Lacy Forever: Surviving the Loss of a Cherished Little Dog

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

For 14 years, my best friend was a spunky little bichon frise named Lacy, a fluffy force of nature whose vibrant presence far outweighed her body mass. She died this summer, leaving a sad, empty space in our home and in our hearts. Although I knew that it was time to let her go, that her little heart was failing and her body could no longer bear the strain, saying goodbye to my doggie soulmate was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. Nearly four months later, I still cry every day.

I miss her so much.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve ventured into this blog space. I’ve been so disoriented by everything that’s happened over the past two years, floating around all these months in a strange kind of reset mode. It’s just been too much. I had no words. The abrupt end of my career. This cruel, never-ending pandemic. My husband, injured in a car accident and unable to work. The 2020 election and its horrifying aftermath. And more bad news every day. I needed time to be still.

Lacy didn’t know about any of that. She was just glad I was home every day. She took her job seriously, my faithful companion, standing by me through every transition. In fact, this is my first blog post ever written without Lacy sitting beside me on the sofa. It’s taking a really long time to finish.

Grief is messy and relentless. Everywhere I look, Lacy’s absence cuts like a knife, because for over 5,000 days, she was my shadow. She guarded the bathroom while I showered, waiting calmly on the bath mat until I emerged from behind the curtain. When I was on my yoga mat, she napped nearby on the meditation cushion. And if I was in the kitchen, so was Lacy, darting underfoot while I cooked (a real trip-and-fall hazard) and persuading me with an elaborate song and dance to share what I was eating. Life feels pathetically hollow without the sound of her toenails tapping down the hall and her extravagant greeting when I walk through the front door. And so, over and over, all day long, my heart aches for her. 

Making Friends

Lacy was six weeks old and weighed less than three pounds when I first brought her home. She almost fit into my cupped palms! Choosing such a tiny puppy was a crazy thing to do at the time since we already had Bear, a magnificent ten-year-old German Shepherd who loved people but was aggressive toward other dogs. But I’d always wanted a dog that was more my size, one I could cuddle like a teddy bear with a heartbeat. Introducing the menacing black dog to the innocent white one was an intensely memorable experience. 

Bear knew something was up when we came home with our new puppy. Cautiously, I approached him with Lacy in my arms while my husband gripped Bear’s collar with one hand and his muzzle with the other. As I inched Lacy closer to allow Bear to smell her, a low growl rumbled in his throat and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. Veins popped out on the arms restraining Bear, and I braced myself to snatch Lacy away from impending danger.

And then…magic. Absolutely fearless in the face of an animal who could tear her to shreds, Lacy leaned toward that big old dog and licked him on the nose! 

Lacy and her big friend, Bear

Just like that, it was over. Perplexed at first, Bear shook his head and considered this fluff ball with new eyes. Then he fell in love with her. How could he not? They were inseparable, the big dog and the little dog. Lacy’s boundless joie de vivre inspired Bear to rise up off the rug with his arthritic hips and play again. He protected her fiercely and lavished her with affection, covering her with slobbery kisses that left her soft coat so slimy we had to towel her off before we could pet her. Lacy didn’t mind. She adored him too. Bear lived to be almost 15 years old, and I think Lacy deserves credit for that gift to us all. Her friendship in his golden years restored his mojo.

Lacy’s friendship in my middle years restored my mojo too. She delighted me every single day with her spontaneous, happy nature. My mom called her the little cheerleader, and that was the perfect description — she was always bouncy and effervescent! Even on the crappiest days, it was impossible to not laugh at her antics. And she taught this chronically overthinking worrywart how to live in the moment once in a while.

Life with Lacy

I was lucky to have a little dog who loved me so much for all these years. No one else on earth will ever respond to the sound of my voice the way she did, running to me from the far corner of the backyard, an expression of pure joy on her face. In her younger days, her Bichon Blitz was a dizzying burst of high energy as she raced in circles around the house, barking in excitement, leaping on furniture and flinging rugs upside down and sideways. And watch out if she wanted to wrestle with you! She’d flip onto her back and wrap her hind legs around your forearm so you couldn’t escape, growling playfully while she clutched your hand between her little front paws and nibbled on it.

Yep, this angelic-looking little dog had a naughty side. It was absolutely part of her charm. My husband Ret said she had a Cute License, credentials she’d whip out when you tried to scold her.

Always a tomboy, Lacy wouldn’t tolerate the grooming necessary to maintain her chic Bichon style, something I learned the first time I took her to the doggie salon. Fresh from a bath and looking like a movie star in a red hair bow, she immediately rolled around on a dead frog in the grass to rid herself of that girly scent. And everything got tangled in her coat. One dash under the azalea bush, usually after I’d just finished brushing her soft, fine hair, and she’d come out looking like this:

Miss Velcro

Lacy was a brave little dog, except for her extreme separation anxiety. She was also an excellent judge of character. Wary of strangers, she would usually stay close to me until she had time to check out new people. But once she’d completed her evaluation, she’d let me know. Most people passed inspection. But once, years ago, a young man came by offering to cut down a large, dying oak tree in our yard. He seemed a little shady to me, but I didn’t want to rush to judgement, so I opened the gate to let him have a closer look. Lacy sized him up from the patio for a moment or two. Then she raced up behind him and bit the back of his leg!

I was shocked to pieces. Lacy had never bitten anyone in her life. Startled, the guy couldn’t get away fast enough, which turned out to be pretty fortunate. A few days later, we learned he’d been arrested. He was doing some work at a neighbor’s house when the tree he was removing crashed down on a gate — and on the car of the police officer who’d picked that very moment to check out his non-existent credentials! You can’t make this stuff up. After that, I never doubted Lacy’s verdict on anyone.

But Lacy’s soft side was heart-meltingly perfect too. She wasn’t exactly a lap dog because she didn’t like being confined to anyone’s lap, but she’d lie as close to you as possible and place one little paw on your leg in the most endearing way. Her favorite place to snuggle when we napped together was in the crook of my bent knees as I lay on my side — unless she had a chance to steal my pillow. Little dog beds were scattered all over the house for her: in front of the bookcase, next to the bed, under my easel. They gave her a secure space to hang out as she followed me from room to room, especially in her later years.

The little beds aren’t there anymore; Ret picked them up and packed them away quickly so we wouldn’t have to face their emptiness. At first I thought I’d donate them to the Humane Society, but I decided to keep them. One day I hope there will be another little white dog in my life.

In my mind’s eye, I see my Lacy everywhere. Darting out from under the azalea bush, mischief in her eyes. Peering into the pantry, looking for a snack. Rushing to me across the backyard, her little feet flying over the grass. Tap dancing and tossing her head to get one of my French fries. Napping contentedly on my zafu. Forever snuggling with one little paw on my heart.

Let me show you my Cute License

The Pause Between

“When God closes one door, He opens another.”

It’s 5 a.m. I’m wide awake, though I don’t need to be. For the first time in almost 30 years, I don’t have a job. 

Last month, my employer announced it would be making reductions in the workforce, and I knew, in the mental intersection of intuition and logic, that this time my job would be one of the many eliminated. They notified me last Tuesday. After 22 years with this organization, it’s over. Unlike colleagues whose exit from the company included a festive retirement party, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to anyone. 

It’s kind of surreal. I had a month to prepare myself for this outcome, so when I was asked to report to the HR director, I wasn’t surprised. I actually think that was my first comment. The rest of the conversation is a blur. But now, sitting on my sofa in the dark with my sleepy dog Lacy beside me, instead of grief, fear or bitterness I feel a strange sense of disconnection. I’m not sure how to do this. 

Thankfully, this time is very different from other times I’ve found myself between jobs. At almost 58, I’m eligible to start my pension. I know how fortunate I am to have this safety net, although it’s nowhere near enough to live on. Still, I’m grateful for this measure of security while I figure out what comes next.

Press pause

“Mom, know what you need to do?” asked Jared, my youngest son. “Take two weeks off to do nothing. Just be aimless. You’ve never been able to take it easy, ever. You deserve it!”

Two weeks to be aimless? Practical, productive planner that I am, two hours doing nothing sometimes feel frivolous. But my husband Ret strongly encouraged me to take that two-week break. It turned out to be excellent advice.

The first week was fun. Who knew how pleasant the supermarket could be on a Wednesday morning? Scheduling a visit with my doctor, it occurred to me I didn’t have to request the last appointment of the day. I could go any time I wanted and avoid rush-hour traffic. The realization almost made me giddy. All at once I felt a heavy, ill-fitting coat slip off my shoulders and disappear. 

That’s when I made the radical decision to stop wearing a watch for the rest of the two weeks. What a luxury to actually have time and space, to stop cramming every waking moment with a thousand tasks just to keep my little world humming along on its orbit! 

The new reality

So that was Week 1. Week 2 has been a little more challenging. After navigating big, irrevocable decisions about my pension, it’s been a struggle to make less consequential ones, like what to fix for dinner. I don’t miss rushing out the door every morning for work, but I really miss my friends there, dear people who have been a part of my daily life for over 20 years. And when FedEx delivered the legal documents officially severing me from my company, the magnitude of the loss came crashing down.

I guess I really did need this pause, just to catch my breath. 

Third act dreams

What do I do now? My ever-active mind is bursting with ideas, most of them involving yoga. I’ve taught after-work yoga classes and stress management workshops at my company for years and years, and I’m feeling absolutely bereft without them now. Always a labor of love and a joyful hobby, my dream has been that when I retired from my corporate job, I would find a way to teach yoga full-time.

But where? Teaching in a yoga studio doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. My favorite students tend to be the ones who probably wouldn’t set foot in a studio because they believe they’re not flexible/strong/young/fit/healthy enough to do yoga. Guiding them in a slower-paced practice that fits their unique body has always been a kind of calling, especially now that I’m at an age where that’s what I need, too.

Could this be the right time for my dream?

Meditating in a tizzy

Sitting on my meditation bench has been a real challenge lately. I have lots of time to practice, but my monkey mind is in high gear, planning, thinking, worrying:

  • OMG, that was the last paycheck I’ll ever get! How will I pay my bills?
  • I am never going to work in a cubicle again! Time to get rid of that office wardrobe!
  • How do I find a place to teach yoga? Should I teach online? Look for private clients? Forget the whole thing and bag groceries instead?
  • Let’s do something fun today! What about the beach? Or the bookstore? Or a nap?
  • The windows need washing, and look at those giant dust bunnies! No excuses anymore – time to get up and clean this house!

When I find myself in this kind of tizzy, just about the only meditating I can manage is to sit relatively still and watch my breath flow in and out. It’s the first meditation technique I teach my students. When the mind wants to get stuck in the past or the future, you need something to anchor you in the here and now. The breath is an instant connection to the present moment – you can’t breathe next Tuesday’s breath today. There’s only this breath. Then the next one. And the next. One at a time.

Just breathe

Witnessing the breath, I’m focusing less on the inhalation and exhalation, and more on the little pause in between. It’s barely noticeable, just an instant, but it pulses with meaning. Inhale, and there’s a subtle pause at the top when the lungs are full and the body knows it’s time to let go. Exhale, and the pause at the bottom acknowledges the release of what the body no longer needs, ready for the promise of the next breath. It’s almost like the sweetness of dawn and dusk. What came before is past, what’s next has yet to arrive, and the peaceful energy suspended in those brief moments of transition is palpable. 

The next breath is coming. And so is another day. 

A new door opens

A couple days ago, I dropped off Lacy at the doggie salon and spent some time chatting with the owner and her sister. Naturally they wondered what I was doing there at 10:30 in the morning since I usually rush Lacy over for her bath during my lunch hour, hair on fire and no time for small talk.

I told them about my jobless state and my yoga idea. Twenty minutes later, I had a private client lined up! They asked me to bring them some business cards so they can tell other dog-loving clients about me. It’s a beginning.

All my life I’ve been told that when God closes one door, He opens another. And so far, it’s been true for me. Maybe it’s time to have faith and step through the next open door.

The Calm After the Storm

When I woke up Thursday morning, the first thing I did was listen. I heard the hum of my air conditioner. I didn’t hear howling wind or pounding rain. And I felt a rush of relief.

After nearly a week of anxiety and an overdose of the Weather Channel, Hurricane Dorian passed by my home in Savannah, Georgia far enough offshore to spare us from the worst of its fury. No damage to our house or our trees. Incredibly, we still had electricity. Normally a storm like that leaves us powerless for days, which is always a miserable experience for me. I freely admit I am utterly dependent on modern luxuries. This is one reason I never go camping. 

Hurricane stories

As a native of New Orleans, hurricanes have always been a frightening part of my life. A violent Gulf storm is one of my earliest memories. Hurricane Betsy, a wild and devastating Category 4, struck my hometown when I was three years old. In hazy flashes of recall, I see candlelit nights, dinner out of cans and our house filled with relatives whose home was flooded beyond belief. 

Then there was Hurricane Camille in 1969. I was in the second grade. Tape on the windows and more candles. A direct hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Along the beach in Biloxi, a long line of driveways leading to empty spaces where beautiful homes used to be.

By the time the infamous Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed my city in 2005, I had been living in Savannah for a long time. I sat on my living room sofa for days on end, grieving over the magnitude of the devastation. Unbelievable. I still don’t have words for the tragedy of it all. It’s how I feel now as I look through my tears at the heartbreaking images from the Bahamas.

Hurricane Katrina flooded my parents’ house, damaging just about everything they had. At a time in their lives when they should have been planning a post-retirement getaway, they spent eight months renovating their home while living in a FEMA trailer. Both say they couldn’t go through that anguish again. But they stayed. A number of my friends and relatives left the area for good, rebuilding their lives in Baton Rouge, Mississippi and Texas. 

Like so many other aspects of life, Mother Nature reminds us that no matter how carefully we plan, ultimately, we’re not in control. We can buy canned goods and generators, or we can head for higher ground, but we can’t make a storm change direction any more than we can make time stand still, no matter who we are. All we can do, as I heard so many times this week, is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

What matters most

Experiences like this sharpen our focus to the things that matter most. As I was contemplating an evacuation that we eventually decided against, I moved around my house, trying to figure out what we could take with us. What could I absolutely not live without if my home were destroyed? 

Obviously, these sweeties must come with us:

No room in the car for my book collection, my favorite boots or my prized red jewelry armoire, the one with the painted birds on it. I am surrounded by stuff – useful stuff, beloved stuff, stuff I don’t remember purchasing. It all feels so important when we buy it. And it all gets left behind in a disaster.

In the news footage of these events, what matters most is plain to see. It’s what we all have in common when the chips are down. A woman trudges through chest-high water carrying her two dogs under her arms. Rescue workers gather desperate survivors into their strong embrace. Color, class and religion don’t matter. Only life matters. And courage is everywhere. 

My boxes of old photographs wouldn’t fit in the car either; I stored them carefully in a large plastic bin placed high on a shelf in the closet. If I lost them, these pieces of paper that would mean nothing to anyone else could never be replaced. (Next project: scan everything.)

I’m really tired today. So many emotions! The days of indecision and anxiety – should we stay or should we evacuate? The aching sadness for the people of the Bahamas. The enormous relief that it’s over now, at least for us. And the gratitude. I am so thankful. 

To all the people who’ve been affected by Hurricane Dorian, my heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine how hard this is and I’m praying for you. And if you’re safe tonight in your comfortable home like I am, surrounded by people you love, hug them close and say thank you.

Just About Perfect

When I was a little girl, I thought my father was perfect. Most people did. If you asked Pete Manale to help you with something, you could be sure he’d do a bang-up job, whether it was hanging living room curtains with millimeter precision, fixing broken things or creating something decorative. Dad’s never been much of a cook, but other than a lack of culinary talent he’s always seemed to be good at everything, probably because he devotes a great deal of thought and care into each undertaking. (This is code. It means he’s never in a rush, but it’s worth the wait.) It’s a philosophy he reinforced in me, his eldest child: If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Dad has a very innovative mind, forever dreaming up ways to make things better around the house. Every time I visit, he has something new to show me. His creations are the perfect extensions of himself, equal parts practical and playful. Over the years he’s added two pantries and a corner bookcase in the kitchen, and managed to beautify a run-of-the-mill electric fan.

Then there’s the custom magazine rack Dad built into the wall of Mom’s bathroom, complete with wiring for her phone. They call it the phone booth. Haven’t you always wanted to make a call from the john?

Probably the cutest of his creations is his storage solution for Mom’s many pairs of reading glasses. She has at least a dozen pairs of cheapie drug store magnifiers that Dad finds scattered all over the house. So he designed a shelf above her desk with a built-in row of little felt-lined cubbyholes to protect them from scratches. Pure genius.

I like to think I inherited Dad’s problem-solving, let’s-make-it-better mindset. (At my job we call this continuous improvement, but if I ever start sounding like a consultant here, somebody please stage an intervention!) Anyway, that’s my excuse for constantly rearranging the stuff in my cabinets and closets, something that might drive you crazy if you lived with me. 

When I was little, I enjoyed being Dad’s helper. I’d watch him work, handing him tools and asking a million questions. If he ever got impatient with me, he didn’t show it. It was a sweet bonding experience for us and it taught me a lot about approaching a task thoughtfully. I don’t trust people who toss out the instructions. 

My first clue that my father might not know how to do everything came when he tried his hand at brick masonry. We’d just moved to a new house and instead of a wooden gate to the backyard he wanted to install brick columns and an iron gate. It seemed simple enough. Lay a row of bricks, spread the black mortar across the top with the trowel, repeat. I watched excitedly because I couldn’t wait to swing on the gate.

Except the bricks kept sliding out of place like a layer cake with slippery frosting.

I don’t remember how long Dad struggled with the task but it felt like forever to me. No matter what he did, the bricks would not form a wall. When he finally gave up, I felt disappointed. I’d never seen him fail at anything. But of course, Dad didn’t really give up. The next Saturday, he tackled those bricks again with fresh vigor and a new plan. 

We were no longer living in the house when Hurricane Katrina destroyed St. Bernard Parish in 2005. But I’ll bet that brick and iron gate was still standing. 

Some things from those days aren’t still standing. When I was in high school, my parents divorced, Dad remarried and my mother died. That time, Dad couldn’t fix everything. I don’t know how we all got through those years and it’s still hard to talk about sometimes. But my father was there. Through all the changes, both his and mine, he’s always been there for me.

Lucky for us, Dad is enjoying good health at age 82. He chafes at the restrictions of old age and sometimes he flagrantly defies them. A couple of Christmases ago, Dad tried out my nephew Christopher’s hoverboard. It didn’t go well. The board zipped out from under his feet and he crashed onto the cold kitchen floor flat on his back. Scared us to death! But my crazy daredevil father got to his feet, rubbed his head and asked, “Hey, where’s the seat to this thing?”

He hasn’t lost his sense of humor and he’s still creating things. I’ve tried to talk him into downsizing, selling the house and moving to something smaller and easier to maintain, but he won’t do it. He says he can’t find a retirement community that would let him have his workshop.

Last summer, I was feeling nostalgic for those sweet times with my father when I got an idea for something we could build together during my visit. Dad was a little confused by my request at first. 

“How are you going to take a bench home on the plane?” he asked.

“A meditation bench is really small, Dad. Not like a park bench.” I held my hands about a foot apart to give him an idea of the size. “Space for one butt. About eight inches tall. Flat seat. You kneel on the floor to sit on it.” I pulled up the directions I’d found online to show him what it would look like. 

Dad studied the diagram and then launched into a search on Pinterest, his new jam, to do a little more research. In the end, we settled on a design and found the wood and stain we needed for the project among his everyday supplies. Mom and I went shopping for the fabric to cover the seat, because shopping is her jam.

Dad’s shop is a carpentry wonderland. It’s easy to see what he does with all those Lowe’s gift cards we give him for every occasion, but I’m clueless naming his many fierce-looking power tools. For our modest meditation bench, we used a couple of different saws, at least three sanders, a device that did some kind of planing and possibly a drill. I’m not sure. Other doodads may also have been involved. The man has everything. 

Just like old times, I passed Dad tools and watched him transform scrap wood into something useful. He urged me to try my hand at it. The little palm sander was fun. The big saw that bounced was scary. Dad applied the stain and the next day we padded and covered the seat, securing the material with upholstery tacks. It’s just about perfect. Kind of like Dad.

I know Dad doesn’t understand why I’d want to sit on a little wooden bench and watch myself breathe. (Nobody in my family does. I’m glad they all indulge my oddities.) But he was delighted to build it for me, gifting me with all these fond memories.

Dad tries meditation

And my very own meditation bench will have the touch of my father’s loving hands upon it forever. 

IMG_3241

 

A Control Freak Living in the Moment

A couple of weeks ago, Ret and I relived our 1970s youth at a KISS concert. What a blast – literally! I’ve been to my share of rock concerts over the years, but this was my first experience around pyrotechnics that melted my mascara.

The show was an exhilarating, playful, nostalgic joyride from start to finish. You could almost forget those were elderly men on stage (serious makeup) until you realized they didn’t jump around in their seven-inch platform shoes the way they once did. It didn’t matter. Those four old guys electrified us anyway.

Always in control

In the Fantasyland corner of my mind, I’m a free-spirited, adventurous woman. I really am, sort of… I mean, I can be spontaneous as long as I plan it.

The truth is, though I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a control freak. It’s partly because I’m the big sister, the oldest of five girls in my family. I don’t have hard data on this, but most of the firstborns I know have an oversized sense of responsibility. We’re the dependable ones, the ones who always floss our teeth and make our beds, and we like being the sage everyone calls on to help bring about order from chaos. And on this occasion, let’s just say I was tested.

Best seats in the house

IMG_1260
© 2019 Ret Taylor

Ret has a knack for scoring great seats at ball games, concerts and plays. Thanks to this talent, we had the thrill of seeing one of his all-time favorite bands from about the seventh row on the floor, close enough to feel the heat of the pyro effects (hence the melted mascara) and actually see the faces Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley made at each other and us. Pretty cool.

One downside of seats on the floor is that it’s crowded. Our folding chairs were wedged together and the distance between each row was pretty tight too. Whoever set up this seating arrangement apparently had no concept of personal space. Another downside is that the rows are level, unlike seats in the other sections that rise from the front to the back. This matters a lot to a short person like me. I always have to stand through the whole show because, well, the tall people in front of me are standing.

A pair of young red-haired men, obviously brothers, were in the seats directly in front of us, and of course they were taller than me. To their left was one brother’s pretty blonde girlfriend. The guys were ordinary enough; apart from looking like twins, they blended in with everyone else.

Distracted by the sideshow

The girlfriend was doing anything but blending in, dressed to kill in a black midriff top, microscopic shorts, fishnet stockings and stiletto heels. Oh, and she watched most of the show through her white Wayfarer sunglasses.

Her most significant accessory, however, wasn’t the shades or the fishnets. It was the many long, tall beverages she waved in the air as she hopped up and down, dancing on her flimsy folding chair. Sometimes it was a ginormous beer, sometimes a cool frozen concoction, but she was never empty-handed. As she consumed one drink after another, her balance in those killer heels on that rickety chair became progressively more precarious. It was worse when she pulled out her smartphone to snap a few selfies – yes, selfies! Phone in one hand, drink in the other, teetering and gesturing, she was in her glory.

OMG, I thought, this chick is going to fall on me!

While Miss Wayfarer was weaving, the exuberant guy to my left kept hugging me. “Best night of my life!” he shouted joyfully, throwing his tattooed arm around me and managing to capture Ret in his embrace too. It was surprisingly endearing. He was a friendly guy having a great time. And once, when Miss Wayfarer did fall, feet slipping through the back of the chair as her face pitched forward toward the row of chairs in front of her, he leaped to action to help her up. Then, unbelievably, she jumped right back into position, dancing on her chair, whooping and hollering as if nothing had happened.  Maybe she forgot about it. Her boyfriend and his brother, eyes riveted to the exploding stage, didn’t seem to notice.

Well, I noticed. Completely distracted by the sideshow, I found it hard to look away, which is incredible when you realize Miss Wayfarer was competing with a legendary rock band and incendiary devices for my attention. The mom in me wanted to take her aside and say, “Sweetheart, really? What are you doing?” My dark side wanted theater security to escort her out. Her antics brought out all of my big-sister tendencies. And she was getting on my nerves.

Rock and roll all night

An old friend once told me there are two kinds of things in life: those you can do something about, and those you can’t. Obviously, when you’re surrounded on all sides by dancing revelers, ginormous beers and loud music, there’s not much you can do to prevent a tipsy young woman from falling on you. It’s futile to worry about it.IMG_1231 (1)

So, I let her go and turned my face to the stage, shouting out lyrics I know by heart. The music of my childhood washed over me and for a moment, I was in eighth grade again.  Lighter. Freer. Ready to rock and roll all night!

And who knows? With enough planning, I might even party every day.

 

Stop and Smell the Roses – Or Whatever Else Makes You Smile

Let me introduce you to my geese.

Well, these geese are not actually mine. But I’ve become mildly obsessed with them.

My infatuation began years ago, when I lived in a new, sprawling subdivision with amenities that included several lagoons. One spring, a pair of geese decided to establish their home there.

I’m no expert on waterfowl, but anyone could see these two were lovebirds. They were inseparable, paddling lazily in a lagoon, flying side-by-side over rooftops, and strutting around the neighborhood like any other proud homeowner. I was enchanted. To my great disappointment, they didn’t like being approached. If I ventured too close, they’d hiss menacingly at me, so I learned to keep my distance. But the random sightings, conducted from afar, always made me smile.

Honk if you like geese

Today, that mated pair has multiplied into a flock of at least twenty geese. Although I no longer live in the lagoon neighborhood, this gaggle of geese really gets around, giving me lots of delightful opportunities to see them. I can’t rationally explain why this pleases me so much. But I suspect my slightly silly preoccupation is an antidote to my tendency to take every darned thing way too seriously.

Here they are, hanging out at the outlet mall. They must have heard about the winter sale.

Geese at the mall

I love when they take to the air in formation, calling out to each other with their unmistakable honks and barks. (Just for fun, listen to this: mood music! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Canada_Goose/sounds)

Flock of geese

In the springtime, the mommy and daddy geese proudly bring their little ones to choice spots around town to nibble on grass that’s sparkly with morning dew. My favorite of these sites is the expansive lawn in front of a warehouse distribution center on Crossroads Parkway, a twisting, winding road near my office that’s dotted with mostly industrial businesses. My geese are there most mornings for the breakfast buffet, so my drive to work usually includes a chance to be charmed by the sight of them. And I would never have discovered this if I hadn’t been rear-ended on the I-95 off ramp last year.

How a car accident led to a better drive to work

Before the accident, I usually jumped on I-95 as the quickest route to work. On this particular day, the line of cars exiting the freeway to merge onto the highway was backed up half the length of the off ramp, just before the deep bend in the road. And that’s where I was when the 18-wheeler rear-ended the sedan that was stopped behind me, knocking it into the back of my CR-V.

If you’re going to have a collision with a tractor-trailer, using another car as a buffer is a good idea. Fortunately, my vehicle wasn’t damaged, and although I was a bit jolted, at first I felt fine. I was actually more concerned for the driver of the buffer car, who was taken by ambulance to the hospital. (I later learned he was OK, thank goodness.) It wasn’t until a couple of hours later, after the rush of adrenaline subsided, that my body loudly proclaimed the truth. OMG, everything hurt!

For two days, I could hardly move. Unbearably stiff and sore, my mind conjured a host of horrible scenarios involving herniated discs and a lifetime of pain. Dutifully I applied ice (brr! I much prefer heating pads), took Advil and retreated to my yoga mat for a little gentle stretching to combat the stiffness. By the third day the worst was over and I felt ready to get back to normal.

Driving to work that day, my eyes nervously focused on the rearview mirror, I was much too anxious to take I-95. It was quite distressing to find myself so uncomfortable on a familiar stretch of road. So, I altered my route that morning, skipping the freeway to wind my way down Crossroads instead, where I was rewarded with a goose sighting. Now it’s my everyday routine. My commute may take a few minutes longer, but I’m a lot more relaxed.

And I get to say hello to the geese as I pass by.

Seek out positive experiences

Life can be so full of sharp edges: traffic, deadlines, bills and conflict. So often I feel like I’m endlessly rushing and never slowing down long enough to savor anything. One of the ways I counteract this imbalance is by purposely seeking out little pockets of joy in the grind of the everyday. It’s a part of my personal stress management practice, and it really works. It doesn’t alter the circumstances themselves, but stopping to smell the roses (literally whenever possible) can change your day because it adjusts the way you think.

Stop and smell the roses

Carving out those little moments fosters a glad and grateful heart. It’s harder to cling to a dark mood in the bright sunlight. Have you ever had an argument with someone and then stormed outside into the midst of a dazzlingly beautiful day? You may want to stay mad, but if you allow yourself to accept this little gift, you might find your anger subsiding.

Ever since my training to become a meditation teacher, I’ve become more aware of the inner workings of my mind, the detours it takes and the stories it tells me. And I notice that, if I’m not careful, I can operate for hours on a weird kind of autopilot, doing one thing and thinking about a dozen others, which can sometimes be a very bad thing. Mindfulness means being present in the now, not worrying about the future or ruminating over the past, bringing focus and clarity into those everyday moments that we might sometimes miss. And when those present moments are infused with lightheartedness, it’s even better.

If you’re having a rough week and don’t have access to neighborhood geese, I’ll bet there’s something else right under your nose, something simple and natural and essentially good, that can remind you to stop taking everything so darned seriously. Go find it, and let yourself be delighted.

Geese at Pier One

Time Flies, Except When It Drags

“How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss

This post was originally titled What Happened to September? when I drafted the first sketchy lines on October 19. But now, well, it’s November, and What Happened to September and October? doesn’t have quite the same ring. I’m feeling disappointed with myself because in January I set what seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal: posting something once a month. Obviously that didn’t happen. Sigh.

The past few months went by in a blink and a blur, and now that Thanksgiving starts in five minutes, the rest of the year promises to be heading the same way. How do the months fly past us, yet the last workday before a vacation is never-ending? Yes, one of life’s mysteries.

Here’s another situation when weeks drag on for months: home renovations.

It all started when Ret and I realized we could no longer postpone the most pressing matters. We had to replace our 47-year-old kitchen range (you can read about that appliance adventure in Say Goodbye to Bessie, May 15, 2018), and re-tile the shower in the master bath, where a leak behind the old ceramic tile was causing some weird bumps under the wood floor in the adjacent hallway. Just a single kitchen appliance and a shower. It wasn’t like we were planning to gut the whole house. How long could this project possibly take?

The answer is eight months, one week, three days, six hours and twenty-seven minutes from the moment we engaged the first contractor until the day I moved back into my bathroom. It felt like years.

The short version of the saga is that our first contract fell through, and in the end, Ret’s multi-talented brother Derek brought our 1970s-era ranch house into the 21st century beautifully. Slowly, but beautifully. After all, he’s just one guy. And like most things that seem simple in the beginning, reality proved to be far less so as we ran into one unanticipated complication after another. Plus, as the work progressed, we got more and more ideas: replacing doors, painting cabinets, updating old light fixtures. If you’ve ever built or renovated a house, I know you understand.

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Groovy wallpaper

The experience was revealing, and I don’t just mean the groovy wallpaper we discovered  when we removed the vanity mirror. Maybe this wouldn’t bother a nicer person, but having my collection of toiletries — hair products, lotions, makeup, bath salts, nail files and assorted paraphernalia — scattered over every surface in the bedroom for three months drove me absolutely crazy. And let’s not talk about all the dust! It was like a comic book villain, coming back again and again despite all my attempts to eradicate it.

Now that the work is complete, I feel differently. The outcome of our project made all the inconvenience worthwhile. It’s kind of like the miraculous result of nine long, sometimes uncomfortable months of pregnancy. When you’re in the middle of a challenge, it can seem never-ending. Then you look back on it and marvel.

Perception is everything

Hindsight and anticipation bend our perception of time in different ways, don’t they?

Surreal clock

I can’t believe my youngest son Jared is a 28-year-old married man when my memories of his childhood are so vivid and seem like yesterday. Now that he and his older brother Kevin both live in Seattle, the many miles that separate us make the months between our visits unbearably long to me.

It’s impossible to me that my high school graduation was 38 years ago, and that three decades have passed since I moved to Georgia.  Where did the time go? But geez, after meeting with a financial planner, my projected retirement date seems very far in the future.

We all get the same allotment of hours in a day, and from a scientific standpoint, each hour is exactly the same length. But seriously, there’s a big difference between spending an hour at an incredible concert versus waiting in line to vote. It’s all in our minds – and our attitudes.

Spending time

I often think that if days were money, we would treat them differently. If someone offered me seven $100 bills, I would never say, “No, you can keep the first five. I just want these two.” However, I do this all the time with my weeks, wishing away Monday through Friday so I can get to the weekend. One day, when I’m very old, I’m probably going to wish I had some of those weekdays back.

Since time is such a precious, irreplaceable commodity, I try to spend it wisely and not fritter it all away on social media. The Jack Russell terrier side of me feels compelled to accomplish more and more, and not waste a minute. There was a period in my life when I needed that kind of drive; without it, I’m not sure I could have juggled college, a full-time job and school-aged children at the same time.

Things are different now. I’ve learned that quiet time is not wasted time, solitude is not the same as loneliness, and sometimes a good night’s sleep is the best investment I can make in myself. I’m still juggling multiple projects, but I’m more selective about them, spending my time on the tasks that matter most and the people and things that feed my soul.

Time off for good behavior

This is my first day of a well-deserved vacation from work, something I’ve looked forward to for weeks. There’s a long to-do list on my kitchen table. I’m a planner by nature, so I like lists. This one includes mundane things, like grocery shopping and housework, but there’s also space for baking, writing (checking that one off now) and going to the movies with Ret.

Do I expect to scratch off every item on my list? No, it’s just a guide to help keep me on track. Last night’s planned vegetable potpie turned into a call for pizza delivery. So it’s a fluid thing! I’m giving time and space to my ideas and priorities so the week won’t get away from me.

But I know it will anyway. Sunday night I’ll look back on these nine brief days and wonder where they went.

And then, in about five minutes, it’ll be Christmas.

Clock head

Go to the Beach!

It’s Labor Day weekend, and I haven’t been to the beach all summer.

This is very sad, because I love the beach. The hypnotic music of waves rolling in, tang of salty spray on my face, warm sand caressing my feet – the sights, sounds and smells are like a healing balm. I live near the Georgia coast, about 30 miles from the beach at Tybee Island. My husband Ret and I were married on North Beach seven years ago, beneath the historic lighthouse that witnessed our first date. And yet we haven’t visited Tybee at all this year.

If the suit fits

Honestly, we’ve had a busy summer. Ret’s started a new job with his company and we have a never-ending home renovation underway. We rarely have the same day off. And…I’m not sure I can fit into last year’s swimsuit.

Okay, I’m pretty sure it won’t fit.

But still, is that a good excuse? Because seriously, the only person who will be worried about what I look like in my black and purple tankini is me. And that’s just one giant waste of my mental energy.

How many times have I squandered a beautiful day mired in unimportant concerns over what others think of me?

Overcoming insecurity

In my youth, I was painfully insecure. I was shy and awkward around just about everyone. My curly hair frizzed wildly out of control in the New Orleans humidity, while all the girls I admired were blessed with long, sleek, flowing tresses. I wasn’t interested in fashion, but I was keenly aware that my clothes were all wrong, wrong, wrong. Hopelessly klutzy, with zero athletic ability, the thought of going to a dance left me terror-stricken.

Somehow I managed to overcome this gnawing fear and make peace with myself, but it took eons. Discovering yoga helped immensely with my coordination and body confidence, even though I can’t do a handstand and probably never will.  I’m still a work in progress, but I knew I was on the right track when, at age 49, I threw away my flatiron!

Every so often, I’ll come across a little reminder to enjoy today: to go forth boldly wearing my nice clothes and using the fine china instead of saving these things for some elusive future date when everything is perfect. Well, I don’t have fine china, but that’s not what’s important. What matters most is that life won’t wait for me. And the ocean thinks I look great just the way I am.

Ocean
from Swimsuits for All, on Instagram

This wild, wonderful world is meant to be experienced, and there are no rules that determine who’s eligible to partake of its majesty. You don’t have to wear a certain size or have a PhD to hike a mountain, picnic in the park or gaze in awe at the watercolor sky. And no matter who you are, if you visit the ocean, it will rush right up to the shore to meet you there.

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Still Fragile: There is Only Love

This has been an extremely rough month for sensitive souls like me. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of so much suffering: Terrified children separated from their immigrant parents at our southern border. The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Tragic stories about victims of the opioid crisis. And another baby bird. It’s too much.

On Thursday afternoon, I was taking out the trash when I found it. A tiny, fuzzy, tailless nestling was in the dirt on the side of my house, crying for its mother and unable to stand up on its own. Although it was nearly 6 p.m., the temperature was a still blistering 95 degrees, the evening sun and humidity merciless. The bird was in distress. I couldn’t leave the little thing alone and helpless. My neighbor’s cat was out there somewhere.

I have no idea how the poor creature got there. The closest tree is about 20 feet away. Ret and I love feeding the birds, so there are always lots of feathered friends around my house, but to be honest, I don’t know where their nests are. There’s a cardinal family in the pine tree across the street, but this bird didn’t look like a cardinal. Scouting around for other nests, I didn’t find anything promising, nor did I see potential parent birds hovering around. And even if I found a nest, how would I know it was the right one? So I brought the baby inside and made it a little home in a box lined with a soft cloth and tissue paper.

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This is our second experience with fragile baby birds. The first was on the 4thof July, 2016. You can read that story here (Fragile, July 9, 2016).  In that instance, Ret and I researched as best we could. The staff at the local exotic bird hospital advised us to put the baby back in its nest, or create a makeshift nest, place it high in the tree and hope its mother would return for it. This didn’t feel right to us, but we tried it anyway, because we didn’t know what else to do. The baby died in the oppressive heat. It was horrible. We vowed never to do such a thing again. So if this new little bird was going to die, it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t try to save it.

Hopeful intervention

As luck would have it, a friend connected me to a friend of hers, someone with many years of experience rehabilitating baby birds. She advised us on how to feed and care for it overnight, and gave us the name of a local animal hospital that could take over its care in the morning.

Feeling hopeful, Ret and I followed her instructions as best we could and were ecstatic when the hungry little bird tried to eat what we offered it. At bedtime, we tucked him into his box, covered him gently and placed him in the warmest spot we could find in our house.

But in the morning we awoke to find our sweet little bird had weakened dramatically overnight. And the recommended animal hospital informed us that they didn’t take in wild birds anymore, probably because of the futility. We prayed. We cried. We tried. Our little bird died anyway.

The intellectual part of me understands the high mortality rate of baby birds and acknowledges there was nothing I could do. It happens every day. Nestlings too young to fend for themselves are helpless, delicate, and need the care of real experts – like their parents. I know that. But this little bird was mine for a brief moment, so I’ll cry if I want to. Sometimes I just need to cry.

It’s my nature

There was a time when I was almost embarrassed by my soft-hearted nature. I can’t watch horror movies because they give me nightmares. I want to adopt every homeless dog, feed all the hungry children, save the elephants in Africa, visit every sick person in the hospital and wipe out the plastic trashing our oceans. Through some strange superpower that is both a blessing and a curse, I can often detect the emotional energy of people around me, and sometimes I feel their pain as my own. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this about myself and even appreciate it; it gives me greater perception in my relationships, and it often guides me as a yoga teacher. But sometimes it’s hard to be me.

As I dug a little grave beneath the gardenia bush, I talked to God about this. In Luke 10:20, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

So God, I hope you will receive this little one that I couldn’t save. I pray that he is now flying like an eagle in heaven with you. And please help me understand why I keep trying so hard, and caring so much, when I am powerless to end the suffering I see? Why do these things keep coming to me and breaking my heart? What do you want me to do? 

Kneeling in the garden beside the little grave, my soul heard an answer: There is only love.

Gardenia

What does this mean? There seems to be a whole lot going on in the world that has nothing whatsoever to do with love. And I can’t change any of those things. It feels futile to try.

But … even though we couldn’t save our little bird’s life, at least he didn’t die alone in the heat and the dirt. He was cared for and comforted. His passage to the other side was gentler.

Perhaps it means: Carry on. Keep the faith. Because, when I am faced with the choice to risk my heart by caring, or protect it with indifference, there’s really no decision for me to make. Maybe compassion and mercy can’t change the world. But maybe they can. It starts with me.

There is only love.

Say Goodbye to Bessie

Bessie is 47 years old, and sadly, she is way past her prime. Sometimes she’s too hot, and at other times, she barely warms up at all. She’s unpredictable, unreliable, and frankly, she doesn’t look so great anymore, either. As much as I hate to do it, I’m going to have to replace her.

This is Bessie.

Bessie

She appears to be the original kitchen range in my little house, a modest brick ranch built in 1971. So yes, I’ve been cooking on a relic that was manufactured during the Nixon administration!

In spite of my irreverent tone in the first paragraph, I’m actually quite impressed with Bessie’s longevity. They just don’t make ‘em like her anymore! Since I bought my house eight years ago, I’ve purchased new washers and dryers twice, and we had to replace a relatively new dishwasher last year, too. Thankfully the 12-year-old refrigerator is still chilling, even though the door makes a loud, cranky sound when you open it, and the icemaker has never worked right. The dispenser doesn’t actually dispense, but it does spit random ice cubes at you when you least expect it. It’s playful that way.

Home Improvement, Part 1

When I first moved in, I updated mostly cosmetic things, like the groovy shag carpeting in the front bedrooms and the paneling on the living room walls. I actually liked the bright blue guest bathroom and decided I could decorate around the gold tile in the master bath. Hey, I’m a child of the 70s. My favorite pair of jeans are bellbottoms!

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Groovy shag carpet

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Living room wall paneling

Anyway, the stove and oven still worked, so there was no reason to replace them at the time when all the flooring and walls needed attention. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t read the numbers on the oven dial; it wasn’t hard to figure out which white mark represented 350 degrees. But over time, I began to notice that my kitchen was becoming unbearably hot when I used the oven, because all the heat was escaping the oven itself and baking me instead. If a muffin recipe said, “bake at 350 for 20 minutes,” 35 minutes later their outsides might look done, but they’d have strange, raw, spongy middles. And the burners on the stove lost their ability to find a happy medium, scorching my morning oatmeal or just not heating up at all.

Home Improvement, Part 2 

Finally Bessie gave up altogether when a dry, brittle wire touched something it shouldn’t – with a dramatic arc, a puff of smoke, and a loud BOOM! (I’m wondering if one day I’ll go out the same way. I’m not getting any younger myself.)

Ret and I spent weeks hunting for a replacement, which was much more frustrating than I expected because not just any range would fit in the space we have. Who knew this would be so complicated? Evidently installers will gladly accept your $149 to plug in a new appliance for you, but if carpentry work is involved to make room for it, they’re not interested. Finally, my handy brother-in-law came by over the weekend to help us. My husband Ret is a terrific guy, a loving hubby and a talented musician – but he’s no carpenter.

What happened to the stove?
Hey, what happened to the stove?

Now we’re cooking!

Here’s my shiny new range with the smooth cooktop and convection oven. What do you think I should name her? I am so excited! Just think: After all these years of somehow managing to prepare pretty decent meals with poor Bessie, we just might find out I’m really a chef!

New range