In a previous post, you may have read about our new puppy Yvie. She’s an interesting little girl because she doesn’t really look like any dog we’re familiar with.
When we first saw her, we thought she might be a Belgian Malinois. She has the typical sable coloring, short hair, and slim body. But the shelter listed her as a German Shepherd mix. She was smart like a Malinois but didn’t have that high guarding energy. And she didn’t have the long hair of a German shepherd. Also, her round eyes and shorter snout indicated a touch of Australian cattle dog. Then the vet mentioned a Jack Russell terrier, which made me wonder even more.
Is This a Belgian Malinois? Or German Shepherd? Or Terrier?
Curious about her breed mix, we bought an Embark DNA test at the pet store and sent in the mouth swab. Now, the doggie DNA results are back, which both surprised us and confirmed some of what we guessed.
What is the Mix on This Breed?
First, let me ask, what’s your best guess? A Belgian Malinois has that short hair and sable coloring. My husband thought cattle dog from those round eyes and short snout but she was missing the thick body.
Well, Yvie is not fully either. She’s mostly German shepherd and Australian cattle dog, with a little terrier. This makes a lot of sense. She’s super smart like a shepherd and wants to stay busy like a cattle dog. And now that she’s about five months old, we can tell she probably won’t grow very tall. So she’s like an Australian cattle dog with, as the dog class teacher said, “deer legs.”
This matches with her active but highly focused personality. She loves to fetch and is always alert. And now that we know her breed, we understand her better. We get why she’s always looking for something to do. We get why she likes to stay near “her person.” We get why she likes to chew on her yak cheese sticks, which I can’t recommend enough for busy dogs.
One drawback is the DNA test wasn’t inexpensive, but I have to say it’s worth it. It helped us accommodate Yvie’s needs better. She now enjoys more food puzzles, more dog TV on youtube, and more walkies and fetch. And because she’s a happier dog, we’re happier humans!
On the night my husband and I signed our will, our friends acted as witnesses. The four of us sat with the notary at the dining table, signing the documents that would outline how and what our kids would inherit when my husband and I passed away. It wasn’t at the top of my list for Friday night fun but we did it. Little did I know signing that estate plan would completely change my life perspective.
An Inventory of Everything
Later that night as I went upstairs, I ran into my two daughters who were getting ready for bed. As we often do, we joked around and touched base about the goings on of the next day. Then the giggles subsided and we all wandered toward our rooms.
As I lay in bed, I thought about how my daughters didn’t know they’d inherit a house and a car and little nest egg of money. They didn’t know all we considered in putting together our plan: what might happen and what the kids might need. Though the girls knew we’d signed an estate plan, they of course weren’t interested. They had school and friends and work on their minds.
Absently I stared at the closed bedroom door. I thought of my sister who’d passed away in May. She was gone from me, and the earth, forever. So what did I have left? I realized what I had left was just on the other side of the door: my kids. Not far away, not gone from the earth, but just a few steps away! Wow. My son, though far away, was in his college apartment with his buddies. He was a text or phone call away. Wow. I had three kids who loved me. That’s what I had left. Not to mention a loving husband.
How lucky am I? I thought. I get to wake up tomorrow and I could, if I chose, talk to all of them. Spend time with them. See their faces.
A Total Shift in Life Perspective
Slowly, my body filled with a sense of awe. Warmth. I was stunned by the love of my family. My husband. Our pets, past and present. I felt thankful for our friends of that night, and others I’d made over the years. All the experiences and travels I’d had.
As I listed all the good stuff in my life, I grew overwhelmed. Felt the power of gratitude. I couldn’t believe what a wonderful life I had. Yes, my sister passed away, yes, my mother-in-law too. And yes, I’d had health problems this year but still, I was here, on earth in this moment. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. I radiated a happiness I hadn’t felt at such a strong intensity before. It was like my happiness skyrocketed into space. I floated with peace.
Afterward, I made a choice to enjoy my life as much as I could every day. Actually enjoy it. I’d never enjoyed life. I mostly thought about what was wrong and how to make it better. No longer. I decided to hang on to that wild and wondrous feeling I’d had that night. To be happy. For the first time in my life, I realized being happy was actually a choice, not a thing to work toward or that happened from time to time. I had the power to change my life perspective if I relaxed enough to enjoy the good things. And I haven’t let go since.
Have you ever had an epiphany like that? How do you stay happy? Maybe you keep a gratitude journal. If you have ideas, let me know!
Many of you know this last spring was a tough one for me and my family. My sister passed away from pancreatic cancer and my mother-in-law passed away from a stroke (we think). When that happened, I started searching for dogs to adopt online. I couldn’t help myself. I yearned for some spark of joy in my life. And our kids had been wanting a new pet for over a year. During the pandemic, we lost a dog and two cats. We were ready for a new addition.
But the time was never right. We encountered Covid, its mental health effects, my sister’s illness, my mother-in-law’s passing, travel, a new book release, family visits, and more. But now, fall is here, things have calmed, and we’re ready to bring new life and energy into our home.
Puppy or Grown Dog?
I hadn’t planned on adopting a new puppy. But when I saw this little furry face, I couldn’t resist. Neither could my husband or kids. She, along with her puppy siblings, were abandoned in the parking lot of the Seattle Humane Society. She was taken in at nine weeks old and we brought her home at ten weeks. While her information sheet lists her as a German Shepherd mix, we’re thinking she might be part Belgian Malinois, part Cattle Dog. Maybe with a touch of terrier or boxer? We’re not sure, but we love her nonetheless.
Because we’ve always given our dogs names that started with vowels, we decided to call her Yvette, and Yvie for short. She’s a beautiful girl, full of life and smarts. She already knows many commands and walks on a leash nicely enough. Her favorite thing though is going to outdoor restaurant patios and hanging with new people! She’s all waggy tails and licky when she makes human friends. And since she’s in puppy kindergarten, she’s been making friends with other doggos too.
If you have ideas about her breed, let me know! We just sent in our doggie DNA test so it’ll be interesting to learn the results in late October.
Earlier this year, I worked with a sleep specialist. I wanted to regain those luxurious seven and a half hours I’ve usually slept these last several years. But in January, I started experiencing intermittent bouts of insomnia and by February it became chronic. So I sought out a sleep doctor and worked with a specialist nurse to track my nighttime habits.
We went over the usual litany of possible obstructions to sleep: screen time in the late evening, the glow of nightlights, bed comfort, room temperature, unwanted noise, alcohol use, etc. These are all part of what experts call “sleep hygiene.” In other words, how well you accommodate your body’s natural ability to become sleepy and actually sleep. My sleep hygiene was quite good. I’d solved earlier problems of noise and light on my own, which left the last and most common factor in getting good rest: stress.
Investigating my Habits
I’ve experienced it a lot these last two years. The pandemic put a huge strain on our family. We had pets die. My sister was diagnosed with advanced cancer. Despite these circumstances, my nurse told me over 90 percent of insomnia cases are solved with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I was skeptical but willing to try. And so, I began a system of tracking my sleep.
I created logs where I wrote down when I feel asleep, how long I slept, and when/how many times I woke up. I also tracked when I got in bed and left my bed. It was all kind of silly to me since my pattern was stable. Fall asleep for a few hours, wake for a couple hours, then sleep for two hours or so. On really bad nights, I experienced very little if any deep, black out sleep.
Our aim was to figure out how much sleep I could generate. Some folks only sleep about six hours and seem to be fine so we needed to find out how long my body needed. I started staying up until one in the morning and setting an alarm for seven. This strategy didn’t help. I was tired at midnight but then overtired by one and couldn’t fall asleep. Plus, I caught a cold and felt rundown. So I ditched this method.
We talked more about cognitive issues and winding down my thoughts at the end of the night. This has been difficult since I’ve been dealing with all of what I described above. And then there’s always a ton of the next day’s work to think about!
My specialist advised me not to stay in bed whenever I was conscious as this often led to me seeing my bed as a place of worry and stress when it should be a clear-headed refuge. But I like to read in bed before falling asleep. I like to wake up slowly and let’s face it, there was no way I was getting up during the night to sit in a cold quiet house or wash dishes or watch TV.
The Effective Strategy I Discovered
In the end, I discovered a strategy on my own that gave me good solid sleep. It was something unexpected and easier than I’d imagined. And it had no tracking or psychological “shoulds” built into it. And of course no medication.
You might have heard of “morning pages.” It’s the daily ritual of writing three pages of stream of consciousness as soon as you wake up. The idea is to declutter your mind before going on with your day. Start off mentally free and clear. Author Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way, created the practice. And several creatives I know swear by it.
To be honest though, I could never get into the habit of morning pages. I’ve kept gratitude journals before but not morning ones. After I wake up, I’ve always felt too sleepy to journal and never had much clutter in my head in the morning anyway. I mean, I’d just woken up from being unconscious, which had wiped my worries and concerns away for the night.
So I flipped the habit around. Instead of journaling in the morning, I journaled right before sleep. I free wrote in bed, a stream of consciousness without editing. I started with how the day went. What was bothering me, worrying me, annoying me, whatever. I cut loose, not holding anything back. I bitched, griped, felt sorry for myself, bemoaned whatever went wrong. My grievances tumbled onto the page.
Also, I wrote down my not-so-emotional stuff. What I had to figure out. What I had to tackle. Who to call or email the next day. The stuff that was still unfinished and would carry over into the next day. I dumped it all onto the page.
The Unexpected Happened
After a few days of this, an interesting thing happened. I slept better. I fell asleep more quickly and stayed asleep longer. It was as if I’d drained my brain and it was ready to do nothing else except shut off. Since I’d put all those thoughts and feelings bouncing around in my mind on the page, I had nothing else to mentally spin out about. It was all external and somehow finished for the time being. What’s more, it was in a place I could refer back to the next day if I needed to. But heh, it turned out I rarely needed to.
Since I’ve been writing in my night diary, I’ve slept in a deep blackout sleep most nights. If I do wake up, I’m not automatically stressing so much about being awake or what’s bothering me or what’s on my mind. I feel more clear-headed, more relaxed and I fall back to sleep more easily.
It’s as if the page has absorbed all of my mental junk and is holding it there for me until I’m ready to deal with it again. It reminds me of David Allen’s system of Getting Things Done. He recommends writing out every little and big thing you have to do in order for you to clear your head of the stress that work generates. It’s about dumping all the unfinished stuff out of your mind so you can get organized.
This tactic is in some ways similar. I write for as many pages or as few paragraphs as I need. I don’t judge my writing or my life, I just record. Feelings and frustrations are best. And to be honest, since I’ve been night writing regularly, my days have gotten less stressful. Perhaps because I’m more rested, I don’t know.
Also, I don’t date my entries because I don’t need to review on what day which kind of stress happened. There’s not much point in that for me, although some folks may find that useful. I’m more inclined to write out the stress and move on. In fact, I’m thinking of recycling all my entries at each month’s end so I don’t judge myself for feeling badly about the same thing more than once.
A Recommended Respite
Nowadays, I actually look forward to getting into my bed. I journal and then, when I have nothing more to write, I read a light book and sleep. I encourage you to try it. If you can at least empty your mind of your stress and its related mental junk, you’ll probably be able to shut down for a longer rest. Then, because of that sleep, you might end up having better days since you’ll be rested, more clear-headed, and able to seize the day with more positive energy.
Just a quick note to let you know my new novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is now available in all formats: paperback, ebook, and even audiobook. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was terribly disappointed when the physical book was out of stock for a while but it’s now available. Whew!
Dark Petals was inspired by the evocative yet sinister books by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol grew up in Provence and created stories based on his childhood experiences for both literature and film.
One of the more famous of these is the book Jean de Florette, about a city lawyer who inherits his family’s country farm and decides to be a simple, gentleman farmer. But the small-minded prejudiced town blocks his progress at every turn until things come to a dramatic head. It’s a study in dark group mentality and revenge against the strength of familial love and personal dreams.
The Idea Behind the Book
I was inspired by how people behave when a newcomer arrives to disrupt things. And so, I created April Pearce, a modern-day American photographer who visits Provence to take photographs for a travel magazine. April’s in her late 30s and struggling to secure a permanent place at this company to prove to herself she’s not a career failure. But it seems all of the most fascinating shots she finds lead to trouble.
In the book, I tried to bring the hot weather, rough terrain, and alluring culture of Provence to life. I also tried to draw interesting characters whose secret pasts raise questions for the reader. April’s character reaches into my own past feelings as an outsider. And of course the story pivots on one particular plant. How else would I write a novel? haha.
Anyway, if you want more information, check out the jacket description here. And by the way, I do realize the paperback cover is not as beautifully saturated with color as the ebook cover, not sure why nor is my publisher. Regardless, you can also read tidbits on my Instagram feed or read the first chapter here.
And if you’d like to buy it, click here.
In the meantime, have a great day!