Reach for Hand, Lend a Paw

Today is National Love Your Pet Day and I find it particularly fitting in that in a mere two weeks, I’ll be celebrating 15 years of pet ownership, or more specifically, when Oliver, my bichon frise, joined my family. Ever since the early years of my childhood, I’ve been a fan of dogs, enthralled with their pleasant, spunky nature, their ability to comfort, inspire a smile and simply maintain a calming and joyful presence.

oliver-after-eating            dog-quote

Several weeks prior to my 14th birthday, my mom announced she found an ad in the newspaper for bichon frise puppies, just having been born. Once the phone call was made, my mom, sister and I ventured to the short distance to the woman’s home whose dog had recently birthed several bichon puppies. The puppies fit in the palms of our hands, their white fur just starting to take on their signature curl. Too small to leave their mother, we waited several weeks until we ventured back to choose our new family member.

oliver-alone

From the moment I spotted him, I knew he was the one. The smallest of the bunch, he was a bit timid, but inquisitive, and I knew, there was something special about him. At first, my family questioned why I was so set on him when his other siblings happily frolicked about. For me, though, perhaps there was something about Oliver that resonated so deeply within me. From that moment on, I knew it was him; my co-pilot, my friend, my companion, the one constant in my life, who would be there through it all, always waiting for me at the end of the day.

oliver-busy-bone

So today, a day when we commemorate the love our pets, I’d like to share a montage of photos I’ve accumulated through the years, showcasing Oliver in his happiest moments, adding joy and light to my life and my family, showering us with love and care. He is truly loved and that love has persisted through his 15 years and will always continue. Here’s to you, Oliver, thank you for being you, thank you for your love, your presence and your guidance. Thank you for teaching me the meaning of resilience and strength and that sometimes, love is the best medicine we could ever give.

oliver-busy-treats              Oliver in his shirt.png     oliver-tongue

All the Treats, No Tricks

Tomorrow is a week exactly until Halloween. For me, it’s always been a hit or miss type of holiday. More times than I can probably recall, I’ve missed out on the holiday, or at least, ended up unable to fully celebrate or engage in any holiday-related festivities. The first instance I can remember happened in October 1998, at the age of 10. For about a week or at least several days prior to the actual occurrence, I’d been experiencing strange stomach discomfort. At first, my mom and I both assumed it must have been some type of intestinal gas, or something benign of that nature. Though, on or around the 28th of October, the discomfort increased to the point where I inherently knew it wasn’t simply a minor event.

halloween

It just so happened that particular evening, my parents were at a meeting at school, so they were unable to be easily reached. In the time before cell phones, without a pay phone, or landline phone, it was nearly impossible to reach them, until my mom called to check in on their way into the grocery store, stopping at a pay phone. Hearing the grave and frantic nature of my and my sister’s voices, our parents rushed home and quickly placed me inside the car and transported me to the ER. Within several hours, in the wee hours of the morning, my appendix was removed, as doctors feared it could soon rupture, given my blood work results and examination. It took me a bit longer than some to recover from the surgery and Halloween soon arrived, with me bed ridden. Early Halloween morning, a nurse entered my room with two stacks of cards, festively decorated. Some, she explained, were from a local elementary school who designed cards for pediatric hospital patients. Therefore, I was one of the recipients. The cards were filled with silly and fun sayings and mantras, colorfully decorated to brighten my spirits, which it did. The other stack of cards came from my 5th grade class at school. Needless to say, though I wasn’t trick-or-treating that year, I certainly felt loved and “treated.”

Several Halloweens following that year, I suffered from minor sniffles and colds, causing me to either skip out on trick-or-treating entirely, or at least shorten my Halloween adventures. Then, as a 20-year-old, I again found myself hospitalized on Halloween. Though at 20, I was certainly way past a typical trick-or-treating age, I still felt disappointed to again be unable to join in the festivities as so many of my fellow 20-year-old college students did. Without disclosing the nature of my hospitalization, it was a holiday within the unit of the hospital that again filled me with love and appreciation. My fellow hospital patients; some children, some teens, and some adults, both male and female, wrote cards to one another and distributed them; trick-or-treating of a different kind, again filled with all treats, as opposed to tricks. The cards were filled with what we liked or admired about one another.

At this point, you may be wondering what prompted this particular post, and to that inquiry, I respond with the outpouring of posts and articles I’ve seen on candy-free Halloweens, or displaying a teal pumpkin outside one’s home, indicating they are “allergy-free.” It’s a concept I’ve come to embrace and one that is a reminder of the candy-free Halloweens filled with inspiring cards and words, as opposed to sweet, edible treats. Though I’m not opposed to candy (I’m a true fan of many!), the candy-free concept is one I feel is a positive one; one where children and adults can both engage in and celebrate, no matter their financial state, because kind words are always free.

teal-pumpkin

So, this Halloween, if you’re feeling pressured to perfect your Halloween candy bowls or party preparations, just remember, sometimes a caring word, thought, card, or acknowledgment can be so much sweeter than the most decadent of candies and/or foods.

Happy Halloween!

With this Ring: Hallmark-Inspired Evenings!

Good morning! I hope your week is off to a great start, thus far. Unfortunately, I’m still feeling a bit under the weather. A couple days ago, I thought my cold/allergies were subsiding, but it seems I’ve caught a second wind of it. I’m hoping soon it will again subside and this time, permanently. Moving onto a topic that definitely boosts my spirits significantly is this weekend! Yes, I know it’s only Tuesday, but in my mind, Tuesday is one day closer than yesterday, to Saturday night! Given June is often a month synonymous for weddings, the Hallmark Channel has taken note of this and planned accordingly!

Hallmark Channel logo

If you’re unsure what I’m referring to, starting this Saturday night (6/20) at 9pm (U.S. Eastern Time), the Hallmark Channel kicks off it’s June Weddings Television Event! Both this weekend (Saturday – 6/20 AND Sunday 6/21), plus the following Saturday evening, viewers will be treated to brand-new wedding-related movies! In my mind, it is the perfect opportunity to kick back with a mug of coffee (or wine, or some other beverage of your choice) and perhaps a yummy snack and settle in for two hours of yes, I’ll admit, it can be slightly cheesy, but in a good way, love and lighthearted situations. In my opinion, it’s an effective and easy way to escape the stresses of daily life.

June Weddings hallmark

Hallmark Channel’s June Weddings Movie Premiere Line-Up:

  • A Perfect Match (Saturday, 6/20 at 9pm, eastern time): Starring Danica McKellar (of The Wonder Years and most recently, Dancing with the Stars!) and Paul Greene. As described via (hallmarkchannel.com): When an engaged couple can’t agree on anything, the mother of the groom (Linda Gray) hires a wedding planner (Danica McKellar) and an event planner (Paul Greene) to help put together the wedding of their dreams.  The two planners are as different as night and day, but as they too learn to compromise, they discover opposites do indeed attract and can combine to produce incredible results!

A Perfect Match movie

  • Love, Again (Sunday 6/21 at 9pm eastern Time): Starring Teri Polo (of The Meet the Parents movie franchise and most recently, ABC Family’s TV show, The Fosters) and Paul Johansson. As described via (hallmarkchannel.com): A couple is on the brink of a divorce when they must work together on planning their daughter’s wedding. While they don’t want to disrupt their daughter’s happiness by announcing their divorce, they must learn to work together to keep the wedding going, and soon discover their marriage just might be worth saving.

Love Again movie

  • A Country Wedding (Saturday, 6/27 at 9pm, eastern time): Starring Jesse Metcalfe (of the former soap opera, Passions, Desperate Housewives, etc) and Autumn Reeser (of The O.C., The Whispers, as well as other Hallmark Channel movies). As described via (hallmarkchannel.com): A country western star returns to his hometown to sell his childhood home prior to his wedding. Upon his arrival, he meets the girl he proposed to when he was 8-years-old and she helps plan the wedding in his fiancé’s absence. Faced with old feelings that come flooding back, he will discover what really matters in life.

A Country Wedding movie

Well, there you have it – the June Weddings movie line-up on Hallmark Channel! Looks like it will be an entertaining trio. Be sure to let me know if you happen to watch it and your thoughts on it!

Wedding Quote

A Supportive Paw

Good Morning! I hope your weekend has been a pleasant and relaxing one, thus far! On Friday, the temperatures ended up being extremely oppressive and uncomfortable with the humidity soaring, making it nearly impossible to be outside for more than a short period of time. Also, I made the poor decision of leaving my flip flops in a closed, sweltering car, which almost melted them! Lesson learned, for sure. Thankfully, they were able to be salvaged after taking some time to cool off in my air-conditioned house!

Therapy Dogs 3

Anyhow, given I follow several local television news stations in the area, I recently noticed my local ABC News affiliate, 6ABC Action News of Philadelphia, shared an article via social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) and since having stumbled across it on Thursday evening, it’s been on my mind. It’s not the first time I’ve heard of animals, in particular dogs, assisting in the most unique ways and providing a source of comfort, encouragement and companionship to people, even those they just met; (To preview the article/story I’m speaking of, here is a link, if you’d like to check it out: http://6abc.com/pets/newest-court-employee-dog-providing-comfort-to-kids-on-the-stand/778441/)

Therapy Dogs

In the city of Poughkeepsie, NY, specially-trained service dogs, will now be a permanent presence in the courthouse with the ability to provide children with support and comfort, as they take the stand, a task which can be anxiety-ridden and overwhelming for anyone, let alone children. Dogs such as Bosch, the canine featured in the article, will be trained by nonprofit organizations, such as the East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD), which, according to the article, has trained over 250 canines thus far and has been able to assist in an array of situations for over 20 years.

Employees of ECAD stated that the dogs provide children with the feeling that they can “tell their stories in a safe way.” The dogs are trained to sense anxiety and stress and perhaps already harbor an innate sense of recognizing these signs of distress. I was more than intrigued after reading this article and seeing how helpful and significant a dog’s presence can truly be. It’s not the first time I’ve read about an initiative such as this and in fact, I have experienced something relatively similar myself.

Years ago and fairly recently, as well, while waiting in my local hospital’s emergency room (both for myself and family members, at one point), a man walked through with a golden retriever on a leash. Instantly, I noticed the faces on many of the people’s faces light up. They were instantly taken with the sight of the friendly dog, who casually and happily walked over to many of them, greeting them and sending friendly and relaxed vibes through the otherwise, tense room. It was hard to be sad when in the presence of this dog and for a short while, he provided the room (and most definitely, me) with a pleasant distraction.

Therapy Dogs 2

In another instance, I also learned of a program where children read to dogs, as a form of therapy, comfort and a source of reassurance. One organization in particular, Therapy Dogs International (http://www.tdi-dog.org/OurPrograms.aspx?Page=Children+Reading+to+Dogs), state that their mission in providing the program is:

“To provide a relaxed and “dog-friendly” atmosphere, which allows students to practice the skill of reading. Many of the children chosen for this program have difficulties reading and as a result have developed self-esteem issues. They are often self-conscious when reading aloud in front of other classmates.

By sitting down next to a dog and reading to the dog, all threats of being judged are put aside. The child relaxes, pats the attentive dog, and focuses on the reading. Reading improves because the child is practicing the skill of reading, building self-esteem, and associating reading with something pleasant.”

Tail Waggin Tutors Logo copy

Ever since I was first made abreast of this program, it’s always been on my mind and I am in full support of it. Having worked with a vast array of children in school settings throughout the course of my life and having weathered through a host of self-esteem issues myself, there is nothing better than providing children with an alternative way to foster a love of reading and a boost of confidence.

My reason for this post today, is my desire to share with you, whomever may be reading, of the many ways dogs can often offer us something well-beyond what traditional therapies and “scientifically” proven methodologies can. It is proof that sometimes, the only “medicine” or “treatment” a child, or anyone, for that matter, truly needs, is unconditional love and unwavering support. A supportive presence, helping hand (or paw) and listening ear can make all the difference.

Therapy Dog Quote

Bark Around the World

Good morning! I hope your week has been a pleasant one and that your weekend will be filled with fun, sunshine and relaxation! Originally, I had intended to compose this very post yesterday, after first reading the to-be mentioned article, but honestly felt too overwhelmed with emotion to do so. I figured this morning would be best, after I gave myself a chance to digest all I read.

If you’re a social media follower (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc) of news organizations/TV stations, such as ABC News, or a follower of various magazines, such as Health or others, then it’s very likely you’ve already seen, read, or heard about the heart wrenching story of New York City resident, Thomas Neil Rodriguez and the trip around the world he recently took with his terminally-ill, 15-year-old mixed-breed dog, Poh and his fiance.

Poh 2

Together since Rodriguez adopted him in December 1999, Rodriguez described Poh in an interview with ABC News (via http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/york-man-takes-dying-dog-bucket-list-adventure/story?id=31338158) as, ”

“My life is kind of hectic,” Rodriguez said. “I’m always traveling, but Poh is my home, my child. I think this resonated with a lot of dog owners. They wish they could do stuff like this with their dog and spend these moments, but sometimes life gets in the way.”

“I am super blessed that I have actually gotten to do this,” he added. “People think I take care of Poh, but Poh takes care of me.”

Back in March, the 12,000 mile journey throughout the United States commenced and was documented on an Instagram account he created to show others of their experiences. Several of the photos were shared on the aforementioned ABC News article and one in particular brought tears to my eyes. Though the story in general left me in tears for a good portion of the day, the photo of Poh in a wagon, with the San Francisco Golden Gate bridge as backdrop, touched a part of me that hasn’t been that moved since my own dog, Oliver had a recent host of health issues. What I felt when looking at the photo and simply reading through the article is something that is truly difficult and near impossible to place into words.

Poh

In thinking about it, I suppose what really got to me, is the notion of me being a dog owner since a couple days before my 14th birthday. As a child, I begged and begged my parents for a dog, always finding comfort and solace in them. Beginning from when I was 9 years old, I was enthralled with dogs. Towards the end of May, as a 9-year-old, my sister and I took comfort and comradeship with the dog belonging to the family who lived behind us. Our grandmother had recently passed away after an intense, 6-month battle with Leukemia and being able to play with Darby, the friendly Golden Retriever in our backyard, was the best therapy that could have ever been offered to me. He stayed by my side, licking my hand, taking delight in my playful nature. He offered a distraction from the sadness and loneliness I felt.

From that moment on, I desperately longed for a dog and for my 14th birthday, my wishes were finally answered. Seeing an ad for Bichon Frise puppies in the newspaper, my mom took my sister and I one Sunday afternoon to choose the puppy we wanted and having tied a blue bandana around him, Oliver was chosen. It’s hard for me to remember what life was like without Oliver. Of course, it’s not to say life has been easy with him, because it hasn’t. It has been a challenge, both physically and emotionally. Throughout the years, we’ve watched him battle through infections, surgeries, surgical errors, and a host of other issues, but his resilience has always shone through. Throughout all of it, no matter the obstacles thrown his way, he’s always risen above, maintaining his strength, sometimes sobbing, but still making it through, his tail wagging each day, greeting me when I walk through the door.

Oliver tongue

Though sometimes I can become frustrated with him, he is my family. It’s hard for me to imagine my house empty, without him. So perhaps this is why reading about Rodriguez’s journey with Poh hit home. Reading about their adventures together, seeing the passion and joy they experienced, is something I long for with Oliver. Looking back on old pictures of Oliver, it’s hard for me to remember when he used to move about easily, sitting perched on top of the sofa, eagerly running up and down the steps. Being 13-years-old now, it is challenging for him to move around, as the arthritis often reduces his mobility. My life with him consists of patience and understanding. It’s all I can do to repay him for his patience with me, seeing me cry as I experienced the many disappointments in life. Though I am often distracted by my own personal struggles, Oliver always seems to look at me with a certain sense of pride and understanding and he is forgiving.

Oliver in his shirt

If nothing else, Oliver teaches me what it means to be resilient, forgiving and understanding. He offers me companionship and like Rodriguez and Poh, for the past 13-years, he’s been my consistent home.

Changed in an Instant

Yesterday was a day as typical as any other day. At night, I met with a friend for a bit and then arrived home around the early 10pm hour. Throughout most days and evenings, I am typically checking social media quite voraciously, loving to read the latest news and be aware about what is actually transpiring. Last night, upon arriving home, I mindlessly clicked over to the Twitter app, curious to see if anything new and exciting was occurring. Though, what I came to see was new, but not in a positive sense.

Merely 15 miles from me, give or take, 8-10 train cars completely derailed off-track, trains that were innocently-enough traveling as they typically did from Washington D.C. to New York City. Instantly, from reading the massive number of tweets from local and national television anchors, in addition to numerous TV stations, I knew something was gravely wrong and that this was not a minor event, by any means. My heart began to race as I scanned through tweets and Facebook posts, seeing people being escorted in numerous amounts from the trains, covered in blood, many distraught and crying, some inconsolable. I was disturbed and unable to sleep the majority of the night, feeling almost guilty in a sense for laying there in bed, safe, while these other innocent individuals were faced with massive destruction and a life-threatening experience. At this point in time, 6 train passengers are confirmed dead, with a significant number of others in critical condition, or injured in some way. The entire night, I couldn’t stop thinking about the crash, the people on aboard, their loved ones, the people waiting for them at home. It could truly happen to anyone and I couldn’t help but place myself in the passengers’ shoes and in their loved ones shoes.

Too often, we, as people get into our cars, or other modes of transportation without thinking of much. Sometimes, when driving, we are caught in bumper to bumper traffic, or we leave the house later than we needed to and are rushing to get from one place to other. At these times, we can drive on autopilot, failing to consider the others around us who are also driving. Yes, we are driving cars, trucks, SUV’s, and the like, but there are people who are driving these modes of transportation. People, who are mothers, fathers, sister’s, brother’s, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands, wives, and the list goes on. They are not simply an inanimate object operating a vehicle. I think sometimes, we, as people can forget this, as we become distracted and caught up in getting to where we need to, or we take out or anger and frustration on the roads.

In an instant, everything, and I mean, everything, can change. Sometimes they can truly change for the positive, but other times, the change can be grave and detrimental. In an instant, those we love can be taken from us. I think this truth is probably what I am struggling with most today. As I watched the trains overturned and the people screaming and running for their lives, or trapped within the trains, I couldn’t settle myself, as my mind continued churning and churning. They are innocent people, boarding a train for what should have been a relatively quick and routine trip, whose lives are now changed, no matter the severity of their physical injuries. Sometimes, I think the emotional injuries can be worse than those of a physical nature, because no band-aid can eradicate the emotional scars and wounds, except time and a new perspective. Whether they want it to or not, this train experience will change all of those involved, or even those who witnessed the third accounts of it, like myself.

I was wracked with such pain and empathy for all of those involved, wishing there was something I could do to somehow make it better. Though, I realize, the only thing I can do is love my family and friends and be as safe as I can be on the roads and realize that being late somewhere, or going a little slower on the roads isn’t going to make that much a difference. Every minute and second counts.

Today and for the days to come, I am keeping those involved in the trash crash in my surrounding city close and deep in my thoughts, praying for a fast recovery, both a physical and emotional one, hoping they know their strength and their ability for resilience. I’m also truly thankful and in awe of all the first responders and officials who quickly spun into action to help these people. They are truly heroes and I have the utmost respect for them and hope they know how much they are appreciated and celebrated, today and everyday.

Mothers, Memories and Me

Happy Mother’s Day! This holiday has become a day that means more to me than most holidays, birthdays or really any other kind of event or celebration. This year, however, means even more than in preceding years, because I not only celebrate my own mom, who I love so very deeply and unconditionally, but also, my sister and best friend, who celebrates her first Mother’s Day, today. It’s truly challenging for me to place into words the way I feel about both my mom and sister. They are my closest confidantes, the ones I can turn to without having to contemplate a single thought, because I can truly be who I am around them. Throughout my entire life, they have loved me unconditionally, seen my at my best and at my worst, but always treated me like me, and nothing less.

Both my mom and sister inspire me every day and show me what it means to love, what it means to be strong and resilient. They also have shown me how important it is to keep moving forward, no matter what obstacles life may throw at us. They approach each situation with grace and poise. They’ve held my hand and wiped my tears through many trying situations and events we’ve weathered through and believed and trusted in me even when I didn’t believe or trust myself.

Last August, my sister gave me the greatest gift of all – the title of an Aunt, to my niece, who I love with a deeper sentiment than I ever believed possible. When I hold my niece, I feel such joy and calm, knowing she is my sister’s daughter, I see such beauty, grace and intelligence. She is not only my niece, but my friend.

The other day, as I perused through Facebook, a piece of writing about mothers filled by newsfeed, posted by one of my favorite magazines, Redbook. I thought I would share it with whomever may be reading this today, believing that perhaps you might be as inspired by it as I was. Reading through most of it, it resonated with me, and I felt a deep sense of understanding and was taken by how very true it is.

(Found via Redbook’s Facebook Page):

1. She knew and accepted you at every phase, even the awkward ones.
There aren’t many people there for us during both our temper tantrum years and the months we wore shiny silver braces.
2. Even when you didn’t want her there, she still stuck around.
Remember when you slammed the door in her face as an angst-ridden teen? She probably lingered on the other side for a bit.
3. And held your hand every step of the way, especially when you were lost.
Whether forcing you to go about your routine or sending you some inspiration through the phone or Internet, she continues to guide you.
4. She put your happiness above her own.
She helped you solve your problems, even when it meant missing her favorite television show or a night out with girlfriends.
5. She continued to support you even when many people left.
Friends come and go, but no situation can keep a mom from making her daughter’s life brighter.
6. She never failed to be honest.
She’d pick out the negative that many failed to acknowledge (that boyfriend really wasn’t worth your time) and most of the time, her perception ended up being scarily accurate.
7. And worry about your well-being when others steered you wrong.
The thing with a mom is she doesn’t care what’s popular or cool, but rather how best to protect you.
8. She isn’t likely to cancel on plans and leave you hanging.
Being with you is always going to be her first choice.
9. She’ll yell in your face before talking behind your back.
Her words may sound harsh, but at least she tells it like it is, unlike the many “friends” you’ve had who’ve told one of your secrets, spread a rumor or lied to you.
10. Your relationship goes beyond catty fights.
Since you’re at different places in your life, you’re not likely to be in competition for anything. And even the most intense fight could usually be worked out because, hey, it’s not like you can unfriend or divorce your mother.
11. She’ll hate the same people you hate.
We can’t deny that there have been moments when Mom acted like a vengeful teenager. It’s just that your mother isn’t only your cheerleader but also your bodyguard.
12. Because at the end of the day, blood is thicker than water.
Your first love may not be your soulmate after all. Your best friend forever may be your best friend until it’s less convenient. No matter how extreme your differences may be, family members seem to possess the gift of forgiveness. If you and your mom grow apart believe that you will eventually patch up whatever it is that soiled things. After all, she’s one of the only people who knows you better than yourself and has your best interest at heart 100% of the time.

Thank you to Redbook for providing me with a much-needed perspective and for allowing me to reflect on all the wonderful characteristics and comradeship my mom and I share. It is not only my mom who shares in these aforementioned truths, but also my sister. Together, they are the two best people within my life, who provide me with strength and inspiration, each and every day. I love them from the bottom of my heart and hope they have the most wonderful day today, filled with all the love and happiness life truly has to offer!

Mom quote           Mom quote 2        Sister quote