To Pooch, or Not To Pooch

Last winter, we said goodbye to one of my first babies, Tony. He was a very special cat, and he and I had a very strong bond. His 16 year-old sister, Sophie, is still with us, limping along with kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease.  (I’m certain these two cats have paid for at least one year of college for our vet’s children.) I love her, but she’s more sterotypical-cat than Tony was; she loves me, but she shows it when she feels like it.

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Wasn’t he a handsome fella??

For behavioral reasons I won’t bother to go into here, Sophie is confined to the master bedroom. Between this and her age, I’m starting to think about getting another pet. In order of preference, here’s what I’d like to get:

  1. A llama (See my Facebook profile picture.)
  2. A (litterbox-trained) rabbit
  3. Ten cats (I could SO be a crazy cat lady, if my husband let me!)
  4. A dog

A llama isn’t particularly practical for our yard, my husband thinks rabbits aren’t interactive enough, and a cat (or 10) seems kind of mean, while Sophie is still alive. Both my husband and my daughter would love to get a dog, but I’m not sold on one yet.

I like dogs, I really do, but that doesn’t mean I want to own one. (It’s kind of like how me liking babies doesn’t mean I want to have another child…) Sure, they’re man’s best friend, they’re adorable, and having one would force me to get more exercise. But I have some reservations:

  1. Dogs smell. I’m sorry dog-lovers, but they do. Every time I pet a dog, my hand reeks of dog afterwards. Unless a dog has just been bathed, they smell.
  2. (Most) dogs bark. When I go to people’s homes and a dog starts barking its head off, it’s a little off-putting. So is the thought of having to haul a barking and/or jumping creature into a closed-off room or a crate whenever people come to my home.
  3. Picking up dog poop. Enough said.
  4. Dogs are high-maintenance. When we go away for a weekend, we leave out extra food and water for our cat, and she’s fine on her own for a few days. (For all I know, she may even prefer it this way!) But dogs require dogsitting or boarding arrangements, which I understand are pretty costly.
  5. Smart dogs tend to be high-energy, and who wants a dumb dog?? We would walk a dog daily, but between our jobs, school, activities, and life in general, we won’t have a lot of time to provide intellectual stimulation for a smart dog. And based on my limited understanding of animal behavior, under-stimulated dogs can wreck havoc on things like coaches and chairs.

All that said, I know I’m going to acquiese, eventually. I love furry creatures, and stinky dogs are no exception. But I’m never picking up the poop.

Do you have one or more dogs? (Or cats? Or llamas??) What do you think are the best and worst parts of being a dog parent?

Where Exactly IS Upstate New York??

I identify as a resident of “upstate New York”, but what exactly does that mean?? There are many different views on what comprises upstate New York, and where its boundaries lie. Having lived in New York City (definitely NOT upstate), about 60 miles north of New York City (upstate to anyone in NYC), and now in the Capital Region (undeniably upstate), I’m comfortable with this definition from Wikipedia:

“The region includes most of the state of New York, excluding New York City and its environs, as well as Long Island, though the precise boundary is debated. Upstate New York includes the major cities of BuffaloRochester, Albany, and Syracuse.”

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(If you’re particularly interested in this topic and would like to read what some other people think about it, there have recently been articles on it in the Gothamist, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.)

To me, one crosses into upstate New York around the southern border of Dutchess County, or the northern border of Orange County, as you head north along the Hudson River. I feel this way less because of geography, and more because the vibe of these places starts to feel very different from the “downstate” vibe. For starters, very few residents of these areas commute into New York City for work, whereas quite a few people in the areas south of them do. Upstate feels much more outdoorsy to me, and much less urban. (And I don’t just mean the land, but also the lifestyle.) I won’t say much on this difference I’ve noticed, but – and I realize this statement is something of a generalization – the overall political leanings of many residents seem to be different in upstate New York. (When my husband and I moved upstate in 2008, we went for a drive and passed a white bedsheet hanging from two trees in someone’s front yard, with, “Go Home Foreigners”, painted on it. While I don’t think this is reflective of how MANY upstate residents feel, it’s certainly not something one would see in the five boroughs of New York City.)

And then there was the comment from one of my husband’s former coworkers in NYC, as he organized a going-away party, just before our move upstate: “Let’s toast Pete and his move to Canada!”

For a more (or less) scientific definition of how one knows if they’re from upstate New York, check out this fun list of 49 Things People from Upstate New York Love. (Yep on Stewart’s ice cream, apple picking, SPAC, and arguing about where upstate New York starts, for me!)

Where does upstate New York start to you? What’s you favorite thing from upstate New York?

Summer Behavior Plan

My daughter is very well-behaved. I don’t say this to brag or take credit, because I really can’t; it’s just who she is. She’s very rule-bound and risk-averse – both of which are generally good personality traits, but pose challenges, too.

Despite her typically good beahvior, there are a few things I’ve literally been telling her to do FOR YEARS, to no avail. These include:

  1. Sit correctly at the dinner table.
  2. Bring your dishes into the kitchen when you finish a meal or snack.
  3. Clean up after yourself, before moving onto another project or activity.
  4. Tidy your room every day.
  5. Put your clothing/pajamas away or into the laundry after you take them off.

With summer vacation beginning next week, I’m thinking about things I’d like to accomplish before September. Getting my daughter to make habits out of these behaviors is at the top of that list. As a result, I’ve been thinking about a plan for doing so, that will also keep frustration and conflict to a minimum.  I found some good ideas here, and I’m sure Pinterest is full of great ideas, too. Ultimately, I opted to borrow what my daughter’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers used for classroom behavior. They each had a glass bowl into which pom-poms were placed whenever a student or group of students was “caught” behaving well. I like this idea because it rewards – and hopefully reinforces – good behavior, rather than punishing bad behavior.

I’ll also have an accompanying prize bin, filled with dollar-store type items. When my daughter receives 10 pom-poms, she can choose a prize from the bin. She’s strongly motivated by rewards, so I think this will work well for us. I told her about it last night, and she liked the idea. She even suggested adding a “grand prize” reward for the end of the summer. That would involve tracking pom-poms earned throughout the entire summer, which may be more than I want to take on, but I’ll keep thinking about it…

Do you have summer behavior goals for your kid(s)? What are your favorite positive reinforcement systems?

Summer Break is Right Around the Corner

I work (very) part-time as career counselor at a local college. My sole responsibility is to meet with students individually, and help them with various aspects of their job and internship searches. I don’t attend meetings, participate in events, or teach classes. But because I only meet with students, I only work when they’re on-campus and coming into the career center. I’m off during their six-week winter break, their spring break, and summers. As I write this in mid-June, I’ve already been on summer break for almost six weeks.

Here in our part of upstate New York, school gets out in late June, which means my daughter will be starting her summer break in a matter of days. This fills me with both excitement and terror. On the one hand, my daughter is at a great age – 6 ½ – and is a lot of fun to do things with. I love chatting with her, watching her learn new things, and creating memories together. On the other hand, she’s an only child, which means she often looks to her parents for companionship and entertainment. I can only play so many hands of Go Fish!, make so many crafts, and watch so many of her performances, before I need a break. So being home together for approximately 10 weeks can get dicey.

However, I’m pretty proud of how I handled her recent April break week, and plan to model our summer break on it. During that week, I planned one “fun thing” every day. We went to several events at the awesome Saratoga Springs library, had several playdates (at our house and other people’s), and went into the “big city” of Albany to meet my husband for lunch near his office one day. There was something for her to look forward to every day, but we weren’t so over-scheduled that I felt like I was running around too much. We both got appropriate amounts of socialization and quiet time. (We’re introverts, so quiet time is a priority!)

This summer will be a little different because she’ll be attending several weeks of camps, plus we’ll be taking a week-long family vacation. But there will be plenty of unstructured time to fill with more library events, playdates galore, visits to local attractions like Adirondack Animal Land, several state parks, and the farmers’ market, and performances at the wonderful Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I’m feeling ready; bring it on, summer!

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Fun at SPAC last year

How are your family’s summer days and weeks? Do you create a lot of structure, or keep things loose?