Margarita trucks and other dreams

ice cream truckIf I hear “Turkey in the Straw” one more time, I’m very likely to go super-nova on the neighborhood.

And WHY do these guys think coming down the street at 4:45pm is a good idea? Unless you’ve given up completely on the day, what parent is going to say to a child, “Absolutely go scarf down a triple fudge Dreamsicle right before dinner time.  I’m sure you’ll still eat your veggies then.” (If you have given up on the day and have decided ice cream satisfies the suggested daily requirement of at least one of the food groups, bear with me: we’re about to venture into something I think you can get behind).

IMG_1384You may have seen the margarita truck meme making the rounds on social media lately.  People talk about it as if it were a joke. I don’t think it’s funny.

I think it’s friggin’ genius.

What if there really were trucks for things we, as grown ups, actually wanted (dare I say “need”?)?

For your consideration:

MM truckM&M trucks. Plain, peanut, peanut butter, seasonal. You could even pick the colors you want (because everyone knows the red ones taste better).

Here’s Dinner trucks. Fully cooked/baked/roasted with sides and dessert (all low-calorie, naturally).  Guaranteed everyone at the table will eat it and like it.  You just walk to the curb with oven mitts.

wine truckWine trucks. Ok, these would be more like tanker trucks, and you’d have an attachment to your sink, like an extra faucet, and they’d just bring the hose up and fill ‘er up.

Comfy Clothes That Fit Well truck. They know your size, they know your color palette. Seasonally appropriate clothing brought to you.  They know you don’t have the time/desire/stamina to try on half a store’s worth of clothing only to walk out with just one t-shirt. Outfits come prepackaged. Better than Garanimals.

shoe truckComfy Shoes That Fit Well truck. A subsidiary of the Comfy Clothes That Fit Truck. Comfortable, stylish shoes that don’t cause you to stagger, grimace, or cry.

It’s like newspaper delivery should be: what you need, only without all the useless coupons.

What kinds of home delivery trucks would you like to see?  Drop me a comment!

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!!!


All in the family

I haven’t been to a wedding shower in years.  I mean YEARS — not since my college friends were getting married!  But recently, I had the privilege to be a guest at the wedding shower for the soon-to-be-daughter-in-law of my good friend, L.

bridal shower umbrellaAs wedding showers go, they haven’t changed much from when my college friends were getting married: there’s still a beautiful bride, glowing family, and happy friends in attendance.  This current bride is a lovely woman who happens to be marrying my son’s all-time favorite babysitter, A (although Z insisted it was “hanging out”, not babysitting).  Wonderfully fun women, delicious food and drink (including the most delicious white sangria — L, I need that recipe!), some very FUN games (no dressing the bride in toilet paper), and of course, gift opening, rounded out the afternoon.  It was topped by the groom and dads of the bride & groom stopping by for pictures at the end (they had gone golfing for the afternoon).

L’s sister took photos in the front yard after the shower; she had been taking candids inside over the course of the afternoon so the bride will have a beautiful pictorial as a keepsake.  My favorite posed picture was of the bride, flanked by the moms and the grandmothers.  L looked as radiant and happy as I’ve ever seen her, and I can only imagine how she’ll look on the day her son marries his love.

I am old enough to be A’s mom, too, so this impending wedding is making me feel as though I’ve been sent through a time warp.  Although Z won’t be getting married for some time (he just turned 16, so I figure I’ve got a little time yet to shop for a dress), it still is a bit of a trip wishing one of my friends’ kids “congratulations” on a marriage.  A has always been one of my favorite “kids” to watch grow up.  But he’s not a kid anymore, and that Saturday afternoon, watching him with his soon-to-be-wife really changed my perception:  gone was the cute, lanky teen, replaced with a (bearded!) handsome young man, obviously very much in love and very happy.  Of course I’ve seen him grow up over the years.  But that afternoon, the “picture” of A I’ve always had in my head was replaced by this new one of “bride and groom” standing in the bright sunshine on a gorgeous, late August afternoon.

Watching L’s family embrace this new addition to their family is, in a word, awesome.  It makes me feel so lovingly grateful for the people who have not only included, but “adopted” us as family, even though there are no blood ties.

As my best girlfriend E says regularly, “friends are the family you choose.” Heaven knows her family is certainly MY family and vice versa — she and her husband are, afterall, my son’s Godparents. And we all joyously welcomed the newest generation back in February of this year when they became grandparents.

Now, I am technically old enough to be a grandmother as well, so this birth was something of a shock to my system.  It’s one thing getting married.  But babies?

When did these kids get old enough to have kids of their own?

Again, I was faced with needing to update my “perceived snapshot” to the current day.

I’m not sure why we hold on to particular images in our heads of “how old” someone is.  Was it just a particularly memorable moment that locks on to that image and has the power to overwrite subsequent images in our brains?  I’m not sure about that theory, because there are images I have of some people just in everyday types of circumstances, but they are “frozen” in my mind at that age.

Zach at 3Although I’ve loved my son at every age and stage (some more than others), I’ve never been one to keep wishing he’d stay a certain age; nor have I wished the years away.  I’ve enjoyed all of it so far, in the moment, as we are.  And yet, there is a photograph, an old Sears Photography Studio standard photo of Z when he was 3.  I Photoshopped their picture (with their permission) into black and white, and it has remained my favorite portrait of Z ever since.  He is turned slightly, and looking up, his face illuminated.  The smile on his face is pure delight, but it’s his eyes more than anything, that speak to me.  Those eyes, 13 years later, still speak volumes.

Does Z “stay” 3 years old in my mind’s eye?  Hardly.  But when I see him laughing or smiling at something, unaware I’m looking — turned just slightly and looking up — I see that 2-year-old superimposed somehow.  Only for a moment, then I’m back to watching a handsome young man.

Someone who will, one day of many I hope, have reason to include family in a celebration of some sort.  And it will be more than myself; T was “adopted” into our family several years ago; his family became ours; E’s family will be there; L and her son A and his wife and their family will be there; among others we’ve adopted into our clan.  People we love, who have watched my child grow up, and superimposed their own “snapshots” on him will have the same sort of reconciliation in their minds as I’ve had recently.

As “shocking” as it may be to discover that a child I love has grown up, I need to have that reckoning in my mind’s eye — otherwise I’ll be “stuck” and not fully aware and appreciative of the changes that have led me to new moments imprinted on my heart.

Until Tuesday, Friends!  Cheers!


In this debate, which will you choose?

When it comes time, which side will you choose?

Book or Kindle?

Although there’s not nearly as much attention paid to this debate as the current political crazy season, there are people who feel just as strongly as if defending their political views.

KindleE-readers have the ability to store thousands of books and other reading material in one easy-to-use device, which makes these gadgets very convenient for students, travelers, and anyone who does a lot of reading on the go.  They are definitely more lightweight and easy to travel with, and come with their own backlight, so you don’t end up in the dark dying to know how the story ends.

“It makes sense for some books to be available digitally, such as textbooks and certain reference material,” for just those reasons, says Steve Cymrot, owner of Riverby Books in Washington, D.C.

magic bookBut personally, I’m a “real” book geek.  Funny for someone who writes in the blogosphere, isn’t it?  The type of writing I do “fits” with Internet publishing, here and on The Huffington Post where I also publish.  But a story — mmm, that belongs on paper, bound and read, and passed around for years to come!

Reading a book is a very tactile pursuit for me, as well as visual.  I LOVE the feel of it in my hands.  Hardcover is best, but a good paperback can be just as rewarding.  I can read virtually anywhere at any time: curled up in front of the fireplace on a rainy day, on a beach, in a car, on a plane, tucked up in bed at midnight, out on the patio, in a bustling lobby.  If the story has captured my imagination, there is no distraction too great to tear me away!  And there is something so satisfying about picking up a book in progress and seeing where your bookmark is: how many pages you’ve read, and (oh no!) only so many left to go.

a reader livesI love the subtlety of different typefaces used in book publishing.  The various types and coloration of the paper.  That “new book smell” is more gratifying to me than a new car smell (although that is awfully nice, too).  Again, Steve Cymrot, our bookstore owner friend from D.C. says, “Traditional books will never go away entirely…a 200-year-old hand-bound text printed on rag paper is a thing of beauty, and that will never change.”

The soft, worn feel of a much loved book — 2 years or 200 — is enough to calm just about any worry or anxiety, at least for a while.  The crispness of a brand new book as I open it for the first time sends shots of adrenaline through me as I anticipate a great story coming (does anyone else reach for the second or third copy in the stack at the bookstore so you can be the first to crack the spine?).  Even the very act of turning a page is both anticipatory and revealing!

childhood and booksAs a toddler, I’m told I adored books.  I loved being read to, and was an early reader, quite often advancing beyond “appropriate” subject matter for my age.  And I LOVED book series!  When I discovered Nancy Drew, I plowed through those mysteries in no time. In fact, I was on such a streak, my 6th grade teacher (Mrs. Jones) declared I could only count 1 for every 5 Nancy Drew books towards my reading “quota.”

During the turbulent teen years, books transported me from the miserable existence that was adolescence; and as I grew older, I found even more that allowed me to put down my adult-sized burdens — at least for a while and escape into another time or place where my worries weren’t relevant.

stack of booksIn college as the proverbial poor student, I bought used books whenever possible (as an English major, I had a LOT of books; masses of books; stacks and stacks of books…you get the idea).  But I always spent a great deal of time looking through them first to find the cleanest ones I could; meaning, as little highlighting or margin notes as possible.  Being able to make my OWN notes or highlight meaningful passages was key.  The only book I can recall buying new was my collection of Shakespeare’s works, The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare.  A huge investment for me back then, that still holds a place of honor on one of our (many) bookshelves at home, and is still read every now and then!

Pausing to relish a particular line or paragraph that is so well written that you have to — you just must — close your eyes and FEEL the book in your hands as you roll those words around in your head is Heaven on Earth!  And closing a book at the end of a most satisfying tale feels almost holy to me.

books giveBefore you pessimists conclude that printed books will soon go the way of the eight-track, cassette tape, and CD, consider that — unlike these formats — many people have an emotional connection to actual books (including yours truly), not just the stories and information they contain.  In this way, books are more like vinyl: though impractical, many people still cling to their LP collections for the richness of their sound.  Those of us still carrying books long for the richness they impart, both in story and in their physicality.

Drop me a comment and let me know where you stand:  book or e-reader?

Until Friday, Friends & Readers alike ~ Cheers!

I can’t

If you stop to think about it, there are probably really only a handful of times in your life where you’ve had to say “I can’t.”

Not “I don’t want to.”

Or “I won’t”.

But really and truly “I can’t.”

Think about the differences for a moment and be honest — like I had to be recently: someone asked me to do something and I had already decided to do something else I would definitely enjoy more.  I said “I can’t,” when in reality it was “I don’t want to.”  And a little guilt crept in.

would but I can'tDon’t get me wrong: I know time is a precious commodity for all of us, and all of us are absolutely-without-a-doubt-entitled to spend it how we want.  But how many times have we all used those words “I can’t” when it was really something else?  When we used it casually.  And why do we feel we can’t be honest with each other about it?  Why does it feel so ‘wrong’ to say “You know, I’ve had a really long week and I need some “me” time, so no, I won’t be joining you.”

Then the differences between “I don’t want to” and “I can’t” become more defined.

The first time I had to say “I can’t,” I was a junior in high school, and had been cast as the female lead in our spring musical.  I’d never been a lead before!  I worked so hard and learned my lines, the music, the choreography.  I had a lot of fun and I got to work with my best friends to create something really special.  Opening night was a success!

And then I lost my voice.

Completely, utterly, lost it.  Some bacterial infection, probably spurred by allergies, had set upon me and was about to bring my world crashing down.

I babied my throat all day Saturday.  I gargled, I steamed, I drank every concoction suggested.  By 5pm, absolute panic had set in because I still wasn’t able to utter a word.  I went to the theater early and met with my director on stage while the rest of the cast waited backstage to see what was going to happen.

Which was, essentially, nothing.

I couldn’t make a sound.  My director said “what about a microphone?”  I tried it, but you can’t magnify ‘nothing.’

The tears were close to overflowing and I was working hard not to lose it.  My director was turning to confer with our music director when there suddenly was a SHRIEK from backstage (someone had gotten a sudden gusher of a nosebleed, I found out later), and I cracked.  My knees buckled, I sat down hard on the empty stage floor, and those big, hot, ugly tears ran down my face as I sobbed completely silent, knowing full well we’d have to cancel the performance.

Because of me.

Or, more to the point, because of what I couldn’t do.  Cripes, I couldn’t even SAY “I can’t.”  I couldn’t do much but let those salty, stinging tears flow.

What hurt most was that I knew I was letting down all these people — not just my directors, castmates, crew, and orchestra, but the audience as well.  All those people who had set aside an evening, spent money on tickets, and were coming out to see our show.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that evening, other than being hustled out through the lobby and home.  I do remember the doctor and there were antibiotics and muscle relaxants involved that over a few days healed my throat.  My voice returned in time for the following weekend’s performances — with a Sunday tacked on now to make up for the cancelled Saturday.

No one held it against me — at least not that they told me.  And the following year, my dear director took ANOTHER chance on me and cast me again in the lead (no cancellations that year!).

But I had learned a heartachingly hard lesson.  Sometimes “I can’t” is for real, no matter how much you want something or how hard you’ve worked for it.  Sometimes “I can’t” means exactly that: impossible.  And that’s a very hard thing to accept.

IMG_0002But the world didn’t end.

The sun still rose the next day.  People went about their lives.  The sun still set and the moon took its place in the sky.

Life goes on, whether we participate or not.  “I can’t” becomes a very, very personal matter then.  It means “me”, not anyone else.  It means “I am not able to participate.”  Or is it really “I can, but I don’t want to” — and if it is, what effect does it have on the lives around us?  Does “I don’t want to” hurt someone or definitively affect an outcome? Sometimes.

Look, I’m not knocking anyone — I’ve been in both places, the “I can’t” and the “I don’t want to.”  Sometimes we say “ok, I can” and it takes longer than promised, or doesn’t turn out the way we’d like.  But saying “I can” is empowering.  It’s positive.  When you must say “I can’t,” it means the power to decide has been taken from you.  Who wants to willingly give up that power?

The first time I had to say “I can’t” was traumatic — and it beat into my poor addled brain what those words really mean.  And I have since had to say those words, and thus give up the power to decide, more often in my 50-some years than I care to think about.  I definitely prefer “I can.”  Now, to put that into mindful practice….

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!


Non-native but thriving

raindropsI’m sitting alone in my car, in a parking lot, watching and listening to the rain fall steadily.  I just haven’t mustered the energy to get out and begin this current errand — the rhythm of the rain is so peaceful.

Watching the hot baked Earth soaking up this good, long, cooling rain makes outdoors smell fresh and alive again.  My allergies will flare up again, but I don’t care.  I adore rainy days.  When the added bonus is watching green things sigh and perk up again, I don’t even care if plans need to be rescheduled around the weather.

T and I regularly “discuss” watering the lawn when it becomes hot and dry outside.  I try to be a good conservationist wherever I can.  We have paper bags strategically located throughout the house for recycling of even the tiniest of post it notes and toilet paper rolls.  Our big recycling bin on wheels is near to overflowing each week, as opposed to our garbage bin that has very little.  So you can probably guess which side of the watering debate I’m on.  T, having lived out in California for 20 years, wants desperately to hold onto our green lawn.  I try to assure him we can let it go dormant and it will come back — but I think the water shortage in California has him convinced we have to keep everything green to live.

limelight hydrangeaMy gardens are filled with native plants, both for their hardiness and my conservationist views — although I cop to having some hydrangeas that are not indigenous to our neck of the woods.  Their beauty at the nursery floored me, and I REALLY wanted to add their color and texture to some of our garden beds.

Crazy, but they have flourished and have weathered the extreme heat and lack of rain (unlike some native plants) as if they were meant for exactly this life. This home. Our Home.

Although I am not a Chicagoland native, I have lived in this community for 13 years now. I have been a parent volunteer at our schools, active in a past church, a member of our vital downtown merchants’ committees, an employee of our local media company, and now one of the many community residents working from home (or parking lots, as seems to be the case today).

My son, Z, has grown up here since he was 2 1/2 years old, gone through preschool to junior year here, and will graduate, all in the same school district. He has played on community Little League teams, gone to the Park District-led day camp, participated in the library’s summer reading programs, and takes music lessons with a local pianist.

T, also a non-native, approached calling this home more slowly: visiting for several years before deciding/realizing this was where his heart was.  And, because where there’s a will, he found his way to making it permanent instead of transient, including a job that let him stay in the Midwest instead of locating to either coast.

We have all made this Our Home and are thriving, even as transplants.

blue hydrangeaHow often have we all been thrust into unknown places and situations, dropped in the middle of something alien? How often have we been able to make ourselves comfortable, and even at home in seemingly difficult places?

There were an awful lot of rocky patches several years ago for me and Z — and despite my being established in the community, I felt uprooted.  I didn’t feel connected to much of anything.  Being forced from your home with your child could do that to anyone.  It may have been that the house we had quickly moved into never felt like “home” to either Z or me.  Please understand, I was extremely grateful it was there when we needed it; that the landlords acquiesced to pets; and that it even had a fenced-in back yard for our dog.  But it was alien.  It wasn’t “home,” for many reasons, even though it was less than 2 miles from our old neighborhood.

The day we moved out, and into our new Home with T, I did have a tearful moment with that old rental house.  It had been a good ‘port in the storm’ that was my life for a few years.  It was there when we needed it.  I felt a moment of guilt for not appreciating it as much as I knew I should have.  I touched the wall of the kitchen gently and whispered “thank you” as I turned out the lights for the last time.  It had sheltered my son, my pets, and me.  It’s location had allowed my son to continue at the same school he’d been attending before we had to move.  No, it never did feel like home, but it was as if when we were uprooted so savagely, we were able to be temporarily preserved, so that when the time did come to be transplanted, we were still intact as a family.

little lamb hydrangeaAnd that time did come.  And we happily replanted ourselves in what quickly felt like Home.  Even in dry patches, we thrive like my much-loved hydrangeas: non-native, but happy to grow here.

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Boys of summer

Dear Chicago White Sox,

I want to tell you a tale about a renewed love story.

I grew up in mid-Michigan, with both sets of grandparents and spans of aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby.  I remember a lot of family gatherings on a lot of different holidays and now-forgotten occasions.  One set of memories that will forever stay with me, though, is going to my Dad’s parents’ on Sunday afternoons tigersand hearing the Tigers’ game on the radio.  My grandpa was a die-hard Tigers fan, and I don’t think he ever missed a radio-cast game during his adult years.

(Yes, the Detroit Tigers.  Stay with me here…)

I don’t think my grandpa had any idea how to connect with me.  He had one daughter out of four kids himself, and I was one of just four granddaughters, and #7 out of 10 grandkids.  But the summer I discovered baseball as a 9-year-old, I would sit with him at the dining room table, listening to WJR with Ernie Harwell providing the play-by-play, visualizing the whole diamond in my head, and the chasm between us got a little smaller.  It didn’t matter so much to me as to which Ernie harwellteam won, but how exciting the game was (It’s a good thing, too, since that era of the club was in a slow decline and wins were far and few between).  Ernie Harwell, though, boy he could make ANYTHING sound exciting!  Nonetheless, they were OUR Tigers and OUR team.  Even through all his swearing during the game (and grandma shouting from the kitchen to ‘watch your language the kids are here’), grandpa showed me what team loyalty was, and how to be a real fan.

But after several years, high school was on the horizon and baseball faded from my view.  My grandpa died when I was 16, and after that, listening to baseball on the radio just wasn’t fun anymore.

Fifteen years later, I re-discovered how much I enjoyed the game when I lived out east and was invited to a Mets game.  Holy cow!  What a blast!  I could finally SEE what was actually happening on that diamond — for all the years of listening to baseball, I’d never been to a live game.  I managed to get to a few more games, and certainly had fun at each one; but I have to say, no team captured my heart like the Tigers had.

A few more years passed, and I gave birth to my son, Z.  A whirling dervish to be sure, he lived to be in perpetual motion.  He loved to watch anything full of motion.  Anything with a ball was a good game.

When we moved to Chicagoland 13 years ago when Z was 3, I decided it was time: I wanted to take him to his first major league ballgame.

I’ll be honest, I first looked up the Cubs because, at the time, they were doing really well, even making a drive for the playoffs.  But not knowing if my 3-year-old would want to leave after the bottom of the 1st or fall asleep during the 7th inning stretch, I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant prices I saw listed for Cubs tickets.  So, I checked out the White Sox website and ended up buying relatively cheap tickets for a Saturday afternoon game.

SOXWith fingers crossed that he could sit still long enough to actually watch the game, and the tote bag stocked with anything I could think of to make it a pleasant day out, we entered Comiskey Park*

And Z was TOTALLY entranced!

This is the kid who would normally be running from Point A to Point Z, zigzagging all around, pointing and asking questions — who was now wide-eyed, mouth hanging open in a perfect little “O”, and walking through the halls in awe, his little hand staying put in mine, not saying a word; just looking up and around at all there was to take in.

We stopped at a vendor and bought him a jersey:  Frank Thomas’.  Z liked the number “35”.  I helped him put it on, and then we walked hand in hand out into the gorgeous Chicago sun-filled stadium.

He thought he had died and gone to DisneyWorld.

NOW the talking began: he wanted to know what everything was, the scoreboard was of special interest and he remained skeptical when I told him there would be fireworks if the Sox hit a home run.  But oh my, nothing compared to when “the guys” came out onto the field.  You’d have thought he was an old pro to hear him cheer for the team.  And when Frank Thomas came out, Z almost exploded, frank in actionscreaming as if he’d won the lottery: “That’s MY guy!  I have 35!”  The next couple of hours tested my memory for how the game worked as I struggled to give him an age-appropriate explanation, and he listened carefully and watched intently to everything going on down on the field.

Not only did he want to stay for all 9 innings, but wanted to know when HE got to go down to the field and play with “the guys on his team”!

We’ve been proud fans ever since. Thank you, Chicago White Sox, for 13 years and counting of great baseball and great family time.  Z has grown up with the same admiration for the game — and I hope, good memories — that I have.  In this world today, it’s a beautiful thing to know that some things never change. 

Except now it is the Chicago White Sox who have my heart.

So dearest Sox, I remain,

Still in love with the game


Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!


*Yes, I know the name has been changed.  But no, I won’t call it anything but Comiskey.  That’s how I heard it growing up listening to Ernie, and that’s how I know the Home of the White Sox.



Of lions and lambs

Heartache has haunted me over the last several weeks.  It comes and goes — but it doesn’t hurt any less when I think about either event that has been front and center in the news:  the two boys missing from Florida, Austin and Perry; and the killing of Cecil the lion.

I can’t imagine what Austin and Perry’s parents are going through.  I can’t  imagine what their community is going through, even though I’ve had heart-stopping moments as a parent, and I lived in a community devastated by something awful.  But not this.

Cecil’s murder — because that’s really what it is — is horrifying because of how he died:  lured out of a protected sanctuary, shot, and then chased down. The monster responsible is evil.  His intentions were evil.

Both are tragedies.  One, in the sea; the other on a desert plain.  You can’t assign a number on a scale of 1 to 10 of how awful these two events are.  And yet people are outraged that others aren’t as outraged as they are.  There are some who don’t understand why one of these stories (or countless others) aren’t front and center with everyone.  There are those who are blaming the parents, the boys themselves, the Coast Guard, for “not being more diligent,” “not being careful enough.”  Groups are calling those who are publicly mourning Cecil’s loss “heartless” because they are “more concerned with an animal than with the lives of two teenage boys.”  There are others who are saying it’s time to “move on” from both of those events and focus on other pressing issues.

One tragedy does not diminish another.

Most of all, we do not get to decide what is important to other people.  It’s none of our business how others feel unless they choose to tell us.  And when they tell us, it is not our place to judge their feelings and tell them they are wrong.

And yet that’s exactly what is being done.  On the news, online, in person.

Normally I use this space for more uplifting words.  But today I want to tell you how sad and angry I feel.  I choose to do this.  I know not everyone will agree with me, and that’s ok.  I’m not out to change anyone’s mind.

Both are tragedies: one is a horrible outcome of chance; and the other is a meticulous act of cruel intentions.

Austin and PerryI have friends, J and S, who live in Jupiter, Florida, with their family.  They have been involved in their community’s efforts to locate Austin and Perry, and to keep their parents and family members embraced and tended to.  J keeps us posted online when she has news, or wants those of us far away to know how things are going.  I so appreciate that, because when something is boiled down to a three-minute segment on the news, it loses its humanity — I don’t care how good the reporter is.  My heart hurts for these boys’ families, friends, schoolmates, and community, and J’s words make me feel connected, even though we’re over 1,300 miles apart.

Why am I so attuned to a tragedy in Africa, over 8,000 miles away?  Why does this animal’s life — and death — affect me so deeply?  I nearly fell apart when I heard about Cecil the lion being killed.  I am a bleeding heart when it comes to animals, I freely admit it.  My pets are part of my family.  I sobbed when I heard about the illegal and immoral way he was lured away from the sanctuary where he lived, where his 7 lion cubs live, shot with a crossbow, then chased for 40 hours until the murderers ran him down.  I nearly threw up when I saw the photos posted online of the “hunter” and his “trophy.”

Cecil’s murder is neCecilwsworthy because these lions are endangered.  That’s why Cecil was collared and his movements tracked.  Conservationists are trying to figure out ways to help lions and other wildlife survive whose lives are all but dust in the wind.  By tracking these animals, scientists and environmentalists get a good picture of how these animals live, breed, eat, sleep, learn, and so much more.  That’s why there are protected swaths of land for many endangered species and laws in place to protect those who live there.  For a greedy, selfish, monster to decide that the rules don’t apply to him is hideous and illegal and just plain wrong:  a life was intentionally, cruelly, illegally taken and for no other reason than vanity.

This is what infuriates me, this is what makes my blood boil.  The cruel methodology used to kill this lion, and many other animals, is sickening; but the fact that that some idiot decided that laws pertain to everyone else, but not him (and that he is above any punishment even if he does get caught), is simply unbelievable.  He actively participated in the further demise of an endangered species.

What happens when the last of a creature’s kind is killed because “the rules don’t apply to me”?  “I didn’t know it was the last one” is not acceptable.  Ignorance is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form.  This is it, folks.  There aren’t “back up” animals.  There isn’t a “back up” ecosystem.  And despite NASA’s advances in space exploration, there isn’t a “back up” world for our children and grandchildren.

Throughout the rest of the world, others mourn Cecil, too.  But many are puzzled by the intensity of Americans’ heated hatred for the Minnesota dentist.  But I’m not.  I think a lot of us here in the States feel embarrassment that “one of our own” is to blame for this heinous crime.  I certainly don’t want others to think we’re all a bunch of selfish, entitled monsters.  I’ve traveled abroad, and will do so again, and there’s enough anti-American sentiment to combat already (and before we get too political, my travels have taken place across many years of many administrations), although I’ve also been told by many people in these foreign communities that they are always happy to welcome Americans.  I’d personally like it to stay that way.  You are certainly free to choose your path, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.  We, the people, our government, are in a position to punish this criminal because of the consequences of the path he chose.  And because he and others have waged war on a wide range of endangered species and ecosystems, I think we have an obligation to do so.

In the end, I have no answers.  I’m not a religious person, but found myself praying there could be a happy end in sight for the people who love Austin and Perry, and was further heartbroken when the families decided it was time to end their search.  I also pray that Cecil’s spirit runs down all poachers in whatever form necessary to catch them and that justice is served.  I know that’s not a very nice prayer, but it is how I feel.

Until Friday, Friends.  Wishing us all peace for our hearts.


For my son on his 16th birthday

Dear Z-Bear,

Here we are.

16th birthdayI’ll bet you thought you’d never get here — the big ONE SIX.  DRIVER’S LICENSE AGE!!!  Woohoo!!!  (that’s me — you go ahead and make whatever sound you want).  A junior in high school.  Looking seriously at colleges, trying to imagine yourself living somewhere else, on your own.  Pretty heady stuff, isn’t it?

It is for me, too.

In just a while, we’ll pick you up from camp.  I will be jaw-droppingly shocked at how much you’ve grown — not just in inches, but in self-confidence and how comfortable you are in your own skin.  It happens every year.  Besides your kindness, I am most proud of how you are able to fit in to almost any situation and still maintain your sense of You-ness.

And You are pretty remarkable.  Really!  You’re one of the most interesting people I know.  I love You.  I admire You.  I like You.  And I am really, really proud of You.

Those wings you’ve been practicing with over the last couple of years are growing strong, and soon they’ll take you where you need to be for the next chapter of your life.  Don’t worry: they WILL be strong enough.  I know sometimes it might not feel like it, but they will be.  There might be some crash landings in your near future, but nothing that will stop you from picking yourself up, dusting off, and launching again.  You are resilient.  It’s not only because that’s how I’ve raised you, but because that’s who you are.

Some of the things you’ve had to endure so young aren’t fair.  Frankly, they sucked.  You were hurt and let down more often than a lot of adults ever are in their whole lives.  And it hurt me to know I wasn’t able to protect you from it all.

But you did something remarkable for someone so young: you prevailed through it all, and tried to protect me.

You are amazing.

tribeAnd guess what?  You’ll find others like you, others you never knew existed.  And you’ll form your own tribe.  And you’ll learn from each other, and try new things, and find comfort in the “me too” that you’ll hear from each other.  Your tribe will be the people your turn to in need, in happiness, in commiseration, and when you just need to hang out.  These are the people you’ll miss most when it’s time for you all to fly on to the next thing.

You’ll find injustices that make you scream and shout, that will make you cry, because your heart is that tender and that caring.  Not only because that’s how I’ve raised you, but because that’s who you are.

You’ll find your passion in your studies, and in your life.  Whether it’s exactly what you think that will be today, or whether you come upon it by accident in your first years away from home.  You’ll find it.  And I want you to hold on to it and remember the feeling you have as you discover more about it — how exciting and remarkable it is.  Carry that with you, because there will be days when something will cause your day to be boring or repetitive or very, very hard.  Bad things will happen.  Things that will make your heart hurt. But there will be so many more good and wonderful things that will make your heart so happy, I promise!

Then, when something has you down, remember how lovely and exciting it CAN be and WILL be again.  Life really is too short to be stuck doing something you don’t like when you have the opportunity to change it.  Promise me you won’t be afraid to make a change if it’s needed.  Don’t be afraid to stand up and say “this isn’t for me” if you’ve truly tried to make it work.  Take responsibility for your actions.  Not just because that’s how I’ve raised you, but because that’s who you are.

Love.  As a verb.  Go ahead — love your heart out.  Love people, love pets, love books, love music, love tennis, love what you do, love the sunrise and sunset, love the stars, love your family — all of it.  Will your heart get broken at some point?  Yes (if it doesn’t, I don’t think you’re doing it right).  But it is so very true that loving and losing is better than never having loved at all.  Trust me.  Really.  I promise.

Yes, I hope you dance.  And sing.  And study hard.  And play hard.  I hope you are HAPPY in whatever you do.  I hope you find exactly what it is you will be looking for, at every step of the way.  Mostly I hope you enjoy the search — wherever it takes you, whether it’s right around the corner or halfway across the world.  Enjoy the ride.  Take lots of pictures, but don’t forget to put down the camera and be a PART of the scene.  You’ll remember the trip, I promise.  But you can’t remember what you don’t do.

Life is made of moments, big and small.  The small ones are just as important as the big ones — sometimes more so.  I know right now the big ones — like turning 16 — are at the top of your mind.  They are, after all, the “big” markers along the journey to let you know you’ve arrived at a ‘next’ point along the way.

gratefulI have to be honest:  you’re not what I expected — because I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Being your Mom is so much better than I ever dreamed!  I love being your Mom.  There is NEVER a dull moment with you in my life — not because it’s all craziness, but because you are so interesting!  Have there been moments in our lives together that I’ve thought “Oh my gosh, ANYwhere but here!”?  Of course.  Any parent would be lying if they said every moment was great.  But I am truly grateful for you, and so happy you are my child.

word cloudBe grateful.  Be gracious.  Be smart.  Be healthy.  Be kind.  Be You.  The best You possible, all along the way.  Not just because that’s the way I’ve tried so hard to raise you, but because I know that’s who you are.

Always and forever.

Mama Bear


Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!





Amazing Gracie — Amazing Carolina Dogs — Part III

Continued from 7/31/15 Amazing Gracie — I have a what?

Gracie head onLike everything else in my life, my dog isn’t “typical.”  So, she fits in just fine.  We have a Carolina Dog.  Who knew?

Certainly not the shelter, who classified her as a mix of collie, shiba inu, and possibly lab.  Not our vet.  Not our dog training teachers, nor our agility instructor.  And sure not me!  Like most people, I’d never even heard of the breed.

The Carolina Dog (affectionately known as a ‘CD’) was originally a land race, or naturally selected, type of dog discovered living as a free roaming (wild) dog.  CDs are probably best known by their nickname of “Old Yellow Dog” in the Southern US.

Dr. I Lehr Brisbin, Jr., a Senior Research Ecologist at the University of Georgia, first came across CDs in the 1970s while working at the Savannah River Site — a swath of isolated and undeveloped pine and cypress swamps in the Southeastern US.  Dr. Brisbin had seen many rural dogs hanging around porches and doghouses in the nearby towns, and just assumed they were normal strays adopted by the residents. Many of these dogs roamed the woods and would turn up in humane traps, and he began to wonder how many more of these dogs were in the wild. On a hunch, he went to the local dog pound to further study these dogs, and was surprised by the strong resemblance they had to dingos.

IMG_1826The CDs’ physical appearance actually suggests to the scientific community this  dog was created by, and preserved through, natural selection to survive in the remote lowland swamp and forest land in the Southeastern US. Apparently, they closely resemble the type of dog first encountered by Europeans near Indian settlements in the region, evidenced by paintings, drawings, and written descriptions made by these early explorers and settlers. Perhaps most telling is that fossils of the Native Americans’ dogs have similar bone structures to present day CDs.  Most often, CDs also have a ginger-colored coat that is found on other wild dogs, including Australian Dingoes and Korea’s native dog, the Jindo.  Dr. Brisbin found a resemblance between ancient dog skulls and those of the CDs, but concluded that there was too large a difference to prove any scientific connection, even though a preliminary DNA test pointed to a link between them.

imageDr. Brisbin explains, “We grabbed them out of the woods … and if they were “just dogs” their DNA patterns should be well distributed throughout the canine family tree. But they aren’t. They’re all at the ‘base’ of the tree, where you would find very primitive dogs.” This was not conclusive, but it did spark interest in more extensive DNA testing.

And, in 2012, the ancient Asian origin of the Carolina Dog was confirmed:  CD mitochondrial DNA was found to be unique and closest to East Asian dogs.  This makes sense, as CDs are thought to be the first dogs who came across the Bering Straits land bridge over 10,000 years ago with the first human settlers to North America as they made their trek to the warmer climate of the South.  Even more compelling, a team led by Peter Savolainen, at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, reported in 2013 that several dog breeds in the Americas — such as the Carolina Dog — are without some genetic markers indicative of European origin, which suggests they also arrived in an earlier migration from Australasia, which explains why other DNA testing shows a strong genetic link between Carolina Dogs and other primitive breeds like the Australian Dingo.

All of this history and scientific research comes down to one thing:  Carolina Dogs are unlike any other dog here in the United States, and could be considered the first Native Dog.

CDs are typically a medium sized dog, that comes in all different shades of red ginger, buff, fawn, black, and even black and tan, and often have small white markings on their toes, chest, tail tip, and muzzle.  Once full-grown, most dogs will reach a height of 17-24 inches, and weigh between 30-65 pounds.

{2066FABD-9E65-4BDF-8901-1C69CF330612}-Gracie and Froggy (2)Overall, Carolina Dogs seem to include the best traits of all breeds and they make excellent house pets!  CDs are smart, and easily housebroken, easily crate trained, and are not destructive as long as they are kept mentally stimulated with toys, training, play, and attention from the people they love.  They are terrific with children, and genuinely enjoy attention from kids, and are protective of everyone in the family pack.  They bond very quickly with their human “pack” and love to be included in family activities — even if it’s just a ride in the car or a walk around the block.

CDs also tend to get along well with other pets. They are good with cats, as long as the CD is introduced to them while still a puppy.  Gracie even accepts that the cats are higher in the pack hierarchy than she. The best advice I was given was to pick up each of our cats with Gracie present, pet the cat and tell Gracie “This is Mama’s kitty.”  My son even did that with some of his stuffed animals that Gracie tried to G and C2sneak off with, and it worked!  She gave up trying to kidnap any of Z’s toys many years ago.  Gracie has never snapped at the cats (warning, low growls only when she’s had enough of their cat shenanigans), and never once has she bitten a person.  A CD’s temperament is even, and they are not high strung or nervous dogs.

According to multiple owners of CDs (myself included), one of the best things about a CD is that they do not smell. Even when wet, CDs don’t exude a “doggy smell.”  As one owner says, “they are Teflon-coated dogs.” On the other hand, CDs do what is aptly named “blowing out their coats.”  Twice a year, these normally soft and smooth looking dogs get wooley and lumpy looking.   Owners can “tuft” their CDs:  literally just pull out full tufts of fur, without the dog even noticing.  As another owner says about it, “I’ve come to accept that it is a textile; a fashion accessory; a condiment; a way of life.”

The Carolina Dogs I’ve been fortunate to “meet” online with their owners not only do well in, but thrive happily in obedience and agility training, frisbee competitions and any other physical activity their pack enjoys together. Gracie and I participated in dog agility, and she loved it (the weave poles were her nemesis, however). Although they are not classified as members of the “herding” group, a CD’s drive is pretty strong to get his or her pack in order (although Gracie has pretty much given up trying to herd the cats) and sometimes I swear I’ve got a Border Collie instead of a Carolina Dog.

IMG_2172Best of all, CDs are a healthy breed.  So far in the captive breeding program with licensed professional breeders, there have not been any inherited defects encountered!  There are now 6th and 7th generation captive-bred pups that are strong, healthy, and of perfect temperament. There is a strong desire in the CD community to continue breeding programs that ensure a wide-ranging variety of genetic “material” so the breed can grow safely and in the healthiest way possible. In the meantime, we CD owners are blessed with very healthy dogs, unfettered by traditional pure-bred ailments such as hip dysplasia, vision issues, and others found in popular breeds today.

At this time, Carolina Dogs are recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA).  ARBA classifies CDs in the “Spitz and Primitive Group.”  This group includes the dingo and Canaan Dog. The UKC has classified them as a “Pariah Dog”, a class which includes other primitive breeds such as the Basenji of Africa and the Thai Ridgeback.

Although they aren’t currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), there is an application pending for inclusion into the American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service (FSS) program, which could eventually lead to full AKC recognition.  For those unfamiliar with how the AKC “recognizes” breeds, the main gist is that there should be a large enough breeding pool (number of dogs) in existence.  However, once a breed is recognized, it effectively shuts the door on any other dogs in that breed to be registered unless they are born from the established stock.  There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.  As a true fan of any breed, you actually hope the recognition comes later rather than sooner to include as many different blood lines as possible.

All this history of the oldest known breed of native domesticated dog, and yet such a “new” breed by our own standards.

IMG_1226I’ve never known a dog like Gracie before. Would I have another Carolina Dog?  Absolutely!  But in keeping with our family’s commitment to adopting, we would contact a rescue or shelter.  Too many loving animals are waiting for a home.

Webster’s dictionary defines serendipity as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

I’d say the entire Carolina Dog breed defines serendipity; but I think our journey with Gracie is the definitive illustration!

Until Friday, Friends.  From me and Gracie — Cheers!

P.S.  I’ve had several questions as to whether or not I included any pictures of my own Gracie-girl; every picture in this series is of Gracie, from puppy-hood to present.  The only exceptions are 1) the grey cat curled up with Gracie is my cat, Miss Coco, 2) the 3 dogs with the caption “we’re adopted?” are not my dogs…

If you would like to know more about Carolina Dogs, here are a few good websites and groups to check out:

on Facebook:  Carolina Dogs

on Facebook:  Saving Carolina Dogs Rescue & Adoption Network

on Facebook:  Carolina Dog History and Research