A Dog’s Life

16 09 2013

Montana Dog

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
-Roger Caras

Since we adopted him last fall, an australian shepherd named Montana has become a full-fledged member of our family, and what a wonderful addition he’s been. He has brought much more to our home than I had ever anticipated. I find it interesting that something so seemingly insignificant as an inanimate object or, in this particular case an animal, could be a catalyst for introspection and reflection.

We’d always planned on getting the girls pets once they were old enough to care for them, but it was a more sinister force that precipitated this dog’s sudden arrival into our lives.

The presence of squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits is an idyllic benefit of living next to a golf course and green space. Nature has a way of losing some of it’s glamour when those cute little mammals raze to the ground all of your carrots, spinach and romaine, or trash your koi pond.  A new fence around the garden and an electric wire for the pond took care of some issues, but what do you do about the thievery perpetrated by squirrels? The few peaches they took became a tolerable, albeit annoying loss. However, when the raccoons came under the cover of darkness, and in one night stripped my apple tree of all fifty ripe and ready-to-eat fujis, the romance was over. This was a declaration of war by villainous scum. Within a month, I had found the perfect ally, and Montana came to live with us.

As a “working breed” he is always ready to go and do – anything. He loves my early morning runs, and bounds with joy whenever someone comes outside with his leash. As much as he loves to be busy, he is just as content to lie at my feet, being close to his family. Nothing makes him more content than an appreciative pat on the head, or scratching of his belly, nor is it ever enough. No matter how long I pet him, as soon as I stop, he lifts his head, perks his ears, and looks at me, as if to say, “What, that’s it?”

Pragmatically, raising pets is a great way to help our children learn the importance of being responsible. There’s nothing like having the life of some cute little critter completely in your hands to reinforce this ideal on a daily basis. It’s been rewarding to see how the girls have stepped up in “owning” their responsibilities, feeding him his meals, while also caring for the rest of the menagerie (hamsters, hermit crabs & fish) they’ve acquired over the same period. They’re even big enough now to clean up his poop! (now if they would just keep their rooms clean!)

My hope is these pets will also provide some “teachable moments” on mortality. Admittedly it’s never  easy dealing with the death of a loved one, but it seems there’s a little perspective that can come from flushing a few dead goldfish, before eventually burying a hermit crab, a hamster, and inevitably, even our beloved dog. Well, it’s a plan that “looks good on paper,” anyway.

One thing I had not anticipated, is the emotional attachment that has blossomed since his arrival. It has been fascinating to witness the bond that occurs between man and animal, and the strengthening of our own familial bonds in conjunction. The girls, especially our oldest, are always giving Montana lots of luvin’. Both my wife and I, who tend to be otherwise relatively stoic in our demeanors, are much more expressive of our appreciation and love of this dog than I would have foreseen.

For me, the unconditional loyalty of a dog is a powerful reminder of what it means to be dedicated to your loved ones.  He reminds me that no matter the circumstances, we will always be family. These girls will forever be my daughters, and I, their father. I will always be there for them.

He is a role model for forgiveness. Within minutes of being scolded for some infraction, he is back at my side, as happy and devoted as ever. No matter how frustrated my wife and I may get with one another, at the end of the day, we’re still committed to making one another’s life better.

He reminds me that loving my family as deeply as I do isn’t enough. I need to show them, in deed and manner, how much they mean to me, and I need to do this every day. He reminds me one can never hug his children too much.





Where does the time go?

24 05 2013

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I really dropped the ball this past month. I’d love to blame the plethora of mundane tasks I do daily like washing dishes, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing toilets. I could point to all the time spent on even more pressing matters like keeping the lawn mowed and hedges trimmed to the satisfaction of the god-forsaken HOA. On a more positive note, we can’t forget the many hours spent working out. Finally, I could top off the list of excuses with all the truly exciting events that come with raising three daughters. There’s all those benchmarks so common in the life of a busy little two-year old, which are just as thrilling for me the third time around, as well as attending all of the plays, open houses, track meets, and ballet and  gymnastics classes of her older sisters.

I’d love to blame this busy life for not posting. It simply wouldn’t be true. I’m sure there’s plenty of bloggers out there, with schedules just as busy a as mine, who manage much more frequent posts than this. Extraordinary accomplishments come from extraordinary effort, whether it’s at work, as a parent, or in being a world-class athlete.

Let’s face it. I’ve failed miserably at posting even once the past six weeks because I allowed an apparent case of ADD to take charge. In between all of the above mentioned necessities, I got wrapped up in researching logical fallacies, which led to digging out all of my educational psychology books, and diving into some cognitive psychology. In the process I also stumbled into a discourse with an old classmate regarding creationism, which rekindled my fascination with the current trends in science denial, and eventually led me to get all caught up in the latest idiocies committed in the name of religion, and viola – nary a post for far too long!

All of these varying facets of the human condition fascinate me, and there never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to. For every book I check off my list of “must reads,” I add two more. Of course, all of these topics also play into my pursuit of being the best dad, teacher, and citizen that I can, which means I’m building up a backlog of topics to write about as well.

I can’t imagine inconsistency and unreliability are part of any proven formula for building up a large loyal readership, but be that as it may, onward…

In the final analysis, it’s not ADD, ADHD, nor any other malady that interrupted this work in progress. It was just  a lack of self discipline. I could have spent a bit less time reading those textbooks, or saved the debate regarding the existence of god for another day. I let my whimsical wants dictate my direction. Sure, just “going with the flow” can be fun now and then. As a normal modus operandi, however, this method will get you nowhere in a hurry.

There is more “self-help” literature out there than any mere mortal could ever read, and just like all of the dietary and/or fitness advice out there, much of it is junk. Most of it rehashes what’s already been said, repackaging it in varying ways in an attempt to cash in on a booming industry. The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, by Stephen Covey, is one that I highly recommend.  His is a basic treatise on the fundamentals of succeeding in whatever endeavor you choose to pursue. It’s been years since I’ve read it, but I make reference to it on a regular basis, when I’m teaching my kids, when I’m coaching an athlete, or helping someone with their fitness goals.

His time-management system of four quadrants is a great way to break down activities, and best organize one’s time. As a parent of a two year old, there’s quite a bit of time spent in quadrant 1 that is unavoidable.  matrix-for-job-aidsEnough time spent in the second quadrant may lessen the impact of this aspect of child-rearing, but it’s a fantasy of the highest order to think it could be eliminated.

I, however, am constantly guilty of the simple pleasures that come from participating in quadrant four. This is where our whimsical wants of the moment drag us down, fill up our precious time, and keep us from accomplishing what is truly important.

It’s easy to justify all of the reading I’ve been doing in the name of self improvement. The real issue, however, is whether that reading is more important than the other things that I’ve made a priority, especially when it interferes with those higher priorities. As Covey so succinctly states in his third habit, Put first things, first.” Obviously the past few weeks of whimsical reading interfered with my goal of posting once a week. So, to borrow another habit from Mr. Covey’s book, it’s time to sharpen the saw.”





Spring is in the air!

3 04 2013

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There’s nothing that announces, “Spring is here,” quite like three little girls running around in their brand new Easter dresses, giggling as they search high and low for a bunch of brightly colored eggs.  With all of the flora and fauna blooming in the background, it’s a tremendous fireworks show. Bright greens, pinks, reds, and purples pop everywhere, to the music of Black Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, and Robins, punctuated by the joyous explosions of children’s unbridled laughter.

Spring is a time of rebirth, or renewal, that agrarian cultures are much more attuned to than the masses clustered together in urban settings.  During this time of year, farmers are preparing fields for planting, while ranchers are tending their herds of newborn livestock.  Through the wonders of technology, and the industrialization of our food system, we suburbanites are so far removed from this experience, that the full magnitude of the season can be easily overlooked.  Sure, we witness the spring bloom, (and all the damnable allergies that accompany it) but our lifestyle doesn’t really change that much, nor are we confronted by the vital necessity of this annual cycle.

The importance of spring was not lost on our ancient agrarian ancestors. Their survival was so intertwined with the seasons that such symbols as the egg and rabbit held powerful, religious significance. These pagan beliefs were so ubiquitous, they were absorbed by subsequent religions like Christianity.  Through the ages, these symbols of fertility and sex, both vital for the successful propagation of all species, have morphed into today’s easter bunny. Here’s a great blog post on the topic.

One doesn’t have to be a farmer to appreciate the importance of new beginnings, nor is this concept reserved just for the physical realm of reproduction.  Anybody seriously interested in self development recognizes the importance of regularly re-evaluating the progress being made towards a goal. Serious athletes do this as a matter of course. Spring is when the desired goal (upcoming competition) is planted.  Summer is spent growing the crop (training), finally culminating in the harvest (actual competition). Winter is a time to recoup, and reassess the previous crop based on the results of the harvest.  Then spring comes back around and it’s time to start planting again.

Obviously, our efforts to improve ourselves aren’t necessarily bound to the seasons like agriculture.  It’s springtime whenever we choose to pursue a particular goal.  Whether one’s trying to lose weight, read more, eat healthier, watch less t.v., or exercise more, spring is as good a time as any to (re)assess our progress or  recommit to an unrealized goal.

What kind of seeds are you planting to make your life, and the life of those around you a little bit better?





Blind to our own reflection

5 12 2012

Way back in high school, I took a literature course in science fiction.  We read a number of short stories written in the early days of this genre, as well as a number of novels from the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein.  Science fiction became one of my favorites, not because of all the dreamy techno gadgets, however cool some of that stuff may be, but from the ability to make social commentary in a thought-provoking manner.  It really provided me with a venue to more effectively question and discuss the social ails that I perceived as a young, ideological teen.

We often can’t see the fallacies in our own way of thinking, blinded as we tend to be by our own egocentrism and ethnocentrism.  Reading about other beings and their societies on distant planets or in the distant future, however, can open the door to introspection.  This can be a great way to present social critique in a less confrontational manner, since it’s about some fictional “others.”  As we experience the trials and tribulations of aliens in science fiction, we can come to a more clear perception of our own reality.

Isn’t it funny (or sad) how we can see the weaknesses or fallacious nature of another’s way of thinking, but we struggle to see the same thing in ourselves?  We can criticize a purple alien on some unknown planet light years from our own Milky Way for it’s derision or hatred of a green alien solely because of a difference in color.  Yet, we can’t even discuss immigration, taxes, nor “entitlements” in this country without stereotypes and false assumptions convoluting the conversation beyond any reason or sense.

Here’s another example.  While teaching English in Korea years ago, I visited a memorial for the victims of the Japanese occupation with a number of students.  During this rather somber affair, these gentlemen made no bones about their anger and hatred of the Japanese.  They said the Japanese could NEVER be forgiven for what they had done to their countrymen.

(I, for one, am not a big fan of the “forgive and forget” school of thought.  It seems to me that it’s our tendency to forget that hinders our ability to learn from past mistakes.  However, it’s only by forgiving that we’re able to move forward from past transgressions, as difficult as it may be.)

I acknowledged that I could never understand how they must have felt, but that it seemed more prudent to “forgive, but never forget.”  It had been almost two generations earlier when the atrocities in question had been committed.  The students replied that this was impossible.  Their reasoning was simple; the crimes the Japanese perpetrated were just too horrendous, and therefore they could never be forgiven.

I then reminded them of a conversation we’d had in class not a week earlier regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.  The general consensus of the group in that discussion was that the Israelis and Palestinians needed to just let it go.  They have been killing one another for centuries, each generation seeking revenge for the “crimes” committed to their ancestors, and until they let bygones be bygones, it would never stop.

Their response to this comparison was classic: “well, that’s different.”

When are those damn purple aliens going to figure it out?

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Politics and religion: taboo to you too?

29 10 2012

With the impending presidential election right around the corner, politics seem to be everywhere.  I’ve been trying to become more informed and involved the past few years, since I believe participation is a social obligation that we tend to take for granted.  It can be pretty overwhelming, though.  With all the resources available via the internet, I can really get sucked in, and become derelict in my duties as a father.  So I’ve gotta push back daily from the lap top, go outside & play with my girls.  This also helps me get a daily dose of some well-needed perspective.

I got into a little political “discussion” a while back on Facebook with a pretty close friend of mine.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Of course, we’re all aware of the danger of such a limited form of dialogue.  My wife keeps admonishing me not to get into these discussions, for fear we won’t have any friends who will speak to us. But sometimes, it just seems so necessary.  Sometimes things are just so inappropriate, or out of line, that is seems irresponsible not to say something.

You know what they say about politics and religion. 

Isn’t it sad?  Those are two things we SHOULD be talking about.  Two things that effect nearly every facet of our lives, and discussing them is taboo?   Instead we’re supposed to talk about the weather, sports, or what the idiots on Jersey Shore are up to?  Give me a break.  Are we, as grown-ups, still so immature that we can’t discuss anything in a social setting other than superficial crap?

So I once again dove into the deep water.

It all started with one of those damnable Tea Party posts that are designed to elicit an extreme emotional response.  You know the ones I mean.  Put up a photo of some dark skinned men with AK-47’s, replete with inflammatory headline, and  a brief statement containing perhaps a kernel of truth. (so long as the kernel supports your agenda, of course)

This one was regarding the Guantanamo Bay detainees.  My friend’s response was emotional, to say the least,  suggesting that perhaps committing atrocities on them would be a possible solution.  Turn about is fair play, and all that.

I could understand the anger and frustration he felt, however it seemed an inappropriate reaction to become the very thing we’re supposed to be fighting against; to succumb to our own anger and frustration, stoop to their level and behave just as ignorantly and grotesquely.  The debate went back and forth, eventually ending with the old “agreement to disagree.”

My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.

Our confirmation bias is such a powerful force, it can twist even the most intelligent person’s point of view.  Rather than me rehashing what so many have already covered, here’s a link to a great post I read last week that talks about the forces of the frequency illusion and confirmation bias and how they keep us entrenched in our beliefs, even when faced with the facts to the contrary.

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/

Simply stated, we hold a particular set of ideas as defining, in part, who we are.  When these beliefs are the very things being discussed or questioned, we can become rather defensive.  Without even realizing it, the debate begins to question our very sense of being, and that can be discomforting, to say the least.  That discomfort can cause us to become emotional in defending, in a sense, who we think we are.

The problem with this, it seems to me, is the more emotional people become, the less logical and rational they are.  Therefore, such emotional banner waving is antithetical to actually coming up with a resolution.

For this reason, I can’t help but hold emotional banner waving in total disdain. When I see a mob screaming, waving their fists, and burning a flag or someone in effigy, I think, “what a bunch of ignorant asses.”  Whether it’s a bunch of Iraqis burning our flag, or the Tea Partiers yelling obscenities at the homeless while waving posters of President Obama sporting a Hitler-esque mustache, or the Occupy Wall street crowd deriding free market capitalism while twittering about it on their iPhones, I think the vast majority of the crowd are behaving like idiots.  They’re caught up in the mob mentality of the moment, and that emotion is a powerfully contageous force.  It overrides any form of logic that might otherwise help develop reasonable discourse, and thereby lead to a sensible resolution.

We’ve all seen it; a post on Facebook, or some talking head in the media angrily ranting on ad nauseum, à la Glenn Beck.  Such immature, emotional tirades are no different than all those “others” chanting in front of an American embassy in <insert city of your choice here>, or the demonstrators dancing in the streets in front of the White House at the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death.

Don’t misunderstand my intent here.  I can empathize with the emotions that people are feeling, when they’re so moved to go and demonstrate, or make some “public” statement in social media.  However, when they allow those emotions to completely take over, and justify their actions and words, no matter how hateful, ignorant, or just plain wrong they might be, then they’re behaving just like a spoiled little child having a tantrum.  How could anybody behaving in this manner expect to be taken seriously?








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