Archive | September, 2011

Today’s resolution: An unburdening of sound

29 Sep

Blessed quiet. (2011/RO)

While this is a photo of snow — specifically, Simone’s footprints in snow — it doesn’t mean that I want snow. No, I’m wishing for quiet. Quiet of mind and spirit and body, all of which are hard to come by at times. The brief near absence of sound that arrives with the first fall of snow reminds me of what that’s like.

Quiet.

Meditation sometimes brings the quiet, or allows my mind to settle down enough to release static built up over hours or days as I work at the computer. I don’t have to be among people to become overwhelmed by the world. It’s right here in front of me, pixels and bytes, intricate roping and twisting flows of information at my fingertips, this web that captures and holds me rapt.

I love it — all this information within my virtual grasp. But it wears me out. For the past week, I’ve been traveling link to link, following paths of explanation — Mashable, Social Times, Mari Smith, TechCrunch and more — about ways to manage social media for marketing, branding, reaching out to consumers with content, content, more content.

I’m in a perpetual learning curve in my latest career incarnation as social media manager. I love it. But it’s exhausting. My mind has growing pains.

So today I took a break, settled down with instrumental music for meditation. Quiet. That’s hard for me to find, achieve. Not only were the electrons snapping, crackling and popping but I had to contend with tinnitus made worse than usual by lack of sleep.

You have tinnitus? Then you know what I mean. You don’t? Think of this: It’s neverending, neverwaning cicada song … in my head. Can’t imagine it? Go to this link and turn up the volume. Close your eyes. Listen. LISTEN.

That’s what I hear every second of every day. Most of the time, I tune it out. But when my mind overtires, I’m incapable of ignoring it. So, meditation.

Music makes meditation possible by giving me another sound on which to focus. Only when my mind finds that pathway can it slow and settle and … then I pass beyond that focus into a place of drifting thought, an unburdening of sound, a shushing snowfall of quiet.

shhhhhhh

I got there.

Today’s resolution: The task at hand

27 Sep

“We should do every task for its own sake as time and place demand and not with an eye on the result. Then each task turns out well, and anything we undertake succeeds.” — I Ching 25, Wu Wang/Innocence (The Unexpected)

My plan today? Surprise myself by not worrying about the future and results; instead I’ll focus on the task at hand.

 

Lovely surprises such as this are alternately known as Surprise Lily, Magic Lily, Naked Lady and Lycoris squamigera. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Paradigms reordered

26 Sep

“You will have written exceptionally well if, by skillful arrangement of your words, you have made an ordinary one seem original.” — Horace

Old bricks made in Malvern. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Meaning

25 Sep

“And Wisdom’s self/Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude/Where, with her best nurse Contemplation,/She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings.” — John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

Zinnia (2011/RO)

Creating light with a soda bottle. Genius!

23 Sep

Please watch this video. You’ll be inspired.

Today’s resolution: Adjust my hat for the best angle

23 Sep

“Not every man has an obligation to mingle in the affairs of the world. There are some who are developed to such a degree that they are justified in letting the world go its own way and in refusing to enter public life with a view to reforming it. But this does not imply a right to remain idle or sit back and merely criticize. Such withdrawal is justified only when we strive to realize in ourselves the higher aims of mankind.

“For although the sage remains distant from the turmoil of daily life, he creates incomparable human values for the future.” — I Ching, 18, Ku/Work on what has been spoiled

Left hanging at Two Rivers Bridge (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Brushes with nature

22 Sep

It happened so fast. A small object hurtling through the air, followed by a lightning streak of black across the river path. Frog and  snake. Prey and predator.

Cici and I jumped about as high as that frog when we saw the two of them flash before us near the end of our walk at the Two Rivers Bridge. We cross our hearts and pinky-swear that we’ve never seen a frog jump so high or leap so far or seen a snake slither so fast. We weren’t so bad ourselves.

That frog hopped for his life, propelling his little froggy ass in an arc reaching from one side of the paved path to the grass on the other. That’s where the snake lost him — and stopped. The snake reared up — we have proof — and stood to peer into the grass. Then the frog made the move that saved his life.

He doubled back, hopped out of the grass a few feet away and made an Olympian leap for the other side of the path. He hit it. The snake never saw him; he finally gave up, bellied down to the ground and slid off into the grass.

See that thin black line parallel to the grass in the lower center of the photo? That's our snake. He was too busy hunting his frog to notice us.

Wouldn’t you know, this is when my camera battery would die. But, fortunately, Cici had her iphone and snapped this shot.

The snake was the last of our brushes with nature today. We were near the end of our midday walk and feeling a bit ragged, but the snake gave us the adrenaline rush we needed to make our way to a picnic table, sit down and catch our breath while our eyes jittered back and forth, up and down, scanning the surrounding ground and the tree branches above for snakes. This was not our first snake encounter of the day.

Earlier, near the beginning of the jaunt, a man walking past us pointed out a small snake moseying across the path. This snake was about a foot long and its skin bore the hourglass pattern of a young water moccasin. When moccasins get older — and much, much bigger — the pattern fades and they appear to be a solid color. Don’t mess with water moccasins — they are aggressive, not to mention bad ugly.

We stood and watched respectfully as the little snake wiggled into the horsetails edging the path.

Then we ambled on. And we began to notice the dead frogs. Of course, I shot a photo.

Poor little guy. Was he trying to outhop a snake and run into a cyclist's spokes? We'll never know. Dead frogs tell no tales. Or have tails.

A little bit on down the path, Cici spied another one, this fellow pretty crispy and flattened. Does that look like a bike tire tread on his back?

He's blending into the asphalt through, we're sure, no fault of his own.

After this, we turned our gaze skyward.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

That’s when Cici spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, which she told me is the state bird of Oklahoma. Cici’s good at this nature stuff, isn’t she? She said she saw many of these birds when she lived in Oklahoma. I didn’t take a photo so I looked one up online.

Eastern bluebird

Next, we saw a few eastern bluebirds sitting on a utility line. Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of that either. But I found one for you. Pretty, isn’t it?

Looping back toward the river bridge as we finished our jaunt, we thought our brushes with nature were over.

Until we saw this. Another frog. We were having a froggy day, which reminded Cici that when her now 18-year-old son, Matthew, was little, he referred to heavy, damp, vision-obscuring air as “froggy.” And it is, we have no doubt.

He's missing a leg. No wonder he got squashed. A one-legged frog won't hop far.

Moving along, we thought we had seen all there was to see.

Well, until the frog-and-snake chase flashed before us. We both observed that the snake appeared blade-thin and as if he had flattened himself against the ground, perhaps to boost his slither speed. Wondering if it could be so, this evening I googled “fast snakes flat.” Zip. Got nothing on that, but I did find this interesting tidbit about how snakes manage motion without legs:

“Snakes move by pushing against objects with specialized scales on their bellies called scutes. The scutes act like tire treads, gripping the ground and giving the snake the traction necessary to push itself forward. Also, scutes are hard and protect the snake as it moves along rough surfaces.” — Thank you, University of Indiana

Scutes? Is that like scoots? Hear for yourself.

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Creature Feature: Secret to pottytraining small dogs is owner commitment

22 Sep

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

BY RHONDA OWEN
 Is it true that small dogs are harder to housetrain than large dogs are?

"Of course we can be trained!" (Simone/RO)

Housetraining a small or toy breed of dog is more challenging than training larger dogs — it’s not the impossible task many people believe it to be although the process is longer and requires more time and attention from the owner.

“They are more difficult to housetrain. With little dogs, you have to take more responsibility about them going to the bathroom outside,” says Lisa Mantle, a certified professional dog trainer in Little Rock. “Instead of just assuming that the dog is going to let you know when he needs to go outside, you have to be an equal partner in the process.”

Small dogs have a poor housetraining reputation primarily because owners don’t stick with the training program for the long haul, she says. Because it takes longer to train a small dog, “people get tired of it. They don’t want to keep going outside with their dog.”

Mantle, owner of Running Dog Academy, has five dogs in her home. “I have big dogs and little dogs. I don’t treat them remotely the same. If my big dogs don’t ask to go outside, I don’t worry about it. On the other hand, if my little dogs haven’t asked to to outside for a while, I put them out.”

Theories about why small dogs are more difficult to train range from their smaller bladder size to breeding to owner expectations, Darlene Arden says in Small Dogs, Big Hearts.

“There are a lot of variables, including the fact that some breeds do take a little longer,” Arden says. “It’s not a measure of intelligence, but more likely an indication of behavioral tendencies.”

Training small dogs to potty outdoors requires vigilence, consistency and commitment, Mantle says. “It’s do-able but you have to stick with it. You can’t cut corners. You have to go through all the steps.”

With small dogs, training requires some type of containment when the owner can’t be with the dog. Some people use a dog crate while others put up a baby gate to confine the dog to a specific room or area of the house.

Another tactic is tethering, which requires an owner to keep the dog with him on a leash at all times. This keeps the dog from wandering off into another area of the house to potty out of his owner’s sight, plus helps the owner learn to read when his dog needs to go outside.

The downside of tethering, Mantle says, is that most people don’t want their dog attached to them continually. “It’s just not very realistic” unless the owner is committed to it.

I agree, although I had excellent results by combining crate training with tethering when Simone was a puppy. At home, I put the leash on her and she shadowed every step I took in the house and outdoors for months. When I took a shower, I hung the leash handle on the door knob and she would settle down on the floor. In the kitchen, she laid on a mat while I washed the dishes. At night, Simone stayed in her crate except for when I got up to take her outside at about 3 a.m. (during the early weeks of training).

Simone wasn’t bothered by being on the leash. It got tiresome for me at times, but the positive results were worth the effort. Not only is Simone well-trained, but she and I are bonded for life.

A key thing to remember about tethering: The dog is attached to you and within a few feet of you at all times. You never tie the dog to piece of furniture or anything else and leave her alone.

Mantle offers this advice for training a small (or any size) dog:

** Don’t let the dog out of your sight.

** Go outside with the dog and praise him every time he uses the bathroom in the right place. Mantle says to continue doing this even after the dog consistently goes outside to potty.  “I do this all the time and  my dogs are 13, 14 years old.”

Why is it important to go outside with your dog? First, so he’ll know why he’s out there. Second, so you’ll be there to praise and reward him for pottying in the appropriate place.

**If the dog makes a mistake indoors, “just clean it up,” she says. “If you see the dog in the process of going to the bathroom, try to calmly interrupt without scaring the dog. Then take the dog outside and reward the dog for going outside.”

** The most important thing to remember is “to stick with it until housetraining is complete. Don’t look at it like the dog is now such-and-such age and should be housetrained by now. Dogs complete housetraining at different ages.”

When the dog is consistently asking to be taken outside for bathroom breaks, he’s trained. But, Mantle says, if the dog is still having accidents indoors, training is incomplete.

“Some people expect dogs to just know things like they should go outside,” she says. “But remember, dogs don’t care where they go to the bathroom. We care where they go.”    

If you have questions about training, email me at askcreature@att.net.        

Today’s resolution: In synch with introversion

21 Sep

Every morning, I read my horoscope in the newspaper — out of habit, mostly, because it’s so general that it rarely has any relevance for me. But an occasional message resonates, like today’s:

“Planning ahead for an event might be your saving grace. This requires more thought that simply how you’ll get there and what you’ll wear. Consider who will be there and what you’d like to talk about.”

Actually, that made me laugh. Welcome to my life — or life as an introvert.

This mural near the Santa Barbara Beach speaks to me. Wonder if the artist is an introvert. (2011/RO)

Everything I do that involves interaction with other people requires preparation. If I’m going to a party, for example, I always think about who might be there and what we have in common so that I have an idea of what we might talk about. I’ll flip through my memory and review our last conversation for reference points. It’s not far out to say that I spend more time on the mental preparation than I do on getting dressed and made up.

Prep work for social and other occasions calms me and is a way of making sure I’m not overwhelmed in a social situation. If I’m overwhelmed, I shut down, go blank. Oh, it’s not pretty.

I’m sure that sounds strange to some, especially folks who thrive on being in crowds of people, who can chat up anyone and who think while talking.

Introverts like me — type INFP —  spend a lot of time looking inward. We’re constantly evaluating and reflecting on our behavior, attitude and reactions. We want to understand — on a deep level —what we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.     

We can’t help it. To us, it’s essential to understand ourselves because we see the world and other people through the lens of that understanding. It’s how we figure out the external world.

Believe me, being introverted isn’t easy. Someone once asked me if I’d rather be introverted or extroverted. I answered that I’d rather be introverted — that’s what I am, after all. But, honestly, I will admit there are times when I wish I could change, that I could be an extrovert — extroverts make everything look so effortless.

I try to imagine would it be like not to not overthink every decision, every conversation, every word I speak or write. I wonder what it would it be like to never be at a loss for words, to draw energy from being with other people instead of feeling drained, to not need to understand everything.

But, on the other hand, I enjoy the thinking and the fact that I don’t require a lot of external stimulation, activity and people for fulfillment. I’m happy to have accepted that I’m an introvert, instead of living life dissatisfied with myself, feeling out of synch with others and actually believing something is wrong with me because I want — and enjoy — a significant amount of time alone (although, please understand me, there’s more to introversion than a need for solitude).

Before I found out about the different personality types, I thought needing to be alone more than my friends meant I was depressed or destined to become the weird cat lady of the neighborhood. The fact that solitude replenished my energy didn’t factor in. I judged myself on standards set by a society that values sociability, being a team player, living a go-go-go! lifestyle.

Understanding what it means to be introverted flipped my self-image from negative to positive, although that didn’t happen instantly.

***

Even though we need time alone to recharge our batteries, that doesn’t mean introverts want to feel like or be  outsiders. Discovering our true nature and learning that others think and feel like we do can be liberating. It was for me.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours reading other introverts’ insights about introversion. There’s one writer who refers to introverts as “my people.”  I like that. We’re a people. We’re together in being energized by the internal world of ideas, impressions and emotions. We’re not alone in our desire to understand.

That understanding is our holy grail. To that end, introverts are constantly questioning why they react to certain things as they do — for example, why do introverts use Facebook? Why do introverts often feel more lonely when they’re with other people than when they’re alone?

What fascinates me about this — in addition to my inherent interest, as an introvert, in introversion — is that extroverts don’t need extensive internal reflection, plus they don’t seem to need or want to talk about their extroversion with other extroverts. It’s not that extroverts live lives free of self-reflection, but deep knowledge of themselves isn’t essential for relating to the external world. And the majority (I know some exceptions) don’t talk about that.

Out of curiosity, I searched Facebook and Twitter for groups focusing on introversion and found them on both. I also searched for groups devoted to discussions of extroversion. I found none — not one. Everything that included the word “extrovert” in its name was related to an activity or person. One FB page was for a musical group named Extrovert.

On Facebook, I participate in an introvert group of about 800 people. Facebook works for us — the majority of us would rather be forced to listen to John Tesh than have to attend a physical meeting together. We’d all blank out from the pressure.

Online, however, we’re able to interact at our own pace and when we choose. We discuss myriad aspects of introversion and share ways of coping with expectations in the workplace, at home, at school, in our communities, and so on. Our discussions are aimed at understanding, of course, but also have a support aspect. For example, members in densely populated countries with cultures or religions that push togetherness find validation and comfort in our virtual musings.

While some people may think that external validation is contrary to the nature of introversion — surely introverts aren’t people who need people? — it’s not. When you live in a world that places a premium on social skills, it’s incredibly affirming to know you’re not the only one for whom a certain amount of solitude is as necessary as air.

***

I first learned about introversion nine years ago when a friend (also an introvert, although a different type) pushed David Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II at me, saying in a do-not-argue-with-me tone, “Take this test.” I was annoyed and almost blew her off, but her insistence made me curious.

I took the test — which contains questions such as “Is it better to be just or merciful?” — and found out that I’m an INFP, specifically the Healer variant. Was I happy? No. Healers make up about 1 percent of the population, which, to me, meant the chances of ever being understood were one in never.

But as I continued to learn about my personality type, I relaxed. It explained so much. Although everything wasn’t spot on, the author seemed to be describing me. I realized that so many things about me that I had always thought were wrong weren’t. They were simply personality traits that run contrary to expectations of a society dominated by extroverts — who make up 70 percent of the population, to be precise.

Since then, I’ve done a lot research into introversion, and talked to many, many introverts. I’ve gotten to where I can recognize a kindred introvert almost immediately — even if the other person doesn’t know he or she is an introvert. I often feel like I’m on a mission to help other introverts feel good about their introversion. By the way, trying to make things better for others is a characteristic of the healer personality.

One of the most helpful books I’ve found for introverts is The Introvert Advantage. In it, Marti Olsen Laney provides the results of scientific studies — actual tests on brain function — that reveal physiological explanations for why introverts and extroverts approach life differently.

But that’s a topic for another post. For now, fellow introverts, focus on not judging yourself harshly for being yourself. Accept. Nurture.
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Today’s resolution: Stay, cross or …? My choice.

18 Sep

“Discovering and following our own path is something that is our personal business; it is not something that one person can do for another. We each have to make our own contract with Spirit, rather than existing as an unwitting signatory to someone else’s previously drawn-up contract. …

“When we search for our spiritual path, we need to reassess, consolidate, and recommit our spiritual focus — and check contractual details. It’s alright to change course as we seek the best course to Spirit; it is equally alright to stay where we are — as long as we realize that compromising our truth is dangerous.” — Caitlin Matthews, The Celtic Spirit

Bridge on path between I-430 and Big Dam Bridge (2011/RO)