Wednesday, October 26, 2011


This is my latest fixation: Arbonne cosmetics. My skin is so sensitive that it reacts adversely to direct sunlight (another reason I dislike summer), but so far these products are working for me. They absorb nicely and don't cause any redness or itching, as so many lotions and chemical-based products do.

No, I'm not getting anything for promotion. I just wanted an upbeat and cheerful post and this week Arbonne is lifting my spirits. A friend invited me to an Arbonne party on Oct. 16th and I was the perfect guest: I'm a 45-year-old woman who owns almost zero skin products because of my hyper-sensitive skin, but who has been wondering what I can do to age gracefully. By the time the demonstration was over I was placing an order for their Skin Conditioning Oil, some face moisturizers and a couple of cosmetic items. My skin is drier than my sense of humor, so even hand creams feel like nothing to me. I have to go straight to oils, and so far Arbonne's Skin Conditioning Oil is working pretty well for me.

I embrace my middle-age-itude. I'm happy to wear neck scarves and comfortable shoes and to apply four creams and lotions before bedtime. Ah, getting old!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

even less a dog lover

Ozzie, the four-year-old pitbull mix we adopted from a shelter, has now been with us for three and a half weeks. He's fit into our household smoothly with no housetraining, chewing or barking problems. He doesn't get anxious when left alone and is always affectionate and happy to see us. He loves other dogs, children and animals and is remarkably happy. Even the vet was impressed with how he has no aggression, food or anxiety issues. He doesn't even shed hardly any hair and the only difference to our apartment is that the floors need to be swept more often (no scratching or other destruction to our property).

So my ongoing discomfort is purely a personal problem and has nothing to do with what a great dog he is. I'm just NOT a dog person. I don't like being outside and this animal has to be taken out several times a day. I particularly hate being in direct sunlight because it causes me rashes, but when you have to walk a dog during a bright day, there's no avoiding sunlight. Sunscreen makes no difference. I used to just stay indoors on bright days, but now I walk around with a rash. Also, the charm of walking a dog is over for me. I'm bored by it.

When we're home, I'm emotionally uncomfortable with how much he stares at me and follows me around. People keep telling me, "That's just how dogs are," but this gives me no comfort because it hardly matters what Ozzie's motivation is. He reminds me of bad relationships where the other person clung to me every minute and craved my constant attention and made me feel suffocated. These relationships made me feel inadequate. I felt guilty for not fulfilling the other person's needs and constantly anxious that I was handling things badly. I felt like I was constantly letting the other person down.

Can you see how having a dog that's always eager for playtime, walktime, snacktime and cuddling might evoke my lifelong fears of having the life sucked out of me by someone who is too "loving?"

I was talking to someone about religion recently (it fits in, just stay with me). She couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to be a part of something that promises constant attention from a loving God. I told her that it's been found that a person's concept of "God" is hugely influenced by their childhood. Children with nurturing, supportive, unconditionally loving parents tend to believe in a benevolent spiritual presence. Children with abusive, violent or emotionally unpredictable parents tend not to believe in a benevolent spiritual presence, or to at least be suspicious of what that means.

My companion was baffled by this. She said, "God is love." I said, "Yes, but when a child's parents teach him that love is yelling and abandonment and fear, then that child does not grow up believing that love is necessarily good. To such a person, the statement God is love can even sound sinister."

This is my problem when people tell me that I should relax because no matter what I do, Ozzie will love me anyway. I don't want Ozzie to love me anyway. It took a very long time for me to become comfortable with platonic friendship. It took me decades to make peace with the idea that a person could be in love with me just for who I am. It took me quite a while to finally accept the level of generosity and support that my husband gives me. To tell you the truth, I'm still working on the concept that Bob loves me unconditionally. Unconditional love? What??

Yes, love and intimacy have always been very scary to me. I have always needed to take things slowly, but there's no going slow with a dog. In just three and a half weeks, Ozzie acts like he's glommed onto me for life and it's freakin me the hell out. He smells doggy, he licks me too much, he makes me feel guilty every second that I'm not focused on him. I find tug-of-war, squeaky toys and throwing the ball boring and refuse to do it.

Bob is baffled and disappointed by my response. He adores Ozzie and is much happier with him in our lives. Bob knew I wasn't an animal person, but he's surprised that I'm responding this badly. I'm depressed and hitting the carbs hard again. I feel drained from taking care of this animal. I don't enjoy my weekends anymore because I'm on dog duty. In fact, my most relaxed days have become Tuesdays and Wednesdays because those are Bob's days off, when he takes responsibility for the dog.

I know, I'm pathetic. It's ridiculous to be whining about a dog when others are dealing with a death in the family or financial catastrophe or raising children, or all three at once, but it indicates how bad I am at life. I've always known I wasn't cut out for parenthood or family obligations and I have wisely avoided them. Foolishly, I didn't realize that even a nice dog would bring up my emotional baggage, turning me into a basket case, again.

I want to enjoy Ozzie more than I dread him. I want to enjoy my weekends again. I've got to pull out of the depression that dog ownership has sunk me back into. Time to see both therapists this week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I vote Obama in 2012

I quote my cousin Troy Rodriguez:
So the Libyan people asked for our help to stop a massacre and overthrow a terrorist leader, we did it without a single American service member hurt. Osama bin Laden is dead. Don't Ask Don't Tell is over. The unemployment rate that was 5% in April of 2008 and 8.2% the month after the new administration came in, is only 1% worse. The previous administration's TARP program has largely been repaid. The unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act is no longer being defended by the government. Yeah, the guy from Godfather's pizza is going to be much better.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Leather weather

Today Chicago is finally having the weather I've been waiting for: cold, gray and rainy. I bought a leather jacket in August and have been waiting impatiently for temperatures to drop into the 40s and 50s F. They finally have!

I love October, but only when it's gray. I could have been a member of the Addams Family.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

So, how's the new dog?

Thank you for asking. It's been interesting because I'm no animal lover. My husband and his entire family adore dogs, but I see them as clumsy, overenthusiastic creatures that take a lot of work (the dogs, not the family).

But there's no turning back now. We brought Ozzie home from a shelter and I'm not going to make him go back. Anyway, I don't do things halfway. Either I want nothing to do with dogs or I'm 100% committed to one.

In July, when we started looking at shelters, I began researching. I bought Tamar Gellar's The Loved Dog and 30 Days to a a Well-Mannered Dog. Her books stress positive reinforcement and working with your dog's wolf instincts instead of against them. She explains why brute force and loud dominance will not build a good relationship with your pet and gives step-by-step instructions on how to successfully teach your dog to sit, stop jumping on people, come and do just about anything you want.

In the absence of natural dog affection, what holds my interest in Ozzie is an almost clinical fascination with him and a great appreciation for how much he makes my husband happy. Bob now wakes up smiling and spends time every day playing with Ozzie, telling him what a good boy he is and just cuddling with him. Bob's pleasure in life definitely increases tenfold with a dog and that's why I went against my nature and agreed to get one.

As for my clinical fascination, I like the experiment of trying to train Ozzie like the experts. I'm intrigued by how teachable he is and how his brain seems to work. Now that I've read a bit about the motivations of dogs and their basic nature, I like to watch him greet other dogs, react to children, play watchdog, and react to new situations. I have infinite patience for how much he sniffs and sniffs and sniffs because I'm amazed by what I've learned about how dogs process the world mostly through smell. My attitude only changes when he drags his snout through the most disgusting garbage you can find underneath an el (elevated train) viaduct. I still don't stop him, bu I watch in horror because I know Ozzie's nose will later brush me. I accept this because, apparently, that's the life of a dog owner.

My husband works an upside down restaurant schedule so here's our deal: Bob walks/feeds Ozzie in the morning, I walk/feed Ozzie in the evening, and whichever of us has the day off exercises him during the afternoon. My days off are Saturday and Sunday, Bob's are Tuesday and Wednesday. Three days a week we have a dog walker take Ozzie out in the afternoon.

This means I'm living a very different life. I now come straight home after work, after thinking about Ozzie all day, hoping he's not miserably lonely and ripping apart all the kleenex boxes. As the afternoon wears on, I gauge my energy level because I know he'll need a good walk and a shorter one before my bedtime. Of course, right before my bedtime is when I'd like to be winding down instead of trotting around the neighborhood, my attention riveted to every night sound and every tiny shadow that could be a pile of rotting food, but I'm trying to adjust.

Every day I have my worries and doubts. Can I keep up all the physical exercise and attention this dog needs? Can I adjust to the constant animal smell our apartment now has? Will I ever enjoy a relaxing evening again, knowing I have to take the dog out one last time before I can sleep? With my history of responding poorly to emotional attachment and being needed, will I adjust to how much this dog follows me around? And how do I keep it all up for the next six to ten years?

Then again, I know I lie around too much, especially on weekends, so I'm kind of enjoying the exercise I probably should have been getting all along (an early gym routine is not enough). I maintain a brisk power walk with Ozzie, unless I'm patiently observing him sniff everything in the world, and like to jog with him. I forgot how good running can feel, especially the thrill of speeding through the darkness, across leaf-covered city sidewalks. Ozzie enjoys this and I have to say, I'm right there with him. Exercise is also excellent for my mood, so taking an active dog out two or three times on most days of the week doesn't feel bad and it's bound to help my weight loss.

There's also a very Take-Back-the-Night aspect to walking a pitbull mix. I'm a short, 131-pound (these days) woman who has always been smaller than most others. No one's ever been afraid of me, but seeing Ozzie on a four-foot leash, people back away. I find myself saying "Hi" and smiling ingratiatingly at white, African American and Latino men who are a foot taller than I am so they won't panic at our approach. I marvel at how little I have to fear from anyone who might crawl out of the Chicago shadows because my black 45-pound pitbull mix looks mean (that is, until he cringes from anyone who raises a hand to him, but few strangers discover that).

As you can see, Ozzie is kind of cute. I like his glossy, smooth fur (let's hear it for short-haired dogs!) and puppy-like face. He's four years old, but looks and acts much younger. I like how well he responds to my training and how happy he is when Bob and I come home. My favorite things about him are his Batman ears. They're very expressive, especially in those moments when he actually flattens them in submission. I like brushing my fingers against their softness. Are ears always the softest part of a dog?

Having Ozzie around is sometimes endearing. I close my bedroom door when I'm not home because I don't want him on my bed, but he's figured out how to open the door. Bob says this means he misses me. At first I was annoyed, but now I find it kind of appealing. I continue to close my door when I leave the apartment, but just to give him a task to do, not to keep him out. I carefully make my bed to minimize the amount of dog dirt that gets under the covers (I hate dog dirt in my room).

Bob invites Ozzie to sleep in his bed each night, which I'm completely fine with because I just go in my room and close the door (I sleep best alone). They curl up together and Bob happily lets Ozzie rest his head on Bob's head, neck or shoulder. I could never fall asleep with a dog on my head, but Bob actually sleeps better this way, even though he often finds himself hanging off the bed when he wakes up. I find Bob blissfully waking up with a furry ear in his eye, starting off the day right.

It feels worth it, so far. Our household is a lighter and more cheerful place, plus Ozzie is great at cleaning up kitchen spills. It's my personal dog experiment and it's going well for a 45-year-old woman who never wanted one. I still don't (I felt much more immediate payoff when I got a husband), but I'm optimistic. I'll never be an animal lover, but I believe that pets are good for you, and I expect my affection and enjoyment of Ozzie to eventually outweigh the inconvenience and worry. Eventually.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How to Throw a Party and Still Have Fun

It's party season, so let's get ready! I love having people over, an option that makes increasing sense as we all whittle down our entertainment budgets and try to stay close to home.

Maybe you're thinking, "How does that save costs if I'm providing food and drink for all my boozing friends?" Or maybe you're thinking, "The last time I threw a party, I got stuck in the kitchen" or "I had to run to the liquor store in the middle, while everyone else relaxed." If you avoid hosting parties because you don't want to be the cook or bartender all night, here's how to throw a party while still having a good time.

EASY - The Dinner Party

1. Choose an entree that you can make ahead of time and either leave in the oven or on the stove simmering. Simmering pot dishes are good because they'll be hot no matter what time you serve them or what time latecomers arrive. This frees you from having to stay in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on a sautee or a meatloaf, while your guests are arriving and mingling without you.

Anything you can put in a crock pot is perfect. Inexpensive options are thick stews or soups that you can load up with beans and vegetables and only a little meat, if any. Don't forget how filling split pea or a bean soup can be.

2. Serve buffet style. No waitressing for you and it also relieves you of having to wait until everyone arrives before you sit down and serve. In fact, I've never hosted a sit-down, plated meal because my friends arrive at all times and I never know exactly how many will show. People are often shy about being the first one at a buffet table, so go and serve yourself first to get everyone eating.

3. Have an assistant. Ask someone to help you answer the door, greet and take coats. Of course you'll be doing this too, but you'll enjoy your party more if someone else helps. Sometimes you'll already be getting someone a drink when the buzzer goes off again, or you might be deep in conversation, etc.

4. This one might be controversial but I do it: if a guest arrives with a contribution to the meal that requires some preparation, let them do it. When a friend handed me a couple of baskets of fresh strawberries, straight from the supermarket, I handed them right back and said, "Thank you. Do you mind washing them and putting them in a bowl? I'll get you a bowl." Otherwise you can end up stuck in the kitchen washing produce, opening containers and cutting up the extra food people have brought. That's lost party-time.

5. Stick to wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages. Set wine bottles out with cups and bottle openers, tell them the beer's in the fridge and let them have at it. Always encourage guests to bring something to drink because most people will do it and that decreases your chances of running out.

6. Clean-up: sometimes if you start picking things up before people leave, someone will step in and help you. That's the best. But even if no one does, make things easy by using disposable tableware and asking if anyone wants to take anything home. You might say, "Hey, Jackie, do you want to take some brownies?" or "Kenn, you really liked these potatoes. Can I pack them up for you?" Have aluminum foil ready and some plastic containers you don't need. If you play it right, you'll have nothing to put away but some chips and cookies (but keep unopened bottles for your next party). This also gets people moving if you're ready for them to leave, but they aren't budging.

EASIER - The Potluck

These days everyone understands why one person wouldn't want to foot the whole bill to feed a large group. Call it a potluck, follow some steps and people will be happy to pitch in. Fifteen years ago I threw a potluck for which I made a pot of beans, a pot of rice and bought some tortillas. I figured my guests would fill in with extras and was very disappointed and embarrassed when they mostly showed up empty-handed. We had a humble meal and I learned a big lesson.

1. Get potluck commitments from everyone. Invitation websites like Evite and Punchbowl will let you specify what you want guests to bring and lets them sign up for each item. If you don't use a website, when each guest says they're coming just say, "Great. Right now it's wide open so you could bring a side dish, dessert or something to drink." Get them to pick one and say they'll bring it.

2. Provide the main course. This keeps you from waiting on someone to arrive before you can start eating. If the mashed potatoes are an hour late, so be it. You can enjoy the entree and whatever else is there until they arrive.

3. As it gets closer to the date you can say things like, "Pretty much everything's covered, but I could use one more dessert." You know what your friends like. Assign to each person their favorite party food/beverage and they will not mind making sure it's there.

4. Another way to assign items, is to ask people who tend to run late to bring desserts and extra drinks, while asking your more prompt friends to bring appetizers and side dishes. If everyone's unpredictable, provide a core meal (main dish and one side) and add other things as they arrive.

5. Do not feel bad about asking your guests to bring things. You are offering them a chance to enjoy your home, relax with great people and spend a fraction of what they would at a restaurant, bar, theater, etc. Anyone who's not into it can just RSVP no.

6. Serve buffet style, etc. as described above.

EASIEST - The Snack Party

There was a time when I was on the tightest shoestring budget possible, but I refused to let that stop the Regina Party Machine. This is what I did.

1. Find a focus that isn't food. I love card game nights, but it could also be movie night, football night, charades, whatever.

2. Ask people to bring their favorite snack foods. Make sure they know you're not providing a meal (at least I had to because everyone was used to me cooking). Chances are, if everyone's bringing soda or chips or a pizza or cookies, you'll end up with PLENTY. I was also up front and told them I just couldn't afford to provide a main course this time and absolutely no one minded.

3. Put out napkins and sit down and enjoy the evening's activity.

Hosting friends in your home is a generous and gratifying way to socialize. You'll be surprised by how many people will thank you, even if you did nothing but open the door and point to the place they could put their items. Please do not let a little effort stop you from hosting people. Remember how great it was when you were a kid and you had friends come over to play at your house? Do it again!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

National Depression Screening Day

Thursday, October 6th is National Depression Screening Day in the U.S. Millions of Americans suffer from depression and don't even know it. We assume we're in a bad mood because of our crappy jobs or lack thereof, or any of a hundred reasons. We assume everyone would feel the same way given our situation.

I find that I'm depressed when I leave the house every day in a bad mood, when everyone irritates me, when I don't look forward to even my favorite things and when all I have to say to my husband in the morning is complaints and criticisms. For a lot of people, this probably sounds like business as usual. If it goes on for months, it's not.

You can check yourself for depression here.