Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

Bob Pen Abbey 7-23-13

I’m once again up way too early to do anything but write.

Sadly this time it was not instigated by a dog who needed to be let outside, but a dog I must let go.

Sometimes death comes excruciatingly slow and other times painfully swift.  In the case of our gentle lab Abbey, it was some surreal mixture of both.

Abbey was my sister’s dog originally, a Christmas gift for her girls a dozen years ago, who were just babes themselves.  Abbey spent her early years in New Hampshire, Missouri, and North Carolina before coming home to live with me and my dog Malcolm in Illinois and finally Iowa.

I think everyone in my family would claim her at theirs since she spent some time with all of us when one of us had to travel without her.  She found comfort in laying at my dad’s feet, riding in my mom’s car, being reunited with her girls when they came to visit, playing dress up with my youngest niece and helping my brother convince my cat loving sister-in-law that dogs can indeed make incredible companions.

She also had a way with the boys and spent her last couple of hours surrounded by her favorite fellas – Jake, Scooter, Rosco, Gavin, and her all time favorite, Bob.  She was an equal opportunity lover and rallied at the opportunity to take one last walk by the river with her pack, herding us all and making sure no one was left behind.

The decision to end a pet’s life is wracked with doubt.  I’ve had to make that decision twice in the last two years. When they are suffering through their worst moments, I am convinced it is the most humane thing to do. It becomes the most agonizing thing to do when the appointed time draws near.

I can barely breathe through it, stay in the moment, and not distract myself from the onslaught of memories mixed with fear of a future without my canine companion.  A part of me dies with my dog.

Fortunately my vet makes house calls and has allowed both Malcolm and Abbey to pass in the peace of familiar surroundings with their favorite toys, treats, and companions right next to them.  And incredibly lucky for me, I have Bob,  who bears this burden with me and lets me cling to him even as his heart breaks.

To deal with the aching absence of Abbey, I alternate between listening to gut wrenching songs about grief to reading poetry about passing to drinking rain forest tea to collapsing on the couch.  Eventually I reach for my pen and journal, open up a vein and let the following bleed out.

Things No One Tells You When You Get A Dog

No one ever tells you when you get a dog

that they will heal your heart every time it breaks

only to shatter it beyond recognition when they leave.

They forget to mention

you will continue to offer table scraps to the ghost of a good dog

and listen intensely for the pattering of paws across the kitchen floor

or wait for the delirious wagging of a tail to welcome you home.

You never suspect you will miss the insistence on a Busy Bone from the kitchen

once you’ve settled snugly into the couch.

You can’t fathom wishing you would wake

once more to the movement of dreaming feet, muffled barks,

and snores that rival your husband’s.

No one tells you that coming across a favorite toy, food dish, eye drops, ear wipes,

multiple dog beds and blankets will remind you that your life was blessed by a dog.

No one wants to spoil the ending at the beginning.

No one wants to tell you the grief will go as deep as the love

and come in waves at odd moments long after your dog is gone.

They will only ask you when you’re going to get another

and you will say never…

Until one day you remember that dog is just god spelled backward

and the closest thing to heaven on earth.

c5c7b-pennyabbeylove

Could You Be Part of a 4am Conspiracy?

Digitally generated roman numeral clock

It’s 4am on a Saturday. I think about the TED talk by poet Rives detailing his theory about four in the morning and all the references to it in films, songs, and other works of art. Clearly this is the bewitching hour, the time when downloads from the divine are most likely to occur, the time we walk between the worlds of waking and dreaming.

If I’m lucky, I’m sleeping at 4am. Not because I’m opposed to the particular gifts that 4am bestows, but because I desperately need the sleep.

So much depends on a good night’s sleep. From my attitude to the way my body metabolizes nutrients and burns calories to the way my brain processes thoughts to the amount of energy at my disposal, sleep is a biggie in my book.

The unbearable lightness of being a light sleeper is that anything and everything can jolt me out of dreamland and into full on monkey mind chatter that requires more than a few brain bananas to pacify.

If my noise cancelling headphones are near my bed and miraculously attached to my iPod which is geared up to my sleep paraliminal meditation and happens to be next to my Rescue Sleep Bach Flower Remedy, I have a chance of falling back to sleep.

Otherwise, the best thing to do is get up and blog.

I think about my friend Gillian from the UK who I met in Los Angeles in January. She is back in Los Angeles this weekend and most likely awake at 4am due to serious jet lag mixed with excitement and information overload from three days of brainstorming with her Mastermind group.

I am filled with excitement as well. I’m teaching the material I’m learning in my coaching program and meeting incredible people along the way. From the participants to the guest speakers, people are opening their hearts and minds to me. Consequently, I’m brimming with purpose and consumed with creating meaningful change and immense value.

I’m also apprehensive. My dog Abbey, the instigator of this 4am wake up call, has grown old and uncomfortable almost overnight.  Suddenly she has something going on with her eyes that is serious enough to warrant an 8am vet visit. My heart is heavy with sadness for this sweet dog who waits on the step for me every night and wags her tail profusely as soon as I return from work. Her unconditional love, loyalty, and companionship have healed my heart more times than I can count. Now I need to do whatever I can to help her heal and bring her ease and comfort.

This morning that meant letting her out to sit under a tree and sniff the air. When I went out to retrieve my retriever, the grass and trees glistened like an enchanted forest. No wonder she wanted out.  She wanted to play her part in the 4am conspiracy.

She’s now sleeping blissfully, having accomplished her mission of getting me up and at the keyboard. She knows a writer needs solitude and silence, the precise conditions present at 4am.

At some point today, after my words have found their way into the blogosphere and Abbey’s eyes have been examined and soothed, perhaps I’ll curl up next to her and nap. Until then, I have to assume sleeping in on Saturday or Sunday is a covert  attempt to conceal the 4am conspiracy theory.

What about you? Is there a time when you are perpetually perplexed, vexed, or called to create? Are there certain times during the day or night that compel you to act?  Share in the comments below.

This Thing Called Love

Two hearts on the branch of a tree, retro look

Valentine’s Day defines February in much the same way Christmas defines December.  Whether you’ve jumped on the love bandwagon or not, you’re bombarded with images of a world ruled by romance and populated by passionate partners.

It’s not that I’m against love.  Oh no.  I’m all for it.  I believe love is a many splendored thing and, like Burt Bacharach, what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

It’s just that the idea of love that’s been sold to us needs a little revision.  From fairy tales to scary tales (“reality” tv like “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) to promises of soulmates and twin flames, how can the real possibly compete with the ideal?

For me it’s the imperfections that endear another to me.  I’ve had my share of “perfection.”  It’s intimidating, exhausting, and self-indulgent, not to mention impossible to maintain.

What I absolutely adore in others are the things that make them unique.  Things like sneaking private code words into a public presentation.  Or consoling an elder by singing show tunes, mesmerizing a history class by reciting the Gettysburg address in its entirety, knowing how to solve story problems or anything to do with algebra, naming the constellations with confidence, caring deeply for the environment, or always making time to give a dog a bone.

I also adore this uniqueness in inanimate objects.  Last night I fell in love with the sunset.  Not just because it lit up the sky with shades of red, orange, and magenta, but also because it created a kaleidoscope of colors reflecting off the clouds in the opposite direction.

Up until then I was feeling tired, cranky, and creatively challenged.  Once I stopped and marveled at the sunset, I felt energized, inspired, and deeply loved.

The thing about love is that we so often limit it.  There is no lack of love. There is only a lack of awareness of it in its many forms.

It is freely offered to us in a smile from the toll booth attendant, a bird landing on our windowsill, a door held open by a stranger, a warm breeze blowing at our back, a cat napping next to us, a toddler being tickled, or a song sung soulfully by a street musician.

Yet we don’t expect love from life in general.  We expect it from those we love.  And we usually expect it on our terms.

The heart is synonymous with love.  It’s no coincidence that both “hear” and “art” are contained within the word heart.  There is an art to love that requires us to hear, open, allow, touch, feel, see, taste, experience without fear.

We’ve all had our share of heartaches, heartbreaks, and heart “attacks.” No one willing signs up for these.  Yet in my experience, the greater heartbreak is not to love at all.

Though you may choose to celebrate Groundhog Day, Presidents’ Day, your birthday, anniversary, or the new moon with more exuberance than Valentine’s Day, if you allow love to sneak up on you in small, unsuspecting ways, you might just find it every day.

I would love for you to share your perspective on love in the comments below.

Top Ten Tension Tackling Tunes to Keep You Humming Through The Holidays

Christmas card

It happens every year. We start out the season with visions of Christmases past when we were younger, things were easier, and our lives were manageable. This year we vow to re-create the magic. We’ll shop early, get organized, entertain lavishly without gaining an ounce, attend every school program and office party, and enjoy all the pleasures of the season.

This vow lasts until the reality of relentless schedules, impossible expectations, extra activities, and crowds at every corner bring this vision sharply into question. Then the question is no longer how will we celebrate but how will we survive?

The good news is we always survive. The bad news is we don’t always utilize the stress management techniques we perfected by the end of last holiday season. However, this year we have a new strategy.

It’s called tunes and tips. When you hear the tune, let it trigger the tension-tackling tip. And what better songs than Christmas carols to keep you humming through the holidays?

1. ‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly…

If you’ve lost your sense of humor, find it immediately!  Stuff happens and you need to keep your wits about you.

Create a stress relief kit that contains anything that conjures up calm for you. Suggestions include a foot massager, a packet of herbal tea, island getaway brochures, funny photos, your favorite music, or an emergency clown nose. Or find an app for your phone that helps you relax and is at your fingertips when you need it.

You are only one thought away from a different perspective.

2. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let it Go…

You don’t have to wish for that fluffy white stuff to perfect the holiday picture. But it is wise to acknowledge that there are certain things that are out of your control, like the weather. What is in your control is your reaction to events.

Letting go of your expectations of how events should unfold, how people should behave, and what should happen allows you to be present to what is actually going on.

3. Dashing Through the Snow…

Movement is essential to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Since Santa supposedly has your new exercise equipment, now may not be an opportune time for you to start a fitness program. But you can easily incorporate movement into your day.

Having to park three miles away from any place peopled with shoppers gives you an excellent opportunity to squeeze in a little aerobic activity. Carrying your purchases back to that same location might be considered strength training.

There are a myriad of ways to work in a workout.  Get creative and have some fun sprinkling your day with activity sprints.

4. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire…

Too many of those nuts, candies, and homemade delights can tip the scales out of your favor. Notice how you eat, drink, and be merry. If you are eating Christmas cookies to handle your woes or drinking Jack Daniels to prevent Jack Frost from nipping at your nose, the combination of indulgences could wreak havoc on your health.

People tend to put on an extra pound or two over the holidays, which isn’t a big deal if it comes off in the New Year. Unfortunately, for many it becomes the new set point that inches up year after year.

To guarantee that you don’t become one of those weight bearing statistics, plan for party temptations by eating a healthy snack before you go.  Once there, fill up on food for thought instead of food from the party platter.  Pay attention to the decorations, check out the entertainment, or visit with the bearded man and his little friends.

5.  Making a List and Checking It Twice…

Don’t expect your already overloaded mind to remember any more than your way home and the names of your immediate family members. Count on lists to remind you of those things you have determined you must do. Make as many lists as necessary and review them before taking action. Prioritize, organize, scrutinize, and compromise, if necessary.

Even if your superpower is finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list and you love to mix and mingle with the masses, make sure to shop when you are well-rested and well-fed. Shopping when fatigued, famished, or  frazzled can lead to costly buyer’s remorse.

6. Deck the Halls…

Surround yourself with things that bring you joy. Designate a room, corner, or cupboard as your own. Then decorate that space as only you know how. Bring a bean bag elf to the office or hang mistletoe in the cafeteria. Your spirit needs nourishment and encouragement. Be sure to give yourself the time and a place to celebrate what is sacred to you.

Many people use this time of year to reflect on the current year and make goals, set intentions, and strategically plan for the new year.  Be sure to schedule some down time amidst all the hustle and bustle to envision, dream, think, contemplate, relax, pray, or hang out in nature.

7. I’ll Be Home for Christmas…

Many families are spread out over the country. This can present not only logistical challenges, but financial and emotional ones as well when you attempt to make it “home” for the holidays.

Determine if the benefits of being home are worth the stresses you may encounter getting there – especially if you are organizing this pilgrimage for your household. If home is where your heart is, then may the force be with you in your travels! But if traveling makes your heart weary, know you can create the feeling of home wherever you are.

By volunteering your time at a shelter, visiting a nursing home, or helping serve meals at a community center, you might help create the feeling of home or family for someone who no longer has one.

8. All I Want for Christmas Is…

What do you really want? What will having this item do for you? How will it satisfy your soul? What about those on your list? What might they really want? Can you give it to them in a more authentic or direct way? Is it possible for you to make something or do something that brings them more joy than the buying an expensive gift that busts your budget?

Gifts of listening, laughter, and sincere compliments are always appreciated but not always afforded to others.  When you really listen and don’t interrupt, daydream, or plan your response, the gift of listening is priceless.

Same for the gift of laughter.  Clipping cartoons or sharing articles, blog posts (like this one!), tweets, or funny videos lets your recipient know how much you value the times you laugh together.

When a compliment is simple, sincere, and specific to the person such as, “You really worked hard on this project and it shows in your client’s feedback,” or “That was a hilarious interpretation of The 12 Days of Christmas,” it benefits the giver as well as the receiver.

However you say to another,  “I see who you are. I get you. I’m glad you exist in my universe,”  is a gift indeed.

9. Silent Night …

I know what I’m about to write is a radical suggestion, but for your own good, I’m going to write it anyway.  Unplug from your electronic devices for one night and plug in to the gifts of the season.

From the sound of carolers outside your window to the squeals of small children on Santa’s lap to the brightly colored lights decorating the streets where you live, sense the beauty that surrounds you. See, hear, taste, touch, and smell the sensations of the season.

Sometimes all you need to do this is a silent night.  Remember, you have the right to remain silent.

10. Joy to the World…

In the end, it all comes down to attitude. Maybe you harbor an inner Scrooge who threatens to declare, “Bah humbug!” on all this festive frenzy. Keeping him in check may require reframing your beliefs about what you “should” do, “must” do, or “have to” do as a choice, something you “choose to” do.

Although you may be a creature of habit, you are also an evolving creature.  What gives you meaning and brings you joy one year may not the next. You may decide some traditions are simply not worth the energy it takes to carry them out and invent new ones to suit your lifestyle.

When life becomes a choice instead of a chore, the world looks a lot brighterand you have more energy to spread that joy around!

BONUS CUT:

As much as I’d like to end this post on a Joy to the World note,  I do want to acknowledge that the holidays can be a very difficult time for many people.  For years, I dreaded them.  Here’s a tip for those of you who have a hard time with holidays for any number of reasons.

I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You…

Despite the festive feel of brightly colored lights and pretty packages under the tree, the holidays can bring up intense feeling of loss, longing, not belonging, depression, and wanting something other than what you have.

You may feel guilty for not enjoying the holidays or for being here when others are not and consequently overspend, overindulge, or over-schedule yourself to escape your feelings.

However, denying your feelings causes them to come back and bite you when you least expect it. Give your feelings the time and attention they deserve. Find someone to talk to or write in a journal. You don’t have to go through this alone.  Connect with others who share your struggles.

I wish you whatever you need or desire to feel loved and appreciated this holiday season.

Please share this with anyone who could use some stress reducing strategies to get through the holidays.  And feel free to share your tried and true tips in the comments below.

 Thank you for reading.   Happy, Healthy Holidays to YOU!

Live and Learn

When asked why I write, my answer is always the same.  I cannot not write.  Like eating or breathing, writing is essential to the way I metabolize life, the best way I know how to make sense of it.

I also love to read.  Reading has taken me places I could never get to on my own.  Reading makes me feel less alone, less quirky, less peculiar and more compassionate, more human, more adventurous.

Sometimes I read a line or passage so beautiful or eloquent it stays with me and shapes my entire day, month, even years.  Knowing that the right words at the right time have so much power, I couldn’t think of a better super power to have than wielding words.  Okay, an invisibility cloak would come in handy.  Especially after wielding the wrong words. 

Many years ago I read  Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg.  I was also reading The Artist Way by Julia Cameron.  These books became my bibles, turning my life upside down and setting my writing mission on fire.  Because both of these authors lived in or around Santa Fe and Taos, I decided I must live there as well.  Clearly, the muses gathered there.

Santa Fe is a creative mecca.  My love affair with the landscape and the culture and the people who find their way there makes it the home of my heart.  I did some major healing there and often pine after it the way one pines after the great love that got away.

But I also agonized over every aspect of my life there.  I struggled financially, I had my heart broken more times than I care to recount, and my career floundered.  I was determined to make my living as a writer but I was drawn more to the mountains than the blank page. Housesitting gave me a place to stay, but it didn’t provide a paycheck, insurance, or a benefits package beyond being young, healthy, single, and free to pursue whatever dream of happiness I could mortgage my future on.

But bills have a way of coming due and even detours eventually lead us back to the beaten path. I returned to the Midwest  and reinvented my writer’s life around a “real job” and a solid foundation that has allowed me the freedom to attend blogger conferences, pursue coaching certifications and online business schools, and occasionally take a trip back to my old stomping grounds or discover new ones.  

Last week Bob and I took a day trip to Madison and made a stop in Mt. Horeb, home of one of my favorite eating establishments, The Grumpy Troll and a one of a kind shopping experience at  The Duluth Trading Company.  We happened to walk by a bookstore and in the window was a new book by Natalie Goldberg called The True Secret of Writing.

As you might imagine, I love bookstores.  Quaint, locally owned corner bookstores are especially dear to my heart because they are so rare now.  So I made a beeline into the store, snatched the book out of the window, and told the owner how this writer changed my life and prompted a move to The Land of Enchantment.

He then shared with me how he moved from New England to Wisconsin and how content he has been living in the land of happy cows and cheese and trolls.  Mt. Horeb is overrun with trolls. As their website claims, it’s the troll capital of the world, right off the troll way.

Books create instant relationships, a safe gathering space for ideas to mingle.  The same can be said for movies, music, video games, weekly television series, or fantasy football leagues.  We’re all looking for a connection, a way to relate to each other on some common ground that might eventually lead us to the uncommon ground where we really get to know ourselves.

So this morning I was reading from The True Secret of Writing and just like when I read Writing Down the Bones, I was so moved by the words that I jumped out of bed and started writing.

This morning’s topic was determination and how we all hunger for certain things and how that hunger, that heat, that disturbance continues to pull us forward to become more of ourselves.  Honestly, the need for continuous quality improvement in my life often gets on my own nerves.  Enough, already.  I’m tired.

Then I got a glimpse of  Jake, our throw-the-ball, throw-the-ball, throw-the-baaaalllll brown lab, who relentlessly pursues whatever ball has not managed to end up in the Maquoketa River.  He is my determination role model.  I refuse to roll over and play dead.

As long as I’m here, I have work to do, words to write, universes to explore.  So I get up, get over myself, show up on the page, and practice writing.

 Writing allows me to make ideas real, dynamic, interesting.  It amazes me that I have lived this long and can still discover something mind blowing every day.  I just have to stay curious and open and engaged. Easier said than done.

So I’ll leave you with this excerpt from The True Secret of Writing.  May this help you stay connected with your desire to initiate whatever change you are longing to make whether it be sustaining a twelve pound weight loss or communicating honestly with your spouse or children or coworkers or completing a degree, a 5k race, or a good book.

First we admit in our heart of hearts it’s something we sincerely want.  And then we move toward it.  Sometimes we fail for a week, a month, a year, a decade.  And then we come back, circle the fire.  Our lives are not linear.  We get lost, then we get found.  Patience is important, and a large tolerance for our mistakes.  We don’t become anything overnight.” – Natalie Goldberg, The True Secret of Writing

I’d love to hear what you hunger for.  Share if you dare in the comments below.