A Special Transport

It was quite the weekend. Yesterday (Saturday), I competed in my third CrossFit competition (second individual competition). I’m very self-aware that I’m mediocre at CrossFit but I really like pushing myself. I did about how I expected and while it was physically tough (which is the point!), it was fun to spend the morning sweating and competing.

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What wasn’t fun? The after effects on my hands and muscles. My hands look no better today and there isn’t a single part of my body I can move without pain. But it was worth it.

After the competition, my parents came out to visit for the afternoon/evening. We went wine tasting (the best way to recover, in my opinion) and had a great dinner. While I’ll see them again next weekend (my mom and I are going to a Fleetwood Mac concert!) it was nice to have them out here. I’ve been in the Lancaster area for nine months now and this was only the second time they’ve been out to visit so it was nice to show them around a bit.

This morning, after taking roughly 10 minutes to get out of bed (so painful), I got ready to spring a dog from the Lancaster SPCA. I’ve been volunteering with SNORT for almost four years now but I’ve only done maybe 2-3 transports and I’ve never actually physically removed a dog from a shelter so today was a first.

I was there to spring Lugnut, a 12-year-old male pug who was surrendered by his family. Yes, after they’d had him for 12 years.

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It was both heartwarming and depressing being inside the shelter. So many dogs. So many homes needed for them. So much barking. So much smell. But wonderful volunteers who are doing everything they can to care for the dogs. There were so many pitbulls; one had his/her ears cropped so ridiculously short and I know they are going to be hard to adopt out. A little wire-haired terrier named Annie. Of course I was beyond depressed for each and every one of them. It’s just not the life any dog should have to live.

But anyway, I sprung Lugnut from the shelter and we made our way to meet his foster family. He was shaking like a leaf – absolutely petrified. And I think he was largely deaf so it was hard to calm him down since he couldn’t hear my voice very well. But he had the perfect pug head tilt down pat. We made the relatively uneventful drive where he met his foster family and from what I’ve heard, he’s settling in and meeting the other pugs in his foster home. I’m so happy for that cutie – he deserves to live out his golden years by being loved and spoiled.

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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

In many cases, that’s a good thing. Sometimes it works out well to be semi-oblivious when embarking on something new, unknown, different, etc. If I let the unknown hold me back, I would not be where I am in life right now and while life is up and down, I’m largely in a good spot.

This morning, one of my Facebook memories was of my first foster, Nellie (fka Cindy) from four years ago.

I look back on that experience and realize I had absolutely no freaking clue what I was getting myself into. It’s not a secret that when I started volunteering with SNORT, I had no intentions of fostering. Lucy was still a puppy – probably around seven months old or so. Our apartment had space but it wasn’t huge. My job hours were nuts (and remained nuts for the next four-plus years). ­

I’m not even sure what prompted me to change my mind about fostering. Because Nellie was a puppy mill dog, there were no photos of her (the Amish don’t allow people on their property to take photos of dogs they are surrendering). There was zero information about her besides she was a puppy mill mama who was being given up because she could no longer have litters.

But something in me just had to take her in, so we did. I picked her up sight unseen on a super cold, cloudy, depressing January morning, took one look at her, thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?!” And promptly fell head over heels in love.

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Meeting Nellie for the first time. Love at first sight.

Now with seven fosters under my belt (and hopefully more in the near future), I’ve come to realize there’s a whole list of things I didn’t know I didn’t know before I embarked on this adventure. I was clueless about a lot.

I Didn’t Know:
1. I had such high levels of empathy and patience.
Patience has never been my strong suit. It’s why I’ve remained up in the air about wanting to have kids. But my level of empathy and patience has been practically unlimited with each foster. I don’t even have that much patience with Lucy. But with the fosters? Sure, I got upset when they crapped on the carpet or flipped the heck out during thunderstorms and kept me up for hours. But the amount of poop I cleaned up or the time I spent in the bathroom with a certain foster (Isaac!) during thunderstorms rarely fazed me. I’m not saying I’ve become Mother Teresa, but I’ve learned I have a higher capacity for patience and empathy than I previously thought.

 

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This handsome boy was petrified of thunderstorms.

2. There was so much medical lingo to learn
Entropian. Cherry eye (which I actually learned about with Lucy). Interdigital cyst. Pyometra. Thyroid levels. Seasonal alopecia. Unexplained alopecia. Spina bifida. There isn’t a single foster I’ve had that hasn’t underdone surgery or had a major medical issue. Nellie – heartworm, lyme. Violet (fka Snowy) – spay, entropian, dry eye, bladder cancer scare. Buddy – neuter, dental. Isaac – puppy Prozac, alopecia. Novalee – spina bifida. Blossom – spay, dental (I think). Lady – spay, dental.

I don’t know everything, but I’ve sure learned a lot.

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Novalee had spina bifida but you never would have known it.

3. I’d have to learn to not be squeamish
No sooner had I laid eyes on Nellie than I realized she was leaking…down there. And not pee. It was a…thick goo. Leftover from an infection or a recent litter, probably. But that poor girl just left a trail of gunk everywhere she went for a few days/weeks.

Many fosters have not been housetrained so there’s been countless pee puddles and piles of poo to clean up. So much laundry. Wiping of all bodily areas. I’ve seen tons of incisions, ears filled with wax and countless eye boogers. And let’s not talk about post-surgery poo…

Novalee once ate an entire bag of raw almonds. Let’s just say it became quickly apparent she hadn’t chewed said almonds when she spent three days walking around inside our apartment like a giant pez dispenser of almonds.

I’ve developed a stronger stomach over the past few years.

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Buddy the Pug may have peed on me (and Lucy) a time or two. #maledogproblems

4. That I would handle adoptions better than I expected
Don’t get me wrong, I was a disaster when Nellie was adopted. And tears have been shed every single time a foster has been adopted. I miss them all. But I absolutely love the experience of fostering. It gives me a sense of purpose, something to keep me busy and selfishly, it feels so good be a part of saving a dog. If I had an unlimited budget and a bigger home, at least a few of these fosters would have probably wound up as “foster failures.” But I know going into each foster that I really can’t have two dogs – not enough money, not enough space – and that reality helps when it comes time to find a forever home for each foster. Now, there hasn’t been a foster in which I haven’t uttered the words, “I think I’ll keep him/her,” but deep down I’m fully aware it’s not the ideal option for either party involved.

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Lady, my first foster all on my own.

5. It’s a total team effort
Six of my seven fosters came when I was living with Marty. While the interest in fostering was 100% me, actually fostering was a different matter. When more than one person is impacted by taking on a foster, it becomes a team effort. Maybe not with the equal distribution of work and time, but each person in the home has some added responsibility and stress.

It also takes help from my employers – days I may need to leave early for a vet appointment or even take an entire day off to shuttle a dog to a vet appointment or surgery.

And travel impacts everyone – most holidays I’ve had a foster so that impacts every family we visit over the holidays. Each foster is different and because each was not my own nor raised as my own, their quirks don’t necessarily make them ideal houseguests. So it does indeed take a village.

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Backseat roadtrip buddies.

6. It’s stressful
I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but it is stressful to bring a foster home. The days leading up bringing home a foster are anxiety-ridden. What will he/she be like? Will they like Lucy? Will Lucy like them (probably not). Are they housetrained (probably not)? Will they eat (probably not)? Where will they sleep? Are they super sick? And then once I get them home? What does that bark mean? Are they scared? Why don’t they lie down and sleep? Is that cough normal?

I’m an anxious person by nature so the early days surrounding a foster are really stressful for me. Everyone’s different but stress is one of the overriding emotions for me when I’m fostering.

I’ll never forget one of the biggest sources of anxiety with Nellie – she refused to eat. I tried everything. Dry food. Wet food. Chicken and rice. Wet and dry food mixed. Straight bouillon. Nothing worked. Until it was suggested from a fellow foster mom that she probably had no clue what a bowl was or how to eat out of it. So, I scooped some food into a super shallow frisbee and voila! She was eating like a champ. But I was just so stressed out during those first few days when I could not get her to eat.

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Making a mess; we soon progressed to a frisbee. Baby steps.

7. I would have a hard time saying “no”
I’m kind of a selfish person. Hence the reason I’m not sure I want kids. I like setting my own schedule (when work allows), taking naps on the weekends and essentially doing what I want to do when I want to do it. Fostering puts a crimp in that. Having a foster is double the work, often triple the work. After Nellie was adopted, we were going to take a break and reassess whether we wanted to foster again and how quickly. We’d had Nellie for about six months, I think, which is a pretty substantial amount of time. But roughly six weeks after her adoption, I got a phone call about Violet, saying she needed a new foster home and wondering if I was interested. “Yes” may have slipped out before I could give serious thought to it. Oops.

So despite being a self-proclaimed “selfish” person, I’ve found myself saying “yes” a lot more when it comes to fosters.

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I’m not quite sure how you say “no” to that face.

All of this is to say that fostering is a big (and important) commitment. But there isn’t a single foster experience I regret. Each dog has meant so much to me and I can’t emphasize how much the benefits outweigh the stressors.

St. Croix, Take II

Almost exactly two years after first vacationing in St. Croix, I was back again last week. My parents are down there for five (!) weeks; they usually spend roughly 10 days in St. Croix each time they visit but since my dad retired in April, they decided to stretch it to five weeks this time and I joined them for one of those weeks for my own vacation.
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And it was wonderful. A perfect mix of relaxation and exploration. I was there for a total of seven full days, including Father’s Day and my birthday, which made the whole week a bit more special. Of those seven days, four were beach days and three were touristy-type days which was the perfect mix.

The beaches were fantastic, as was the water, and the historic sights we visited were fascinating. I also must have read four books all in one week and went through wine just as quickly. Hey, it was vacation AND my birthday week.

My dad joined a gym down there and I tagged along with him for four of the days I was there (I have a CrossFit competition at the end of July so I couldn’t afford to slack on my training too much) and also dropped into the CrossFit box down there twice (shout-out to 340 CrossFit). Holy heck, no AC + CrossFit = near death. I have never, ever sweat so much in my life. And each time I went, running was involved, so in addition to lack of oxygen inside, we were subjected to ungodly hot temps outside. I still had a blast, though. It was CrossFit, after all!

All in all, it was so good to get away. I did not check work email once and was really able to disconnect and relax. Lots of time to reflect on the past year, especially on my birthday. Year 32 was the most eventful year I’ve probably ever had – some good, some not-so-good. I’ve taken steps forward in some areas of my life and steps back in others. Such is life, I suppose.

Anyway, here’s a photo dump of my wonderful week in St. Croix! And for those of you wondering, an update on what Lucy was up to while I was gone is at the end!

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Estate Mount Washington

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View from Hams Bluff

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Whim Plantation

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The only way you’d get me on a bike would be after stopping at the full bar

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And Lucy? She was being dog-sat by a wonderful friend who stepped up big time when I was in a pinch. Lucy had a blast and was spoiled beyond belief. She honestly didn’t seem all that excited to see me when I got back!

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Yes, a pool was bought for Lucy and the other resident dog. #spoileddogs

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Told you, spoiled

The Best Week Ever

Just a few hours ago, Marty and I returned from what I deem the best week ever. My parents take semi-frequent vacations to various U.S. Virgin Islands and on their most recent booking to St. Croix, they offered to let myself and Marty come with them. They were renting a two bedroom house and they obviously only needed one of those bedrooms so when they posed the question of whether we were interested in occupying the other bedroom, the answer was a very emphatic YES!
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For the past 9-10 days, I have been completely disconnected. I did not bring my laptop, only sporadically turned my phone on and pretty much avoided any talk of work 99% of the time.

Because it was such a perfect week, I wanted to document it so that I could remember it for a very, very long time:

We flew out of Newark early Saturday morning and had a brief layover in Puerto Rico before flying into St. Croix late Saturday afternoon.

Saturday night after we got settled in, we went to a local brewpub for dinner. I just had wine so I can’t speak to the beer, but the food was shockingly good. And the view (we were right on the boardwalk) was spectacular.

Beginning Sunday morning, Marty and I began each day around 6 a.m. For the first few days I was awake at 5 or 5:30 a.m. but there’s something about laying in bed with a fabulous view, strong breeze and warm air that makes it impossible to actually get out of bed at that time. Eventually Marty would brew coffee and we’d have a cup on our own personal deck prior to getting our day started.
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Most mornings we picked a place to run; I say most mornings because before leaving on vacation, I tweaked my back during deadlifts and gave myself permission to take days off to make sure my back didn’t bother me too much. And with nothing but hills and mountains around, my back wasn’t exactly keen on running each morning.

After our (or just Marty’s run), everyone would spend the rest of the morning having breakfast, drinking coffee, reading books and floating in the pool.
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Lunch was around noon and usually eaten at home; cold cut sandwiches just taste better on vacation. 🙂

After lunch we’d decide how to spend our afternoons.

On Sunday, we went to Point Udall for some photos and then spent two or so hours at a beach (Shoy Beach) which was my one and only requirement for the trip – multiple trips to a beach. It has been a very, very long time since I’ve been that relaxed. The water was calm, warm and clear. I could have spent all day in the water – it was perfection. I haven’t been truly happy in years but I was pretty darn close on Sunday. My dad cooked some delicious chicken thighs that night and we spent the rest of the night relaxing.

Point Udall

Point Udall

Shoy Beach.

Shoy Beach.

Monday afternoon was spent walking around Chistiansted, the “biggest” city/town on the island. We stopped in tons of little shops, picked up some trinkets and I found the perfect ring – a gift from some of the early birthday money Marty’s family was kind enough to give me before leaving.

Fort Christiansted

Fort Christiansted

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That night I treated my parents (and Marty) to dinner out along the coastline at eat @ cane bay. I normally stick to wine but my mom and I both decided to order one (ok, two) “Sex in the Champagne Room” – vanilla run, cranberry juice, maybe pineapple juice and champagne. Beyond good.

Tuesday we started the day with another run and then spent the afternoon playing tourist. We had lunch in Frederiksted and then toured the Cruzan Rum Factory and the St. Croix Botanical Garden. Both were worth the visit but the rum factory was the definite highlight.

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RUM

Botanical gardens

Botanical gardens

Wednesday we went to Chanay Bay for another beach day; this time we broke out the snorkels and it was awesome. Starfish, fish, sea urchins. Wednesday night dinner was at Off the Wall – casual dining with the sand literally between our toes.

My more than generous parents.

My more than generous parents.

Thursday we visited Cane Bay – my least favorite of the three beaches we visited. The water was rougher and the water not deep enough for my liking. We also got sandblasted and I think I stepped on a sea urchin. But any beach in St. Croix is still fabulous.

Our final full day was Friday. We went back to Christiansted that morning to pick up some final gifts and mementos and then headed back to Shoy Beach for the afternoon. I spent a ton of time snorkeling and relaxing in the water, soaking it all up. It was definitely my favorite of the three beaches and the weather, while hot, was gorgeous. We capped off the night at Cheeseburgers in American Paradise – another perfect atmosphere with great food (and company!).
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Again, I could not have asked for a better week. I was beyond relaxed and exploring an entirely new place was utterly fascinating. From driving on the “wrong” side of the road to asking if we wanted rum in our morning smoothies from the local coffee place, it was more than I could have hoped for. I know this isn’t a trip we’ll be repeating for a very long time so I more than soaked up everything we experienced the past week.

Odds and Ends from the Week:

The poverty on the island is depressing. Nothing I didn’t expect but still sad.

In relation to the above point, the number of homeless/stray dogs and their conditions hit home the most. We saw one dog outside one of the grocery stores we visited with a severe limp and a massive tumor growing near her front right armpit. She was just sitting outside the grocery store watching people come in and out. My heart just about broke. And she was just one of the many strays we saw.

The wild life here is different. Very different. Horses that don’t appear to actually belong to anyone. Goats, chickens, roosters and baby chicks everywhere. Teeny, tiny lizards. Big iguanas. Crabs. Birds unlike those in the States.

Just a random horse hanging out right by the road.

Just a random horse hanging out right by the road.

Island time is real. We went to a parking lot that was supposed to open at 8:30 a.m. It definitely opened no earlier than 8:35.

The prices. Oh. My. God. $7 for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? $6.99 for a regular-sized box of cereal? I genuinely have no idea how people afford to eat on this island and we weren’t exactly suffering from the impoverished conditions in which many of the locals live.

Obviously a big “thank you” to our dogsitters. Without them there’s obviously no way we make this trip.

And an even bigger thank you to my parents for taking us along. Seriously more than we deserved and I appreciate it.

What a Roadtrip

We survived!

Ok, from this photo it looks like we barely survived!

Ok, from this photo it looks like we barely survived!

We were gone from Tuesday, Dec. 23 through this afternoon (Dec. 28). We traveled from Central PA to Northern NJ to Southern NJ back to Central PA with a car packed to the brim with gifts, dog supplies suitcases and, of course, two doggies. But we made it. We got to visit both families and while Isaac saw more than his fair share of timeouts (definitely no improvement in that area!), we’re all back in one piece.

As is the case for anyone who has to travel over the holidays, it’s not exactly relaxing. You’re spending two, three, four days in someone else’s home, sleeping in someone else’s bed, eating someone else’s food, etc. It’s 100 percent worth it because it’s simply not the holidays without family, but it is definitely exhausting.

She's pretty much been asleep since we walked in the door.

She’s pretty much been asleep since we walked in the door.

We made the most of our time in New Jersey, that’s for sure. I saw both my mom and dad’s sides of the family, had a wonderful Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house and had plenty of time with Marty’s family. Santa was more than kind to us – and the dogs, too. We really are so fortunate.

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And for me personally, I can’t overstate how much I enjoy being home. I more than just love my parents – I truly enjoy spending time and hanging out with them.

My dad.

My dad.

No matter what else is going on in my life or what else might happen down the road, I’m never more comfortable than I am at my parents’ home so for that reason alone, holiday travel is worth it.

Now we’re back at home and fortunately have a few days of relaxation to recover from the holiday travel!

A Christmas Survey

I think we’re just about ready for Christmas! Shopping is pretty much done and wrapping is almost complete. As usual, Marty and I (and the dogs!) will celebrate Christmas a few days early; this year we’ll celebrate on Monday, Dec. 22 since we’re leaving for New Jersey for the holidays on the afternoon of the 23rd.

I’ll be sure to post a quick recap of the doggies’ Christmas celebration on Monday night but for now, here’s (what I thought was) a fun survey for the holidays!

Favorite Christmas Movie
I’m going to cheat on the very first question because I have two: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon version ONLY) and White Christmas (I may or may not have a crush on Bing Crosby). It’s a tradition that my family watches White Christmas together, so guess what we’ll be doing when we arrive in New Jersey this week?! 🙂
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(source)

Favorite Christmas Song
Since I have an aforementioned crush on Bing Crosby, just about any of his songs but I love his versions of White Christmas and The First Noel.

White or colored lights
Both! But if I could only pick one for all my decorations (inside and out), I’d have to go with colored. Hard to believe these are now considered “vintage” but they’re the lights my family still uses to decorate the tree.
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Christmas Eve traditions?
I’m pretty sure a lot of families have this tradition, but we always open a new set of pajamas on Christmas Eve (yes, even at the age of 30).

How did Santa deliver gifts?
We didn’t have a fire place growing up so he used the front door of course! 🙂 His presents were always mixed in with gifts from my parents.

Christmas Day traditions?
My dad’s famous French Toast. He only makes it three times a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter) and it’s to. die. for.
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Favorite Christmas cookie?
I guess they’re not technically a Christmas cookie since you can make them any time, but Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies (with walnuts). Growing up I’d help my mom make at least one batch a year. Probably one of my favorite desserts ever, to this day.

Favorite Christmas candy?
Um, I don’t know that there are really any Christmas-specific candies that I traditionally eat, but Reese’s Christmas Trees are delicious. 🙂
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(source)

Eggnog…yes or no?
Yes. I never really liked it growing up and while I hardly ever drink it now, I’m a fan.

Do you send Christmas cards?
You bet! Who doesn’t like receiving Christmas cards?!

What do you want for Christmas this year?
Books. Lots of books and money for books. Since I’m officially done with grad school (!!), I’ve been reading non-stop. Oh, and a CrossFit jump rope so I can practice double-unders and stop doing this to my hands:

Pretty much as painful as it looks.

Pretty much as painful as it looks.