how we met stanley: a dog story

You know how some people ask couples to share the story of how they met?

I do that too, only to pet owners.

I love hearing how someone made the decision to bring a fluffy friend home, and what happened along the way. Considering today is the third anniversary of how Stanley, our pug, entered my world, I thought I'd share my own story.

First, I've never been a dog person. I thought dogs were kind of . . . annoying. The slobber, the jumping up and down on you, the having to play fetch, the barking, ugh. My family owned dogs over the years (s/o to Dawson the lab/weimaraner mix, Shelby the black weiner dog, Shadow the big white mutt and Jack and Maggie, the bro-and-sis mini schnauzer combo), but I just wasn't that into them. 

Instead, I was a true, blue cat lady. No shame in my game. Kittens stole my heart every time, plus I liked that cats were cuddly and curious and had personality for days. I had no desire to own a dog, and planned to wholeheartedly stick with cats my entire life. I loved on the cats we had while I was growing up, and then after college, when I moved to Chicago, I got a cat of my own, and then added another a few years after that. 

So at 25, I was single with two cats, living in a tiny apartment off State and Division in the city. Like, I only had room for a daybed, a bookshelf and a tall two-person cocktail table. I had a "walk-in closet" which literally meant I had to walk into it to get to the bathroom. I kept the cat litter box in the shower to hide it from guests, which was weird, but an efficient use of space. When I look back, I feel a wave of nostalgia for that little place of my own, the first place I lived in by myself entirely. Where I spent hours writing and watching bad television on my laptop and drinking cheap wine and recovering from a broken heart and finishing grad school while working full-time and eating the most random meals I could afford and listening to the thump-thump-thump music of the bar underneath me and wondering what in the hell I was going to do with my life.

I moved shortly thereafter. I left Chicago the way you leave a lover—with eyes glued backwards to the rear view mirror and one foot pressed down hard on the pedal to move forward. I gave my cats away. And to keep a very long story short, I eventually met and married my now-husband, who loooooved dogs.

We agreed to get a dog eventually, which meant we spent the first couple years of our relationship pet-less. Then one weekend, we babysat the dog of some friends down the apartment complex hallway. This dog happened to be a pug mix, and we were obsessed. After we returned our pug visitor, I felt the strange urge to own a dog. Not just any dog, a pug. So I started Googling, "just to look"—of course, you know where this is going.

I found a breeder 90 minutes away, who had pug puppies available. I emailed her, just to ask some questions, and she responded promptly: she had a boy and girl, ready that weekend. I told her we would come see them, but no promises. We were just going to look. (Right. Lol.)

That Saturday, I told my then-boyfriend that I had a surprise for him. We were going on a road trip! "To where?" He asked. "You'll see," I said smugly, knowing that if I told him, he would shut this option down quickly, but I knew he also deep down wanted a dog badly. We drove for almost two hours in the snow, in the middle of nowhere Iowa, where I entertained his guesses that we were checking out a semi-local distillery or brewery as an early birthday celebration for him.

Eventually, we arrived at a ramshackle trailer where a man with a long gray ponytail sat on the outside stoop smoking a cigarette. I looked at my boyfriend, who looked pissed. "Let me guess," he said dryly. "A dog." I grinned.

We walked into a small room with wood paneling; it was clean, but smelled of dogs and urine. I could hear muffled barks all the way back. A woman wearing glasses greeted us, and motioned for us to follow her to the next room, where two tiny pug puppies (OMGGGG, THEY WERE SO CUTE) wrestled and mewed in a black wire cage. I picked up the little girl, assuming that's what we'd get (no idea why), and handed her to Jared.

Then I looked at the little boy dog, and my heart dropped. His bitty black face and droopy eyes peered out toward me, and I just knew that we would be taking him home. I turned to see Jared's reaction, and I could tell he was also sold. He picked up the little boy pup, who started licking his hands feverishly, and we both started laughing the way you laugh when something is unbelievably wonderful and good.

We named him Stanley: after Jared's favorite Cardinals icon Stan Musial and my desire to give him an old man name due to his wrinkly skin. He became a centerpiece of our life together, one that brought us closer together as a couple and taught us about unconditional love. I cannot imagine our days without this snore-y, pudgy, gremlin who likes to race around at top speed outside but only for like, 2 minutes before taking his fifth nap of the day.

It also brings me such joy to watch Stan interact with our son, Ezra. At age one, E is pretty into grabbing everything and putting it in his mouth, including dog tails and paws—and Stan is pretty tolerant. E giggles wildly when Stan races around our home, and he likes to lay his head on the dog on the couch, which is the sweetest thing. And when I go to rock E to sleep, Stan lays directly in between my feet and the crib, looking toward the door, as if to protect us.

Stan, we love you so much. In honor of your third year with our family, here's a lovely Mary Oliver poem about her own dog:

Percy wakes me and I am not ready.
He has slept all night under the covers.
Now he’s eager for action: a walk, then breakfast.
So I hasten up. He is sitting on the kitchen counter where he is not supposed to be.
How wonderful you are, I say. How clever, if you needed me, to wake me.
He thought he would hear a lecture and deeply his eyes begin to shine.
He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments.
He squirms and squeals; he has done something that he needed and now he hears that it is okay.
I scratch his ears, I turn him over and touch him everywhere. He is wild with the okayness of it. Then we walk, then he has breakfast, and he is happy.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.
— Mary Oliver, Swan

Hitting the Reset Button

Naturally, I boldly stated last week that I would write ONE HUNDRED BLOG POSTS in honor of #The100DayProject . . . and then we moved, two weeks earlier than planned. Then my phone decided to stop working. And we've had no consistent Internet.

What did I wrote? Zilch. Nada. Nothing at all. A few Instagram posts, but that's it. Which, whatever, right? I always laugh at the bloggers who are like, "Sorry for not posting in two days!" I don't have a big enough readership wherein people are impatiently tapping their fingernails at home, eagerly awaiting another blog post from little ole me. I write because I like it. I blog as a creative outlet. When real life gets in the way, and posting doesn't happen, I don't stress about it. 

HOWEVER.

This challenge was about discipline. While I'm quick to remind myself of all the excuses of the past week -- but we moved! It was hectic! My phone broke! I was tired! I needed extra sleep! -- and all those things prove true, but still. Real life always gets in the way of creativity, doesn't it? That's sort of a mainstay. Hence the need for practicing creativity -- not in the moments when I have no to-do list and am listening to the perfect song and the words are just flowing at my perfectly arranged desk. It happens when I'm waking up early or staying up late to edit a shitty first draft and the dog is barking and I really don't have time for this and watching tv seems way more enjoyable.

Either way, instead of writing, I was living without the Internet or a working cell phone and in the process of moving apartments. I learned a lot, this past week.

I learned that renting a U-Haul doesn't cost, like, a thousand dollars (not sure why I thought it did) and it is so seriously worth it for moving purposes. This comes from the girl who always just moved what would fit in her four-door car and donated the rest. I also realized I've moved every single year for the past 10 years, minus these past three in downtown Des Moines. Sweet math, I know.

We now live on the 3rd floor, which means I get lots of exercise taking Stanley in and out. Actually, Stanley and Stella (the cat) are obsessed with exploring the apartment . . . which is pretty cute during the day and not so much at 3 a.m. when they are racing down the hallway at top speed.

Other pros: way more space. Room for an actual kitchen table. Tons of closets! Nice neighbors across the hall who let us back in the building after we accidentally locked ourselves out at 10 p.m. after moving. Getting a new couch. Redecorating. Decluttering, big time. Having a second bedroom. I repeat: tons of closets! Windows! Every time I walk into the apartment, I feel light and airy and happy.

Cons: Bringing a fully packed U-Haul to the new place and forgetting your keys and getting in an argument about who is responsible for this oversight. Discovering that you own way too much shit. Figuring out a new way to keep the dog out of the kitty litter. The loud noises of the bus station nearby. Grass that hasn't grown in yet, making the yard very muddy. Not having internet at home for 20 days. Not having a couch yet because grown up couches take six weeks to be delivered, I guess. Eating take-out for dinner every night (wait, that's kind of a pro at first). Buying new stuff for the apartment based on your taste and then your partner responds with, "But, the teal doesn't really 'go" with the purple . . ." (You: Really? Since when do you care about things 'going'?)

I learned that living without a (smart) phone is . . . kind of amazing and illuminating.

Turns out I check my phone approximately 47389243 times a day. I use it for yoga -- finding music, creating playlists, responding to sub requests, checking class schedules. I use it for work -- checking email, reviewing calendar appointments. I use it for, well, life -- listening to music, calling people, making to-do lists, looking at social media, texting, checking email regarding volunteer commitments and catching up with friends and wedding planning and whatever else.

And even though I didn't think I was "attached" to my phone -- I mean, I'm not that kind of person -- I am. I absolutely am. Know how I can tell?

When my phone stopped working, I felt actual panic. When it continued to not work, in the form of working for five minutes here and there and then basically acting "dead" for most hours of the day, I felt disoriented. When I took it to Best Buy and the salesman told me I would get my new one in "Oh, about 10 days," I had to refrain from sighing loudly and rolling my eyes. It is embarrassing how many times I literally reached for my phone before remembering it was essentially useless right now. 

So weird. 

At first. Then I really liked it.

I stopped "checking" it every five seconds at work, and got more done. (Shocking.) I stopped feeling scatterbrained in general. We went on a dinner date, and spent the whole time talking to each other (the horror!) instead of letting phones interrupt every now and then. I didn't wonder who was trying to reach me, because, well, they couldn't. Without the constant barrage of social media, email and texting, my mind had more space and freedom to wander, think, create, delight, consider.

Case in point: last Saturday I drove to my sister's for a Ragnar team meeting. It's a 2 hour trip, both ways. Without my phone, I realized I couldn't: 1) call people to catch up, 2) multitask, 3) listen to what I "wanted" to when I wanted to. I listened to the radio, flipping channels. I stared out the window. I made mental lists of ideas, and furiously jotted them down on a piece of paper when stopping for gas. I couldn't call my sister to say "10 minutes away!" which meant I had to . . . you know, rest on the assumption that I would indeed arrive and she would know I was there . . . when I arrived. 

We've also been without Internet at home. Instead of watching television shows and browsing on our phones and whatnot, we ate dinner at our new kitchen table. We put together chairs and organized closets and talked about colors for the bathroom and walked the dog outside and drank wine. 

I learned that I didn't miss being constantly connected, once I got over the hump of attachment. 

I remembered that most things can wait.

I remembered that cars are not phone booths. 

I realized that too many of my connections and relationships are technology-based instead of face-to-face.

I remembered that writing best starts with a piece of paper and a pen.

I remembered that wanting and needing are two different things. I need a lot less than I want, and sometimes what I want doesn't align with what I need. 

I remembered that I don't need constant inspiration from blogs; my mind is fertile ground for quite a lot on its own.

I knew all that stuff, but I forgot. I got distracted. 

At today's yoga class, our teacher suggested a theme of sensuality -- of remembering what feels good about being in our bodies, of rediscovering energy and letting it build, of ridding ourselves of old stories and ideas. How, as women, we forget to tune into our sweetness and our strength, but we can remember on our mats and out in our lives. 

I forgot, but this past week, I remembered. I hit reset.

#makedesmoines

This week I was honored to be a part of a neat photo series called Make Des Moines by the talented Justin Meyer. I met Justin about a year ago, and he's one of those local folks that everybody seems to know. He is clearly dedicated to both his family and his photography, and just an all-around nice, genuine guy. Justin said he started #makedesmoines to not only improve his own photography skills, but showcase the people who make Des Moines a vibrant, creative community. He particularly wanted to focus on individuals on the fringes -- the people who are perhaps a little more obscure, yet still doing their part to help Des Moines thrive while exploring their own passions and hobbies.

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The funny thing is, I wouldn't have considered myself someone who "makes" Des Moines. It actually took me a solid year and a half to like living here! I had moved in 2012 for a relationship and a job -- and both are fine reasons to relocate -- but I didn't realize how long it would take to make new friends and find my personal footing on a lot of levels. It eventually happened, but it took a while.

That's why I so enjoyed being a part of #makedesmoines. Over the past year, I dug much deeper roots here. The things I had slowly chosen to be a part of started to come full circle, started to flower, and it made me appreciate this community more than ever. That's how life works sometimes, right? You take one step down one path and it leads you to places you never imagined or intended. And usually, that's right where you need to be.

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I started this blog, and made writing much more of a priority. I joined the Art Noir board, and now I'm a co-chair for an awesome event fundraiser next year called Big Hair Ball. I discovered Power Life Yoga, and decided to embark upon the teacher training journey, and now teaching alongside practicing is a fundamental part of my life, of my happiness, of my sense of service. I threw my hat in the ring to teach composition at DMACC, and realized how much I enjoy helping other people learn how to put their viewpoints on paper. A meeting from my first month in Des Moines turned into an opportunity to freelance for Silicon Prairie News, where I get to share the stories of all sorts of people doing cool, important things in their own communities.

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But all of those things -- those relationships, connections, goals, opportunities -- took a lot of time to develop. There were many moments when I felt unsure about being on the right path, or I wanted to give up. So the biggest lesson I've learned in Des Moines thus far involves patience. The value of showing up, despite failure or unmet expectations, and dedicating yourself to the process. Trusting that the work matters whether the effects or outcomes are immediately visible or not.

During the shoot, Justin and I talked about how we witness so many people doing cool things in this city, and the striking thing is that nobody seems afraid to fail. People start a new project simply to see how it plays out, with the goal of bettering this community somehow or just because they're excited about it, and more often than not, it works or succeeds. And if not, on to the next thing. All the people I've met here are insanely committed to their creative endeavors, and they carve out time for those efforts, which is incredibly inspiring.

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That's why I value yoga and writing so much. I am certainly not the only yogi in this town, and there are many, many others with more experience and skill than myself. Likewise, there are plenty of writers producing quality work. But all these people inspire me to show up to the page or to my mat every single day, and do the work to discover the joy involved, and hopefully make a small difference in the lives of others. For that, I'm grateful.

See Justin's full post and check out the rest of the series here.