walking dogs by Mississippi River

I used to try and vary the route I walked my dogs. Occasionally, I even drove to state parks that were hours away to spice things up. Then I noticed that I was the only one who found walking the same area boring. My dogs didn’t care.

Every time we headed out, it was as though it was the first time — new smells, new animals, new people. Moving with their noses pointing up in the air or dragging along the ground, they found a new scent story on every trip.

dogs sniffing the snow

I decided to try out an awareness exercise I read about in the book “The Not So Big Life,” by Sarah Susanka. I was to look, listen and smell, without putting a name to what my senses took in. Then do the same kind of observations, only attach the names to the sights and sounds and smells.

What I found is that without naming what I observed, I noticed colors and shapes and the contrast of light and shadow.  I heard sounds in volumes, directions, and characteristics such as high or low, percussive or long and flowing — I even heard the space between the sounds.

When I began to put names to things (crow, wind, footsteps), they became just another familiar word — letters that encompassed a group of assumptions.

It’s easier to think and talk with words that quickly define a thing. But was “easy” and “quick”what I wanted?

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dogs waiting on steps

dog

“we live in lonely times, and dogs can go a long way toward alleviating loneliness—but I think the more important truth has to do not with modern culture but with dogs themselves, and with the remarkable, mysterious, often highly complicated dances that go on between individual dogs and their owners. That dance is about love. It’s about attachment that’s mutual and unambiguous and exceptionally private, and it’s about a kind of connection that’s virtually unknowable in human relationships because it’s essentially wordless.” ~ Caroline Knapp, “Pack of Two: The intricate Bond Between People and Dogs”

The kennel where I sometimes board Java and Latte has a big fenced in area where customers can bring their dogs to play. I’ve never seen anyone actually use this fenced in area, so when Steve and I brought the dogs there, we had the whole area to ourselves.

Within the fence, there is a place to grill food, an automatic waterer for the dogs and water fountain for people. There are a few pieces of agility equipment and a pond that Java cooled off in right before we left. She didn’t seem to care that we hadn’t brought a towel to use to dry her off.

When we took the dogs off their leashes, first they walked around sniffing at things. As soon as Latte realized how much space she had to run in, she took off, taking a swipe at Java on her way.

dogs playing

Java will run full bore after Latte but she quickly realizes she cannot keep up with a low to the ground, running and dodging machine. So she tries another tactic, waiting for Latte to get close and then throwing her body into Latte’s path, except that Latte can change course and fake you out better than any football player.

dogs playing

The pure joy on Latte’s face when she is running is the best medicine for anything that ails me. Well, at least I think that’s joy…

dog running

When I get home from work, Latte and I play crazy running games and hide and seek in the house (much to my wood floor’s dismay). Latte runs from the living room, over the bed, under the bed — where she waits — until I get close then SPRINGS OUT and goes back over the bed and under the bed and around the living room — over and over again. I run after her, cut her off, dodge and dart, get down on my hands and knees as we bow to each other, ready to spring.

Latte is my laughter dog. She cracks me up with her antics and the way she will talk to anyone who will listen with a series of noises that are difficult to describe.

dog photo posing

Please don’t make me sit still for a picture

dog photo posing

Okay. Quick take a picture while I’m doing my happy face.

 

 

dog tired of being photographed

That’s enough of that. I’m out of here!

I can’t count the number of times that the happiness of a dog has flowed in my direction, but it’s one of the reasons I have dogs. Surely, it’s one of the reasons we all have dogs. We don’t spend nine billion dollars a year on dog food just to have dog hair all over our couches… Dogs make us happy, because if dogs do anything well, it’s being happy themselves, and happiness–bless it–is catching. ~ Patricia B. McConnell, Ph. D., “For the Love of a Dog”

But Java is my heart dog, my calm down and relax dog. She barks and tries to intervene with the Latte frenzy. She brings me her stuffed zebra or dragon so I will play with her too, but it is much more of a loping play and ends quickly when Java runs back towards me but then takes a quick left into the bedroom where she and her stuffed buddy go back to bed.

Dog fetching ball

Dog fetching ball

Dog rest time

Millions of us have been comforted by our dogs, there’s no doubt about it. Just petting a dog lowers your blood pressure and decreases your hear rate. No one doubts that dogs can influence our emotions just by being there. ~ Patricia B. McConnell, Ph. D., “For the Love of a Dog”

I can’t imagine what it would be like coming home from work, without these two waiting on the steps as I walk in the door, making me feel welcome and important as I arrive back home. OK. So they were waiting a bit long here and looking a little less than enthusiastic… Still, my faithful friends await me.

dogs waiting on steps

Sorry guys. Bad traffic…

The look they give me, that expectation that something good comes from me — games, walks, food, new places to see and smell, lap cuddles — how do I explain what this means to me except to say that everyone needs to know that they matter.

To my dogs, I am a magician, pulling rabbits out of my hat. And I think that’s a pretty good thing to be.

dogs

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

I took this series of photos, trying to capture just the right water drippage as this cow (or is it a steer?) drank water out of an automatic waterer. I was on a local farm tour so there were other people in my way, a fence limited my angles and how close I could get, the sun was too bright, there was background stuff that I knew would be difficult to cut out, and I was using my camera’s manual mode as the auto-mode was over exposing the shot. Did I mention I’m no expert on the best ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, auto-focus versus continuous-focus combination to use in a given situation?

Highland Cattle FarmTour2016-26-5 FarmTour2016-27-6

I was disappointed with the sharpness and detail when I downloaded the photos onto my computer. As I scrolled through the shots with a critical eye, I forgot about all the things I’d seen that day.

I forgot about the exploration and experimentation I’d done.

Flowers

I forgot the ideas that were prompted as I looked at how other people were housing their chickens and what herbs they were growing.

chickens

I forgot about how I had spent the day trying different camera setting combinations and purposely overexposing or moving the camera to create blur. It’d been a long time since I’d spent so much time playing with my camera.

But I forgot all that.

At the end of the day, what it came down to was the result. Did any of the photos contain what I had tried to capture? Were they different than my usual shots? Were there any photos that I was actually proud of?

Trying to get to “good” (preferably “excellent”) is something I struggle to approach with any form of patience.

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brene Brown, “Rising Strong”

This is one of those statements that I respond to with a resounding “YES!” and yet I continue with the habit of being very hard on myself. I’m even being hard on myself about being hard on myself! Good grief!

I feel like so much of what I write here is about struggling. I’m sure you are tired of it, as am I. But am I alone in this? I doubt it.

It’s hard to believe that the woman writing the above and the woman floating around laughing below are the same person. And yet they are.

selfie

Take note of this contradiction next time you compare yourself to all those confident, happy people on Facebook and Instagram.

We’re all struggling in some way. OK, maybe there is someone out there who isn’t but most of us have “stuff.”

What I’m learning, though, is to be grateful for the moments when I am not performing. The times when I’ve dropped my guard and am not worried about how good of an impression I’m making.

Such moments are not always the happy, laughing kind but they are authentically real and alive.

It’s the mix of the sweet and the salty that creates a beautiful, imperfect life.

floating in pond

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