! Lord knows that causes enough confusion!

There’s silence on his side of the phone. My brain frantically tries to rewrite a script, excising all instances of the word “think.”

“It’s just that…well,” I stammer. “My director wants a new chapter draft on Tuesday after break, and I was out of town this past weekend, so I’m really trying to use this coming weekend to make up for the lack of work I did.”

He’s still silent, so I just keep rambling, my tone reaching a higher octave, and…laughing? Why was I laughing?

“Heh, you know…to be honest, I haven’t even written it yet!”

LIAR! I shout internally. J’accuse! You have too written on it! Why are you lying to him??

Finally, he speaks.

“So, you’re graduating this May?” The light-hearted tone that I’ve come to characterize with M has entirely left his voice.

Shit. It dawns on me: I was probably his last or only option. Shit, shit, shit!

“No,” I titter.

Seriously, am I tittering??

I clear my throat. “No. I’m graduating in August.”

“Oh.” It’s such a pregnant “oh”…so filled with meaning…and is that judgment I hear? Or am I projecting judgment onto him from my own guilt?

Oh, God, I hate this!

“Yeah…but this weekend is really bad for us. It’s not Penny, of course–we adore her! It’s just that Annie is potty-trained and all, but sometimes she still has accidents if we don’t get to her fast enough. And because I’m writing all the time, Robert’s really been in charge of taking care of the animals…and I just can’t ask him to keep an eye on Annie and watch Milton and Penny, too. I am so sorry.”

I think I overemphasized the “so”…he’ll think it’s not sincere…. Shit.

“Oh, that’s okay.”

We chat for a few more minutes about his plan for Saturday–a day-trip, really; he’d be home before dark, so Penny wouldn’t become an overnight guest–until I just can’t stand to be on the phone with this awkwardness any more. I make up an excuse, and we hang up.

My insides are twisted and knotted, and I feel a little like I could throw up. All I did was say “no” to someone, and you’d think I suddenly became Pontius Pilate and delivered him a death sentence.

Fast forward to last night….

“Oh, baby, I forgot to tell you. Mom texted me and has invited us over for a steak dinner tomorrow night. I didn’t respond yet because I wanted to talk to you about it first.” Robert is so considerate to wait to talk to me first, even when making plans with his mom.

But then my insides twist up again.

Robert reads the expression on my face and immediately reverts into what is quickly becoming a stand-by response in our house: reassure Amanda before she has a chance to freak out that she is in no way expected to be social right now.

“I can’t,” is all I can muster out.

“That’s okay! We don’t have to go,” Robert reassures me, kissing me on the forehead.

Wait! My insides are suddenly twisting into more violent contortions. That’s not what I want!

“No, no.” I shake my head. “No, you should go. I don’t want your mom to think that we’re avoiding them or that we’re only making time for my family [i.e. the BBQ we attended last weekend]. Someone should go as the ambassador for this branch of the Habs!”

Robert agrees, and you would think that would be the end of it. Oh no, self-inflicted mental torture is one of my specialities.

A few hours later, we’re lying in bed, starting to fall asleep, and I conclude our day with, “I just don’t want to be bad daughter-in-law. I already feel like a terrible wife. I don’t want your mom or dad to hate me or think that I don’t like seeing them. I feel awful.”

All Robert can do is squeeze my hand, remind me that I’m not any of those things or in danger of any of those things, and wish me good night. I fall asleep soon after he does.

On Wednesday, after I had to let M down about dog-sitting for him, V and I met at the coffee shop to work. I told her about my encounter and subsequent guilt. Her succinct response was perfect: “You and I will just have to learn to embrace saying no right now.”

That’s it!

Although I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say that I’m a people-pleaser, I do want everyone to generally be happy (at least with me and what I’m doing). [On second thought, that might be exactly what people-pleasing is….] I want to be seen as someone who has her ducks all in a row and can hold everything together effortlessly. I don’t want anyone to have a reason to judge me. I want to be the kind of person that I see in other people.

But what writing this dissertation has taught me is that I absolutely must become comfortable with the exposure of my flaws and shortcomings. Sure, I can sit here and rattle them off to you fine folks–I myself am well aware of the precise ways in which I fail so spectacularly. But that doesn’t mean I want other people to be likewise aware. It is much better for me if I feel that others look at me and think, “Amanda’s all right. She’s doing just fine.” I don’t know what I’m afraid of if they were to see the truth in my failings, but it is a fear I’m coming to grips with now.

While I write this dissertation, I have had to prioritize.

Dissertation over teaching. Done.
Dissertation over weight loss. Done.
Dissertation over social life. Done.
Dissertation over romance. Sigh.
Dissertation over family. Ugh.
Dissertation over ALL. Sob.

And we can see the degeneration–I am getting to a place of utter and bitter resentment toward this project. I want to prioritize my life in other ways. But I lived that way last year, with my dissertation taking the priority I believed it should have taken…and my progress suffered.

These next few months, on the road to graduation, I am learning to say “no.” And I have to at least sound like I mean it, even if on the inside I’m cringing, wrestling with guilt, and begging for forgiveness.

(For the record, though, I have a pretty good start on this chapter. I’m sneaking on 20 pages, and should hit around 35 by Monday, if all goes according to plan. And then the grading marathon will begin!)

Domestic adventures, Hab. style!

March 16, 2011 § 8 Comments

This morning, Robert and I were enjoying a rare, slow-moving weekday morning together…when the giant (think: Sam’s Club) jar of salsa that Robert was putting into the fridge slipped from his hands and crashed onto the floor. The amazing part of it was that it landed on its bottom, which temporarily contained the salsa until I could get over to him and help him clean it up. Of course, as soon as we lifted the jar, the salsa poured out. My genius plan was to try to “catch” it into a paper towel as Robert lifted the jar…what I hadn’t thought about was that the bottom was utterly demolished, so scooping up the salsa would have required me to cut the crap out of my hand. I abandoned the plan immediately and watched while the salsa mountain grew in front of the fridge door.

We flew into action cleaning up and trying to watch where we stepped. Callie bounded past us, much to our displeasure, but we couldn’t really stop her because we didn’t want to cut ourselves up in the process. She made it to the bedroom, so we decided to deal with her once it was safe for us to move about freely. Robert, slightly further away from the slivers of glass than I was, grabbed the vacuum cleaner, and then I set to work.

I must have vacuumed for ten minutes, listening carefully for the gentle “clink, clink” sound of glass working its way through the hose into the bag. Then, I vacuumed again, satisfied with the lack of clinking. I caught Cal, and Robert examined her sweet little feet: glass-free! Brilliant Callie avoided all the teensy little shards that were literally everywhere.

Our day moved on as days do; Robert went on to work, and I met V at the coffee shop for another work session. We both arrived home in the afternoon, and we picked up the dogs from the boarders’ where they’ve been since Friday. I was grateful that the salsa jar accident happened while they were gone so that we could take care of all the glass without worrying about all four animals, especially one as curious as Annie.

Then, as I was cooking my dinner, I spun away from the stove and suddenly: OUCH!! I looked at the bottom of my foot and my fear was confirmed by the blossom of blood spreading slowly: I found another shard of glass that I missed while vacuuming. I hobbled around the house until I got my hands on my tweezers, and then I hobbled back to the living room where I plopped down on the couch and extracted the offending intruder. I’m now properly bandaged, and the little drips of blood that fell onto the floors at odd intervals have been cleaned up. I really hope that that was the last of the shards.

I did call my husband in between the pirouette of torture and the home extraction, and he immediately responded by getting into his maroon steed to come to my rescue. I wasn’t sure at the time if I could reach the glass; it was in an awkward location in my foot. But I decided I might as well try at least once, and that one little try worked like a charm. I called Robert back and sent him to return to the guys for the rest of their evening. Of course, I felt awful interrupting his fun with them like that, but he was more concerned that I did in fact get all of the glass out of my foot.

So, those were our domestic adventures today. I’m grateful I have the kind of husband who would drop what he was doing just to come home and dig out a little piece of glass from his wife’s foot. 🙂

Sometimes life just requires you to high-five a puppy

March 4, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’m dangerously close to missing my very first post for the Post a Day Challenge. But I won’t. Because it’s still 10:28 here in my neck of the woods. Boo-yah!

In a very short post, I shall demonstrate to you precisely why sometimes we have to high-five a puppy.

Take Annie, for instance.

Okay, that's just an expression. Please don't literally take Annie.

In only a few short days, Annie has learned how to shake and high five. Why is the latter particularly awesome?

Because sometimes, like after a day of amazing accomplishments…or a day of rest…., you just really have to high-five a puppy. She gets the best look on her face, too–ears go down and back, like she’s really concentrating, she pulls her head back so that she displays her double-chin, and then she just starts going for it. Sometimes, most times really, Annie does the high-five superbly well.

But on particularly wonderful occasions, Annie will give you the double-high five, placing both paws in your hand. I’m working on teaching her the word “dance” when she does this so that she and I can bust a move when I feel like a high-five won’t do.

In the meantime, high-five the nearest puppy to you. It will make your day so much better.

And on that note, I’m leaving this post behind and returning to the couch where I’m going to enjoy my alcohol-induced buzz. ‘Night y’all!

See? I knew I wasn’t crazy: or, why I love my vet

February 19, 2011 § 6 Comments

For the past few days (several?) Annie has been having some accidents in the house. They’re not big puddles. They’re not on anything of particular value to us (although…I’ll come back to this in a moment). They’re these little dribbly trails that indicate where she was walking (apparently in twisty patterns, as though she were lost). And, the most befuddling of all: she still rings her little jingle bell by the door to tell us when she has to go potty. Just sometimes we’ll walk into another room and find a dribbly trail.

Flashback to September.

Less than a couple of weeks after we brought her home, Annie developed a UTI–the dreaded urinary tract infection. We managed to catch her condition before red blood cells appeared on the scene, thank goodness. We had taken Annie for a routine puppy wellness check, and our vet (who we abso-stinking-lutely adore) asked us how potty training was going.

“Well…” Robert and I said simultaneously.
“We got her this bell to ring by the back door,” I said. “And it only took her five days to learn the bell. So generally we’re doing pretty well. But then….”
“Sometimes we’ll find these accidents in the house when she hasn’t rung the bell,” Robert finished.
Dr. Vet looked contemplative for a moment and asked, “Are they puddles?”
“No…” I said, suddenly feeling like we were uncovering a great Annie-sized mystery. “They’re more like little trails…like dribbles. It really looks to me like she might have started to pee before she realized she should ring the bell.”
Dr. Vet looked at her tech and said, “I think we’ll want to run a urine sample. It could very well be a urinary tract infection. Female puppies in particular are prone to them.”

Several minutes later, the urinalysis came back, white blood cell positive–an indicator for infection. She prescribed us two weeks’ worth of Clavamox, and Annie soon started to feel better and stopped dribbling on the carpet.

Flash forward to today.

This morning, I awoke to find a chewed-up trouser sock (one of Robert’s…sigh…) as well as little dribble trails of pee all around the front of our bedroom by the door. A couple of my sweaters that had been on the floor were in the line of fire as well. I woke Robert up immediately. “We have a problem!” I told him. And we set to work–he got out the Resolve to spray the carpet (we’ve already gone through an entire can in a few days, since this started), and I threw my sweaters into the wash and Robert’s sock into the trash.

After breakfast and another potty break, Robert and I attempted to make sense of what happened. We tossed around the obvious (maybe she’s pushing boundaries, maybe she’s not as potty trained as we had originally thought), but then we started to recall her last UTI. I called Dr. Vet and made an appointment to have her seen immediately. Of course, since she had already emptied her tank in our bedroom and the yard after breakfast, Annie wasn’t forthright with a urine sample at the veterinary office. But Dr. Vet didn’t even need one.

Dr. Vet asked me to explain what had happened (after all, she had just seen us a week ago for her second round of the flu vaccination), so I walked her through what we’ve been experiencing this week. “I don’t know, Dr. Vet. Do you think I’m overreacting? Is she just being defiant?”
Dr. Vet smiled and shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense for her to decide to sometimes ring the bell to go outside and sometimes not. When dogs are trained, they’re trained. She wouldn’t be making active decisions like that.”
“Yeah…it just doesn’t seem like she’s acting out. It’s not like she’s peeing on our bed,” I told her.

As I was talking, Dr. Vet knelt on the floor with Annie and loved on her (Annie so so loves her Dr. Vet love). Annie laid on the floor, showing her pink belly, happily snorting and spinning her little tail. And then Dr. Vet reached out and palpated Annie’s bladder. And Annie sprung up to her feet, pinned her ears back, and leaned against the wall. If she could have tucked her tail down, I’m sure she would have. Dr. Vet attempted once more to palpate her bladder. Annie cried and jerked away from the tech’s hold.

“Yeah,” Dr. Vet said soothingly to Annie. “That doesn’t feel good, does it, sweet thing? I’m sorry to hurt you…but you don’t want me to touch your bladder, huh?” Looking up at me, Dr. Vet smiled and said, “It’s okay she wouldn’t give us a urine sample. That reaction has confirmed it for me. Her bladder is painful, so I’m going to go ahead and prescribe her an antibiotic rather than keep putting her through a painful examination.”

I was so grateful to Dr. Vet for reassuring me that I was not overreacting, that I was not jumping at shadows. I am sorry that my poor little puppy girl isn’t feeling well, but I’m also glad that Dr. Vet has taught Robert and me the early early warning signs of a UTI that can help us get a diagnosis before the infection gets really painful.

So here’s to amazing vets everywhere who help loving pet owners take care of these precious animals. 🙂

Mama said there’d be days like this

February 5, 2011 § 3 Comments

Today I did not work on my dissertation. On purpose. Today was Saturday. My day off.

I awoke around 9 a.m., my amazing husband graciously giving me not just thirty minutes to sleep in, but actually an entire two hours to sleep in. It was…glorious. He fed the dogs, took them potty, and even went to Chick-Fil-A to pick up breakfast. Whatever I did to deserve that, I hope I can make that happen again! 😉

As our morning wore on, I realized that I was itching to do something. Anything. As long as it was not in my house. This week’s worth of rain not only caused me to develop a little head cold but also effectively grounded my happy ass and kept me inside. The dogs have been rambunctious all week–Annie, the worst. I told Robert that I had to get out of the house and take them somewhere and run their energy down.

To the dog park! As soon as we got out of the car, the dogs were immediately thrilled. Milton was anxious to get off the leash and play, and Annie’s little nose worked overtime. We walked them almost two miles around the park before finally taking them to the dog enclosure to play with the other rambunctious, cabin-fever-suffering town pooches. Annie literally vroomed! around the park several times, chasing dogs of all sizes and being chased. Milton sniffed and politely introduced himself to the other dogs. He ran around a little while, but poor Milt’s hips are painful, so he spent more time just sort of meandering around.

After the dog park, Robert and I went grocery shopping, and then I had dinner with the girls at a local Irish pub. We had such a relaxing, hysterical, supportive time. I love hanging out with these girls. V and I finished our evening hatching a brilliant (not hare-brained, thankyouverymuch) idea. More to come on that later.

This has been the absolute perfect Saturday. This is precisely how I imagined spending my day.

Thank you Robert for letting me sleep in and humoring my whims. Thanks to Milt and Annie for the exercise and laughs. Thanks girls for being such great friends. The perfect day off. 🙂

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