What My Dog Has Taught Me About Writing

I’ve learned a lot from following my dog around. Whenever Buddy picks up an interesting scent… he walks faster and faster with his nose to the ground. Buddy will not stop until he tracks the scent to its source. It might be as small as one goldfish cracker, but he will not give up until he gets what he’s after. I must admit I admire his persistance.

I’ve discovered I need to apply a few of Buddy’s good qualities to my writing life. Although Buddy is directed by his sense of smell, I’m directed by what I see. My focus determines the direction I will go. I’m trying to direct my focus and be more productive by thinking like a dog.

Keep Looking Forward

Buddy never looks back, but continues to forge straight ahead when he’s on a mission. Sometimes I think fondly of the past and wish I could go back. That happens a lot when I look in the mirror and see how I’ve aged. Allowing my age to stop me from pursuing my dreams as a writer is a non-starter and robs me of my motivation. I need to remember and be thankful I’m retired. My age gives me more time to spend on my craft.

Look Beyond The Obstacles

Buddy never lets anything get in his way. When his back legs were paralyzed, he used his front paws to pull himself forward while dragging his back feet behind him. Wherever he wanted to go, he went. If I had focused on my inexperience as a writer, I would have never moved forward. My husband believed I could write a children’s book before I did. With his support, the fact that I’d never written a book, didn’t stop me.

Stay Alert for Opportunities

Buddy can be on the other side of the room but the sound of chopping vegetables or rustling cellophane signals his attention. He trots over to assume his position at my feet, keeping watch for any crumbs I drop on the floor.

Ideas for writing pop up on my radar just like those noises in the kitchen. Good ideas can fall to floor as quick as a kernel of popcorn. I need to keep a notebook, or my phone handy to capture them. If I’m stuck without an idea for a blog, poem, or plot, I can always consult my notes.

Take Time To Rest

I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a workaholic. It’s important to realize whether I’m being productive, or spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Busy work saps creativity. As I write this, Buddy is curled up sleeping. He doesn’t have a care in the world. He knows he can trust me to meet his needs. In the same way I need to remember everything doesn’t depend on me. Rest can be achieved in many ways, physically and spiritually. I rest physically when I stop hitting the keys. I rest spiritually by remembering that ultimately God is in control.

I wrote this post in 2019 but the message endures today. Two years later, I’m working on book three of “The Tails of Blueberry Street” series. Buddy the Beagle is the main character of all my books. Join us for our back to school book signing this Friday in Casselberry, Florida.

Teton Magic—First you see them, then you don’t.

“Sometimes all the planning in the world doesn’t mean your day or week will turn out the way you expected.”

I have always been captivated by the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. The mountains seem to rise out of nowhere and demand your attention. I am awestruck and humbled by their presence. If I let my imagination go, I can hear them speak of the majesty of creation. The Tetons place sixth among the most photographed mountains in the world.

We all know 2020 was hard. And like many travel deprived Americans, I felt eager to fly somewhere this summer. For weeks Herb, Jenny, and I watched videos, studied maps, and planned our activities. We had a tight schedule with four days to spend in the park. That seems like enough time, right? But this trip to Grand Teton National Park came with two unexpected trials.

One week prior to leaving, I strained my back lifting a box of books. I felt good when we left on Saturday, but the pain returned after the long flight and the drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson.

When we finally arrived at the park on Sunday, I was saddened to see smoke covering the mountains. The smoke originated from fires in Oregon. Since we couldn’t see much, my traveling companions insisted I visit an urgent care for help with my back pain.

“But we only have four days! How can I waste time waiting to see a doctor?” I asked. Eventually they convinced me if I didn’t get help, I would never be able to hike. I relented and off we went to the nearest clinic.

After a lengthy wait, I saw a doctor who called in a prescription to a pharmacy across the street. When I arrived to pick up my medication, ten people stood in line ahead of me. My back muscles tensed as I noticed the pharmacy closed early on Sunday. Thirty minutes later I reached the pharmacy window, only to be told the prescription wasn’t ready and I should come back in twenty minutes.

I joined Herb and Jenny at an outdoor table for a quick snack and hobbled back to the pharmacy. Now eleven people waited in line. (Someone told me the pharmacy closes on time whether people are waiting or not.) Desperate to receive my medication, I cut through the line to get to the pick up window. I simply couldn’t stand on my feet any longer, and the thought of being turned away was more than I could bear.

The pharmacist served me, much to the chagrin of those waiting in line, who complained about my behavior. At this point it was three minutes to five and I don’t blame them for being angry. I received my meds and left the store before emotions got out of control. I confess I felt ashamed of myself.

The remainder of Sunday I spent in bed at our Airbnb in Teton Village. Monday morning I encouraged Jenny and Herb to return to the park without me as I felt no improvement in my health. I stayed in bed and felt sorry myself. I didn’t have much time left to tour the park. I wondered if all I would see is the four walls around me? Would this be my punishment for cutting the line?

By Tuesday morning I felt ready to hike. I used my trekking poles to traverse the most beautiful trail to Taggart Lake. The smoke lifted that day and we got some great pictures of the mountains. I felt good to be alive and see such beauty. After the hike we drove to visit some of the historic buildings in the park.

Taggert Lake

Wednesday we hiked to Inspiration Point, located on the opposite side of Jenny Lake. Both hikes were listed as moderate with a significant elevation gain. I felt surprised when a fellow hiker told me I was his inspiration. (Probably due to my age, I guess.)

Inspiration Point with Herb and Jenny

By Thursday my pain returned and a thick blanket of smoke covered the mountains again. We checked out and began our return trip to Orlando.

Now a week later, I am still recovering. What did I learn from this experience?

Trips take people, people don’t take trips. All the planning in the world doesn’t mean your day or week will turn out the way you expected or wanted. I had expected too much from this trip. Blessed are those who are happy with little. I am thankful for those two days when the smoke lifted and I was well enough to experience the mountains.

Somewhere in the middle, between the good times and the bad, I sensed God’s love for me. I remembered the sick woman who pressed through the crowd to reach Jesus. (Matt. 9:20-22) She received her healing. Did she cut through a line?

I am thankful Jesus is able to recycle our mistakes into something good by his transforming grace. When I depend on experiences for my happiness, I want to remember the smoke and pain of this trip.

I want to remember lasting joy is only found in God’s redeeming love.

A Decorating Dilemma

Whew! We’ve all been there. Moving from one place to another is pure chaos. Even though a moving company handled the packing and transporting, the process stressed me out.

I apologize for my long absence from cyberspace. In my last post I mentioned our upcoming plans to move to a retirement community. For the past month, I’ve been consumed with trying to create harmony between myself and my new living space.

Our new apartment is small. (1500 square feet) We no longer have a garage, which was quite useful for stashing items we didn’t use everyday. Now, every inch of storage space matters. Although we tried to downsize, our closets are full. The movers stacked our framed art against a wall in the guest room. Every time I walked in there I thought, “What are we going to do with all of these pictures?” We live in an open floor plan with less wall space, and more windows.

If you think God doesn’t care about the little things we deal with, think again. This is one dilemma I prayed about, and His answer increased my faith.

I felt a need to keep the art I still liked—colorful landscapes and nature scenes from trips we’ve taken. So, I carried each picture from room to room to envision how it might look on the wall. Still, I couldn’t see how this eclectic mix could possibly fit together. Most of all, I didn’t want to make unnecessary holes in any of the walls. Once the pictures were hung, that’s where I wanted them to stay.

Two years ago I repurposed these frames with photographs I took at Lue Gardens. The colors brightened up the dining room and complemented our chairs, so I decided to keep them.

Then I found a collection of small canvases Jenny, our daughter, had painted. For years they decorated a bedroom. When I carried them into the dining room, I realized they matched the chairs as well. Jenny and I found some rustic looking frames at Joann Fabrics, which my husband prepared for hanging. Originally I thought I would line them up horizontally on another wall.

Enter Shaun,O’Dwyer, a floral designer with an eye for hanging pictures. Shaun came up with a new idea. Create harmony by bringing these different elements together vertically. Then hang them high. The result is amazing. I always thought pictures had to be at eye level. Shaun opened my eyes to new possibilities.

If you are wondering what to do with something old, instead of throwing it out or giving it away, think about changing it. Enlist the help of someone who might see things differently and create a new look.

“Redecorating has the power to make us feel like we have created new energy, a new vibe, a new life” —Dr. Sherrie Campbell

I am so thankful God cares about the little details in our lives. When it comes to creativity, I want to remember to look to the master creator. Behold, He makes all things new! (Rev.21:5 KJV)

Thank you for reading my blog. Leave a comment. I’d love to hear how you solved a decorating dilemma.

The Benefits of Being Still

Morning walks are great. The reflection of the bridge in the water demonstrates simple beauty created in stillness. In this post I want to explore how science and faith complement each other.

First, what causes a mirror image?

Reflection happens when light bounces off an object. If the surface is smooth and shiny, the light will bounce back at the same angle it hits the surface. The Latin root, reflectere refers to bending back. We see a mirror image.

The word reflection also means careful consideration or meditation. When I reflect, I allow my mind to think before I act. I hold my tongue before speaking. I seek wisdom before deciding which path to take.

Stillness is essential to receiving wisdom. Job was a man of God who experienced many trials. When trouble abounds, as it did in Job’s life, his friend told him to “Stop and consider the wonders of God.” (Job 36:14) NIV

When we pause long enough to see the wonders of God around us, we get a new perspective on our troubles. We stand face to face with someone bigger than ourselves, our creator. It’s only when we see ourselves in relation to him that we can be free from our misperceptions. God is God and I am not. The water reflects the bridge. It is not the bridge.

Who or what does your life reflect today?

Still Waters

Are you tired of sitting at home because of COVID-19? Are you ready to travel somewhere, anywhere?

Come with me on a journey. Although I’ve lived in my neighborhood for sixteen years, I didn’t really become acquainted with this pond until last week.

Beautiful, isn’t it? This view is very near my front door. On previous occasions, I was usually too busy to notice. Maybe I was walking Buddy, or riding my bike. Maybe I was getting the mail. I have to say, COVID-19 has forced me to pause and consider my immediate surroundings.

Our local stay-at-home order permits walking outdoors, but I wanted to keep my walk short (since I am recovering from a back injury). I discovered it takes twenty minutes to circle the pond. So let’s get started.

These bald cypress knees aren’t always visible. During the summer rainy season the roots of the tree are under water.

White ibis photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

The shallow water provides an ideal feeding ground for the white ibis. These birds use their long beaks to probe the soft mud in search of insects.

white egret

This spring the water is so low, little islands are rising. They make me think of continents pushing up out of the ocean. The islands attract snapping turtles who are eager to warm themselves in the sun. Soon after I took this photo, the egret perched itself upon the sandy mound to scan the water for its next meal.

This is the view from the western end of the pond. There have been years when the water recedes even more and the island becomes a land bridge.

Here is one of my favorite views. Standing in this spot I feel like I could be on a trail in some remote area, away from the confines of our Orlando neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my desire to walk closer to the water resulted in disaster. I picked up some dog poo-lution on my shoe. Lucky for you, a virtual trip doesn’t include this hazard of the trail.

Blue heron photo courtesy of Herb Burton.

As we near our starting point, we are delighted by the stately blue heron. During moments like these, I realize how fortunate I am to live in such a beautiful place. My walks have provided me the opportunity to thank God for his love and care, even during this time of despair.

I’m reminded of Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside the still waters,

He restores my soul.

I hope our journey around the pond has helped you relax a little. True, the pandemic has taken much from our lives. I trust that in this season of loss, something will be gained. My walks around the pond have inspired me to remember how God still provides for each of us.

Have you experienced God’s provision during this season of loss? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Perfect Peace

Is perfect peace found…

In a cloudless sky?

Or could it exist in a hurricane’s eye?

Can it be perceived in the dark of night?

Or better displayed by candlelight?

Is peace our reward, when all work is done?

A prize for the victor, when conflict is won?

A mother feels peace as her child drifts to sleep.

A sailor knows peace where the waters are deep.

The teacher can’t wait ’till the final bell rings.

The hiker knows peace when the morning birds sing.

The judge proclaims peace when the last word is said.

The waitress will say it’s when everyone’s fed.

The busy store clerk awaits Christmas Eve.

A harried host smiles after everyone leaves.

Perfect peace

Strivings cease

Kept by those

whose trust grows

in the Rock of Ages.

Butterfly Dreams

We all have times when inspiration ignites. At five a.m. this morning I felt the burning desire to write a post. In my in-between state of wakefulness, with my head still on the pillow I wondered…Why have I only posted one time this month?

I did a little mind traveling, remembering the events of the past three weeks. The words floated through my imagination in the form of a poem.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the broken dryer

and the mountains of laundry

that made it difficult to walk through the bedroom

after our anniversary hiatus to the Florida Keys.

Maybe…

it was the weeds in my garden

their ugly heads raised in defiance

and gnarly fists fastened

around the marigold stems

gasping for air

Maybe…

Maybe it was the hurricane which by-passed my state

but demanded my attention

with weather channel theatrics.

Maybe…

Maybe it was the sick dog

and the never ending schedule of medication

which made him pee on the floor.

Maybe…

Dear readers,

Inspiration is as fragile and illusive as a butterfly. The flutter of the butterfly’s wings can be heard any time of the day or night. (Some writers keep paper and pencil on their nightstands.) I know I’ve been all over the map with my posts this summer. I’ve learned I cannot force my writing into a schedule. That’s the beauty of creativity.

The Balance-Happiness Debate

Balanced Rock is a great example of equilibrium in nature. The boulder looks like it could fall at any moment, and someday erosion will force it to topple. Until then, it stands as a scenic wonder located in Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs. Balanced Rock required perfect geologic and weather conditions to achieve its balance. In the same way, people often go to great lengths to achieve balance in their lives. We try to balance our finances, our diets, and the never ending work-play struggle. But is balance ever possible? And beyond that, is balance necessary to our happiness?

I’ve thought a lot about balance lately. After my foot surgery five weeks ago, my activities drastically changed. My doctor ordered me to not put any weight on the ball of my left foot for three weeks. I used a walker and managed to balance on my right foot to walk to the bathroom. I spent most of my days and nights on the sofa.

Resting was difficult. I’m not by any means a “couch potato.” At first I dreaded so much inactivity. Then I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this time of recovery brought me. How often have I wished for more time to pursue my passions? I passed the hours by reading, writing, and praying. I was completely out of balance, yet completely happy.

Our desire for balance comes from our desire to control our lives.

Are you a time management freak? We all have twenty-four hours in our day, and follow some kind of routine. We can make plans, but interruptions arise, throwing us off balance. These interruptions remind us we don’t have control of our time after all. I admire people who can go with the flow of events. They are usually calmer, happier people.

Instead of desiring balance, identify personal priorities.

Do you exhaust yourself trying to balance your own needs and the needs of others? Narrow your demands on yourself and your time. Pray and make a list of your priorities. God knows you. He knows your abilities, and he knows the needs of those in your sphere of influence. Before you commit to anything new, evaluate it according to your priorities. Be accepting of what you can and cannot do. Be accepting of other people and their priorities. You will be a lot happier.

Re-think the social media energy drain.

When I made a list of my priorities, I reflected upon the amount of time I spend on social media sites. I realized I have an addiction. Any time I have a few spare minutes at my disposal, I start logging onto facebook, twitter, or instagram. Beginning writers are told they must increase their online presence in order to succeed. Spending time interacting on social media is a never ending cycle that always demands more energy. Energy that might be better spent in face to face relationships.

Respect life’s seasons.

Nature’s four seasons were created for the purpose of growth and rest. All of us have seasons in our life when we are more focused on one goal or another. It’s important to recognize when one season ends and a new one begins. Each season brings new opportunities for growth, outwardly and inwardly. When we relax and submit to God’s will for the season we’re in, all striving ceases. For writers, there are times of creativity, and other times to seek inspiration. You might feel like you’re out of balance, but you’re right where you need to be.

The Book of Ecclesiastes offers wisdom about life and balance.

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man can eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.” —King Solomon

What are your thoughts on balance and happiness? Does happiness depend upon achieving balance? Leave a comment.

A Life Illustration

Hope is one of the principal springs that keeps mankind in motion.—Thomas Fuller

Take a close look at these blooms. What do you see? Three colors of flowers on the same shrub? Is that possible?

I met the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow plant at Leu Gardens in Orlando last week. I’d never seen this shrub before and I couldn’t believe it produced violet, lavender, and white blooms. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me.

What’s the deal?

My research led me to the following information about this romantic plant.

  • Native to the Brazilian rainforest.
  • Grows well in tropical climates with filtered shade.
  • Average size: eight feet tall and five feet wide.
  • Blooms in spring and summer.
  • Scientific name: Brunfelsia Grandiflora
  • Sweet smelling flowers.
  • Extremely toxic to cats, dogs, and small children.

So, it’s beautiful, yet dangerous and one plant I will never grow in my backyard garden. But let’s not discount the philosophical side of the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub.

I love it’s name.

What could be a more appropriate name than Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow? For you see, each flower goes through three stages. On the first day the flower is violet, by the second day it fades to lavender, and finally changes to white on the third day. Everyday this shrub contains flowers in different stages. Wow! As far as which day represents which color, I think that’s open to interpretation.

So now for my philosophical take away… The three colors are a visual about life. Violet represents yesterday’s memories. Lavender expresses today’s challenges, and white tomorrow’s hope. Here’s a great quote:

“Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day you get to start over in the morning.” —Barbara Kingsolver

The Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow shrub starts over every morning in a constant cycle of perpetual change. Likewise no matter what stage we are in the journey of life, we still have hope that tomorrow will be better. The challenges of today become hope for tomorrow.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. You might have a different take-away about the blooms. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…

Lock Up The Luggage of Worry

Worry robs today of creative energy.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.”

The words of Jesus from John 14:1 remind me I have a choice every day. I can decide to trouble my  heart, or trust in God. I trouble my heart when I continue to play negative tapes in my mind. These tapes often include fears about the future. 

Worry robs today of creative energy. 

Sometimes people feel obligated to worry. As if worrying is necessary baggage to carry along on the journey of life. Some carry their worries in a briefcase, others drag an oversized suitcase behind them everywhere they go. I’m kind of in the middle. My worries fit neatly in a backpack but it’s heavy and the load keeps me from climbing the high places. 

Stop and think about the mental energy we use when we worry. Couldn’t that energy be spent writing, painting, or gardening? What could we accomplish if we set our suitcase to the side and refused to open it? 

Worry robs today of it’s joy.

When we live in the present we start to be more aware of our surroundings. We hear a bird chirping outside our window. We smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen. Put your hand over your heart. Feel your pulse and rejoice because you are alive! 

Most of the time the exercise of “troubling our hearts” doesn’t solve whatever problem we’re dwelling upon. It only makes us feel anxious.  So how do we put a lock on our luggage?

Present your requests to God.

Once you’ve prayed about your concern, imagine tucking it away and locking it up. Allow the peace of God to fill your mind. Remember, God wants the best for you. He will be with you in all of your tomorrows. 

Do Something!

“You’ve got to get busy living or get busy dying.”

The quote from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption offers good advice. We can choose how to occupy our time. Each day is a gift. We can waste it by rearranging the worries in our luggage, or lock it up and set it aside. 

What does being busy living look like to you? Let’s not waste the gift of today. Take a walk. Read a good book. Bake cookies. Take a friend to coffee. Make a list of all the the things in your life you are thankful for. Enjoy today. Sleep well tonight. Enjoy tomorrow. 

“Whatever is lovely, think about such things. And may the God of peace be with you.” Phillippians 4:8,9