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

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.

Let Me Get You Up to Speed...

Let me get you up to speed… Let’s say for the sake of argument that all of this blog from Day 1 through the middle of last year was Season 1 of our ongoing saga—the pugs, my art, my writing, my friend Joan, her life, and mine. Then let’s say we went on hiatus—a long one. We’ve done a lot in that time, but how do you capture it all on the blog? You can’t go backwards and who wants to inundate everyone with a year’s worth of material, right? But, how do we jump right back in? I’m going to do my best to bring the story forward.

We’ve had our share of romance…



No, not me unfortunately, but my pug Alfie. She turned five in January and it was a do or die moment—time to breed her or forgo the idea once and for all. Alfie is my show pug and the plan from the beginning was to breed her and pass on all her wonderful traits. Unfortunately, her heats were uncertain and it took awhile to figure her cycle out. I decided to take a big leap of faith and go for it this year, so toward the end of January, Alfie and I began daily pilgrimages to visit her “boyfriend” at Pugdom, my friend Joan’s house. Challenge no. 1, while Alfie and the Old Man hit it off, he just couldn’t seem to get the job done, so we had to bring in reinforcements—his son, Gryffindor. Gryff was nowhere near as refined in the courting department, but what he lacked in charm, he made up for in finesse and I was fairly certain after thee successful matings that Alfie was pregnant.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Alfie began vomiting and panting and not acting at all right. I ended up taking her to the Emergency Vet only to learn she had pyometrea, a dangerous uterine infection and had to be spayed. No puppies for us. It seemed unfair on a lot of levels, my idea was if I can’t have children of my own right now, at least I’m gonna have puppies, but that didn’t seem to materialize. Our new grand adventure was cut short, but Alfie is okay, in fact, she seems downright happy and the plan for the future is to find another show dog, since after her spaying, Alfie can no longer be shown.

We’ve had our share of religion…



I spent two weeks in Hawaii last July on the Missions Trip I go on ever year. It was the start of a life-giving time, a creative time, when I returned home I began taking courses to become a certified minister, became a full-fledged member of my church and recently even taught one of our weekly bible studies. I didn’t discover God—I’ve known him all along—I simply got excited about connecting with Him in a while new way and so much has changed.

We’ve had our share of work…




This fall the college where I worked for the past 12 years closed, so I’ve been finding new opportunities to teach at assisted living facilities, arts centers, writing centers etc. and expanding my repertoire. This summer I am supposed to teach at a teen art camp in Lebanon, N.H. I am presently teaching a course on the relationship between animals and memoir writing called “Pet Projects” at an assisted-living facility also in Lebanon. My sister-in-law Gretchin and I are also putting together a joint workshop called Journal Jam.

The art projects are going well. I’ve been in several shows, sold more work than ever, and introduced new techniques such as encaustic to my collages. I joined an artists’ collective in Burlington that not only carries my work in their gift shop, but networks with area businesses to showcase the work of their members. The xposure has been great. In November, I had a solo show of my digital collages called Once and Future Things: An Exploration of Girlhood at Radio Bean in Burlington.



I’m currently in another juried show at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center called “Healing with Arts.” The idea behind the show is to hang works of art in the cancer treatment center with the belief that art contributes to and reinforces the healing process for patients with caner. It is an important show for me to be apart of as more and more close friends face the disease.



Also, this fall, a friend made financially possible for me to attend a wonderful and productive writers workshop, Dartbrook Writers Retreat, in the Adirondacks. I worked on pulling some of my blog posts together and creating new writing for a memoir of some of my experiences with my friend Joan. I’m starting to see the themes that underlie the work and why getting to be a part of her life and that of her pugs has been so important to me. The plan is to work more on that over the next year and get that book actually written.

Writer Abigail Thomas and Me at Dartbrook Writers Retreat

So here we are…now that you’re caught up let’s call this Season 2. Stay tune for our next adventure.




Lost and Found

Belle Last week I had one of those days filled with metaphor and meaning, stolen joys and confirmed fears. It is not a day you can sum up in a quick blog post. It is a day that needs to be digested, pondered, explored. It started with a lost dog, TarBaby, my friend Joan’s grand diva of a Pug. Tar Baby began her life at Pugdom, Joan’s home, by getting lost wandering in the woods for 11 days and returning to our amazement as a scrawny, scratched up pup. That was many years ago and TarBaby has transformed from that wee little scamp to an old lady with secrets to share. Weeks ago she suffered a severe injury in a dogfight and Joan has been nursing her back to health. She decided TarBaby needed some time in the sun and while we snacked on Jane’s brown rice breakfast pudding and watched our brood of pugs explore, TarBaby snuck off perhaps desiring one last adventure in her old age. We searched and we searched and could not find her. Hours passed and still no TarBaby. I finally had to leave with the hope that TarBaby’s homing nature would resurface and she would return to the driveway as she had in her youth. No sooner had I hit the road than I received the call that she indeed had found her way home!

Another mile down the road and there was another old dog wandering in the street. Cars stopped on both sides as we tried to corral a wobbling German pointer. She looked dazed and limp and when we finally got ahold of her she climbed happily in one of the cars while I set off to guide them to the local vets. Problem? I had no idea where the local vet lived. I tried to call Joan and finally got through. Googled the vet’s number and entered her address in my GPS, called the veterinarian on the dog’s tags. It was Saturday, no one was in. Joan met me at the vets, who also was not home and we loaded the sweet old lady of a dog in her car with the promise to tell the lady who had been escorting her that we would later text the dog’s fate. We rode up to the ski area where the annual beer festival was taking place to see if anyone had reported a missing dog. Just then, a call from my Mom. She wasn’t feeling well. She was at the pharmacist’s office and thought she might be having a reaction to her new blood pressure medicine. She was ready to drive home, but I couldn’t let her. I called my nephew’s mom, Chesne and asked her to pick her up, then called my Mom back to learn that she was having trouble breathing. I told her to have Chesne bring her to the ER, mere minutes away, and called my brother to have him meet her. Then the phone rang. It was the emergency vet on the other line. Had I found the owner yet? Another ring. The local vet. She was at a memorial service. Could I leave my friend’s number with her answering service in case the owner called? My friend Jane came to the car to share that no one has reported a missing dog. I call my father to tell him about my Mother, call my brother to make sure he is en  route to the hospital. Hit the road and call my Mom again to see if she is okay. She is at the ER, her breathing still a challenge.

My Mom is my rock and my best friend and suddenly I was in charge of making sure she was okay. Those who know me know that I pretty much juggle my family’s responsibilities on a daily basis. Twelve years older than my youngest sibling, I’ve pretty much helped raise them and taken care of their kids, arranging family plans, making sure everyone knows what is going on. I’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s for the family, assuming the role of oldest child. Single and childless, to me my mom remains the earth around which my moon evolves. She alone seems to know that while my shoulders are broad they are capable of bending under the weight, that sometimes it is all too much. I dread the day when she is no longer here. No one wants to lose a parent, but my Mom is more than that. I looked at the medicine cabinet in our bathroom today. Three separate compartments, combined into one large mirror. My parents’ recent choice when renovating the bathroom. There is a place for Dad, and Mom, and me. My compartment sandwiched in between the two of theirs. It has been that way since the beginning, me born one year into their marriage. The three of us. They tried to choose a set up that would give us each a space. It is not the setup I would have chosen. The three cabinets break up the mirror and I cannot see myself. And, yet there I am, my space between theirs. I love my parents. I am thankful that they share their home with me. It’s just hard sometimes seeing myself as separate. If Mom were to go, would I just disappear?

I don’t think it’s unusual for a child of any age to question her identity in light of a parent’s mortality and fortunately my Mom is fine. She indeed had a reaction to her meds and is now home trying out a new one. She will be okay. It is the future I do not like to ponder.

At midnight on Saturday, a car pulled up Joan’s driveway and took the German Pointer’s leash in hand. The dog’s name is Belle, 12 years old. She wandered off lost when they opened her crate. She was not far from home when we found her.  There is probably a metaphor here: flying the coop, feeling lost, dependence, independence, mortality, the mother-and-child bond. Just because things are obvious doesn’t mean they are easy to see. Sometimes we lose ourselves in love.


IMG_6618 A couple of months ago I received an email from one of the workers at the St. Augustine Humane Society in Florida. It seemed she owned a pug named Lucky and had stumbled across one of my greeting cards featuring Waffles while cruising the Internet. The Humane Society was looking for an image for the postcards they send out to their grooming clients and they wanted to know if they could use my image of Waffles stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. I have been looking for ways to help humane societies and rescues and found this a wonderful way to do so. I granted them rights to produce a card. Last week I finally got to see the result when the postcard arrived in the mailbox. I hope to get it framed and hang it in my office.

Barbecue and Seminar

A nail trimming demo Before attending my encaustic painting class tonight, I stopped by for a barbecue and some educational seminars at my vet's Country Animal Hospital. Dr. Jessica Jones took over the practice last year and has been introducing a lot of interesting and useful services such as these demos and talks. I couldn't stay long tonight but I was able to catch two of the educational sessions. The first was a grooming demo. The groomer suggested we bathe our dogs every two weeks and demonstrated different types of grooming tools such as the Furminator.

I also heard Dr. Erika Keady speak on parasites, a gross but interesting topic. I was the lucky winner of a raffle full of gift items including a tee shirt, puppy snacks, a tick removing tool, a dog collar and much more. It was fun and educational and the burgers were good, too.