Slice of Life

My friend Joan, Amore’s breeder, drops by my house tonight on her way back from the hospital where she receives bi-monthly shots in her eye. Three days ago she held a New Year’s Day party following a bout of vomiting she claimed was food-poisoning, non-contagious. I knew better, still I went. Three days later, all four of us guests are sick as well.

I greet her wrapped in a fleece-lined blanket, swaddled in layers of flannel and long-johns, Ugg boots on my feet, my unwashed hair slicked back in a ponytail. I break my self-imposed quarantine to let her in. My mother is recovering from knee surgery; I do not want her to get sick. Still, I knew Joan would stop, contagious or not, the shot in her eye and the hour’s drive still ahead good motivation to take a break, although she would have stopped anyway.

Her fine white hair struts out in many directions, cerulean eyes, red-tinged from the after-effects of the eye exam and shots. “How are you?” I ask.

“Well, how are you,” she asks, almost shyly, like she knows maybe it might not be convenient to stop. But there is no question I will let her in, even if it wasn’t.

“Better,” I say. “Not vomiting. Still can’t eat much as I check off the list of bland, neutral items I have tried—toast, broth, Jell-O. Google lists “BRAT” food—bananas, rice, applesauce and toast—nothing too acidic, no tomatoes, Mom warns.

 “Me, too,” Joan says.

 “Wait, you’re still sick?” I ask as I lead her to the kitchen where we sit at the kitchen table. She was supposed to be all better the day of our party.

“So much for food poisoning,” I point out. “Oh no,” she assures me in a characteristic gush. “I figured it out. I had food poisoning and it was over when you came. Then I got sick like the rest of you.

I bite my tongue and still my rolling eyes. I do not call her on this. She is not joking. “Can you eat anything?” I ask.

Her eyes twinkle like a guilty child and I catch a glimpse down the long aisle of years to what she must have looked like as a girl, “Well,” she sheepishly admits, “I had a craving for stewed tomatoes and lemons.”

My stomach lurches at the thought. Nothing acidic. The irony highlighted by the fact that Joan was once a nurse and should know better. My mother braves us both to sit at the table and chat. She brings a belated Christmas gift for Joan and one for our friend Jane. And, Joan chooses between the one in the Santa and the one in the snowman bag. My 11-year-old nephew Avery moseys in to make himself some dinner—sausage and peanut butter on toast.  It is a tranquil scene, subdued by illness and bemusement.

Joan examines her gift—cupcake mix in a mug—and my mother thanks her for the Monkey Bread mix that she had sent as her own gift. Avery’s fork clangs against his plate as he retrieves his sausage from the microwave. Suddenly, like Glinda wielding a wand, Joan whips out a small spray bottle.            

“Anyone mind peppermint?” she says and before we can answer, she lets out a blanket of spray that literally fills the room and surrounds us in a bubble of breath-stealing, throat-closing, eye-stinging peppermint. Avery, sensitive to smells, bursts into rapid-fire speech, “What the heck is that stench? What did you do? Are you crazy? What is that smell?”

My three pugs come running and sniff the air, Joan, too, lifts her head to the cloud as if breathing in sunshine.

 “Are you crazy lady? That burns,” Avery continues.

 Normally, I would scold him for his rudeness. I would be nervous of Joan’s reaction. Today, I just laugh. Mom laughs. We laugh until my vomit-weary stomach muscles spasm, we laugh as peppermint fills our lungs. We swallow absurdity whole. Joan is the Fairy Godmother of both Chaos and Merriment. It’s why I knew she would stop. It’s why I let her in.  



Cast Your Vote

Election day advice from my grumble of pugs...

Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

Waffles is voting for Hillary this election.

Alfie prefers Trump.

Alfie prefers Trump.

Amore is writing in Bernie.

Amore is writing in Bernie.

Voting is a serious business, but please remember, no matter who you are voting for this year, lighten up, have some fun, and be kind to those who may disagree with you. In the end, we are all part of the same pack!

Review: Loving Emmi

The title of this book, Loving Emmi, could also be the title of this review, that is if you are a fan of Barbara Boswell Brunner's writing. And, it would be hard to be a dog lover and not be. As a memoir writing instructor who loves dogs and writing about dogs, I am also aware of some of the perceptions out there in the world of memoir writing that books about animals may be a little "light" in comparison to say the next Wild or Dry, memoirs that explore serious topics of exploration or addiction. But there is a joy in Boswell Brunner's writing even when she is tackling difficult topics like her dog's death or little Emmi's suffering. Her voice is so comfortable that her love of dogs becomes contagious and the reader soon finds themselves engulfed in her world. My favorite passages are when you get to hear the story from the point of view of little Emmi or Izzy. While these passages could easily become silly or overly sentimental, they strike just the right tone, welcoming us into the worlds of these little animals. I don't want to say too much about the story because people should discover for themselves, but if you haven't read Boswell Brunner's work before you should give it a try and if you already have this is the ideal sequel to her Dog-Ma, The Zen of Slobber. You will fall in love with her new little pack as much as you did the old. An enjoyable read, despite the occasional tears!

And the Dog-Ma saga continues...

In this highly anticipated sequel to the best-selling Dog-Ma, The Zen of Slobber, Izzy, the feisty and ferocious terrier, has lost her eyesight. Following on the heels of this devastating loss, her arch-rival Morgan - a gentle giant of a Rottweiler - suddenly succumbs to cancer. Finding herself a lonely-only, it's not long before Izzy finds herself nose-to-nose with her humans' new pet project: a foster Rottie pup also named Morgan. Quickly renamed Emmi to avoid confusion (and the wrath of Izzy,) it was to be the beginning of a journey unlike any other.

Severely injured as a newborn, Emmi—affectionately known to her fast-growing online fan base as Baby Morgan the Broken Jaw Puppy—is hanging onto life by a thread. Living with a crushed jaw that has left her unable to open her mouth to eat or drink, the prognosis is grim. Baby Morgan is starving to death. Having rescued her from a horrific life, her parents spring into all-out desperation mode to find her the best lifesaving medical care. Despite the advice of veterinary professionals to euthanize, her parents are determined to save her at all costs. Taking to the Internet, they rally a huge online community of dog lovers who quickly become their second family. It does not take long for Emmi's sheer determination and ferocious will to live to take hold.

This is Emmi's miracle. A story of hope, inspiration and triumph in the face of adversity.

Available to buy at....   Author Site  Barnes and Noble  

“This book is a must read for animal lovers, everywhere. Barbara Boswell Brunner pulls at your heartstrings in Loving Emmi, a rescue story like no other. When Barbara, and her husband, Ray, decide it's time to foster another dog, they have no idea what they're getting into. This is their story, but it's also the story of every "imperfect" shelter dog; a story that promises to open eyes and hearts. A fantastic read. Two paws, way, way up.” - Author Nick Antinozzi – Desperate Times Trilogy

 “A captivating and heartwarming story that illustrates the deep and trusting bond that exists between dogs and humans, written with true understanding, compassion, and love. A must-read gem of a book.” Author Kathryne Arnold – The Resurrection of Hannah

Read an excerpt HERE

Also Available.... Dog-Ma: the Zen of Slobber (Dog-Ma Book 1) Barbara's vivid and dramatic stories, told with a wicked sense of humor, will make you laugh out loud. She definitely gets what living with rescued dogs (nine of them!) is all about.

When Barbara meets her future husband, Ray, it is love-and dog-at first sight. Over the course of thirty-two years, seventeen relocations and nine dogs, their mutual love of dogs guides them on their unconventional path. The love that Barbara and Ray get in return is literally lifesaving, with one dog attacking a lethal intruder and another discovering Barbara’s cancer. Her own survival story underscores the story of how her dogs become survivors themselves.

Each new dog adds its own dynamic to the family, sometimes upending it. From Turbo (whose Spock-like ears may have provided super powers), Barbara learns about the will to live; Lexington demonstrates incredible patience and an inexplicable love of golf; Madison teaches that laughter is truly the best medicine and that the whole “nine lives thing” is not reserved just for cats; Morgan should be sainted for tolerating Izzy, who is as cute as she is bad. Barbara is certain that somewhere in doggie heaven there is a poster that says “If you are sick, injured or in need of really expensive medical care, FIND THESE HUMANS!”

Available to buy at....    Author Site    Barnes and Noble

"Anyone who loves dogs and animals will thoroughly enjoy this book, you will find the authors love, compassion and kindness to her dogs unconditional and the sacrifices both her and her husband make are unbelievable." - Beck Valley Books

"A sweet, funny and poignant book that I read, cover to cover in just one sitting. It caused me to shed more than a few tears, brought many smiles to my face and even made me laugh out loud a time or two. Whether you’re head over heels for furbabies or are just looking for a great read, this is the book for you!" - Jayedee Halpin Dewitt

"If you love dogs, if you’ve ever rescued a dog, or if you just want a book that exemplifies the extraordinary bond that develops between dogs and the humans who love them, you must read Dog-ma the Zen of Slobber." - Terrier Torrent

Read an excerpt HERE

About the Author Award Winning Author, Barbara Brunner grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with her parents, sister and always a dog, or two or three. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from a small women's college in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Meeting her husband in Washington, DC, they continued together on a journey as self-proclaimed dog addicts. In the ensuing years, she founded three successful businesses in the Pacific Northwest and is a prolific fundraiser for breast cancer research. She and her husband are retired and now reside in Southwest Florida with two dogs and copious amounts of dog fur. She is currently working on indulging her well known flip flop addiction.

Find the author on the following sites... Website   Facebook   Book's Facebook  Twitter   Pinterest   Google+    Goodreads   Amazon Author Page

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I received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, all the opinions above are 100% my own.


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More Colored Pencil-Rhianna and Amore

Rhianna Final Colored pencil may be my new addiction so I hope you guys don't get tired of viewing them while I perfect my technique. This picture is of my new pug puppy, Amore, and a young girl from our church, Rhianna. I've been taking Amore to church since I got her last December. She is quiet and well behaved and loves being passed from person to person during the service. As she has gotten a bit older this is not as easy because she is growing so big so quickly, but both Amore and Rhianna still seem to love their cuddle time. Below is the picture I did this from as well as further examples of my process.

1934946_10208341578239868_6771658361017948843_nRhianna Sketches

Colored Pencil-Obama

President Barack Obama by K.J. Gifford Last February I attended a conference put on by the Vermont Arts Council called Breaking into Business. It was designed to help artists establish and market their businesses. There, I met colored pencil artist Corrina Thurston, who does fabulous drawings of animals, wildlife etc. They are so realistic. I had never realized such an effect could be achieved with colored pencil. A lot of it involves building up layers and also using tools to cut into the layers to create lines, hair, wrinkles, whiskers, fur, etc. I decided to give it a try and began doing some portraits. This is one of my most recent of President Obama.

I'm really enjoying the process and am fascinated watching the image emerge. I have been taking photos of the drawing as it progresses and find that by the time I take the one prior to the final I frequently am ready to give up. When I get to this point I have tried studying the photo of my drawing and comparing it to the original picture in Photoshop. I practice making changes in Photoshop where it is easy to backup and erase mistakes and once I realize what needs to be fixed, I return to the page and colored pencil to make the changes. In this case, the changes were minimal, a narrowing of the face and a darkening of the eyes, but it made all the difference. Below, shows the sketch in progress.

Obama sketches

You can see how the fourth picture here is slightly different from the final image. All the changes here were done by hand. I only use Photoshop to compare the photos.

Writing Prompt: There and Back Again: Memoir Writing on Home and Travel

Sundog I've been thinking a lot about place lately as I am scheduled to begin a memoir class on home and travel. As I've been pulling together my syllabus and lesson plans, my mind has been keenly focused on the subject and as a result I've come across so many interesting pieces of writing focusing. A fellow blogger, Deb German Young, wrote a beautiful piece capturing the heat of Memphis and her childhood there while she searches for Avalon in her now everyday life in Vermont. A friend shared with me a piece about his grandmother's home in Vermont and a childhood fight that had him feeling like an outsider on many levels. This morning I stumbled across an announcement that West Virginia University Press is starting a book series called In Place focusing on books firmly rooted in place. For numerous years my primary form of income has been writing for magazines such as Upper Valley Life, Kearsarge Magazine, Rutland Magazine—all regional publications, but I don't think I gave much thought about how much the place where I live and was raised affected me until I started traveling. So many of the differences in political, religious views, customs, even affection for pets, I could soon trace back to my northern New England upbringing. My setting influenced if not my actual beliefs at the very least the way I approached things. I began to see that even my fears were based on where I came from. I have friends from afar who don't think twice of getting in a car and driving through six lanes of traffic, while many of the people here close to home find a sojourn to Burlington a big challenge. Our world here is small in scale and while I am not implying that we do not seek broader horizons, for many of us it is a leap to do so. I realized that my best friends have not strayed too far from home and my own family all lives within a 50-mile radius of each other. I come from people who stick and my own journeys in to the bigger world have thus, been perhaps been viewed as greater adventures than they might be to someone else. Each summer I get on a plane and travel 7,000 miles away to Hawaii. When I was 12, 16, even 25, I could not have imagined myself going that far.

I took a writing class two years ago with memoirist Abigail Thomas who kept encouraging me to write more about my family and their rural way of life. I couldn't quite grasp the uniqueness of it then, how much of it is a part of my story. I am beginning to now. Perhaps that is why I decided to teach this class. I have a good group of seven or eight students and I am excited to see where they are from and where this class will take us. I am also intrigued to find more memoirs and books where place plays a role. I recently found a few on Amazon that I am eager to read: Small Beneath the Sky by Lorna Corzier and No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman. One of my favorite descriptions of a place is not in a memoir but in Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  I'd love to hear any suggestions anyone else might have.

When I attended the workshop with Abigail Thomas she gave us a memoir prompt on place that I intend to use with my students the first day of class: Write 2 Pages on Where you Are From. I'd love to hear responses.

New Beginnings

FullSizeRender As some of you know, today my first email newsletter went out, keeping you apprised of latest news, classes, art shows etc. If you haven't already subscribed, you will notice there is now a place to do so on the home page of the blog. I hope this is one of many new changes over the course of the next year to make the web site more user friendly.

This newsletter was made possible by an artist development grant through the Vermont Arts Council. This past February a friend told me about the Breaking into Business Program, also sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. My sister-in-law and I attended and the results, including the grant, have been fantastic. The program offered crucial information and advice on how to establish and further your art business as well as awesome networking opportunities. I am really excited about the newsletter, which I will publish monthly to start, that will give you further glimpses into what is going on with my writing, art, and teaching. And, of course, you'll get a fair share of pug news as well.

Which brings me to the latest update—a new litter of pug puppies at my friend Joan's home. Five blacks, all different in shape, size and personality. I'll be introducing them to you in the days ahead. They are three weeks old, have opened their eyes and are learning to stand. The biggest barely fits in two hands, while the little one can curl up in the palm of one.  They are magical and I have been visiting them daily.

Unfortunately, I have to take a break as I am  headed to Philadelphia to volunteer for an open air religious crusade in Nicetown. For those of you who come to the pages of this blog as writing students or art lovers, please don't be dismayed as I share these other details of my life. We are people of story, which is what art and writing and living and memory and memoir is all about. So just as I encourage you to share yours on the page, I am learning to share mine. I will be writing more soon and sharing lots of news, pics and some latest art projects, too. It has been a busy summer, which means there are many stories to tell.

Journal Jam

IMG_1094_2 My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are putting together a series of joint art and writing prompt classes that we are calling Journal Jam. We will be announcing the location of the first workshop shortly. In the meantime, we have both been working on our own journal pages. One of the prompts I love to offer comes from a book by Tristine Rainer called Your Life as Story. In it Rainer gives a prompt on How to be ________. The writer than offers a list of criteria describing how to be ______. Gretchin and I plan to use this prompt in our class and as an example I tried my hand at my own.

The night before I had been visiting Gretchin's house where my three-year-old niece Ellie was dancing around in the buff. I decided to write How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing. Here's the result:

How to Be Three-Year-Old Ellie Dancing

Be Stark Naked

Lift Your Arms in the Air


Mold Your Hands into Tight Little Fists

Roll Them One Over the Other

Do Your Magic

Stare Up Into the Sky with a Smug Look of Satisfaction

Burst Into Song

Sing the Theme to Frozen

Twirl Again

Lose Interest

Walk Across the Room, Strutting like a Drunken Supermodel

Turn and Walk Back Toward Me

Shout "Hey Bee, Look at This!"

Twirl One Final Time.

I then went to work on my own journal pages, but as so often happens the preliminary sketches seemed better than the final result, so I experimented a couple of times.

One of the things I love about digital collage and one of the reasons I turned to working in that medium is that nothing every has to go waste. You can always use a "bad" photo or sketch and transform it into something else. I started to do so with one of the iphone pics I took of my sketch.

I had an older picture of Ellie and when I put them together it seemed as if the two were dancing. I am still working on the collage. This is just the preliminary piece. I'm calling it Shadow Dancers or Fairytale 699.

blog shadow dancing

I'm hoping to add a version of this to my journal pages as well.