Remembering Me. Someday. In the VERY Distant Future.


Daisies (3)It’s Easter Sunday morning and I am reflecting on my dogs…the ones who have died.

Now WAIT! Don’t run away. I promise you this is not a depressing, tear-jerker of a blog post. It’s not. There is a perfectly logical and uplifting reason why I am reflecting on my dearly departed dogs. So stick with me. Come on. Suck it up.

Ok. So I started thinking about my dead dogs because they have all been cremated, as I would like to be someday in the incredibly distant future, and I happened to look at their urns today and realized how dusty they were. So I started cleaning them and in doing so I read all of the inscriptions on their urns—you know, their doggy epitaphs.

The tricky part of the epitaph is to come up with one line to summarize an entire life.  Just one little line to recap a lifetime of meaning and experience? Whew. Heavy responsibility.

We should all be allowed to hire the guy who came up with all of the Burma-Shave billboards to be our end-of-life copy writer. He’d come up with something memorable. (Ok, I wasn’t around in the 50s either, but anyone who studied advertising in college was introduced to the genius of the Burma Shave Cream billboards. Here…I’ll help you whippersnappers or those who majored in engineering or accounting:

Back to my dogs. Here are a few of their epitaphs.

Carter – “Me, Myself and I are all in love with you”

And I was in love with this dog. The words are lyrics from the Billie Holliday song from which Carter’s registered name was born. You see, his dad’s registered name was BISS AM/CAN CH Roadpartner Billie Holiday (all of those letters in front of his name mean he was a champion show dog in the US and Canada). Yes, his dad was named after a female jazz singer. I don’t quite get it either, but his owners were Canadian, so maybe that clears things up a bit. (Oh come on now…I love the Canadians! Our family to the north! I joke. I jest. But seriously, a boy Dalmatian named Billie Holiday?) Anyhow, Me Myself and I was a Billie Holiday song and I used it as Carter’s registered name.

Teddy—“The sweetest dog in the world”

This one needs no explanation, especially if you knew Teddy. Nicknamed Bear, he was a big, huggable Dalmatian guy. I always joked that you could leave Ted alone in a roomful of toddlers for an hour and when you came back, they’d all be cleaner and peacefully napping.

Rascal—“Our Loyal Protector”

And he was. Or so he thought…and I’m sure not going to claim otherwise. More often than not, we were being uproariously protected from, perhaps, a falling leaf or a bird flying by, but in Rascal’s mind he was protecting our fort. In the end, I believe he gave his life protecting the rest of the dogs, so it’s fitting that he be remembered for it. Ok, that’s the only tiny sad moment in the post. I promise.

Clyde—“Happy, Happy, Happy”

It just sums Clyde up. That dog was always happy. Despite a lot of physical issues that probably caused him discomfort, he never failed to greet you with a soft face and a wagging tail. I stole the line from Duck Dynasty…Uncle Si, I believe? It helps set the tone if you repeat it with a good hick accent. Clyde would have wanted it that way.

So anyhow, I’m dusting the dogs’ urns (we have shared our world with a lot of dogs…A LOT. We foster many senior dogs so we have a lot of dearly departed friends here) and I it gives me time to ponder what I hope my last impressions will be someday. Someday in the seriously distant future.

This question pops up on Facebook from time to time and everyone gives pithy answers—more often than not things that I believe family members would NEVER inscribe on the old headstone. This made me curious about some epitaphs that DID make it into granite. Here are a few examples and I know they are real because I found them on the internut (sic) and we all know that everything on the internut is true.

“I told you I was sick!”
In a Georgia cemetery

“Here lies the body
of Jonathan Blake
Stepped on the gas
Instead of the brake.”
Memory of an accident in a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery

“That’s all, folks!”
Mel Blanc

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
Winston Churchill (good one, Winston)

So this weekend we are paying homage to one of the most famous deaths in history that turned out to not be a death at all. Well, it was a death, but then it wasn’t. Obviously it’s Easter, so I’m talking about Jesus.

Can you imagine the pressure of trying to come up with a fitting epitaph for God’s son…the man who would be the savior of mankind? Heavy responsibility. I think if Jesus could have directed his own memorial, he would have asked that his stone say something like…

“Stay tuned…I’m just getting started”


“Be right back…Really, I will”


“The best is yet to come…I promise”


“Don’t worry. I’ve got this”

Perhaps it’s clear that I would not have been the appropriate one to memorialize the Chosen One, but truly, my heart is in the right place. I don’t even think the Burma-Shave guy would have been clever enough to sum the gift of Jesus up in one line. Whether you are a Christian or not, you have to admit that Jesus made quite a lasting impression.

So this brings me straight to how I would want to be remembered someday…in the REALLY distant future. And maybe, if I decide what that one-line legacy might be, I can make sure I’m living it now.

The one that always comes to mind is, “That was so much fun! What’s next?”

This one hits home for me. My life is fun and I don’t believe it just ends. I believe there is another crazy adventure after this one. Heaven is paradise, right? So does that mean that God will occasionally let the angels dress up as zombies to chase me around and scare me a bit? I think maybe yes. My God gets me. He really does.

Another that speaks to me is, “One heck of a ride. I’m getting back in line.”

This covers the possibility that I will return in another life form. Just don’t let it be a snail or a slug or something equally slimy.

If we are going to wax poetic, it might be, “All Creatures Great and Small, She Really Did Love Them All.”

And I do. Even the snails and slugs. I was never the kid who poured salt on slugs or fried ants with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. Nope. I take care of God’s creatures to the best of my ability. Unless it’s a really big scary spider and then I call for Jim and I just don’t want to know what happens. (Ok, yes, I might be a bit wimpy when it comes to really big spiders.)

If I’m going to just be brief and let people draw from my epitaph what they will, I think I would like, “She was quick to smile.”

I think that one is a great way to be remembered and I’m going to work to make it so. A smile is a gift…you can lift your own spirits with one, and you give smiles freely to others. (Please note…practice your smile. You don’t want to do the “creepy person standing in a crowded elevator” smile.)

You really never know how a random, sincere smile might make a difference to someone. So if you see me, I’m going to give you a smile. I hope it brightens your day.

Of course none of these lines are going to end up on a gravestone memorializing me because, as I stated earlier, I’m going to be cremated someday in the VERY distant future and I plan for my ashes to be mixed in with the soil at the roots of a very healthy tree. Yes, I shall become one with a tree and I will see the seasons, the sunrises, and the sunsets with birds and squirrels dancing in my branches, bunnies nibbling grass beneath me, horses likely scratching their butts on my trunk, and dogs…well…hiking their legs on me. It’s all good. I’ll also make sure to have one strong arm extending out just right for the best tire swing ever.

That should inspire some smiles right?2014-04-20 11.34.33 (2)

But today is Easter and Easter Sunday is about life renewed. So I’m going to get out there to honor this day, honor the life that made it all possible, and yes, I’m going to eat a chocolate bunny.

Thanks for that, Jim. You made me smile.



Train, Train Go Away. On Second Thought, Why Don’t You Staaaaaay Just A Little Bit Longer…

So this is how my day started.

I was heading to work and stopped at the little convenience store in Kiefer, Oklahoma. The convenience store is about all there is in Kiefer and it’s a wonderful gathering place for the older farmers and ranchers in the area. Every morning that place has a gathering of weathered men swapping stories over coffee and whatever pork and dough product is in the warming tray by the cash register.

I love stopping in there. Everyone is friendly and polite. It’s a little slice of life that I would love to drop into some morning, but I’m pretty sure those men would have no idea what to talk about if I plopped down in one the booths with my carbonated coffee. Still…

Anyhow, this morning I was there a bit too late to enjoy the early morning meet-up so I grabbed my all-too-important Diet Dr. Pepper and jumped back in the Jeep to hurry off to work. Kiefer, however, had a different idea. Just as I turned left out of the parking lot to head toward the highway that would lead to the land of convenience stores on just about every corner–a far cry from this sleepy, small-town cousin–I heard it. The melancholy wail of the whistle from an approaching train. Uh oh…these trains can be pretty long and I know there’s really no good way around the tracks at this point without going miles out of my way.

So there I sat, on a gray, blustery Monday morning, tapping my fingernails on the steering wheel as car after car whizzed by, the red warning lights on the crossing gate blinking their taunting back and forth pattern at me.

I had choices.

Option A: I could get frustrated. Trust me when I tell you that I have the throw-a-frustrated-cussing-tantrum gene alive and well in my system. My dad was a very good man, but he did NOT have the gift of patience in some circumstances. If you were a nervous patient in his dental chair, he was a saint. Find him stuck in traffic for any amount of time? Well, let’s just say I learned some of my most colorful language during moments like these.

Option B: Go with it. There was no getting around it…literally. Frustration did not seem like a happy direction to head after a wonderful weekend, nor did it seem an appropriate emotion for starting the new week.

So I popped the top on that DDP, I cranked the radio and I sang. I sang loudly (pretty confident the rumble of the train would cover my less-than-stellar vocals…also pretty sure I didn’t care). I even threw in some dance moves. I probably entertained the heck out of the occupants in the pick up trucks to my right and just behind me. I may even be the subject of a stealth video featured on some stranger’s Facebook page. But it just didn’t matter then, and it sure doesn’t matter now.

The Train Track Disco was the perfect choice–in fact, that train passed all too quickly. My day was a pleasure from that point forward. Here’s to hoping I catch a train tomorrow…and I wish you one as well.


Ostriches, Beaches, and Boobs.

Daisies (3)

Cindy loved daisies. Simple, lovely daisies. I love them too.

With a title like that, how can you NOT read this post? Well, it’s not directly about ostriches, or beaches. It is, however, about my sister, about being smart, and yes, about boobs. You may now make the choice to read on…or not.

Still here? Good for you.

Let’s start by introducing you to my oldest sister, Cindy. I learned a lot from Cindy. That’s what big sisters are for, right? They teach by example. They blaze the trail for younger siblings.

My sister was nine years my senior, so during my early conscious childhood, I just remember torturing her. A lot.

Seven-year-old Nancy had that perfect timing that could destroy a sister’s first good night kiss with a new beau. This was the same little Nancy who would do cartwheels through the living room as teen-aged Cindy attempted to entertain friends. I was the annoying kid sister who could get Cindy’s boyfriend completely engrossed in playing Etch-A-Sketch with me (our early form of video games) instead of paying attention to his girlfriend.

Baaaaad Nancy. Naughty little sister.

But you know what? She still loved me. Somehow she still did.

I think my middle sister, Terry, dodged a lot of this stuff. I was a bit older when she started dating. Perhaps I showed mercy. Perhaps she would disagree. That, I am sure, is another story.

Cindy helped me with my homework. Cindy was often my built-in babysitter. Cindy taught me how to silly dance—and went on to teach the same mad skill to her own kids. Cindy helped me learn how to file my first income tax returns. She taught me about being quick to smile.

Cindy showed me how to have grace in difficult times. She showed me about strength, about believing in yourself, about finding your personal best and pushing even that benchmark. Most importantly, Cindy taught me that fear is a pretty useless emotion. She taught me that burying your head in the sand in the hopes that adversity might just go away—well, that’s just not an effective action plan at all.

Cindy always met life head-on. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer she put fear in its place and faced her disease intelligently, with determination and good humor. When she and I went wig shopping prior to her first round of chemo, she joked about it being the perfect opportunity to sport the short hair style she had been too chicken to try out “in real life.” We both tried on wigs. We tried on every style and color in the shop. We laughed ourselves silly—the absolute best medicine of all.

I’m not going to share more of that specific journey in this post. It’s a story for another time. However, this post is about loving Cindy, losing her, and then realizing that I never  really lost her her at all. She is still teaching me. She still finds ways to talk to me when I need her the most.

So we all know that if you have had a direct relative diagnosed with breast cancer, your personal risk of developing the disease ratchets up. Add in other relatives that suffered different, but significant forms of cancer and that personal risk factor just keeps climbing. Oh yeah, and if you forget to have kids, like I did, guess what? Increased risk factor.

I am not one to focus on negatives. I can’t. I’ll make myself crazy if I do and what’s the point in reminding myself every single day of what could happen? I could get trampled by the 800-pound hog living in my barn, but I’m not planning on it. I’m also not planning to get cancer. In fact, thanks to lessons from Cindy, I’m pretty darn devoted to making damn sure I stay on top of my big C risk factors.

I go to all of the appropriate check-ups with great dedication–gynecologist for some parts, mammogram for the girls (Raquel and Lolita…if you have read some of my previous posts you know I do name everything), dermatologist for my skin, primary care physician for all of the left-over parts. I even experienced the joy of the colonoscopy at the appropriate age (it’s not so bad people, there are very happy you-won’t-remember-a-thing drugs involved…suck it up and go get yours when you turn 50).

Beyond a couple of spots the dermatologist resolved with that freezy spray stuff (thank you to everyone 30 some-odd years ago who gave this fair-skinned, freckled girl the idea that she could actually tan), I’m healthy as an 800 pound hog. All tests have always come back clean and happy. Until last July, that is.

I got the call that my mammogram showed something and they needed me to come back for a breast ultrasound. I was assured that it was probably nothing. Words like fibroid and cyst were tossed around. We were just playing it safe. Ok. I’m all about playing it safe.

I will tell you this, get diagnosed with a breast mass and suddenly it seems that everyone wants to feel you up. Seriously, to this day when I walk into any doctor’s office I just immediately strip from the waist up. I will say my dentist was a tad shocked by this behavior.

Ok, back to July. Questionable mammogram led to an ultrasound. Questionable ultrasound led to a breast MRI. Breast MRI garnered “everything looks fine” results. Seriously? After going through all of that, I get a little pat on the hand and a let’s-do-this-party-all-over-again-next-year report? There truly was not much detail offered beyond that—and I still had a lot of questions swirling around in my brain.

For a bit there, I admittedly took the good news and just ran with it. I stuck my head firmly in the warm sand and celebrated. Woo hoo! Everything looked fine. Fine. Fine is a perfectly good word, right?

But the mass was still there. And really, what did “fine” actually mean? Fine as in that lump is nothing at all and never will be? Fine as in you’re fine for now…let’s see if it turns into something next year? And if it’s fine…why do we have to do the whole MRI thing again?
So here’s the deal—no one could really define “fine” for me.

Meanwhile I was getting bombarded with pink ribbon messages. The Race for the Cure. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Turn Tulsa Pink Campaign.

A loyal patron of my dog care business started chemo. There were two dear friends I’ve never actually met who bravely detailed their diagnoses and subsequent treatments for breast malignancies in beautifully honest blog posts.

Then there was the reporter on Good Morning America who documented her first routine mammogram on air. She stepped into a mobile unit and emerged moments later in triumphant “it was no big deal” glee, only to later find that she did indeed have breast cancer.

For goodness sake, even Angelina Jolie shared the news that she had an elective double mastectomy after genetic testing revealed that she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime.

It was as if breast cancer awareness had decided to smack me in the face at every turn. Or was it that my sister still had something to teach me? Ah yes. Leave it to my dear, determined sister to reach repeatedly from the great beyond to yank my head right out of the sand.

I heard you sister, and you were right, “fine” was just not good enough.

Long story shortened, I found a new primary care doctor who LISTENED to my concerns. He referred me to a wonderful breast specialist and guess what? She LISTENED to my concerns. She reviewed my case. She looked at my family history (one that goes beyond just my sister…my dad, my aunt, my uncle…and yes, other types of cancer in your family DO factor in). She reviewed all of my films and test results.

Then, after doing her own ultrasound on the mass, she decided that we needed to do a little more than just “wait and see.” Hallelujah! Proactive finally won out over reactive.

On my first visit she decided to perform a needle biopsy on the mass in Raquel—I didn’t even have time to get nervous about that one. A needle inserted in the breast—sound scary? Painful? Well, it’s neither. Beyond a tiny sting as they numbed Raquel’s right side, there was nothing. Yes, we knocked a bit of the sand out of my ear with that one.

As I was lying there on my side trying very hard to keep my active mind calm, the doctor asked if I could see the screen. I did not actually have a clear view of the monitor and even if I had, who really, besides doctors and radiologists, can make heads or tails out of anything in that grainy image? Seriously, when someone shows me the ultrasound of their baby, I kind of just make the appropriate cooing sounds, but I really just see a blobby grey shadow.

Anyhow, Dr. Smith informed me that in that very moment, there was actually nothing to see. Nothing? Yes, nothing. When she inserted the needle into the mass it deflated. She likened it to piercing a water balloon. It just went away.

I am here to tell you that I don’t know when I have ever heard more beautiful words than “It’s completely gone.” Well, I’m going to still give the nod to the first “I love you” from my sweetie, but “it’s completely gone” is a definite close second.

We sent the fluid from the mass-no-more off to the lab to be sure all was truly well, and as the doctor suspected, it came back clean. I believe the technical, medical term she used was “nasty old cyst.” That’s Latin for nasty old cyst.

Based on my family history and the fact that Raquel and Lolita are dense (the girls were initially offended by that description, but they got over it), we decided to pursue genetic testing to see exactly what my risk factor looks like so we can better plan for my ongoing health. Trust me, if I have that crazy gene that puts my risk factor off the charts, the girls and I will get a divorce. If fake boobs are good enough for Angelina, they’re good enough for me.

And so I knocked the sand out of my other ear with that resolution.

For now, I am basking in the joy of a very good outcome. “Fine” has been defined. I have a wonderful new doctor who is as committed to the health and well-being of my girls as I am. Raquel and Lolita are doing great. They don’t have to have any further testing or public exposure until next July. Oh sure, there’s always a chance I’ll decide to rush to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to participate in the old “hey lady show me your tits” tradition for some beads, but I’d say that is highly, highly, definitely unlikely.

20130808_084758 (2)

Did I mention my tattoo?

I will close by telling you that the FIRST person I talked to after hearing that the girls are a-ok was my sister Cindy. I called right out to her and shared the news, though I suspect she was right by my side through the whole ordeal.

Thanks, sister-friend. Thanks once again.


Silent’s Vigil

Silent's Vigil

The donkeys are standing very still—all together in a line, all staring at the same something.

If I have learned anything from living with donkeys, horses, and one fine mule it’s that you should always look in the same direction as your herd animals are looking. If all eyes and pointy ears are riveted and locked in one direction, there is always something to see.


They may show you deer. They may show you coyotes. They may show you a random plastic bag blowing across the field. In one instance they pointed out a young orange-clad hunter that had come onto our property “by accident.”

Today they are showing me our mare, Silent. Silent Confidence, as she is formally known, is a tall, willowy, black thoroughbred. She is a retired racehorse that boards with us. Her owner keeps Silent in memory of her late husband, who had cherished the horse, his dream horse.

Silent was injured in her last race. A tendon damaged in one of her delicate front legs forced her into an early retirement. She went on to have two foals, both used as pleasure mounts.

Then her owner, the man who lived the dream of owning his own Black Beauty, passed away. For a time the mare was left in the hands of people at a racing stable. There she may not have technically been abused, but she was certainly not leading a life of comfortable retirement and the woman who had inherited responsibility for the mare recognized that.

Silent hated being in a stall. She would pace from side-to-side. She would weave back and forth in frustration. She refused to eat her full ration of grain and hay. Basically, she was miserable.

A common friend knew I had a large pasture that was home to a few horses and donkeys, so she mentioned the plight of the beautiful mare to me. Her owner could not afford to pay much in board, but truly wanted to find a place where the horse could just enjoy life.

Having already provided a haven for a few other “useless” animals, it didn’t take much for us to agree to give Silent a home. It didn’t really matter to us that she couldn’t be ridden. It was enough to look out into the pasture to see the shiny black mare frolicking and stretching her legs across our gently rolling acres.

Now, we fast-forward more than a decade. Silent is a senior citizen horse of more than 30 years. Her black shiny coat is salted with a good deal of gray now. Her tall body has lost its tone and bones protrude where muscles once rippled tightly beneath her skin.

Every winter we wonder if it will be her last. We blanket her, we feed her a special diet that is easy for old teeth and systems to process. We provide shelter, though never, never inside a stall in the barn. No, Silent still can’t tolerate confinement after her years on the track.

So Silent lives in the small pasture behind our house with a loafing shed for cover and our mismatched herd of miniature donkeys, a miniature horse, one sheep, and our young orphaned filly for company.

Today, all eyes and ears are focused on Silent. The donkeys, filly, mini horse and sheep stand at attention, a respectful distance from the grand old lady who is lying in the middle of her pasture, embraced in beams of gentle morning sun. Even my big horses are perfectly still in the back pasture, focused on the old mare. Everyone is watching. Everyone is waiting. I am watching and waiting too.

Silent is lying on her left side. Her graceful neck is curved around to allow her graying muzzle to rest on her front legs. Her back legs are pulled in to meet her front legs against her belly. Everything about her posture is almost fetal, as if she is curling into herself.

I hold my breath for a moment as I watch, joining my animals in this delicate early morning vigil. Is she in distress? Is she “down,” or just sunbathing? I think in this moment my animals and I share the same images, the same concern. We all, animals and humans alike, recognize that Silent’s time with us is limited. The years are catching up with her. It’s just a matter of time.

Slowly, deliberately our precious paint filly walks quietly over to the old mare, the horse that stepped in to mother her when she lost her own mother just a few weeks after her birth. The filly sniffs the old mare’s neck and softly nuzzles her mane.

Silent raises her head to return the attention offered by the younger horse. Then, with a big stretch of her front legs, she pulls herself up, heaves a big sigh and shakes her whole body as if she were a dog coming out of a pond.

1 4 14 donksIn an instant, every member of our herd resumes normal activity. The big horses head out to graze in the east pasture. Silent’s little crew wanders to the big round bale of hay for a bit of breakfast. And with a relieved and grateful heart, I head off to feed the dogs.

We will have another day to enjoy Silent’s grace. Perhaps another week with Silent. Hopefully another month, or even year. Whatever the amount of time, we’ll all treasure it. Then, when the time comes for Silent to leave our herd, we’ll help her do that with respect, with love, and with an honor guard of wise eyes and sensitive ears giving her a final, fitting salute.


Golden Love. My Dad and his Girlfriend.

“Bob is seeing a young woman now,” Dad commented, trying to sound casual.

He didn’t fool me. I knew he was trying to weave his way into a specific conversation he needed to have with me, so I played along.

Bob was a longtime family friend. His wife, Dorothy, had passed away a few years ago, a couple of years before my mother had died. Now, Bob was dating again. He had met a “young woman” of 60-something—I guess to my 85-year-old father, she was just a girl.

“Really?” I prompted, deciding to let him fill in the details I already knew. “How wonderful—I’m sure it’s nice for him to have companionship again after losing Dorothy.”

“I’m not sure his family is excited about it, Bob said they haven’t really accepted the idea of him dating again,” said Dad, turning his head just slightly to glance at me, almost like a nervous schoolboy. “They haven’t been very receptive, I guess.”

“Well, maybe they just need a little time,” I said. “I’m sure it’s an adjustment to think of Bob with anyone but Dorothy.” Just as it would be an adjustment to think of my dad loving anyone but my mother.

“Well, you know, it gets very lonely…I’m sure Bob has been very lonely,” Dad said, stumbling a bit between his reality and Bob’s reality. It was touching to see my dad’s struggle to find his I-need-to-tell-you-something words. Having spent a lifetime working to find just the right words to break news to him, I found this role reversal to be a bit awkward for both of us.

My parents had been married for just over 61 years when my mother died. Dad had survived several confusing years as he watched Mom’s steady decline in the grip of dementia. Now he had been alone for about 18 months. As alone, that is, as a man in an assisted living apartment complex can possibly be. Men are greatly outnumbered by women in retirement communities and whether he realized it or not, dear old Dad was a hot property at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor. My sister and I, noticing the ladies of OMM noticing our father, had always known that this moment, the need for this conversation, would just be a matter of time.

Over the past couple of weeks it had come to my attention that one of Dad’s neighbors seemed to be by his side more often than not. She was a lovely, trim woman who was always beautifully dressed, hair always just so, lipstick in place. She had a twinkle in her soft blue eyes and a gentle southern accent that carried an audible smile when she spoke. It was more than obvious that Ina and Dad had grown quite fond of each other.

Was it initially hard to walk down the hall to find my Dad holding another woman’s hand for a little longer than a friendly moment? Admittedly, yes—it was difficult to pacify the loyalty to my mother that welled up in my heart. But those feelings were quickly, gently soothed as I would stop to watch the young-at-heart couple, just before they noticed me heading their way. The look on my Dad’s face, the tone of his voice, the smile that spread not out of a sense of politeness, but from a place inside his heart, filled me with a new kind of peace. My Dad had been devoted to my mother for six decades. How could I expect him to just abandon that capacity for love now that she was gone?

So I sat with Dad and we talked about Bob, though we both knew we weren’t really talking about Bob at all. “You know Dad, I’m happy for Bob,” I said. “It’s a lucky man who is blessed to find special love twice in his life. I’m sure his family will see that too. They’ll welcome his happiness.”

Dad looked out the window, obviously not able to meet my eyes in that moment. “I’m glad to hear you say that,” he said softly, “It’s no fun to be lonely. It’s so hard.”

“I know, Dad. Everyone deserves to share their days with someone special.”

“Everyone,” I emphasized.

We sat a moment longer in comfortable silence, everything said that needed to be said. Then I saw Ina approaching, and I saw my dad’s face light up.

“Hello, Ms. Ina,” I said to my dad’s 93-year-old girlfriend as I got up from my chair. “Here, take my spot next to Dad.” Ina smiled pleasantly, as she always did, and accepted my place…now also her place…next to my father.  As I turned to leave, I kissed my Dad on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Make sure you kids don’t stay out too late.”

With a chuckle in acceptance of my blessing, two hands clasped openly and golden hued love, secret no more, blossomed.

My father and Ina were an item at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor for the last year of his life. They ate all of their meals together, they spent afternoons holding hands as they sat in their favorite sunny spot by a large window near Dad’s apartment. Every evening, they would watch a little television and then Ina would turn down my father’s bed before retiring to her own apartment for the night. If I happened to be there as she was leaving, she would turn to me to say—and you really have to hear these words spoken in the sweetest southern accent possible—“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to give your father some sugar right now.” And she would lean down to softly kiss Dad on the lips.

No, Ms. Ina, I didn’t mind one bit. Not one tiny bit.Dad and Ina


Dear Mr. Winter…

Good morning! I see you’re up and at ‘em early today. Looks really chilly outside…just as you like it. And what’s this? Snow in the forecast? Oh, you are a giver.

So I’ve been noticing that you’re putting in quite a bit of overtime lately. Talk about dedication! No one can accuse you of being a slacker this season, right? All those comments we made around here last year about it being a mild winter—guess you showed us! Good for you. Good for you.

I don’t know how anyone ever gave you the nickname “Old Man Winter.” There is nothing old about you. You are obviously quite vigorous, vital, and fit. Kudos to your workout regime. Do you belong to a gym? Have a personal trainer?

Anyhow, I was just thinking that even the Chuck Norris of seasons needs a break every now and then. You know, a little time to relax, to just chill out. HAH! Chill out. You’d be great at that, Winter. May I call you Winter?

Truly though, if you have any thoughts about calling it a season and heading off to vacay, say maybe at the North Pole or somewhere fun like that, I just want you to know that we’re all behind you. I think I speak for just about all of frozen humanity when I say that we wish you well. You’ve done so much to us…I mean for us…already, what with all the effort behind the ice storms, the snow, the crazy low temperatures. Take one, two, or say nine months, and just go be your frosty self.

Relax. Enjoy life! Sit on an iceberg. Sip on a frozen margarita. Get to know some polar bears. Actually, they’d love to see you. You could beef up some of that frozen tundra for them. You could single-handedly put an end to any concerns about global warming. A philanthropic vacation! It’s so like you.

You’ve earned a little “me” time, Winter. You give and give and I’m wildly, completely sure you feel under-appreciated. So very sure.

So go. Just go. Let Spring step up. Oh, sure, she’ll eventually need help from Summer, but let them worry about that. We’ll try to get by without you. We’ll be OK. Really. Please. Go.

Much love and total respect,

PS: Send a postcard!


A Letter From Mom

Mom on silly photo day at the memory care home where she lived. This was a very good moment.

It started with little things. Stories repeated. Tasks performed 15 minutes earlier, completely forgotten. A phone call to ask for directions to a destination she had visited a hundred times before. Just little things that were so easy to explain away.

But those little things kept tapping on my shoulder, nagging me to wake up. It was as if there was a little elf sitting on my shoulder urging me to speak up, telling me that soon, denial would no longer be an option.

I remember the day that my sisters and I had “the talk.” We had all noticed the little things individually, and they were starting to add up. Now it was time to admit that there was something wrong with Mom.

Together we approached Dad, fearful that he would deny our observations. Afraid that he would try to tell us we were overreacting. Instead we were met with a flood of relief from a man who was also seeing signs, but just couldn’t bring himself to say the words out loud.

Next we had to voice our concern to Mom directly. And here is the very cruel reality of memory-related disease—Mom had noticed the little things too. In the early stages, she was very aware that she was starting to “slip a little” as she called it.

Then came the doctor visits with all of the tests designed to confirm what we really already knew. I sat with mom while they asked her questions.

“Who is the President of the United States?”
“Where were you born?”
“What month is it?”
“What year is it?”
“How many children do you have?”
“When is your birthday?”
“What year did you say it was?”

Then they gave her a drawing of a very simple house. It was the kind of line drawing that a five-year-old might have created to hang proudly on the refrigerator. They asked my mother to duplicate it, exactly.

I had to sit on my hands and bite my lower lip in an effort to stop myself from showing her that she forgot to draw the chimney. That she forgot one of the windows.

“Are you finished?” they asked so kindly. “Yes,” said Mom. “All done.” And she smiled a smile that showed she was sure she had done well. And I smiled back.

Alzheimer’s, age-related dementia, memory loss…call it what you will…it is a scary, confusing diagnosis and there really is no how-to manual out there to teach you how to help someone live with it. It’s a personal journey, a gradual progression and you just try to make up the rules as you go along. Then you find out that there are no rules, so you truly take it one day, or even one moment at a time.

I have always wished that my mother could have written a Dementia for Dummies book. They have those yellow how-to books on just about every other possible topic, so why not? Her wants, needs, likes, and dislikes were very clear in her mind. So now, more than four years after her death, I’m putting myself in her shoes and summing it up in a letter to her loved ones on her behalf. I think this is what she would want us, and everyone whose lives are touched by this disease, to know.

To my dear family,

I guess I am not going to age gracefully. I wish I could change that. I wish there was a miracle cure for me, but there is not. I know that my disease is not because of something I have done wrong. It is, quite simply, something that is happening to me. I can’t control it, don’t ask me to try. Let’s just get through this together, the best that we can.

Here are some things I need to share with you…

I know you’re trying to be helpful, but please don’t correct me. Don’t try to tell me I’m repeating myself, even if I have said the same thing a hundred times. Don’t tell me I know something when I clearly don’t know it any longer. Your constant reminders of my failing mind only serve to frighten and frustrate me. Perhaps, as I am working to learn about acceptance of my situation, your job in this journey is to learn about patience.

Don’t try to make me be the person I once was. While that person is still inside me—and there will be cherished days when that person will surface—I encourage you to also get to know the new me. Accept who I am in this moment. Love the person I am right now, even if I’m having a bad day. It’s still me…I’m doing the best I can.

Don’t try to tell me what I do and don’t like. I may not even realize it myself because I’m changing. Help me find wonderful new things to enjoy.

There will be times when I am sad, frustrated, or even angry over things I can no longer remember or do. Just help me through it. Help me perform the once simple tasks that now seem so hard. I may not remember things, but I still have emotions, I still feel embarrassment. Just help make it all OK. It’s no big deal, right? Believe that when you say it to me.

Help me simplify my life. I get overwhelmed so easily. New places, too many faces, too much noise—everything closes in on me and scares me. I need space. I need routine. I need someone to gently and consistently help me follow that routine.

Be willing to accept help from others. We can’t do this alone. I trust you to make good decisions for me. I trust you to keep me safe.

Let me hold your hand when I need to. Those times will be frequent. Please also understand that there will come a time when I may reach for someone else’s hand instead of yours. It’s not personal, it’s just my mind playing games with my sense of loyalty. Please don’t let your feelings be hurt.

Tell me stories about once upon a time. If I don’t recognize the stories, I’ll still enjoy your company. Let me also tell you a story and act as though you’ve never heard it before, even if I just told it an hour ago. Don’t let it bother you, or me, if I get some of the facts wrong. And tomorrow, be willing to hear my stories all over again with a smile and the good grace I know you possess.

Look at photographs with me. Don’t make it a test, just tell me names and a little bit about each photo. I may remember, I may not—all that matters is that we do this together.

Buy me clothes that are soft and that fit loosely with no elastic to bind. I want shirts that slip easily over my head. Yes, I’m a bit picky now. Find me shoes with Velcro, not laces. And I need a good sweater. I get cold easily now.

I like to be clean. Help me bathe. Help me brush my teeth. Make sure my hair looks nice. It all still matters to me, though I no longer think to do these tasks for myself. I love to hear you tell me that I look beautiful today.

Celebrate with me. Hug me. Walk with me. Dance with me. I love to dance. Sing with me. Did you know I can sing now? I can!

I need moments of joy. I need a stuffed bunny to hug. I want apple pie for breakfast. Don’t tell me that it’s wrong, just sit down and enjoy a piece with me. There really is no harm in having apple pie for breakfast, is there?

Help me smell flowers. Help me touch the soft, warm fur of a gentle dog. Help me enjoy the sunlight on my face. Make me laugh. Let me make you laugh. It’s OK to laugh at the silly things we do and say.

Please understand if I don’t always know who you are. Your visits still mean the world to me. You bring a smile to my face even on the hardest days—it’s your gift.

Finally, when my time comes, don’t ask me to linger. Don’t ask my body to try to do things it can no longer remember how to do. Just be with me. I won’t be afraid if you are with me.

Look into my eyes. I’m in there…you’ll see me. Everything I need to tell you, a lifetime of love, will be shining in my eyes. Accept my gift to you. Tell me you love me again and again, though in this moment of divine clarity, I will know that you do. Tell me anyway.

Then tell me I’m going to be OK. More importantly, tell me that you’re going to be OK. I need to know that you are OK.

With this peace of mind, I will go. Hold my hand for just a moment longer. Then embrace all of the people you love. Let yourself cry. Let your memories comfort you. Then go. Go have a wonderful, joy-filled life. It’s all I have ever wanted for you.

I will be watching. I will feel every beat of your heart. If you find that you need me, I will always find ways to show you I’m with you. You’ll know it’s me.

Love always,


I’m Not Walking Bruce. I’m Walking With Bruce.

He rushes me out the door, like a boy dragging his mother from one attraction to another at the county fair. Hurry! Hurry! There is so much to see.

Easy Bruce. Don’t pull me. We’ll get there. I promise we’ll see it all.

This is how our walks begin. Every walk. Bruce shoots outside in an ecstatic charge to get into the world. I don’t blame him. Though he receives good care, has a healthy diet, and has a good number of people who truly love him, Bruce wants out. He needs to get out.

Bruce, an impressive dog we believe to be part pit bull and part American bull dog, was found stray, wandering the parking lot in front of the dog care business I co-own with a friend. It was around 5:00 in the afternoon, during the time of day when owners are rushing in and out of our doors picking up their dogs from daycare. The last thing we need is a large stray pit bull mix greeting them in the parking lot.

Our manager went out, put a slip lead on the dog, and brought him into our kennel area. His condition and appearance spoke to his former life, perhaps the life he had finally escaped. He was a bit on the thin side, though not terribly. The tops of his folded ears were raw with fly bites. He wore a wide, sturdy buckle collar with a large metal clasp hanging from it like an ominous pendant alluding to a life lived on a chain. He had a wide, well-muscled jaw that stayed tight with stress and uncertainty.

He was tired, he was wary. He was thirsty. He was hungry. He didn’t feel very well. We cared for him. Over the course of his first days with us, those tight jaw muscles relaxed into the wide, silly grin that makes a bully breed’s face so very appealing.

Soon, Bruce started to flourish. Old wounds healed. A collar used for restraint was replaced with a colorful collar that complemented his handsome coat. Soft beds and blankets provided comfort in his kennel run. Toys and chew bones were provided regularly. Many hands provided pats and scratches in just the right places. Breakfast was served every morning, dinner every night—on schedule. Regular trips to the fenced yard were provided throughout the day and evening.

But still…it was clear that Bruce wanted more. Bruce needed more.

20140116_151110Finally, we put a special harness on Bruce—one designed to reduce his ability to pull too hard. I took hold of the leash, still wondering if I would be able to hang on to the 80 pounds of muscle I was about to take for a walk. Bracing myself we stepped out of the door, back into the very parking lot where Bruce was first found.

I am a dog trainer. I work with people all the time who want their dog to learn to walk on leash, without pulling. Most owners have a vision of the dog walking compliantly at the human’s side, following along whichever path the human decides to take, at the pace the human chooses to walk. It is the human’s walk, right? The dog is a lucky participant.

Bruce had other ideas. Bruce had something to teach me.

When Bruce realizes he is heading out the door to go on a walk, his face takes on a giddy, bright-eyed-as-an-eight-week-old-puppy expression. He can’t get out that door fast enough. The world is waiting! He struggles to stay still while I fasten his harness.

We head outside and Bruce just takes it all in—sight, sound, and smells. Oh the smells! We spend the first 10 minutes of each walk hurrying as fast as we can to smell, mark, poop, scruff the earth, smell some more, and mark some more. Ok, that “we” part. Don’t take that too literally. I’m just along for the ride.

Once we get past that first 10 minutes of pure canine tell-the-world-you’ve-been-here joy, the walk takes on another dimension. Because it is Bruce’s walk, I let him choose the route. After all, I’m not the one currently living in temporary housing for the homeless (aka: a pretty nice kennel run, but still…).

Our pace slows down. The frantic need to get into the world shifts into absolute bliss to be experiencing it.

And this is where my lesson begins.

While my walks with Bruce are for exercise for both of us, Bruce has shown me that our time together is not a mission from point A to point B. Each walk is an adventure—a sensory experience. To just force Bruce to walk the direction I choose, at the pace I choose, would be such an injustice to us both. You see, Bruce takes the stop-to-smell-the-roses concept several steps further.

20140116_151311Stop to smell this tree. Stop to feel this shrub rub deliciously along the top of your back. Stop to sniff this spot in the grass. THIS spot. Scratch the earth there vigorously with your feet to stretch while also letting others know you’ve passed this way.

Put your nose to the wind and drink in the smells. Learn everything you need to know about which direction to take through detailed olfactory stories. Don’t be afraid to change direction. Follow your nose, follow your instinct, find joy in each and every step.

Watch a little girl running and laughing with her mother. See the tiny sparrows hopping in the bushes. Track a flock of squawking geese as they fall into a perfect V formation. Smile your wide, lolling-tongued smile at passersby.

Splash through a puddle instead of going around it. Roll in the grass. Race across a field snorting as the human works to keep pace.  Jump on top of a rock to survey your world.

Bruce has taught me that each and every walk is not merely a walk. It’s an adventure. The leash is not there to bind Bruce to me. The leash is there to ensure that I see, feel, and experience the world from Bruce’s point of view. It’s really his tool to use as he guides me along his chosen path.

Nancy and BruceBruce and I will continue having our little outings together—enriching his temporary life as a foster dog, certainly enriching my life.  We’ll keep going until the time comes for him to leave. With gratitude, I’ll carry Bruce’s lessons forward on every walk, with every dog.

Someone out there needs Bruce. Someone is meant to be Bruce’s special human, and he their very special dog and mentor. Bruce has so much to share.  You just have to be willing to grab onto the leash and learn.

Bruce is available for adoption to a qualified home in the area of Northeastern Oklahoma. Please comment if you are interested in being Bruce’s person.

Bruce walk




This is the scene that greeted me early this morning as night was setting to make way for the dawn and I was racing off to work.
This is the lesson I learned in this very still moment.

Be still.
Breathe in,
Breathe out.
Relax your mind.
Feel your heartbeat.
The silence will embrace you.
Appreciate the void.
Revive your soul.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Be here.


We Have a Hostage Situation

20140111_152827 (2)

Fitbit…aka: Richard

I am being held hostage. My captor is unyielding, unfeeling, and diligent. I answer to him daily.

Now, before you call the police or send in a hostage negotiator, let me put your mind at ease. I am not in danger. I am actually free to come and go as I please, but my little master goes with me. Oh yes. He is with me 24/7.

I am officially in servitude to an amazing little piece of technology called Fitbit. I received it as a gift from Jim for Christmas and it’s a great gift. It’s the gift that can put you on the road to better health, and better awareness of how well you do, or do not, care for your body.

I have named my Fitbit Richard because yes, I do actually name everything, and Fitbit makes me feel as though I have a tiny Richard Simmons strapped to my wrist cheering me on when I make good choices and chastising me in a perky way when I don’t. It’s a creepy mental picture, I know. Someone with mad Photoshop skills will undoubtedly latch on to that thought and bring it to doctored photographic reality.

Anyhow, Richard tracks a lot of stuff for me. He tracks how many steps I take per day. My goal is 10,000—his idea, not necessarily mine. I have literally found myself striding back and forth in my house in my pajamas just to be sure I hit my number-of-steps goal for the day. Is that dedication or just a little sad?

Richard also tracks how much of my daily activity is “very active,” verses, say, a stroll in the park. So apparently it’s not enough that I take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, some of them need to be at a get-that-heart-rate-moving pace. He and I don’t always agree on these stats, but who am I to question Richard?

He knows how much I weigh (I told him…he has a way of inspiring brutal honesty, though he apparently can figure it out too, so no lying!). He knows how much I’d like to weigh. He has a plan for getting me there. I think he can even track my body fat ratio…I think. I have yet to explore that feature and I’m not entirely sure I want to.

He tells me how many calories I burn per day. He has established the number of calories I am allowed to have daily if I would like to meet my weight and fitness goals. He and I don’t really agree on these numbers either, but again, who am I to argue with Richard?

He tells me how much water I SHOULD drink daily, and together we track my actual consumption. He does not track how much Diet Dr. Pepper I drink daily. I think I actually hear a little sigh of frustration emitting from my wrist bracelet every time I take a sip of my guilty pleasure nectar. I just pull my sleeve down to cover him and drink away. Sometimes Richard needs to take a hike himself.

Fitbit Richard also tracks my sleep patterns. This one has been interesting/nerve-wracking for me. I tap Richard on his face (and yeah, I take a little pleasure in smacking him around a bit) until he does a little light pattern to show that he understands I’m going to bed. He then, somehow, knows how long it takes me to fall asleep. Richard also knows how many times I wake up during the night, how many minutes of my sleep are restless, how much of my sleep is deep sleep.

I’m just praying he doesn’t divulge how many times I have to make a trip to the bathroom. Surely SOMETHING is sacred in our relationship? What if there are Fitbit chat rooms and Richard and his Fitbit friends get together and giggle over their hostages’ stats?

So now, when I go to bed, it’s not the deep sigh, tell the body parts to relax, tell the overly-active mind to shut up for a few hours normal routine. No. Now, thanks to Richard, I am in a panic to fall asleep. I’m literally trying to force shutdown so my stats will look good the next day. Ugh. I think I may be missing the point of Richard’s assistance on this one. I even curse myself if I wake up in the night because I know Richard knows. “Tsk, tsk…” I imagine him saying. “If you had put in more VERY ACTIVE minutes, perhaps you would be sleeping better. Just suggesting…” Damn it Richard. Just shut up.

You know, when I think about it, it’s more than appropriate that  I received Richard as a Christmas gift because he may actually be related to Santa Claus.

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake!

But seriously, modern technology is Santa-Claus amazing to me. Half the time I can only sidestep my frustrated lack of understanding of it, by just accepting that it’s magic.

Magic indeed. I’m so grateful I’m here to witness an era that allows me to talk to my Jeep and actually get a verbal response. I can search out facts and information on the internut (sic) in a matter of moments.  I can have an entire conversation with a friend on my smart phone without uttering a single word. By the way, my ninth grade typing teacher would be so proud of my finely honed texting skills. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog…repeat, repeat. If you understand that sentence, then you too took a typing class once upon a time. If you don’t get it, then you’re young and were likely proficient with a keyboard by your first birthday. Good for you.

I am from an era when we used to have to actually get up and walk over to the television to change the channel…selecting between the three or four stations that were available as long as the antennae was pointing in the right direction. I used to have to open my car windows by turning a little crank on the door around in circles. Yes, REALLY. Phones were attached to the wall and you had to put your finger in little holes on a dial and then make tiny circles to call someone. If you wanted to send mail, you had to actually write a message out longhand, on real paper, and then walk the letter out to the mailbox to send it, knowing the recipient would not receive it for a few days at best.

But now? Well, now I have Richard. Ironically, Richard would have loved the “good old days.” I am pretty sure all of that dialing, walking, channel-changing, letter-writing, window-cranking stuff would have burned at least a few of my daily calories.

Oh technology, you are a double edged sword. Thank goodness Richard is here to keep me honest and keep me moving. Ok. Have to sign off now or I’ll never get all 10,000 steps in today.

Yes, Richard. OK, Richard. I hear you.  I’m on it.