Positive Reinforcement Training

Is this a look of remorse? I’m not sure…

We adopted our beloved dog Rosie March of 2020. She was a year old and had come to the rescue shelter as a stray with a laceration on her paw. When she arrived, she already knew the “Sit” and “Shake” commands. This seems to imply that she had lived with people before. But whether she got lost or dumped and how long she was on her own is a mystery. She did come with a bunch of annoying behaviors, likely learned during her time in the wild. When we first got her she barked at almost everything that moved: humans, dogs, bikes, skateboards, squirrels, birds. And she whined every time I left the condo. If I forgot to close my bedroom door before I left, she would drag all my shoes out of the closet and place them carefully on my bed. She didn’t ever get on my bed when I was home, so I’m not really clear what the message was with the shoes.

Despite all that, her sweet and affectionate personality won us over and I endeavored to teach her to be a bit more civilized. I got a couple books on training using positive reinforcement and we started practicing. Some of the materials suggest that positive reinforcement is 50 times as successful as punitive training. I figured if these methods are successful in teaching whales to jump through hoops, surely I could teach my dog to walk through the park without lunging at bicyclists. Rosie became less reactive. A bit. But there was no way I could take her to the café down the block and have her placidly sit under the table watching the world go by.

Next, I hired a dog trainer, a behaviorist, who is teaching me how to interact with Rosie in a way that makes sense to her as a pack animal and again, the focus is on reinforcing positive behavior. Behavior that is not desired is ignored. As much as possible, I create an environment that will lead to successful interactions: distance between us and other dogs at the park, frozen peanut butter bones when I leave her alone, and treats (lots of treats) to reward desired behaviors.

All this effort to help Rosie learn to be a better roommate caused me to consider whether my inner monologue was positive reinforcement (Yeah, Fawn! All that effort to reduce your sodium intake has really helped to get your blood pressure down) or negative (What is wrong with you, Fawn? You used to work 16 hours without a break and now you want a nap before dinner?) I’m actually kind of surprised that how much negative talk there is.

Surely, my own precious self is worthy of the same kindness that I extend toward my Rosie.

So, I am determinedly changing those negative thoughts. When I notice a critical thought arising, I intentionally turn it around. The above negative thought might become: “Fawn, you have worked really hard your whole life. Your body is tired. Give it what it needs. Let’s have a nap before dinner.”

I would love to hear where you are learning kindness toward self.

And enjoy the bonus photos of things that Rosie has chewed to bits.

$50 worth of toys
Kong chew toy in bits. I still don’t think she looks sorry.
This is the fourth pair of reading glasses to meet a similar fate.

This is Not the Post I Meant to Have for You

Balloon Glow at Forest Park last Friday

I had been looking forward to the balloon glow all week. A friend was meeting me and my son. A balloon glow is an outside event, so we could socially distance ourselves from strangers. I’ve been to balloon glows before in a rural setting and enjoyed the contrast between ambient light and the light filtering through the balloon’s fabric.

I had big plans to take some great shots of the balloons starting their glow while dusk was starting to fall. My idea was to use them to illustrate the concept of needing contrast to see certain things. The balloons don’t glow in daylight.

But I didn’t get any great shots. We got there as the sun was setting and there were dark clouds making the sky a dramatic backdrop. It should have been the ideal set up. But my son wanted a funnel cake, so we got into a long and crowded line. As we inched closer to the food truck the light went from being just perfect to being-meh. And the vendor didn’t take debit cards, so we walked away without a funnel cake.

A lot of people came to see the glow.

No great photos. No funnel cake. A lot more people than I care to be around these days. (We masked up when the crowd got too close.)

And yet, it was a lovely evening. The weather was perfect, the company delightful and we had a nice bit of exercise walking to the field where the balloons had gathered. It was nice to get out on a Friday evening. Good enough.

Kitchen Update with Sustainability in Mind

Beloved readers-I am so excited to share with you a first for this space: another person’s project. A dear friend of mine recently replaced select portions of her kitchen. She was mindful to make choices that were both ecologically responsible and also pleasing to her esthetic. We will start with the beautiful before and after photos, and then I will share a bit of the history of her home and kitchen.

East wall, before.
East wall, after.
The stove that started the project.

The stove was in the home when my friend purchased it in 2003, and had become more worn and dysfunctional over time. It had several rust spots that had gone clear through the top, and the knob on the oven temperature selector had broken, so that it took some finesse and/or pliers to adjust the temperature. A simple fix would have been to just replace the appliance. Unfortunately, it was pinned in by the lower cabinets on one side and butted right up to the exterior wall on the other, where a window sill further hemmed it in. If the stove was coming out, so were the cabinets. As my friend began shopping for lower cabinets, the sales people pointed out that if she replaced only the lowers, they would not match the uppers. She considered it, and decided that she did want the upper and lower cabinets to match. The kitchen designers assumed “Of course, you will want to replace that tile.”” Oh No!” my friend responded, “the tile is my favorite element in the house. I don’t want to tear it out!” She would have to repeat this preference to each kitchen designer she consulted, as well as the laborers who came to do the work. The sink was also broken and needed to be replaced.

Close up of the charming retro tile.
She chose a 24″ stove, which suits her cooking sensibilities as well as fitting nicely in the 1951 era home.

Also, by placing the stove several inches from the wall and adding cabinet and counter space between, the usefulness of the space is exponentially improved. The home owner splurged on glass fronts for two of the upper cabinets to display some of her attractive dishware. The modern sink is two inches deeper than the previous one and the faucet higher, which also improves the functionality of the sink.

In order to minimize any negative environmental effects of the kitchen renewal, all salvageable materials were donated. The cabinets went to Habitat for Humanity and the stove to a local metal recycler.

No change was made to the flooring, which is still in good shape. Earlier design choices include adding an island shortly after buying the home.

This unit adds storage and work space in a sunny area.
When the previous, over-sized refrigerator stopped working in 2012, my friend replaced it with a smaller one and switched the placement of the fridge and the island, which was previously against the back wall. This simple switch improved light and traffic flow to several areas of the home. The island is now bathed in light, which filters to the nearby dining room. The larger refrigerator had overhung the door opening to the living spaces obstructing light and traffic. The smaller fridge is also short enough to house the microwave oven And everywhere in the kitchen, the walls are decorated with the sunny, beloved tile.

Bathroom Décor Update

Before: note the unframed mirror, glass shelves, towel bar and hoop, generic shower liner and general lack of personality.
The starting to rust light fixture.
After: simple silhouette lamp, framed mirror, crisp white on the walls and removed unnecessary wall accessories.
Mostly, I just removed everything I didn’t use on a daily basis. Hand towels are in a basket on the toilet tank.
Detail of a hand made hook hole.

The standard size of shower curtain (72″ x 72″) was not long enough to suit me, I wanted it an 8 ” longer. Fabrics those dimensions at the fabric store cost a fortune. So I kept my eyes open for an attractive sheet set to be on sale. When I spotted one I liked, I kept the pillow cases and fitted sheet for my bed, and converted the flat sheet into this shower curtain by trimming it to fit and adding holes for the hooks.

The entire refresh came in under $200 USD.

Late Summer Balcony Garden Update

The Virginia Creeper is just circling around the floor of the balcony-but it is growing well! [take note for next year]

When I planted these pots in spring, my main two objectives were to bring some native species to the balcony and to block the view of the parking lot. If I look up, I can see the park and some skyscrapers 10 miles away. They both look magical in early light and sunset. The parking lot is an eyesore all the time. But a much loved convenience. I love my assigned, gated parking space so I don’t have to parallel park on the street every night, which city dwellers know, is an urban lottery more emotionally charged than Lotto tickets.

I took some cotton crochet string ($1.99 USD at the local fabric store) and created the lattice you see above.

I gently untangled the Virginia Creeper tendrils from the table and chairs and bottom of the railings and wove them through the lattice grid, as you see above.

The Morning Glories have started blooming-so exciting!

Notes for next year: the Morning Glories never climbed the rails or grew over 4″ from the top lip of their pot. I had thought that they would out-perform the other vining plants as they are hybrid annuals. Clearly, that was a false belief and next year, I will devote far more pot-soil to Virginia Creeper and Dutchman’s Trousers, which has been vining up the rails nicely.

Virginia Creeper will turn beautifully red in the fall, and hold onto those leaves for a bit of show. I hope to have another update of my fall balcony with a red, pointy leaved screen between me and the parking lot. Stay tuned!

Learning to Play Again

This color is a first ever on my toes!

You all have likely heard the phrase “Work hard and play hard!” I must have misheard it when I first encountered it. For the past 50 years or so I have “Worked hard and then worked hard some more.” I was busy working as a nurse and raising my kids and taking care of the house. I thought that there wasn’t much playing going on. But now that I get enough rest every day, I can see that I did mange to sneak some fun in.

I did have fun blogging about cooking and living on the amount of food that Food Stamps would allot us. It brought out my creative nature. And I loved making homemade Halloween (and Latin Club) costumes for my kids. Bonus fun if I figured out how to do it on the cheap. That also brought out my creative nature. And I loved studying about voluntary simplicity and putting into practice the mindfulness of setting down the activities and objects that did not serve us and focusing our time and money on the things that did. That, too, brought out my creative nature.

It turns out, I am an artist, whose medium is a life lived in creative frugality. I feel most free when I figure out what is just enough (clothes, food, furniture, transportation, learning, community) and lean in. And then I want to share what I have learned, to help others find the freedom in “just enough.” The thing is, nobody else’s “just enough” will look like mine. We all have different personalities, responsibilities, creative natures. Just Enough by definition provides for our bodies, our emotional needs, our intellect and our spirit. It will reflect our unique ways of being in the world. It can be useful to study other people who are living their authentic natures, to get a reference for how it looks different than what our culture tells us to do. Our authentic self will not look like anyone else. We can find it by trying new things and seeing if they are fun or meaningful. We can become curious and playful. We can empty our calendars of the events we find irritating and boring. We can rest. And when we are refreshed, we can look around to see what work looks juicy; what play looks intriguing.

And those green toes? Part of the fun is the impermanence.

The Last Count

Those who have followed me for awhile know that I usually do an annual count of my personal possessions each June. Clearly, I am late this year. I’m late this year for two main reasons and probably a hundred little ones. The first is that I have been quite busy with completing the reno of the new condo and also the Master Life Coaching class that I am enrolled in. The second is, after 20 years, I’m a bit bored with it. It takes a bunch of time and I have new interests. So this is the last count. Thank you all who have let me know that you enjoyed these postings! Now, to work.

Miscellaneous object total 19. Pictured here, clockwise: suitcase, yoga mat, sewing kit, towel, laptop, (sun)glasses and case [counted as one thing,] wallet, purse, memory box, iron. Not pictured include: the cell phone, the car, the shower curtain, trash can and soap dispenser in my bath. Included in this category and pictured in later photos include my laundry basket, bed, and 2 lamps.
New category- Work. This is stuff for my coaching business. 15 objects including a paper calendar, file box (not pictured), shredder, wood bin for office supplies, reference books x 8, a thumb drive, a journal and the ring light. #15
Bed and lamps
Personal care #7. I stopped counting the consumable stuff a couple years ago.

Clothing is a total of 67 items, including 21 undergarments which are not photographed.

Many of you will remember this black dress and sparkly silver sweater.

Four seasons of shoes. I wear those walking shoes every day during my treks to Forest Park with Rosie.
I like the ambivalence of the “Run” shirt. I could be encouraging exercise or warning people away. Clockwise: yoga outfits x3, paint clothes, 4 sweaters, a winter hat and gloves.
Summer hat, 3 masks, a necklace and pair of earrings.
Swimsuit. I have had this one for about 10 years.
2 pair jeans
Winter weight pants and one of the three coats.
2 more coats. I added a rain coat for dog walking on wet days.
A winter scarf and a fancy scarf. When not in use, they hang on the same hanger.
Here are two of the seven summer outfits.
Outfit 3.
Outfit 4.
Outfit 5.
Outfit 6. And yes, I have two pair of shorts that are exactly the same.
Here is everything in the closet, except outfit 7, because I am wearing it. Books on the tops shelf are not counted, as I will gift them after I have read them.

So there you go. The end of an era.

Creating Beauty Out of the Mud

The water lilies in Forest Park are loving this weather.

Every morning I walk my dog Rosie in nearby Forest Park. I grew up in the suburbs, which was okay, but no match for the splendor of this public space. There are buildings which are remnants of the 1904 World’s Fair. There is a fantastic art museum, miles of bike and walking trails, a restored prairie/savannah/woodland area, a golf course, a cricket field, a open air theatre which hosts musicals each summer and boasts a section of free seats, lakes, underground rivers, a skating rink, a world class zoo and a whole lot more. Forest Park is about 1,300 acres in the middle of a city. In recent weeks I have seen cranes, blue heron, a bald eagle!, a family of white-tailed deer, loads of squirrels and chipmunks. I have been watching a family of goslings grow bigger and take to the water. I have heard frogs and red-wing black birds, crickets, cicadas, other creatures that I don’t know enough to identify. Plus all the usual human noises. I love it!

Sometimes we take a path that is both steps away from three teaching hospitals (Barnes-I was born there, Jewish-I worked in the ICU in the late 1980s, Children’s-my oldest son spent a night there) and this beautiful boardwalk through a wetland. Cranes! Frogs! Water lilies!

This daily walk in nature is so soothing to my soul. There is the physical movement to help process negative emotions. There is the overwhelming beauty of the place that triggers thoughts of gratitude. There are other people and dogs and sometimes music that remind me of my connection to the larger world.

And the water lilies! These beautiful flowers grow out of the mud. Need the mud to blossom. This metaphor is healing for me as well. Yes, there is mud in my life. Messy and not desired. But I can use the mud to grow something beautiful. Sure, it takes more than mud. Sunshine, water, rhizomes. So I can reach out to others for the bits I do not have and we can create amazing things out of difficulty.

How about you?

New Growth After Catastrophe

A burnt forest blooms.

More and more, I find myself looking to the wisdom of nature to teach me things that culture has not yet.

It is the rare person who makes it through adulthood without suffering some devastating loss.

I have to remind myself that after the terrible thing happens, and something precious has been irrevocably lost, that life will be good again. In the midst of grief, it feels impossible. But the day arrives when the burden is not so heavy. I look around and see seedlings pushing through the soil or a baby at the grocery store smiles at me.

It does not restore to me what was lost, but it gives me hope for joy and connection in the future. The experience of being hollowed out fills me with kindness for others in suffering. And the connection with others increases the joys and decreases the sufferings.

Thank goodness we have each other. The letting go breaks us and in the loving again, we are healed.

Three Kinds of Problems

Water lilies at the Missouri Botanical Garden

In recent weeks, I seem to be presented with three kinds of problems. The first is the kind of issue where the next right step appears clear and straightforward. You spill the milk. You get a sponge and clean it up. Done. No need for discussion or drama. A fair amount of my time is spent in these kind of tasks.

The second type of problem is something that is beyond my abilities to tackle alone. I might need the help of other people or more research before I can begin to address the concern. This makes the solving of the problem more complex. When working with others, we need to elicit our shared goals and determine our individual roles. This requires dialog, negotiating, feedback and creativity.

The third is something beyond my reach, something that can not be solved according to my current level of understanding.

I have written before about my friend who lives with a serious mental illness. I help her out as I am able. Recently, during an exacerbation of her illness, she destroyed all of her identification. Driver’s license, debit card, bus pass, everything in her wallet. Which made her complicated life even more complicated.

I was able to drive her around to the DMV, the bank, the Metro station to replace all the cards that had been destroyed. [completing the tasks] With her permission, I contacted her psychiatrist to let them know that the current regime of medications was no longer working. Friend, doctor and I discussed the immediate and long term goals of her treatment. We came to agreement on next steps to take and how we could know if they were effective. We agreed on a feedback loop so we would be in communication how things were going. [working with others for common goals]

There are a lot of scientists working to discover the causes and find new treatments for serious mental illness and I read some of what they publish to keep myself aware of new developments. But in the meantime, my friend and I live with the mystery of mental illness.