Sunday, September 8, 2013

La Joie de Vivre

While we are in the midst of the dog days of summer, I have been thinking about the dogs in my life. I have three: our bouncing beagle Belle, and my two rescued granddogs, Turner and Cole. I include Turner and Cole because my husband and I do a lot of puppysitting so we spend a fair amount of time with them. Time spent with dogs means lessons learned, and I have learned something from each of these special creatures.

Cole is a very energetic four-year-old Akita/Shepherd mix. My son adopted him from a shelter when he was about a year and a half old. Cole’s energy level hasn’t diminished a bit since his puppy days. He has a certain zest for life that is evident when you put him on a leash and he pulls you out of the house. It’s always a pleasure when Cole takes you for a walk!

Recently, I had the delight of accompanying Cole to the groomer’s. He bounded for the car and sat in the backseat with his head out the sunroof. Cole loves the wind blowing against his face when he rides in the car. Because my car is smaller, the sunroof works best for him. The road crews always enjoy it when Cole passes by them in my car!

When we arrived at our destination, Cole was beside himself with glee and could not wait to get out of the car. I somehow managed to wiggle out with him still on the leash as he pulled me in the direction of people. Cole wanted to greet everyone and tell them just how happy he was to be alive!

Once inside, Cole jumped up to be face to face with the groomer and tell her personally how happy he was to see her. The tail was wagging fiercely at this point. Cole simply could not contain himself. I waved goodbye as he trotted to the back room, groomer in tow.

When I went later that day to retrieve Cole, the groomer gushed that Cole was just so happy to do everything. He greeted everyone who came to the puppy salon, wagged the tail with gusto, and was in general elated with everything. When Cole came out, all clean and smelling wonderfully, he just could not wait to tell me what a great time he had had. He jumped up so that we were face to face and gave me a big, sloppy lick! Then he pulled me outside to the car, ready to stick his head out the sunroof for the glorious ride home!

Cole has taught me to find the joy in everything life has to offer. No need to sweat the small stuff, just bask in the glory of being alive, and make sure the windows (or the sunroof) are open!

This blogpost appeared as my column, "The Empty Nest," in the Frederick News Post on Sunday August 11, 2013.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Well-rested, well-tested

While we are in the midst of the dog days of summer, I have been thinking about the dogs in my life. I have three: our bouncing beagle Belle, and my two rescued granddogs, Turner and Cole. I include Turner and Cole because my husband and I do a lot of puppysitting so we spend a fair amount of time with them. Time spent with our dogs means lessons learned, and I have learned something from each of these special creatures.

Belle is a five year old tri-color beagle who is somewhat spoiled. No, let me re-phrase that, very spoiled. She came into our lives when she was about ten weeks old and very rapidly became our baby. When you ask my children who is their parents’ favorite child, they will reply in unison, “the dog!” Belle travels with us as often as she can and knows that going through a drive-through window means snacks! Her two favorites are McDonald’s and the bank!

Belle has taught me the importance of being well-rested. She can sleep anywhere! After her morning jaunt around the neighborhood, she is in need of a nap. Usually she lies behind the chair next to mine in the family room, but sometimes she hops up on the sofa. The heavy breathing starts a few minutes after she has settled down. The snoring begins not long after that. There’s almost always a late morning catnap followed by her afternoon siesta.

The problem with her sleeping is that Belle snores louder than any human! For her relatively small size, she puts out a big sound that has become progressively louder the older she gets. If Belle decides to take an afternoon nap upstairs in the bedroom, I can hear her snoring in the kitchen. One afternoon, I could not find her. I called and called to no avail. Then I listened, and sure enough I could hear that infamous snore! Snoring is a common sound at our house because Belle’s rest is essential to her good living.

Belle thinks that she is human and as such, she should sleep in a bed with humans. Whenever I’m interviewing a potential house-sitter, the first question is “how do you feel about sleeping with a snoring dog?” Those who answer “it’s no big deal” are usually hired! Because Belle sleeps with us every night –burrowed underneath the bedspread and sheets-I deal with the snoring on a regular basis. There have even been nights when the shaking of the bed from this little dog’s snoring has wakened me!

I have indeed learned from Belle how important good rest is, so I have resorted to sleeping with earplugs. It does help to deaden the sound and I usually sleep fairly well. I have also learned that napping when possible helps one to get through the busiest of days. So when I read about the essential eight hours of sleep for good health, all I can say is I’m trying!

Monday, September 2, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

While we are in the midst of the dog days of summer, I have been thinking about the dogs in my life. I have three: our bouncing beagle Belle, and my two rescued granddogs, Turner and Cole. I include Turner and Cole because my husband and I do a lot of puppysitting so we spend a fair amount of time with them. Time spent with dogs means lessons learned, and I have learned something from each of these special creatures.

Turner is an eight-year-old mix of everything. My daughter adopted him from a no-kill shelter when he was about eight months old. Turner at some point in his younger days had been abused and to this day, he is afraid of pretty much everything. He puts on a brave face when needed, but for the most part, he lives in fear. Turner is a loveable, huggable big old guy. He’s good for a bit of conversation as he loves to talk, and he likes to be the center of the conversation.

So Turner is also a stay-at-home kind of guy which is unusual because he has traveled so much. Although adopted in West Virginia, Maryland was home for a while. Turner loved Maryland. He enjoyed our backyard and rides on the boat, but the family room was always his favorite spot, a nice comfortable corner on the rug. Turner loved evenings at home with the entire family seated around him. Life circumstances have, however, pushed Turner outside of his comfort zone, and he has become a traveling pooch.

Turner traveled to North Carolina to visit family. He enjoyed rest stops along the way where he met people from all over. Connecticut was a favorite place for Turner. We spent some time along the river in Niantic where he took pleasure in walking along the beach. He loved Baltimore and was even the “musical chairs” champ two years in a row at the American Visionary Arts Museum’s Pet Parade.

But Turner’s real travel experiences began after my daughter married and she and Turner moved to the Netherlands. He didn’t really appreciate flying but acclimated well to the Dutch lifestyle and living in a city. Turner has traveled to France, Belgium and throughout the Netherlands. He has run along the beach and stayed in hotels. He is a rather well-traveled canine.

Turner has voyaged by plane, boat, train, and even jogged along side his “parents” as they cycle through the cities of the Netherlands. He takes the bus when the family ventures to the city center. Let’s face it, Turner gets around!

But Turner is happiest at home, surrounded by those he loves. He has a special carpet in the living room that we refer to as his “island.” He’s most comfortable there. You can see it in his face. Turner has taught me that you can travel all around the world, but there really is “no place like home!”

When In Rome

This blogpost appeared as my July column "The Empty Nest" in the Frederick News Post.

Summer is here and that means it’s vacation time! While we haven’t had a family vacation for a while, there were many that taught this family about travel. One trip to California taught my son that if you travel to a far off place, you must experience what your destination has to offer you.

We spend a lot of time at baseball parks. It’s a passion of my son. Many years ago, the Frederick Keys had a Blockbuster Video contest during each game. Timmy entered the contest at every game we attended, but he never won. In early September that year, we received a telephone call and were told that Timmy had won the Blockbuster grand prize-a trip to California! The woman on the phone quickly informed us that the trip included hotel accommodations and a few other perks, but that airfare to California was not included. With an airline employee in the family, this was not a concern for us. We would use my husband’s employee flight benefits.

So we began planning our mini vacation to California. On the top of my son’s list of things to do was to ride the new Jurassic Park ride that had just opened up at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. He had seen commercials on TV and was elated to have the opportunity to finally go there. It was all he talked about for the weeks leading up to the trip.

When we arrived in California, Timmy was ready to head directly to the amusement park. It was all that we could do to convince him to wait until the next day. Early that morning, he woke ready to go. At the park when the gates opened, we headed directly to the Jurassic Park area for the ride he so wanted to experience.

His pace slowed as we neared the large dinosaurs. The jungle sounds were all around us and things began to feel a little eerie. You could almost sense an imminent dinosaur attack. Then my son stopped dead in his tracks. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this,” he said. He started to list the dangers of amusement park rides. Perhaps it would be best for our safety if we skipped the ride and just strolled around the park.

I sat my son down on a nearby bench and told him about how he had waited for months to ride, how it was the only thing he could talk about, and how we had traveled so far to experience this one particular ride. And then I became the evil mother. I forced my son to get back in the line and ride that ride. I held his hand the entire time and tried to convince him that it would be all right.

We rode the ride, we went to Rome and did like the Romans. I’m not sure he forgave me, but I think somewhere deep inside he was glad we did.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Love at First Sight

Summer means it’s vacation time! While we haven’t had a family vacation for a while, there were many that taught this family about travel. One trip to Disney World a long time ago taught us the true meaning of “love at first sight.”

We were living in Florida at the time. My husband was stationed at NAS Whiting Field as an instructor pilot. Since both of our children were under the age of five, we thought it might be fun to spend a week in Orlando visiting Disney World. Bags were packed, thrown into the mini van, and we were off!

Arriving at the Magic Kingdom, we knew that we wanted to have lunch in Cinderella’s castle. Cinderella was one of my daughter’s favorite Disney princesses, so we knew that she would be thrilled to dine in the castle. When the gates to the park opened, I rushed ahead of the family towards the castle. My goal was to secure a lunch reservation.

When a lunch time was reserved, we decided to tour the park. Much of our time was spent seeking the autographs of the costumed characters. We purchased the required autograph books at one of the gift shops and began searching for Mickey, Minnie and friends. We sailed through “It’s A Small World” a few times, rode the Alice in Wonderland teacup ride, and toured Mickey’s house. By then it was time to head to the castle for our midday meal.

In the main hall of the castle, we waited for our names to be called. Tiffany posed for pictures by the fireplace. Timmy, who was only about ten months old, was taking in the entire scene. His head turned from side to side as he watched other children excitedly running around. Finally, our name was called and we climbed the staircase to find our seats.

At our table, Tiffany jumped up and down, wondering out loud when Cinderella would show up. Timmy sat in his high chair and continued to soak in the setting. We placed our meal orders and tried to talk about what we were going to do after lunch in hopes of settling down a certain little girl.

Then she appeared across the room in her beautiful blue and white dress. Tiffany squealed when she saw her, but it was Timmy’s reaction that caught us off guard. He couldn’t take his eyes off the princess. When she finally approached our table, my little boy almost fell out of his chair trying to reach her. And when she touched his hand, he squealed out loud! IT was truly love at first sight. My little boy’s first true love!

We visited the parks, rode rides, met costumed characters, but the memory we recall the most often from that trip is Timmy falling in love!

No Room at the inn

Summer means vacation time and while we haven’t had a family vacation for a while, there were many that taught this family about travel. One trip to Niagra Falls taught us the importance of pre-trip planning.

We decided the week before Labor Day to head to upstate New York for a long weekend. There was an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame that I really wanted to see, and the kids had never been to Niagra Falls. So we decided to hit the road early Saturday morning. Now I figured that most people would be heading to the beach and not north, so we made no arrangements for the trip, in particular, no hotel reservations.

We arrived at the Hall of Fame early in the afternoon, had lunch, and visited the exhibit dedicated to Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz. Finally, we decided to hop back in the car, drive a little farther on, and begin our search for hotel accommodations.

About an hour or so from the falls, we decided to take an exit where there appeared to be a few hotels. We stopped at each one only to find that there were no vacancies in any of them. I was rather shocked. We weren't really near anything, so why would all of the hotel rooms be full? My husband decided to head out a bit farther on the interstate and check out the next exit.

At each and every exit, we were greeted with the same response, “no room at the inn.” When we were just a few minutes from the falls, we pulled into a little town. There we spotted a hotel sign blinking “rooms available.” Hallelujah! Our patience had paid off.

As we drove into the hotel parking lot, I noticed that it looked a lot shabbier at close range. In fact, it looked downright spooky, but my husband decided to go in and speak to the guy at the desk. He reported, upon his return, that there was one room available at the price of $250! This dump of a hotel was charging Ritz Carlton prices! “Absolutely not!” I exclaimed. We would not pay that amount to sleep here!

Onward we went, towards Ohio, searching for a place to sleep. By this time it was getting close to midnight. At the next stop, my husband was informed that the closest hotel with vacancies was some five hours away!

We found the parking lot of a nice elementary school to spend the night. Parked underneath a street light, we put the kids in the front so that they could recline the seats and be more comfortable. My husband and I snuggled together in the back seat, sitting straight up. We slept on and off for about three hours that night. It wasn’t ideal, but it taught us to always book our hotel in advance of departure. Haven’t slept in the car since!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Teachers have been heralded in the press recently for saving the lives of their students during a fierce tornado in Oklahoma. Stories of teachers huddled over small children protecting them from debris and harm have been ubiquitous. To think that teachers have also been blamed for low student achievement and the decline in our educational system has me baffled.

Both of my children attended the Advanced Music Studies program offered at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School through Frederick County Public Schools. The music program offers intensive music theory and music performance training. There’s always been music in our house, and I was elated to have my daughter and son accepted in this very special program.

While attending the music program, both Tiffany and Timmy were fortunate enough to have Mr. Jennings Glenn as a teacher. Mr. Glenn encouraged both of my children to reach beyond what they thought they were capable of, to question the status quo, and to be creative individuals. He showed them the relevance of music to their lives and how music can inspire us to new levels of thinking outside the box.

While both of my children focused on vocal music performance, Mr. Glenn encouraged them to explore instrumental music. He encouraged Tiffany to perform on her harp and challenged her to conquer difficult musical pieces. He inspired Timmy to work in musical composition, and challenged my son’s creative abilities. As a result there's now an electric piano in our music room in addition to the old Kohler and Campbell.

Music is one of the first programs to face the chopping block when school districts look to reduce spending. Mr. Glenn encouraged my daughter and son to be creative, to look from a different perspective. He challenged them to solve problems in musical composition, to work with groups, and to believe in themselves. These are life skills that they use as adults today.

Mr. Glenn was a role model for his students. He took his music out in to the community and shared his gift with others. As Plato said, “Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.” Mr. Glenn embodied Plato’s thought.

We’ve all had a special teacher, the one who inspired us. Many of us have been fortunate to have had many teachers like Mr. Glenn. Those who enter the teaching profession are called to do so. They love what they are doing, and they love our kids, so much so that they risk their lives for them. A society that values its children must also value its education system and its teachers.

Make some time this week to thank a teacher, and better yet, contact your legislators and let them know how much you value teachers.