This is Chapter Nine of my book-in-process, Eight Minutes of Advice. If you have not read the the Prologue and Chapter One, click here. At the bottom of that post is a link back to this page.

At least once in your life immerse yourself in another culture where they don’t speak your language, where they don’t eat the foods you like, where they don’t dress the way that you do. Embrace your hosts. Become kindred with them. Remember them.

[When I was first driven to draft these Messages, I quickly penned eighteen thoughts. I accomplished that tasks in eight minutes (hence the proposed title.)  Now, as I expound on each topic to create the book, I don’t feel the need to write in any specific order.  This is Message #9.  I could generate enough content on this topic to create a book of its own.  For this blog entry, I offer what I’ve written thus far.]

I consider my year in South Africa as a foreign exchange student to be the most influential of my life.  That’s a fairly substantial remark since I am nearly sixty years old.  I feel fortunate to have lived an interesting life – although, I would understand if someone thought it was quite boring compared to their adventures and achievements.  Everything is relative.  

In just a couple of years, I could attend my forty-year college reunion, if I were the reunion sort of person. 

While it was happening, there were times in my life that seemed like mere survival.  But, looking back I can say that I’ve accomplished many personal and professional goals over the years.  Yet, I cannot think of a more persuasive time in my life than my tour as an American Field Service (AFS) student. 

I can quickly count five highly significant outcomes from participating in a foreign exchange program – and by that I mean outside your circle of influence, not necessarily outside your country.  A kids from Bronx, New York might experience something very similar to foreign travel by living with a family in Appalachia for a summer. 

First, there’s separation

The sort of disconnection to which I am referring is not damaging.  It is advantageous, even though it may feel uncomfortable at times.  It offers the opportunity to unplug from overly influential individuals.  For me, that was my father. 

My dad wasn’t overly domineering or controlling, although as a teenager I would have considered him to be.  Rather, my father possessed an intense desire to steer his children towards their greatest chance for success.  The problem was that he had his own opinion regarding what might make us triumph in life.  

My father was attentive.  He asked us questions about school, sports and hobbies.  He taught his three daughters how to change a tire, fix a leaky faucet and put up wallpaper.  He showed up at our music recitals and other scholarly endeavors.  For example, in 1976, as a sophomore in High School I competed in the Bi-Centennial Youth Debates.  I won the Oration category at my school, my county and I took third in the State of Illinois.  In exchange for my efforts, I received a certificate and metal medallion from President Gerald Ford.  I believe it impressed my father, as he had them framed for me.

I also acted.  I recall participating in a One Act Play festival and winning a trophy for the effort.  Although I was a very shy youngster, my self-confidence grew as I participated in those school activities. 

As result of my achievements in public speaking, my father deduced that my chosen major in college should be communications.  I suppose he thought that, if you are going to spend all that money for education, it was prudent to choose a field where some level of success had already been proven.

In December of my senior year of high school there was quite a bit of speculation that I would be selected for a prominent role in the upcoming musical, The Sound of Music.  Before the decision was published, however, I learned that I had been selected to travel to South Africa.  Some of my peers were very surprised that I would walk away from the opportunity to belt out Climb Ev’ry Mountain on the high school stage.  Remember, everything is relative to a person’s perspective.

We were kids from a small town.  For some, a major role in a school musical was, quite possibly, the only perceived way to achieve fifteen minutes of fame.  I wanted to be more than that.  So, of course, I chose Africa.

Before I left, I worked hard to tie up any loose ends regarding my collage plans.  In 1977, every correspondence was accomplished via snail mail.  The college sent the application.  I filled it out and send it back.  Under “Major” I checked, Communications because that is what my father suggested would be my best path towards financial prosperity.  At the time, I had no other ruler with which to measure future success than my father’s words.

Fast forward six months.  By that time I had stood on the banks of the restless Limpopo river where crocodiles and hippos lay in wait to turn into their own fortune the misfortune of one wrong step upon its rocky banks.  I had been on safari to Kruger National Park where the worrying cries of spotted hyenas at dawn left no question about where I roused from slumber.  I had tasted a mopane worm (yeah, look that baby up!)  And, quite remarkably, I had spent the Easter weekend at a private game farm where I found myself walking back to base camp in the absolute darkness of a total lunar eclipse after our vehicle broke an axle during a sunset trek.  I had been baptized by Africa.  It was in my bones.  I believe it’s impossible to know that sensation unless you have been there.  And, if you have been there, it’s probably impossible to avoid absorbing the feeling, and holding it for life.

Back in the fancy house in Johannesburg, I was asked by a friend of my host family, “what are your future plans?  Are you going to college?”

Thoughts swirled in my head.  I hadn’t actually had the time to contemplate my life back home.  I was busy learning Afrikaans and inhaling all that was my destiny to experience.  The question reeled me back to a place that I had buried.  I was supposed to answer confidently, “yes, I have been accepted into college and my major is…”  What is my major?  I could not remember the word.  I contemplated that learning a new language was affecting my ability to recall my own. But, I quickly acquiesced that I could not recollect my future studies because I didn’t have a clue what “communications” was.  What does someone with a communications major do for a living?  I couldn’t answer my own headtalk.

Before that evening came to an end and the family friend departed, I was able to answer her question.

The next day I wrote a letter to the admissions department at Coe College. 

“My plans have changed.  I am no longer going to wait until the fall to enroll.  Upon my return to the States in January, I would like to begin my studies at the beginning of the second semester.  I have decided to change my major. Please send me all of the information you have about your science programs, specifically biology, so that I can decide whether I can still study at Coe.”

Only after I received the correspondence back from the college and read through the Sciences Program pamphlet, did I send a note to my parents proclaiming my new agenda.  It meant that I would be home for a mere two weeks before I would leave again for college.  I felt strong and powerful in my actions.  Of course, years later I realized how pompous it was of me, especially since my parents had agreed to pay for my tuition!  Fortunately, deep down I believe that they recognized the value of raising their daughters to be independent, confident and capable.  They permitted me to display my emboldened character mostly without criticizing the manner in which I did so.

Separation from those things or individuals which maintain a powerful, magnetic force over one’s autonomy is essential.  Using the experience that foreign travel offers is often a highly effective means to that end.  While my father fretted about my decision – after all, the only biologists that he knew of were Jaques Cousteau and Jane Goodall –he was able to recognize that I made the right decision for myself, and by myself.  It took years, but, he got there.

The next significant outcome from intimate travel abroad is connection.

[Blog readers – this is where I will end this chapter, for now.  Below is the outline of additional discussion which I will create to finish my perspective on this Message..  Hopefully, you will read the final version of the book in order to experience the full meaning behind this Message.]

  The Benefits of Living in Another Culture

  1. Separation
    1. From overly influential individuals
    2. From traditions
    3. From the idea that there is one way to do something.
  2. Coming together / Connection
    1. New traditions
    2. Joining a culture, sports team, chorus, family
    3. Learning about the human experience, including harsh conditions and circumstances that we cannot or should not change
  3. Novelty
    1. Language – even if English
    2. Schooling
    3. Food
    4. Clothing
    5. Music
    6. Family activities
  4. Growth
    1. Encounter beneficial stress
    2. Career opportunities – I got my first job, sans the internet, due to single line on application about my travels to South Africa
    3. Acquire new interests like body surfing and reading Hamlet from second language perspective
    4. Personal development –  
    5. Greater global view
    6. Self confidence
    7. Personal flexibility
    8. Less fear to travel abroad again
      1. Costa Rica example from college semester abroad
  5. Love
    1. Mothers are Mothers regardless of political or geographical boundaries
    2. Being human transcends being on Earth
    3. Experience love from strangers
    4. Becoming kindred

Getting Stronger

Today, I did more than yesterday.

Today, I lifted five pounds directly overhead with my left arm – fifteen times.  Until today, I had only complete ten reps with the five pounder.  With that same arm I moved a four pound weight from my outside hip, across my stomach, upwards and outwards overhead, then dropped it down to my shoulder (as if carrying a tray of food on my shoulder).  I did that movement fifteen times.  Two weeks ago, I struggled doing the same with a three pound weight.  That might not seem astonishing, unless you know that I’m nearly sixty years old and I had a total shoulder replacement surgery on that arm on July 29, 2019.

Today, I did fifteen reps each of six different arm curl positions (including straight out to my sides) while holding a six pound weight in that same left arm, and a three pound weight in my right hand.   I had a second total shoulder replacement surgery on my right arm on October 30, 2019.   That was just sixteen weeks ago.

Today, I jogged in place in my therapy pool.  I was wearing a four pound weight on each ankle, a four pound weight in my left hand and a two pound weight in my right hand.  Up until today, I had used a three pound weight in my left arm.  For the first 200 steps I swung the hand weights down at my sides in typical jogging arm movements.  For the second 200 steps, I pumped my arms directly out in front of me, with the backs of my hands facing upwards. For the third 200 steps, I bent forward, held my elbows in place and swung the hand weights backwards then down to my side.  And, for the forth 200 steps, I punched the weights directly in front of me, with the dumbbell ends facing upwards.  Then, I repeated those four arm swinging positions – 200 reps each.  That’s 1600 steps. It took me about 17 minutes to complete. That is a little over a half second per arm swing/ leg lift.  Two days ago, I completed 1400 steps, last week I accomplished 1000. 

In the relative stillness I cheer myself.  Then, Lucy the Blue Fronted Parrot asks, “Whatcha doin’?”

I am getting stronger.

This is am image of our therapy pool and my workout items lined up on the edge.
Our Umbrella Cockatoo, Rocky, Blue Fronted Amazon parrot, Lucy and our Half-moon conure, Frankie, enjoy the warm, humid environment, and I enjoy their chatter while I am working out.

Today's Thought

Message #2 of Eight Minutes of Advice

This is Chapter Two of my book-in-process, Eight Minutes of Advice. If you have not read the the Prologue and Chapter One, click here. At the bottom of that post is a link back to this page.

Message # 2

There is nothing to be ashamed of.  You are perfectly imperfect.

Curiously, although I penned those words, I often struggle to achieve that state of self-assurance.   It makes me wonder if this Message was intended for my ears, first and foremost.  Perfectionists do not necessarily demand precision in all areas of their lives.  I certainly don’t.  However, I am plagued with a very deep rooted expectation to remain impeccable in a handful of circumstances.  The struggle to achieve perfection can distort one’s honesty to self which makes it difficult to own one’s mistakes (another of the Messages).

In 1997 I purchased my first home computer. I took it out of the box, plugged it in and loaded the software.   The modem chirped and screeched for what seemed an outrageously long time.  Eventually, I reached that place I had never voyaged – cyberspace.   I wasn’t exactly sure how to use a browser.   But, I eventually resolved that I could type a word into the search box and receive a list of possible sites to visit.

For a few moments, I sat contemplating what I might find interesting to investigate.   Since I was raising sheep at the time, I decided to explore the ovine realm.  The second link that I clicked sent me to a pornographic site of men and sheep doing, well, things that clearly crossed the species boundary a bit too far.  I gasped.  First, because I had never seen such images. But mostly, I was overcome with fear that someone would learn I had been to the site.  I was weakened by worry.  I didn’t know what to do, so I pulled the plug on the machine and contemplated my options.

Let’s understand that the sexual nature of the incident was irrelevant on a personal level.  I was thirty-seven years old.  There was also little chance that anyone would snoop on me.  I lived alone, in the middle of nowhere. Nobody had a key to my house.  Most people probably couldn’t even find my property.  Yet the thought that flashed through my brain was, “what if I die and someone examines the browser history?  What would they think of me?” 

Oddly, it never dawned on me that I would be dead and most probably in a realm where it didn’t really matter that I had ended up on a porn site either by mistake or intentionally.   Rather, I had just one thought; I do not want people to think badly of me. 

In deliberating my childhood, I often describe it as having been perfectly dysfunctional.  The world in which I lived appeared to be unblemished.  Yet, it was awkwardly debilitated.   I lived in a seemingly idyllic home.  We awoke each day to laundered clothing, a high quality school lunch, a kiss good-bye and a ride to school when it was raining or cold.  We came home to a clean house, help with homework, and delicious home-cooked meals. A pink box of Mr. Bubble was available to enhance our evening bath, and we could rely upon a ritual tucking-in and kiss good night. 

My father arrived home from work every day at the same time and interacted with his children.  We learned important lessons like the fact that life isn’t always fair and that sticks and stone might break one’s bones, but names can never hurt you.  Good grades were expected but were rarely considered more valuable than the development of common sense.  My mother was a Girl Scout leader and never missed a recital or sporting event.  

While the world in which we lived seemed immaculate, there was a ‘situation’ that everyone knew but nobody spoke of.   Maintaining outward appearances was required to secure the secret.   Although we never received direct instructions on how to protect the family’s unrest, the message was understood.

My mother was an alcoholic.  Still, she was an exceptional mother – most of the time.  I suppose, based on the arguing, she wasn’t as outstanding a spouse as she was a mom.  She worked very hard at keeping up appearances.  The towels in the bathroom were always fresh.   The carpeting was always vacuumed.  My father’s shirts were ironed to his standards.  Dinner was created from high quality ingredients,  just like my father preferred.  But, if the lima beans were hard, he would tell her and she would cry.  Emotions were rather tenuous.

On occasion my mother would be lying on the floor in a drunken stupor when I came home from school.   That meant that I could not safely bring home a friend without prior notice.  Despite that, if I needed to take cookies to a school event, my mom’s treats were the ones every kid wanted.  One time, at an away swim meet, Wendy Young told me, “Your mom is the greatest!  She is always here to cheer for us!”  She was right. And, I never saw her mother at any of our events – home or away.  Wendy was one of the cool girls.  That reduced the chance that she might want to come over to my house after school.  Consequently, I felt safe acknowledging her compliments about my mother.

As an adult I have been plagued with the notion that the house must be pristine or nobody should come inside. Instead of simply accepting that I am not a perfect housekeeper – how could I be with a houseful of dogs – I prefer to withhold from inviting someone into my house.  Still, when I think of homes that I have visited, very few were ready for a Better Homes & Garden’s photo shoot and I didn’t care.  I am left to wonder if I keep people at a distance to reduce the chance they might see my blemishes?

As I try to overcome my ‘issues’, I can say that I am a work in progress.  It was only when sitting down to write this book, specifically on this Message, that I contemplated how deeply my childhood continues to influence my behavior.  Presenting a clean home was the way to hide all the naughty bits of real life that nobody should ever see.  I suppose it is a way to avoid feeling ashamed of my deficiencies and defects.

This Message suggests that now, and back in my childhood, there was nothing to be ashamed of.  We must remember that in the 1960’s, when I was a kid with an alcoholic mother and a father who tried to yell her out of her condition, he didn’t know any better and I was a little girl.  I couldn’t fix the trouble, and I wasn’t the reason for the problem.   I remember coming back from my year abroad as a foreign exchange student.  I said something to upset my mother and my father took me aside and scolded me for potentially impelling her to take up the bottle, again.  What a horrifying accusation. If you are thinking, “how shameful of him to do that to his child,” remember the Message.  Nobody is flawless, not even fathers.

While it took me into my thirties until I was able to appreciate that my parents were just human beings, I got there.  I think some people never do.  My father did the best he could do with what he had available at the time.  My mother did the best that she could do.  If she were battling her addiction today, she would have access to many more opportunities to overcome her demons.   Today, people tend to understand chemical dependency and treat individuals with more compassion than my mother experienced nearly sixty years ago. 

Let’s be realistic, there will always be a condition that is new and scary that pushes people to unfairly impose shame upon others.   Nobody is perfect. Yet, experiencing shame is often a motivation that causes us to strive for perfection. 

It’s peculiar that shame and guilt are often superimposed or confused.  To be your best self you need to be accountable for your own actions.  There is no shame in making a mistake, but in so doing you may also be guilty of breaking the law.  It’s important to distinguish guilt from shame because while guilt is a reasonable condition that identifies accountability, shame is usually associated with malicious intent.

As a professional dog trainer, I began my authoring career writing about – you guessed it – dogs.   Interestingly, shame has been a topic more than once in articles and books I have published in that genre.   

“Whaaaat did  yooooooou dooooo?” The woman speaks in humiliating tones when communicating with her puppy. She arrived home to a shredded cushion and toilet paper strewn about the house.  She experiences an intense desire to chastise him and set him straight.  In response, the wee dog pins back his ears, lowers his head, tucks his tail, and he may even squirt a little urine. 

Let us all please appreciate that the pup has absolutely no clue what he did wrong.   After all, if his owner left him alone all day long is it so unreasonable to think that he might interact with objects in his environment?

“Buddy!  Why did you chew this cushion?” She shakes her finger in cadence with each syllable of the sentence as she throws a dagger of disgrace his way.  The little dog lowers his belly and slinks out of the room.  The woman feels fulfilled in achieving her mission to make the pup feel badly for his naughty deeds.

Many people believe that the puppy’s behavior is evidence that he concedes he was wrong and accepts the blame.  It is my belief that the pup’s timid behavior is actually his way of saying, “I recognize and accept your rank over me.  I mean you no disrespect.  Please do not banish me.”  

My experience tells me that canine submission is a display of reverence and loyalty to the pack leader.   As a member of a society in which the pup needs to belong to survive, he is hardwired to communicate that message.  He does that through body gestures like dropping his head, lowering his tail, even presenting a groveling-like behavior of licking under the chin of higher ranking dogs. 

Based on my observations, here is what socialization looks like:

  1. Set the standard
  2. Pay attention
  3. Give a warning (if an offender is about to breach the standard)
  4. Give a correction (if the offender did not heed the warning)

I think this happens in both canine and human societies.  

Notice, there’s no shaming in that process.   The elder dog plainly recognize the pup’s culpability and makes it accountable for its actions.  So, there is assignment of guilt, which is both reasonable and the perfect teachable moment.

I don’t know what impels humans to add shame to their interactions with others. As social species, humans and dogs share similar societal strategies.  Maintaining membership in the collective is often critical for survival.  Our young tend to come hardwired with an inherent faithfulness and allegiance to parents or others of authority.

For decades I have observed dogs interacting in balanced social groups. Of course puppies and other junior members of the pack are prone to test boundaries.  Curiosity often leads to mischief.  Yet, their elders don’t degrade them with needless indignity.  Shame is not necessary to impart information about acceptable social boundaries.  I think we can learn from our canine companions.

This Message advises that, regardless of how others may treat you, there is no reason to feel ashamed.  None of us is perfect, nor were we intended to be. We are all on our own journey of discovery.  While it is important to accept responsibility for your own actions, you cannot control anyone else’s behavior.  

However, you can work to accept your imperfect self.  You can learn tolerance for others’ imperfections.  If you feel shamed, you can overcome the need to belly crawl away, like a mistreated puppy.  It is worth the effort to make such transformations.

We are only human.  Yet, that is not an excuse.   We should all attempt to be our best possible self.  When we trip along the way, it is sensible to appreciate that failure isn’t immoral. Often it creates a new launching pad for an alternate approach to success.  Success is not the act of achieving perfection.   Our  imperfections are what make us distinctive and irreplaceable. It is through that variation in ability, craft and character that we bring our unique gifts to the world. 

There is nothing to be ashamed of.  You are perfectly imperfect.

Crazy-Ass isn't a personality trait

For years, as a professional dog trainer, I have found it curious that clients seem to hold back describing the depth of their dog’s behavioral issues.  It is as if they don’t want to say something bad about their cherished family member.  And yet, they are ready to write out the check for a sum that would suggest they know there’s a problem.  Who would spend hundreds of dollars on a non-issue?

I first met Paulina and her husband Rob eighteen years ago.  Paulina was a writer for the small, local newspaper.  We had registered a new dog training business in town, so she contacted us for an interview.  Paulina is a real animal lover.  She and Rob live on acreage in the country and her weekly stories often included details about the donkey or the pet goose or Rob’s prized long horn cattle.  Throughout the years, they have brought a few of their farm dogs through our beginner training classes.  Now, at 85 and 87 years old, less agile and dealing with typical senior health concerns, they decided it might be prudent for their six month old puppy to come for a couple of weeks of Board and Train.  Why they chose to acquire a puppy rather than a senior dog from the local shelter is a different story.

During the drop off appointment I was informed of the labradoodle’s maladies, albeit they were sandwiched in-between stories of Emma’s brilliance.  She was a talented one, she was.  It took forty minutes before I learned that she often jumped up and bit Rob in the elbow when he took her outdoors.  Descriptions of her naughty behavior were always peppered with stories about her remarkable aptitude to follow Paulina about their home, or to watch Rob through the window when he ‘forgot’ to take her along on chores.  Of course, I knew there was more to the story.  There always is.

Less than twenty-four hours after they left Emma with us, Paulina called to check on her pup.  The next call came in about twenty-two hours later. 

“All is well, Emma is doing fine,” I would say.  Paulina would promise not to bother me, again.  But, I received a call nearly every day during Emma’s entire stay.  I get it.  I’m not complaining. 

When Paulina called on the third day, I felt it best to be honest and give her an actual status report.

“Well, Paulina, Emma is settling in very well.  She is eating and drinking and pooping on schedule and I think she understands that we are reliable and predictable and that she can trust us.  Now we can begin working with her on some of her problem areas.  The first thing we really must address is her pulling.  Paulina, Emma is a pulling-fool,” I said knowing full well that Paulina was well aware of the problem, even if she did not mention it when they brought Emma to us a few days earlier.  Emma’s extreme pulling was a potentially hip-fracturing, forever-life-changing, unacceptable behavior.  It was why they chose to bring her to us for Board and Train, even though Paulina couldn’t admit that.

“Oh, yes, that’s true,” Paulina conceded.  Then she shared a frightening story about how Emma had nearly dragged her off the deck.  “We trust you and Robert to help us.  But, we sure miss our little girl.”

“I completely understand how you feel. I think you and she are going to be better off once she learns to respect and obey you,” I replied.

“Well, Tammie, I know that’s important.  But, you aren’t going to take away her wonderful spirt, are you?”  Paulina’s voice cracked a little.  I could tell she was worried.

It was time for a Come-To-Jesus moment. 

“Paulina, Emma is a crazy-ass.”   I paused briefly to let that sink in.  Paulina wasn’t one to use curse words, and I figured she’d have to take a moment to process what I had said.   

“If we don’t address her unruly behavior, Emma is going to damage you or Rob.   We are going to teach her to have manners and reverence for your position in her life.  We will teach her to walk properly on a leash.  But, we cannot extract her personality.  We cannot take away her spirit.”

Let it be known:  Crazy-ass is not a personality trait.  It is a behavior.

  Behavior can be changed through learning about boundaries and standards.   A dog’s innate personality can make that more or less complicated for the trainer. 

Just like humans, every dog has a unique personality.  Nearly all of them are capable of learning how to become socially compliant.  However, someone has to teach a pup about those expectations so that he learns the boundaries in which his behavior will be tolerated.  It perplexes me when someone believes that a dog’s outrageous, over-the-top, offensive, ill-mannered behavior represents the dog’s innate character.  It bamboozles me more when folks think that rude behavior is something to preserve.

Character traits are qualities like pensive, alert, gregarious, reserved, creative, independent, affectionate, confident, clever, courageous, energetic, dependable, tenacious, low-key, intelligent, loyal, and work-oriented.   The Affenpinscher is described as famously funny, the Clumber spaniel is mellow and amusing, and the Border terrier is happy and plucky.

While the Afghan hound is considered to be an aloof dog with an independent nature, those features do not prohibit it from learning and obeying house rules like ‘wait at the door’ or ‘keep your teeth off of people,’ or ‘walk without pulling on a leash.’  One of the most impressive dogs I ever watched in an Obedience Ring was an Afghan hound.  That was back in the 1980’s at the Gaines Classic, a competition exclusive to invitees who had earned top scores in previous trials. In its breed standard, the Beauceron is defined as gentle, faithful and obedient.  However, when a puppy isn’t taught about boundaries from a young age, regardless of breed type, it can end up appearing quite rough and defiant.   Might I be as bold as to say I have known a Beauceron that met the definition of “crazy-ass.”

Over the years, I have experienced many dog owners who struggle understanding the difference between their dog’s behavior and its personality or innate temperament.  It is when I inform a client that unruly behavior can be resolved, that I am likely to hear the plea, “please don’t break my dog’s spirit,” or “please don’t take away my dog’s personality.” 

Consider the US Marines, an Olympic athletic team or NASA astronauts.   Most often, there are critical requirements necessary to achieve such greatness. Adherence to rules as well as respect and loyalty to the team, coach or leader is essential.  Yet, those same individuals are able to celebrate their accomplishments with unencumbered spirit and attitude.  I would suggest that many of the most spirited individuals are also those that are the most self-restrained and obedient when necessary, regardless of their inborn dispositions. I believe this is true of dogs, as well.

Unregulated “spirit” is just plain crazy-ass.  Nuf’ said.

To read more about the difference between dog personality versus behavior, click here


I have a half dozen writing projects waiting to be completed. One is especially well formatted for a blog. Each chapter is a stand-alone thought yet part of a greater collective – which is destined to become a book. I have decided to use this blog-space to produce that book. Chapter by chapter I will upload here, as time permits, until one day it will be complete. I welcome any feedback.

It begins like this:


Thoughts come into my head.   When I am preoccupied I do not spend the time to consider the magnitude of the words.  Other times I stop and ponder.  I ask myself, “was that just a random thought or was it a message?”  If it were a message, did it originate from within my own brain or did it perhaps float upon gossamer threads from the Universe beyond with the intention to awaken me?

I have heard that we should listen to such hints we receive for they are not only real, but important.  The whispers are signals we may use to achieve our greatest purpose in life.  However, I have many thoughts, hundreds of them.   I find it challenging to decipher the gibberish from the grand plan.   I have considered that it is my responsibility to develop a discriminating filter to help me sift, clarify or perhaps even purify my thoughts.   I suppose that would make sense if they were actually my thoughts.   But, what if they are murmurs from another plane, an alternate dimension?  Would it not be best to retain those impressions in their most original condition?

I suppose I will never know until I know, which brings forth the fascinating principle of belief.   Beliefs are concepts that cannot always be proven using modern day tools.  Beliefs are those things we know even though we don’t.  They are ideas which we hold to be true even though others may not share our commitment to them.   

Belief and fear cannot co-exist – if you believe it you cannot also agonize that it may not be true.  A belief is a formidable, but incredibly fragile phenomenon.  This paragraph is worth reading again.

A while ago, I experienced one of those random thoughts that seemed to just pop into my consciousness.  While I have never had children, the words that I heard were, “if you had a daughter and had just a few minutes to live, what would you want to tell her before you died?”

Because I believe such events to be important,   I sat down and wrote the list.  It took me about eight minutes.  It was fast, but not furious.  I was not labored to think of points to share.  I held back from editing, even though there were a few sentences I ached to alter.  In the end I was impressed with my creation which I was fairly certain was not my creation, at least not exclusively mine.

Because it was an exercise beckoned of me on December 23, I sent the list as a Christmas greeting to a few friends.  The timing of the peculiar event made me wonder.  Is something I penned intended specifically for someone who will find value in reading one of the suggestions I shared?  I will never know, but it would make me happy if I did play a role in assisting someone.  Is that not our true purpose in life, in whatever expression each individual is able to offer her gifts?

I will never be able to verify whether the entire experience was one wholly contained within my singular existence or if it were divinely delivered.   But, I choose to imagine that the words came to me from the continuum – the place where we go when we disrobe from our human forms and reunite with our kindred spirits.  It is the realm where I believe all souls radiate their pure love energy.  Personally, I refer to that collective as God. 

A few years and a thousand journey’s later, I am drawn back to the list.  I feel a need to ponder and discover the intention of my compilation of “final thoughts.”   Will I find clarity or wisdom behind the words I authored so quickly?  I feel the sense of being ushered, now.  I am pushed to dish up my sentiments and share them with more than a handful of Christmas card recipients.  It is time to complete this project and let it drift – let it find its way to all the potential daughters and sons, sisters and brothers who were intended to receive it.  Let it be my gift.


Do not compromise your integrity.  Ever.

“I just want my child to be happy.”  It’s a statement made by many parents.   I remember my mother expressing that sentiment often.   Therefore, I don’t find it odd that the first message I drafted in my hypothetical “last words to a daughter” would represent my best strategy for achieving happiness.  What more could we truly want for any one we love than assured contentment?

I suspect many people don’t put ‘integrity’ and ‘happiness’ in the same bucket.   One sounds so stuffy and challenging and the other sounds like so much fun.  But, follow along with me, please.

Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as having said, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  That makes sense to me.

If I were famous enough to deserve being quoted, I would be known for saying:

“integrity is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”  

Consider that for a moment.  Isn’t it extraordinary?   A splendid side effect of living with integrity is that it constructs an all-embracing sense of serenity.  Living a life of truthfulness, honor and reliability will result in genuine happiness.

If you explore the term integrity, you will find that it covers concepts like adherence to moral and ethical principles as well as upholding honesty.   However, it also includes the idea of being whole, entire and undiminished.  It only makes sense that we should strive to achieve these qualities to live our best lives.  When you feel that your life is fragmented, partial, or devalued, you will also find it difficult to achieve true happiness. 

It’s important to refrain from settling or conceding for anything less that authentic happiness.  We should avoid bargaining for such an important condition.  To barter for happiness is to dishonor a commitment to integrity.  It seems, then, that to be happy one must live with integrity, and to live with integrity results in happiness.  Win-win.

At one time or another we have all been guilty of sabotaging our own happiness. To reduce that unfortunate condition, we should strive to align our thoughts, words and actions.  We can start at the most basic level.  Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you don’t like cilantro. If so, then own that position and stop spitting the chip and dip into your napkin.   Let your spouse know that, while you appreciate all the work he puts into making fresh salsa, you don’t like cilantro.  When you make your new proclamation, realize that your husband has his own path to travel that may not be aligned with your new found intention to live with integrity. He has his own control of or understanding of his ego.  He may get upset. He may throws a tantrum and says, “how can you not like cilantro?  It is the essence of the perfect salsa!” Allow him to present his opinion.   If he tells you that you can do all the cooking from now on, do not mirror his irrational outburst.  His words can only affect you if you allow that to happen. 

Your husband may feel hurt because you don’t like his salsa.  He will get over it.   The point of the exercise if that you learn how to think, behave and speak in alignment.   It’s dishonest to tell your husband that you love his salsa while you turn away to spit it into the napkin.  Depending upon where in his life’s journey he is, you may even ask him to permit you to use your disdain for cilantro to align your thoughts with your words and behavior.  But, that may be stretching it.

In time, you can move onto more important situations where you have failed to align your thoughts, words and actions. 

Each time you overcome another battle to seek validation or attempt to please others instead of holding fast to your own convictions, you will be moving closer to living your best life.  You will shift away from the condition of a diminished existence. 

Clearly, it will be far more challenging to align your thoughts, actions and words when dealing with people in your life who you permit to over-power you.  A parent comes to mind.  Know that your mother and father are just like you.  They struggle with their own demons.  They must be permitted to move through those challenges in the same way that your husband had to learn about your dislike for cilantro.  Sure, the issues you may face with your parents may seem so much more overwhelming, but do not focus on the specific problem.  Focus on aligning yourself.

Ask yourself if you are speaking the truth about your thoughts?  Are your actions in alignment with your thoughts?  If you believe that your mother is negatively affecting your child, then it is out of alignment to say “well, you’re the grandmother, I guess you can do that.”  If you tell your boss that you will arrive at the office an hour early for an important meeting, then your actions must back up your words.   Otherwise, it’s likely that you are going to experience some sort of backlash that won’t feel comfortable. 

To achieve happiness, which is what I wish for you, my advice is that you live with integrity. Then, you will find authentic happiness.  Even Mahatma Gandhi agrees with me!

Message Number One: Do not compromise your integrity.  Ever.

To view the post of Message #2, click here.

To view the post of Message #9, click here.

Higher Ranking

I speak in analogies and metaphors, especially when working with my clients.  They are people who have dogs and have solicited our advice and assistance training them.

If we are going to ask dogs, a wholly unique species, to cohabitate with us and expect them to follow our rules, the least we can do is regard and honor their inherent differences from us.  I impart that message to our clients before I share any additional details about our methods.  This philosophy is easy to present when describing how an older or higher ranking dog sets a boundary for a younger or lower ranking dog.  We need to strive to “find a way to touch a dog’s nervous system” the way that the pup expects to be touched. 

As an example, when teaching a dog to refrain from jumping using English words, we should examine how a dog might teach a similar lesson.  When a pup begins to invade the personal space of an older dog, the senior might grimace, growl or curl a lip to warn the pup to stop the advance.  If the pup doesn’t heed the warning and keeps climbing on the senior dog, the older dog snaps at the puppy. 

Since we are not adept at curling our lips (not to mention that a smaller dog might not even see it happen), we can swap the lip curl for an English word, as long as it is spoken with the same, subtle energy that dogs use to show their teeth.  As the pup approaches with the intent to jump up, we can say a word like “Off.”  However, that word has no meaning to the puppy until we give it value.  Most often, the first time we utter a new warning word, we will need to “snap at the puppy” in the same way that the older dog would touch it.   Thereafter, if we are successful, we can utter the word and the pup will back down. Unfortunately, we don’t have a big long muzzle full of teeth, so we need to make contact in another way.  We can use our hands, with stiffened fingers, and jab at the dog’s neck which imposes a similar sensation as the older dog’s snap.  We can also use a leash and collar.  The leash offers a conduit to the collar and the collar is employed to “touch” the dog’s nervous system the way that an elder dog would make contact with the wayward pup.

When I speak to clients I often move back and forth between dog-dog and dog-human relationships.  I use the words “higher ranking” to describe the dog or human who holds the position of authority as I present my arguments for maintaining a dog’s good behavior through impeccable leadership.  And, sometimes, just when I think I am making headway with my clients’ understanding of their canine companion and what their dog needs to be happy and healthy and well-adjusted, I encounter a situation that simply leaves me scratching my head.

When he was dropped off for training, Harley, a red and white Border Collie, was described as aggressive and routinely out of control.  He displayed a complete lack of self-restraint when a cat walked into the building.  He lunged, flipped, nearly alligator rolled in an attempt to take control of his situation and get to that feline.  Still, I could tell he wasn’t organically aggressive.  Robert worked with Harley for a few weeks and then his owners returned to learn how to handle their dog.  Harley wasn’t a belligerent beast. His unruly behavior had been a reflection of the complete lack of leadership he had been experiencing at home. 

I spent three hours speaking to Ken and Barbie about their dog.  For far too long, they had been exercising an up-side-down relationship with him.  Before we brought their newly rehabilitated pup into the room, I explained the theory behind our methods.  To help them understand their dog’s need for better leadership, I used the idea of rank, suggesting that as the humans, they must have rank over their dog in much the say way that parents must have rank over their children.  I clarified that holding that higher position is not about being over-powering, mean spirited, loud or aggressive.  In fact, those are not qualities of a good leader.   

After what I considered sufficient time to impart our philosophy and techniques to Harley’s owners, I asked if they had any questions. 

“Yes,” said Ken, “I do have one.”

“I live in the city and I have to walk Harley on a leash.  When a person with a dog walks towards me, Harley might trigger on that dog, lunge, bark and go ballistic. If that happens, how do I know whether that dog is higher ranking than Harley, or Harley is higher ranking than that dog?”

You can’t win them all.

My happiness – dogs all about.

My cell phone died, so I had to get a new one. Here, I’m checking out the camera on my new phone using some of my favorite models.

I do most of my photography with an SLR digital camera, but sometimes the only thing I have handy is my cell phone. Some decent, others not great, but the subjects are all awesome, nonetheless.

Our Green Mile

The photo above was taken on the third of June a couple of years ago. It had been a very wet, rainy spring. That meant that grasses grew well, but the farmers struggled to get their crops in the ground. The first cutting of hay was in progress on our farm. You can see the large bales populating the fields around our new house on the right. We don’t routinely cut around the pond, so it appears deeper green. The field in the center has been cut, but not yet raked. The field on the left hasn’t yet been cut. And yet, all of the land around us was still barren and gray. Oh, and we own one acre across the street from the old house (top) because it was customary in our county to give farmers the acre across from the house so that no one could build there. Cool custom. It’s green because it’s surrounded by matures trees and we mow it.

I refer to our place as the green mile. If you walk the perimeter of our 50 acres, you will have walked a mile (each side is about 1320 feet.) It’s alive all year long. While we cut hay twice a year (which is actually beneficial to maintain prairie grasses), it tends to be early and then not again until September, after the birds have fledged their young. There are many native species that exist in and around open prairies. We are fortune to have the opportunity to enjoy the songs of birds that use our open meadows and the mature trees that surround them to raise their broods.

I am not saying that cash crop agriculture doesn’t feed the world, or that it isn’t economically important. I just feel incredibly grateful that we can live on our little, green mile and reap all of tranquil benefits from doing do.

Say Cheese!

Robert and I are accustomed to taking photos of dogs. I create a custom ID for each dog that comes for Service Dog training. It’s a standard “head-shot” and usually takes just a couple of minutes to get a good shot. Sometimes, we need to squeak a toy or toss something in the air to get a dog’s best expression – with alert ears and bright eyes. But, Jaz… well, he was a dog of a different character. Let’s just say he wasn’t the most photogenic pup we’ve filmed.

While Jaz may not have had the best face portrait, he looks great from the other end. Here’s a video during his Custom Training with Committed Canine (Robert is the handler, I’m the videographer.) We’re in Menard’s practicing Public Access skills. This snippet is the “drop the leash” exercise demonstrating that, in the event the handler loses control of the leash, the dog will remain under control and in heel position. Enjoy!

This video shows that we are not all best viewed from the same perspective!