Friday, March 29, 2013

Daily Dog Walks and Being a Tourist in the East End

Porter, high above Frick Park

My daily dog walks have rekindled my love affair with my neighborhood.

I have a fierce love for Pittsburgh's East End, especially Regent Square, Park Place and Point Breeze. These  city neighborhoods are densely packed with old residential streets that you might not notice when you come and go by car. But if you start walking from Braddock Avenue, you'll find a thick maze of meandering streets that rarely conform to a boring grid. City blocks trail off into dead ends. A street will abruptly give way to a community of townhouses clustered around a sculpture garden. Roads widen, narrow and form triangles for no discernible reason. Some streets even lead to entrances to the sprawling and gloriously green Frick Park.

Best of all, every street is a surprise. One block will hold boarded-up or even burned-out houses. The next block will hold pristine Victorian homes with wrap-around porches and stained glass windows. There are dilapidated decks and overgrown gardens and then there are elegant turrets. There are stately mansions--some finely preserved, and some divvied into apartments. I count the mailboxes and wonder how they fit so many units inside.

A surprise turret in Point Breeze.

This house seems pleasant and plain from the front, but from the back, seems to slip down the cliff and into the jagged tangles of Frick Park. Best of all, there is a footpath that connects to Frick Park walking trails right behind it!

The front. (Move, car!)

View of the back. The house is perched over Frick Park.

Magical trail!!

If you lived here, you could bask in city life AND have this as your back yard. Heaven!

Porter still can't walk very far, so before heading home tonight, we took a quick romp through Frick Park...

Never look back!

My favorite building is the Old Heidelberg, a historic landmark in Park Place. I remember riding past it in my mom's car when I was little, and I imagined that very lucky, very interesting people must live inside--like playwrights and poets and professors.

What are you doing on Braddock Avenue?

The Old Heidelberg is 105 years old, whimsically bedecked in mushrooms and mosaics, and is delightfully symmetrical and random at the same time. While the building is balanced with an equal number of balconies, doors, and windows, every one is slightly different. Its architect, Frederick Scheibler, became my favorite architect.

So when I started reading this book about him, I learned that his work is all over my neighborhood. In fact, some of my favorite houses are actually, unbeknowst to me, his work! Making this discovery was like the distinct thrill of realizing that my secret crush had class in the room next to mine. Or something. So tonight after work, the Beagle and I set out on a treasure hunt for Scheibler buildings.

I made a beeline for Scheibler's Whitehall Apartments, which look to me like an Old Heidelberg Lite. 

I would like to see your insides.

Even though they're several blocks outside of my normal daily dog walk, the Parkstone Dwellings are a pretty fantastic piece of Scheibler's work. I once begged for and scored a tour when I went to an estate sale in the Dwellings' front yard. The inside is just something out of a dream...turrets, a wall of mosiac featuring a dinosaur (!!), little toadstool statues and ornate windows and trim. 

Recently, I've been lamenting the loss of my childhood imagination. But on these walks, my imagination swells back to life, just in a different way. I imagine what it must be like to live inside these pretty homes. Or, what the last century held inside them. Could Scheibler have pictured his buildings standing 100 years later, filled with new daily dramas and woes? Who was born and died inside them? At what point in history did the aristocrats start to move out, and the college students start to move in, turning the servants' quarters into mud rooms and storage? And, most of all, when am I going to strike in rich and buy my very own Scheibler house?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Beagle's Favorite Things

  • Walks, of course.
  • Other dogs. Even if they're on the opposite side of the street, he'll pounce and skip along like they're playing together. 
  • People. He is baffled every time we pass someone and they don't want to say hi and pet him.
  • Tennis balls. He has even mastered playing solo, and will toss and roll the ball himself and then bound after it. 
  • Ice cubes. I just gave him one in the kitchen and he happily ran into the living room, head and ice cube held high, to roll around with it.
  • Me! I feel so happy when I take him to my parents' house and he loves everyone there, but likes to keep me in his line of sight. 
  • Going for rides in the car. He's a good little commuter. He immediately settles and watches the world go by.
  • When I wipe his muddy legs and paws with a warm towel. He won't step out of the foyer until I wipe his muddy feet.
  • Garbage. He gets so excited when he spots garbage. He has tried to wrap his whole mouth around garbage bags.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Half of me is ocean, half of me is sky

I'm pretty sure that my iPod has the uncanny ability to choose which song I need to hear. Not necessarily what I think I want to hear. It will always shuffle to a song with a lesson or lyric that I need to apply to my day. My iPod will choose the right--yet seemingly random--song to cheer me up, console me, or rally me. It will dust off songs I don't even remember downloading. It will tuck my hair behind my ear and say, "Sssh, it's alright. You're okay. Let me put it this way...." 

Sometimes you're happy
Sometimes you cry
Half of me is ocean
Half of me is sky

But you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And i can't hold out forever
Even walls fall down

Here's to all the souls with the crushingly big hearts. :)


My big dumb heart is feeling pretty happy today, though. As we all know, I had my heart broken in December--yes, blah, blah, blah.

I fell apart--not so much over the guy, who wasn't that attractive, fun or even nice--but more over the sudden realization that I didn't get the life I wanted.  And I thought I deserved it. I'm nice, dammit. I work, so hard, for a non-profit. I'm a good daughter and a good friend. Bitchier and dumber and boring-er girls than me are married and have cute babies, so how much longer am I supposed to wait? And most of all, why?! What did I do wrong?

But today, as I walked my impossibly cute dog down my beautiful city street, I got to thinking of all the things that I do have. I love my parents, who are both still alive and love me back. I love my friends, and my gorgeous apartment (which is freshly scrubbed and sparkling so that my dog walker will be tricked into thinking I'm a good housekeeper). I love my cat and dog, my clothes, especially my new purple Kate Spade jeans, and the fact that I can buy myself Kate Spade jeans when not too long ago, I had to suffer till payday just to replace a dingy sponge.

And every bad or beautiful moment in life is just a snapshot in time. Anything could change in a moment. So I'm not going to lament this lovely little slice of my life. This is a good life. It's not exactly the one I pictured, but it's really not bad.

Speaking of good things, these are a few of my favorite things today:

Holy crap, kneesocks. This morning I was feeling pretty good, and then I put this outfit together and suddenly I felt great. I wanted to go feel great everywhere, with other people.

Also, I'm always too hot, so kneesocks have a perfect cool-air zone right across the knees. 

My new Beagle, and there are two things I want to say about that. One is that he discovered a tennis ball for the first time tonight, and he even figured out how to play with it by himself! He'd toss the ball with his mouth, merrily chase after it, pounce on it, and repeat.

Also, I love taking my dog for walks in the morning. I didn't realize how refreshing it would be to plunge from my cozy bed into the crisp morning and explore my town with him. I love looking at the houses, giving my brain some oxygen, watching the season change and seeing his regal Beagle butt wiggle down the street. All these cliche things I've been saying all these years as a PR person for pet adoption are true. Those little creatures will get you out of bed and you will like it. 

Also... trying to get Pearl Jam's attention via Instagram. A super-fun thing about social media is being just a couple shout-outs away from your idols. I keep tagging Pearl Jam under the hopeful delusion that they'll be so taken with my photography, they'll ask me to come on stage and photograph their show in Chicago this summer.

I wish I was being sarcastic. The thing about being a big-hearted girl is that we are rarely sarcastic. We say what we mean. In other words, I'm really waiting for this to happen.

Friday, March 15, 2013

It's a boy! (I adopted my Beagle!)

My heart was wrapped in clover

At last, I adopted the Beagle I always wanted.

It's a trade-off. Things I'm giving up:

  • a cleaner house
  • a car interior that's not covered with muddy pawprints
  • a good bit of money (spent so far on fancy dog food and treats, his bed, toys, collars and harnesses, baths, and soon, vet care and a mid-day dog walker)  
  • the ability to hop from work to happy hour
  • being able to not stand in the rain or snow first thing in the morning, begging my little creature to poop already
But it was pretty clear to me that all of those things equalled so much less than what he gives me. 

Porter makes my life feel wonderfully full. He makes me laugh, constantly, and that's no small thing. It's incredible, really, to wake up and just start cracking up at the wiggly little lovebug who can't wait to shower me with affection. It's amazing to watch him take on the world, making sincere but nonsensical decisions to bring me a leaf or take a nap while doing a headstand on my couch. 

He is my goofy, gangly, sweet little guy. Even though it took four years to find each other, he always was mine. And if I'm lucky, I will get to watch him pad through our life together until he grows old and gray. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Apparently, I'm a lot to take. (Alternative title: I will be your light.)

Here, play this song while you read this entry. (Is that blog torture? Bad blog etiquette? Or is it a neat idea? You don't have to play the song, but today was the first sweet, sunny, chirpy-bird day since winter hit and I had so much fun playing this tune in my car with the windows down. Is it universally agreed upon that that is the best way to listen to music? I can't be the only person who thinks so. Playing loud music in my car with the windows open washes me in a euphoria that I feel all the way to my belly. Euphoria, incidentally, is one of the topics that we're going to be talking about today. Anyway, here's the song.)

Hi there!

Yesterday, and my friend and I took my new Beagle to our favorite coffee place--the 61C Cafe. My friend is good at lots of things, but picture-taking, not so much.


Beagle picture Take 2.
Then, I went to my best friend Madge's house in Mt. Oliver. I didn't take any actual photographs there, but I sealed one into my mind at the most perfect moment: when I was laying on her couch and she was playing with my hair, and if I opened my eyes, I could see, upside down, where her peachy-colored wall met the ceiling, her chandelier that looks like it's made out of Jolly Rancher candies, and her sweet face as she earnestly told me things. I felt so happy and so lucky, I almost couldn't speak.

Today I'd like to talk about being happy. When I revived this blog this winter, I thought I was going to write a lot about depression and recovery. But much to my relief, it turns out that I'm a very buoyant person. My recovery period was mercifully short.

Nonetheless, I was sick with depression this winter. I call the illness "depression" because I couldn't stop sobbing, and the crying and hopelessness interfered with my ability to work at my desk, go to meetings, eat, sleep, get out of bed, socialize and have any quality of life. I turned my illness into my project, though, and got myself everything from therapy to a chiropractor to a dog.

The scene at my house, right this very moment.
Now I'm me again. And being me has always included bouts of random, delicious, dance-inducing euphoria.

My mom and some of my closer friends have compared me to Grover Monster, because it manifests as something like this:

I get very, very happy when I go on vacation, or see a band, or get to taste something new and amazing. Or at random times, like when the world reveals just how beautiful and exhilarating it can be. Like when the winter gives way to spring and the daylight has a golden glow and the flower buds start to push out of the mud and the air feels electric on my skin. I feel the whole burst of renewal swell up around me---the birds feel it and tweet their little lungs out, the dirt starts to smell like baby plants and every breath makes me want to grin or break into a run. I feel it in my very core.

I remember when I went to Cedar Point for my 32nd birthday. Every time I got off a roller coaster, I felt  so happy and refreshed that I felt like could run a lap around the park. It was like my brain had hit a "reset button," finally relieving me of all the burdens I had been carrying around: work deadlines, board meetings, office politics, headaches, my uptight and over-critical boyfriend, etc. I actually had to reign myself in, because 32-year-olds don't run around for no reason. Stifling my complete joy was exhausting.

For me and my (then) boyfriend.

And that's the recurring theme of my life right now. My family and friends seem to appreciate my Grover-esque ecstasy. They seem to because they want to be around me, and they want to make me happy. But not everyone can deal.

In December, a man broke up with me (VIA EMAIL. TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS) when, to my blindsided bewilderment, he could no longer "keep up the pace" of being in love with me.

Recently, another man walked out of my life, although this time, I had something to do with it. He described my personality as "happy, bubbly" and "a lot to take."


The first experience devastated me, and the second just pissed me off for a couple days. What is with these guys?

It took me a long time to learn to get to here. I wasn't ready to forge bravely into 2013 when it rolled in. I worked at healing and finding the light at the end of my depression. But even more so than that -- I wasn't always like this. In my teens and twenties, I was much more anxious. I was timid and self-concious and thought life's small worries were much bigger than they actually were.

Over time, I learned a couple things. I learned that everything and everyone is temporary, so we need to relish every good moment before it's gone. I learned that I am, in the best possible way, invisible -- no one is watching me being a goofball because everyone is the star of their own life. They're too worried about themselves to worry about me, so I can scream my lungs out on a roller coaster and dance in the grocery store if I want to. And I learned that there are a hundred ways to die. Letting this world pass you by without loving it, loving others, and finding joy, is waiting to die.

It's work. For me, it's work because I didn't get everything I want. I wanted to be married by now. I really thought I would be. I wanted to have a baby. I want to be able to take my family to my parents' house on holidays instead of showing up, every time, by myself. I wish my job situation was different. These things can be soul-crushingly disappointing if I let them be.

Or I can realize that I live in a beautiful, exciting city with a whole cast of clever and sparkling characters who will gladly go on adventures with me. I can teach my dog a new trick, or get dressed up and taste champagne with my friend Line, or I can stay home writing all day. I can pick Madge's brain over brunch, or I can go see Soundgarden, or I can pick through treasures at a flea market with James, or I can brainstorm new projects with Jessica. I can make out with a handsome man or I can stay home and watch Netflix with my cat or I can eat a delicious meal that my mom made. Such wonderful things!

I didn't get everything I want, but I don't have to wait to die.

So, fuck you if you think I'm "a lot to take."

I'm going to work on being like her. This lady can barely walk, but the broad can dance. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Introduce Your New Dog to Your Cranky Cat

(I wrote this article for Animal Friends' blog, but I'll put it here, too!)


How to Introduce a New Dog to Your Cranky Cat

By Me. 

I never thought my cat would let me have a dog.

My cat, Firefly, is 14 years old, suffers from irritable bowel, and hates everyone
but me.

Firefly: trying to flip you the bird.

And I love that cat so flippin’ much. She showed up as a stray kitten when I was in college. Firefly stayed by my side (or in my lap) in my first threadbare apartment, through some major life traumas, and she outlasted (shut up) several boyfriends. And in a way, the fact that she hates everyone but me makes our bond all the more sweet. She is my ever-loyal, doting little darling.

Firefly: "Let's get this over with."

Even though I dreamed of bringing home a dog, I never wanted to upset Firefly’s delicate routine. Some of my friends at Animal Friends assured me that Firefly would “get over it” if I adopted a dog, but I adored my cat too much to subject her to the bother.

Then I met Porter.

That was Porter the day I discovered him in his kennel. He had lived with another dog who, a week earlier, was senselessly beaten to death with a metal rod. You can see how frightened and sick Porter was when this picture was taken, but you can't see that his tail, which he was sitting on, was attempting a forlorn wag.

It turns out that Porter tested positive for heartworm, a serious and potentially fatal disease. He had several weeks of intense treatment ahead of him and he needed a safe place to recover.

My heart broke for him. I offered to foster Porter in my home.

Initially, I agreed to take in Porter for one month. I did not expect Firefly to adjust well to having a dog. In fact, I thought she might present a dealbreaker, and I'd have to sheepishly end my foster period at the adamant behest of my cat.

But to my surprise, having a foster dog made my feisty cat friendlier! In fact, after one month with a foster Beagle, Firefly became more confident and is friendlier with strangers. Now, I’m basking in the joys of having a multi-species household. I couldn’t be happier. And Porter is now a “foster failure”—a permanent member of our little family.

Here are some of the steps that can help a cranky cat adapt to a new dog.

Pick the Right Dog
Not every dog will be able to safely live with cats. So, go to a shelter like Animal Friends that will cat-test a dog before you take him home. They might even be able to introduce you to a dog who has experience living with cats!

Choose a dog who’s calm, doesn’t have a strong reaction to cats, and who responds well to correction.

When I met Porter, I introduced him to both a shelter cat and a rabbit while he was securely leashed and under my control. Both times, he acknowledged them, backed off slightly, and calmly resumed minding his own business. What a good boy! While that didn’t mean I should let him loose in my house, I felt comfortable that I could introduce him to Firefly without putting her in danger.

Always introduce a dog and cat slowly, while your dog is firmly under your control, and where your cat has access to an escape route if needed. 

Establish Separate Spaces
Your cat is going to feel very vulnerable at first, so make sure she has a dog-free zone. Firefly spends most of her time in my bedroom, so from Day 1, I taught Porter that my bedroom is off-limits to him. Firefly can always go there to get away from him.

Have a dedicated place to put your dog. Porter has his very own bedroom in my house. If you don’t have an extra room, consider crate training. Porter gets shut in his room with something to keep him occupied (a Kong or compressed rawhide) when Firefly eats or wants to cuddle with me.

See: Adorable, comfortable Beagle and compressed rawhide

Always crate or confine your dog when you’re not home, so the dog and cat are never together unsupervised. This way, they can’t get into any scuffles.

Establish a Pecking Order That Favors the Weaker Pet
Lots of pet owners report that their cat is the boss of their dog. This is okay, because a pushy dog could seriously hurt a cat.

Firefly established herself as the queen of the household, and I reinforced that hierarchy. I never scolded her for hissing at the dog. Instead, I taught Porter to leave Firefly alone when she hissed at him. It’s okay for your dog to be intimated by your cat; otherwise he could accidentally hurt her. 

Share Your Affection
Spread the love! When Porter moved in, I was tempted to dote on him endlessly. I wanted to spend all my time adoring him. I mean, look how irresistible he is!

But Firefly definitely appreciates it when I carve out alone time for us girls. As I type this, Porter is freshly fed and walked and sleeping happily in his bedroom. Firefly is curled up in my lap, purring. For a Pet Person like me, this is Heaven.

Be Cautious, but Project Calm Confidence
Dogs and cats respond to our signals. So, even though I was constantly policing their behavior, my household mantra was “You’re okay.”

Don’t act like you need to rescue your cat from your dog, or she’ll perceive that she’s in danger. In fact, don’t act like anything out of the ordinary is going on. Tell the dog and cat “You’re okay!” and let them see that they’re overreacting for nothing.

Celebrate Small Successes
Don’t expect your dog and cat to become best friends—and don’t push it! They may start to cuddle and play together, or they may remain stoic roommates for life. This is fine.

Call it a success when your cat greets you and your dog at the door, instead of bolting at the sight of your dog. Celebrate the day that your cat climbs onto the couch with you while your dog naps at your feet.

Firefly: "Tell me I'm still your favorite. Say it!!"

Your cranky cat may even do what mine did. Firefly surprised the heck out of me when she started coming out and greeting guests in my home! She used to cower and hide when my friends came over, but now, it seems like Firefly will actually compete with Porter for attention. For the first time in all her 14 years, she’s joining parties and mingling! I’m so happy for her.

As millions of pet owners know, a multi-species household can bring so much love and laughter into your life. And just imagine how many animals could be spared senseless euthanasia if more families would just adopt another pet.

It may take time, but AnimalFriends can help you add another animal to your home. Just go slowly, and good luck!