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.





Spring is in the air!

3 04 2013

Image

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?





Constant and never-ending improvement

5 11 2012

With fall here, I’ve been getting caught up on a number of projects, in preparation for all that comes with the change of seasons: fall pruning, garden winterizing, gutter cleaning, and halloween decorating.  Thus the last few weeks of missing blog posts.

In addition, we brought a new member into our family last week.  We adopted an australian shepherd from the Australian Shepherd and Border Collie Rescue of Northern Nevada.  A big THANK YOU  goes out to Kathy Givens of ABC rescue, and Kathy & Rick (Montana’s foster parents) for all of their efforts in caring for all these animals in need!

Montana is a handsome “tri” and is settling nicely into our busy routine around here.  I’m sure I’ll be posting more on him in the future.

I find myself reflecting, as I do with every transformation of the seasons, on the change that is constant in our lives.  Spring to summer, summer to fall, and so forth, cycling back around to start all over again.  This circular perspective can feed into the misconception that we, too are just running in circles.

It’s really more of a spiral, isn’t it?

For me, the question becomes this: are we spiraling upward or downward, forward or backward?

Over the past 26 years of teaching & coaching, my purpose for teaching hasn’t changed very much.  My goals for my students have always been based on my goals as a martial artist, and as an idealist.    My perspective, however, certainly has changed, as I’ve morphed from a young single college grad into a much older husband, and father.  This additional perspective has only served to validate and reinforce my ideals and goals.

Simply stated, and on a grand scale, my purpose is to make the world a better place.  I’ve always been an idealist, and I believe each and every one of us has the opportunity to leave our mark, whether small or large.  Each of us will impact the world we live in, and our legacy is for the future of all mankind, for better or worse.  Like a pebble thrown into a pond, our actions cause ripples with unknown and far-reaching possibilities.   Isn’t it our moral responsibility to make our contribution as positive as possible?

The martial arts have provided me an avenue to teach the things that I believe are key to helping positively effect powerful change in the lives of the students.  By extension, they can help lead others to accomplish the same.

The martial art philosophies of courtesy and respect, self-discipline and humility, patience and commitment, are all vital tools for life.  Perhaps the most important skill, and the one I believe binds all other ideals together is embodied in C.A.N.I., a term coined by Tony RobbinsConstant And Never-ending Improvement should be ingrained in our lifestyle, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.  It is a mistake to think that at some point in our lives we get to coast.  Only if we are continually striving to be the best person we can, will we ever experience our true potential.

Since becoming a parent, my goals have become even more crystalized in my mind.  Now all of this pertains not only to the students and friends I may wish to influence in a positive way, but to those dearest to my heart; my three daughters.  Just as I would imagine all parents feel, my hope is that my children grow up to be an improvement.  I want them to be better people than I am, and to have a better life than I have.

The only way we, as parents, can accomplish this, is to strive for the same ourselves.  We must lead our children by example.  If we want them to be well prepared, we must be well prepared.  If we want them to achieve their full potential, then we must be striving to achieve our own.  We must constantly and continually be learning and growing, thereby improving ourselves in mind, body, and soul.  Only in this way can we lead our children, so that they, too, can be the best that they can be.





Evolution?

17 09 2012

Already as beautiful as could be!

The Lovelace is an old hotel in my hometown that had been converted into apartments long before my time. It was a pretty cool place to reside back in my college days, with a community t.v. room in the former lobby, and a toilet and a shower down the hall. It was one of those old buildings with a boiler in the basement, and the radiator heaters that clank and hiss as the steam passes through, constantly waking you in the middle of the night, and heating the building in the dead of winter to a temperature just short of blistering. The adjustments never worked on the individual radiators, so you were left to controlling your room temperature by how wide you flung open the one window that wasn’t painted shut. My friend and I rented a couple of the more swanky apartments, with our own kitchens & bathrooms.

But I digress…

While living in the Lovelace, a group of us watched an extensive, multi-part, BBC documentary on human sexuality. There are two key points I gleaned from this show that have been the basis for my philosophy on the subject ever since.  The first is the simple biological forces at play in human sexuality, and the second is the media’s manipulation of those forces for their own gain.

The first episode discussed the biology.  From a purely scientific standpoint, sex is about the propagation of our species; the survival instinct. A large part of what drives us is simply the species’ need for the successful production of healthy off-spring. What is considered ideal when selecting potential mates, however, differs slightly between males and females of a species. (These differences, together with social conventions lead to a whole list of other issues, better left for another post.)

Males want to assure the proliferation of their off-spring, as opposed to another male’s. What better way to do that than be there first? Thus, females that have just passed puberty are desirable, and girls of this age tend to be proportionately long legged. A healthy mother is more apt to be able to birth healthy off-spring, so all of the traits we associate with health, such as bright eyes, and clear skin, come into play. Other attractive physical traits include enlarged breasts and flushed skin tone (arousal).

The Barbie Doll is an extreme exaggeration of these traits, with physical proportions that do not even exist in reality.  However, everybody knows that’s just an imaginary toy, right?  (I should rephrase that: these proportions don’t exist in the natural, un-manipulated state, since they now apparently do exist in reality, thanks to modern cosmetic surgery!)

In a later segment they applied this knowledge to advertising. They took a photo of a blond model in a black skirt, revealing plenty of cleavage and leg, lying on her side in a sultry pose. As we all know, she has already been doctored up with plenty of make up, and the lighting/photography is just right. Then they put this photo on a huge computer screen (common enough today, but remember, this was back in the early ’90’s!) The computer tech then proceeded to completely manipulate the image. First, he eliminated every skin blemish at the pixel level, a level unobservable to the naked eye! He added a little more color to simulate arousal, and added a little shading to increase the definition around the breasts. He then increased the size of the breasts and width of the hips ever so slightly, while decreasing the waistline just a touch. Finally, he increased the length of the legs by something like 20%. Now we have a “photograph” of a woman that DOES NOT exist.

I was unable to find the above mentioned documentary online, but came across this excellent ad from Dove.  It pretty much says it all.

Our reality is so twisted by technology and the media, and given the overwhelming, non-stop bombardment we have created, i.e. billboards, magazines at every checkout, t.v.s in restaurants, smartphones, computers, it’s like a science fiction story come to life. This is so prevalent, it’s no wonder members of both sexes have completely unrealistic expectations. And now we’ve got botox, liposuction, silicon implants, and laser treatments to try and attain a state of perceived “beauty” that has never existed.

I have always found this disturbing, and now, as a father of three daughters, the sense of urgency has me looking for a cabin far from the insanity of the suburbs! Don’t people see the terrible message they’re sending to their daughters? We tell our children they’re beautiful, and then buy them makeup so they can be “more” beautiful? Our society glamorizes movie stars and pop stars, as if it’s an ideal to aspire to. Has everybody forgotten that it’s all fake? The people we see in movies and in music videos and read about in magazines are not real.

As this media blitz continues to expand into every corner and niche of our daily lives, bombarding us with image after image of the impossible, the line between reality and this completely man-made virtual reality is becoming harder to distinguish.   Are our actions as parents helping our children recognize this, or are we just feeding the illusion?

(here’s a link to a good article from CNN, with some great links on this subject)





In the beginning…

15 08 2012

How seriously should we really take ourselves?I’ve found that I talk about myself way too much.  I always seem to find a way to weave some life experience of my distant past into whatever conversation I’m a part of at the time.  I can only imagine that this must be annoying to those around me who might just have their own thoughts to add to the conversation.  The first step toward fixing something is recognizing it needs to be fixed, right?  Well, I’m working on this one.

I could claim I’m just a product of a surreal technological reality where everybody has something so important to say, that everybody should want to read it.  Never mind the fact that nobody really gives a rat’s ass that I just arrived at Starbucks, or that I’m having a really super-great day:)  I could blame it on Facebook, or the Blogosphere,  but that would be bad science.  All of this techno-stuff arrived long after I had already honed this habit of mine.

It could be argued that this tendency is proof of my egocentrism, and this may be the case.  I don’t think of myself as being that self-centered, but does anybody?  Perhaps I’m really insecure and am just trying to build myself up in the eyes of those around me, thereby creating a safe haven for my otherwise very fragile ego.  What would Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung have to say about all this?

My intent, however, is not to brag about myself, nor make myself the center of every conversation.  I just fall into the trap of thinking that if a person understands how I came to a particular conclusion, that it will help them come to the same understanding.  This can lead to rather long, looping diatribes, because my understanding of any particular topic comes from a whopping 47 years of thoughts and experiences.  You see, it all started when I was just a wee lad…

What is the point of all of this, and how the hell does it have anything whatsoever to do with making the world a better place?  I believe we all need to look deep inside ourselves and try to better understand what makes us “tick.”  We should  take some time on a regular basis to re-evaluate ourselves.  Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? The answers to all these questions will help us achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves, but only if we are brutally honest with ourselves.

I believe that to be effective, a person has to lead by example; so here it goes.  One of the things I need to work on as a husband, as a father, and as a teacher, is to be a better listener.  I need to talk about myself a little bit less, and listen to those around me talk about themselves a little bit more.  Finally, we come to the point of this entire entry: What can you work on improving?








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