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The Right Kind of Walled-In

Right Kind of Walled-InA few years ago, Boston endured one blizzard after another until the snowblowers and shovels had nowhere else to deposit the snow. (Yes, believe it or not, I am not talking about this year’s March-a-geddon.) It was almost impossible to street-park in the city, and driveways in the burbs looked like Arctic dunes. Backing out of one’s driveway almost required a traffic cop, and seeing the neighbor’s yard from your car? Forget it if you are shorter than 5 foot 5 inches. We accumulated more than five feet of snow!

The one good part about it, amidst sore backs and snowdrifts that continually crossed pathways out all our doors, was the trail we were able to create in the backyard for our Shih Tzus. Only one foot off the ground, at best, they could not break free and take off across our yet-unfenced yard. For about three weeks, they had a fence of snow that they did not even attempt to climb. It may as well have been Shih Tzu Everest.

During that time, I remember posting a photo of myself next to our driveway’s towering guardrail of white. With shovel in hand, it was even more clear to our Midwest relatives how hard Boston was hit by Jack Frost. And while my husband was understandably overworked preventing ice dams by scraping, salt-bombing, and warming the roof, I was secretly enjoying the pent-up feeling.

The human-sized height of the snow made me feel so safe, so protected, so walled-in. I love when school and other activities are cancelled and nobody can get to our house. As awful as that sounds, for an introvert, it is a little bit of paradise to have a few days off from the world at large. Even the governor of Massachusetts had my back that year with that whole State of Emergency thing.

But even for an introvert,  Read the rest of this entry »

 

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To Be Called by Name

To Be Called by NameIsaiah 43:1, ESV

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

Our house is full of new pet excitement right now. After researching lionhead rabbits for two months, we found a lovely breeder on a small farm in Nowheresville, New Hampshire, about an hour north of us.

Four years ago, we brought home our first family pets: two Shih Tzus (lion dogs). We are apparently obsessed with animals with a lion resemblance! Earlier this summer, we rescued a few tadpoles from our pool that are now tree frogs in a terrarium. And now a bunny. I did not grow up with pets, so the fact we now have five still amazes me. And while my Shih Tzus’ names were chosen before they were born, my frogs still don’t have names. My younger son insists that they are full-grown before we attempt to give them specific identities.

And this bunny. This fluffy, double-maned, dwarf-sized rabbit is basically a ball of fur with feet and ears. It is a black and gray beauty, and despite our hours of brainstorming names like Truffles, Mistletoe, and Avocado, it remains nameless*.

When I asked my daughter how she chose this particular baby rabbit from the four does that were available, she said: “It was the softest. That is what I wanted.” And a memory from 13 years ago completely snapped into place for me: a tiny ten month old crawling down the hall toward the only shag carpet we had…in the bathroom, collapsing victoriously onto the edge where she pet that carpet over and over again as her reward for all the strenuous drag of her body. At that moment, I thought: “God made this bunny for her. He knew she would identify its fluff as hers when they met.”

But I will tell you something. The bunny knows my daughter’s scent, her light touch, her cuddle, the warmth of her cheek against its side. In just a few days, it anticipates her cupping her hands to support its baby hind legs. It hears her rustle in the loft bed above her cage and knows its owner is there. It is secure and can snuggle down for the night. Hay and water will be there in the morning.

What I find so difficult is talking to the frogs and bunny but having no clear way to address them. I feel like somehow it holds part of my affection back, that until they are associated with a name, I cannot fully give my heart to them. Somehow a name Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Ways I Cope Through Deep, Dark Winter

10 Ways I Cope Through Deep, Dark WinterI don’t know about you, but the short hours of daylight and long, dark nights really get to me by January. The holidays are over, the school snow days have commenced, temperatures have plummeted, and cabin fever is an ongoing threat. Some people call this Seasonal Affective Disorder. I call it: “anyone living in this climate and these latitudes for part of the year.”

I am an introvert and very sedentary by nature, so being at home writing and editing with warm dogs at my feet is my preference, but there are challenges to working at home. And, really, I see all five of my family members fight to get through the Boston Deep Freeze in more ways than one this time of year. Lately, we New Englanders have been basking in the 9 degree glory of no wind and a temporary reprieve from the white stuff.

But what about the darkness, the dry air, and the way this time of year messes with our minds and bodies?

Our white landscape typically starts to melt in March. That can be a long wait!

Here are some tips that get me through the countdown to April showers bringing May flowers.

(By the way, I receive no compensation for these endorsements.) 

1) Warm Meals for All Times of Day

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, run right out and get one. Seriously. Or at least purchase some kind of electric pressure cooker.

The idea of warm oats waiting for me upon wake-up, all set with a timer and ready to warm me and my family in the chilly downstairs, is a reason I can get up on days when the bed seems like the best place to hibernate.

Have I mentioned how much an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) has changed my life? Out all night taxi-ing kids to activities? Only come up with a dinner thought at 5:00? So quick, so easy, so good. Get one with a timer if that helps. My steel-cut oats greet me in the morning after setting the timer the night before. Really, the IP and I have become BFFs.

Most of the time, I search on Pinterest for recipes, but this book has become permanently attached to my kitchen countertop this January. It already has the splash marks of a well-loved book! Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Removing Unwanted Layers

Removing Unwanted LayersIn light of the recent “National Dog Day,” I was reflecting on my newly shorn Shih Tzu Samson. Like his namesake in the Bible (Judges 13-16), he is strong and very hairy.

(If you’re not a dog fan, hang in there…I’m going somewhere with this—and as a sidenote, how can you not be a dog fan? Wink.)

My daughter and I spent an hour and a half one day out in a doggie-gated area of our backyard taking the clippers to our resident fuzzball. It was mother-daughter bonding time: many laughs over our mild-mannered but fed-up Samson. He was mostly patient as we practiced our haircutting skills, trimmed a little more beard here and there, gave him a manly tail shape, and assessed where we missed and he still looked a bit shaggy.

But under all that hair was a robust dog, strong and youthful, playful and now much cooler. Our home isn’t air-conditioned, so I could almost see Samson breathe a huge sigh of relief, pant a little less, and feel a bit more spry with the weight of his “wool” off. He looked like a lamb, fresh from the shearing.

Oh, Samson, Buddy! We forgot how unencumbered you are without the heavy weight of your hair! How free! How cool! How lovely!

I thought about myself and others carrying around burdens. Maybe you are too. I considered what we look like—even feel like—when we take a few layers off, when we start stripping off the layers of worry and care.

Granted, we cannot always do that. We all have responsibilities and commitments, right? We can’t simply “drop hair” like Samson and now run about footloose and fancy free in the yard.

Or can we? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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My Master’s Feet

My Master's FeetThe other morning I thought I’d start work early so I could spend most of my
day with the kids, who are now on summer vacation.

As I sat down on my IKEA chair, my Shih Tzu Delilah jumped up to sit at my feet on the ottoman. Her barrel-chested brother Samson, a few pounds heavier and a bit more awkward, couldn’t leap up to join her, so he pawed my arm and whined for several minutes until I heaved him up. This time he didn’t want her company. He wanted to be close to me.

He immediately resituated so he could lick my bare feet and then laid his soft, teddy-bear head against them.

I believe this was Samson’s way of snuggling in, receiving reassurance, tapping into my “master love.”

Oh, Samson, Buddy, what a parallel I draw here. Thank you for being my morning muse.

[Samson’s sister likes to lick laptops. Yeah, dogs are weird.]

How much I am like Samson! When I wake and know my Master is with me, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Licking Laptops—and Other Things in Our Way

Licking Laptops—Nothing quite says “laptop” like the local coffeehouse. It’s one of my favorite places to flip that puppy open and work on social media marketing, read articles about the publishing industry, check out a new profile on LinkedIn, or pin that recipe. I’ll admit, when I’m “taxi parent,” I flip it open more frequently at the karate dojo, in the car outside the dance studio, or at the occupational therapist’s office waiting on my son.

But I was at home one day when I started settling into a good writing groove in my favorite-and-very-old IKEA chair, feet propped up on the ottoman. Suddenly, I heard some slurpy noises. As I peered around the screen of my laptop, it turns out that the Almighty Glowing Apple was getting a good lick on the other side of my creative mind flow.

I hadn’t even noticed my Shih Tzu Delilah by my feet showing her puppy affection for my MacBook Pro. She has a way of claiming space on the ottoman like a stealth fighter pilot. (Meanwhile, her brother Samson was on his bed, as usual, sending peaceful snores into the air to a rhythm that sounds so much like “Billy Jean” that I keep looking for the trademark white glove. Pretty sure I saw him slide backward with each snuffle, though.)

My dogs would lick every inch of our arms, faces, feet, etc., if we let them. There are several different reasons why dogs lick. I think my dogs primarily show affection that way.

But, why, oh why, did my 12-pound Shih Tzu lick my laptop?

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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When We Humans Find Ourselves Barking at Everything

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My otherwise laid-back, lazy, happy-go-lucky Shih Tzu Samson couldn’t care less about much most days. The world goes on around him, and he sometimes gets up to engage, but he’s often very content just to lay in his warm bed and give us a toothy grin or a quick glance of acknowledgment. Unlike his high-strung sister Delilah, he is easy to be around, low-maintenance, easy-going.

Except when he perceives something different outside as a threat. 

Usually this is a trash tote at the end of my neighbor’s driveway or a lawn mower my husband left out in the yard for a time. Sometimes it’s a squirrel, turkey, or deer, but most of the time it’s an inanimate object casting a shadow that isn’t usually there and therefore is a threat.

Samson can sit at our window-paneled door for 20 minutes solidly barking away at said “threat.” I often wonder if he finds it confusing that the trash can and/or lawn mower don’t therefore scurry immediately off—or at all.

And when I watch him going crazy for a while, spending all of whatever little energy he has being fierce protector against a mythical enemy, I see myself.

I see all of us.

How often do we, in times of stress, bat at everything in sight in front of us, viewing everything as a perceived threat?

How often do we live in attack mode, ready to pounce? This subject is touched on in “What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common,” but looking at it from a slightly different angle: Whom are we screaming at, coming against, jumping on, cutting off, and defending ourselves against, when really, that person is just a lawn mower—coming to, of all things, mow the lawn?

I think so often we do this to those closest to us, with whom we are most comfortable, because we know they’re here to stay, and we need to attack something, after all, and they’re a ready, available, easy target. But I also think we run around in times of stress seeing everyone and everything as the enemy, against us, ready to snatch our time, money, or resources. Dumb as it sounds, it could be the driver in front of us some days whose mission, we’re convinced, is to keep us from getting to that appointment on time. (Yeah, because we know perfect strangers wake up every day plotting to make our lives difficult.)

Or maybe it’s the child coming into the room for math homework help when we finally sat down to pay a bill that’s overdue. Or maybe we just took our first few sips of coffee that afternoon? Maybe we were about to “get our peace on,” and they came into the only time of quiet we have had all day.

Could it be the phone call coming in from a friend who might need help? Do we see that as a drain, a struggle, a time suck, a distraction, keeping us from something else? Something we are frantically trying to cross off our to-do list?

What about the well-meaning neighbor kid coming to the door to sell popcorn for a cause? Is it his fault dinner is burning, our phone is ringing, the toilet is clogged, and the husband is home late?

How about the husband who just walked in the door and straight into Mama Rage without warning because an injustice in the kids’ world needed to be set right, and he’s the first adult she encountered since her anger started smoldering?

Not always, but often, our short, sharp, barky replies in response to anything that moves—or even things that don’t but we think they should!—are the result of us being way…too…busy and overplanned. And when we realize for a fleeting second that we are not God and can’t possibly accomplish all we set out to do that day, we notice we actually have no margins. Life quickly becomes ugly, frantic, stressful, and impossible, really. Nothing feels doable. Even the next crisis needs to take a number. We simply have no room for anything extra to squeeze in and need our attention.

Everything unplanned is “in the way”—and therefore barked at.

We are edgy, grumpy, short-of-temper, and really of no use to anyone.

Maybe that is never you. Or maybe you are around someone who is stuck in this rut and can’t see the light leading him/her out.

The first step is recognizing we have our bat out and are taking a good, solid swing at everyone in sight. (That might feel good in the moment, but we leave scars and dents all over the place that we later have to deal with. They don’t usually repair on their own, as I’m finding out.)

The second step is breathing deeply, being still, taking a moment to regather our thoughts. Pretzel breathing has become one of my new, closest friends. We need to clear our heads and allow for some self-reflection. Taking a few steps back can help us to see at whom and what we are slamming and to decide if that is truly warranted (it rarely is).

Third, for my family, we believe we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts:

Psalm 139:23-24, David speaking ESV
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 51:9-12, David speaking, ESV
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

and bring us fresh peace: 

Psalm 29:11, David speaking, ESV
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! 

Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah speaking, ESV
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

John 14:27, Jesus speaking, ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:4-7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. For us, these verses give us hope that we can stop barking. They offer a fresh start after repenting and then getting our peace on.

We’re not really in control, and barking and swinging are mere attempts to try to grab some control, order, and structure back. What we really need is to be still, examine ourselves, ask God to examine us, and let His peace wash over us to refresh us for the next thing coming our way.

Spoiler Alert: The “next thing” might not be in order on our list. It might very well be an interruption. Either way, we need His peace to keep us from sitting at the door ready to attack anything walking or standing by.

I’d rather live employing defense when I need it and not remain tense and rigid in a constant posture of offense. What about you?

Referring to this book again, because it’s pretty awesome:
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem 
by Kevin DeYoung
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

 
 

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