The Power In Being Present

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I recently learned my eldest dog has malignant melanoma. It is a fast moving cancer that will take a life in short time. In a matter of a couple of months my dog went from a carefree dog to a dog unable to use his back leg and having a giant tumor in his mouth.

 

I opted for surgery still unaware of the cause of these issues. The day I took my dog to the vet, I struggle to get him in my truck. He is a rather large statured dog weighing in at about 120 pounds. He stumbled getting in to my truck because his back leg hurt. I tried to pick him up but he crouched down and froze. Picking him up from the vet went much easier. He jumped in the back of my truck. The vet had removed his offending toe and he could now function much better.

 

On his follow up appointment, he jumped in the truck with ease. I now knew he had cancer. I also knew depending on how far it had spread, his remaining days could be anywhere from one month to eight months. He did not know. He had no idea. I glanced back and saw him sitting up and looking out the side window. I had folded the bench up and he is tall enough to be able to look out the window. He was enjoying the ride, completely unaware he is living on borrowed time. It brought me peace to see him enjoying his ride, living in the moment. In that moment, he unknowingly changed my perspective.

 

A few days later, he had one of the best days he has had in a long time. He was outside when I came home from work. This is a rare occurrence. When he heard my tires on the pavement, he picked up his head, perked up his ears and came running to greet me at the gate. He followed my truck, galloping behind it. When I got out of the truck, he galloped some more. That night he ate like he did when he was feeling well. It was a great day and we both knew it. This made me so happy. Each day since has been a bit of a struggle but we both ignore the fact he has cancer. We just enjoy each day for the gift that it is.

 

I also recently learned my mother has dementia. At first it was not noticeable. But now, when she is completely unaware that my father and brother are dead, it has become obvious. It was at this point  that she too has turned a corner. She was angry about being in a rehab facility. Now that her dementia has progressed, she is just happy. It’s clear when I talk to her and others have noticed the same thing. Maybe there is a peace that comes with simply living in the prsent moment. Perhaps the peace is in not remembering the moments that rip out our hearts or anticipating the ones to come.

 

Whatever the answer is, I have decided it’s best to ignore the death sentences and be happy for each good day as the come.

Finding Balance In A Demanding World

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How do you find balance in your life when there are so many demands on your time? Trying to achieve a balanced life is like looking for the end of the rainbow. You think you can see it but the closer you get to it, the end seems to shift. Is a balanced life an illusion like the elusive end of the rainbow?

Balancing your life is no diferent than a deal with the boss for better working conditions. We have so many bosses; kids, work, home, pets, spirituality, health, relationships. Each one has it’s own importance in our life and each one makes it’s demands on our time.   We have to negotiate with each one for more time with another.

Sometimes it isn’t until our bodies and minds scream for mercy that we realize how unbalance we have become. Circumstances will force us to spend the vast majority of time on aspect of our life. But if we don’t pull ourselves back, we may suffer the consequences.

When I am at work I have no problems focusing on the tasks at hand. I have become adept at managing my time and maximizing my efficiency. When I leave work, my efficiency does not end there. I have a list that I use each day. It has the most mundane tasks on it such as feeding my dogs, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, you know the chores I am talking about. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to check these tasks off each day.

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I have great difficulty pulling my attention away from my home life to be social. But I do schedule social activities. The meetings with friends may at times be brief but I make sure I take the time to connect with them. I manage to find ways create the balance that is a necessity for everyone.

I admit there have been times where work urgencies have forced me to work several hours overtime. What happens then? Well, the chores just don’t get done. I pick them back up another day.

One area of my life I work hard to not  get out of balance in is my sleep. I love sleep. My head is in a fog if I do not get enough sleep. Then I will chase that elusive balance the rest of the day, never quite catching it.

Balance for me is nothing more than making a list and prioritizing all the things that must get done. Some things are non-negotiable. Many things are.

How do you create balance in your life?

The Secret Lives Concealed In An Ancient Tree

It’s early spring in the Pacific Northwest. The morning is crisp but the afternoon is ideal for working in my vegetable garden. As I walk outside, I hear the sounds of sorrow coming from my ancient Cedar tree. “Boo Hoo Hoo” cries the bird in a soft monotone. I look for the bird but I can’t see it.

 

The Port Orford cedar the bird is perched within is a rare sight in the Pacific Northwest. It is one of the extremely few that survived the soggy conditions of the soils. I had a pair of the trees but one fell in a windstorm giving in to its disease. This one is well over one hundred years old, a testament to survival against all odds. Now it is providing protection and a home for dozens of birds and I am lucky enough to enjoy not only its beauty but also the life that teems within. Even the grand American Bald Eagle uses the very top to seek its prey.

 

Boo Hoo Hoo I hear over and over again. The long draping branches of the tree provide perfect cover for the birds. I carry on with my work. I have vegetables to tend to. I recently planted my seeds and look forward to a plentiful harvest come fall. Every day I check on my onions and several of the red onions are plucked out of the ground. The sweet white onions remain untouched. My marigolds also seem to be a delectable treat for some birds.

 

As I walk towards my garden, I startled two pairs of Eurasian Collared-Doves I had not seen roving through my garden beds.  These doves are large pale gray birds with a cinnamon brown wash over its back feathers. Its nape is ringed with a black half collar.   The females are paler than the males and are almost white. Ah, so this is the source of the sad sounds and the sampler of my onions. They allow me to get fairly close to them before they fly off.

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These doves are closely related to the Ringed Turtle-dove and the Mourning dove. They have no trouble reproducing and have proliferated since being introduced to North America. The Latin name for Dove is Decaoto. Decaoto in Greek mythology was an overworked underpaid servant girl. (I do have a place in Greek mythology!) The gods heard her prayers for help and changed her into a dove so she could escape her misery. The dove’s call is said to echo the mournful cries of her former life. If this is so, why are they creating more work for me? It seems they have forgotten their woeful past.

 

I complain but I don’t really mind. I enjoy the multitude of bird available in the Pacific Northwest. I have learned many of their names and their associated sounds. My great discovery last year was being witness to the mating ritual of the humming bird. The male puts on a show of flying fast up into the sky then diving back down. The rapid decent of the bird’s wings creates an air horn sound.   So peck away birds. I will be your servant girl. Perhaps I will come back as a dove in my next life.

Five Reasons I Abuse My Body As I Welcome Back Spring

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The nights are crisp but the sun peeks in earlier each day.  Today is a working day for me. There are five square yards of dirt that need to be moved by hand. That means I have to shovel, wheelbarrow, spread and repeat, 24 times.  I have a substantial vegetable garden. The garden is fenced to keep my dogs out during growing season.  They like to steal my vegetables and cool themselves by lying on the cool dirt.

 

Slowly the day warms as sun rises in the sky.  Eventually the temperature will reach its peak in the low 70’s.   I complete some tasks before I begin working in the yard. It will take me several hours over at least two days to get the dirt moved.  After moving the dirt my ability to move will be severely reduced.  I injured my back twenty-five years ago and it has never been the same. Add to that an aging body and you have a recipe for an extremely sore body.

 

My garden is in a sorry state this year. Mild temperatures over the winter coupled with a vacant home next door helped the weeds run rampant in my garden.  The task ahead of me is overwhelming but it must be done if I want to enjoy organically raised vegetables and fruits by the end of the year.

 

This year I decided to try laying newspaper down over all the weeds and grass growing in my beds.  First, I knocked them down with a string trimmer. Yes, they were that bad.  That’s why I decided not to try to pull them.  Each bed took an average of three wheelbarrows each.

 

Now, a smart person would have hired this task out to a much younger person.  But let me tell you why I decided to do it myself.

 

1.     Kids just don’t want to work for their money these days.  With kids being given cell phones as young as five, they just don’t see the point in working for a little extra money.

 

2.    I just don’t see a kid doing the quality of work I do.  I’ve had kids help me before but they just want to rush though and get to the payday.

 

3.    I like the workout.  I am feeling muscles in places I forgot I had muscles.  It’s good to know I can still perform hours of manual labor and semi function at the end of the day.

 

4.    It’s an awesome sense of accomplishment that no one else can understand.  Yes, everyone could see the awful state of my garden this year.  I look at my neighbors’ garden lying untended for two years now and think, you have lots of work to do.  Soon my garden will be overflowing with organic vegetables and fruits. It’s a joy non-gardeners don’t get.

 

5.    I’m cheap.  I said it.  I just don’t want to pay someone for the work I still can physically do. So I will pay for it in sore muscles but this too shall pass.

 

And then there’s the fiery sunset that closes out the day. Welcome back spring.

Why We Need To Look Out For Those Under Pressure

DeathtoStock_NotStock5I have to confess. I have been under a lot of pressure lately. Life never seems to get any easier. I know people wonder why I am distant, short and sometimes downright nasty. But no one ever asks. Maybe they are afraid to ask. More likely, they don’t want to know the answer. Knowing the answer means they might have to help.

We lie to people all the time. ‘How are you? I’m fine, how are you?’ It’s a common exchange and one full of lies. We don’t want to know and we don’t want to tell. Instead we label people and talk about them behind their backs.

I find when being honest with people two things happen. The conversation either ends abrubtly or people start talking about themselves. When that happens I know they were not listening anyhow. People don’t like to talk about the hard stuff so we keep our relationships superficial.

I trust the rare few with what I have to deal with. It has a lot to do with the way I grew up. Never having anyone looking out for me or protecting me from the danger that lurked in my own home made me a soldier in my army of one. I turned inward for strength and protection. It wasn’t easy but I made it through. A few people knew some of the truth about what was going on but they could offer no help.

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Pressure and stress get to us all. Insanity lies just below the surface for many who have been pushed too far too long. Without mechanisms to cope in place, many turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better. Maybe that is why voters are choosing to legalize marijuana. This is part of the reason heroin has become an epidemic problem. I have spoken to many addicts and asked them why they chose to be a slave to their drug of choice. The predominant answer is there was an emotional trigger. An emotionally challenging situation came up and they had no resources to properly deal with the situation.

Drugs have never been an option for me. A long talk with a good friend who knows how to listen over a cup of coffee  would help. Good listeners are hard to find. A vacation would be nice too but that is out of the question for quite some time. I am saving my time off for an emergency I know is looming nearby. In the meantime, I will sit on my porch swing with my dogs under my feet and read a good book.

The next time you see someone clearly struggling under pressure, find out what they need and give it to them. You will feel better about yourself and you just may have saved a life. When the time comes where you are the one in need, may you find a hand extended in love.

A Victory For A Difficult Dog

I have a difficult dog. He’s a good dog. He just takes a lot of work and personality management. I recently learned of a support group for owners of difficult dogs. I could put a group like that to good use. We are closeted owners. I fear people judging my dog and calling him a dangerous dog. A dangerous dog is a difficult dog that is not managed.

 

My dog does not like other animals. He has learned to quietly observe horses and cows but if they were to come near him he would go after them. Other small animals are prey to him. Dogs, his own kind, are a huge issue for him. I have cried many tears over Moose’s behavior. Scared to death someone would take him away from me, or worse, kill him, because he hurt another animal. People though, are his great love. I never worried he would go after a human.

 

Moose and I are tightly bonded to one another. From the day I pulled him out of a kennel, the same day someone threw him out of a truck in a garbage sack, we have had a special bond. I love Moose deeply and I believe he loves me the same way. Wherever I go, Moose is my shadow.

 

Because of Moose’s issues with other animals, I had never taken Moose on a walk.   Living on acreage, Moose gets lots of exercise. Last week, I decided to take Moose on a trail walk behind my house, muzzle free. It was a huge step for me. To be honest, I didn’t trust Moose or myself to be able to handle him. As soon as we got past our gate, newness exited moose. He began to outpace me and pull a bit. I told him to slow down and he did, instinctively knowing what I wanted.

 

As we walked towards the trial, my neighbor’s pack of ten or so dogs charged their fence and barked at Moose. Moose kept his nose to the ground ignored the dogs and kept walking. Moose shocked me. This would usually incite Moose into a frenzy of barking and lunging. I issued a pat on the back and a ‘good boy’. We carried on our walk. On the trail Moose would at times speed up but every time I told him to slow down, he did. Even though his nose was to the ground, we were in tune with each other. It was surprising and exciting for me. I must have said ‘good boy’ a hundred times.

 

At the end of the trail, I saw two pit bulls playing in the river below us. Moose had not spotted them yet. Their owner was with them throwing them sticks and all were having a great time. When Moose finally spotted the dogs his ears perked up and he was in an alert and ready state. I told him to ‘leave it’ and he kept watch on the dogs as we continued to walk. The owner of the dogs heard me and waved. I waved back and kept walking, so proud of my difficult dog.   It was an eventless walk. Boring to some, a huge victory for Moose and I.

 

What Treasures Will Be in Your Shoebox?

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In my twenties I lived in a rundown quadruplex.  I was broke as were the three other tenants. The rent was cheap as was the quality of the apartment.  One night while sitting outside with one of the neighbors, we had a conversation about possessions and our lack of them. The conversation then turned to my neighbor’s grandmother.  He told me his grandmother spent her final days in a nursing home.  She was only allowed a minimal amount of possessions. Everything she treasured fit in a shoebox.  What she filled her shoebox with were photos of family and the people she loved, a few trinkets and her beloved chocolat. (Insert French accent here)

 

These days as my mother slips into her final days, I wonder at the difference between her and my friend’s grandmother. My mother was born in the thirties to a middle class family living in a third world country.  They became middle class by scrimping and saving.  After marrying my father, they were also thrifty with their money on an income that would qualify at just above the poverty level.

 

My mother turned out to be a thrifty and clean hoarder. She collects things like the plastic tubs margarine comes in, empty boxes a package came in and other useless items.  She thinks someday they will come in handy. When I tried to get her to get rid of these things she fought hard to keep them.  For whatever reason, these are the things she finds hard to let go of.  Now the time has come where she has to downsize. She too will find herself in a nursing home where she will be able to keep only a few possessions.  I am not sure she can bring herself to do it. Ridding her life of these possessions, I am sure has played a part in her hesitation to move.

 

I have been thinking about my shoebox.  With the advancements in technology, I would only need my cell phone or a small tablet in my shoebox to look at dozens of photos.  There are a few things that I have kept from the departed. Right now they are in a storage box that would fit under my bed.  I treasure the little things people give me, a gift from the heart that makes me smile when I look at it.  I will add ashes from my departed dogs.  Someday I would like to have the ashes made into a glass trinket.  I have no immediate family, no husband and no kids, only dogs.   My box will look alot like my friend’s grandmothers. It will have a few tokens, a few photos, lots of smiles, lots of tears and a whole lot of chocolat.

 

Do all dogs go to heaven?

"Sleeping Angel"There is a lot of debate surrounding what happens to our precious pets after they pass.  Conservative Christians do not believe animals have souls therefore they can’t possibly enter into heaven. Most Scientists on the other hand do not believe in the whole concept of heaven so why would they much less humans go anywhere after death. As a Christian and a dog owner. I believe there is a heaven and I don’t want to go to a place where dogs won’t be allowed.

 

Many dog owners celebrated what was falsely reported as Pope Francis stating all dogs go to heaven. After all, the current Pope took the  name of  St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and gardens.  I’m not Catholic but I know St. Francis’ story.  I pray to St. Francis every morning to look after my dogs when I go to work.  I pray for their comfort and safety that I can’t provide while I am gone.   I even have a St. Francis statute in my Memorial garden dedicated to my passed cats and dog.

 

It was another Pope; several years ago that stated something similar to all dogs go to heaven. The story is told that the Pope was comforting a child who had just lost his dog. I can testify, those words are extremely comforting when you have lost your best pal. A friend of mine told me the same thing when we were talking about losing my very first dog. I felt instantly comforted. It truly eased my pain to think of my dog in the best of hands, cancer free and happy.

 

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Dogs are the closest thing to angels we have here on earth. Whether or not you are a believer, if you have owned a dog, you have been loved unconditionally. I have been forgiven, I have been loved and my dogs have comforted me. I have also laughed, played and learned compassion, patience and tolerance, all with my dogs. I don’t want to spend the afterlife without the companionship of a dog. When I think of a dog that has led a tortured life or been killed in a shelter, I hope they finally find peace and comfort in heaven.

 

For those of us who believe all dogs go to heaven, I hope we are right. I can’t wat to see you again Snickers.

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Take Your Best Shot

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I will never win an award for daughter of the year. I am okay with that. I am a contributing member of society. I am educated and I work in public service. I rescue dogs, I recycle, and I help people every chance I get. And yet, people judge me. Some thinly veil their contempt. Others just come out and tell me I am a terrible daughter. I used to let it bother me but I don’t anymore.

In the last three years my mother has lost her son and her husband. She has gone from a woman with purpose to a depressed woman who wants nothing more than to join her son and husband in the afterlife.

Before you jump on the bandwagon and decide to agree with my critics, let me explain some things. My parents were not affectionate people. There were never any hugs given, no long talks about life and how to cope, no excursions together, no working on projects together and certainly no I love you’s. We coexisted and I was expected to figure out life’s mysteries on my own. I did. I got an education, worked to gain some skills and then moved on, two thousand miles away from home. It was not easy but I made it. Eventually, I managed to make a pretty good life for myself.

Now my mother has in home care peppered with visits to the hospital. She refuses to move in with me or with any other family member. She also refuses to move into an assisted living facility. She believes the government should be taking care of her. I explained to her that is not what our government does. She spat out that it was the responsibility of family to take care of her. I told her I would not quit my job and move back. I have established a life here and I have a career.

As my grandparents aged, I watched as my parents communicated with them but never went to see them. When they died, they attended their funerals but there were no visits in between. Yet somehow, I am expected to make frequent visits home even though it costs me a substantial amount of money to make the trip.

I do have one supporter in my corner, my Aunt. She is senior to my mother by five years. She does not understand why her sister does the things she does. She also tells me to live my life and that she and her sister have lived theirs. Often she reminds me I have done everything I can possibly do for my mother.

What my mother wants is to die. I can’t say I blame her. At her age, she has lost the two people who gave her purpose. I hope she finds peace her on earth. Then maybe her number will come up. Feel free to judge me but don’t be offended if I don’t react to your judgment of me.

 

Take Your Weekend Back

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Kicking back

Did you schedule some time for yourself this weekend? Time to do nothing but nurture your mind and body? Yes, I know those carpets are not going to vacuum themselves and those groceries won’t just appear on your shelves. There are chores that need to be done every weekend. Do them first and get them done quickly. This is your time. These days there are so many demands on our time we neglect to spend time with the one person that needs it the most, ourselves.

 

You probably gave a good chunk of your time this past week to work. You may even be a workaholic. I put my 40 hours in every week and sometimes more. I am not one of those that enjoys overtime. The extra money is nice but I would rather have the time.  The clock just keeps on ticking taking me seconds closer to the end of my time. Money won’t but me more time.

 

If you spent your weekend obsessing about work, I have news for you. No one cares about how much time you put in over the weekend reading emails, obsessing over that looming deadline or the plans you are making for your next week. No one notices. All that time you wasted this weekend plotting and planning will not be rewarded. Does it really make you more effective to be obsessed about work? I don’t believe it does. You need to be a well-rounded person, one with a clear mind. You will burn out quickly and resent your job if you spend every waking moment thinking or doing for work.

 

These days I see parents planning their entire weekends around spending time with their kids. This is extremely foreign to me. My parents never spent time with me as a child. I wonder if I would have turned out differently if my parents had shown some interest in who I was. Strong family units are the backbone of America. Even though I believe it is incredibly healthy for parents and children to spend time together as a family. You still need your ‘you’ time.

 

Take some time every weekend and recharge those batteries. You will never regret taking care of yourself. Someday the end will come for you.  Will you wish you spent more time working or will you wish you spent more time with the people who matter the most to you? Will you wish you hit everything on that bucket list or will you be happy your danced your dance and ran your race?

 

You are no good to anyone if you are not taking care of yourself. The stress will eventually seep through, destroying your health and killing your mood. It is not always easy to find that time to escape and work on you but it has to be done.