I thought I would be an expert at this by now.

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I had it in my mind that if I did something for 800 hours I’d be an expert at it. Turns out I was wrong. It’s 10,000 hours.

I guess it makes perfect sense that I am a tired, bored, frustrated dog walker because I’ve only been doing it for about 800 hours. EIGHT HUNDRED HOURS!! I’ve probably done more because I’m not doing the math. I roughly figure that I take two 45-minute walks a day and we got the dogs last April. That adds up to something near 800, give or take. See how I did Core Curriculum math there? Estimating!

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I LOVE my dogs. But man are they a pain to walk sometimes. They pull me down the street. They see a squirrel and lose their minds and pull me through mud puddles. Cody is strong so you can imagine how that goes. I’ve actually cried real tears on dog walks before because things just went to hell.

They are not always bad. They are getting better and better at minding me and listening to me when I call them but they still have their moments where they try my patience regularly and I feel like I am the worst dog-owner ever.

Yes, we’ve taken them to training and Payam is pretty good at making them mind him but I’m not an alpha by nature and I think the dogs know it. They think Mom is great for a really good time and they like to show me a really good time no matter what brush, bramble or mud puddle it might take me through. Of course, I have been known to take them to the nature park and let them off leash to chase a bunny or a squirrel so it’s really my own fault that they don’t walk beside me calmly. I know this. And they are puppies. So really everything is progressing the way it’s supposed to.

Dog walking can be a chore. It is a chore!  It’s not just a walk in the park on a sunny day. It’s a walk through and around the park on hot days and cold days and rainy days and days when you have so much work to do you can’t believe you are spending 30 minutes untangling yourself from leashes when you really need to get back to your desk already and make that deadline!

Dogs are like having babies all over again.

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When I started my whole dog-walking experience by walking Payam’s dog, Ty, (who passed last year) I thought, This will be great exercise! I’ll do it everyday. How great! It was great for about a month. Then it got really really boring. You can only watch a dog sniff so many sign posts and pee on so many trees before your mind starts to wander and you pull out your phone.

Then when we got the puppies we practically dragged them down the street because they didn’t know how to take walks yet and it was SO FUN! They were so cute!!! That lasted about three months. The novelty wore off.

Now, nearly a year later, it is the bane of my existence. Now I pull out my phone whenever I can and just when I’m sending an important text or titling a really good instagram shot, Cody pulls me sideways and I drop my phone and then Whiskey runs around me, tying me up with his leash and licks me in the face and everyone else out walking their dogs stare at me like, “What are you doing using your phone and not paying attention to your dogs!!”

So I put my phone away and compose blog post after blog post in my head that never get written. I spend a lot of time thinking and not doing anything because of those blasted dogs.

Obviously, I started to resent the dog walks. Especially because I always end up greeting other dog-walkers and it’s always this crazy confusion of my dogs jumping all over their dogs and me using all my strength to hold them back. I feel bad because everyone just wants to say hi and I’m terrible at controlling my dogs. It just felt like a daily exercise in failure.

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I’m learning. Failure after failure and eventually I learn. I am only 800 hours in after all, just a mere baby dog-walking expert.

So what have I learned?  I’ve learned that I can look for the good in these walks. There is so much good. I’ve learned to watch the skies and take my walks when the sun starts to set because it’s about a thousand times more fun to walk and enjoy nature during the golden hours.

I’ve started taking the nature trail near our house that isn’t as busy with other dog-walkers. Of course this trail holds other challenges like that one time the fire engine sirens set off all the coyotes in the park howling and scared the crap out of me. There were literally ten coyotes surrounding us on all sides and I had no idea they were there before the sirens went off because they were hidden in the brush. It was so terrifying I had to split and hide out in a nearby apartment complex and call and ask Payam to come get us. I took several months off from walking in the nature trail after that happened but I’m back to it because the beauty pulls me. Also, Cody is so big these days. I’m pretty sure a full pack of coyotes wouldn’t mess with us. But believe me, I do not let them off leash if we are deep in the nature trail or it is anywhere near twilight.

I’ve also started using headphones. Not when I’m in the nature park of course, because obviously I need to be fully aware of my surroundings but when we are on our lake walks where all the other dog walkers are. It’s amazing how much more patient I am with the pulling and the sniffing and the taking forever to take a crap when I’m listening to classical or piano music. I am truly amazed at how much music can alter my mood. Headphones also kinda keep the other dog walkers from engaging me, which is great. Headphones rule.

There are also the rituals the dogs and I have created. They always sit with me on the benches near the lake. They jump up on the bench before I even get a chance as if to remind me, “Here is where you have to sit and take a moment, Mom.” They let me pet them while I sit and stare at the lake. I am actually very grateful that I have the luxury to take dog walks. They force me to slow down. They force me to sit and think about what I’m thankful for instead of getting mad that I’m not heading home already.

We live in a moderate climate (outside of this crazy rainy year) and I have two pretty places to walk to, that’s a lot! I do wish I could take them to the countryside and let them run to their heart’s content. I do wish the dog park would dry up and stop being a mud festival. But for what it’s worth, I have a lot. And maybe if I remember my headphones or remember to walk when it’s a pretty time of day, I’ll get through the rest of my nine-thousand hours and finally be a calm, peaceful dog-walking expert!

The Story of Noon Lodge

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Our recent trip to Noon Lodge happened completely by accident. Way back in December I was on Expedia late at night, experiencing some FOMO (fear of missing out – always a bad sign) because it had just snowed up in the mountains and all my friends were posting these amazing pictures of snow on Instagram. Taking the kids to the snow has been on my bucket list for a few years now. Neither of them had really experienced it, being the true Southern Californian natives that they are.

I skipped around Expedia, looking at cabins and landed on this site. I was struck with instant graphic-designer love. Swoon! What a beautifully designed website! I could imagine the photoshoots I would throw down surrounded by such beauty and nature and great design. Do you see the room decor?! I was hooked. Back I went to Expedia to check out the prices. I knew it would be expensive but surprisingly for some reason I read that the rooms were only one-hundred-and-something and NEXT THING I KNEW I was checking out and the grand total was SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!  Wait. WHAT?!! Two nights somehow added up to six hundred dollars?

Back click, back click. Wait! Wait! This can’t be happening! Of course at this point Expedia was giving me the spinny ball of doom. I don’t have six hundred dollars for a freakin’ weekend! What the, what the?! Halp! I raced though the Noon Lodge site again and everywhere I looked they were very clear about their no cancelation policy. My heart sunk to the bottom of the ocean that is my bad financial planning. What had I done?

Deep breaths.

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I waited for Payam to wake up and I told him the news. Naturally, he was surprised but actually not horrified which was a huge relief. He calmed me down and made some calls. Nobody answered their phones of course.  So I sucked it up and calculated how long it would take me to pay off this new chunk of change I had now put on my credit card that already had a good sized balance on it. It would be bad but I wasn’t quite ruined. Six hundred dollars in the big picture wasn’t that much. Maybe this wouldn’t be the snowball of debt that would roll me into bankruptcy. I have a roof over my head and my landlord isn’t going to kick me out and I can take on more jobs and pay this down. I can do this.

And oh, how I wanted to do this! The Lodge! It was so pretty!

Several hours later Noon Lodge did call back and after talking to Payam (who is a great salesperson by the way) they said that even though it was against their policy, they would cancel my reservation because I had made it so far in advance, this being in December and the weekend I booked being in February after all. What nice people!

But wait. Now I was even sadder. I didn’t want to cancel this trip!!

I had fallen so deeply in love with the idea of this weekend in the snow at Noon Lodge, there was just no going back. Money be damned. Noon Lodge was going to happen if I had work my fingers to the bone for the rest of the year. I could do it!

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So we went!

What a crazy weekend. I had just gotten back from Alt Summit and my mind was a full of business tips and mixed emotions about where my online presence is really going and maybe it’s time to suck it up and admit failure. Le sigh. Blogging conventions always put me in a spin for a few days. It’s great to get inspired and learn new things and meet new people but it really makes you re-think your business plan and me, being the negative person that I can be, I often leave these conventions feeling worse about myself than when I started. It’s always good to mix things up though and I took away a lot of good advice. I just don’t know where I’m going with that advice yet. My head was a little spun.

Also, I had missed the girls (and Payam) terribly for the four days that I was at the convention. The girls were fine without me of course but I was just off my game. It’s hard enough only seeing them every other week due to custody arrangements but being gone the week they were with me made me super sad.  So when I got back I was so ready to spend a quality weekend with them.

I packed like a mad woman and we rushed off to the mountains!

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And it was everything I wanted it to be! The snow! The kids were so excited. The entire trip up the mountain they wouldn’t stop talking about the ice cream that was everywhere. Bug worked herself into such a silly state I actually worried for a minute that she was having a manic episode, which wouldn’t be that far from her mother.

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We tucked ourselves into our cozy cabin and the next morning awoke to the sounds of little girls singing at the top of their lungs, “THE SKY IS AWAKE AND SO AM I! DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOWMAN?!!!” The sun had barely risen over the tree tops and the girls already had their snow gear on and they were out the door. Forget about breakfast. They were so happy.

And then DISASTER STRUCK.

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Payam had gone to the truck to get the girls saucers for sledding. I was back in the cabin, getting breakfast ready. The girls were down the ravine beside the cabin making a fort. Suddenly I looked up and I saw Payam out the window bleeding from his head. I ran out the door to see what had happened and it looked like he had something stuck out of the side of his head. Blood was everywhere. I screamed. What happened?! Are you okay?!!

Payam looked at me with this strange look like he had no idea what I was talking about. He was disoriented. He had his keys and his glasses in his hand and they were bloody and broken. I rushed him to the house and he sat down. I frantically looked for my phone to call 911.

Payam at this time is telling me he’s fine. Why am I freaking out and calling 911?! he asks. Over and over he kept saying he’s fine, he’s fine. He obviously was NOT fine and had no idea that he had a golf ball growing out of the side of his head. At this point I didn’t know if his head was broken and it was bone sticking out. I was in a panic. Bug found my phone and I called 911. The operator walked me through what to do with him and help was on the way.

While all this is going on Bug ran upstairs crying and Joon fainted and fell onto a wooden burl table and bumped her head. At the time I didn’t realize she had actually fainted. I thought she had just slipped on the rug (things were wet from us rushing into the cabin with melting snow on our boots) and when she righted herself and started to complain about her head hurting I thought she was having some kind of psychosomatic copycat symptom. Poor Joon. It wasn’t until after the commotion that we figured out she really did faint.

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Here’s what we think happened: Payam went to the truck to get the sleds but for some reason the hatch didn’t open (this happened to me when I went back and retraced his steps). As he was struggling to lift the stuck trunk door, he slipped on the black ice and hit his head, hard on the frozen asphalt. He has no memory of any of this happening. That’s the weirdest part. It’s a complete blank in his memory. Nobody saw him. Nobody knows what really happened. I’m just glad he was only gone five minutes and he didn’t get run over from laying in the street!

The paramedics arrived and checked Payam out. Because Payam was lucid and he could answer all their questions clearly with no trouble, they surmised that he was probably fine. They told me that injuries like this on the ice are VERY common and the swelling is normal even though at this point he started to look like the Elephant Man. The head is very”vascular” they told us which is why his wound was swelling up to the size of a tennis ball. There was just a lot of blood inside his head. No concussion but just watch it carefully and drive to the nearest urgent care if anything gets worse–like he starts throwing up or falls asleep etc.

Hoo Boy.

Payam rested. The girls went back outside to play. I checked on Payam like a chicken with my head cut off. The wound persisted with little change. Four hours later Payam decided he probably needed stitches. At the time the paramedics were there we couldn’t really see that he had a cut by his eye because everything was so swollen. This was actually a secondary wound from his glasses cutting into the side of his head and is additional to the blow that knocked him out.

Now here’s the part that I’m embarrassed about. Payam talked me into letting him drive himself to the Urgent Care. I know. I’m a terrible girlfriend! I should have driven him. But he assured me up and down that he was fine and besides the crazy swelling he did seem fine.  It was true that the last thing we wanted to do was spend our entire trip in an Urgent Care full of snowboarders with broken arms. I really should have driven him and I do feel bad but it was nice to sit in a chair, watch the girls and calm down from the trauma with Payam checking in with me by phone often.

Just like we expected he was stuck in the Urgent Care for a while. Eventually he got stitches and got checked out, which was a relief to all of us. He came back and rested some more.

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And then I went for a walk. Yeah. I did. I know. Girlfriend of the year awardee over here. But maybe you should give that award to Payam because he totally understood how bad I wanted to get out and take pictures. This was my $600 weekend. Worse weekend ever. Or was it?

I had noticed from the cabin windows that the sun was going down and I really, really wanted to see the lake before we had to go home. I asked Payam a million times if it was okay and when he assured me over and over I rushed out into the snow and trekked down the ravine towards the lake. I missed the sunset but the afterglow was amazing. There was beauty everywhere!

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It was a long cold walk and I kept falling through the snow every fourth step but I couldn’t stop because it kept getting prettier and prettier.

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Just look at the pink glow!

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Here it is bigger so you can feel how big this expanse of space was. Imagine this 360. The lake was frozen with a thin layer of ice and the sky was crisp. Everything was quiet. I stood there with my camera and soaked all the beauty and glory in click by click. It was such a contrast to the storm of recent events.

Payam was okay. This beauty made all those worries from Alt Summit seem small and insignificant. I don’t care about my website being a business. I don’t care if my instagram feed isn’t curated to a color palette that embodies my brand. All I care about is my family and nature and being in this moment where the sky is so pink and big! This is really what matters, right?

Everything was okay. Payam was home with the girls by the fire and he was okay with me being outside chasing the last glimpse of the day. He gives me permission to be a freak and book a weekend at Noon Lodge that I can’t really afford. And yes, he is kind of my safety net when I make mistakes like this which I really try not to do regularly. He lets me be the photographer who’s love in life is capturing beauty and sharing it. It’s almost a sickness with me. Everything is about capturing that crazy, beautiful picture. I don’t care about stuff. But I care about pictures. I don’t know if this is a bad thing or a good thing but I’m learning that it’s pretty hard-wired in me.

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And then I walked home and was welcomed by this site. Oh Noon Lodge. You are so charming with your green siding and bright orange doors.

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The next day before we packed up to leave I took a few more pictures of the girls having fun in the snow. I metered the top photos wrong but I kinda like them.

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Happy Kids.

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And that was that! What a crazy trip. We packed up all our stuff and headed down the mountain. For Payam it was the trip from hell and I’m sure he won’t be too keen to come back anytime soon but I will be. I’m not too terribly fond of Big Bear and the crowds but I love Noon Lodge. noon-lodge-7

And I love this guy. Put some sunglasses on that shiner and he’s good as new! Seriously though, the swelling has gone down and now he has a huge, scary, black eye–that he’s totally milking for sympathy points. He deserves them though. He took one for the team this weekend and we owe him big time.