• January 20, 2017

Sunny Side Up

Monday 06/09/2014
Living with fortitude
Life is full of unexpected blows. The only way to minimize them (you'll never completely rid yourself) is to restrict your life. Restrict your heart. I refuse to do that. I'm "sunny" enough in my approach to life to truly believe that some blows really are accidental. I'm also realistic enough to accept that some are deliberate, even orchestrated.

As I am reeling in shock, confusion, and disbelief, it is natural for my mind, my heart, to try to figure out "Why?" You know what I told myself? Don't. It's wasted energy. I am only trying to figure out and resolve someone else's issues and in the process am shrouding myself with their dysfunction.

I will not......stop being me. For every person who tries to sabotage or undermine me, there are twice as many who support, encourage, respect, admire and love the me that is me!

I looked up the root "Fort" in my effort to process and move forward constructively from quite an agonizing blow. Here is what I found:

"fortified place, stronghold," from Middle French fort, from noun use in Old French of fort (adj.) "strong, fortified" (10c.), from Latin fortis "strong, mighty, firm, steadfast," from Old Latin forctus, possibly from PIE root *bhergh- (2) "high, elevated," with derivatives referring to hills and hill-forts (cognates: Sanskrit brmhati "strengthens, elevates," Old High German berg "hill;" see barrow (n.2)).

And here is what I will do and advise others to do as well. I will fortify my heart. I will continue to live my life with fortitude. I will not instead retreat behind a fortress and deny myself of all the wonder, beauty, richness and true love that life and its relationships bear. It's not my dungeon.

Head held high. Shoulders squared. Feet firmly on the ground and marching forward. Progressing. Learning. Growing.

Heart open for business. Now and always.

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, June 9, 2014 2:43 pm. Comments (0)

Thursday 05/29/2014
The sounds of silence

Phone ringin’. Baby screamin’. Dog barkin’ at the mailman bringing that stack of bills, overdue. Good mornin’ baby, How are you?

These are the lyrics in Phil Vassar’s hit country music song “Another Day in Paradise” but they are true for most of us on a daily basis. As a working mother with two very active teenagers, I can relate to the noise, the hustle and bustle, the chaos. Especially in our era, with laptops, iPhones, all the social media, there seems to be no end to life being “on” and turned up loudly. But does it have to be like that? 

The other morning, I was brushing my teeth, gazing out of our bathroom window. A white-winged dove landed on the feeder that is right outside that window. I noticed that it had blue around its red eyes, and a greenish hue on its face. Why hadn’t I noticed that before?  Because I, like most people, was too consumed with the busy-ness and noisy-ness of life.  I realized I needed to put some down time, some silence, back into my daily routine. 

Why is silence important?  If it is so important, why do most people avoid it?  For me, silence is vital to self-reflection. Self-reflection is vital to self-awareness. Self-awareness is vital to reinforcing our good qualities and improving our not-so-hot ones. This makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  The concept of change makes many squirm in their seats or run for cover. However, once faced and embraced, most people will ask themselves why they hadn’t done it sooner! 

Instead of rushing out the door to work as I had planned, I put on my tennis shoes and went for a walk. I went for a walk without my phone or Walkman. I breathed. I allowed myself to be alone with myself. I noticed new flowers, baby birds,  homes being built. I cleared my mind, restored my focus, my balance. I felt calmer yet more energized than I had in awhile. It was time well spent, not wasted. 

Don’t be afraid to talk that walk, both literally and figuratively. Take a stroll through your mind without the distraction of television, computers, cell phones. If you don’t like what you encounter, change it! If you do, embrace it!  But stop avoiding yourself with all the noise, noise, noise.  We all need time, even a moment, of silence, of down time, each and every day.  It is key to health, well-being, and substantial happiness. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Thursday, May 29, 2014 3:14 pm. Comments (0)

Love's purity

I witnessed true love in its purest form today. I'm not sure if I can even find the right words to describe the depth of emotion I saw exchanged and felt myself. I've never been to a wedding where such love was so crystal clear. The emotion of it all overpowered me, inspired me and cleansed me.

Both groom and bride became so overwhelmed with emotion when reading the personal vows they had prepared that they literally were choked up. Several times, the groom, a very large man with even larger, football-player hands, very softly, sweetly wiped the tears off of his wife's cheeks. It wasn't cheesy or dramatic. It was absolutely beautiful, and moved every person in attendance- men and women- to tears.

Joyful tears. Tears of hope. Tears of belief in real love and all the goodness and reward in life such love facilitates. So glad I was a part of this amazing experience. Feeling it vicariously reminded me, gently, of how important it was for me to arduously and steadfastly foster this love in my own life, with those I treasure. What a truly blessed day.

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 1:41 pm. Comments (0)

Tuesday 04/22/2014
Pushing past excuses

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the outdoors. My mother instilled this in me: noticing new buds on the flower bushes, bird nests, the smell of fresh-cut grass. Having a love of nature goes hand in hand with being an active person. Starting in my teen years, I have lived a healthy life of eating well and strengthening my body.

I intentionally avoided the using the word "exercise", because that holds negative connotations for many people.  For me personally, an active lifestyle and healthy eating are not just for weight management. It's more about being centered and strong- physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

Here in Texas, we have experienced a particularly nasty winter that seems to keep going on and on. So around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I began to run or even to walk outside less and less. After the first the year, I stopped completely.

While I recognize that I could very well work out to fitness tapes or to go to one of our many local gyms, I didn't. I don't like to do that. I don't experience the release, the mental and emotional cleansing, the satisfaction that being outside brings me.

But not doing anything was taking its toll. I felt increasingly crabby, slept fitfully, and wasn't as mindful about my food choices. Something had to change.

The other morning I vowed that I would haul out my dusty running shoes and hit the road. But, it was cold!  Freezing, to be exact! The nagging thought of "It's way too cold out to go run" swam around in my brain. But the stronger thought of "That's an excuse, not a reason!" also swam around ... and ultimately won.

My two dogs were so excited when donned running pants and laced up my tennis shoes, but they also looked skeptical. The last time I had put on those particular shoes was to take the garbage down to the curb on a particularly icy morning. But they weren't disappointed. We ran through our entire neighborhood, greeting pets, noticing new houses being built, breathing in the fresh, albeit brisk, air. Boy, did that feel wonderful. Why had I stopped?

I stopped because I fell into the pitfall of excuses that we instead convince ourselves are reasons. It's too cold. I don't have time. That's too hard. I'm too old. The list goes on and on.

My dear friend calls it "lies we tell ourselves and choose to believe." Spot on.

It's critical to carefully examine why we do or do not do certain things, and separate the reasons from the excuses. Once we do that, we owe it to ourselves and those we love to push past the excuses.

Get rid of them. Free yourself! You'll be happier. You'll be healthier.  

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 3:00 am. | Tags: Texas , Athletic Shoe , Lifestyle , Food Choices , Running Comments (0)

Tuesday 04/01/2014
Pushing past excuses

For as long as I can remember, I've loved the outdoors. My mother instilled this in me: noticing new buds on the flower bushes, bird nests, the smell of fresh-cut grass. Having a love of nature goes hand in hand with being an active person. Starting in my teen years I have lived a healthy life of eating well and strengthening my body. I intentionally avoided the use of the word "exercise," because that holds negative connotations for many people. For me personally, body work and healthy eating are not just for weight management. It's more about being centered and strong - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Here in Texas, we have experienced a particularly nasty winter that seems to keep going on and on. So, around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I began to run or even to walk outside less and less. After the first of the year, I stopped completely. While I recognize that I could very well work out to fitness tapes or to go to one of our many local gyms, I didn't. I don't like to do that. I don't experience the release, the mental and emotional cleansing, the satisfaction that being outside brings me. But not doing anything was taking its toll. I felt increasingly crabby, slept fitfully and wasn't as mindful about my food choices. Something had to change.

The other morning I vowed I would haul out my dusty running shoes and hit the road. But it was cold! Freezing, to be exact! The nagging thought of, "It's way too cold out to go run" swam around in my brain.  But the stronger thought of "That's an excuse, not a reason!" also swam around, and ultimately won. My two dogs were so excited when I donned running pants and laced up my tennis shoes, but they also looked skeptical. The last time I had put on those particular shoes was to take the garbage down to the curb on a particularly icy morning. But they weren't disappointed. We ran through our entire neighborhood, greeting pets, noticing new houses being built, breathing in the fresh, albeit brisk, air. Boy, did that feel wonderful. Why had I stopped?

I stopped because I fell into the pitfall of excuses that we convince ourselves are reasons. It's too cold. I don't have time. That's too hard. I'm too old. The list goes on and on. My dear friend frames these as "Lies we tell ourselves and choose to believe." Spot on. It's critical to carefully examine why we do or do not do certain things and separate the reasons from the excuses. Once we do that, we owe it to ourselves and those we love to push past the excuses. Get rid of them. Free yourself! You'll be happier. You'll be healthier.  

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 11:19 am. | Tags: Food Choices , Health , Sports , Exercise , Running Comments (0)

Tuesday 03/04/2014
Time for a story

The other day, I stopped by a local pet supply store to pick up a few things for our dogs. As I zoomed through the aisles on my lunch break from work, something caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks and took a few steps backwards. “Are those Wolfhounds?” I asked the elderly woman holding the handles of two leashes attached to the gargantuan dogs. “Yes, they are.  Scottish Wolfhounds,” she replied pleasantly with a thick Scottish accent.   The dogs were truly magnificent.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in person before!" I exclaimed. “May I pet them?"

The woman nodded her consent and went on to explain that the breed was quite timid. This was confirmed when I held out my hand for them to sniff.  Even though I had squatted down in a position of submission, both dogs retreated behind their “mother.”

An elderly man walked up with a big smile on his face.

“I see you’ve met Bunt and Bess!” he said to me.

The couple, who I learned in our conversation were husband and wife, had recently come over from Scotland to visit their grandson. The grandson was stationed at Fort Hood, and he and his wife had just had a new baby. The couple had come over from Scotland for an extended visit to meet their new grandson and spend time with their grandson and his family. They were, in the purest sense of the word, a lovely couple. Just lovely. The dogs, curious, started to warm up to me and allowed me to pet them. The man and wife told me how they were from Champion bloodlines and that the male, Bunt, had recently championed in a national contest. They told me their names were chosen for the woman’s parents, long gone, as Bess (Elizabeth) and Bunt (John) were her parents’ nicknames.

“Do you have time for a story?” the man asked me.

Of course I had time for a story. I always have time for a story. Stories are the rich gravy on life’s mashed potatoes. The man told me that the breeder of the Wolfhounds was highly sought after, worldwide. He said the breeder always had more demand than supply and was extremely choosy over to whom she sold her dogs. The man went on to tell me about one particular application that was initially denied, as both potential owners worked full time.

“The breed needs a lot of social interaction with their family. They don’t do well being left alone for hours at a time”, he explained.

The breeder had called the woman in question, explaining why she would not sell any dogs to her.

“Oh, but I work from my home!” the potential owner clarified. The breeder asked her what she did and was told that the woman was an author. 

The breeder agreed to sell the woman two dogs if the woman agreed to work the Wolfhounds into one of her books. Hence, the Harry Potter series features Wolfhounds in its books, as the woman in question, initially denied purchase, was J.K. Rowling! Bess and Bunt were from the same bloodline!   I was just absolutely amazed, and felt so lucky and enriched from this encounter.

Always take the time for a story, and when you have the opportunity, share that story with others.

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:03 am. | Tags: Dog , Scotland , Harry Potter , Irish Wolfhound , Pets , Author Comments (0)

Sunday 03/02/2014
Life is precious

I was taking our trash down to the curb last evening when our neighbor, Butch, drove by. He stopped, rolled down the window and said, "Hey, little girl!" like he always does when he sees me. "Hi Butch! How are you?" I replied. He paused. "Ok, all things considered......"

In asking for clarification of this odd statement from a usually very upbeat man, I learned that his wife, Mary, had died unexpectedly a few days earlier. What?!?! I'm not particularly close to them, but Mary walks our neighborhood, Butch bikes or runs, so I'm friendly with them and used to seeing them on a regular basis. I had just seen Mary a few weeks ago, driving with her grandbaby.  Mary had pulled up next to me as I was running, rolled down her window, and proudly asked, “Do you want to meet my precious granddaughter?” She appeared quite healthy, bubbly as always. Although I don’t typically like it when people stop me to chat while I’m running, her beaming face disarmed me. I’m glad now that I took the time to stop and talk with her.

As I see the procession of cars leaving our neighborhood for her funeral this morning, I am deeply saddened for their loss. Life is so short, so fragile, so unpredictable, imperfect. Live every moment. Love every moment. Remember what is truly important and precious and don't waste time being sad, mad or frustrated over the things that don't matter in the grand scheme of it all. 

Choose to have a beautiful, rich, meaningful day...today and every day.

Posted in Sunny side up on Sunday, March 2, 2014 9:37 am. | Tags: Family , Death , Life , Neighbors , Grandchildren , Friends , Health Comments (0)

Monday 02/17/2014
Bumps in the road

The morning started like any other- up at 5 a.m., out the door by 5:30 to take my daughter, Channing, to basketball practice. Back home shortly later, my husband Steve and I proceeded to get ready for work when my phone rang at 6:45. It was Channing's number, but her coach was on the line:  "Channing fell. Her patella (knee cap) is completely out. Should we call an ambulance?"

"No," I replied. "We're on our way."

When things like this happen, I go into an overly calm mode.  I have two children who are heavily involved in sports, so experience has taught me that freaking out holds no constructive purpose. We rushed to the school where Channing lay on the gym floor, clearly in pain but calm as well. My husband is a physician, and he easily popped her patella back into its socket. We took Channing to our clinic to X-ray her knee.

Channing underwent a patella repair almost two years ago, and X-ray results revealed she had again detached her patella. A second surgery was imminent. She was done with basketball for the season and would miss the entire spring season of softball as well. We were all pretty upset, but again, I displayed no visible reaction. 

People sometimes perceive that I'm not reacting because I'm in denial or maybe I don't care. Neither is the case. In life, there will be bumps in the road - some bigger than others, but there will be unavoidable bumps.  Bumps in the road are an important part of learning and growing. Getting caught up in the mindset of "Why me?" or "What else?" are stagnant pitfalls that will skew your vision of life. They leave a person feeling angry, negative, and fearful. When a bump is hit, it is far more constructive to examine the situation. Asking yourself questions such as, "What am I supposed to learn from this?" can help you make better decisions in the future. We become more self-aware and stronger individuals. Sometimes we can't find an answer, because sometimes, things happen for no apparent or explicable reason. This too is a part of life.

Life is meant for us to live. Life wants us to take risks, embrace our passions and venture outside of our comfort zones. My kids love sports. We love sports. We are passionate about it all. We were not put on this earth to cower in fear, shrouded in uncertainty, immobilized by real or imagined dangers. We were put on this earth to live life to its fullest. There will always be that margin of error, the unknown where something bad can happen. There will always be bumps. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, February 17, 2014 9:49 am. | Tags: Patella , Knee , Basketball , X-ray , Physician , Health , Sports , Children , Parenting , Families Comments (0)

Monday 02/10/2014
Putting things in perspective

I recently spent the day at the 911 Bell County Call Center, as I am going to start doing their psychological clearances. I wanted to gain a better understanding of what makes a good dispatcher, and honestly, I went in with some preconceived notions that turned out to be terribly wrong. I had met with the heads of the facility the week before, and was informed that most of the workers only had a high school education. I therefore incorrectly assumed that they would not be very smart. I actually dreaded having to spend any amount of time talking to people that I assumed would be so much less intelligent than myself. How arrogant of me. 

As I walked into the center, I observed a room full of people who were absolutely diverse in terms of their physical attributes. I couldn't establish any patterns of similarities - men and women, some younger, older, larger, smaller, varying in race, style of dress. It was impossible to draw any conclusions about the traits they shared that landed them jobs there.  I realized it was time to put my haughtiness aside and open my ears. 

Wow. I have gained so much knowledge, awareness, and perspective. The people who work there are amazing at multitasking. Each managed at least three monitors with two computers boards and ran them with complete ease as calls spilled in. They stay absolutely level during each crisis, even when calls were overlapping and rapid decisions needed to be made. They truly put their heart into each and every call. And they not only care about their callers, they care about each other. They clearly took care of each other. Even though the nature of their job is heavy and daunting at times, humor was easily and readily welcomed and shared.

There was a sense of community that shrouded all the madness, chaos, and tragedy. I could feel the symbolic holding of hands that did not need verbal explanation. Despite their lack of formal education, they were as a whole way smarter and more savvy than I can ever imagine being.  I was humbled and I grew.

I envisioned how wonderful it would be if more of us embraced these traits. I realized that the letters behind my name aren't worth anything if I myself didn't try to be more like that room full of selfless, caring people.

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, February 10, 2014 8:45 pm. | Tags: Bell County Call Center , Mental Health , Perspective , Traits Comments (0)

Tuesday 02/04/2014
Successfully parenting your teenagers
Being a parent is not hard.  Being a good parent is by far one of the hardest jobs I have ever had.  As much as I try to educate myself on how to be a good mom, there still seems to be a margin of gray of the unknown and the unpredictable where my children are concerned.
It takes a great deal of time, effort, soul-searching, and sacrifice to be a good, or better yet, a great mom or dad. I don't know that I am a great mom, but I do know that I work hard to be a good mom. Most of what I've learned about parenting has come from experience, or more accurately, trial and error.  But also, a lot of what I have learned comes from my willingness (albeit uncomfortable and even downright painful) to take a good hard look deep within myself and change as deemed necessary.  I commit myself to doing this not only for the sake of my own health and well-being, but also for the sake of the well-being of those I love.  At the top off that list are my husband and my own two children.   
When my children Zachary and Channing were little, I thought that nothing could possibly be more difficult than the enormity of loving them, protecting them, and teaching them basic life skills. I experienced gripping fear when they were hurt or sick. Indescribable anger would wash over me when they blatantly defied me. I had to learn to control and channel those emotions in constructive ways. I thought nothing could ever be more challenging or overwhelming. I thought that until now, when they are teenagers, and a whole new series of issues come into play. I can't just spank them or send them to time out when they disobey me. I can't hold them and rock them when they are hurt or sick.
As they become increasingly independent and autonomous, young adults who will soon launch out on their own, I am learning to modify my parenting approach. It is very important to me that I continue to be a positive influence in their lives. These are some guide rules that I have established from my own experience and introspection:
1.  Strike a balance between maintaining control and authority as the parent and allowing your children increasing freedom. Assess their degree of responsibility, self-discipline, and honesty. Use these as benchmarks for how much or how little freedom you will allow. This will vary among your children as each are unique individuals. It is not necessary, helpful, or realistic to maintain the same standard for each child. You will hear "That's not fair!" which is fine.  
2.  Keep it real. Make sure that you are approachable. It is important that your children trust that they can come to you for advice and guidance.  There will be issues that make you uncomfortable or that you're not ready to face.  Experience has taught me that you will never be completely ready!  If you are close-minded, your child will turn to someone else for advice.  This will create distance between you and your child as well as risk him or her following advice that you may be completely against.
3.  Grow with your child. Be aware of him or her as a unique, budding human who is constantly changing. Your children will grow up and become adults whether you like it or not. Be aware of the dangers in trying to keep them "little forever." As your child grows, the relationship is destined to change. Be open and willing to change right along with it.
4.  Be friendly but not friends with your child as well as his or her friends.  You are not their friend, but a parent. Be mindful of the boundaries you are establishing with them and their friends. It's wonderful to be a "fun" mom or dad that everyone wants to be around, but skewing those boundaries can create confusing messages as well as undermine your ultimate authority.
5.  Set the example. Children, really people in general, are way more apt to be influenced by your own actions than your mere words. Show them how to be a good person. Teach them about core values, morals, priorities, and goals by living by these principles. If you are not a healthy, productive, well-rounded person, it will be more challenging for your children to be so as well. 
6.  It is inherent that you love your children unconditionally. However, it is important to set standards. While free expression is a critical part of developing identity and autonomy, there needs to be limits! Tattoos, body piercings, experimenting with drugs or alcohol (to name a few) will compromise your child's success in life. Beware of the pitfalls of trying to convince yourself that "S/he is just going through a phase!"  
7.  Don't belittle their problems or feelings.  Listen to them, and help them work through it even if it seems trivial to you.  Minimizing or dismissing whatever your child is struggling with will leave them feeling degraded and humiliated. They will be angry at themselves for going to you and angry at you for being so insensitive.
8.  Get out of the "Comfort Zone." Teach your children how to take reasonable risks in life, so that they do not become complacent or fearful of that which is new or unknown. Learning and growth occur when one is willing to step outside of his or her own comfort zone. Practice this for yourself as a person and encourage this in your children as a parent.  
Successful parenting is extremely challenging. New challenges arise as your children grow into young men and women. It can absolutely feel like it's just not worth all the pain and effort, especially when your teenagers wish you would just back off and leave them alone. But I encourage you to hang in there and see them through this rough patch between being a child and being an adult. Apply my tips above and join me in raising happy, healthy, productive people. As parents, we have the responsibility to do this. We also have the opportunity to make this world a better place by the power of our parenting. It's worth every single moment.  

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 10:15 pm. | Tags: Parenting , Childhood , Human Development , Human Interest , Mother , Parenting Styles , Family , Life Skills , Children Comments (0)

Sunday 01/19/2014
A selfless kind of love

Ahhhhhhhhh, Sundays.  No alarm clocks, leisurely coffee talks, brunch out, no structure.  Exactly what we all needed after an insane week.  On this particular Sunday, it was Zachary's (my son) turn to choose our brunch spot, and he chose a restaurant in Temple that we all love- for the food and for the atmosphere.  As we got settled in, I sipped my drink and scanned the room.  Adjacent to our booth, I noticed an elderly couple who held hands across the table as they chatted, focused only on each other. 

Hardly anyone holds hands like that anymore, and it mesmerized me momentarily. My daughter Channing noticed.

"Don't do it, Mom!" she said.

This meant, "Do not go over and talk to them." She knows me well. My whole family and close friends know me well. I want to know the story in the interactions I observe. I want to be a part of it. Not in an intrusive way, but in a learning, growing way. As I watched, several couples and families walked by their table and they broke their concentration on each other to greet people walking by. They were approachable and I really wanted to hear how two people in their late years maintained that kind of connection, affection, for and with each other.

"Let me out. I'm going to the bathroom!" I announced.

A look of annoyance but also acceptance wafted across Channing's face.  She knew I wasn't going to the bathroom at all, but was instead going to talk to that sweet couple. I walked over to their table, and asked, "I'm sorry for interrupting you, but how long have you two been married?"  The answer caught me off guard.

"We're not married," the woman said.

Then, I got the story. The beautiful story of selflessness. 

As they talked over the top of each other, finished thoughts and sentences for each other, I learned that the woman had lost her husband a number of years ago to cancer. More recently, the man's deceased wife had battled cancer as well. His wife and the woman seated at the table had been best friends. When the man's wife had learned that she had terminal cancer and only a short time to live, she had asked her best friend to take care of her husband.

"You know how he is. He won't leave the house or ever go anywhere or do anything, once I'm gone!"

They shared this with me, laughing that this was in fact true about the man, and simultaneously tearful about losing a woman that they both clearly cherished.

"So," the woman said. "We are now here for each other."

In their 80s with a lifetime of memories, long-term relationships with other people.....and moving on.  Forward.  Living.  Connecting.  Loving.

And that is exactly the way it is supposed to be, isn't it? We shouldn't be alone. But who has that degree of selflessness-  to ask your very best friend to step in like that?  She clearly loved her husband beyond description and wanted him to be happy after she was gone. I was blown away, overwhelmed with emotion, and absolutely humbled. I thought about my own husband of 19 years, and what I would do if and when faced with these circumstances. I, too, adore him and want him to be happy, and I hope and pray that I would be that selfless. For the man's deceased wife, as she was dying, it wasn't about her and endings. It was about love and the continuation of life. As long as a person is here, life is about living and loving. God bless her for embracing that and God bless us all for aspiring to that as well.

Posted in Sunny side up on Sunday, January 19, 2014 10:03 pm. | Tags: Death , God , Health , Cancer , Relationships , Family Comments (0)

Friday 01/17/2014
Chance encounter at the vet

She caught my eye as I was finishing up the discharge paperwork for Nico and making a down payment for Pistol, the puppy I had gotten as a Christmas gift for one of my many “children," the ones who didn’t have a good support system in place, who had come to rely on me as their “mom.”

She caught my eye because, even though I was stressed, distracted, overwhelmed with worry and, I'm sorry, also the cost of dealing with a Parvovirus infected puppy all weekend, she generated warmth and positivity as she breezed through the door of the vet. That, and the puppy she had with her- a light brown lab mix with amber eyes- generated that same warmth, that same positive and loving energy.

As the woman explained to the vet tech she was new to the area and that her dog appeared to have an eye infection, I really truly tried not to eavesdrop. But something intrigued me and drew me in. As I tried not to listen, I invariably heard that the woman lived in a local shelter. The puppy was a rescue and currently living with the woman's father while the woman was trying to get on her feet. As she talked, the bright-eyed, cheery woman interacted with her equally bright-eyed, cheery puppy. It was easy to get caught up in the display of unconditional love.

The tech remained formal and impersonal, and I understand why. I understand although I don't necessarily agree or accept. The tech informed the woman that there was a fee to be seen. She said it unwaveringly, and I guess I admire that....in a strange way. Again, I understand policies and regulations. Again, that doesn't mean I agree or accept that. The woman, still positive and cheerful, expressed her understanding, took the dog, and headed out the door. But I saw something break in her face. We all have our breaking point. Was I witnessing hers? Up to that point, I had resolved to NOT get involved. I had felt myself getting drawn in and made a conscious decision to STOP. I had already spent all weekend and more than a small amount of money to save one life....... wasn't that enough?

I walked out to my car, with the woman and dog right behind me. I opened my car door, started to get in......and stopped. I walked back over to her car where she was loading up the puppy and said, "Can I help?" She said, "I don't have any money. I'm living in a shelter... I don't have much right now." Her face shifted from the glowing positivity I had witnessed earlier to shame. "Come on!" I said. "Your puppy needs medical attention!" Tears streamed down her face and mine, too. What we shared, briefly, at that moment, was not a sense of being rescued, of heroism, but more a sense of compassion. Human to human to animals that we love and fiercely protect.

I don't know her name or the name of her puppy. But I know their hearts. I know that I met a woman who had little and was struggling, but who still cared about the well-being of a sick, vulnerable animal. That is selflessness. I know that I met a puppy who knew her heart, too, and knew she would do whatever it took to make it all better. That is trust. I know we were put here to help each other out and that spending or not spending money will never be more important than the intrinsic value of life.

Posted in Sunny side up on Friday, January 17, 2014 3:15 pm. | Tags: Puppy , Dog , Nico , Pets , Animal Welfare Comments (0)

Sunday 01/12/2014
A grand gesture warms the heart

Every year at Christmas time, my husband and I receive an exorbitant amount of gifts from our colleagues, local businesses, and our patients.  In the form of large gift baskets, fine wines, floral arrangements, homemade baked goods, cards or pictures, each and every one symbolizes our place of value in this community. All are appreciated and it fills my heart with joy and pride that we’ve carved out a meaningful niche here, especially since neither of us are native to Texas. It makes us feel like we have family, like we have a home here in the greater Killeen area.

Where our staff is concerned, we give a generous Christmas bonus and time off as requested. We have a good working relationship with our employees, and our clinic exudes warmth and positivity. While I am a provider, I am viewed more as the “boss's wife” than as a boss. This is just fine with me, because I feel I have a friendly relationship with every person who works for us. I use the word “friendly” because out of respect for my husband’s work ethic, certain boundaries are maintained and I am not “friends” with our employees, in the sense of going out to lunch or on shopping sprees together. Nonetheless, I care about them, respect them, and we share funny stories about our families and laugh easily together.  This is important to me given the stereotypical view of the “boss's wife” -  cold, condescending, and demanding. I put concerted effort into debunking that view where our office staff is concerned. I recognize and appreciate how hard they work and cherish their dedication to us.

Yesterday, I was racing around on a typical overly busy day when one of the nurses came up to me, handed me a package, and said, “I didn’t get a chance to see you before Christmas. This is for you.” Not for you and Dr. Marsh. But for ME. It didn’t matter what was in there; she had gone out and gotten a gift just for me. She had taken time and her earnings to show me that she cared about me - not as a provider, not as the boss's wife, but as a person who was important in her life. I was touched beyond words at this grand gesture, because it came straight from her heart and was meant to go straight to my heart. 

As she scurried down the hall to keep our clinic moving smoothly, I opened the hand-wrapped package. Inside was an ornament that simply said, “Believe." It was a word that held tremendous meaning for me not only during the Christmas season, but all year round. There was also a bottle of scented hand soap. Again, seemingly a simple gift but this particular nurse knew how much I loved things like that. She had chosen gifts that held personal meaning.

The ornament is hung on my rear-view mirror and I smile every time I get in my car and look at it. The peppermint soap is on my sink at home, and I feel love in my heart every time I wash my hands. The little things that touch us deep within really are the biggest things. They are grand gestures of love, the richest gifts of all.

Posted in Sunny side up on Sunday, January 12, 2014 11:00 am. | Tags: Christmas , Human Interest , A Simple Gift , Holidays , Employees , Relationships Comments (0)

Monday 01/06/2014
What matters most
I know many of you are feeling what I am feeling right now.....that weird conflicting emotion about the holiday break being over. It's back to school, work, early mornings, late nights, chaos and the stress of juggling your own and your family's crazy schedules. Added stressors are the pressure and guilt that come from thinking about what we really should've done more of this weekend in terms of putting away gifts that are still under the tree, taking down decorations, doing laundry and preparing for a crazy week. So I pause for a moment, regroup and reconfigure how I look at it all, because that's what I do to help myself. Hopefully, I can help you as well. 
Over the last few days after returning from a wonderful week in Colorado, I had ample opportunity to get in there and work hard at putting up all the gifts, taking down all the decorations and cleaning out the fridge overflowing with outdated holiday treats. But instead I chose to get up leisurely, lounge in bed with a plethora of animals walking over my husband and me, have long coffee talks with my family, chances to spend time with my children, play with my pets, and just enjoy these precious interactions. One last time for awhile to just "be," to soak it all in and to "breathe." All that "stuff" that "needed" to get accomplished? It's just stuff, and it always gets done. The relationship parts? Well, that won't always wait for you if you put it aside because you are busy with "stuff."
So take care of yourself this week! Don't try to overdo it in an effort to stay one step ahead of the madness, because it's not worth it. Cherish the memories you built over the holiday break, cherish the relationships, and let the "stuff" go. When you do get everything back in order (it doesn't have to happen in one day, by the way), remember that it's just really a change of venue and the start of new adventures with your friends and family. Not an ending, but just a transition. Approach it with anticipation and enthusiasm, not fear or dread! There is always something exciting and new on our horizons. Embrace! Be happy! Love your life!
In the spirit of this concept, I was asked by a dear friend recently what matters most to me. She is bravely facing some issues and transforming herself, so she asked me, "What should I focus on in 2014?"  Here was my reply:
1. Inner Serenity:  This is more important than anything else. If we do not have a basic sense of "being okay" with who we are, no matter what is going on in our lives, it is impossible to be happy.
2. Positive Relationships: Having people in our lives who love and accept us unconditionally, nonjudgmentally, who support and encourage us, is critical to happiness.
3. Health - Physical, Emotional, Spiritual: All are equally important.  We need to be healthy in our bodies, in our minds, and in our hearts.
4. Balance: Work hard, but play hard. Eat right, but don't deprive yourself of that piece of chocolate or glass of wine. Moderation is key to being happy and staying grounded.
5. Humor: Laugh, every day! Laugh at yourself. Life isn't meant to be somber and serious all the time. It's meant to be fun and enjoyable.
6. Tenderness:  Be kind, be compassionate, be gentle towards others, and toward yourself as well.
7. Selflessness/Generosity: The greatest rewards in life are intrinsic. Give freely, with no expectation in return.
8. Humility: Be a humble, simple person at your core. Be real with yourself and with others.
So as you go into this new year, remember what matters most. Remember it and live it.  
I do.

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, January 6, 2014 9:17 am. | Tags: Human Interest , Colorado , New Year , Happiness , Leisure , Health , New Year S Day Comments (0)

Monday 12/30/2013
Succeeding with resolutions

2014 is nearly here! With the new year comes new year’s resolutions, which really are goals we set for ourselves, to better ourselves in some way. However, all too often, we fail to attain our glistening resolutions that have been sanctified in the clinking of champagne glasses and the exchange of new year well-wishes. Why?

I’m writing this blog mountainside, specifically fireside, from Colorado, where my family embarks every year the day after Christmas for a week of snow adventures. It’s my favorite time of year for a lot of reasons:  We bond. We engage in unstructured time spent together. It strengthens us as a family, and it allows me to think about the past year- what is going well and what isn’t, what I like about myself and what I’d like to improve, what I am focusing on and perhaps what I should instead be focusing on. Reflect. Regroup. Part of making and attaining good resolutions is knowing where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to go. 

One of the main activities we enjoy as a family here on the mountain is skiing. Every year, I can’t wait to get to our favorite ski resort and hit those slopes. But every year, I forget that I am gripped with terror the first time I have to get on a chairlift and swing precariously over deep ravines. I forget that when my teenage kids push me to go higher and higher, down increasingly challenging runs, I balk. But guess what?  Every year, I get on that chairlift, over and over. Every year, I go all the way to the utmost summit of this majestic mountain, and I ski all the way down. Every year, I feel a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, a sense of serenity with myself. 

How does all that relate to resolutions or goals?

Sometimes you just have to take that first step and not over think it (getting on the chairlift). Trust yourself!

Don’t look too far ahead. Focus on what is right in front of you, and stay focused on the solutions, not the barriers. The big picture can be daunting and cause even the best of us to give up (going down long, hard, steep slopes).

Don’t compare yourself to anyone else - gauge your progress as just that -  YOUR progress. It doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow, fancy or simple. Progress is progress. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re maintaining success towards your ultimate goals.

Looking back serves a constructive purpose when it’s utilized to assess where you were and how very far you’ve actually gone. Don’t sell yourself short! Pat yourself on the back for the progress you’ve made instead of what haven’t yet accomplished. 

Take risks, but make sure they’re reasonable and realistic. Be aware of setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun your journey.  My kids would love for me to venture down the double-black (hardest) runs with “Extreme Terrain” signs posted. As much as they cajole me, I know this is out of my capability and an unnecessary risk. So I hold my “Um, no” stance.

We all want to be happier, better people, whether that means thinner, richer, nicer, stronger or funnier. It means something different for every single person, but it has to start with an honest self-assessment and then a commitment to move steadily forward toward your goals, focusing on what is going right instead of what is going wrong. It means pushing yourself, believing in yourself, and then applauding yourself! You can all do that. Me, the scared “little girl” who takes a deep breath and jumps onto that chairlift and then maneuvers my way down the most daunting of slopes, I am living proof! 

Happy New Year and may each and every one of you find and maximize that dedicated achiever that lives in your own very heart!

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, December 30, 2013 7:00 am. | Tags: Christmas , New Year S Day , New Year S Resolution , Colorado , Ski Resort , Chairlift , New Year , Happy New Year Comments (0)

Tuesday 12/24/2013
4-legged angel joined family just in time

Oct. 26, 2005.

My son Zachary, then 8, had a football game that night. It was a fairly late game, but when we got home that evening, there was a message on our home voice mail from my dad,

"Rebecca, please call me when you get home tonight, no matter what time it is."

My dad had not been feeling well most of the summer and into the fall. My parents had decided not to come through Texas from Minnesota via their annual winter trip to Florida that fall, even though my dad was supposed to drive the tractor for our neighbor fall festival hayride.  Though my dad's doctors felt he was just having a hard time fighting off a flu virus, they ultimately decided to send him to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to run more in-depth tests. 

"Go somewhere away from the children," my dad said first, and then, "How strong are you, Rebecca Jean?"

He knew the answer to that, of course. I had always been his strong, independent, fearless tomboy who was going to conquer the world. My dad proceeded to tell me he had been diagnosed with a rare and terminal form of cancer, that there was no treatment, and that he had just months to live. I could hear loud weeping in the background as I held the phone in disbelief. My dad? My hunting, fishing, life-loving dad?  My dad, who never drank, never smoked, and went on Jesuit retreats every summer to "sort out any junk I've accumulated over the year," who always came home and said, "I'm so clean, you can see right through me!" 

With no visible emotion, I hung up the phone and went back inside the house. Steve looked at me questioningly and I only shook my head and said, "Time for baths, everyone!" I had a family to run. Breaking down simply wasn't an option. My kids were too little to understand, and they needed me to maintain normalcy.  So I did. 

My daughter, Channing, was 5 at the time. Christmas was approaching, and I was trying to keep our lives running smoothly in between my many trips back and forth between Texas and Minnesota. Run my nuclear family here. Run my family of origin there. Stay calm. Keep it together.  Everyone needed me.  As we got closer to Christmas, Channing became more and more adamant that she wanted a puppy for Christmas. As we had recently lost both of our elderly dogs within months of each other, Steve and I were strongly against this. With the strain of my dad's illness, we did not need a new puppy! But Channing remained insistent.

"I really don't care what y'all say," she told us matter of factly. "I am asking Santa for a puppy for Christmas, and all I want is a puppy.  Nothing else. I've been good, so Santa will bring me a puppy!"

Finally, at the beginning of December, I told Steve, "She's not going to give up! We need to find her a puppy!" We had two large, intolerant cats at the time. I knew we needed to bring a small dog into our life, nothing big and wild, because the cats would potentially develop behavior problems. I began to research and came upon a poodle breeder in Northeast Texas. After many emails and phone calls, we met at a designated halfway point so I could see the puppies, tiny toy poodles, for myself. I immediately fell in love with one, and the breeder agreed I could pick him up Dec. 23, in time for Channing's Christmas surprise.

That Christmas was the first since I had children that my parents didn't come spend it with us. My dad was too sick. Everyone felt the void, but I still tried to make it as happy as possible. And the thought of Channing's reaction to her new puppy from Santa kept my spirits up. I wasn't disappointed. I had snuck down to our neighbor's home early that morning and retrieved the puppy. As if on cue, he came out of his little hut as Channing approached the tree. Estactically, she exclaimed, "My puppy! Santa got me a puppy!"  And so Nico entered our lives, a bright sparkle during a time of sadness.

After the holidays, I took Nico in for his shots and well-puppy exam.  "Did you bring his shot records and birth certificate?" our vet asked me.  I pulled out the papers and looked at them for the first time. Date of Birth: 10-26-2005.  I felt an odd sensation in my stomach- why did that date bother me? Then it hit me: October 26th was the day I got that horrible call from my father. Just when a part of my life was ending, a part was simultaneously beginning. I didn't know it at the time, wasn't even imagining that a new little life was entering the world, a little life who would provide so much love, companionship abd comfort through many dark days as my dad battled cancer and ultimately lost the following spring.

Obviously, a dog doesn't replace a beloved person. But there were so many times where I needed to not have to act okay for everyone around me, to not have to explain what I was feeling, and Nico provided that reprieve for me.He was clearly meant to come into our lives. Nico, now 8 years old, is a cherished family member who none of us could even dream of not being an integral part of our lives.   

Life is full of endings, but it's also bursting with beginnings. Always trust, as I've learned from my own life experiences, that promise and hope will be provided to you - sometimes in the oddest and most unexpected forms, such as a 4-legged angel.  

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 5:46 pm. | Tags: Christmas , Zachary , Channing , Nico , Minnesota , Texas , Mayo Clinic , Rebecca Jean Comments (0)

Friday 12/20/2013
An outstretched hand

On my way to work, I stopped by a local eatery to pick up lunch. The young pregnant woman I usually saw was not at the cash register. "Did she have her baby?" I asked excitedly. "Did her husband make it home in time? Are they okay?” Yes, I was told. Mother and baby were doing well, husband/daddy had made it home. I smiled and of course got a little tearful.

I didn't know her name (I do now) but I knew she was here alone, family far away and it was her first baby. Her husband was deployed but hopefully would be allowed to come home for a brief break when their son was born. I knew she was nervous but excited. We talked many times about being away from your family, being a new mom, and military life.  I shared with her my own experiences with each of those, and over time, a bond was established between us. I became a “big sister” of sorts to her.

So, before I went to work, I went and got gifts for them. Nothing showy or expensive, but rather, little things that I knew I appreciated when I was here alone, active duty married to an active duty man, first baby, scared and overwhelmed with it all.

 Why did I do that?  Because, we all need people like that in our lives. Because we all have had our moments of vulnerability and are relieved and comforted by an outstretched hand. Because even small gestures of kindness are contagious and keep us connected. Because at our core, we are kin. We forget that, a lot. 

When I returned with the gifts, another young lady who I’ve also gotten to know didn't seem at all surprised by my gesture. She went and got her phone and showed me pictures of the new baby and his glowing mother. Making the time for this really made my day a whole lot shinier.

When I left, I thought more about the lack of reaction I got about bringing in the gifts. I mean, some stranger who stops for lunch just goes and buys presents for someone they hardly know? If you think about it like that, it seems a little creepy and weird. But no one in the restaurant perceived my gesture that way at all. The inherent goodness and the purity in the reasoning for what I did was expected and accepted. Know what? That makes me feel so great!

Shouldn’t it be that way for all of us? 

Posted in Sunny side up on Friday, December 20, 2013 3:30 am. | Tags: Pregnancy , Human Interest , Christmas , Parenting , Baby , Family , Military Life , Military Families , Deployed Soldier , Military Wife Comments (0)

Friday 12/13/2013
Christmas through a child’s eyes

This time of year is magical. It is hard not to get caught up in the decorations, lights and music. It is especially magical if you have children in your life - it’s like adding sprinkles on an already delicious, gooey, chocolate cupcake spread thick with fudge frosting. The sparkling look on a child’s face will melt even the Grinchiest of hearts.

My now nearly 17-year-old son asked me recently, “Mom, when are you going to write about me?” I was caught off-guard, because I hadn’t realized he was paying attention or cared. “My next blog, Zachary.  Any thoughts? Something reflective of the season and funny." A thoughtful look drifted across his face, and he slowly smiled. “Santa and the fire truck!” he said, and we both laughed.

When Zachary was 3 and his sister was just a new baby, we decided to take them to the Killeen Mall for the arrival of Santa Claus, in all his glory, on a fire truck! With hundreds of other families, we waited outside the mall entrance for the big event. All of a sudden, we heard the pressing wail of the siren. It grew louder and louder as Zachary’s eyes grew wider and wider. We watched him carefully for his reaction. Would he be excited? Terrified? What we saw was……nothing. His little face held no expression. What was going on in that young brain? 

“Do you want to go in and sit on Santa’s lap," we asked him. Santa dismounted, boisterously exclaimed "Ho Ho Ho," greeted nearby patrons and sashayed into the mall. “I no……yes." This was the way Zachary talked at that age; everything was prefaced with the infamous “I no” aka “I don’t know." Typical 3-year-old cuteness that they later wish you’d just stop bringing up! 

The actual lap-sitting and gift-requesting were fairly uneventful. Channing, my daughter, was for the most part oblivious at 5 months old. Zachary sat nicely, smiled widely for the picture, and we left. My husband Steve and I eyed each other on the way home as Zachary remained silent in the back seat. “Do you think that was all too much?” I asked Steve, under my breath. “I don’t know….he’s so quiet!” Steve replied. Nothing else was mentioned about it for the remainder of the night.

The next morning, Zachary got up and we launched our usual morning exchange:

 “Good morning, Zachary!”

 “Hi, Mama.” 

“How are you today?” 

“I no…….good.”

“How did you sleep?”

“I no…..good.”

And then……….

“What did you dream about?”

“I no…….Santa and the fire truck.” (Except, it was “pire" not "fire.")

“Was it a good dream, Zachary?”

“I no…….”  And that was it.

 And so, our once normal morning exchange took on a new twist. For nearly a year, every single morning, we had this exact exchange. I asked Steve, “Do you really think he’s dreaming about that every night? Is that even healthy?” Finally, as Zachary seemed so well-adjusted otherwise, we stopped trying to analyze it and, instead, it became a wonderful lighthearted start to every morning. 

Zachary has some memory of the actual events, and now, he views it as a funny story about himself as a child. I hold it as a fond memory, a cherished moment that reflects the Christmas season. Children see the world with an untarnished heart, in a way that many of us adults lose. There is nothing more precious than being able and willing to see through a child’s eyes - the innocence, clarity and simplicity are priceless.

This Christmas season, open your eyes in a childlike way. Open your heart. See. Believe. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Friday, December 13, 2013 3:44 pm. | Tags: Killeen Mall , Ho Ho Ho , Christmas And Holiday Season , Santa Claus , Christmas , Memories , Childhood , Fire Truck Comments (0)

Monday 12/09/2013
Be better, not bitter

I have struggled with writing something all week, mostly because I wanted to be crystal clear on my motives for writing it. To hurt or blame? No. To make a point, hold someone accountable? Somewhat. To allow others to gain the clarity and strength they may need to challenge their own investment in relationships that are hurtful? Most definitely.

It was my birthday last week, and wow, talk about feeling loved! All the calls, visits, hugs, cards, heartfelt gifts, social media and text messages too innumerable to count - birthday love galore. Those relationships that I work fervently to nurture - they are the true gifts that steadily pour love into my heart and, hopefully, vice versa.

A family member (family of origin, immediate family, not extended) did not acknowledge my birthday. Not in any way, shape or form. What was even more perplexing and hurtful about this is that a little more than a week ago, I received this email:

I'm thinking of you today. Wondering if I've been a "mean ****" in the past... Just know that I love you, ****. Let's make an effort to stay in touch and become ****friends again. Love you! ****

If you know me well, you know that I will stand before you with my arms outstretched, heart in my hands. You will also know if you repeatedly hurt me, I'll disengage from the relationship. This is relatively cut and dried with people who don't share blood; it becomes a little more complicated when you're related, especially closely related, and when there are expectations from other family members that everyone be close and get along.

I have been told, "Where is your forgiveness factor?" when I've made futile attempts to confront this dynamic in the past. I don't think it's about forgiveness at all; my wiseness factor definitely trumps.

So, for any of you who struggle with a similar situation and find yourself getting burned over and over and over again, I would like to personally empower you to let it go. You can be nice. You can be civil, cordial, friendly. But you do NOT have to invest your emotional energy in people who repeatedly hurt you just because you are related!

Don't seek vengeance, harbor anger, hurt, hate, or resentment. And stop trying to figure it out. All that is just keeping you stuck and is self-inflicting pain. Take all that energy and use it constructively! Channel all that in a positive way, and direct it toward people who truly love you, appreciate you, accept you, respect you, value you.

I ran into someone today that I don't know well, but in the few face to face conversations I've had with her, I would like to know her better. She runs deep and clear. I admire her. She said to me:

"You have to have a good relationship with yourself in order to have a good relationship with anyone else. And, having a good relationship with yourself....? Now that can sure be difficult and complicated!"

So true, and exactly what I needed to hear. So, in what I consider to be genuine Christian behavior- where spirituality and true character are what really matters- I looked up as I went about my daily business and silently conveyed, "Hey, Thanks God. And Dad. Love you, thanks for always keepin' me straight, keepin' me real and havin' my back".

Will you choose to be better or bitter?

Posted in Sunny side up on Monday, December 9, 2013 11:07 am. Updated: 10:08 pm. | Tags: Human Interest , Forgiveness , Family , Emotions , Relationships , Christian , Emotional Energy , God Comments (0)

Wednesday 12/04/2013
The power of the human touch

It’d be difficult, if not impossible, to spend a week in Florida, especially at the launch of the holiday season, and not reflect on my dad.  Although I was technically raised in Minnesota, by the time I came along (10 years after my then 10 year-old sister) my father was in the process of switching gears career-wise, so much of my upbringing was split between a lake and an ocean.

While he was the president of our most prominent city bank and a well-known investor in highly successful businesses across the nation, my dad was a simple man. A man who astutely believed in hard work, a man who loved nature, a man who befriended every person he encountered. 

Growing up, I loved my time with him and what he taught me.  Baling hay, raising horses, chopping wood for our potbelly stove to heat our home, shingling our roof.  My dad believed in the core value of honest, hard work and its impact on a person’s overall success in life. He always told me, “You can be anything you want to be!” and I believed him.  I grew to appreciate the outcomes I saw from putting my all into everything I did. I love that I inherited this from my dad’s example, his steadfast support and encouragement.

Now, my father also did not know a stranger, and when I was young, this was very embarrassing to me. He was boisterous in his greetings to everyone he encountered, wildly shaking hands and patting people on the back, exclaiming loudly, “How ya doin’ today?” Then invariably launching into conversation that was way too personal for my comfort level. It didn’t matter where we were - the grocery store, his bank, church, a restaurant, or just walking down the street - my dad would talk to every single person possible. I literally would cringe when he would leave our restaurant table or seat at church to go talk to or hug people we barely knew, if we even knew them at all. 

When I moved to Washington D.C. to conduct my residency training for my doctorate degree, I warned my dad that people were different there, cold, unapproachable, and that he couldn’t just make eye contact and strike up conversations with complete strangers. “It’s dangerous, Dad!  Please don’t do that here!” With a puzzled look, and I’m ashamed to say more than a small amount of hurt on his face, he asked, “Why not? People are people, Rebecca Jean ... everyone appreciates the human touch.” 

Something shifted in me. I realized, as I watched my dad smile genuinely, hold open doors, make small talk on the subway in that big, scary metropolis, that he was right. I saw how people responded to him, how they seemed to turn on, how their demeanor would brighten and, whether I imagined it or not, how their whole day seemed to be better. I realized that for all the life lessons my father had taught me, this one was perhaps the most valuable of all. I vowed to be more like him. From my 20s to my now 40s, I’ve worked to perfect this gift I inherited from my very wise father. I smile at everyone and say, “Hello!  How are you today?”and it is sincere, straight from my heart to theirs.  People really do respond positively to that! Hopefully, it makes their day just a little bit lighter, happier. I know it keeps my soul clean and bright, and allows my heart to remain open, to remain a warm, loving, welcoming place. And guess what? Adopting this approach is truly contagious! How awesome is that?

For all our technology and advances in our modern-day world, we’ve yet to invent anything that can come even remotely close to the human touch. Try it on for size and see what an incredible impact it has on the people you encounter through your day. See what an incredible impact it has on your heart’s attitude. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 11:37 am. Updated: 5:58 pm. | Tags: Minnesota , Florida , Washington D.c. , Father , Holidays Comments (0)

Friday 11/29/2013
Laughter is the best medicine

Remember when you were little and you and your friends would break into fits of laughter that literally made your sides ache?  The kind of insuppressible giggling that would land you in trouble if you were in school, church, or somewhere where calm and quiet was the expected norm?  When is the last time you laughed like that?  If you think you are too old, too mature, too busy, too preoccupied, just plain too stressed and bogged down with the responsibilities of adulthood, I invite you to reconsider your position.   

As two doctors with thriving practices with two teenaged children who are extremely active in school and sporting activities, we epitomize a busy life. Up by 5 a.m. nearly every day and still going strong into the evening hours, our days see their share of stress.  However, we laugh heartily on a frequent basis, and find a way to see the humor in our everyday interactions. It's important to us, keeps us connected, and brings much-needed comic relief on days we start to feel overwhelmed.
As we just decorated for the holidays, we changed our clock chimes to Christmas music and "Away in the Manger" rang out joyfully at 7 a.m. My husband was getting ready for work, and I heard him join in singing, "'The cattle are lowering, the poor baby wakes...' What did he say?  The cattle are lowering?" I went back to the bedroom and said, "Honey, what did you just sing?"  He answered, "Away in the Manger - the song that just rang on our clock!" I started to grin; puzzled, he asked me, "What's so funny? Is my singing that bad?"  "No," I replied. "You said the cattle are lowering and it's the cattle are lowing."  
"No it's not."
"Yes, it is."
(Back and forth like that, about five more times until I couldn't suppress my laughter). 
He explained the cattle were lowering themselves down and I questioned how cows laying down could possibly wake up a baby.  I countered with the definition of lowing, a low mooing or humming of sorts as the cows swayed. He was adamant that there was no such word, so I of course got the dictionary and showed him. The stupefied expression on his face: Priceless.
"You mean to tell me that I've spent over 50 years singing it wrong?" he said, laughing along with me.
"Your way is cute," I told him. "Don't change it!"
After this exchange and sharing of a good, deep belly laugh, we both launched into yet another jam-packed day but with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts. I shared the story with our kids when they got home, and we all laughed again. "Ohhhhhhh, Daddy......" our daughter said, grinning, shaking her head. "You're so weird, Dad," from our son, but said with a look of affection for his father.
Being silly isn't childish or a waste of time. Finding the silliness in your day and cherishing it instead keeps you youthful, energized and grounded. Deep belly laughing is good for your heart - both physically and emotionally.
What will you find to laugh about today?  

Posted in Sunny side up on Friday, November 29, 2013 4:30 pm. Updated: 5:07 pm. | Tags: Laughter , Human Interest , Christmas Music , Family , Humor , Parenting Comments (0)

Wednesday 11/27/2013
The cat of little brain

Pets have always been a big part of our lives. They are not just animals to us; they are family members. Studies have clearly shown that being a pet owner is good for both physical and emotional health; therefore, sharing vignettes about our own pets seems to be a natural inclusion in Sunny Side Up.

As Trinket currently holds seniority in the line-up of our family pets, I’ll start with her. She is an 8 year-old Seal Point Birman - a purebred cat with the most beautiful blue eyes and markings. She joined our family  after we suffered a series of losses of shelter cats. It was highly coincidental, but being very emotional about it all, we decided, as a family, to get a pedigreed cat.

After extensive research, we agreed on the breed and identified a woman in South Texas who raised Seal Point Birmans. My friend Jennifer and I ventured off one morning after getting the kids to school.

The entire trip, she asked repeatedly, “Why exactly are we driving three hours to get a cat when you can get dozens for free at the shelter just down the road?”

“You’ll see!” I’d answer,ed over and over again.

We drove deep into the country down endless winding roads filled with potholes. We both had no idea where we were, and at that point, even I questioned why we were on this crazy mission for a cat. We finally found the woman’s home; as we drove up, dozens, if not hundreds, of stray cats raced toward our car.  Jennifer shot me a, “See?!?! Crazy Lady!!!” look. At that moment, I had to agree.  

“We’ve  come this far…..let’s at least talk to the breeder,” I said with resignation. An older, casually dressed woman opened the door of the trailer. It was spotless inside - no sign or smell of any type of animal. As we stood there, four tiny balls of white fur with sparkling blue eyes sprang up around the woman’s feet.

“Awww!!!” Jennifer and I both squealed in delight. The woman explained that the cats she bred and sold were strictly kept in the house, but she didn’t have the heart to turn away all the strays that  seemed to endlessly show up outside. 

We played with the kittens, chose one - a female, and headed home.  Jennifer and I both fell in love on that trip home. My husband, always the one who names our pets,  immediately said, “Her name is Trinket!” when he walked through the door and saw the angelic ball of fur. She was so sweet and cuddly, and absolutely the most gorgeous cat we’d ever seen. 

However, we quickly learned Trinket either viewed herself as being far superior to the rest of the family … or she was more dumb than a box of rocks.  The saying “With a blank expression on her face” was uttered by every person in our family at least once a day when referring to Trinket.  “Where is Trinket?” “Staring at the rug…..with a blank expression on her face.” “What did Trinket do today?” “Laid on the cat tower…..with a blank expression on her face."   Trinket liked to sleep on my son’s bed…but when I changed the bedding, she would walk in, stare at the bed, sit there for awhile (with a blank expression on her face), and then leave as if she didn’t know where she was or why she had gone back there in the first place. The same reaction occurred if we moved anything in the house, and we quickly learned not to move anything of hers.  We eventually leaned more toward the latter of our thoughts about her … that she was in fact a simple cat -  a cat of little brain. 

Did that change our love for her or her importance in our family system? Not in the least! We love and accept her for who she is; her “blank expressions” and very “blonde” behavior provides many a laugh for our family and friends. Just this morning, I was doing housework and opened a few doors to air out our home. Trinket, curious, wandered out and immediately got lost (although she was only around the corner of the house, she had no idea how she had gotten there or how to get back). One of the dogs, her loyal and protective big brother, retrieved her and guided her back in. She then went and stretched out by the chair where I lay my husband’s  clothes every morning, so she’d be ready to rub on his legs and meow loudly for attention while he got ready for work.

Pets display a level of unconditional, nonjudgmental love and devotion that absolutely brightens anybody’s spirit.  They have a way of jolting us out of any dark places we may have wandered to in our hearts and shining a beam of hopeful light in our direction, beckoning us back into a happier, healthier place. They lighten us and keep us balanced. The cat of little brain is a gleaming example.

Posted in Sunny side up on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 4:30 am. | Tags: Cat , Pet , Birman , South Texas , Sunny Side Up Comments (0)

Sunday 11/17/2013
The cow with no legs

It's that time of year again.....time to decorate for Christmas. But given other scheduling conflicts, it was happening even earlier this year.  I sat and viewed the many, many bins with resignation.....with resentment even, perhaps?

This was a LOT of work! Every year, at that crossroad, I momentarily forget how beautiful our home looked once it was elaborately garnished.  More importantly, I momentarily forgot the real reason I created the dramatic transformation for our home every year.

I begrudgingly began to unpack the bins.  As I unwrapped fragile, keepsake items interspersed with decorations the kids had created at school or even daycare,  I began to soften. I began to reflect. And then I came upon The Cow With No Legs, named by my daughter, although "Legless Cow" would be the more logical alternative. 

When my daughter, Channing, was 2 and her brother, Zachary, was 5, it became time for my husband Steve and I to start building our own holiday traditions here in Texas. With our families far away in Minnesota and Kentucky, the stress and sheer drain of travel was too much. I put my foot down and was adamant that we start our holidays here. I was the only one left with small children, so I felt it was reasonable that they experience Christmas in their own home. I welcomed any of our family to join us.

My parents decided to come spend that Christmas with us, and I turned to my mother for guidance on establishing traditions. One of my own family's traditions was to allow each child to pick out a new ornament for the Christmas tree. Great idea! So, my mom and my two children set out for Austin, on a venture for the perfect ornaments. We primed them on how exciting it was going to be to pick out their own special ornaments.

It's probably a good time to divulge that Channing was a bit on the unruly side. We coached and coached her on the way to Austin about going into a beautiful store full of breakable items....and her "cherubic" 2-year-old self agreed to keep her hands folded,to  look and not touch.  We arrived at the mall, located the Christmas store, and reminded the children about our expectations. As we walked in, sheer wonder glided over both of their faces. We walked. We looked. Then suddenly, without warning, Channing grabbed a porcelain ornament of a cow and promptly bit off all four legs. As the shock registered, my first thought was to dig the legs out of her mouth before she choked, whereas my mother just stared, speechless, in outraged disbelief at this primitive display. 

"I guess you've chosen the cow then, Channing???"  said my mother, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her tone. Zachary, much calmer and careful in his selection, and also very worried about somehow getting caught up in the eminent drama of the moment, perused the store for the perfect ornament.  I honestly don't remember what it even was, because the focus was on the Cow With No Legs.

"I don't wannnnnnnnnt the Cow with No Leggggggies!!!!!" wailed Channing.

"Channing, the cow has no legs because you bit them off," I said. "It wasn't ours but now we have to buy it because you wrecked it!"

At that moment, we clearly were all upset.  But you know what? We brought that cow home and hung him on the tree. I'm glad  in that emotional moment we didn't throw away a "damaged" item. Because, he is a memory. He is a tradition.  And he hangs on our tree every year, in all his legless glory.  When family and friends come to our home to celebrate with us, his story is told over and over.

Seize the moment and harness it to build beautiful memories. Raise a family that is steeped in tradition - year after year after year of sameness that isn't dry, mundane, or boring but instead the shining example of a solid foundation that instills core values,  strengthens precious relationships, and makes us all better, brighter, open and loving.

The Cow With No Legs symbolizes all that for us. See the glory, the richness, that imperfection brings. As I unpack, decorate and prepare for another holiday season,  my perspective is yanked back into its rightful place and my heart smiles. Life's blessings surely take some of the oddest forms. Keep an open heart so you don't miss them. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Sunday, November 17, 2013 7:30 am. | Tags: Christmas , Christmas Tree , Christmas And Holiday Season , Family , Holiday , Christmas Store , Home Comments (0)

Wednesday 11/13/2013
Slaying the giants

I never was a big sports person growing up - not to play or to watch.  My husband, on the other hand, was an All American, lettered athlete in football, baseball and track. So, it was only natural that he’d want his children to be athletes. I’ve grown to respect and appreciate their various sporting activities - some more than others - but because I love and support them, I will always be there to cheer them on whenever possible. 

Now, where softball is concerned, I’ve grown to be a real junkie. My daughter, after trying dance, then cheer, then soccer, stumbled into the game of softball at age 7. We all knew it was true love. Her knack for the game was uncanny, and none of us ever imagined how truly exciting it could be.

This past summer, The CenTex Edge, our select softball team, had the opportunity to play in the World Series at Disney’s ESPN center in Florida. I cannot even begin to describe how overwhelming it was to see our girls - just a little pipsqueak team out of Central Texas - march out onto the fields with thousands of other girls during opening ceremonies. It was surreal to say the least. Teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico and even Puerto Rico had come out to compete for the championship title. Most were from huge, well-known, well-funded organizations, as opposed to us - a group of small town locals who just wanted their daughters to develop some skill and love for the game. We were there for the experience and had no expectation of winning.

Did our girls see it that way? Not in the least.  They were there to play!  Not only were they there to play, they were there to win!  They didn’t care that most of the girls were not only physically larger than they were, but also that they were “Big Names”- nationally known and sponsored organizations. Their competitors were giants in the world of Fastpitch Softball. During a week-long tournament, The Centex Edge fell into the Loser’s Bracket after a terrible call on a tied game.  That was on a Tuesday; the championship game wasn’t until that Saturday. To get there, our girls would have to play at least twice as many games as the teams who stayed in the winner’s bracket. 

My husband has always said that the measure of a champion’s true character is by what she does when she is at the bottom.  Playing back to back games all through Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, well after midnight, our girls proved that statement to be true. I stood for hours and hours watching them, clapping, cheering, “You can do it!  I believe in you!”  In the text exchanges with my husband, he repeatedly wrote with incredulous pride, “Our girls are giant killers!!!”

At 6:45 on Saturday morning, they were back on the fields, ready to defeat the team that had put them in the loser’s bracket to begin with.   The game ran over two hours, with a neck to neck tied score and two extra overtime innings. But they were bound and determined to win ... and win they did. They immediately had to turn around and play in the game for third place- the game before the championship game that was to be televised on ESPN! 

I don’t even know how to put into words the emotions that were whirling in me at that point. On top of sheer exhaustion was searing adrenaline. They started off that game behind 7-0, and I thought, “They’re out of gas. They can’t fight anymore.” I had to go charge my phone (I was tasked with keeping everyone at home up-to-date on their progress), and when I came back just a few minutes later, the score was 7-7.  How were they doing it?  Again, the game went into overtime...7-7….. 8-8……9-9…..  Until finally, the opposing team scored, won the game and advanced to the championship game that moments before was cupped in our own hands. 

We all cried- not just for the loss, but for the mounting emotion of the entire week.  In our post game huddle, no words were uttered at first. Finally, I spoke.

“You know what? What you all did this week……it’s just plain amazing. You fought back from the bottom of the pile. You never gave up. You took absolutely everything in your heart and in your soul and you LEFT it on those fields. If you approach life this way, you will all be successful in whatever you choose to do. To me, you are all true champions”. 

Being a true champion is just that - it’s not necessarily about getting first place, the biggest trophy or a moment of fame. It’s about envisioning your goals and believing you can reach them. It’s about reaching deep within yourself and fully utilizing all your talents, your skills, your knowledge without reservation or fear. It’s a choice our little girls grasped and held on to fiercely.

It’s a choice……any of us can make. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 4:18 pm. Updated: 3:42 pm. | Tags: Softball , Sports , Florida , Puerto Rico , Espn , World Series , Centex Edge , The World Series , Central Texas Comments (0)

Tuesday 10/29/2013
Choosing to skip

We all stood huddled in the freezing rain and biting wind, steadfast fans of our softball-playing daughters.  I felt my hair whipping wildly as rain stung my cheeks. I knew I looked like an absolute wreck! But I didn't care. Like all the other parents, it wasn't about me. We were there to support our girls.

Oh, but Camryn cared! I watched her (then) 3-year-old eyes scan me from head to toe, horror then contemplation as to how best approach me about how embarrassingly ridiculous I looked.

She raised her arms up for me to pick her up, cupped my face with her hands, her big blue eyes gazing solemnly into mine, and asked, "Ms. Marsh, would you like to borrow my hat?" 

I have so many similar stories about this precocious little girl, now 6 years old - her outrage at being told she was required to take a nap in kindergarten ("Can you believe that lady?!?!?); her blunt opinions ("Um, your shorts are really short. Yes.... too short."); and our ongoing exchange over the years about "borrowing" my lipstick, which invariably became her lipstick, the pinker, the better.

An adorable little girl? Hilarious? Sassy, smart and absolutely wise beyond her years? Yes. But also, a child who at 8 months old was near death after many misdiagnoses of a rare form of leukemia.  A child who battled for her life, toe-to-toe at Heaven's Gates, stuck full of needles and tubes, hours, days, weeks, months in hospitals, while her parents and five older siblings struggled with the business of Living Life, maintaining some semblance of "normal" and simultaneously being physically and emotionally present for her.

She is in remission now, but we never know when the venomous snake of cancer will raise its nasty head and bite again. Now, that would make the best, the strongest of us quit and live sheltered in fear and bitterness. Not Camryn! As we speak, she is in the hospital for yet another operation for problems with her ears, one of many side effects of all the heavy chemotherapy and radiation she endured at such a young age. She is scared, naturally, but she is a fighter. She is a believer in Living Life to its fullest. So instead of crying, she is holding the baby doll her daddy brought her and smiling big, bravely for her mom's camera. 

Life is fragile. Life is unpredictable. It's easy to allow yourself to get weighed down by all the heaviness, all the "what ifs," to watch your every step, to limit what you do in a futile, false attempt to prevent disaster. It's easy to become hateful and pessimistic. It's easy to lose sight of goodness and hope. 

It's also easy to find the wonder, the beauty and the optimistic side in our every day lives. Guess what? It's a choice. Camryn is living, breathing proof positive of that. Every time I see her, no matter what kind of day I'm having, I automatically smile as her whole face lights up and she rushes into my arms. She humbles me. She keeps me grounded and balanced.

A few years back, at a Light the Night walk to raise awareness for leukemia, little Miss Camryn was interviewed.  In asking to tell her story and a bit about her life now, someone posed the question, "Who are your friends, Camryn?"  Without hesitation, she answered, "Ms. Marsh!"  I can't think of a greater honor.

No matter where we are, Camryn will always take my hand and gaily say, "Let's skip!" And we do, with absolutely no care or concern about who is watching our silliness. Life will continue to happen, whether we are trudging angrily or skipping merrily along.

Camryn and I choose the latter. 

Posted in Sunny side up on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 2:15 pm. Updated: 5:35 pm. Comments (2)