• Girl’s Best Friend

    As far as I was concerned, he was my little boy.  My dad showed up with a new addition to the family when I was 10 years old.  As with most major purchases, he did it unbidden for the enjoyment and memories of everyone.  He opened the car door and a white English setter puppy with perfect brown spots emerged.  Like all puppies, his enthusiasm was unbridled and his body had not quite kept pace with development of his paws.

    Charlie Puppy

    Everyone in the family was instrumental for Charlie’s care, but I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for him, a theme that would follow me for every other pet that was destined to bless my life.

    Like most persons who are newly responsible for someone, I became gripped by a fear that some harm would come to my darling boy.  In the way mothers go to listen to their babies to make sure they are still breathing, I kept my fast twitch leg muscles on standby.  I was scared he was going to get away.  He had a need to run, which I understood on an instinctual level.  His dashes were not to escape, but to seek a momentary freedom, to explore.  Charlie’s mad sprints in to the exponential horizon of the prairie were legendary.

    He was spotted but his ears were a silky fawn color. They smelled like kibble and I could not give him enough kisses there.  I loved the firmness of his belly beneath the sparser fur of his underside.  His coat was always a tangle despite my loving attempts to groom him daily as he watched me beneath his soft and eager eyes; his white lashes the signature of a northern adventurer. I admired his energy, his resolve, and his shenanigans that weren’t born of a desire to be naughty, but to attack life with gusto. These would all become traits I sought in other beings I loved as I grew up.

    He arrived to us late in the North Dakotan summer.  Summer is quickly consumed by a ferocious fall in that part of the world.  It was my job to tend to Charlie in the mornings before school.  He needed to be let out first and then to be fed.  After he had eaten, I had to wait to let him out again.

    I had a horrible peach chenille robe I would put over my pajamas each morning when I emerged from bed to take Charlie out.  Over that, I would throw on a down jacket, moonboots, a hat and mittens and take my beloved puppy into the backyard.  The yard was delineated by a split-fence and covered in thigh deep snow in the winter. The silence was complete, the snow insulating any sound that might have bounced across the 9th hole of the golf course we lived on.  The summer sounds of birds and golfers seeking our lemonade stand seemed like a dream from a faraway world.   Nocturnal Orion would shine down proudly from the sky, bidding good morning to me as he prepared for slumber after his heroic feats in the icy night sky.


    Note horrible chenille robe in background, Grandma Alice’s afghans, as well as a book I wrote entitled “Charlie” on my dresser.


    These dark and frozen mornings brought me a profound sense of peace. I love that indescribable freshness of morning on a land-locked tundra.  The cold freezes the sinuses and puts the body in to a conservative and meditative trance.

    After Charlie had peed we would go back inside and I would take off my cold weather gear, feed him and retreat to my favorite place in the house as he wolfed down his breakfast – the foyer.  I would take a break while he ate, fancying myself like an exhausted mother who deserves to flop on to the couch with a mindless television show while her baby naps.   In the foyer, I would fiend toward the heating floor vent and pull my big sleeping shirt around my whole body and toes, creating a tent for the hot air to rush in and warm my body.  I’d sit there looking out the window in to the dark morning of the front yard.  On the more exciting days, I might see the milkman or another neighbor crunching through the snow with his leashed dog.

    When Charlie finished his breakfast, it was back to the living room to ensure he had time before we all left for school to wrestle and cuddle and chew.  I would sit bathed in the light of the Christmas tree, holding his rawhide between my calves and allowing him to chew away with concentration, his paws resting on my legs.  My disgusting robe would be covered in the crust of the rawhide, Charlie’s fur and remnant bits of snow from our first outdoor excursion.  I worried that he was as cold as I was and would cover him with the afghans my Grandma Alice had knitted.

    When he was finished having a chew and a wrestle, I would groom his coat, brush his teeth and let him out again as the morning finally approached the inky light of dawn.

    Prior to Charlie, I had a system of stuffed animals.  I had each of the nearly 100 creatures/doll listed and wanted to be sure that each was treated equally so I had them rotate between my closet, a hammock on my wall, a doll bed and for their special night, my bed.  Once my living being, Charlie, joined the ranks though, the stuffed animals suddenly were less important and were only a few years away from being orphaned in a garage sale.  My primary focus was to ensure that all 90 pounds of Charlie was comfortable in my bed as I clung to the side and wrapped my skinny body around his for warmth and reassurance.

    I loved Charlie the way I have truly loved all the other animals in my life.  He taught me unconditional love, patience, responsibility and enjoyment of the present moment. He taught me that seeing someone else thrive is usually all the thanks we are going to get for taking care of them.  Animals take us outside of something we can’t understand and introduce us to a divine human emotion.  Theirs is a special kind of love.

    This was based on a writing prompt given to a novel-writing class I took at the Rice University Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, taught by Karleen Koen.  The prompt was, “Write about the first person you ever fell in love with.”

  • Overcoming Distraction to Get Things Done

    “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” ~Native American saying

    Despite our best intentions, sometimes it can be really difficult to focus and work on a task that needs to be completed. We might have both external and internal distractions.  Interruptions are inevitable and they can deter our momentum and cause us to waste a lot of time trying to backtrack when we re-engage in our work.

    External distractions can be from email, phone, internet, or open/shared workspaces (either from co-workers or from family if we’re trying to work from home).  Because of this, there are endless possibilities for losing concentration.

    Besides these external distractions, we also have the ones that are playing in our mind about what needs to be done at home, who needs to be contacted, and what tasks need to be completed for other projects we have. It is often during the time that we are focusing on our primary task that we think of these things and are tempted to switch gears and take care of them.  But flitting between things never gives us the time we need to do the profound thinking and apply the focus necessary to do a job well.

    Our society seems to value multi-tasking but the only time multi-tasking is truly helpful is when one of the tasks that we’re doing simultaneously with another doesn’t require any attention, like folding laundry while having a phone conversation.  I think there is a lot of productivity to be gained by single-tasking.  That is, doing one thing at a time until the task is completed.

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  • Wolf In Shepherd’s Clothing

    Micro-fiction by Emily Ness

    She was tired of listening to him regale her with his tales and moved to stop him in his tracks.

    The two preteens had grown up within a mile of each other and she knew his tales weren’t nearly as heroic and adventurous as he made the mundane sound. “Your tales are so boring.  I want a good story with real elements of danger and mystery and imagination.  Let me tell you some stories.  Only one will be the absolute truth and you need to guess which one it is,” she said.

    “Telling things how they are will get you a lot farther than imagining,” he said.  He leaned back on the plastic playground monkey bars and rolled his eyes skyward with boredom.

    “Alright, here goes,” she said.

    Tale 1
    Once when I was a little girl, I found a cat that had snuck in to my playroom through a window that was covered by only a gauzy tattered curtain.  The cat had obviously been in a fight and had a deep cut in his ear and a bleeding lip caused by the claw of another cat, or possibly a squirrel.  I was playing with my doctor set at the time, a cheap vinyl covered kit that contained a plastic stethoscope, a syringe and a rubber mallet.  I filled the syringe with hydrogen peroxide and cleaned the cat’s wounds, as it lay panting and immobile.  I then dabbed the cuts with a towel from my make-believe oven set and went to the kitchen to fetch it a bowl of milk.  As I set down the saucer, the cat curled around my legs.  It had followed me.  It went to take a sip but a neighborhood German Shepherd took a quick crunching bite to the cat’s head, killing it instantly.

    Tale 2
    Every day in the second grade, someone was in charge of bringing a snack to school for story time.  One day I arrived to school and realized that my mom had forgotten our turn.  There were no homemade cookies, no Puppy Chow, just incredulous looks from the other students that we had forgotten.  Mortified, I returned the three blocks home to see if there were possibly enough banana Popsicles in the  garage freezer to cover all  my classmates. I got home just in time to see the German Shepherd attacking my mom as she was getting out of the shower.  I shook him off while my mother cried and looked embarrassed and told me he really wasn’t a bad dog, just scared and looking for attention.

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  • Vinegar Water Health Tonic

    Vinegar is a panacea that has been used over the millenia for internal and external bodily health and to maintain homes and possessions.  Vinegar has a wide range of healthy functions and can be used to help with anything from digestion to cleaning to cooking.  I use it in a lot of different ways but this post will focus on one of my habits that I do every day to maintain good health – drinking vinegar water.

    Vinegar is primarily  acetic acid and its etymology is related to the French words for sour wine.  It is created by a two-step fermentation process.  The first step in the process is the fermentation of sugar in to alcohol.  The sugar can be from any natural source.  In the case of apple cider vinegar (ACV), the source of the sugar is the juice of apples.  Other vinegars you may be familiar with come from other fruits or grains such as rice, malt, or grapes (for wine vinegar).  Once the alcoholic liquid has been produced from fermentation, the second part of the process begins.  Naturally occuring bacteria begin to combine the solution with oxygen.  This process forms the acetic acid solution we know as vinegar (along with other minerals, aminos and nutrients).  You might have experienced this naturally when you haven’t finished a bottle of wine and it goes sour.

    Vinegar has been touted to have amazing benefits.  It has been cited as preventing obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, cancer, common colds, arthritis and aging.  It is also thought to boost immunity and serve as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent.  While some of these claims are pumped up, vinegar does have some real health benefits that I believe in:

    • Increases calcium absorption.  The acid in vinegar increases the body’s absorbtion of vital minerals, including calcium.  This is especially helpful for those who don’t consume dairy or suffer from osteopenia or osteoporosis.
    • Controls blood sugar levels. Consuming vinegar prior to a meal slows down the speed at which the carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body.  When the sugars from the meal are released more slowly, the body doesn’t become so overwhelmed by the glucose.  In essence, drinking vinegar can help inhibit insulin sensitivity which can help control the onset or symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes.
    • Aids digestion.  Vinegar is full of prebiotics that are present from the bacteria involved in the fermentation process.  The prebiotics nourish naturally occuring intestinal bacteria (probiotics)  that live in the gut.  Keeping the intestinal bacteria balanced and happy can help irritable bowel syndrome or a bad tummy and keeps digestion moving along.
    • Eliminates heartburn.  People get heartburn for different reasons, but one of the reasons is that certain foods can cause the esophagus to relax which allows the acid in the stomach to rise up.  Drinking vinegar makes the esophagus contract which prevents the acid from rising up.  In the case of pregnancy, the esophagus is relaxed because the placenta is producing progesterone which relaxes the smooth muscles in the uterus.  This also causes the nearby esophagus to relax which is why heartburn is such a pain during pregnancy.
    • May aid in weight loss.  According to the Nutrition Diva (whose podcast I love), acetic acid activates certain genes that cause your body to store less fat around your waist. Instead the fat is deposited more evenly around the body.  It is also thought to increase thermogenesis which essentially makes your body run hotter using fat as the fuel, similar to my post on cold showers. Read more