a dog, a mum, and a jogging adventure

Thursday, July 30, 2015

This is one of our dogs.  His name is Bullet.  He is six years old.

We rescued him from a shelter in Erie when I was six months pregnant with Greyson.  We were told at the time that he was a pitbull mix, and being that we know and adore a particular pitbull (hi, Oakley!) we were thrilled to adopt Bullet.

We learned quickly that Bullet was great at learning tricks, loves swimming (so much I'm convinced he'd swim until he'd drown if left unattended).  He loves Brandon with the fierceness of a thousand moons, he listens to me on the first command, and he loves (and puts up with a lot of forceful hugs and tugs) from our babies.

But it would be the lie of my life to not admit that for the past five years, it has been a struggle with Bullet. (and that's putting it lightly to an almost laughable degree).

Bullet has extreme prey instinct, herds cars and quads, has an almost unbreakable focus when something grabs his attention, also he's 85 pounds of pure muscle.  Words people who have met Bullet have used to describe him:  maniac, idiot, freak, 'this is why people don't like pitbulls.'

At the beginning of this year, we had a tragic event in our house in which Bullet got access to our two cats (remember: prey instinct) and our sweet Jinxy cat perished.  That was the last straw, and I demanded that Bullet be seen by a vet for aggression and a trainer to get help.  Vet gave him the okay and said that she never wants to put a dog down, but she understands how I feel with three kids in the house and she'd support whatever decision we came up with.  This is where we were at, friends.

Then we went to the trainer to work on some training methods and got so much great feedback/critiques on all the ways that Brandon and I unintentionally encourage Bullet to do things we DON'T want him to do.  She introduced us to a pinch collar and also some important techniques to keep Bullet focused on us.

And then she asked us the most incredible question, "What is he?  A Malanois?"  We stared at her blankly and said that we were always told that he was a pitbull and I think she laughed.  We went home that night and did some googling about Malanois and other Shepherd breeds and it was like we had a secret door opened for us.

"...excessively high prey instinct, unshakable focus, energy level among the highest of all dogs, easy to train, working dogs (usually trained for military and police dogs)..."

All those years we were looking at Bullet baffled and frustrated like, "What kind of demented pitbull are you!?" and he was looking back at us like, "Why don't you understand me?"

I'm not making excuses for Bullet.  It has been a long, hard, sometimes scary road (some days it still is).  And I'm not making excuses for us either.  We have not been diligent parents for him.  He's been part of our family for six years, so we love him - but I'd be lying if I didn't say that had we had known what he really was a Malanois/Shepherd mix and the intensity in which Bullet needs trained, watched, and exercised...six years ago, we were just a young couple moving towards growing a family, so truthfully we probably would not have adopted him with full understanding that we aren't the ideal family for Bullet.

But alas, we did.  And he is our family and so we're all trying to understand each other a little better.  We've made some significant changes to our life to help support Bullet and support our family as a whole.  The dogs take a 'naptime' in the afternoon where they stay in our bedroom to sleep while the kids and I play downstairs and let our cat, Lola run around, and regular visitors that naturally come during that timeframe (like mail carriers, water meter readers, etc) don't cause a huge disruption to our day.

We have done a lot of training ourselves, for the kids, and working with Bullet on commands like "Easy," and using the pinch collar to redirect his focus.  We've even expanded to socializing him and successfully introducing him to a lot of new people.

But the biggest change, for both Bullet and I have been jogging together.  After learning more about Bullet's breed mix, it was obvious that we needed to give him extra exercise to help burn energy that was making him act out.  Thus began the Mum and Bullet jogging adventure.

I try to get us out at least three or four times a week, just me and Bullet, to jog the trails behind our house.  We have grown a lot over the last seven/eight months.  Bully has been practicing focusing only on me even if he sees distractions while we jog (deer, turkey, humans) and I can jog without totally hating life for about 2.5 miles...after that until about three miles Bullet and I both just keeping looking at each other like, 'dude, this sucks and I'm bored.'

If we can't jog together (because no one is home to watch the kids), we'll load up the crew and take walks together which helps at least to give Bullet new things to smell and pee on.

These have all been baby steps towards getting every living thing in our home on the same page.  Sometimes it feels like an incredibly annoying orchestrated dance that I'm in charge of - dogs in our room, let cat upstairs, kids outside, why are you both in your underwear? close the cat door, let dogs downstairs, Greyson feed the dogs, Violet get out of the dogs dishes, put dogs outside, Gemma why are my high heels at the bottom of the steps?, dogs back inside, where's Violet? (crawled to the top of the steps, of course)

where are all the living things at every moment?  but we are getting there.  the key to all of life is a routine (at least I think so, haha) and so we are getting there - pushing towards a routine that works for everyone.  every one of the members of Team Studer.  And an added boost of exercise and alone time for the mumma is nothing that I can complain about.  I'm totally the martyr type and I'm not going to carve out my own fitness time on my own - there are too many other things that need my attention! - but the guilt of knowing the Bullet is one of the things that need my attention and jogging with him is doing him good...well then, you can bet I can get my lazy butt moving for that.  (so sad, so true.)

Am I skinnier or more toned? no.  Do my clothes fit any better?  infinitesimally (and that's being generous actually).   But you know what we have done? Added another mile (however slowly paced and with twenty pee breaks for Bullet) more than we had yesterday.  

30 miles is our goal each month.  We haven't done it yet - but each month we get a little bit closer to reaching it.  My reminder in the upper right corner of each day of my planner is a little "1+"  If we can get in just a mile and some as many days as we can fit it around the kids schedules, laundry, playdates, and life muck - then we're chipping away together.  

I'm working on my fitness. Bullet's working on his behavior and we're doing it one jog at a time.  Slow and steady, right?  We'll get there Bulls-eye.  Wherever there might be.  But we'll get there together.

The Inspired Readers Book Club: August

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Inspired Readers book club has really been my little dose of grown-up joy of the past two months.  We have been busy and going full throttle in the summer months, and knowing that each week I had a chance to read and connect with other grown ups out there via our facebook page gave me such a sense of friendship.  (thank you!)

We are now moving into our second book discussion beginning next Monday, August 3 - so if you're interested in joining the conversation and community, you still have time to purchase your book and dive in with us at our facebook group.

For this hazy summer month of August, we will be reading a family-centered mystery book that is hailing great reviews:  Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  I picked this book because what is summer reading without a little mystery solving, right?  As in the past, we will post discussion questions to prompt the conversation each Monday, but please feel encouraged to share anything that may speak to you or that you want to lead in the conversation.

As we've said before, book club is for building community and making meaningful connections, so we don't want the pace to be unmanageable for you.  No Stress!  I have found myself over the course of the past few months, getting into a routine that I'll make time to read the chapters early in the morning on Monday and get a feel for the discussion points and then I comment in the group on Tuesday and on Friday if I need to respond again that week.  Giving myself that structure has made it easier to find the time to be an active voice in the group.  It is exciting but also overwhelming to get notifications that discussion is happening in the group page, but setting Tuesday/Friday as my dedicated days to read through and comment have given me the structure I need to give it real time and thought.

Ng's novel appears so far to be a quick read, so we may need to hold back the reigns on our individual pace to spread out the discussion of the course of the month.  (Or feel free to blaze right through the novel and then rediscover it slowly again while discussing the chapters through our weekly chats, hah)

Our reading schedule will be as follows:
Week 1 (August 3):  Chapters 1-3
Week 2 (August 10): Chapters 4-6
Week 3 (August 17): Chapters 7-9
Week 4 (August 24): Chapter 10-12

Let's close out this summer with a great story and more community building through our discussions.  Thanks for joining us and building a community together over good stories and personal perspectives.


**this post includes an affiliate link.  
Thank you for supporting Team Studer.

Grandmas & Kids to the City - 5th Annual

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In our four past adventures, the grandmas, kids, and I have loaded up in train or car and had a few days adventure centered around my beloved New York City.  After last year's trip, we started talking about how it might be fun to expand our city trips to include some other locations and then sprinkle NYC trips along the various years too, but it might give us a chance to see and learn more while still keeping our tradition.  This year, we chose Baltimore as our first non-apple destination and we spent a day and half exploring, playing, and discovering a great city.

For a few weeks prior to our trip, I spend some time surfing the internet for inspiration on planning tips for traveling with kids to that specific location.  I use TripIt to track where and when I think we'll be during the trip.  I also have the TripIt app on my phone and I like it because it gives me really quick access to websites, costs, and maps for each of our stops along the way.  In the planning weeks, I just pop in our hopeful plans and then build out the trip from there. 

A few days before we left, my brother in law stopped over to take the kids to a local jubilee and upon learning that I was planning on driving all six of us three hours to Baltimore in our truck, he jumped in to save the day and offered up his Lincoln Navigator for the trip.  Leave it to Uncle Juice to save the whole weekend!  He brought it over the day before we left and even helped configure the back seats to accommodate our double stroller, umbrella stroller, and room enough for luggage and car seats.  (He's the best ever).

The grandmas carpooled to our house early on Friday morning and we were all loaded up and pulling out of the driveway by 5am.  It was an uneventful trip down and all three kids snoozed for almost the entire drive.  We got valeted into our hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor and after freshening up and grabbing some complimentary breakfast in the hotel lobby - we made our way via the FREE Charm City Circulator bus system to the Fell's Point neighborhood.

Our first activity was to board the awesome Urban Pirates' ship to take their Family Adventure.  Gigi bought the kids eye patches and swords in their gift shop and the kids were decked out in pirate garb on the boat as part of the experience (complimentary:  tattoos, face paint, temporary vests & sashes).  

Over the course of the trip, we enjoyed stories, games, and music all with the pirate theme.  The kids were enchanted and Gemma (3yrs) was only a little scared and wanted to be held for part of the boat ride.  Even Violet loved being a pirate for the morning and bouncing to the music and watching the sails blow in the wind.

Throughout the ride, we heard about the bad pirate who had stolen the ship's treasure and all of the kids were in charge of spraying him with the ship's water cannons as he circled the ship in a motorboat.  It was awesome and Greyson was so serious about making sure to spray the bad pirate.  Ultimately, the boat recovered their treasure and all the kids got to choose two little pieces of it to take home.  It was really an awesome and magical activity for the kids and a great glimpse at the Inner Harbor too. 

After our pirate adventure, we spent a little time walking along the cobblestone streets of Fell's point and checking out one of the docks while we awaited our water taxi to deliver us to the Federal Hill neighborhood. 

I especially liked the option for water taxi on our Baltimore city trip because it is so different than what we've done in the past.  The kids have been in a taxi before, but never a water taxi - so that was pretty cool for them.

The water taxi took us from Fell's Point and delivered us to the Rusty Scupper dock where we strolled through the park and stopped for a quick ride on the carosuel and made our way up to Federal Hill park and playground.  It offered beautiful view of the harbor and also gave the kids time to goof around on the playground while the grown ups got some down time and Violet took a catnap in her stroller. 

 After our park visit, we made our way through Federal Hill towards the Cross Street Market where we joyfully inhaled a delicious late lunch from Pop Tacos, to which Greyson told me, "Mum, you better pay these people a lot of money for this taco, because it is the deliciousest one I ever ate."

We used the restrooms at Cross Street Market to get the kids changed into their swim suits before walking across a few streets to the Sondheim Fountain.  The kids ran and ninja fought (Grey) the streams of water for a little while before going bananas in the neighboring field that was armed with foam building supplies, soccer equipment, and a live theater group.  I have no idea why all this stuff was there, but we were happy to partake in its (apparent) free use.  The grandmas went on a coffee run while the kids and I laughed and played for over an hour between the fountains and the playing field. 

From my planning, I discovered that the Maryland Science Center offers lower cost admission after 5pm on Fridays, so a little after five, we walked the half block over to the science center and entered for only $9 a person.  Let me tell you, that was nine dollars well worth the money.  I'm basically obsessed now with science center.  For the next almost three hours, we wandered about in amazement at all the awesome exhibits. 

Gemma was taking a much needed nap when we arrived, but luckily she woke up with about an hour left of our visit to the science center and she got to enjoy some of the exhibits too.  The science center wasn't crowded at all (evening? summer?) and we were able to easily make it to all the places we wanted to and back again to a few spots after Gem woke up.  It was a combination of the ticket price, and exhibits, and the lack of crowd that really made our science center visit shine.  (It was my favorite part of the trip).  Abba even bought the kids an awesome dinosaur book (a new favorite non-fiction of ours now!) after Grey and I were so enamored with the dino exhibits.

At closing time, we were all mostly wiped out ourselves, so we walked the short distance from the science center back to our hotel where we got settled in for the night.  We contemplated ordering some pizza in, but after the filling and awesome late lunch at Pop Tacos and the bounty of snacks that the grandmas bring on the trip (thank you!) we didn't have any need.  We all got cozied up and everyone was asleep by ten that night. 

We got up the next morning and had some complimentary hotel breakfast and then packed up and left all of our luggage at the valet desk so that we could check out.  Due to the sudden thunderstorm, we took the hotel shuttle across a few streets to the Port Discovery Children's museum for our last big activity of the trip.  My children's minds were blown, friends.  I mean, it's pretty hard to beat a three story playground right off the bat, amirite?

We spent the rest of the early afternoon following the kids around ("we're the bosses today!") as they made their way through the various sections of the museum.  Violet even got to enjoy her own special section for the three and unders (Mumma got to enjoy it too, goodness it was beautifully quiet in there!)  Both kids chilled for about 20 minutes in the reading room, and both of them were wildly in love with the Tiny's Diner area where they served up fake food and menus to the grandmas, Violet, and I.

We made a much contested exit from the museum around 2:00p and crossed the park to Joe Squared for a great lunch of pizza, salad, and wings before heading back towards the Inner Harbor for Ice Cream from The Best of Luck as the sun had come out and was shining down with a heat index of over 100 degrees by then!

It was a pleasant ride back (thanks again to Uncle Juice's navigator and sleepy kids).  We made it back late in the evening on Saturday and the kids were sufficiently worn out.  It was a great trip; not too far away in distance (3hours) and just the right length of time (a full day and one half) for the kids and also for us to get a decent amount of fun in!

I'd like to finish with a public announcement that I understand just how incredible it is that this weekend happens at all.  My kids two grandmas (my Mum, and my Mum-in-law) and my babies traipsing about unfamiliar cities and sharing a hotel room, snacks, drinks, and stroller duty.  I am so grateful to have these two women in my life loving and teaching our kids and going along with my big ideas and plans with blind faith.  Love you Mumma and Gigi.  I am so so blessed.