Going Off the Grid

My family and friends know, and enjoy giving me (usually) good-natured reminders, that I resisted cell phones and smart phones for a long time. Like so many, I was pretty adamant about it too. My refrain was often “I will never have a cell phone.” I watched as slowly people around me joined the ranks of cell phone owners. Even though I saw the usefulness, what really struck me is what I call “constant contact.” Suddenly there was never a time when someone was just plain “out of reach.” With the rise of texting, followed by smart phones with ever-increasing reach and capability, this became more and more true.

More than anything, this idea of “constant contact” was what made me cell-phone shy. I didn’t want to be constantly reachable.   I liked the idea of leaving home at home and work at work, and have times in between where I was just not available. The answering machine or voice mail could hold a message, and I could check my email once or twice a day and be content.

Eventually I gave in to the cell phone. Once that happened, I didn’t resist the smart phone quite as strongly, though I wasn’t in any great hurry to get one, mostly because of the expense of a data plan. However, I eventually gave in to the inevitable, and got an iPhone 4s. I love my iPhone. I’m not going to lie. The ease, versatility, and convenience of a smart phone make it an alluring chunk of technology to own. In the year and a half since I got my iPhone, I (like many others) have become addicted to the thing. Most of the time, it goes from room to room with me at home. I almost never leave the apartment without it. With it and the miracle of the internet, I can keep in touch with family and friends like never before: daily pictures of a niece and nephew from the other side of the state, long-distance viewing parties with fellow TV Series fans who live a thousand miles away, text messages for quick exchanges without the interruption of a phone call; social media to find and connect with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years.

But with all the benefits and convenience of the information age, come certain pitfalls. Unless I stop myself, I find myself checking a hundred times a day to see if I have a new text (I don’t), or a new email (only junk messages), or if someone has liked my oh-so-witty Facebook post (must not have been as witty as I thought), or commented on the 8 millionth picture of my fuzzy-mutt posted this month alone (c’mon people, he’s the cutest dog alive, you have to agree and comment on his adorableness). Things get really hairy after that. Checking Facebook leads to taking a quiz on which Doctor I’m most like (I got the 9th Doctor, which is awesome because he’s my favorite), which leads to another quiz, and another. Once I’ve escaped the quiz-taking black hole, I click on an article or picture someone liked that seems interesting, and if I’m not very, very careful, I read the comments. At which point, I come to realize that not all human beings are as nice as I like to think they are. Rather, some of them are horrible trolls who have the terrifying (and depressing) gift of turning even the most positive, “feel-good” item into a hotly-contested point of debate about how the world and all of humanity are doomed. And I sit there dazed, thinking “I just thought it was a cute kitty, but apparently it is a harbinger of the apocalypse.”

Thanks to my particular set of quirks and foibles, all of this can lead me down an unfortunate path if I am not very guarded. I sometimes find my self-worth getting caught up in whether people are liking my statuses or responding to my texts, and I rely too much on social media for social contact, instead of actual, in person conversations. The doom and gloom and negativity of many posts and articles (and especially comments on articles) can drag me down into a funk. The ease of checking in with social media or surfing the web makes it too easy to procrastinate from things I should be doing.

And so, for the sake of my sanity (and productivity), occasionally I find it necessary to, as I like to put it, “go off the grid.” I take at least a few days to completely disconnect from social media, game apps, the internet, and as much of my cell phone as I can manage, though I’ll still text and answer calls, and sometimes check my emails. I usually shoot for about a week of being disconnected, though how long I can actually manage it varies. My off-line times are a chance to reset my mind. It’s a reminder to experience for myself, rather than witness through the filter of the internet and social media. I find myself getting more done at work and at home. My creativity reawakens when I’m living more in the real world than the virtual. When I return after a few days off the grid, I find I have a clearer perspective and can process everything with the grain of salt that is necessary with everything on the internet.

This time around, I’m also going to take it a step further. In addition to going off the grid, I’m also unplugging my TV and Blu-Ray player, and probably my computer too (except for paying bills and working on writing projects). I’ve lately found myself complaining about not having enough time for reading and writing, which is ridiculous when I can manage back-to-back movies or episodes of “Arrow” or “Doctor Who” with no problem.

Starting sometime between now and Friday, I’ll be going off the grid for at least several days. I haven’t decided just how long yet, it will be as long as it takes to get my brain reset or as long as I can stand being so out of the loop. Of course, as soon as I’m back on-line, I have to spend hours scrolling through all the feeds to catch up!

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Strider’s Tale

My boy, Strider, last night.

My boy, Strider.

As I was watching a movie last night, Strider rang the sleigh bells hanging from my front doorknob to let me know he needed to go out. In this case, I suspected it wasn’t so much need as it was want. He was bored, heard the neighbors (and more importantly, their dogs) outside, and he wanted to go say hi. I, on the other hand, had other thoughts. We spent over 2 hours the afternoon before hanging out with the neighbors and their dogs, and my introverted self needed a quiet evening in. So, I promised him “in a little bit” and kept watching my movie. At one point as he was waiting, Strider sat on the other side of the coffee table from me, just patiently watching until I remembered his request. He was so adorable, I had to take out my phone and snap a picture.   And the picture was just so cute, I had to post it on Facebook. The caption I used was “Seriously. How could anyone not love this face?”

I meant the question lightly. I just love my goofy mutt so much, and I love to share his fuzzy cuteness with everyone.   I’m sure there are plenty of folks who just shake their heads, or laugh at my silliness, and scroll on.  However, as I was getting ready for bed later in the evening, somehow my thoughts returned to the photo and caption. At first I just smiled again. But as I thought more, it came to me. Someone didn’t love this face. Or at least, didn’t love it enough.

Meeting Strider for the first time.

Meeting Strider for the first time.

I adopted Strider from Animal Control. A friend came across his picture on an adoptable pet page one day, remembered I had once told her I wanted to have an Irish Wolfhound someday, and that I would name him Strider, after Aragorn the Ranger/King in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. My friend called about him and learned he had been brought in as a stray and had been in the shelter a week. He would only be held there one week more. Though the clock was ticking, the good news was that a couple of Wolfhound breeders/rescues had already called about him and would take him in if no one adopted him. Even though I protested that I really wasn’t ready to have a dog, my friend convinced me to meet the shaggy stray, drove me the hour to the animal control shelter, and introduced me to the sweet boy who I could not help but love. He was so eager to please when we took him out of his kennel to get to know him a bit. He demonstrated that he already knew all the basics (sit, down, etc.), making it clear he’d belonged to someone, and they’d spent the time to teach him. I should have known instantly that it was meant to be, but I tried to be practical. I told my friend that I would look for a new apartment that would allow me to have a big dog. If, in the week I had, I found a place for a price I could afford, I would take the plunge and adopt my first dog ever. Needless to say, I found a place, and took Strider home with me a week later. He had his first vet exam and the surgery required as part of his adoption. The Veterinarians told me he was 3 or 4 years old.

3 or 4 years old, and clearly trained. He’d belonged to someone. Someone had taken the time to be sure he was well-trained in at least the basic commands. Someone had seen what I can only imagine was the world’s most adorable puppy face. Someone had watched his puppy antics, when his rapidly growing legs made him all gangly and awkward. Someone had watched that puppy face elongate and broaden into this handsome face, with those deep brown eyes that gaze off into the distance. And when he escaped, or chased a squirrel, or was frightened, or just ran for the love of running, that someone let him go.   Or maybe they deliberately let him go. He had no tags, collar or microchip. Maybe he didn’t grow up true to the breed they’d expected. Maybe he was too hairy. Maybe he bark-howled too loud, or ran too fast, or had an accident in the house one too many times. No one called or came to animal control looking for him. There were no notices posted. Someone he loved and trusted (because Strider is not capable of anything less for that one special person in his life) let him wander away.

In the distance

It is unfathomable to me that anyone would not go to the ends of the earth to find him when he was lost. I know I did. I’d had Strider for about 2 years when he and his cousins (my sister’s dogs) decided to go for a jaunt instead of being brought in from the outside pen at my sister’s house. My sister’s dogs came home. But Strider was not at his home, and didn’t come back. He was missing for an entire week. I was heartbroken.   I called the shelters and the local police. I put up flyers. I drove around calling his name. I put ads online, and friends shared it for me. At the time he was not microchipped (he is now), but he had a collar with tags. In the end, that was how we were reunited. He’d been hanging around a mini-farm that had several animals, including 2 dogs. The owners of the house put food out for him, but for a few days he was too shy for them to grab him. Finally, they succeeded. When my phone rang late that Friday night, and a man told me “I think I have something that belongs to you” and mentioned a dog, I literally could not believe it. At this point, hope was fading that I would ever see my boy again. The statistics were against us. It was cold and there were many busy streets in the area where he ran off. I had to ask the man to repeat himself, and I was almost in tears on the phone. He described Strider, and his collar, and said he’d found my number on the tags. I got directions and drove right over. I hoped but would not allow myself to believe that it was my boy until I laid eyes on him. Our heroes had allowed him to temporarily take over one of their dogs’ crates. He just about broke the thing when I came down the stairs and around the corner. Once out of the crate, he almost knocked me over, and smacked me in the face in his excitement. And I didn’t care. I had my boy back. There was nothing to do but hug him and cry into his fur. If it ever happened again (heaven forbid) I would do it all over again to find him.

My Strider is one of the lucky ones, to find a home where he will be loved fiercely and forever (despite bark-howls that could wake the dead, stubbornness unless there are treats in it if he obeys, and long, grey hair everywhere). I am blessed to have him. He warns me of strangers. His racket deterred an attempted break-in. This dog of many nicknames and many faces makes me smile. When he leans in for more scratches, I know he loves me fiercely and forever (despite cranky days when his excitement annoys me, or grumbles when he has to go out at 3am, or laziness that makes him wait until the end of the movie before he can go out).

If you are blessed with or are considering getting a dog (or any pet), I ask you to remember that a pet is forever. Eventually, puppies become dogs. Kittens become cats. They won’t always be as adorable. Sometimes they will misbehave.   They’ll get old and weak. They might become sick. But they will love you more completely than you can imagine, and are more than worth the trouble. Please do your part. Adopt from a shelter instead of a breeder (and never a pet store, unless they are partnered with a shelter). Spay and Neuter your pets. Keep collars on them, with updated tags with at least your phone number. Have them microchipped (if you do a little research, you can find groups that will microchip inexpensively; don’t let the cost deter you as it did me for a few years). Scratch them behind the ears. Let them give you kisses, at least once in a while. Take them to the vet if they don’t feel well. Play with them. Talk to them. Love them.  And don’t give up on them.

Grown up

Thankful – May

Month 2 of my Thankful posts. 🙂

Today I’m thankful for:

  1.  A new month, when the days will get longer and warmer!
  2.  A long-overdue visit with a friend!
  3.  Seeing my talented and beautiful niece play Beth in her high school’s production of “Little Women.”  Girls, you made me cry!  🙂  (Bonus:  Ikea!)
  4.  A quiet and restful Sunday, during which I allowed myself to just relax.  (Bonus: Star Wars day – “May the Fourth be with you.”)
  5. Hudsonville Deer Tracks ice cream.
  6. Recognizing a potentially cranky day and somehow stopping it before it got too bad.
  7. #2 of 3 “First Readers” has finished reading my NaNo novel.  She has lots of notes, but said she liked it!
  8. Enjoying a beautiful afternoon outside watching a couple neighbor-dogs play with my big mutt.
  9. Payday.
  10. A lovely spring morning, relaxing on my deck with Strider (and trying to teach him not to bark at all the neighbors).
  11. A beautiful afternoon at the greenhouse to pick out flowers for my deck, followed by ice cream on a dairy farm.
  12. Modern medicine.  Praying for my sister-in-law as she has her gall bladder removed today.  (Bonus:  My 25th follower on this blog!)  Update: all went well!
  13. In unit laundry.
  14. This first look at the CW’s “The Flash”!
  15. Celebrating the AMAZING Season Finale of the CW’s “Arrow” via a long-distance viewing party with my brother and sister-in-law.  Wow!!!  (Bonus:  The extended trailer for “The Flash.”)
  16. Friday.  Need I say more?
  17. A late night visit of my muse, which put me in good shape to start writing the next story I’ve been kicking around in my head.  Actually, this might have been on the 18th.  I don’t remember which side of midnight it started on.  (Bonus: New shorts, capris, and t-shirts that fit.)
  18. A fun day with family at Fifth Third Ballpark (go Whitecaps!).  This surprise was part of the 40 days ’til 40 countdown to my brother’s birthday!
  19. A quiet day at work.  I could get used to this.  Maybe I should have been a librarian.
  20. Being able to open my sliding door & windows to enjoy a beautiful late afternoon, and then listen to an evening storm!  In my prior apartment, I couldn’t open my windows even briefly without getting swarms of bugs coming in, so this is a big deal!
  21. Being able to take my dog to a professionals to trim his nails.  (Bonus:  Star Wars dog toys are a thing!  Strider has his own X-Wing now).
  22. A listening ear.
  23. The office closing early for the Holiday weekend!
  24.  My brother Tom & his wife Gina, on their shared birthday!
  25. A wonderful dog park, where Strider has the chance to be “all dog” for a while.
  26. The men and women, past, present, and future,  who put their lives on the line for our country.  Today, on Memorial Day, I honor and remember you.
  27. A day of beautiful contradictions.  Silence and Song.  Sunshine and Rain.  Motion and Rest.
  28. My 25th blog post (even if finishing it kept me up way too late)!
  29. Reading on my little deck, while neighbor kids play and adults chat, feeling the warmth of the evening sun balanced by a cool breeze, listening to the rustling leaves of the trees, and realizing that here, in the fourth apartment in 7 years, I’ve found a place that feels like home!
  30. Gathering just the right amount of courage to do something that to anyone else would be no big deal, but to me was well outside of my comfort zone.
  31. A small loss at Weight Watchers weigh-in for the second week in a row, which meant that I could build the second level of my Lego Tower of Orthanc.  BONUS: an absolutely gorgeous morning for a 3.1 mile walk on the Paint Creek trail.

Now that I’ve completed the second month of this thankfulness exercise, I’ve found that it really does have an affect on my attitude.  Just taking a moment to find and acknowledge something, however small, to be thankful for in every day not only brightens that particular day, but helps me to be more mindful of those things every day.  While this, as anything else, is made easier by practicing, it is still not easy to find something every day.  Sometimes all I can find is something mundane, like in unit laundry or payday, while other days there are a few that make it hard to pick just one.  That doesn’t matter, as long as I’m remembering that even the roughest days are worth giving thanks.

What are you thankful for today?