Amazing Gracie — I have a what? — Part II

Continued from 7/28/15 Amazing Gracie, how sweet the hound

Gracie first day homeI still don’t know why or how the name “Gracie” came to me the day we met her.  But she immediately responded to it with puppy dog grins and wiggles.

While we were filling out the paperwork, I asked about Gracie’s tail — actually, the lack thereof.  The shelter’s vet said it was a natural bob, not the result of a horrific accident, or worse: a monster of a human hurting and torturing her.  Our own vet confirmed it, as well as her age, when I took her in the next day for a check up.

pooped pupIt was a huge relief for me, knowing I wouldn’t dwell on the unknown.  Being in the dark about how she came to be in a shelter was bad enough.  What we do know is that Animal House Shelter in Huntley, Illinois, rescued a group of dogs from a downstate Illinois kill shelter.  The kill shelters don’t keep very good records, so the rest is pure speculation on our part and that of Animal House:  Gracie was about 2 1/2 months old when they picked her up downstate.  The downstate shelter estimated she’d been with them about 2 weeks, but they have no way of knowing exactly how long she’d been on the streets. So a puppy of only 2 months, maybe younger, was dumped.  My heart broke at that.  8 weeks old or younger, and dumped outside, alone.  We adopted her in early spring at about 4 1/2 months old, which means she was born in the dead of winter — and abandoned outside on her own not long after.  I was wrong.  A monster of a human DID hurt her.

IMG_1147From what our vet can tell, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with her — except now we know it’s typical for this breed to have a “fish hook” tail, and she doesn’t have a tail at all, except for the furry nub that wiggles when she’s happy or excited.  But this monster dumped her because she wasn’t “perfect” when she was born?  I strongly believe there is a special place in Hell for people who abuse animals.  Abandonment to the streets is abuse.

IMG_1179Some people have asked how I know she was abandoned and not born feral. Several things the vet and the shelter said, namely that she was alone when she was rescued. Typically if a litter is born to strays, evidence of a litter — more pups, even one — would be around, and there wasn’t any. Second, she showed no signs of being afraid of the people who picked her up. A feral mother will very easily and quickly be able to pass her fear of humans to her pups. Gracie adores people. She takes her cues from us. For instance, if I approach the door happy and confidently, Gracie wiggles all the way with me and genuinely welcomes whomever is at the door. If I seem surprised, or wary, the fur on the back of Gracie’s back rises and she stays by my side, even growling if I continue to be cautious. She showed absolutely no signs of fear at the shelter when we met her, and hadn’t been there long enough to have been trained out of any such behavior.

on porch with GracieYou may have heard the adage that a shelter animal knows they’ve been given a second chance at happiness.  In Gracie’s case, she was given a chance, period.

Can you imagine?  Thinking that all there is to life is Cold, Hungry, Tired, Scared Loneliness?  Thinking that’s what you’re here for?  Or approaching your “golden years” only to be dumped at a shelter because you don’t have the energy you used to, or are having some age-related health issues, or just aren’t “cute enough” anymore.  Can you imagine suddenly being homeless, wondering what you did wrong to be abandoned?

I am a huge advocate of adopting from shelters or rescue groups.  There are too many wonderful and amazing animals who are there through no fault of their own.  Stores or businesses that support puppy mills or other continuous breeding practices for any animal have no place in the world. If you are set on having a purebred, ask yourself “why?” Besides the fact that you can often find them in shelters and rescues, unless you plan on showing or breeding a particular animal, you might find it’s a particular size, color, shape, or temperament of an animal you are looking for – and there are (unfortunately) millions of animals to choose from in shelters and rescues all over.

Gracie and her bearFor Gracie, though, her forever home is with us, no matter where we go. She and our cats are family. I have fought to keep us all together on more than one occasion, especially during The Big Bad Awful.

The first year of Gracie living with us was a learning experience for all of us, that’s for certain. Remember, I was hesitant about the puppy thing, and rightly so: I was up every 2-3 hours with her every night for a few weeks; then every 4-5; until finally I Gracie in one of her prettiescould say “time for bed!” at 11pm to her, she’d bounce over to her kennel and get comfy, and I could come downstairs at 6am without discovering an accident! Teething was another puppy trait I could have done without. Finding a good chew was key to keeping my furniture and my sanity intact.  I’m happy to report that nine years later, we are still so incredibly happy we made that turn-around and high-tailed it back to the animal shelter (well, everyone except Murphy cat)!

First day as a family, Gracie went to the groomers for a bath and a pedicure. Then shopping at Farm & Fleet for her kennel. And, a final stop at our favorite pet store downtown. It’s a small, family-owned business, and leashed doggies are always welcomed. We picked out a collar and leash, some new toys, really good puppy food, and had a tag made with her name and my cell phone number on it. The shelter microchips all their animals as soon as they come in. They also make sure the pets are all up on their basic shots. All that was left for us to do was love her and train her so we all knew what was expected.

IMG_1823While shopping that day, I saw a strip of large jingle bells that looped over a door knob. I’d seen dogs nudge the strip with their paws or nose, indicating they needed to go outside. I figured it couldn’t hurt – I really wanted to see if we could keep the barking to a minimum. The shelter had said she didn’t bark “much,” but that’s open for interpretation.

I showed Gracie how to use the bells 2 times. She had it down within a ½ hour.

Dang.

Next up was puppy school. I’m still convinced these classes aren’t so much for the dogs as the humans. Fortunately, Gracie thought school was great fun and passed with flying colors. Unfortunately, by the time she entered doggy “middle school,” like most teenagers, she decided it wasn’t worth her time and would lay down in the middle of class and FALL ASLEEP. And these weren’t late night classes at all!

Gracie 10-26-06Now, dog agility: that was a different game all together. She loved it and EXCELLED at it! She loved every piece of equipment, except the weave poles. It’s almost as if she couldn’t communicate with her back end to cooperate, sometimes looking at her rear as if she couldn’t quite believe which way it had gone. But every other task she took on with absolute glee! That was “our” thing, until my arthritic knees decided we were done. I just couldn’t keep up with her – she’s FAST.

It was about this time that a new woman had started working at our favorite pet store. I walked in with Gracie one day, and D practically screamed “Oh my gosh you’ve got a Carolina Dog!”

Um, I do?

D told me what she knew of the breed, and with the exception of the missing tail, Gracie looked just like these dogs. D suggested I go home and Google “Carolina Dogs.” Which I did.

And there was Gracie looking back at me from the screen.

Gracie head onAt least, it certainly looked like Gracie. I spent the rest of the evening learning everything I could about these magnificent dogs. Physically, we already knew Gracie was missing the tail. But her coloring, her dimensions (although she is on the larger side, weighing in at a muscular and fit 55-60 lbs.), and certainly some of her more, ah, unusual behaviors fit the bill. I came across a Carolina Dog website, and decided to contact one of the breeder’s listed for more information and to see if she could help me determine how much (if any) Carolina Dog Gracie had in her.

It was just the beginning of a new adventure for us.

 

Be sure to come back on Tuesday, Friends, and read the last part of Amazing Gracie’s story.  Until then, Cheers!

 

Amazing Gracie, how sweet the hound — or, How I became Alpha — Part I

Betty White said it best: “I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me.”  Amen and amen.

I grew up with a dog and cats, with other dogs and cats around me.  But after I left for college, I didn’t have a dog in my life until Gracie.  I’ll save you the math: for over 20 years my home was dog devoid.

We rescued each other (because it’s not just the doggy being adopted, you know) from one of our local shelters, Animal House.  It serves a large area, and is about half an hour’s drive from our neighborhood.  Z was 5 years old, and I knew I wanted a dog with some herding instincts.  I grew up with a sheltie, and around collies and other herding dogs.  By far my favorite group of dogs!

We were met at the shelter’s front desk by a lovely young woman.  She talked with us about why we wanted a dog, why we wanted a certain type, and most of all why I was asking about older dogs.  You see, I just couldn’t imagine going through a puppy phase.  Getting up every couple of hours all night long, cleaning up messes, teaching good manners, potty training… in other words, I wasn’t sure I was ready for another baby.  I told her all of this, and she nodded, definitely understanding.  She said, “let me show you the dogs who are waiting for their forever homes,” and pulled out a large binder notebook.  Animal House is not a “walk through” shelter, and wants to be sure there’s some counseling involved in adopting any pet.  She leafed through and pointed out several dogs she thought would fit our needs and wants.  “Unfortunately, we don’t have many herders right now.  The only two are puppies.”  I shook my head right away at that, and we read about the dogs she had pointed out.

We chose two who looked and sounded like they might fit into our family.  Then we were escorted to a separate room that looked like a family room you’d find in any suburban home, minus knickknacks and family photos, but stuffed with dog toys!  A volunteer with the shelter brought in the first dog — a charming boxer mix who was likable and pettable right away!  We even got to take him outside on a leash.  We liked him … but he just didn’t “feel” like “our” dog.  He apparently felt the same way, because he licked our hands “goodbye” and then walked out happily with the volunteer.

The second dog they brought to the family room for a visit was a mix of all sorts — no telling what was in there!  She was quiet, and had great manners.  She really preferred to watch us instead of interacting.  We took her out for a walk, too, in case that turned out to be where she felt most comfortable.  She enjoyed being outdoors, but you could tell she didn’t think we were quite right either

I was about to go back to the giant binder, when the young woman from the front desk said “There is a dog I think you should meet.  But just to be fair, I should tell you she’s still a puppy, about 4 1/2 months old.  We rescued her from a kill-shelter downstate, so we don’t have a lot of information on her.”  I was very hesitant.  But Z was adamant that we needed to give this dog a chance to visit, too.

<sigh>  Fine.

The young woman smiled and disappeared around the corner.  She came back a few moments later with a fluffy furball on a leash.  “This is Razzle,” she said, and left us to get to know her.

Razzle came and sat down in front of me, looking up with the biggest, deepest brown eyes I’d ever seen.  She tilted her head one way, then the other, obviously sizing me up for a potential Mama.  She had the biggest ears I’d ever seen on a dog.  Her eyes were mesmerizing: it looked as though someone had lined her chocolate eyes with black liner.  And the smile.  Oh my God, that smile.

Then Z called to her.

The joy in the dog’s face upon seeing a small child was simply astonishing!  She turned and went directly to him, prancing across the floor.  That’s when I noticed she didn’t have a tail — just a furry nub.  “Oh please,” I silently prayed.  “Please let that be natural…”  The thought that some sicko could have done something so monstrous immediately made me feel ill.  One of the reasons I just can’t volunteer at animal shelters is because I don’t handle the abuse some of these beautiful creatures have had to endure.  I simply don’t have the fortitude and bravery it takes to work with rescued animals.  I’d want to bring each and every one of them home with me, hoping love was the answer to it all.

What transpired next still leaves me speechless:  although Razzle was wiggling from head to toe upon reaching Z, she sat down, and didn’t break eye contact with him.  He proceeded to lavish love and praise and pets and hugs all over this dog he’d just met, as if he’d known her for years.  Animals love Z, and are quite often moved to return the lovies in the form of sloppy kisses, or big rumbly purrs and such.  That’s not what surprised me so much.  But when I told Z to walk over to me, he turned to the puppy and said “come on, Razzle.”  And Razzle heeled.  All the way across the room.  Stunned, I said quietly, “Z, turn around, call her, and walk back.”  He did, and she heeled again.

At that point, I turned to the window and motioned for the volunteer to come in.  When she did, I said “I thought you said she was only 4 1/2 months old?”  “She is,” said the volunteer.  “Our vet can tell by their teeth, by which ones have come in and which haven’t; how much wear they have, things like that.  Razzle checks out as a 4 1/2 month old.”

Holy cow.  This was a smart puppy.  This puppy reads human body language and knows what we want.  Holy cow.

And then we left.

As I handed the leash back to the volunteer I said, “She’s great, really just perfect,  but I just can’t handle a puppy right now.  Thank you for your time, you have a lot of great dogs here.”  She smiled at us — somewhat cryptically — and we walked out of there.  I couldn’t look back at the dog.

As we drove the half hour home, my son wailed.

“But I looo-oooo-oooved her!” he’d cry.

“She was perfect for us! She’s the dog I want to be in our family!” he’d sob.

“How can we leave our dog behind like that?!”

The last thought was my own.

Only five minutes from our driveway, I turned around in the Meijer’s parking lot and headed back north for another 1/2 hour drive, all the while worrying “what if someone else adopts her while we’re gone?”.  We made it back in 18 minutes.

When we walked in, the lovely young woman just smiled and said “You’re back for her.”

Absolutely.

She went back herself to fetch Razzle.  When they walked through the door, Razzle on a braided lead, she wiggled all over and ran right up to us.  Z was on the floor immediately.  I knelt down, and looked into those eyes, and said “Your name isn’t Razzle, is it?”  She looked at me, tilting her head, encouraging me to go on.

“You’re Gracie, aren’t you.”  Wiggles, kisses, dancing ensued.Gracie first day home  The dog was pretty happy, too.

And THEN we drove home, all the way, all together.

 

Please come back to read more of Gracie’s story on Friday, Friends.  Until then, cheers!

A day in the life…in pictures because words are failing to describe this day of mine

I’m having one of those days.

IMG_3620This was an accomplishment.

  IMG_3598(1)

Nothing is working, including my brain the way I need it to today.

And that makes me crabby (which is a really nice word for what it really is).  I don’t like being a witch.  Or bitch.

IMG_3733

 

Depends on your point of view,  I guess.

 

 

 

I wonder if menopause is just playing with my hormones like marbles?

IMG_3769

It would explain a lot.

All I know for sure is I have a headache in proportion to the amount of laundry sitting, staring me down, waiting to be done.  And nothing is helping.  Not even the 3rd Diet Coke.  Or the piece of chocolate cake.

 

IMG_3566

 

And I can’t get to the ibuprofen….

I can’t find my lightsaber.

 

IMG_3808

Thank goodness for cats and dogs.  Bless their hearts, they really do try.  It makes me smile.  Usually.

 

IMG_3699(1)

I really do try to put myself in a good mindset when I first wake up!  I have my list of to-do ready!  But sometimes….

 

 

And this is the result.IMG_3811

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3666

 

The crux of the matter is this:

 

 

 

 

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But in reality, I believe this is what really happened when I wasn’t really paying attention.

 

 

Which isn’t a bad way to spend time at all.  It’s just when reality intrudes with that “to-do” list and my brain won’t work the way I need it to.  Some people say then it’s time to try something different — shake things up a bit.

IMG_3710

One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says:

 

 

Maybe that’s the problem: I’ve thought “Oh, I can do that”, “oh, and that too”, and “oh yes, of course, that won’t be a problem at all”.  And typically, they aren’t.  But perhaps I just need to put it all down for a few minutes (days?).  Unplug.  Then try again.  Reboot the system.  Clear out the cache.  Make room for new ideas.  After that, THEN we can look at rewiring the Matrix and find new ways to do things.

IMG_3878I’ll keep you posted and let you know how that’s working for me.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

Here we go

Oh boy.

We’re smack dab in the midst of college hunting.

imageZ has a long list of colleges he wanted to look into. He’s been collecting names for about 9 months. This past weekend he began researching in earnest, and managed to scale it down to seven. Of those, we have visited two in the Midwest already – complete with the admissions intro and campus tour. Another is a “maybe,” with more research needed having come to the party late in the game. Another two are here in the Chicagoland area, so easy enough to schedule a visit any weekend this fall. That leaves two, and they aren’t nearby.

These final colleges are farther east: one in upstate New York, and the other is in Ontario. Yeah, Canada. Wow. That’s going away to college. Equidistant from home, and actually, the Canadian school is easier to fly to. But something about out of the country kind of blew my mind.

It also opens up a whole new ballgame in terms of the application process and searching out college financial aid: if he goes outside of the U.S., federal grants and scholarships don’t apply. As if the FAFSA wasn’t enough of a challenge.

imageDon’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled Z is looking “beyond” his comfort zone and wanting to stretch himself. It’s very exciting for all of us! Somehow, though, coming down to the short list has made it very real…and very close. And I’m not ready.

Trust me when I tell you I’m not a helicopter parent. And although Z and I are close, he’s certainly not a “mama’s boy” (I’ve got that in our cat, Murphy). Z knows knows how to do his laundry, knows basic cooking and finance, and how to care for an auto. Z is a very good, very well-rounded student with damn good grades.  He has a good head on his shoulders, can read music and play a tough game of tennis, knows how to be a good friend, and is interested in enough of the world that I think he’s going to make the most out of his time at college and make it a positive experience all around (as long as his roommates don’t kill him first).  He’s been away on his own every summer for 3 weeks at a time at camp, a seven hours’ drive away, since he was 8. I don’t doubt he’ll be just fine.

It’s me.

From the time he was born, I knew all about his days. Who he saw, what he did, where he went, when he did it, and how he felt and fared.

imageEven once he entered preschool, the two and a half hours each morning had a uniformity, as well as notes and newsletters every week! Not to mention my volunteering every other week or so. And kindergarten was much the same. As elementary school progressed, every day reports became a thing of the past, but his excitement to tell me about who/what/where/when and how only grew.

Then came middle school.

Between hormones (his) and the school district weaning us parents off weekly communiques, it was harder to get the scoop on his days.

And then there’s high school.
Let me tell you, I’m really good at 20 Questions now as he heads into his junior year.

imageGoing from knowing everything about someone’s day to being the last to know is very, VERY hard, and I admit I’m not very good at it. I’ve said it before: he’s my first, last, and only. I’m experiencing it all, all at once!

I really am looking forward to a little more freedom to go about my business without needing to take the teen’s schedule into account every day. I can certainly do without the annoying spats we get into at least once a week (T is looking forward to that, too). And only having one set of hormones raging in the house will be like a vacation every day (at least for me; T still has to put up with mine).

But not hearing about SOME aspect of his day, the good or the bad, is something with which I’m struggling. Knowing I’ll only get a very broad picture once he leaves, for months at a time, is hard to imagine. I know my son, probably better than he knows himself at times. But all that is going to change: the person I love most in this world is going to move away. And I suddenly feel like I did when I was 9 and my parents announced we were moving. It didn’t matter that it was just across town, because I still had to accept that my friends, whom I saw EVERY DAY, weren’t going to be a part of my everyday life anymore. It didn’t matter if we could phone each other as much as we wanted, because we all know it’s not the same as being together in person whether it’s at age 9, 10, 15, 20, 40, or 51.

imageIt’s going to be time to share my son (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with the rest of the world. And I’m having a hard time preparing myself to share my greatest treasure. You see, I genuinely like Z. Faults, foibles, hormones, and all. And I miss having the people I love, AND like, nearby.

I’m not afraid of the Empty Nest – I have enough writing to do, places to explore, and worlds to examine to fill another lifetime. But I am feeling sad that the wings I’ve gladly helped him grow will take him away from our knowing and sharing our everyday stuff with each other. Our talking will naturally turn to bigger life events, simply because it’s the day-to-day things that get forgotten first. Texts are nice for quick contact. But even I can’t put everything I want to say into a text (ask T and my best girlfriend E about the novels I try sending…). And again, it’s different than being right next to someone.

For all of school & life’s lessons – not one prepares you for saying “arrivederci” when your child leaves home.imageI guess I need to go back to preschool and pay better attention to the sharing part. Do you think that would help?

Until Tuesday, Friends. Cheers!

The reason I’m in this mess

imageLanguage. Words. Communication.  I’m fascinated by it all!

Yes, I majored in English.

I minored in Advertising, with a specialty in Public Relations Communications so at least it sounded like I could get a job after graduation.  It actually did lead to my all-time favorite job in the not for profit arts.  The “not for profit part” was me, though:  as much as I loved that job, I just wasn’t making enough to support my cat in the manner to which he was accustomed, which was having kibble in his bowl.  Forget about my own kibble.

My subsequent career took quite a few interesting hair pin curves along the way: account executive working for a graphic design firm; some freelance work in the corporate world; managing a summer music festival; office manager for a cable TV station; and ending up, ultimately, in advertising at a media company, with some other jobs interspersed along the way to keep things interesting (but mostly to keep my resume from having gaps).  Every single job has been about communication.  And I’ve always made sure writing has been an integral part of what I’m doing.

imageThat’s why I’m a writer now.  Well, as I said before, I’ve always been a writer, of any kind of writing, any chance I’d get.  But now I get to call myself “A Writer” because I quit my full-time job with benefits and decent pay to wrack my brains to come up with something MEANINGFUL to say twice a week as well as when I’m working on The Book… So there’s that.

But the real reason I’m now gainfully unemployed is because of two high school teachers.  Specifically Mrs. Rosten and Mr. Reilly.

(As you may have noticed in previous posts, I typically use first initials for the people I’m writing about.  But in this case, I think full names are warranted.)

Mrs. Rosten is, without a doubt, my favorite English teacher of of all time.  Her expository writing class imageopened my eyes to a whole new way of writing.  I also had a literature class with her, and it was the highlight of my school day!  But my absolute, favorite English class was Language Study.  From the first day when Mrs. Rosten explained how the word “assassin” came about (Google it, it’s fascinating!), I was hooked.  Learning how and why English is the way it is?  Nirvana!  Finding etymological keys to language throughout history?  Heaven!  While most of my friends were languishing in Western Lit, I was unlocking doors to language!  Yes, she turned me into a language geek.

Believe it or not, I was kind of shy before entering high school.  (Yes, really.  For those of you who know me now, stop rolling your eyes.)  Finding my scholastic niche was a gift from above — and Mrs. Rosten not only nurtured my questioning mind, but encouraged me all along the way.  Let me tell you: having a teacher you admire who encourages not only curiosity but also creativity; who takes the time to answer questions before, during, and after class (and in hallways between other classes); and is obviously enjoying teaching a subject is pure gold for a student.

Encouraging a teenager to delve into a subject and nurturing that spirit evolves into self-confidence (and I needed that!  What teenager doesn’t?).  The teacher who took that idea and ran marathons with it is my high school drama teacher and theatrical director, Mr. Reilly (Sir).  

He took a big chance on the not-very-sure-of-herself 16-year-old when he cast that year’s high school spring musical.  Terrified, exhilarated, humbled, and excited beyond measure were my feelings upon seeing the casting list posted on the board next to Mr. Reilly’s office door.  In that perfect moment — that breathtaking, tiny moment — I felt worthy: if Mr. Reilly felt I could do it, then I would do it!  

Showtime was the highlight of my high school days and nights.  I LOVED rehearsing!  Trying different things, bouncing ideas around, and best of all, working with my friends, well, it really didn’t get better than that.  That was due to the atmosphere Mr. Reilly cultivated.  When we were working on a show, I was Home. I felt completely comfortable being “me”. 

How funny is that?  I’m onstage pretending to be someone else, and it was the first time I’d felt comfortable in my own skin.  

imageHow can you truly express thanks to the person who taught you that everything you need is within you?  And I’m not just talking about performing onstage, singing, dancing, and acting.  How do you thank someone for believing in you?  How do I thank you, Sir, that even when things went wrong, you took ANOTHER chance on me without (outwardly) blinking.  HOW?  I don’t have an answer yet.  I might not ever come up with an answer.

How do I thank these two Teachers (capital T worthy Teachers) for being the foundation for me to quit a “job” and focus on my passion?

Because it really is all their fault I’m in this mess.  They started the ball rolling back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, encouraging a shy teenage girl to write and study and perform and speak out.

Life is messy.   Quitting a job, with a steady salary is messy.  Starting over is messy.  Writing, editing, and publishing is messy.   Making money off of that mess is another thing altogether, and not messy at all.

But this is is one mess I don’t mind one single bit.  I love what I’m doing.  Bonus points for having the chance to show my teenage son that happiness really does come from pursuing your dream and eventually catching up with it!  And even more bonus points for having a partner who (even if he really is wondering what the hell I’m trying to do) supports me no matter what is happening.

To all my teachers, to all of my son’s teachers, to all of my friends and family who are, or were, teachers:  thank you.  You are all superstars.  I could not do what you do.

imageAnd to the teachers, like Mrs. Rosten and Mr. Reilly, who encourage and push us all beyond our own self-imposed boundaries: I still don’t have the words, other than to say “You changed my life.  Thank you.”

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

 

 

Unfurgettable

“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude,
then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
~ James Herriot
With the exception of my years away at college, and the first month living on my own, I have always shared my home with pets.  Dogs and cats, and one gerbil.  All of my pets have been long-lived (except the poor gerbil), and I think they were, and are, all happy lives.  I know my own life has been forever changed by the animals who have been such an integral part of my time on this earth.  They are special.  They are family.
All our pets have been healthy, with just a few unscheduled vet visits here and there for various minor illnesses; occasionally something more serious.  Our two previous cats, Merlyn and Tully, lived to be 19 and 10 respectively.  Both developed kidney disease in their later lives; the 19-year-old better able to cope with the disease physically and mentally than the 10-year-old eventually did.  We treated each of them to keep them comfortable and maintain a good quality of life.  When it was time to let them go, they did indeed let me know, and our blessed, compassionate veterinarian came to our home to help them gently go, comfortably and peacefully.
“Animals have a much better attitude to life and death than we do. 
They know when their time has come.  We are the ones that suffer when they pass,
but it’s a healing kind of grief that enables us to deal with other griefs…”
~ Emmylou Harris
It’s something of a shock to find the years have gone by swiftly, and I find we have “senior” pets living in our home again.  Everyone is healthy for their ages, and living their lives happily.  But once in a while, I’ll see a little more gray on a muzzle; a little bit slower step; a little hesitation before jumping up on the stool beside me as I write.  And I know the time will be coming again to say “goodbye”, and always sooner than I am ready to deal with.
But I’ve just returned from a semi-emergency trip to the vet with Murph, and those thoughts are making my heart ache.
We’d been visiting my Dad on the Gulf shore for a week, and our regular trusted cat sitters had been taking care of the kitty-kids (our dog goes to Puppy-Camp, aka, the kennel).  The evening we’d returned, Murphy seemed out of sorts, but I chalked it up to him being miffed we’d left for a week.  The next morning, however, I knew something was wrong: he kept shaking his head, somewhat violently at times.  And the sneezing fits!  At one point he lost his balance and had to sit down abruptly.  Then the indignity of having kitty snot on his whiskers and bib was just too much, and he ran and hid in the bedroom closet.  When he finally did settle to sleep for a bit, he wanted to be under the covers (unheard of for Murph) and wanted my hand to cradle his head.  Once he fell asleep, albeit fitfully, I used my other hand to reach for my phone and called the vet.
“Pets are humanizing.  They remind us we have an obligation and
responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life.”
~ James Cromwell
Because he is a “senior” kitty now, our vet wanted to do some blood work to rule out some of the nastier possibilities, and because I worked at a vet’s office once upon a time and saw some of those nasties, I concurred.  Fortunately for us, it is “just” an upper respiratory infection.  A shot of antibiotics, some IV fluid, and now home to rest.  Murphy is sleeping peacefully on the living room sofa — his “lookout” to keep tabs on the rest of the family.  I am grateful.  And I am sad.
I know it is greedy of me to want them here with me forever.  I know it’s not realistic.  I am most afraid I’ll cross the line between helping them living comfortably and forcing them to stay past time for them to have gained their rest… but I won’t.  I can’t.  And I will be there at the end, telling them it’s ok to go, and holding them long past when their mighty hearts stop beating.  And I will cry.  I will mourn.  And my heart will break into a million pieces, and yet somehow still so full of the love they gave me unconditionally.  And I will be a better person for having them share my life.  My precious pets have been with me through all the chapters of my life; good and bad, awesome and horrible, and everyday.  They keep on loving me EVERY DAY.
We have always adopted from shelters, and I don’t ever see that changing.  And one day, I won’t feel the grief to be so stifling.  And I will eventually feel that “tug” on my heart that leads me to one of the animal shelters our community supports.  And I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be a furry someone who looks at me and says “There you are!  I’ve been waiting for you.  Let’s go home!”
“It’s difficult to understand why people don’t realize
that pets are gifts to mankind.”
~ Linda Blair
Until then — and ever after — I will love and cherish our furry family here with us now.  I will embrace their aging with as much grace as I can, knowing we outlive these marvelous creatures only because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally, and that’s what they are here to teach us. Everyday.  If we would just watch and listen and learn.
“…I just don’t know how I would have lived without animals around me…”
~ Betty White
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Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers to you all, furry and otherwise!

Dear Amy Poehler

Dear Amy,

May I call you Amy?  I know we’ve never met, but after reading your book, Yes Please, I feel like we just had a 2-week slumber party*.  And after you’ve seen someone in their hypothetical pajamas, it seems we should be on a first-name basis.

I must admit something to you first:  before reading your book, I was never a “fan.”  It’s not that I didn’t like you!  No, no!  I just didn’t know you.  Your movies tended to reach toward a different demographic than the one I fall into: overworked, overstressed, 40-50 something-or-other-mom-of-teenager-people.  And although I enjoyed your tenure on Saturday Night Live, that was when I was lucky to make it to Saturday nights, period. And forget about Tivo/DVR: I have shows from the early 2000s still waiting in the queue.  So, please forgive me for not knowing your most memorable sketches and movie titles.

IMG_3883Another admission:  I’m not really sure what drew me to your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.  Maybe because I was so desperate for a “yes” in my life at the time, and there is that big, pink neon, capital YES on the cover.  Actually, your entire attitude comes through on that cover:  “HELLO – YES, ME, OVER HERE, I’D LIKE SOME OF THIS, TOO!”  Me too!  Me too!  And as the front dust cover says, “In a perfect world… We’d get to hang out with Amy Poehler…”  And maybe all I needed for a perfect world right then was hanging out with you (and, because the self-help section was no help at all).

But truly, after reading (and re-reading certain pages), I want to have coffee with you.  I know at first reading that doesn’t sound like much.  But you need to understand that I HATE coffee.  I mean, gag me with a spoon hate.  I try it every few years in case my taste buds have suddenly gone AWOL, but the result is always the same: I take a sip and immediately wish I had soap nearby to wash out my mouth.  I look like a dog trying to get peanut butter off the roof of my mouth, but much more worried because I’m absolutely convinced that the taste won’t ever go away.

Anyway, for you, Amy, I would drink the coffee if it meant sitting and chatting with you about life, love, being the mom to sons (even though I have just one — which is enough for me), writing, divorce, finding the courage to say whatever you want, the energy to do whatever you like, and the wisdom to be whoever you are.

(I hope the coffee analogy was strong enough to show you how much I am willing to risk to spend a day with you.)

I must have missed you in New York.  I lived out east for seven years, although I discovered I wasn’t cut out to work in Manhattan: I was a lousy commuter.  Afterall, if you miss the train by 1 second, you’ve still missed the train.

I, too, moved to Chicagoland (still here).

See?  We already have so much in common!  I, too, love performing (I grew up in the theater and it wasn’t until high school that I realized not everyone had the opportunity to be involved in theater.  I just thought the ones who didn’t were fun-challenged); however, my days on the community theater stage ended when I left Michigan in my late 20s — something I do miss.  The theater, I mean (although, I did have an awful lot of fun in my late 20s, too…).  I am ‘Mom’ to a wildly charming, incredibly intelligent, amazingly talented son (at least for today — check back with me tomorrow: that kid may have snuck away looking for an equally charming, intelligent, talented mother, and left the little monster behind).

And I am looking for the same answers as everyone else.

Well, not that we’re all looking for EXACTLY the same answers: I’ve never thought of Life like algebra where there’s one answer for each problem; but more like an interpretive dance, maybe.  You know, it means whatever the hell each person thinks it means, and some of us are lost and STILL wondering.

But more importantly, I want the chance to tell you that your idea of “good for you, not for me” is as close to The Answer to Life as anything I’ve ever heard!  I mean, it is THE BOMB!  The ABSOLUTE TRUTH!  EXACTLY what I needed to hear (other than there really is a miracle pill for weight loss that won’t ultimately kill me)!  I know it doesn’t answer what IS right for me or anyone else, but it allows some breathing room to figure it out.  For instance, I am 100% behind all of my fellow Earthsters — I just don’t happen to share all of their beliefs: They are Good for You, Not for Me.  To All the Moms of the world, I support you!  Your decisions about what is best for your families are Good for You, Not for Me.

Hillary-AmyI personally feel that this mantra would solve all the world problems by simply getting people to mind their own damn business, and I will be first in line to vote for you when you run for President.  By the way, your impersonation of Hillary is AMAZING!  I wonder if she can do an impersonation of you?

Before I go any further, I feel I should tell you there is someone else I worship admire in my  life: Carly Simon.

I wonder if you’ve ever heard her song “Don’t Wrap it Up”?

“I’ll take some of this, I’ll have some of that
And several more of these.
Now that I see it, I know what I like
So I’d like it if you please.
I ain’t nobody’s princess, stuck in Sunday School!
So I’ll help myself to love,
And have the whole career!
Don’t wrap it up, I’ll eat it here…

…I’ve stood there patiently waiting in line
A take-out man’s an O.K. plan
If you’ve got lots of time
(Especially if he is biodegradable)

I ain’t nobody’s little princess, stuck in some Sunday School —
I ain’t nobody’s fool!
So I’ll help myself to love,
There’s nothing at all to fear (woo hoo!)!
Don’t wrap it up, I’ll eat it here…”

From the first time I heard it years ago, I adopted it as kind of my anthem.  She sang, and I heard her.

You wrote, and I heard you.

Thank you.

cup of coffeeSo call me next time you’re in Chicagoland and we’ll meet up.  For you, Amy, even for coffee.

Very sincerely,

Dana

 

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

*Yes, admission #146:  it took me two weeks to read the book.  The only time I had at that point was just before going to bed, and I was lucky I could keep my eyes open long enough to turn a page.  Give me a break.

 

 

Remember when the dog knocked over the tree?

Despite wearing my heart on my sleeve, and feeling every feeling in the room every moment, I’m pretty adept at bouncing back. And I wanted my child to have that feeling of knowing he’s going to be ok, too, no matter what Life throws at him. I’ve tried to instill this in him from the beginning. Nothing like trial by fire, though, and although I’m glad of the lessons learned, I hate that he had to go through a crash course in learning to lean on his resilience several years ago.

It was the first weekend in December. I had just shown my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex the door a couple of weeks prior. However, I was determined to stick to our Christmastime traditions as much as possible for Z’s sake. Number one on the list was putting up the tree.

IMG_3066We went to our favorite place and picked out what we both thought was the perfect tree. Although Z pointed out several 12 foot tall trees, I managed to convince him that the 8-9 foot tall trees were “even better”! Having a high ceiling is great at this time of year, but I wasn’t prepared to wrestle anything much over our heights combined: a 9-year-old isn’t typically a whole lotta help yet in getting a tree through a door and upright in a stand.

We got it home, off the car, in the house, in the stand, strung with hundreds of twinkling white lights, decorated with the seemingly endless supply of ornaments coming out of the boxes from the basement, and a few hours later sat back to admire our work of art. Then we adjourned to the kitchen to stave off the munchies and

CRRRRRRRAAAAAAASSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

We ran back to the living room to see the 9-foot Christmas tree dead to rights, sprawled over the floor and across the coffee table. We could also see shards of colored glass, hooks, water from the stand… and a very, very scared and cowering 50-lb young dog hiding between the two living room chairs.

Z was crying, but speechless. I was speechless, and just about wigging out. I told myself to calm down, and just get the tree upright, that’s all.

Riiiiigghhht.

Have you ever witnessed a 5’3” person trying to lift and walk a heavily decorated 9-foot tree upright while it’s still in the stand? Keep in mind a 4’ little person was trying to “help”, and the dog was circling us both, trying to herd us away from the big nasty tree that was surely going to devour us all.

It must have looked pretty funny to anyone walking by: a comedy of errors, minus the soundtrack (me swearing and yelling at both the short people – furry and otherwise – to move so I could try to pick up the tree and get the stand fixed).

Since I hadn’t grown additional arms since the crash occurred, I had no choice but to rely on the 9-year-old. Trying to give him directions on how to fix the stand while I held the tree at bay was something I seem to have mostly wiped from my mind. But, obviously, somehow I managed to communicate clearly enough what was needed, and he was able to formulate enough of a solution (since my face was buried in the full and aromatic branches of our Fraser Fir tree, I couldn’t see a thing) to make it work.

Once we got the tree upright, I turned and surveyed the devastation in the rest of the living room.

broken ornamentsGlass was all over. I stepped back to see that the portion of the tree that had hit the floor and table was devoid of any intact ornaments except the soft ones. Every. Single. Glass. Ornament. Was. Broken. Whole tree branches were broken and twisted. The big, hot tears threatened to spill over.

Ages-old orbs, the first ornaments Z picked out himself, ornaments we had chosen from past trips to different places, handblown ornaments… shattered.

Naturally at that point, the doorbell rang.

If the living room didn’t face the front, I would have totally ignored it – but there was no way you can hide your movements in front of a huge picture window with the drapes wide open.

I flung open the door – to find myself facing my not-soon-enough-to-be-ex.

“What?” I said, rather tersely, and then got mad at myself for not composing myself enough in front of him (I discovered later I had pieces of pine tree stuck in my hair, and I was covered in tree sap – I’m sure he was thinking along the lines of “what the hell?”). He hadn’t called, he hadn’t mentioned in any way shape or form that he was coming by.

At the next moment, though, I decided I wasn’t going to give him time to answer. I looked at him with his mouth set in the now-all-too-familiar sneer, and decided he was an unwelcome interruption. Kind of like door-to-door missionaries. But worse. And I said “This really isn’t a good time. Call me later.”

And more or less slammed the door in his face.IMG_3822Without giving him another thought, I turned to the wreckage in my living room. I didn’t give myself much time to mourn those poor dashed beauties – I needed to get the glass off the floor so there wouldn’t any emergency room visits later on. One disaster a night is my limit. Dustbuster and wastebasket in hand, I picked up the larger pieces and kept myself from inspecting them too closely for fear I’d realize what broken memory I was holding in my hand and then I’d break. I had put Z in charge of keeping the dog from walking on the glass. He suddenly cried out “MAMA! Look!” and was pointing at the dog’s back. Embedded so deeply into her fur, up and down her back, were pine needles. Dozens and dozens of short, sharp pine needles.

I dropped the dustbuster and got down in front of her. She was terrified, and looked so pitifully at me. I checked her from head to tail, and with the exception of the pine needles and sap, she was fine physically. I gently pulled the needles from her fur, and as I sat on the floor next to her, Z was at her head, holding her gently and talking to her in a very calm – and grown up – fashion. After we took care of our doggy, she went off to hide in her kennel – not from us, but that nasty awful scary tree (if you don’t believe animals can suffer from PTSD, come over next December and watch us bring in the Christmas tree). Z and I finished cleaning up, reconfigured the light strands and remaining ornaments, and promptly collapsed on our backs on the floor, staring up at the tall ceiling feeling SO thankful we didn’t get a taller tree, sweating profusely, and both wanting to cry.

And then my higher power kicked in.

I turned to my dear, sweet son and said, “hey, remember when the dog knocked over the tree?”

His blond little head snapped around and he looked at me in such an alarmed manner, I’m sure he was thinking “This is it. This is Mama cracking up.” But he saw my face and realized that old black humor was paying a visit. He shook his head and said right back “Too soon, Mama. Too soon.”

Resilience.

IMG_3674That is a moment embedded in my head, not because of the disaster wrought by a poor unsuspecting, gangly puppy dog backing up into an unstable 9-foot tree (we tie our trees to the walls now), but because that was the definitive moment I knew my child had a key, a strength, a super-power, that would serve him through the adolescent years to come, into college and adulthood.

Now, when things are rough, and one of us is in a state of near exhaustion or “I can’t handle anything else being thrown at me,” the other turns and says:

“Hey, remember the time the dog knocked over the Christmas tree?”

Does it fix anything? No. But it makes us stop and reevaluate the current situation (one of these days I’m going to create a scale, kind of like the doctors use to describe pain, only this one will be “how disastrous is it really?” with rainbows and smiley faces at one end of the spectrum, and fallen Christmas trees at the other end). It reminds us about that especially emotionally-charged Christmas when we uprighted a tree taller than we could really manage, and we did it together. And came out the other side intact (unlike the tree) with a kind of funny story to tell.

Too soon? No, not at all.

Until Friday, Friends. Cheers!

IMG_3789

(more than) Four weddings and (more than) a funeral

“Why don’t we stay in touch like we say we will?” my best girlfriend, E, wondered aloud over the phone. She and her husband, D, had recently returned from a family imagefuneral in Ohio. And although funerals are not the happiest of circumstances to reconnect with people, if your family is like mine, you find yourself smiling – even laughing – hugging, and chatting up a storm with cousins and family friends over casseroles and cake.

The last time my Dad’s whole side of the family got together was at my Grandma’s funeral – over 10 years ago. We made the trip back to Saginaw, Michigan, about half an hour from Midland where my sister and I had grown up. Most of the rest of the family had stayed in and around Saginaw and its townships after venturing into adulthood; a few moved further away, as my sister and I did. Some went away and came back to mid-Michigan.

We are a large group. When she died, Grandma had 4 children, and 10 grandkids who were all married or otherwise partnered, with their own children – so it seems we multiplied exponentially. But everyone came back for Grandma one last time.

We all met up the first time that week at the funeral home. Family arrived early, before visitation started. Hugs and kisses were shared all around. Exclamations over how big cousins’ kids had become. Talk about how the next two days would play out. Then guests coming to pay their respects began arriving, and it was time to greet friends as they arrived out of the past and into the present.

The day of the funeral went by in a blur. I remember sitting with my sister. I remember driving to the cemetery. But not much in between.

I do remember afterwards.

Not in detail, but in the warmth we all shared. It began as we cousins recalled getting together as kids with our parents and grandparents – usually at Uncle B & Aunt M’s house. My only 2 girl cousins, D & K, are older than me; D by several years, but K by just 1 or 2 and I followed her everywhere when we were kids! We were sitting close now, just like we used to as kids pouring over teen magazines and record jackets and silly girl jokes and whispered secrets. Chairs pulled closer, ties loosened, shoes kicked off, we cousins resurrected funny family stories, some I’d never heard before. We all got happily lost for a little while down that lane as children again.

As it got dark, people needed to hit the road. Children and coats and flowers from the service were gathered; addresses, emails, and phone numbers were exchanged, all with promises to call and keep in touch.

Why don’t we?

We don’t get to have those big crazy family gatherings anymore, we’re all too spread out. It was so much easier when we all lived within an hour of everyone else. And when you have a Matriarch reeling everyone back in on a fairly regular basis. Especially then.

The same dynamic goes for high school and college friends – people move away, create their new lives. Life happens.

imageLife happens when there’s a wedding. Family and friends are invited from all over. And because it’s a wedding, everyone does their very best to be there.  It’s a celebration of Life, and an invitation to those who haven’t been on that most recent part of the Journey to come and catch up and celebrate.

Life happens when there’s a funeral. Family and friends come from all over. I’ve always thought of those services as a celebration of not only the Life lost, but the Lives of everyone who attends the funeral. We are embracing our own lives, and embracing those people who are still with us on this Earth. It doesn’t matter if we saw them 20 years ago or 2 days ago. Funerals make us sad. But they also make us grateful if we let them.

imageWe’ve all walked into a wedding or funeral or reunion with apologies on our lips for not being better at keeping in touch since the “last time.” But I’m starting to believe it’s not necessary to apologize. We’ve all been there, done that, and sometimes that’s just the way it is. When you’re at different stages of life all at different times, it’s just plain hard to connect regularly. No excuses needed: that’s Life.

I very happily hear from my 2 “girl” cousins via Facebook every once in a while, and get to see pictures of their families. And they are MARVELOUS cheerleaders from afar! I’m so thankful for Facebook at those times and so many more. I consider it a small window into the lives of people for whom I care, who are spread out all over the world. I feel that way about texts and emails, too (except for those missives from those foreign prince friends, needing me to go to the bank and wire them money; really, guys – get a credit card!).

If Christmas cards are the height of what is manageable, I feel lucky to be on your list! And I will genuinely exclaim at how big the kids have gotten, and ooh and ahh gleefully over the new furry member of the family. And I will stop for a moment and wish we could get together for a glass of wine, or a walk on a beach, or sit around and recall fond memories in person. But I won’t guilt-trip you by saying “why don’t we get together more often?” I’m grateful to have been thought of at such a crazy time of year. And should the opportunity arise to meet up, we’ll take it from there!

I might very well be near a device with an actual keypad (I write/type like I talk: in more than 140 characters for sure), and send a message/email/text telling you I just received your card and thank you so much I miss you and how are you? and you’ll know I’m thinking of you.

If you don’t get that message, please know that if you took the time to send me a card or photo, text or email, FB message or missive by carrier pigeon, I am feeling very grateful that you are in my life but am up to my eyeballs in Life at this end. I know you’ll understand and think to yourself, “no apologies needed.”

image

Until Tuesday, Friends.  Cheers!

Remember this. Please.

When someone you care about is experiencing a loss – whether it’s a death, a tragic accident, someone’s loved one going into rehab, a divorce, a serious illness:
SHOW UP.
SAY something.
LISTEN.  Please.

But I hate to tell you, it’s not enough to say “sorry” and expect the Other to move on because you’re tired of the emotional distress.  Think how tired the Other must feel living with it all the time.  Glennon Doyle Melton, who pens the blog Momastery, says “run towards it, sit in it and soak up some of the pain.”  Even a tiny amount absorbed helps, it really does.  Dropping out of the Other’s life doesn’t.  Be a friend who actively cares for the long haul.  Please.

teddy bearsI’m not saying you have to FIX anything. A tragedy is a tragedy precisely because it can’t be fixed.  Empathize.  Hold a hand.  Bring crazy movies.  Bring chocolate.  Bring Diet Coke.  Bring wine.  Lend some of your strength.  Lend a shoulder.
Help them be strong.
Help them be.
Help them.

Please.

Here’s the good news:  no one expects you to do it all!  Just pitch in.  Give what you can.  Use the gifts you have.  Please.

But it’s not easy.  And it is messy.  There’s no getting around that.  Just imagine, though, if there was no one there to help you in the midst of the biggest mess in your life.

I once read somewhere that children don’t always need a “teachable moment” for every thing that goes wrong.  Sometimes what they really, simply, need is for someone to commiserate.  “You’re right: that sucks.”IMG_3223

You feel what you feel – no one can justifiably tell you HOW you “should” feel about anything.  But sometimes in the deep dark times, you need more.  “I don’t want someone to FIX anything – just validate my feeling as I do!  Let me know I’m not crazy for feeling this way!”

Don’t we all need to hear “I’m so sorry – that really sucks” at times?  And doesn’t it make you feel better to know someone is right there with you, even if there’s nothing to be done? You’re not alone feeling that way.  Who knew “that sucks” could be so powerful?

But it is.  It really, truly is.

I hope and pray no one I care about has a tragedy befall them. (That’s not terribly realistic, but I still hope.)  I’m asking you to just remember you may very well find yourself in the Other’s shoes someday.  And you’d want the people you care about to come to your side.  It’s devastating when they don’t, making the tragedy even worse.

The Other in the midst of tragedy doesn’t have a choice.  You do.  And the Other needs you to make the choice to BE there with them.  Please.

IMG_3597Don’t wait to be asked: when a Big Bad Awful does strike, the Other can’t find their way out of the fog; time is an enemy at that point; and grief is paralyzing.  When getting out of bed is an achievement, expecting the Other to be able to make plans is inexcusable.  I was always the one who made plans and organized for everyone else.  When I did reach out, and was told to basically help myself, I recoiled in shock – and fear.  Some people I thought I could rely on, to whom I automatically turned, suddenly didn’t have time for me.  Couldn’t be bothered.  Didn’t know what to say.  Didn’t want to “choose sides”.  Didn’t want to get caught up in the drama.

But I was beaten over the head with the drama, dropped in the middle of it, and left there.  Alone.  It’s scary.  And sickening.  Debilitating.

IMG_3568Thankfully, gratefully, I did have a greater safety net of loving – and greatly loved – people: T, E, and L were (and still are) my heroes. They and others, stepped up, and into, the midst of this Big Bad Awful.  They didn’t fix anything.  They didn’t solve anything.  They did something greater: they were HERE.

Although I’ve moved on from the Big Bad Awful and am delightfully happy in this life I’ve made, looking back on it, I really did need people to just say “I’m thinking of you” (“I don’t know what to say, except I care about you” is all that needs saying if you’re lost for words).  Or “we’re taking you to dinner,” and it didn’t even matter if it was 1/2 an hour at McDonalds.  I certainly needed to hear “That sucks.”  And I needed it throughout the horrifyingly long ordeal – not just for the first couple of weeks.  I needed someone else to lead.  I needed people to *keep* showing up (yep, I was needy – we all are in times of crisis).  And sometimes just hearing “that sucks” was really and truly enough for me.

What it comes down to is this:  if we don’t have time to be there for the Other people in our lives, then we’re not fully living.  And if you’re not fully living, then part of you is dead.  And THAT sucks.

Be there.  Please.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!

P.S.  What have you found to be most helpful when a Big Bad Awful strikes?  Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.  Sharing ideas can help us all move towards being better versions of ourselves and thus, better friends!