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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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.

My Story

IMG_6330 It's been a desert for a while. Truth be known I haven't figured out this writing thing--writing for a living, writing blog posts, writing a book, writing festivals, two-page prompts, blogging conferences, teaching writing, correcting papers. I've only got so many words in me before I feel like the well is dry. The story that is my life continues, but admittedly I've left you out of it, drawing back the curtain here and there, revealing only a peek.

From the very beginning of the blog I've struggled with what it is, how to make it one thing when I'm so many. Is it a dog blog, a memoir, a site to sell my art, promote my photography, share my writing? "A site for lovers of pugs, small dogs, writing, art and photography is a mouthful" and is it accurate? My web designers listened to me describe myself and came up with it, but sometimes I drown in its complexity, suffocate to put on the straight jacket and be only one thing. Alternatively, exhausting myself in trying to be all at once. Nobody knows who they are starting out, of course, we all change and grow, but the very fact I rely on web designers, on others makes me hesitant to experiment--it comes with a cost.

Have you figured out this isn't just about the blog yet? You won't violate your family in becoming more of you a counselor once told me. It's hard to figure out who you are when you are trying to be all things to all people. It's hard to be who you are when you confine yourself to someone's singular vision of you.

As recently as last week I lied to my best friend about my then upcoming trip to Las Vegas. True, I was sick and wasn't sure I was going, wasn't sure I could spare the time away, wasn't even sure if it was something I even wanted to do or if it was something I craved. How does a person not know that? How do you explain all that to a friend when she innocently asks "I heard you might be away this week?" She wouldn't be mad, but there are those in my life who might or might offer their unsolicited judgment. Where does she get the time or the money to do that, I imagine them saying, sometimes even hear it to my face, by people with more time and money than I'll ever have. But instead of telling them to f*** off, I tell her no, I don't think so.  I try to become a smaller target, ask permission, lie, cover up even as one resilient, brilliant part of myself struggles like  a flickering lightbulb to shine.

I go to Vegas and fess up to her at least. I go to Blogpaws where people have these neat niche blogs about dogs and cats and even rodents of unusual size (it's an actual organization) and listen as they talk about securing sponsors who will indeed seek out their blogs because they are easy to comprehend and digest. They have their elevator pitch in place-we work to promote pet heath, we rescue canaries, we write from the point of view of our cats.

I go to writers festivals and people share their stories of domestic abuse, incest, a year spent with pirates. I'm writing about my pugs and their breeder, I say and worry I am no longer taken seriously. Should I send my writing students and my editors to my blog? Is this revealing too much of myself?

You shouldn't care what other people think, but what if you're not sure what you think? Do you know you've been talking about Blogpaws since you came back last year, my mother says, using this as proof that I want to go. Maybe that's because I've been trying to decide I argue. It's another lie, I do know what I think, but I say it in such a tiny, quiet voice it's hard to hear.

The problem's not the blog or even figuring out who I am. It’s learning how to be me—the all-over-the-place, many things at once, always moving, always changing, totality of me without apologizing. It’s learning that I don’t have to have all the i’s dotted, the t’s crossed and the curtains hung in place just so before moving forward, before sharing who I am with the world.

That same friend‑the one I lied to, she reminded me of the poem I wrote and shared in the neighboring town’s month-long celebration of poetry. In it I write about my struggle as a photographer to take in the whole scene – “Decide what it is you are trying to say,” a photographer suggests, “with a nod and a period as if that settles the matter.”

“It doesn’t,” I write. “The story pretty much tells itself.” I guess that’s it. I can pre-package and assemble, rearrange and try to put it all in place and just like I return to the struggle, the answer is always the same. Me and my blog? Me and my story? Just like all of you, we’re more than one thing and who we really are always comes to the surface.

So what does this mean? For now, I hope to expand and rearrange the blog a bit, continue tweaking it to help me tell the story in a way that I feel satisfied. But, it also means I’m going to try to be more content with what’s here—not concentrating on the window dressing as much as the content. I’m gonna try to get back to updating you and sharing with you more. I’m going to try to make peace with the fact that it does no good to suck in my gut. I gotta keep letting it all hang out and be all of who I am. This is my story after all.

Writing Prompt: Where Do You Live or Our Town: Where Waffles and Alfie Live

Our Town Mostly Waffles and Alfie look at the world from the window by our front door or the passenger seat of my car. Sometimes they get to see the towns around them when we take a walk. Although they  never get out and about on their own, there is a context to their story, a place where we live. Today, the pugs took their perch in the hat-and-glove basket near the door where they can peek out the window and watch me drive away. I was headed to the neighboring town of Randolph, Vermont where my office is located, but I stopped on my way to get gas. The gas station is across from the community theater, recently saved from oblivion by a campaign to raise funds for the required digital equipment. Next to the Playhouse is Village Pizza, one of two pizza places in the downtown (the second sits across the street), where I ate dinner tonight after putting in a day of writing at the office. I have four articles due in the next week.

photo 5

After dinner, I planned to return home, but I caught the sign on The Playhouse, Citizen Kane, a classic. Since putting in the new digital projector, The Playhouse now occasionally plays a classic or two on a Wednesday evening. Although the forecast predicted a winter storm, I decided to forgo work for the evening and give Citizen Kane a try. It was as good as I remember it, even better getting to see it on the big screen. I came out to a snow-covered car, however, and the trip home was perilous. As I pulled into the driveway and waited for color to return to my white knuckles, I caught a glimpse of Waffles and Alfie waiting for me at their same window perch. It was as if they had never left. They greeted me with sniffs and snorts, reading me like a diary of the days events. They may not have let the house, but they knew the scenery. They could tell where I'd been and they knew w hen I came home.  One of the things I love about dogs is they same to live wherever we are.

photo 2

Writing Prompt: Where do you live?

Pug Salad

Blog Waffles as Salad It was one of those weeks when the earth beneath you crumbles just enough to start an avalanche, when it's hard in the end to recognize the ground on which you stand. Rather than give in to it, I've been trying to remain rooted. I found two things help me do so -- creating and playing. I did both today when creating this shot of Waffles. There seems to be a campaign on Facebook to counteract some of the tragic images of abused and homeless dogs with happy images of our beloved canines. Not in protest, but instead to remember why we love them in the first place. A fellow blogger offered this challenge on Facebook, assigning words to those who accepted to take a picture of their dog that somehow represented this word. The first word "Smooch" seemed easy enough so I signed up. So did many others. They received easy dog words such as "sit" and "stay." I received "salad!"

I have to admit at first I was dismayed, but no more than Waffles when I tried to stuff her in the salad bowl, yet, the word was the perfect challenge in taking my mind off the worry around me and transforming this energy into something creative and good. I drove to the next town over and visited the local craft store where I purchased this pink presentation board and markers to create my bistro background, stopped at the grocery store last night for some lettuce, and raided the fridge for the salad dressing. The wine? Pug wine, of course. And, yes, there is such a thing.

I have a few outtakes from the shoot -- Waffles, bored between shots, and our assistant, Alfie, surveying the scene for the best camera angle and to make sure the light was right. Actually, I think she may have just wanted a taste of that wine.

In the end, the pugs once again seemed perplexed by my actions, but happy that I was spending time with them and I was happy to disappear into their world and turn my troubles into pug salad! Thank you Garth Riley for your assignment after all.


Salad 2

salad 3


A Mission Statement of Sorts

IMG_4568 It was easy starting out. I began on Blogger and Posterous, posting photos and a few simple lines to explain them. Then came the  move to Wordpress. A place to write whatever I wanted. I wanted to share about my friend Joan and her pugs and her unorthodox life and how it had influenced me. I had a lot to say. I was part of a writing group. I was going to share my stories. And, then the question came, "What are you going to do with your blog?" It stopped me cold. I thought I was doing it. But, what was it? And, if I wasn't doing it, how would I start?

I pondered this question and I pressed on, finding it challenging to blog, take pictures, draw, work on my own writing and my work writing. Oh, and did I mention living? Had to work that in. I struggled with all that in my writing and behind the scenes and tried to remain faithful while the writing class went on. But, then it ended. I didn't need to write everyday anymore. I felt discouraged Sure, there were people reading, but what did I have to say? What was I doing with my blog?  How did I maintain it and keep up with everything else. Some days it was a relief that the class had ended. Mostly it was disheartening. I need goals and deadlines. I was floundering.

The beautiful design of my blog felt suffocating, closed-in. To make changes and additions I needed to ask a designer, that required money. I found myself wishing I had called the blog something else and then glad I hadn't. I wondered if I could create another to have more freedom and questioned what that would accomplish, making lists of things to add and rearrange. All the time studying what everyone else was doing and coming up short. I wanted to be as ethereal, funny, open as all these blogs I read, but I was too practical, sometimes too happy, sometimes too angry, always too practical to sound so easygoing. Perhaps I had been writing magazine articles too long? Maybe I had lost my individual voice? Perhaps I had an individual voice and it was all wrong. My blog felt too red and heavy, the pictures too small. I came up short.

I struggle with a niche. There are people with cute dog blogs, beautiful photography blogs, funky art blogs, simple, clean writing blogs, open, revealing memoir blogs -- mine is not one thing. Neither am I. I wondered if anyone was listening. There's a verse in the Bible where Jesus asks "Who Do You Say That I Am?" I want to ask that, to gauge the responses. I'm afraid of the answers. But, I like that Jesus asked the question. I mean if Jesus was wondering if anyone got him, I am in good company, right?

I'm taking a blogging course called Blogging from the Heart with Susannah Conway and she tells us to develop a mission statement - what is our intent, what are we trying to say? Who is our ideal reader? I'm beginning to think that blogging is not about asking these questions, but discovering them along the way. For the last few months, behind the scenes, while my blog postings have seemed sparse or not-even-there, I have been compiling my posts on Joan to see what I have for a book, working on a short story, taking first a publishing class and then a blogging class. I'm moving forward, but I'm not sure of the direction. My teaching life is changing. I can't see the path quite yet, but I'll be damned if I die anchored to shore. I'm pressing forward.

The other day someone asked me "What do you know about yourself?" It took a minute.  I felt too embarrassed to reveal anything and then I did. "I know I'm kind," I said. Here's what else I know about me and the blog.

Some days I'm happy. I enjoy simple things. Going to the movies, my pugs, my friends. My art. I could work on Photoshop for hours. Taking pictures. I love being in a moment, but I hate wasting time. Taking pictures of life around me allows me to do two things at once and satisfies both requirements. I love my friends and my family. I know being a mom isn't easy, but I would love more than anything to have any one of my nieces and nephews for my own. I love nurturing things.

Some days I'm lonely. My heart aches for someone to love, to be part of a pair, to be a mother, to have a home.  Some days I'm lucky. I may be single, but I am loved. I have a complex relationship with a Boy, whom I will never marry, but who sends me a pink Keurig on Valentine's Day and knows how to make me laugh. Love is love, my mother tells me and she is right.

I love to smile and have fun and although everyone says writers have to write, and I suppose they do, I would always rather be doing something than writing about it. Writing is my way of understanding life, not living it. It is hard for me to balance it all. I love my pugs and I write about them. I am tattooed with them. They are my tribe alongside my family and my students and my friends. I find pugs funny. I write about them and draw them because it makes me smile. It makes other people smile. There is more to my life than them, but few things that bring a quicker smile.

I want more than anything to be understood -- through my pictures and my drawings and my words. I don't like being labeled though. I may not always be right, but that doesn't make me wrong. Take me as I am.

I want my blog to somehow reflect this. I want to take you into my world. I want you to know that  although I may not always be happy with every aspect of my daily life,  I am happy with me. I am single and a writer and a teacher and an artist and a photographer and a blogger and a pug owner and a daughter and a sister and an aunt and a friend. That's a lot of things and it's hard to show them all at once. I'm not sure if the blog illustrates this. I'm not sure that I've figured out yet what I'm going to do with  it. But, be patient, I'm getting there. And, you're witnessing it here.


Writing Projects

Blog Abby I haven't been blogging much lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I had three articles due by New Year's -- one on real estate sales, one on Rutland Regional Medical Center and one on the things we do for our pets. Each is either finished or almost so. I also had my friend Joan's (Waffles' breeders) annual Christmas letter to get out to all the people who had received puppies from her over the years and I've been working on a short story. Inspired by my work last year with the Hubbard Hall Writers' Project, I decided I needed to get some of my own writing projects out of my head and down on paper. The story isn't done yet and on the face of it isn't the most cheerful of subjects -- about a man who runs a pet crematorium -- but I think it has soul. I hope it will be one of many dog-focused stories and expect the follow-ups to be about happier themes. In the meantime, I have begun exploring the option of turning some of my photo collages into Kindle covers, I hear there's a market for them and many people have commented that my collages already remind them of book covers. My first attempt will be a collage to go along with the dog story, but I needed a Labrador model. I'm hoping to still take some more photos of some other friends dogs in the next couple of weeks to get a variety of shots to use, but one of my friends from my photography classes offered me the opportunity to take a picture of her brother's dog, Abby, who is a partial Lab. Today, I visited my friends house and got a number of shots to use for the collage in addition to this pretty portrait. I think she enjoyed modeling. When the collage and story are done I will let you all know.

Animal Love

Ellie and dog Is there anything cuter than a picture of children and animals? Probably not, and that’s just the problem – such pictures tend to be taken as throwaways, too lighthearted, too cliché – I think they hide hidden depths. Both children and animals inhabit worlds we can only guess at, imagine. One we can never visit, another we may have known, but have outgrown and quickly forgotten. We are foreigners to their minds, but we can observe. The cuteness is only the surface layer.

Today, we took my niece Ellie on a fun-filled outing. She encountered several dogs along the way. Each time she greeted them exactly the same – “Ohh, doggie,” she’d exclaim. “I hug!” And, she would proceed to go over pet, nuzzle or kiss the animal. “Goodbye doggie,” she’d then say.

Where does the love of animals come from? What causes it in some and not in others? Why do we find such images so precious, so cute? I see in my niece the ability to step outside of herself and embrace another, the start of lifelong connection, the beginnings of wonder, empathy and love. Animals are so well suited in allowing this connection, in rewarding with soulful expression or wag of the tail, our fledgling efforts.

When Ellie arrived at my house today, my pugs greeted her with lavish kisses. “Tongue,” she said, as Alfie and Waffles licked her, slobbering all over her mouth. “Oh my gosh!” she said! When I witness the angelic calm, the sweet bliss that comes over her face with each embrace, I feel the same way. “Oh my gosh!” And, I hope I never lose my fascination with such exchanges, that I never dismiss what passes between these creatures as mere cuteness. I hope it remains as fresh for me, as curious as it did when I saw it today.

May I always see in such moments the birth of empathy, the promise of acceptance.

Writing Prompt: A Day at the Dog Park

Today was girl's day out. For my pugs that meant a couple of hours frolicking at the dog park. For me and my mom it meant manicures and dinner out. Our local dog park (when I say local I mean thirty miles away) has a big dog and small dog section. Today, both were pretty full. My pugs got to meet a 9 month old Maltese named Abby; a terrier mix named Remy who has blonde fur on the top of her head that looks like a mohawk: a min-pin/Chihuahua cross named Kirby, who also happened to be the star athlete in the group; a pug/Chihuahua mix (also known as  Chug) named Farrah; a pug/terrier cross named Iggy; two miniature poodles name LiLi and Tussa and more.

I loved watching the dogs interact. Most stayed fairly close to their owners at first, maybe going over and sniffing each other if someone looked interesting, but if one started running or went to catch a ball they all eventually joined in. My pugs, in typical pug fashion, were not the greatest of athletes, but they gave it the old college try. Alfie, stood like the nerdy kid on the playground, taking everyone in and then suddenly prancing up to the cool kids in an effort to fit in. Waffles was more like one of those weird, arsty girls that keeps to herself. She joined in when she wanted to, but spent most of the time roaming the fence looking to make her prison attempt. She broke the boundaries of the class system, ignoring the various cliques and idling over to King Kirby whenever she felt like it.

The owners were as equally diverse and from all walks of society. I met a math teacher, a woman who couldn't pay her rent, but was checking her cellphone to spring a death row dog, a couple who purchased their pretty puppy from Craig's List, another who had saved a rescue. One woman had gotten her poodles from a breeder. As varied their lifestyles and paths to their animals were, they were all obviously united in their love for them. And, as I sat in the sun, watching the dogs run and play and the people come and go, I realized we are all players on a giant playground -- all wanting to have fun and each alternating between the cool kid and nerd at times.

Writing Prompt: Where did you fit in on the playground? Were you the nerd in high school? The bully? The cool kid? The weirdo? Write about it.

Writing Prompt: Gardens

Tori, Vader, Humpie Doggie, Catherine and Avery I do not plant my own garden, but I revel in the gardens of others. Across from my house, in an island of pavement is a small grassy triangle. Members of the community maintain this small, patch of earth each spring by planting flowers that change as the season progresses – evolving from tulips and daffodils to daisies and irises. I await the arrival of the first buds each year, seeing them rise as the sun ascends and shares its warmth with us. It is my signal that spring is upon us. Every time I see her, I rush to inform one of the women in town, the one who helps tend this garden, how much it means to me. She seems thankful, if sedate, as I gush over the flowers.  Her own lawn is equally adorned, so perhaps she cannot digest just how much I appreciate her efforts, how tied I am to those blossoming patches of color across the lawn. They have been a backdrop for photos of my nieces and nephews, a garden hideaway to retreat amidst the fairies, a place to witness their inner men and women emerge as they strike magical poses well beyond their years. It has allowed me a reprieve from computers and deadlines, a minute field in which to roam for 10 minutes, camera in hand. It has been a place to say goodbyes, a train platform to see my dying dog off to another world.

Vader died a year ago June 1st and for the month leading up to his death, my nieces, nephews and I would frequently tote his limp form, along with his constant companion, his stuffed “Humpie Doggie” across the road to sit him in the flowers and allow him a few moments of sun. His body carved out a small sunken dent in the hollow of the flower bed and I imagine I see it there still, although the flowers this year have arranged themselves in a different pattern. There are yellow irises now, tons of them, although last year I remember varied colors. It would be easy to say that the color has faded since Vader’s death, but it is not true. I miss him, but the world is warm and golden. Waffles and Alfie frolic in the back yard and wait eagerly by the gate as I water the tomato plants my father chose to plant this year. Life wilts and grows, ebbs and flows.

The grandmother of the boy I loved is dying in the garden room of the local hospital where my grandmother, too, passed away. He and his cousins make plans to fly home for her funeral even while she remains alive. Our lives are busy and do not slow, but the world is green and full; the sky blue with marshmallow clouds. If we had a choice, we would not leave it today. We would sit in the garden and enjoy it a spell, feeling the warmth on our faces, reveling in the life around us.

I try to remember this. So on the anniversary of his death, I visited Vader’s tree on our front lawn; the place where I had rested with him in the hours before his death, looking up at the leafy canopy, embracing the light from the sun. I stretched out on the dirt and grass, not caring if my dress clothes became grass stained and soiled and I looked up once again – thankful for his small life and all the life that has occurred in the year he’s been gone. I sat up and stared across the lawn at his garden, thinking how tall my nieces and nephews had grown in a year, how much life had changed – my niece Ellie was only a baby in a basket when she visited last Memorial Day, now she is a rambunctious toddler – “go, go, go” is her catchphrase. I got Waffles once Vader was gone, joined a Writer’s Group, gave a reading, welcomed and bid farewell to three classes of students, started a blog. I traveled to Laguna Beach, Washington D.C., Woodstock, NY. My brother went off to boot camp and my Mom had a cataract removed. I wrote articles and stories, drew pictures and paintings. My niece spoke my name. Life is full. We bud and we bloom. We bid goodbye. And, on a good day we are aware of it all and thankful for our gardens.

Vader's Tree

Writing Prompt: Return to a memory from last year. Write about it.