I have always maintained that the only bad part about owning a golden retriever is that they shed.  Great gobs of golden tumbleweeds in every corner of the house kind of shedding.  Our dog Delia, often known as “Dee”, had such dense, supersoft, long fluff that my 2 year old great-nephew could not resist burying his head in it and grinning with glee whenever they got together.


Fortunately, Dee LOVED to be vacuumed.  She loved it so much, that instead of cowering in fear or running away from the vacuum, she would purposely get in our way so that we would run the canister vac floor attachment over her.

I bought a robotic vacuum last spring, and I loved the fact that I could program it to run daily, just to try and keep up with the dog fur.  The only problem was, the dog wasn’t bothered by it at all, often letting it run halfway up her torso and getting stuck when she was lying on the floor.  I finally figured out that I needed to make sure that the dog was outside when the vacuum was set to run.

A golden retriever’s personality far outweighs their clouds of shed fur, however.  Eternally happy, we could always count on her to be thrilled to see us when we got home each day, greeting us with a tennis ball, toy, stick, a rock for crying out loud, anything at hand that she thought we might like.


In July, our beloved four year old dog underwent surgery for a cancerous tumor on her neck.  The prognosis wasn’t good, and we were given terrible odds with chemo and radiation, so we decided to bring her home to live out her last few months.  I was reassured, after another diagnosis of liver and spleen tumors, that she wouldn’t have much pain, just bloating and flu like symptoms.  Making a decision to have the dog put down was one of the hardest I have ever had to make.  In fact, I waited too long, as she died naturally as soon as the vet got her on the table.  A couple of days before, I took her on her last outing to a high school soccer game, where she greeted everyone, gave “hugs” (pressed her forehead to a shoulder or leg), and sat down, smiling that classic golden smile as she closed her eyes and raised her face to the sun.  She was SO happy that day – being around kids, a ball, what dog wouldn’t?

In trying to make sense of her dying, I did the only thing I knew how.  I collected as much of her shedding fur from the daily brushings that she loved, sobbing as I did so.  After her death, the veterinary technician asked if we wanted a clay paw print done.  I agreed, but also asked for something more.  I explained the bit about “the only bad part about a golden retriever is their shedding fur”, and asked if she could shave some of her ridiculously soft long chest fluff.  She hesitated for only a second, until I told her that every spring, I see at least one bird flying off to build a nest with some of those strands.  I was going to make a net bag of golden retriever fur for the birds in the spring, turning that seemingly negative part about this breed of dog into something positive.  Making the chance at new life, giving those baby birds a soft place to be hatched into.  Dee would have liked that, and I can see her now, smiling up at the sun, sniffing the fresh air one last time.  So, now I will say that the only bad part about a golden is losing them when it is their time to die.  She reminded me to welcome each new day with a fresh start, without concern about the past, or worry about the future (that one requires ongoing work), and to stop, sniff the air, and smile.



When Speaking of Mental Illness


I am not an expert, and don’t have a degree in psychology.  I do, however, have some experience with mental illness in my friends and family.  The recent discussion about depression has brought to light something that has been nattering away in my own brain for a long time.  It’s how we talk about mental illness versus other illnesses and disorders of the body.  For example, we sometimes say, “he is depressed” or, “she is bipolar”, or “that kid is obsessive-compulsive”.  The problem I have with talking about these illnesses in this manner is that we are defining what someone isBut when a person has cancer do we say that they are “cancerous”?  If they have heart problems do we say they are” heart diseased”?  No, because that would be defining that person in a frame of reference by a disease or disorder that they have.  I have caught myself talking about mental illness in this way as well, and it doesn’t feel right to me.   So I propose that we say more consistently that a person “has depression, has bipolar, or has OCD” in the same way someone “has cancer”.

I believe that the stigma around mental illness will not go away until we all consistently begin talking about it as an illness, and stop defining people by their disorder.  When discussing this with an older client of mine, she said that back in the old days, the same stigma surrounded people with cancer; no one wanted to talk about it except in hushed tones.  I found that very interesting as no such stigma existed when I was growing up.  It is my fervent hope that by the time I have grandchildren, the language with which we speak about mental illness will change, and that the stigma will have disappeared.

It Is What It Is

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I had a bit of a rough weekend. I was taken to the emergency room and subsequently spent two days in ICU because of a 5″x3″ benign tumor on my left kidney which had burst. In about a month, when the swelling and blood have subsided, I will have surgery to remove it, as well as the smaller 1″ one beside it. The doctor is not sure if he can save my kidney. Once I got home, I started my usual “looking for that silver lining” search.

My Mom often said, “There will always be someone worse off than you.” I vividly remember that she had a plaque on the wall in our kitchen when I was a kid that had the Persian Sufi poem that starts: “I complained because I had no shoes, but then I saw a man who had no feet”. Okay, well yeah. The poem went on in a similar fashion so that by the time you got done reading it, you thought, “damn, I’m lucky!” even if you were having a bad day.

So the silver lining of my weekend is that I get to really appreciate being home for Christmas. I am not allowed to do my usual massage work, heavy lifting or twisting, things like loading the washer and dryer (but I can fold), etc., so I have more time to spend with my kids making Christmas cookies, watching movies, catching up with friends, blogging of course, and the like. It could have been so much worse, really.

My sister April is fond of the expression, “It is what it is”. She says it to me often, and every time I hear it, from her or my own voice in my head, it calms me because it gives me permission to stop, let go of what is bothering me because I can’t do anything about it, and move on. The day I got home from the hospital I got a phone call from a shipping company, asking how to deliver the big Christmas present that we had ordered for our girls. I asked him to check out the box before sending it to me and he reported that it had a large hole in it with stuff falling out. He recommended that I refuse it. I did, of course, then my sister went on a search to find something similar in our state that she could pick up. No luck. Christmas is fast approaching, and before I could panic, I heard her voice in my head saying, “It is what it is.” Our girls have plenty of stuff for under the tree. I explained the situation to them and they are fine with it. Especially when we talked about that silver lining, that this is a reminder that we are celebrating the birth of Christ, and should focus on helping others instead of looking for the biggest present. They have seen the other gifts under the tree and are content. A long time ago we watched the Little House on the Prairie Christmas episode, and the girls, with shining emotion-filled eyes said, “We want a Christmas like that!” I said, “Are you sure? Those kids got, like, a peppermint stick and corn husk doll for Christmas and were thrilled.” Their enthusiasm faltered a bit, but they went on to explain about the FEELING of Christmas that they wanted to duplicate. So, now’s our chance. I have the time to make it more special without spending any money.

Yesterday I started singing Christmas carols again. Three days home from the hospital, somewhat short of breath, it felt good to do what is now normal for me. My youngest child and I are always randomly singing around the house, and this time of year, how could you not? I discovered singing when my oldest child was born. She was so colicky that she seemed to be awake, crying, every twenty minutes around the clock. This lasted for a few months. To make a long story short, we went on many doctor visits and never found out anything other than she couldn’t get rid of gas. In our exhaustion, we tried everything to soothe her. I was at my wit’s end, with anxiety at an all time high. Out of desperation one night I began to sing to her. It did seem to calm her down, and I realized eventually that it calmed me, too. Singing makes you slow down and have to control your breath long enough to get through a song. Doing this stops the shallow stress breathing cycle. Not only that, performing music is healing for the soul. It doesn’t matter if you sound more like a gull than a bluebird. When I started singing, I compared my voice to my grandmother’s. She would sit and play at her small organ, and with her wavering voice, loudly and rapturously belt out hymns. Often I catch myself sounding like her, in an unschooled choir boy kind of way, and cringe. That’s probably what held me back from ever doing it in my younger days. Now I don’t let that bother me much, and let ‘er rip all the time. Not really in public, you understand, but joyfully singing around the house.

The American Music Therapy Assoc. says that “Music is a form of sensory stimulation which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability and feelings of security associated with it.”     This is a link to a very interesting article on the health benefits of singing vs. just listening to music.  German scientists have found that singing will dramatically increase anti-stress hormones and boosts your immune system.  If you don’t already sing, give it a try!  And remember, It Is What It Is.  And there will ALWAYS be someone WORSE than you  😉 .  Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Picking Berries

I just picked the most beautiful handful of raspberries! “It’s nearly November in Maine, and you couldn’t possibly”, you say.  Well, here it is: 9-2013 017

There’s a story behind those late raspberries. When my Dad was in the VA hospital, I would go to visit him once a week, and when I got ready to leave, would ask, “What can I bring you, Dad?”. Without hesitation EVERY time, he would say, “Raspberries. You know, I love raspberries.” Maybe it was the Alzheimer’s and he forgot that he had just devoured the pint or two that I had brought him, or maybe he REALLY loved raspberries that much. Who knows? But how could I deny him that pleasure? So, I brought him fresh raspberries every visit. The day after he died, I was driving back, and randomly stopped at a greenhouse. I felt a very strong urge to buy some raspberry canes and plant them in memory of Dad. That day when my husband got home, he found me out in the garden, planting early, mid-season, and late varieties. The next year I put my greenhouse on that spot, so I had to move the plants. This year (two years later), on September 10th ~ appropriately enough, the anniversary of my father’s death, I picked my first beautiful berries. Those late varieties were the only ones to survive. Needless to say, I fondly think of Dad when I am out in my raspberry patch!

Appreciating the Journey

This weekend my family made our every-couple-of-years trek to Rangeley Lakes, Maine to watch our High School soccer teams play a few games.  Each time we head out at dawn and dusk over those two days to “hunt” (look for and photograph) moose.  We haven’t had much luck finding the enormous creatures.  On the drive to Rangeley, I start getting excited when we see the first “high moose crashes” warning sign and begin to look around expectantly.  Last night we drove out at sunset down route 16 on a mission to see my first moose.   After several miles, it was getting kind of dark out.  I was beginning to think that I was bad luck since both my husband and daughter had seen moose on previous occasions without me.

Suddenly, my husband hit the brakes.  “Do you see that?” he said.  I looked, but in the twilight I only saw movement.  He quietly backed the truck up and parked it across the road next to a deserted building.  “That man over there is playing with a deer.”  Sure enough, we saw a few people in the field near the building, playing with a young deer like you might with a dog.  The man laughingly scruffed at the deer’s head, and the deer, delighted, wagged its tail (really, it did!), and ran around excitedly.  For a few moments we watched incredulously while they petted and played with it.  Very soon, however, I spotted a dog running across the field toward the family.  It gave chase to the deer, and I thought that this must be the end of the fun; that the dog would take off into the woods in pursuit.  In the next moment, however, we were flabbergasted to see the dog come running back toward us, joyfully barking, being CHASED BY THAT DEER.  They were having a grand old time!  After a little while longer the family came over to their car, which was parked next to ours.  My husband asked the man what the whole thing was about.  He said, “I’m a game warden and late last spring that young buck’s mother was hit by a car.  We brought it home and bottle fed it all summer.  He has been left on his own for the last couple of months, and we come by to check on him occasionally, but were worried because we hadn’t seen him in over a week.”  The game warden’s wife spoke as their teenage son looked shyly at us, “I know that it’s probably only a matter of time before a hunter gets him.”  Her face showed a poignant mix of resignation, love, and maybe just a tiny bit of hope that the deer would survive a long time. 

All in all, it was a beautiful experience.  Just goes to show how you can have the most wonderful things happen along the way when you’re looking for something else.  No, we didn’t get to see a moose on this trip, but I still have some nice memories!

It’s a Most Wonderful Time of the Year….

For the last couple of weeks I have been walking 3-4 miles every day, at first to clear my head and get some exercise, and then because I felt a compulsion to go, maybe even an addiction. Today before dusk I headed out into the drizzle with the dog on a route that I often follow. I am always amazed that most evenings I see at least one person walking into the now closed landfill, stealthily hauling a bulging trash bag or two. Do they know that there is likely a video camera filming it? Someone will catch up to them, sooner or later, I think.

My mood changes as I begin to notice nature’s display. At the shooting range, of all places, two deer look up at me and blink as if to say, “Shh….don’t tell”, before bounding off into the woods. Moving on, the “haunted” Poor Farm stands foggy silent sentinel over a beautiful and peaceful cove, the water a glassy silver-gray, reflecting moss green trees. I am reminded of another night in summer when, riding my bike, the night moved in quickly and I was caught here, too near home now to turn back. In the moonlight, a few dozen bats flew from tree to tree, happily gobbling the plentiful mosquitoes. All I could do was cinch up my sweatshirt hood, duck my head, take a deep breath, and pedal as fast as I could through them. Me and bats, we’re copacetic now.

Saddleback Light bleats softly off in the distance. I notice the crystalline water droplets hanging from every tree branch, the tinkle-gurgle of running water everywhere, and smell Spring leaves, faint woodsmoke, and mud puddles. Bird calls are prevalent, as if the feathered creatures need to expend all of their songs NOW. The dog and I pass a small pond, and we are both struck (the dog acts skittish as we walk past) by the utterly deafening pitch of peepers, sounding as one voice. I head for home and meditate upon the fact that so much of this wild beauty is missed by the people who zoom by in their cars. When spending time outside I feel a spiritual connection to the Earth that fills a need in me. I only hope that more of you may be inspired to get out walking and enjoy this exceptional time of year. And yes, especially before those mosquitoes show up.

Creative Muse (-ings)

      Boredom wasn’t really accepted in our house when I was a kid.  Whenever I whined about being bored, my Mom would say mildly, “An intelligent person is NEVER bored.  Find something to do, or I can find something for you to do.” (Insert Mom’s gentle smile here.)  Of course, she meant that she would have me clean the kitchen or do laundry, so it always prompted me to be imaginitive and come up with something else, ANYTHING else.  I find Mom’s exact words coming out of my own mouth when my kids say that they’re bored.  They’ve got it figured out, though.  Even now, I credit my oldest child’s piano skills with the fact that whenever I ask her to do chores, she says, “But I have to practice my piano!”, and diligently sits down to play.

     I know many people claim that they’re “not creative, nope, not a creative bone in my body”.  Baloney.  I believe that everyone can be creative, and that they just need to find the things that they are passionate about and enjoy. 
     For a long time I tried exposing my youngest child to many different art mediums, without a lot of success.  She enjoyed dance and music, but I felt that there had to be a style of art that she enjoyed making.   One day in her 8th year, we were visiting a family member and I realized that she had been out in the yard for some time by herself.  When I checked on her, I saw that she had gathered together a bunch of random objects and was creating a sculpture, intently focused on what she was doing.  And it was GOOD.  She had found an artistic outlet.  This article shows some scientific research that happy people tend to choose more creative activities.  Those creative activities also INCREASED HAPPINESS.

                                                   Fishing Rope Mat

Woodland Partridge Berry Bowl  This is a link to an article called “Everyone is Creative” on a great website for getting those juices flowing.

Christmas gifts for my girls made out of old jeans
   Wreaths and garland out in the yard

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      Why is creativity important to wellness?  An article says that creativity is important because:

  • It’s fun.
  • It boosts self-confidence.
  • It stimulates the brain, which can slow dementia.

     And in my experience, it is calming, and takes me away from everyday problems and those “I’ll FIND something for you to do” reasons to clean out a cupboard.  Tapping into that zone of losing any sense of time is one of the most relaxing feelings in the world.  I even forget to eat. THAT’S a powerful thing, I tell ya!  Let me take the pressure off….you don’t need to show anyone else what you’ve done.  Really.  Be creative just for yourself, if you want.  You cannot fail.  Life just seems too short not to spend SOME time being imaginitive.  Get away from the TV and computer and just sit for a bit.  Think about what kinds of things you like to do.  There are tons of videos on youtube that teach basic skills of painting, knitting, anything!  My favorite is or going on a hike for inspiration. 

From a college drawing class


     I have had the discussion about craft vs. art with many people.  Is it a craft or art that you choose?  Who cares?  I know several “craftspeople” that needed to learn a skill inside out and mass produce things before becoming confident enough to branch out into art.  They just needed to develop skills in what they were doing before moving on to one of a kind pieces of art. 
     There are many artistic mediums that you would need to learn how to use before diving in.  For example, I love art made by welding pieces of metal together.  I would say that I’d have to become pretty adept at welding before taking on such a thing as a piece of art.  It’s on my bucket list of things to try, not with the intention of creating art, but ENJOYING THE PROCESS. 

Whole cloth baby quilt that I made for my great-nephew
 Quilt Detail
This link is to an inspirational (subtitled) talk by a Korean author on why
everyone should be creative!

     This fall I was out in front of my local grocery store, decorating a balsam fir garland that I had made for the owner.  Working with natural materials is a “crafting proficiency” that my mother taught me as soon as I was old enough to start using fine motor skills.  A person that I know walked by and said, “Is there anything that you CAN’T do??!”  I cocked my head, smiled a little and said, “All you gotta do is try!”.