Sunday, January 21, 2018

How to Sleep with a Dog

If you have a dog, you know that, like humans, dogs sleep, and that they prefer to sleep with a partner. This is where you, the dog owner, or parent of a fur-baby (depending on your level of attachment), come in. 
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
If you are a dog owner who allows your dog to sleep in your bed, you sleep with your dog. If you are a parent of a fur-baby who sleeps in your bed, you co-sleep with your fur-baby

No matter how you share your bed with your dog, the dog thinks he is sharing his bed with you. In addition, the dog probably sleeps much better than you. Remember: the phrase is "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed," not "blurry-eyed and bushy-bottomed." 

The fastest route to better sleep with Fido starts with leveling the playing field so that he does not play the alpha in the bedroom. Your dog will respect you for it, and you will both sleep better as a result. To avoid the awkward his/her/he/she, we will assume that your dog is male.

Step One: When your dog springs onto the bed at night, you spring onto the bed. This will startle your dog, and he will automatically surrender much of the alpha status he has enjoyed until now. 

Step Two: Once your dog recovers from the shock of Step One, he will likely begin walking in a circle on top of the bed clothes. This is known as "rounding" and is an instinctual ritual dating back to your dog's wolf ancestors. Dogs round as a means of tamping down sticks and leaves to make a more comfortable bed. Similarly, dogs often scratch and dig at times like this. 

When your dog begins to round, you begin to round, while explaining to your dog how ridiculous rounding is when there are no sticks or leaves in your bed. If there are sticks or leaves in your bed, assist your dog in the rounding process. This will get the job done faster so that you and your dog can fly off to the Land of Nod that much sooner.

Step Three: Anticipate your dog's impending plop to the mattress, then plop first. This tactic allows you first choice of valuable prime mattress real estate, and surprises your dog into relinquishing more alpha status. Once you have both plopped, be the first to snort, preferably in your dog's face. Some dogs prefer to burrow under the bed clothes before plopping and snorting. If this sounds like your dog, once again, beating him at his own game is key. Just don't forget to snort. 

Step Four: Roll closer and closer to your dog until your bodies slightly overlap, yours on top. Next, inexorably work your way tighter and tighter against your dog. Your dog's body will at first be unyielding, but be patient, as this is normal. Eventually he will give just a bit, and you will be on top in more ways than one. 

Over the course of the night, continue inching towards him as he slowly moves away from you. When you have your dog at the edge of the mattress, roll one last time. Your dog will drop gracefully from the mattress, landing safely on the nice, soft dog bed you secretly purchased earlier in the week and placed on the floor for just this moment. However, if your dog is a Great Dane or St. Bernard, the fall might not be as graceful, and damaged flooring could result. With overweight large-breed dogs, damage has been known to extend as far as splintered floor joists. In addition, the resulting thud can be unnerving but, provided the dog bed is nicely cushioned, your dog will not be injured during his fall. 

And there you have it. It is best to perform this process on the weekend, or some other night when you can nap the next day. 

Do everything just right, and your dog will need a nap too. 

Congratulations, Alpha.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Clawdia and Bill

Once there was a cat named Clawdia. Note the spelling of her name. I named her Clawdia, spelled in this way, because of the needle-like claws God must have installed to compensate her for being such a little thing. When I first saw her, this tiny short-haired tortoiseshell, she was small enough to fit comfortably in my two cupped palms. Even fully grown, she wasn't exactly a big cat. 
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
I met Clawdia for the first time when my then-husband, Michael brought her home from work. Someone had picked her up off the street where she'd been fending for herself. Her rescuer commented that she'd been observed at various times on both sides of a busy highway and had learned to navigate it by using a cross way that ran underneath. What a smart little thing, we all decided.  

Clawdia was a one-woman cat. She chose me as her human, and everyone else could pound salt. But it took her a while to warm up to me. She started by lying near my feet, then on top of my feet, then by letting me hold her on my lap if I sat on the floor. One fine day, she let me rock her in the chair. 

Over time, this cat and I developed a real relationship, but it was not without the occasional lovers' quarrel. Michael and I had a futon with wide, flat wooden arms on which we would lay coasters and rest our drinks. Clawdia sat on the floor at my feet one day alternating her steady gaze between me and the glass of iced tea beside me. Then, with obvious malice aforethought, she shot out one flash of her lightening fast paw and knocked the glass over right onto my nice, white futon.

She also loved to mess with my sleep. She would wait until I had just settled under the covers and was about to drift off before springing onto my chest. One night I was in no mood for this and tossed her back into the other room, shut the bedroom door and got back into bed. Just as I was about to drift off again, she body-slammed the door, hurled herself through the dark bedroom air and pulled a perfect four-point on my chest.

"Dammit, Clawdia!" I cursed, tossing her out again. I must not have shut the door tightly, I thought, but I wouldn't make that mistake again. Five minutes later, there we were again, nose to cold, wet nose.

"Alright," I said, "that does it." I tossed Clawdia out again, but this time I jammed a chair under the doorknob, settled my head against the pillow and waited, smiling. Within five minutes, I heard the soft parump, parump, parump of those tiny paws followed by a satisfying little thump as she connected with the now unyielding door. I grinned an evil grin and we all went to sleep. 

When my daughter, Sydney was born, Clawdia wasn't thrilled, but she did like some of the perks that came with the baby, such as all the gift boxes she seemed to think were new beds sent specially to her and the high chair where she would sit, gazing out over its tray as though waiting for her breakfast.

When Michael and I bought our first house, we left Clawdia with my parents on moving day. She wasn't crazy about strangers and the entire experience would be terrifying to her. At the end of the day, Michael and I were exhausted and decided to leave Clawdia with my folks until the next morning. But then my mother called. Clawdia had been under the bed all day and wouldn't come out even to drink. I told my mother I'd be right there. I walked into their place, and as soon as she heard my voice, Clawdia ran to me, and when I sat down, she leaped into my arms. I held her, feeling oddly proud to be the only person she really trusted. 

A year later we became the proud parents of another cat. We were in Delaware for a graduation, and when we arrived at the motel where the family had reserved several rooms, we found my sister-in-law feeding a black and white kitten. He was what is known as a tuxedo cat because his markings made him look like he was wearing a little tux. My sister-in-law was as sold on this cat as if he'd just coughed her up a sterling silver fur-ball.

"This is a good cat, you guys; I'm telling you, I know. You should take him home."

And so it was. Ten minutes later he was in our room, sacked out on our bed, and looking at us as if to say, "So, where are you guys gonna sleep?"

We were hesitant about taking this cat because of Clawdia who was slow to forgive us even for Sydney. Yet we often worried that she was lonely and wondered if she would benefit from the companionship of another cat. So it was decided that Clawdia would have a friend. She was spayed, he would be neutered, and there they'd be, like the Frankenstein monster and his bride, a better couple thanks to a little scientific intervention. Then again, if you remember The Bride of Frankenstein, at the end of the movie, she hissed at him and he blew up their castle. 

Still, I was optimistic that once Bill (so named for all the vet new vet bills he was about to cost us) was fixed, he would settle down and be grateful for his new home and gal-pal, Clawdia. But soon, even though Bill's family jewels had been reduced to cubic zirconia, he continued sneaking out at every opportunity. 

Clawdia and Bill never really bonded the way I'd hoped they would, but I don't remember them fighting much either, so, fortunately, no castles were destroyed. 

I don't know how either of them died, but I'm sure both are dead by now. Clawdia, was an indoor cat, but enjoyed being let out for about five minutes every evening. All she'd ever do during these outings was roll on the cool, rough sidewalk in our front yard. One night, when I opened the door to let her back in, she was gone. Despite tearfully canvassing the neighborhood for days with her picture on a flier, I never saw her again. She was such a scaredy-cat with everyone outside the family, that I can't believe she would have gone with anyone willingly, nor can I picture her letting anyone get close enough to nab her. On top of that, I can't imagine her straying from the sidewalk.

We lost Bill several years later while living in an apartment until we could move into our next house. Bill hated being cooped up, but we didn't dare let him out in an unfamiliar neighborhood so close to a busy street. One day, while I was out-of-state with the kids, Michael opened the patio door, and before he could stop him, Bill shot out like a rocket. We think the combination of the kids and me leaving, combined with being cooped up in a strange, new place was more than he could stand. Or maybe I flatter myself; maybe he ran out and became disoriented. When I got back, I drove all over the area, talking to people. I even set a humane trap in the yard of a woman who was sure she'd seen him there. 

There are millions of people in the world whose hearts have been broken by a cat - or in my case, cats. How such aloof beings can have their ways with us to such an extent, is beyond me. Maybe it's as my brother once said of cats, that at times it's good to love something that doesn't love you back. 

In Clawdia's case, I'm sure she loved me. As to Bill, if there's a Rainbow Bridge, I guess I'll find out then. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Sock Puppet Store

My kids and I are challenged in getting things done around the house. Cleaning, cooking, and laundry don't seem as important as binge-watching Netflix, eating, and sleeping. I don't know why they don't; they just don't. Not only that, but we've developed this mindset where chores are activities which, like excessive worry, will lop years off our lives. Therefore, chores are avoided at all costs. 
We have what I thought to be an equitable division of responsibilities based on everyone's unique talents and available time. Still, if any one of us drops the ball, we all take a fall. Case in point: If Syd doesn't clean up after herself when she cooks dinner, then Jon, who's responsible for cleaning the kitchen, has an unfair burden. 

By the same token, if Jon doesn't run the dishwasher, Syd, when it's time to cook dinner, doesn't have a pot to whisk in. 

If I don't do the banking, pay the bills, work, and take us all out to dinner at least twice a month, not to mention satisfy their frequent fast food cravings, then we will all be poor, and the kids will be starved for Bloomin' Onions and cheesy fries. You see, we all need each other. 

Last week Jon texted me at work:

Jon: Is Syd vacuuming the whole house? If so, it'd be a bit redundant for me to sweep. Tell me if I'm wrong.

Me: I usually limit my vacuuming expectations to the rugs. You sweep the linoleum and the hardwood. 

Jon: Okay. I cleaned the bathroom sink, but I don't know if it might still be dirty in a while because the water didn't go down so the dirt might just dry again.

Me: That's okay. I meant for you to skip it until I can unclog the drain. Same with the tub. Sorry, honey.

Jon: No prob. I hadn't done the tub yet, thank God.

One day, as Syd was leaving the house, I stopped her and shoved a trash bag into her hands, the one we'd been stepping over for two days.

Me: Okay, Syd, take out the trash and do it NOW. 

Syd, as our hands touched: Hey! You shocked me!

Me: How, by speaking firmly to you?

And don't get me started on laundry. I have bad knees and our washer and dryer are in the basement, so I pay the kids extra to wash my clothes. Who knows when I'll ever see those clothes again. 

When my socks don't match, I tell myself how lucky I am to have such cold feet because that makes the socks feel nicer which, in turn, keeps me from minding as much about how they don’t match. And as I'm being driven off to some nursing home, a truck will pull in to haul my long-forgotten clothes to Good Will. Maybe we can open a sock puppet store with my old mismatched socks. 

I point fingers, but when I was a kid, I was much worse about cleaning than my kids are. There was so much junk on the floor of my room, that when I turned out the light, I'd trail my hand along the wall to keep my balance and shuffle my feet to keep from tripping until I safely found my bed. And I didn’t know how to do laundry until I went to college. I don't know how my parents stood me. I wonder if their parents had a hard time standing them. 

And I wonder how much money we could make with a sock puppet store.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Feeding the Christmas Beast

I've had an epiphany: Christmas is a bit too commercialized, and some of us spend a bit too much.
Christmas Beast, copyright, Teece Aronin
Every January I start budgeting to feed the Christmas beast, the tinseled, bulbed behemoth already lurking at the end of the year. Christmas, for a lot of us, has become akin to a fluffy white snowball rolling toward us down a mountain, getting bigger and bigger and badder and badder, until it rolls right over us and stops. Then we're expected to dig ourselves out and start pushing it back up the mountain again.  

But the good news? Every Christmas you have the next 364 days to do it - if you start right away. It's like a pinball game automatically resetting and demanding $700 from you for the privilege of losing again.

Then there's online shopping which is great in a lot of ways, but not so great in others. For instance, it's still surprisingly hard work. Nothing tightens up those shoulder muscles like opening an email from Amazon alerting you to the fact that your order of 47 items was cancelled because your "payment method" has expired, and you try to straighten things out on a glitchy cell phone while waiting in line at UPS and pushing two 40-pound boxes along with your feet. 

I don't think this is how Christ would want us to celebrate his birth.

Another thing I doubt is that he'd want us giving children hundreds of dollars worth of presents they'll be too polite to say they hate, but you can tell they do anyway. This sad circumstance sets us up to discover vast Christmas gift graveyards that sprawl under kids' beds and bone piles of unwanted toys that lie heaped in their closets. What a waste. 

As my kids got older (my son is 17 and my daughter 19), it all changed, but not for the better. Instead of telling me what they wanted, or handing me a list, they would text me links to things, mostly tech products with purposes I didn't understand, things that Oppenheimer would've asked his mother for if he'd been a Millennial. And I don't blame my kids; it was a natural outgrowth of what we'd come to as they got older and more tech-savvy and I shopped more often online. Having them do that actually made my shopping a lot easier. Easier, but somehow colder.  

Today I'm pledging to kill the Christmas beast by refusing to feed it. I'm not alone, by the way. Lots of people are cutting way back on the amounts of gifts they buy - even for their kids. And some people have stopped buying their kids any gifts. If an article I read recently is true, Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are two of them. Many parents now opt for gifts requiring more time and imagination than money, like  buying a kid art supplies and then committing an afternoon to making art with said kid. 

Also according to that article, some kids, and even some adults, have gotten pretty testy during the adjustment/withdrawal phase, but a lot of families feel their lives are on a healthier track now that they're doing things differently.

When I told my son what I was thinking, he said he could really get behind it. When I mentioned it to my daughter, she said, "I think that's a good idea, but can I think about it?"

I said, "Nope, you're already handling it a lot better than some people, so I'm taking your answer as a yes."

Besides, it's not as though I plan to go all Kutcher-Kunis on them. What I'm thinking is $100 each in presents plus treats and surprises spread throughout the year, like an afternoon playing my son's computer games with him then dinner at his favorite restaurant.

The idea is to give more from your heart than from your wallet and to give your kid a memory because those can't get lost under a bed.

Then again, if you saw my kids' rooms . . .

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Giving Christmas the Old Heave-Ho-Ho-Ho

Those of us who celebrate Christmas are coming down to the final turn with just eight days left until the big day. Or the big show. Or the “really big shoe” as Ed Sullivan used to say. More appropos might be “the really big stocking.” At this point, however, many of us are ready to give Christmas “the really big boot.”

Until December 26, a lot of us will be losing it a little, and some of us have been losing it for quite a while already. About a week ago I looked down at my hands and realized that when I removed my nail polish the night before, I had overlooked my right thumb. Its nail coated in chipped “Santa Suit Red,” the thumb gazed balefully at me, pleading, “Don’t leave me this way.”

I wondered: Do other women fail to take the polish off some of their nails? The next morning, a coworker flashed the backs of her hands at me. Seven nails had the polish removed and three did not. Most definitely an observer of Christmas, I thought.

On Christmas Eve, years ago, one of my gal pals was coping with her first Christmas as the single mother of a toddler. Blowing her bangs out of her eyes, nose dusted with flour, she was baking cookies, wrapping gifts, screwing toy ovens together and bathing her child - all simultaneously thanks to the six temporary arms single mothers grow during the holidays. When a friend phoned to invite her to a Christmas Eve church service, my friend exclaimed, “I just don’t have time for Jesus tonight!” If Mary had said that on the first Christmas Eve, Christmas, as we know it, would have even more baked goods in it.

Maybe it’s because my children are older now, but I am much calmer these days at Christmastime. Gone is the pressure from telling a four-year-old that I was sorry, but the present he wanted was too expensive, only to have him say, “Don’t worry, Mama - Santa can get it for me.” Long past is the night I rocked my daughter in my arms, both of us in tears because I failed to understand that she didn't "really want the truth about Santa."

Today, my children are nearly grown, so if they suggest I make cheesecake this year, they won't be too disappointed when I lovingly point them to the kitchen, and if I do happen to be a little frazzled, text them the link to a fudge recipe.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Never Take "Bedadryl" Before Proofreading

Last week I wrote a blogpost, then proofread, and proofread, and proofread it again. When it “rinsed clear,” which is how I think of proofreading to the point of spotting no errors, I saved it as a draft and proofed it in preview mode which displays it as it will look look once published. Then I pushed the publish button to send the essay hurtling into the blogosphere.

I know that even if something rinses clear, immediately publishing it is unwise if you can avoid it. It's best to wait a few days and then look at your work again, when you're fresher and not as emotionally attached. But that was the problem: I was too emotionally attached to wait and no longer fresh. Such conditions can only lead to premature e-publication. 

After I pushed the publish button, I read the piece on my actual webpage. I always do this because I find that proofing something that way can reveal more errors. I'm not sure why that is since the preview is essentially the same thing, but still, it just seems true for me. Then I quickly make what are usually minor fixes by this point, hit the update button, and the revised version instantly becomes what readers see. The problem is that spotting any error makes me think there might be others, so I proof it from my webpage one more time. Every time I fix something new, I go back and read again. When I proofed last week’s piece from the website, everything seemed fine. It rinsed clear. 

Now it was time for bed, but I’m a chronic insomniac, and the light exposure from my computer monitor plus the tension from all that proofing, would probably jam up my sleep. So I swallowed a couple of well-known over-the-counter allergy meds. I won’t name the brand, but when my daughter was little, she used to call them BED-adryl. Then, to kill time until I felt sleepy, I read the post in bed from my phone - and spotted this:

Within days, our carpet was so buried under dried out henna-hued needles that it looked like the floor  of Donald Trump's barber.

Is it as obvious to you as it is to me - the extra space between floor and of? Oh, the humanity!

I sat bolt upright in bed and logged in to the Blogger app on my phone. Logging in took three tries because the "Bedadryl" was taking effect. I finally got in, closed up the space, then accidentally eliminated two spaces instead of one and had to put one back in. Then I fat-fingered while trying to tweak something else, which ironically was fine as it was, but could have been better and then mutilated a word which had to be tapped back in twice before my fogged-out brain cried, "Close enough!"

This is where OCD stepped up and said, "Whoa there, writer friend! Best to go back to square one and proof everything all over again because if you missed that extra space, God only knows what other horrific errors and typo blunders are waiting to blind your readers! Actually, you can look that up! Get on that!"

Even my OCD had brain fog. It didn't mean that I could see how many people had been blinded by my errors; it just meant that I could see how many people had read the post: 205 so far. That many? It was after midnight, so maybe I appealed to other insomniacs, those who wished they hadn't thrown out their phone books. Or maybe they were reading me in Copenhagen where it was about 6 a.m. and time to kick off yet another happy day. Denmark ranked third in 2017 among the world's happiest countries. But who cared? What mattered was that things had to be made right - immediately. 

Propped up in bed, I started proofreading again, but kept dozing off, fumbling the phone, and making more typos. Then I tried sitting on the edge of the bed, nodded off, and was rudely awakened when the phone clattered on the hardwood floor. I thought standing might help, but all my concentration went toward not swaying. 

Then it occurred to me that this was a great time for cake. The refined sugar would perk me up long enough to finish my proofing. But I'd have to hop to after that because a crash would follow the rush, and then there'd be no fixing my essay until about 10 a.m., and that would be 4 p.m. in Copenhagen, where it would be dark and time for their afternoon bonfire. Those Danes would be warming their hands around the fire and discussing me: “That woman in the States writes error-laden essays. Best to avoid her work from now on."

So I ate some cake, sacrificing for my art, whizzed through the proofing and by 1:30 a.m. felt confident about the blog post. But I was wide awake and buzzing in my bed until almost lunchtime. 

But it wasn’t really all that late - I meant lunchtime in Copenhagen.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas Trees Aren't as Innocent as They Look

Getting a Christmas tree up gets many of us down. It’s enough to make even the most placid souls ditch cutting down a tree in favor of cutting up an elf.
Image copyright, Teece Aronin
My father suffered the agonies of the damned every time we put up a tree. It was as if the tree had it in for him and had taken it upon itself to avenge every Christmas tree everywhere, along with a couple of poorly maintained topiaries. My father tried to show the tree who was boss, swearing at it in curse words more colorful than a birthday bash for Katy Perry. Then my mother would say things like, “Honestly, Kenneth, the kids." And my father would say things like, “Well, by God, it’s time they grew up!”

Faster than Gloria Allred can sue you for slipping on your sidewalk, I was a single parent, and the only thing standing between my kids and their Christmas tree. Even before my divorce, I was more or less on my own Christmas tree-wise. My ex-husband is Jewish and has cerebral palsy so he might as well have been exempted twice. He would giggle, salute, and say, “It’s your holiday, not mine.” Then he'd be off to wherever it is Jewish husbands go when they don't want to help shikza wives put up Christmas trees. Those were the times the Universe handed me an elf on a platter, but I couldn’t take advantage of it and cut up the elf without ruining the kids’ holidays. 

Another complication with which many of us cope when putting up, and keeping up, a Christmas tree, are pets. Pets have been known to make or break a Christmas tree. They make them by lying peacefully beneath the trees, like contented lambs or break them by - well - breaking them. I'm in a few cat-lover groups on Facebuook and am amazed by the number of photos I've seen of cats nestled among the boughs of their humans' Christmas trees. 

When I was about 13, the tree my father put up taunted him by leaning, no matter how many times he re-screwed it into its base. As a last resort, he secured the tree with twine tied to a picture hook in the wall. In the middle of the night, our dog took off after our cat and both dashed behind the tree. The tree-trunk, weakened by all the screwing and re-screwing, snapped, along with the twine, and the tree landed in the middle of the sofa bed where my brother was sleeping with his wife.

One year, my kids and I had a tree that started falling apart as soon as I got it up. Within days, our carpet was so buried under dried out henna-hued needles that it looked like the floor of Donald Trump's barber. It took weeks after we got rid of the tree to truly get rid of the tree

By the following year, the kids were old enough, yet naive enough, that I could stick them with most of the work. Now that they're in their late teens, I pretty much sit back and supervise. But I'm noticing something interesting, that every year as they put up the tree, they curse just a little bit more. 

But in a way, I don't mind; it makes me feel closer to my dad, rest his soul.