Cortina, Italy

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I recently returned from my trip to Italy. My first international travel left me jet lagged and happy. The tour company was first rate and I will use their services again. The countries first inhabitants were the Etruscans around 800 BC. Their underground burial chambers still dot the Tuscan farmlands.
The marvels of Rome from the Colosseum to the Vatican stun the senses with their epic grandeur and opulence. Florence and the Accademia Gallery Tour where David stands tall in his marbled glory. Venice canals, bridges and squares enthrall and overload the senses.
Cinque Terra is the crown jewel of the Italian Riviera. The five towns clinging to the hillsides. A people isolated for much of their existence connected by trails, trains and boats. The multi-colored dwellings sparkle in the sun and reflect the brilliant blue sea.
I lost my heart to Cortina in the southern Alps. The town nestles in a valley at 4,000 feet. Lush green fields covered in wildflowers reach to the base of the jagged spires of the mountains, creating an outdoor enthusiast dream. Skiing, skating and sledding in winter. Cycling, hiking and hang gliding in the warmer months. A beautiful, bountiful slice of heaven on earth.

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Travis

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It has been a year since I retired and moved to a new town. A place where I knew no one. Having moved too many times to count as a child, I was undaunted. Travis and I have made a home and new friends. No fretting over ways to fill my days. I volunteer and Travis runs our home… or so he thinks.

Travis a Weimaraner, a unique breed. Their nickname is Velcro dogs. Find them stuck to their owner’s side. He’s literally my shadow. An energetic breed, he gets five miles of walks a day. This doesn’t count the endless wrestling with his baby brother Narley. The two of them wear me out and keep me laughing with their antics. Laughing or swearing when I nearly end up in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Road kill from their high energy and high jinx.

This week I spent organizing sitters and doggie daycare. I thought when my daughter graduated and left home my days setting up play dates were through. Silly human.

Who runs your life and do they have two legs or four?

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Mother’s Day

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Yesterday was Mother’s Day. The day we honor the women who brought us into the world. My Mom died twenty-five years ago. I still miss her and sing happy birthday every year on her special day. When I raised my daughter, I remembered many of her special holiday treats. The way she iced an angel food cake with strawberry ice cream for birthdays.

 

She raised seven of us with very little. My father worked long hours and my mom did most of the day-to-day parenting. It should go without saying, I rarely agreed with my mom. Yet, I respected her. Her life wasn’t easy, and it was harder before she married. A child of the Great Depression with an alcoholic father. Her siblings were separated and sent to live with other relatives.

 

My mother went to Los Angeles to live with an uncle. She never shared this with us. Her brother did after she died. Members of the Greatest Generation didn’t talk about their pasts. They did what needed to be done. She cooked, sowed, canned, cleaned, shopped, mowed lawns, grew a garden and raised seven children.

 

I miss you mom and thank you. Love always.

 

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Simple Pleasures

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I envy children, puppies and young animals. The tiniest things amuse and fascinate them. Kittens chase feathers or yarn, doesn’t matter they make a game of it. My puppy Narley plays with my older dog Travis. He doesn’t care if it’s a dog toy or a piece of lint. The pup pounces on it, puts it in his mouth and runs under the table in triumph. Children chase bubbles, shadows and delight in jumping in puddles.

Young animals keep their playfulness as they grow. What happiness to children? Why do we lose the urge to play? I remember playing cowboys and Indians on my father’s farm. We rode our horses up and down those fields. Racing deer. It didn’t matter we were free and wild.

When did everything change? Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary explained, “one day Jackie Paper came no more”. What made him forget his friend Puff? Was it school, friends or work? A little of all three. I think a return to those simple games and playing is warranted. Improved health, more laughter and a healthier life. Are you ready to return to those simpler times?

 

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When Your Puppy Rolls in the Poop

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Remember the adage, “some days you’re the dog and some days the hydrant”. This morning at o’dark hundred my puppy woke me up. Groggy and half asleep I let him out of his crate. That’s when the “fit literally hit the sham”. His wet tail whacked me in the leg and my foggy brain flashed danger. Closer inspection made me freeze in place.

The little tyke had an accident in his crate. His tail which he’s dipped in the mess now happily wagged and coated any surface it contacted. What to do? Scooping him up wasn’t a wise choice. Sacrificing a towel, I bundled him up and stood there pondering my next move. Choosing the lesser evil, I started the tub.

My sweet puppy’s tail was coated in poop…and the floor and God only knows what else. Scrubbing, rinsing and scrubbing some more I cleaned him up. Dried his coat and took him outside to finish relieving himself. Returning to the scene of the crime, I began bleaching his crate. ODE to Joy-not. Helpful little guy tried to help. So, not loving life.

Once he was safely nestled in his clean crate, I surveyed the damage. The floor, the duvet cover, the wall and my pajamas. I bleached every surface and stripped the bedding and my clothes. I showered and started a load of wash. Forty-five minutes after the shit hit everything, I fell back into bed. Aren’t puppies the best?

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Puppy Love

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Raising service dogs requires the puppy raiser to cradle the puppy daily. A tough job, but someone needs to do it. The cradling teaches the puppy to allow the owner or a vet to safely examine the dog. The puppy reclines on his back between the handler’s legs. A submissive position for the puppy.

 

Think of it as getting a massage, warm towels and hot stones, if only. The puppy gets his ears massaged, his shoulders, back and paws rubbed. My little guy falls asleep and yes, he snores. Thankfully, no drooling. The surprise here is I also receive the relaxing vibe.

 

There is something soothing from giving the little guy a gentle rub. A great departure from his usual insane puppy antics. Imagine his gleeful races under and around the dining room table with a mouthful of slipper. Me in hot pursuit and much too damned old to dive under tables is fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. God made puppies cute so we wouldn’t throttle them. Is anything more angelic than a sleeping puppy?

 

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Reflections

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Since I retired I am often asked what I did before retirement. A college coach for forty years is my response. What sport did I coach? My response college basketball. Depending on the person, I get a polite nod and change of subject or an enthusiastic nod from sports lovers. What did I win? Who is my favorite team etc? Depending on my mood I answer their questions superficially or specifically.

Why you might ask? They asked the wrong question. I coached college basketball at every level. I won at every level and lost at every level. Am I a good coach? Yes. A great coach, I don’t think so. Winning at all cost is not who I am. First and foremost, I’m a teacher. One might argue all coaches teach. I disagree. There are coaches who recruit great talent and manage it well. Thankfully, there are coaches who do both.

I taught physical education courses as part of my responsibilities. My favorites being tennis and personal fitness to non-athletes. The student’s enthusiasm and improvements brought me great satisfaction. Fitness and tennis provided them with life changing skills. Skills to enhance their lives. The thought still makes me smile. Yet, my greatest joy comes from knowing everyone graduated.

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Can’t Put it Down? Great Characters?

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When was the last time you read a book you couldn’t put down? Have you slowed down your reading, to stretch out a book? I have. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games. The characters became family. Years later you wondered what they’re doing. Did Katniss and Peeta find peace? Have the Hobbits returned to the shire? Is Hogwarts still teaching young wizards?

Where have all the memorable characters gone? I read everything I can download to my e-reader. Lately, the characters disappoint. Have we become too formulaic as writers? How many kick-ass heroines can we imagine? A seemingly endless number. Yet, are they or any characters compelling? Do you care when the book ends? Did we laugh, cry, cheer or grieve as their stories unfolded?

The last character I got caught up in was my own. Lauren Simon makes me laugh and cheer for her badass cheekiness. Traygen’s chivalrousness and Tokem’s smartass banter speak to me. There is an easy answer on why. They are all parts of my own personality. Flaws, warts, and all. Lauren tells it like she sees it. She’s rich, beautiful and she rains hell down on evil doers. Thoughts which cross my mind in rush hour traffic.

 

 

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Narley Arrived to Capture Hearts

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Narley arrived on Friday, March 31st. He’s a Goldador and resembles a black lab puppy. His feet look like small catcher’s mitts. He’ll be a BIG boy with a sweet temperament with a dash of stubbornness. All to be expected from a young puppy.

 

Puppies are cute, so their owner’s don’t succumb to their antics. They look innocent with their puppy faces. They are not. No, they plot ways to grab a leaf from the ground and run. They dribble water wherever they walk, just to watch their owners slip and slide on the tile. What fun.

 

This is why God gave them puppy breathe. One of the sweetest smells in the universe to dog lovers. A body that moves like a Slinky. Their front end goes left; their bellies go right and their back-end tags along. The perfect balance for mischief on the prowl. Then when you feel you’ve reached the end of your endurance, they crash in a heap on the floor. Sleeping the sleep of the dead tired puppy.

 

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Narley and Me

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Narley is an eight-week-old Goldador. A golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix. He is a service puppy/dog in training. I have the privilege of acting as his puppy raiser for the next 14 to 16 months. My job is socializing him. He must learn basic obedience and house breaking. Then he learns specialized skills to aid him in becoming a service dog.
I do no formal training. I expose him to different places, places any person might travel. Restaurants, movies, grocery stores, and doctors’ offices to name a few. These experiences need to be age appropriate. Too much stimulation isn’t good. Envision sending a third grader to middle school.
Spending every day with the puppy and watching them grow and experience new things requires a full-time commitment. Getting attached to the pup is a given. The most common question, “how can you give them up?” It isn’t easy. Loving them comes naturally, letting them go doesn’t. Witnessing the joy and freedom they provide is reward enough. The dogs bless our lives.

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