Home is where the dog is

Congratulations on adopting a dogHome is where the heart is. I like the concept that phrase brings to mind. It is on one of my favorite T-shirts. My problem is that I’m not sure where my heart is so, I don’t really know where my home is. I like the town in which I live and I like my house – I’ve been here for 20 years, which is the longest I have lived anywhere, including the home in which I spent most of my childhood – and yet, I always have the sense that I could easily leave and like another town and another house just as much. In fact, the reasons I have lived here so long have less to do with choice than with responsibility and practicality. I don’t feel like I have deep roots here, but I don’t have them anywhere else either. Still, I know I’m blessed in many ways so I work through feelings of restlessness by practicing the “bloom where you are planted” philosophy. Appreciate what you have and don’t dwell on what you don’t have.

So, where does my mysterious heart reside? If we’re talking about love, which is typically synonymous with the heart, I love my mother, my son and my best friend. I’m working on loving God. I have deep affection for a few other people. I love my dog, Liberty, almost as much as (and in some ways more!) than any of these humans. She is my constant companion, four-legged best friend and excellent travel buddy. I start every morning with a smile because the first thing I see is her face peeking up over the side of the bed, tail wagging madly in anticipation of an exciting new day. I like to take her with me wherever I go, as much as possible. She isn’t boring, doesn’t annoy me, and is always happy just to BE with me. I like to see her happy little face in my rear view mirror.

In the two years since I adopted Liberty, we have become volunteers with Haven Hospice and PAWS to Read and today she passed the first part of a 3 part test to be registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs but, more important than that, she is MY therapy dog. She reminds me to appreciate the moment and enjoy simple pleasures. She takes me out of my shell and encourages me to be more open to people; to offer comfort and kindness to people I don’t even know. When I look at things through her eyes, the ordinary becomes special and new again. It kind of reminds me of when my son was a baby and I felt like I was seeing the world, through his eyes, for the very first time.

If you have never loved a dog or, if you don’t even like them, you probably think I’m nuts or that I have an unhealthy attachment to Liberty or some other psycho-babble. If so, I probably wouldn’t like you and I would definitely find it difficult to trust you. I do have room in my heart and life for a kind and decent man (if I should ever meet one) but, he must love my dog! Love me; love my dog 🙂

I have always loved dogs – they were my faithful friends through childhood and early adulthood and, although for a long time I only had cats as pets (don’t worry cat lovers, they were very special to me, too), I returned to the “dog life” in 2009 when I adopted Stella. She was a senior with many health problems but her sweet, quiet companionship and friendly, easy going nature were the perfect reintroduction into “dog life” for me. Now I can’t imagine living without a canine companion and I hope I never have to.

Crazy as it may sound, in writing this I have come to the conclusion that maybe my heart resides in the heart of a dog so, I guess as long as I have my dog with me I’m home.

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went. ~Will Rogers

Fun in the ocean 10-15-15

Pure joy!

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Mother’s Day

A drawing I did based on an old photo of me and my son

A drawing I did based on an old photo of me and my son

Being a mother was the most challenging and difficult job I ever had. When I first held my son and saw his little face I was unprepared for the powerful rush of emotion that swept over me. Profound love and fierce protectiveness unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I could actually feel my heart come out of my body and, ever since, as far as he is concerned, it has remained out there; vulnerable and unprotected. He has always been the only one who could so easily fill my heart with joy – and just as easily fill it with pain. I think this is something he figured out when he was very young.

When my son was 4 his father and I were divorced. I just read an article that said recent studies have shown that children adjust much better to divorce when custody is split evenly between parents – commonly known as joint custody. When children split their time evenly between each parent’s home they get a more healthy balance of “Mom time” and “Dad time”. If divorce is unavoidable then that is the ideal arrangement but, unfortunately, most couples are either unable or unwilling to work that out. For one thing, the parents have to live close enough to each other that they are both able to get the children to school or daycare and their extracurricular activities. They have to want to share the job of parenting equally so, if they weren’t doing that when they were married they’re certainly not going to do it when they’re divorced.

My son’s father was a long distance truck driver so shared custody was not even a possibility. I knew instinctively that a child could adjust to divorce more easily if, 1) regardless of the visitation arrangement, the non-custodial parent was a consistent, dependable presence in the child’s life and 2) the parents were civil and cooperative with each other. As long as a child feels loved and secure, they can handle a lot; if they feel abandoned and unimportant, that’s when the trouble starts. My son’s father decided to move from Rhode Island back to northeastern New Jersey, where we had both grown up and where our families still lived and, as a result, his visits became infrequent and unreliable. Try explaining that to a four-year old! I decided that I would also move back to New Jersey so that my son would be closer to his father and our families. I relocated to a town at the Jersey shore where my son’s only aunt and cousins and my best friend lived, about 75 miles from his father and both sets of grandparents. I thought it would be good for both of us to be closer to family. A few months after I moved, my ex-husband was offered a job back in Rhode Island so off he went!

For many years I held a lot of resentment toward my ex-husband for all the times he broke promises to his son, the infrequent visits and the poor job of keeping in touch between visits. It was heartbreaking to watch a little boy trying to deal with disappointment over and over. I’m sure this feeling of abandonment was the contributing factor to all the anger and bad behavior that came later, which, of course, was usually directed at me.

My son’s teen years were very difficult for me – he probably remembers all the good times he had but, to me, it was a lot of reckless and self-destructive behavior. I struggled to keep the lines of communication open between us. Our relationship continued to be rocky throughout his twenties and I was in a constant state of worry. Too many times I “rescued” him from the results of his bad behavior and bad decisions instead of letting him suffer the consequences and learn from his mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes of my own but, in the end, I know I did the best I could and always loved him. I think that’s all a mother can do. Here’s part of the verse from the Mother’s Day card I just received:

I know it wasn’t always easy

keeping me to the straight and true.

But knowing you were there for me – hoping, guiding, praying –

well, sometimes that was all I needed to make it through.

It’s so nice to get a card like that because I know he really feels that wayI’m happy to say that, after all the ups and downs, joy and pain, my son has grown up to be a man I can not only love but, also like and respect. He is kind, generous, loyal to his friends, well-read and intelligent, and successful in his career. He has a great sense of humor and a strong work ethic. I did my best to give him a good foundation and I can now see the fruit of seeds I planted long ago but, I can also see all the characteristics that are unique to him. I hope he will be a father someday – it would be wonderful to see him wearing his heart on his sleeve!

Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

My other "baby"

My other “baby”

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Attitude of Gratitude

A Prayer for YouRecently I read a saying that has stuck with me: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?” I like that saying so much that I plan to use it in a future greeting card and add it to my online shop at Lynda Linke Productions. I think a lot about thankfulness, in fact, every morning as I’m walking my dog, Liberty, I thank God for all the blessings in my life – ever since reading that saying I make sure to include everything I wouldn’t want to wake up without tomorrow! I spent a lot of years wanting, wanting, wanting  and not fully appreciating what I already had but when I began to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude” I gradually became more content.

One of the things I thank God for every morning are the people I love and who love me.  Heaven knows, I’m not always easy to love! Today I went to my friend Rena’s house – it’s my birthday next week and she wanted to make me a special lunch.  She outdid herself with not only delicious food but, also, a lovely table setting fashioned in her own unique style. She invited another friend because she thought we would like each other, which we did, and the three of us enjoyed good conversation and laughs. Rena is a cat lover (she has four!) but she invited Liberty to go with me to her house a few weeks ago and declared that she is a “nice doggie”. She behaved herself and was invited to come back with me today.  This is just one example of Rena’s generous spirit – she knows how much I like to have Liberty with me so she invites her out of friendship and kindness to me.  Thankfully, Liberty was a good girl again and only had one small mishap when she fell in the pool – apparently the cover looked like something to be walked on!

Thanksgiving is coming up next week – I love the idea of a national day of thankfulness. I just hope people remember it isn’t only about stuffing your face, drinking too much and watching football.  Days of thanksgiving have been associated with the harvest since ancient times but the origins of our holiday stem from the story of a feast of thanksgiving shared by a small group of Pilgrims and their Wampanoag neighbors in 1621. There were very few details about this feast but the story was passed down through the generations and struck a chord in our hearts – as a people we embraced the idea of thankfulness.  In 1777 the Continental Congress proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving and in 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November that year as a day of thanksgiving but it didn’t become an official fixed annual holiday until 1941 when Congress proclaimed Thanksgiving to be observed on the fourth Thursday of November.  Originally, it was a somber day of prayer but, gradually it became known as a day of feasting and festivities shared with family and friends.

My own Thanksgiving celebration has gone from the big family gatherings of my childhood to my small immediate family to just me and my Mom. Since my Dad passed away we like to get away for the week and enjoy a quiet dinner together. Several years ago, when my Dad was still with us, I started the tradition of each of us saying what we were thankful for and Mom and I have continued that. However you will be spending Thanksgiving, no matter how large or small your gathering, don’t forget to take a minute to be thankful for all your blessings. That small humbling act will make you feel really good. Then go eat!

PS/Don’t forget to kiss the cook (s)  🙂

 

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 

 

Merry Christmas-Decorating the tree

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Stella

4I haven’t been writing much this year – except in my journal – only one post so far but, for those who have been following this blog I have to share some sad news. On April 8th I had to make the very painful decision to have my sweet Stella, mascot of this blog, put to sleep.

I adopted Stella when she was a senior – at least 8 years old, probably older – and we only had 4 1/2 years together but she was very special to me. I’ve known lots of dogs in my life but Stella was definitely the sweetest and best behaved. She actually looked like she was smiling! She had many health problems and I’m sure the care she received gave her a couple of extra years but it wasn’t just extra time – she also had a great life with me. She loved being in the car and easily adapted to new environments so she went on many vacations with me – several trips to the West coast of Florida, three trips to the North Carolina mountains, and one trip to the North Georgia mountains. She was one of the first members of the Flagler Humane Society Ambassador Dog Team and served in the PAWS to Read and Bite-Free programs for 3 1/2 years. She accompanied me when I presented SELF seminars at Christmas Come True, often serving as an “ice breaker” for people who were feeling nervous about being there. She went to the beach many times and enjoyed sitting on a bench with me at Waterfront Park just watching the world go by.

I’ve written before that I believe my Dad’s spirit brought Stella into my life at a time when I needed a friend and now I feel that Stella led me to adopting my new friend, Liberty. Many times over the last few years I considered adopting another dog and often went on rescue websites to browse but always pulled back because Stella’s medications cost $300 per month and I feared that I might end up with another dog with health problems. I also never saw a dog I was particularly drawn to. A little over a week ago I decided that I would check the websites and, if I found a dog I liked, I’d go and meet her and, if I got a good vibe, I’d adopt her. I thought it might give Stella a “second wind” to have some youthful energy around her. I checked two websites I normally went to and they didn’t have anything that attracted me so I went to a third site that somehow led me to Rescued Hearts, a rescue I had not heard of before. They only had 11 dogs that met my criteria and in that group of photos I saw a young female who reminded me of Stella. She also was described as a beagle mix with a sweet nature. I knew I had to go meet her and, when I did, I had a really good feeling about her so I adopted her. She was scheduled to be spayed that week so I couldn’t take her home right away.

Meanwhile, Stella started getting sick that weekend but, she had “48 hour” bugs several times in the past so I thought she would get over it. When I could see that she wasn’t getting better I took her to the vet. Results of blood work showed that both kidneys were failing, her white blood cell count was very high, and the beginning of a liver problem. I knew what I would have to do and I dreaded it. The way things turned out, Stella didn’t get to meet Liberty but it seems that I have been blessed with another sweet dog and I have to thank Stella for leading me to her. Liberty has only been with me for 3 days but she is settling in very nicely and the good feeling I had about her was absolutely right! We have walked each day – I’m teaching her how to walk on a leash (we’ll also be going to a basic training class) – and she greets people and other dogs much the way Stella did, with a sweet friendliness. I am amazed at how lucky I have been to find another dog who is so good-natured, likes to be in the car, doesn’t bark, and, although still quite young, is house broken and basically well-mannered. Every time I look at her I am reminded of Stella and I’m grateful for that special friendship and for the new friend she led me to.

Good girl, Stella.

Stella 3-3-13 002

Thoughts of Dad

Me and Dad circa 1952

Me and Dad circa 1952

Today is the 7th Fathers Day since my Dad died but not a day goes by when he doesn’t enter my thoughts in some way, however briefly. My Dad had the ability to enjoy things in a childlike way, which could annoy me at times but, I came to appreciate it as a special gift he had. He loved Christmas the way a child does, not for the religious meaning but, for the food, gifts – especially gifts for him – music and decorations. He loved his birthday and thoroughly enjoyed celebrating it – in fact; he celebrated it starting on the actual date, May 3rd, all the way through to Father’s Day!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my father’s influence on me and, the influence of fathers in general. As a girl, and an only child, I was a “Daddy’s girl”. I don’t mean that in the icky way it has come to be used because my father didn’t spoil me or fulfill my every whim or dote on me in an unhealthy way. Even though he could enjoy himself like a child I always knew who the grown up was! As a young child I loved to spend time with him. He made a little seat for me on the front of his bike (this was in the days before children’s bicycle seats and safety helmets!) and we would go for long rides all over town and out into the surrounding countryside. He told me I liked to go to the railroad tracks with him and watch the Flying Scotsman go by and, even though I don’t remember that, I have often wondered if that was how I became enamored with trains. To this day, I love to watch a train go by or hear the lonesome sound of one in the distance late at night. Dad used to tell me stories and make me laugh or cry, depending on the plot. He was fun to be with. He liked to sing and whistle and seemed to always be happy. He gave me a love of animals and taught me much of what I know about taking care of them.

I always felt safe with him and never doubted that he knew everything and was always right. I’m sure most children feel that way about their fathers and its hard when you find out it’s not true – Dad is just a flawed human like the rest of us – but, I can remember the exact day that happened for me. One day, when I was nine, I found out that Dad was not infallible. He took me to the home of a friend of his and there was a dog behind a fence at the end of the driveway. I loved dogs and was never afraid to greet them, even those I didn’t know, but this dog was barking directly at me and I started to feel nervous because I thought she had a mean look in her eyes. Dad knew the dog and was talking to her as we approached. He told me not to be afraid and he opened the gate. The dog seemed to fly past him and attach herself right onto my arm! All I remember is the movement and the flash of teeth. Dad yelled at her and had to kick her to get her off my arm and she flew through the air again. I had a bad bite that required 13 stitches. It was a deep, jagged scar because a piece of flesh was actually torn out. I didn’t know it at the time but, in hindsight, I realized that something changed for me that day – besides the appearance of my arm. Somewhere in my young mind the seed of knowledge was planted that my Dad couldn’t protect me from everything and he wasn’t always right.

My Dad was a good man in so many ways but I don’t make the mistake of idealizing him in death beyond what he was in life. He was a loving father but, once I passed childhood, he was uncomfortable with physical demonstrations of affection and he didn’t verbalize his feelings very well. He used teasing or humor to express his affection but, as a teenager, I was often hurt by that. He wasn’t one to offer compliments or flattery and, in fact, could be so bluntly honest at times as to be insensitive. He didn’t say “I love you” to me until the last year of his life when he was in the hospital, but I never doubted it for a minute. In fact, it is through him that I learned that it doesn’t matter how often someone says they love you if their actions say something else. It’s a shame that I didn’t appreciate his honesty and integrity more when I was a young woman but, ironically, I have matured into a person who is a lot like him. Personal freedom and personal responsibility are very important to me. Like him, I detest hypocrites and phonies and can usually detect them a mile away. I abhor false flattery but I do try to temper my honesty with more tact than he did. I can express my feelings when I choose to but, at times I hide them behind humor. Dad was always confident and comfortable with who he was and didn’t care about the opinions of others and, although I spent too many years struggling with that, I did finally reach that acceptance within myself. Overall, my father influenced me in many positive ways and I recognize that many of my best characteristics are from him – I just wish I had a little more of his childlike ability to enjoy life! What good things did you get from your father?

I’m enjoying some fond memories of my Dad today. If you still have your father be sure to give him a big hug and kiss and, if not, spend a few moments remembering the good times you shared with him – for some that might feel like a challenge but remember, even in the most difficult relationships, there are moments of love. If you’re a father be sure to create those moments of love for your children to remember when you’re gone.

Happy Fathers Day!

December 2010 011

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Thank you, Dad

Our perfect companionsThis post is for animal lovers so; you can stop reading right now if that isn’t you! Ever since I was a little girl animals have given me so much love and happiness and I want to pay homage to my Dad for being such a great role model regarding the special relationship we can have only with our “four legged friends”.

First, a little background. Dad was born in a small town in northern England in 1923, the second of four children. His father made a living delivering coal on a residential route. In those days coal was the primary source of heat in England. My Grandad was only about 5’3” tall but was very strong as a result of shoveling and lifting heavy bags of coal. He was also responsible for collecting payment and taking orders; just like the milk man or the ice man. His “company vehicle” was a wagon and a Clydesdale horse. They belonged to the company but it was his responsibility to care for them so they were housed in a stable leased by his employer within walking distance of his house. My Grandad was also an animal lover and my Dad told me that he took great pride in grooming Daisy, the Clydesdale, just as if she were his own. Every Sunday he went to the stable and brushed her coat until she shone and combed the knots out of her mane and tail. He cleaned the leather harnesses and polished the brass. Sometimes my Dad would help him and he told me some great stories of times he spent with his father and the big, gentle horse that towered over him. There were a couple of cats living at the stable that Grandad adopted (or did they adopt him? You know how it goes with cats) and he gave them milk each morning for which they showed their appreciation by keeping the mouse population in the stable under control. My Dad said that as his father walked over a small stone bridge that led to the stable he would crack his whip and the cats would come running from their hiding places, knowing this was the signal that meant they were going to get their milk.

Growing up, my Dad’s family always had a dog and I think he felt that a house wasn’t really a home without a dog in it. My Mom likes dogs but wouldn’t have chosen to own them so this was something she had to accept when they got married because strays always seemed to find him. Even when he was stationed in India with the RAF during WWII he rescued a dog that had been savagely attacked by a monkey and nursed it back to health. Before we immigrated when I was 5 I had already had two canine companions and it wasn’t long after my parents moved into their own home in the US that Dad came home with a puppy that had been abandoned. He was a little black Cocker Spaniel named Skippy who was my companion from age 7 to 18, when he laid down in the sun on the patio for a nap and never woke up. As an only child, Skippy’s companionship was very special to me and I have happy memories of playing in the yard with him and how he good-naturedly let me put baby bonnets on his head. A few months after Skippy died Dad and I went to the mall to get a part for a TV he was fixing and came home with a Golden Retriever puppy – the first dog Dad ever paid for! – who we named Brandy. Brandy was Dad’s pride and joy and if I close my eyes I can still see them walking up the street together or Dad sitting on the back steps brushing her.

Congratulations on adopting a dog My Dad taught me that a relationship with an animal is one of responsibility because you are taking care of one of God’s creatures and they come to depend on you. He never said that to me in so many words; he just showed me by example how to treat them and care for them. He could never abide the ill-treatment of any animal and would get upset if he saw anyone hit a dog. My memories of my Dad are forever linked to the dogs we had. Right after he died I was meditating and had a clear vision of him and Brandy and I just knew their spirits were together, in fact, I’m sure all the dogs he loved have found him. I hadn’t owned a dog for many years until 2009 when I was volunteering to walk dogs at the local Humane Society and I met Stella. Just the way that happened I know my Dad’s spirit had a hand in it and the weird thing is that Stella has so many personality traits that remind me of him!

So, thank you Dad, for teaching me about loving and caring for our animal friends, for bringing the special friendship of a dog back into my life after so many years and for all the wonderful memories that I will cherish forever.

 

Thanksgiving 2012

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