This and That

Musings on Being a Writer and My Life
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Dog Tales–Welcoming a Dog Into Our Home

  • July 31, 2017 2:42 am

When I think about how happy I am to have my delightful dog Sparkle in my life, I am amazed.

For a long time I resisted having a dog. First of all, I am allergic to dogs, and I feared that I would be sick all the time. Secondly, I knew that a dog would tie us down. My late husband, Dan, and I loved our freedom and being spontaneous—often deciding to take an overnight jaunt to the beach when we got up in the morning. Dogs are very social, of course, and need to be around people—especially their “parents.” I didn’t see how our lifestyle would accommodate a dog.

True confession: I really didn’t like dogs—I thought they were a nuisance and I avoided them as much as possible.  And then there was my fear of dogs, which started when I was just 3 years old. Our family had an Irish Setter—a puppy. My Mom had her hands full with my brother and sister and me—and she was expecting her fourth child. So, I’m sure she had no available time to train a rambunctious puppy. My Dad worked shift work and had a long commute, so the dog sort of trained himself. I remember playing in the backyard and the dog knocking me down and tearing the sash on my dress. (I refused to wear pants when I was little. I told my parents that “Pants is for boys.”) Shortly after that, the dog (whose name I can’t remember) went to “live at the farm.” The result of my interactions with this pet was a fear of dogs that stayed with me into adulthood.

Sparkle came to live with us after my husband’s first cancer. Seeing his transformed face when he cuddled a dog at the hospital during his recovery, I knew we had to find one I could tolerate. People suggested a French poodle, claiming that they were “hypoallergenic.” But quite frankly, I found poodles to be cloying. And I thought that they were probably high maintenance princesses. But,  mixing a poodle with another breed, results in a    delightful dog that I could tolerate.

Finding a reliable, caring dog sitter who charged a reasonable fee to keep our pet in her home when we wanted to travel or had a busy day, made having a dog easier.

With all of the obstacles to including a furry “baby” into our home overcome, we found a little Yorkie-poo puppy that we named Sparkle.

My husband adored Sparkle. I credit her with helping him to recover from his first cancer surgery, which was a brutal operation following chemotherapy and radiation. She gave him great comfort and he loved to take her out for walks several times a day. Dan trained her with love and gentleness, and she was housebroken by the time she was only 3 months old. Walking Sparkle got my late husband back into life and he even met several other “puppy daddies” every day to chat and occasionally go out for coffee. After Dan’s death, Sparkle helped me mourn my terrible loss and I know that she misses him.  I cherish Sparkle as my connection to my late husband.

I’m astonished by how much I enjoy being a dog parent. Here are a few of my insights:

 

What I learned from my Dog, Sparkle

It is easy to love an animal.

A 14 pound,  one foot tall dog can be in charge of a household!

Petting a dog is soothing and helps to deal with stress.

Taking care of a dog is a job— and is a lot like having a toddler.Daddy's Girl

Kissing a dog does not lead to a fatal attack of “dog germs” (ala Lucy in “Peanuts”).

Playing with a dog is not only fun, it is comical and relaxing.

Dogs are a great comfort when you are sick, stressed or lonely.

Dogs love to eat—all the time.

Dogs have the most pathetic way of begging for food—all the time. And it is very easy to give into them.

You can learn “doggie-talk.”  For example, I know the difference between a bark that means, “I want to go out” and “I want a treat.”

Walking a dog is a great way to get to know people.

A dog can quickly learn that if she sits just right, you will give her a treat.

Living with a dog brings new energy into your household.

It’s easy to spoil a dog.

You can give your dog a cute name, and she won’t mind.

Stuffed dogs and dog books are no substitute for the real thing.

A dog will find a place deep in your heart and, at some point, you realize how grateful you are that she is there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Solo Traveler

  • May 13, 2017 11:57 pm

sunset-Hawaii

As I get older, I am very aware of how time is limited and the fact that tomorrow—or even five minutes from now—isn’t guaranteed. This realization led me to do something I never thought I’d do—travel outside of familiar places alone. Sure, I fly back and forth to Buffalo and Oregon to visit family and friends by myself all the time. I take pride in my ability to not only plan those trips, but to complete them by myself. But the trip I was contemplating was more complicated.

I wanted to travel to Hawai’i and see Maui again. The only other time I’d been to Maui, I was on a cruise and I got the usual highlights tours of the island. This time, I had a list of things I wanted to do, some for the first time, and others were repeats of things I had enjoyed before.

After working out the logistics of the trip (with a few false starts), I asked various friends and my daughter if they would accompany me on this “Bucket List” trip. I was a little amazed when no one was able and /or interested in going! Their reasons varied from “I’m not interested,” to “I have to work.”

Finally, after thinking about my options, it was obvious that there was only one choice—go by myself. For months, I waffled about whether or not I wanted to travel alone to Hawai’i—which is 2500 miles away from the nearest land mass and where I knew absolutely no one—or if I should just postpone the whole trip until someone could join me.

Finally, I decided to go—and take a chance on staying healthy, finding my way around, and being safe. One of my major concerns was being lonely. The thought of eating all of my meals without a companion was depressing. And to whom would I point out a particularly stunning or exciting sight?

I did my homework, as the saying goes, and prepared for the trip by carefully researching the hotel I chose and booking tours to accomplish my goals.

The trip was fabulous! I found out that going alone isn’t a bad option as long as you are somewhat resilient and make sound plans. Eating dinner at busy restaurants alleviated my loneliness. I enjoyed the people watching and felt like I was part of a community, albeit a temporary one.  Booking group tours meant that I had companions to share my experiences with and diminished any risks involved. Because I am naturally out-going and friendly, I found it easy to strike up a conversation with my tour companions. The down hours I spent with my trusty Tablet, playing games, posting pictures on Face Book, and reading. I also “checked in” every day with some close friends and family via text and phone calls.

There were benefits I didn’t expect. Driving myself to my hotel on a stunningly scenic road on Maui made me feel empowered. After all, this wasn’t a familiar route in my hometown, nor was I being chauffeured by my daughter.  I found my way (thanks to Google) and didn’t make a bunch of wrong turns. (I’m not too adept at using navigation systems.)

Making my way around a strange town and seeing what I came to see was liberating. I didn’t have to accommodate anyone but myself. I chose what I wanted to do—and did it on my own schedule.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I would hesitate if I went to a non-English speaking country of course, because that would present different kinds of challenges. But somehow, the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted was life-affirming for me.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

I Think I’ll Write a Book

  • March 11, 2017 12:28 am

books

 

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the young woman. “It will be poetry, verses about love and longing and the angst of being twenty.” That Christmas she received a suede-covered volume from her beau inscribed ‘Kate’s Scribbles.’  After he left her, she filled the parchment pages with poems and stories of love and heartbreak which were splattered with her tears. When she graduated from college, she clutched her teaching degree to her heart. Her mother’s advice echoed in her ears.

“Teaching is a good profession for a woman. You’ll be home when your children are—and you can always write in the summers when you’re off,” her mother advised.

The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.                                                                                               ***

 

“I think I’ll write a book,” said the woman.

Her husband laughed. “When will you have time for that?” he asked archly. “We have a child to raise. We can’t take chances like that, not with a mortgage and bills and obligations. Maybe someday—but not now.”

The woman nodded.

Yes, maybe someday she would take a pen in hand and write. She’d tell the story of a young couple, only in their thirties, with a child, finding their way in a sometimes hostile world.

The suede-covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.

                                                                           ***

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the forty–something matron. Life’s lessons had etched fine lines around her mouth and eyes, and added streaks of gray to her dark hair. Children were her main concern—her own child who was struggling to find her way and the ones she taught every day. Her marriage was in tatters from the battering of life’s realities: finances, personal problems and dreams that might never be realized. The woman could not remember the last time she had written anything other than a grocery list or a note to a parent. Sometimes, she would pick up a pen and hold it in her hand, hoping that words would flow onto paper. Once in a while they did, but the words spoke of anger and frustration and mostly of lost opportunity. So she hid those words from herself.

Her mother, now dead, had advised her well. Teaching was, after all, a steady, predictable job with an income she could rely on.

The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.

 

                                                                                      ***

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” the woman said to her friends as they toasted her fiftieth birthday. She thought back to the earlier years, when the desire to write flamed in her heart. Searching everywhere, she finally found the suede bound book with poems so full of young love and loss and promise. Taking it reverently from its shelf, she blew the dust away. That night, she sat and read until her eyes grew heavy and a single tear traced its way down her cheek. And she felt like a part of her was dead.

***

“I think I’ll write a book,” said the widow, now in her sixties with hair that was more silver than black.  Sadness was her daily companion. “I’ll write about loss and loneliness, and trying to make my life new.”

Her career as a teacher was a memory—one that over time had become more distant.

The woman’s child, now grown, lived in the great northwest forest with her beloved. Days were empty and the woman wanted—no—needed to tell her stories.

So, she picked up a pen, and began to write. Words flowed like water breeching a dam. And the woman wrote a book, and another book and another book. The pages were filled with the story of her life: of the things she had put aside, the sacrifices she had made, and the joys and dreams that had been realized. She wrote of the sorrow and the searing pain of loss. As she wrote tears and sometimes even laughter were her companions.

Surveying the shelf crowded now with the suede-covered volume and many others like it, she smiled.

With words as soft as a prayer, she whispered, “Finally, I wrote my book.”

 

The Future and the Past

  • April 9, 2016 3:06 am

key west 14 7

 

After my recent shoulder surgery , I went to a rehabilitation facility to hasten my recovery. It was an unusually pleasant place—attractive, clean, with attentive staff.

During the ten days I stayed there, I experienced something that shook me to the core of my being.

I was much younger and healthier than the typical resident at the facility. It was like being a teenager at your grandparent’s fiftieth anniversary party.

Like most facilities of this nature, the staff provided stimulating experiences: entertainment by local people, bingo games, and movies. I attended several of these functions because the days often felt incredibly long. I soon realized that most of the people who attended these functions were “long-term residents”—a euphemism for people whose memories and personalities had been ravaged by aging.

I went to a community birthday party one afternoon. (The draw for me was the cake and ice cream!) I chose to sit at a table with a man and his wife—people I saw every day. They appeared to be in my age range so I thought that we might be able to visit with one another.  The woman resembled me somewhat—she was obviously of Irish descent, with dark, wavy hair, dark eyes and fair skin.

But when I attempted to chat with the couple, it soon became obvious that the woman had dementia. I watched as the husband tenderly attended to her, spooning ice cream into her mouth, and wiping her lips and encouraging her to take sips from a cup of punch.

At one point, I looked at him and smiled.  A tear trickle down his cheek. I wondered if I reminded him of his wife in better days; and that my presence was a reminder of all that had been swallowed up by his wife’s illness. It felt like entering into his private hell.

Looking around, I realized that the staff who took care of the long-term residents could have been me at the height of my teaching career.  And the long term-residents could be my future.

It was chilling to see my past and (possibly) my future.

 

 

 

     Real Estate

  • August 23, 2015 11:43 pm

boat ride

Some friends and I had a wonderful day out today. We went to nearby Winter Park, a chi-chi destination in the Orlando area. We took the iconic Winter Park Boat Ride—an attraction (for want of a better word) that has been around for decades.

An open boat powered by an outboard motor cruises through three of the Winter Park-Maitland chain of lakes. It’s a pleasant ride featuring views of beautiful homes, scenery, and parts of Rollins College.

The tour guide was a man who probably helped launch the business 40+ years ago. He pointed out all of the historic sights, and commented on the beautiful homes that ringed the lakes. I don’t need to tell you that the homes were enormous—some as large as 20,000 square feet! He also entertained us by telling us that purchasing a lot on the lake would cost at least a million dollars.

When I lived in Western New York, my husband and his brother co-owned an outboard motor boat. We loved to go out on Lake Erie and ogle the mansions that lined the lake shore.

We’ve also been to Ft. Lauderdale where there is a boat ride that travels through the canals that crisscross that city. And, needless to say, part of the cruise takes you past big, expensive mansions, and yachts that have their own swimming pools and helicopter pads!

It occurred to me at one time that these cruises had one odd thing in common—taking middle class folks past homes they could never afford to own. It’s almost like a tease—“See what rich folks have—that you will NEVER have!”  It reminds me of a song from Camelot, “What Do the Simple Folk Do?,” only in reverse.

There I was again today, ogling the unattainable real estate—and loving every minute of it!

 

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

April Tenth

  • April 11, 2015 1:39 am
Joanne Poth Joyce

Joanne Poth Joyce

There are certain dates that are more meaningful than others. One of those dates is April 10,1983. That was the date my Mom passed away after almost two years of coping with lung cancer.

I remember that day with crystal clarity.

It was a Sunday—a week after Easter. The weather was perfect: warm and sunny. I had attended noon Mass and then rushed to my parents’ home to see my Mom.  It was around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. When I got there, it was obvious that Mom was dying. I helped my Dad change her nightgown and then kept vigil with him as she left this world.

The priest came and gave her the Last Rites.  At one point, shortly after she died, I was aware of her soul—her anima—leaving the room.

My brother Michael was there with his wife and boys and I remember my sister Susan being there, too.

Eventually, the rest of my brothers and sisters (except for my youngest sister who was in Honduras doing research for her doctorate) assembled at the house.

As the daylight waned, we sat on our parents’ bed and talked about our Mom and our loss.  It was both sacred and comforting to be able to be together in that way.

Now, all these years later, all that’s left is memories. I wish I could hear Mom’s voice one more time, or sit and talk with her again.

So much has happened since then. Our Dad died only a year and half later, babies were born, my sister and another brother got married, one of my mother’s children died too soon, my husband died, the grandchildren grew up and great-grandchildren were born. The family faced many crises and survived.

While time has tempered the grief, I still mourn for my Mom. She was only 60 years old when she died. We never got to see either of our parents grow to be old. They are preserved at a certain age and time in our memories.

Yet, I still yearn to spend one more minute, hour or day with my mother.

 

It’s Okay to Cry

  • March 21, 2015 1:50 am

 

 

Tears. Crying. Sobbing.

Some people can’t stand the sight of tears. They feel uncomfortable when someone in their midst starts to cry. They furnish the tearful one with tissues. They tell you that you don’t need to cry. And some even demand that you stop.  Then they’ll offer platitudes to “comfort” you.

“He’s in a better place.”

“She doesn’t want you to be sad.”

“Crying won’t change things.”

Sometimes, guilt is used.

“Everyone’s looking at you.”

“Stop acting like a baby.”

“Real men don’t cry.”

“C’mon, it’s been months.”

To me, tears are cathartic. I’ve had a lot to cry about the past several years: the death of my husband and brother and several friends.

I’ve hidden my tears, and shown a seemingly competent, albeit subdued front.

Time does, indeed, mute the pain. Notice I said mute, not erase. Nothing erases the pain. It’s there and it will be there for the rest of my life, I am sure. As I start to move on, and to participate more fully in my life, behind the smiles and the laughter is a deep well of loss and grief.

So, if tears should flow, I will let them. I will let them cleanse me and help me to cope. And then, once again, I will be ready to face a new day—alone.

 

 

A Taste of Home

  • August 1, 2014 3:25 pm

I think everyone who moves away from home nostalgically remembers foods they loved and can’t get anymore.

New Yorkers wax poetically about bagels, pizza and well, just about everything else. Those of us from Buffalo have a soft place in our hearts for chicken wings (notice I did not say Buffalo wings), beef on weck, Ted’s hot dogs  and the Friday Fish Fry , to say nothing about Anderson’s ice cream.

When I go back to Buffalo, I look forward to these delicacies. This last trip was no exception, of course. On my way to the hotel after I arrived in Buffalo, I stopped at Danny’s, a landmark restaurant, and indulged in the “Taste of Buffalo Platter” which included a small beef on weck with horseradish, and four delectable chicken wings. Weck, by the way, is a crusty roll with rye seeds and kosher salt on top.  Delicious!

The next night, I had dinner with some family members—and I ordered a traditional Buffalo fish fry. If you’re from the Midwest or many places in New York State, you know what a fish fry is: a huge piece of fried fish served with macaroni salad (notice it’s not pasta salad—that’s for you fancy types), potato salad and Cole slaw. It’s not Weight Watcher’s food—but it’s yummy.

These local delicacies are not found in chain restaurants or upscale restaurants. This is comfort food and is found in bars, which usually have a back room which serves as a restaurant.

Is there anything better than the taste of home?

It’s Okay to Cry

  • June 14, 2014 6:08 am

 

 

Tears. Crying. Sobbing.

Some people can’t stand the sight of tears. They feel uncomfortable when someone in their midst starts to cry.

They’ll hand you tissues and tell you that you don’t need to cry. Even demand that you stop.  Then they’ll offer platitudes to “comfort” you.

“He’s in a better place.”

“She doesn’t want you to be sad.”

“Crying won’t change things.”

Sometimes, guilt is used.

“Everyone’s looking at you.”

“Stop acting like a baby.”

“Real men don’t cry.”

“C’mon, it’s been months.”

To me, tears are cathartic. I’ve had a lot to cry about the past two years: the death of my husband and brother and several friends.

I’ve hidden my tears, and shown a seemingly competent, albeit subdued front.

Time does, indeed, mute the pain. Notice I said mute, not erase. Nothing erases the pain. It’s there and it will be there for the rest of my life, I am sure. As I start to move on, and to participate more fully in my life, behind the smiles and the laughter is a deep well of loss and grief.

So, if tears should flow, I will let them cleanse me and help me to cope. And then, once again, I will be ready to face a new day—alone.

Because, the truth is, it’s okay to cry.

 

 

Not Just Another Day

  • February 26, 2014 7:29 am

Today was a difficult day for me because  it was the year and a half anniversary of my husband’s death.

I think of him every day and miss him all the time.

I miss holding his hand when we would drive somewhere. I miss watching TV with him, enjoying our dog, planning trips and days out, going to the movies, playing cards with friends,kissing him and hugging him, and all of the hundreds of little things that make up a relationship.

I wish I could see him just one more time. I wish I could tell him once again that I love him, and that I am happy that we had so many years together.

But that is not to be…his life here on earth ended too soon.

 

We spent over 40 years together. It wasn’t always easy. In fact, there were many times when I wondered if we would make it. But I am glad that we did. We built a life together, helped one another through the roiling waters of change and dissension, raised a lovely and successful daughter,  and grieved together.

Dan and I were quite compatible. We enjoyed similar activities–going to the beach, the aforementioned movies, and visiting with family and friends. He was my chief cheerleader–the guy who was always on my side and encouraged me. We had an equal relationship–no one was in “charge” of the other person–we both had breathing room.

 

I shed some tears todaydan and kjg. Tears of loss, regret, and anger.

 

There will be many more days like this, I know.

And as I was told in the Grief Support Group I attended, “You can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it. You must go through grief.”

 

And that is the journey that lies ahead.

 

Picture Credit: Kathy Joyce Glascott’s private collection