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Tell Your Story

I’ve been wondering when I might write again. For the past three months my circumstances have not permitted me to rest long enough to string together a sentence… not to mention a blogpost.

Do you know writers who have quit? Maybe you’re one of them. Scripture teaches us to not neglect the gift God has put within each one of us. Perseverance has its benefits.

Perhaps this is a good time to encourage myself and you. Don’t quit. If you are a writer, do whatever it takes to find a time and a place to express yourself. Tell your story. Tell about the reason for the hope within you. Tell of the ways God has turned your losses into gains… because He always does.

I used to write about camping, but this past spring our jeep continued to break down, so we sold both vehicles. The cash from the sale helped us buy a more reliable vehicle. This fall we drove our new car to meet our first grandchild! Seasons change, our needs shift, and life is in a continual state of flux.

What is constant? Only God and his will for us. If you feel my words stirring something within your heart, and you’ve strayed from his purpose for you, it’s time to get back to your first love.

If you are sensing a shift in your interest, it doesn’t mean you should quit writing. Our goals can change over time because we change. This year I felt led to organize a writing group of seniors to meet monthly for critique and fellowship. Together we launched a quarterly creative writing magazine for the residents of our retirement community. Writing is a great tool which can be adapted to the skills and interests of the reader. Whether you write for children or seniors, you can touch readers in all seasons of life.

Sometimes when I finish a project, I feel like I will never write again. It’s a very fearful feeling. For me, starting is the hardest, most challenging part of writing.

Are you stuck for ideas? It might be that you are too busy. Recently, a family member put her house on the market. A realtor advised her to declutter every room because creating space gives a potential buyer the opportunity to envision how they will use the area. In the same way, we as writers need to empty our minds of all the to-do-lists of our day in order to envision a story.

Creativity requires space. A gardener removes the debris from last years flowerbed to prepare the soil for seed. Empty your mind of toxic thoughts which stress your emotions before you write.

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

Too often writers stress about how their work will be received. Relax and have fun. Play with words. Let your imagination roam. Free-write in a notebook for ten minutes about anything. Write like no one will ever see it. After several days, look back at what you have written that week. Eventually you might discover a new plot for your next book.

Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate your interest and comments.

When Good Intentions Backfire

Like most pet owners, I try to be conscientious about my dog’s health. A few days ago I took Buddy to our vet for a routine checkup. The doctor noticed unusual streaks of white throughout the back fur on his back. She pointed out some broken hairs and a couple of red lesions on his skin. “Has he been biting himself or rubbing on something?”

“Not that I know of,” I responded. “I thought Buddy’s white hairs were a sign of aging. He is twelve years old now.”

She continued to run his fingers through Buddy’s fur. “Well, I’d like to give him an injection for allergies. His skin looks irritated.”

“Sure.” I nodded.

A few minutes later an assistant whisked Buddy to the back room. I heard a doggy “yelp” followed by a human voice, “Poor Buddy.”

The assistant led Buddy back to me. I reached down and gave him a pat on the head. “I’m sorry, little guy.” After some brief instructions, I checked out at the front desk and we went home.

When I walked through our front door I suddenly realized what might have contributed to Buddy’s problem: enthusiastic brushing! Beagles shed like crazy. Over the years I’ve frequently complained about the amount of fur on our floors. My husband, Herb, thought brushing Buddy more often would help.

Beagles have a double coat of fur. In Buddy’s case, the excessive brushing removed the black top coat, revealing the white under coat. The American Kennel Club recommends weekly brushing with a medium bristle brush.

We felt like such bad pet owners. Herb was brushing him every day, and sometimes twice a day in order to help. Clearly the excessive brushing was irritating Buddy’s skin. Sometimes our best intentions can lead to bad results. Buddy paid the price for Herb’s good intentions. (And so did we when I gave the cashier my credit card.)

“I was only trying to help.” This sentence echoes through my mind as I recall numerous incidents when my altruistic nature backfired. One time I emptied the dirt in my daughter’s vacuum cleaner and couldn’t get the machine back together. Another time I dusted Mom’s shelf and broke her favorite knick-knack. I think the greatest gift we can give one another is a big dose of forgiveness when good intentions fail.

What is it about people that make us want to help others? Dr. Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, studied the helping behaviors of toddlers. When an adult pretended to be looking for a lost item, toddlers as young as twelve months old pointed at various objects to help the adult find what he was looking for.

So our good intentions are a touch of the divine within us. Our desire to help is part of human nature and something we are blessed with at birth. Sometimes our good intentions end badly. Even so, bad results can lead to lessons learned, which might not be so bad after all.

When have your good intentions led to bad results? What did you learn in the process? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Living with Covid 19

Remember the first Jurassic Park movie? My favorite part of the movie was the conversation between Henry Wu and Dr. Ian Malcolm. Mr. Wu stated that the Jurassic Park scientists controlled the chromosomes assigned to dinosaurs and they could not breed on their own. Dr. Malcolm responds with, “Life…uh…finds a way.” And of course, Dr. Malcolm was right.

A similar comment could be made about the Coronavirus. Since Covid made its appearance more than two years ago, governments have tried their best to eradicate it, but the virus won’t quit. Like a dinosaur, Covid is a life form that wants to continue living.

I can’t deny some advancements have occurred, especially regarding testing. Remember when we drove to a specific location and waited for hours in our car to be tested? We were told to immediately quarantine. Then we waited three days or more for the results. Now we can self-administer the Antigen rapid test in our homes, which is definitely more comfortable.

In the past, those who tested positive were required to isolate themselves for ten days. Now we’re told to isolate for five. (As long as we don’t have a fever.)

Looking back, we’ve come a long way. Remember the stay-at-home order of 2020? For weeks we could only leave our home to purchase food. Publix and Target scheduled special morning hours for senior citizens to shop. When we brought our precious commodities home we wiped them down with Clorox before bringing them in the house. During the spring and summer of 2020 we went to extreme measures to make sure Covid would not enter our homes, schools, and places of business.

So here we are in July of 2022. For two years many people have avoided crowds, wore masks, and injected themselves with vaccines and boosters. Yet, the virus marches on. I was late to the party, but I arrived. Three weeks ago, I tested positive.

I’ve heard some folks say, “I tested positive but only had mild symptoms.” I envy those people. Maybe I’m a baby, but Covid was no picnic for me. I kind of knew what to expect because every time I received a booster I spent the next day in bed with flu symptoms. After I contracted the actual virus, I spent four days in bed. The fatigue and brain fog lasted until day twelve. Did I have a different variant of Omicron? I’m not sure.

Like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, the Coronavirus wants to live. Unfortunately it can only thrive by living in us. By changing into variants the virus continues to outwit us every six months.

Dr. Robert Bollinger of John Hopkins medicine explains that “all RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. Flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year. ” The Delta and Omicron variants are classified as variants of concern because they are more likely to cause breakthrough infections or reinfections in those who are vaccinated or previously infected.

Covid 19 and its tribe of variants reveal the weakness of humanity. None of us can expect to live a life free from trials. The following poem by Annie Johnson Flint helps me see that in spite of it all we can rely on God’s strength to carry us when we are weak. Her poem appears in many hymnals.

God has not promised skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God has not promised sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way,

Grace for the trails, help from above,

Unfailing kindness, undying love.

We cannot see God, but we can see his love for us through the actions of others. I am thankful for friends and neighbors who shopped for me, prepared food, and texted encouraging words. Their kindness spoke to me of God’s undying love during my days of quarantine.

The world has grown up over the past two years. We are learning to cope with Covid as we have with other types of flu. “Life…uh…finds a way”

“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”

Everybody knows dogs like to sleep. Our beagle, Buddy, spends most of his day sleeping. Upon closer examination, he isn’t always in a deep sleep. Sometimes Buddy’s eyes are half open. He’s relaxed, but ready to bound out of bed the minute I start cooking. Did you know the amount of sleep a dog needs is relative to their age?

  • Puppies (0-12 months) need to sleep 18-20 hours a day.
  • Adult dogs (1-5 years) need 8-14 hours a day.
  • Senior dogs (5+years) require 18-20 hours a day.

Buddy is almost twelve years old now, so sleeping is the main event in his life. Just like older humans, senior dogs don’t have as much energy and need to catch some extra Z’s to stay healthy.

Buddy’s routine reminds me of the idiom, “let sleeping dogs lie.” Scholars believe the phrase dates back to the 1300’s, specifically to a sentence written by Geoffery Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde. Here is the phrase in old English:

“It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.”

Clearly, Chaucer knew that if you wake a sleeping hound, he might become aggressive because he wants to protect himself.

“Let sleeping dogs lie” is also a proverb, since the phrase gives advice for wise living. Experience teaches us it is better to ignore a problem, if trying to solve it can cause a greater problem.

Similar advice is offered in the bible. “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” Proverbs 26:17. (NIV) My translation—mind your own business and you will be happier.

Think of the times you decided to ignore a problem instead of trying to fix it. Maybe you decided to ignore a co-worker’s annoying habit of talking too loud on the phone. When you made the choice to ignore your co-worker’s behavior, you helped your department unite as a team and finish a project before deadline.

Ignoring the annoying habits of co-workers, family members, and neighbors can lead to building relationships and fostering community among people. Sometimes “waking the sleeping dog” can escalate conflict, and create enemies. How often have we heard of feuds which continued for so long, that both sides forgot how the conflict began?

Whether to let a sleeping dog lie is a matter of inner debate, especially regarding personal relationships. Each of us needs to consider if sharing our opinion can resolve the issue, or create more conflict. Will it help or hurt? Picture yourself six months from now, what regrets might you have if you do not try to solve the problem? Ask yourself if the person who is annoying you really able to change? And must he or she change for your sake?

There’s value in choosing our battles. The Serenity Prayer speaks to this struggle. Here is the full version, written in the 1930’s by Reinhold Neibuhr. 

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.”

Sleep well tonight, my friends.


On Writing

When I allow myself

the time

I pick up

the broken pieces of my dreams

and put them together

in lines of poetry.

Then I feel free

because nothing else matters

writing for the sake of writing

with no agenda in mind.

There’s something to be said for writers

Who never forget who they are

who celebrate the gift God has given them

and give thanks.

The Mystery of Canine Language Capabilities

Have you ever wondered how many words a dog knows? When I write about Buddy the Beagle, I tend to humanize his ability to process English. After all, I am a fiction writer. In my stories, Buddy listens intently to his humans and picks up new words from their conversations.

Contrary to my imagination, my real life interactions with Buddy pair words with action. If we’re on a walk and he tries to gobble garbage, “No” is accompanied by a tug on his leash. When I want him to “lie down” or “roll over,” I use hand signals in addition to verbal commands. “Good boy” is usually accompanied by a treat.

Truthfully, my dog reads more into my body language than my actual words. He also recognizes my tone of voice and facial expressions to understand what I mean. If I smile and excitedly say, “Let’s go for a walk,” Buddy trots to the door.

Dogs process speech in much the same way as human infants do between six and fourteen months. With repetition, both dogs and babies associate certain words with actions. Dogs do listen to human speech, but they don’t consider different letter sounds important. A growing vocabulary requires phonetic precision.

All of this makes sense, unless your dog is the smartest dog in the world. A border collie named Chaser proved dogs can differentiate between words. Chaser’s owner, Dr. John Pilley, taught psychology at Wofford U. (no joke)

After he retired from teaching, Dr. Pilley talked to a sheep rancher whose border collie knew how to retrieve specific sheep from the field by their names. When Jeb was told to “go get Millie and Tillie,” the dog picked Millie and Tillie out of a herd of one hundred sheep and brought them back.

When Chaser was two months old, Dr. Pilley started teaching her proper nouns, beginning with a blue ball. He used a strategy called errorless learning, which means setting up an environment in which the subject cannot fail. He would name it, show it to her, say “catch blue” and throw it to her.“He’d put it in front of her and say “find blue.” On the third day, when she could retrieve the ball from another room, he knew it was time to move on to another object. At the end of the fifth month, Chaser had learned forty words and kept them in her long-term memory. During the course of Chaser’s lifetime, she learned one thousand nouns. Dr. Pilley and Chaser changed the field of dog intelligence using the power of play and positive reinforcement.

Reading about Chaser inspires me to start a list of words Buddy knows.

  • cookie
  • carrot
  • treat
  • popcorn
  • kibble
  • bacon

Hmm… are you noticing a pattern? Food is one category of language Buddy understands. And he can always find it. Like many dogs, Buddy is also good at math. I love this quote by Phil Pastoret.

“If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.”

Are you tuned into your dog’s language abilities? Leave a comment and let me know the details.

Reading: Just Do It!

People who can read, should.

Are you a reader? Do you enjoy losing yourself in a book? May is National Get Caught Reading Month. The campaign encourages people of all ages to read for enjoyment.

REMEMBER WHEN READING WAS FUN ?

When I was a child I loved to read or hear others read. Yertle the Turtle, by Dr. Seuss was one of our family favorites. My mother read the book to us so often, my brothers and I memorized most of the lines.

In elementary school I enjoyed the Boxcar Children. Author Gertrude Warren amazed me with her tale of four orphans surviving on their own in an abandoned boxcar. I admired their ingenuity and the way they cared for one another.

A memorable character I related to was Anne Shirley, the dramatic imaginative Anne, spelled with an E of course! I felt a connection because like me, she got in trouble for talking too much. I read Anne of Green Gables again as an adult. L.M. Montgomery still delighted me with her beautiful descriptions. A few years ago, I enjoyed posing with “Anne” on a trip to Prince Edward Island.

HOW I LOST MY LOVE OF READING

As a parent, teacher, and now as a new author, I’m still talking to children about the importance of reading. Books contain insight, information, and inspiration. Books help us grow mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Parents and teachers encourage their children to read, but do they read for themselves? If not, what happened?

Sometime during my high school years, I was forced to read for information only. The entertainment value of books decreased. My classes demanded I read in order to pass a test, or write a term paper. This continued throughout college. The joy of reading evaporated like a puddle on hot pavement.

After college I became busy with my teaching career, managing a household, and transporting my children to their activities. I always hoped I would have more time to read without interruption. Sigh. Does reading a lesson plan count?

I remember when elementary schools used to have D.E.A.R. time during the school day. Everybody, including the teacher, was supposed to Drop Everything And Read. It was a sacred time when teachers were supposed to model good reading behavior. That’s a great idea in a perfect world. The reality was much different. It was hard for me to ignore the children and sit with a book when Johnny was writing with a Sharpie on his desk. Well, like many short lived programs, D.E.A.R. was dropped for learning goals and standardized testing. How sad.

Fortunately for me, retirement brought an opportunity to read more. One of my favorite books is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Author Kim Michele Richardson tells the story of the blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the prejudice they encountered during the 1930’s. As someone who is “blue,” Cussy Mary Carter had plenty of reasons to hate white people, but instead responded with love. Cussy worked as a “packhorse librarian.” She carried books to some of the poorest and most remote shacks in Appalachia. The packhorse lending library was sponsored by the WPA of the Roosevelt administration. Cussy’s patrons grew to appreciate her love for books and gave her the name Book Woman. This book made me think about the importance of reading and how I often take it for granted.

START NEW HABITS

It’s hard to change old habits, but here are five tips to increase your time spend reading.

Read for fifteen minutes every night before you go to bed.

Order books from the public library. Most libraries lend ebooks these days.

Join a book club. You’ll read books you wouldn’t normally read, and make lifelong friends.

Join Book Bub, an online service that emails you daily with reduced prices on Amazon ebooks that suit your interests.

Dedicate one night a week to uninterrupted reading. Stay away from your phone, or better yet, turn it off.

Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to get busy reading, but keep reading blogs, too! (I think that counts.) What are you reading lately? Leave a comment about a book you’ve enjoyed, or offer a reading tip of your own.

How Your Dog Feels About You

Are you one of the 69 million people in the United States who own a dog? If so, you probably make sure your pet’s needs are met. You adapt your schedule to walk your furry friend at the same time each day. You might bring Fido a doggy bag from your favorite restaurant. And of course you take him for an annual checkup with your vet.* You love your dog! But have you ever wondered how your dog feels about you?

Emory University scientists studied the emotional states of dogs. Using MRI, the scientists measured the nueral responses of dogs as they were exposed to familiar and unfamiliar odors. When the dogs smelled the familiar scent of their owners, the reward center of the animal’s brain was activated because they associated the smell with pleasure.

In a similar study, Budapest scientists learned the canine brain responds positively to the happy sounds of their owner’s voice. These studies are scientific proof of what you probably knew all along. Our canine friends are social, emotional, beings that respond to human smells and voices. Think about all the ways your pet tells you he loves you.

  • From the minute you walk through the front door, your pal is right there to greet you. He might pick up his favorite toy and carry it to you.
  • Your dog wants to snuggle with you on the couch. He feels safe with you and considers you part of his pack. It doesn’t matter if you just got out of bed and have morning breath. Your dog loves you unconditionally.
  • Your pet looks at you with loving eyes. Making direct eye contact is considered aggressive action in the canine community. When two dogs meet, one will look away in deference to the alpha dog. Not so with human interaction. Your dog looks at you with eyes that are relaxed and tender.
  • Your four-legged friend just can’t seem to get enough of your company. He follows you everywhere.
  • Your dog shows empathy when you cry. He tries to comfort you by putting his head on your lap or licking your hand.

So, if dog’s are such social and emotional creatures can they experience jealousy?

Again, research supports the theory. A 2014 study published in PLOS ONE showed that canines tended to display significantly more jealous behaviors when their owners showed affection for a stuffed toy dog. For example, the canine tried to force himself between the owner and the stuffed dog. As anyone with more than one canine companion may witness, some pups don’t take kindly to their owners doling out affection to another dog.

My upcoming children’s book Truckload of Trouble explores the theme of love and jealousy. Buddy the beagle’s life seems perfect until his human, Henry, takes in Jack, a stray cattle dog with blue fur. Henry gives Jack plenty of attention and Buddy feels jealous. Buddy loves Henry so much. He will do anything to gain his approval. When Henry takes Jack to the dog park and leaves Buddy at home, the little beagle knows he must do something drastic!

I wrote this story during the height of the Covid pandemic. During this extended period of social distancing, I had plenty of time to watch my beagle and let my imagination soar. I have written three books from Buddy’s point of view, and may have developed the ability to think like a dog. (I hope I don’t start licking the floor for crumbs.)

What do you appreciate about your dog? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment. Please join my book launch team by sharing this post. Thanks!

*feature photo of Enrique Duprey, DVM (a.k.a. Dr. Smiley) pictured with Buddy at Corrine Drive Animal Hospital in Orlando, Florida.

Are Coyotes Dangerous to Dogs?

Spring is in the air! The bees are buzzing, the birds are singing, and the coyotes? Well, the coyotes are increasing! Yes, April is breeding month for coyotes. Look out pet owners, because from now through August, coyote parents will be more protective of their young.

Have you seen any coyotes in your neighborhood? My neighbor encountered the coyote pictured above when she was biking around Lake Baldwin. Like many urban areas, Orlando has seen an increase of coyotes in the past few years. Habitat encroachment forces them to migrate to cities in search of food. These animals have adapted to city life so well they are known as “urban coyotes.” Their population continues to thrive because efforts to relocate them fail to work. Coyotes are smart and quite successful in finding their way back. In fact, coyotes are so established in Florida they’ve become naturalized—meaning they are part of the ecosystem.

Should you be concerned? Yes. As part of the ecosystem, coyotes will prey upon whatever they can find. And although their diet mainly consists of rodents, rabbits, fruit, and insects, they might eat a smaller domestic pet (under twenty-five pounds) if they have an opportunity. Fortunately, the frequency of a coyote eating a dog is rare.

If a dog is eaten by a coyote, it is usually due to risky behavior on the part of the owner. Coyotes are more active at night. When a pet owner leaves their dog outside unattended in the evening, trouble could arise. It’s also not a good idea to walk your dog at night using a retractable leash. A six foot leash is much safer. Remember to carry a flashlight with you after dark.

Did you know dogs are attracted to coyotes? Since they are genetically similar, sometimes dogs become excited by the presence of a coyote and chase after it. If a tragedy ensues, the coyote is always to blame, even though the dog initiated the encounter. Coyotes can carry rabies. If your dog or cat gets bit by a coyote, take your pet to the vet immediately.

Coyote management is largely about people management. Coyotes are here to stay, but there are many things people can do to help manage the dangers. Our pets can be better protected if we do not feed ferrel cats outside. We are basically asking the coyotes to keep coming around.

I’m excited about the release of my new children’s book, Truckload of Trouble, on June 7 from Elk Lake Publishing. Buddy the beagle escapes under the backyard fence in search of Jack, a stray dog who decides he’s better off living on the street. When the two dogs encounter a coyote, Jack puffs out his chest and lets out a fierce growl that scares the coyote away.

Coyotes are usually afraid of people. If you encounter a coyote, do what Jack does. Stand tall and maintain eye contact. Make loud noises and back up until you and your pet are a safe distance away.

Hopefully my post has increased your awareness of the dangers of coyotes. As a nature lover, I value wildlife. But I also value my pet, and want to help other pet owners protect their fur-babies. I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment!

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