Showing posts with label RenaissanceWoman2010. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RenaissanceWoman2010. Show all posts

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Final Gifts Book Review

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Though it is not rare to encounter individuals who speak multiple languages with great fluency, it is less common to find someone who understands the unique language of the dying.  Too often the gifts that are offered up in the final days of a loved one's life are missed because of the symbolism that may be mistaken for confusion.

Hospice nurses, Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, share with us, through moving personal stories, how individuals near the end of their lives communicate in often cryptic ways.  When we learn how to listen more closely, and through the filter of what has held meaning for that individual, we may enter into the grace and beauty of the Final Gifts they are offering us.

I can understand if you are sitting here wondering why anyone would want to read about death and dying.  It's not as depressing as you might imagine.  I've found it to be quite the opposite when you find compassionate authors who want to offer their readers the kinds of gifts that make it possible to be what a dying person needs them to be.

What Callanan and Kelley have learned over the years is that their patients enter a stage they call Nearing Death Awareness.  While in this critical phase, it is not unusual for people to know exactly when they will die.  We see from their stories that clues are being given to family members to help them get ready for an impending transition.

For instance, someone who always enjoyed traveling with his partner was expressing the following: I need my ticket.  It's time to get in line.  Where's my passport?  This was the indication that he was soon to depart on his final journey.

The patient who always celebrated his July 4th anniversary with a sparkler cake confused his family by saying it's time to get the cake in June.  He knew he was going to miss his anniversary, so he wanted everyone to celebrate early.  These pronouncements are important, but easily missed when chalked up to the stupor of pain medications, or the confusion of being deathly ill.

By becoming more aware of how the dying communicate their needs and desires, we can better support leave-taking on their terms.  By doing so, we are opening up the gifts they have lovingly chosen for us.  And, we are offering up the gift of honoring the wishes that help bring peace at the end of life.

ALSO HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:  Final Journeys














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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bark Ranger Review

Finn Earns His Bark Ranger Badge
If you are blessed enough to have a Border Collie in your life, you already know that he needs a job and a purpose.  My Finn is no exception.  His beautiful mind needs plenty of stimulation every day.  It's my job, privilege, and pleasure to find new ways of providing Finn with daily opportunities to take his immense capabilities to the next level.

Recently, when I was planning our next outdoor adventure, I came across information about the Bark Ranger Program sponsored by the National Park Service.  Why had I never heard about this before?  It seems this program is really starting to take off in parks across the country. 

Arriving at Pecos National Historic Park
Finn and I wasted no time heading for the closest national park with a Bark Ranger Program.  That happened to be Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico.  They launched their program earlier this summer.  Perfect!  A day trip to the Santa Fe area is always a treat.  

Pecos NHP Visitor Center
So Many Architectural Delights
Such a Welcoming Place
I Could Sit Here Every Day
When we arrived at the visitor's center, it took no time at all to launch Finn's new bark ranger career. The main purpose of the program is to ensure dogs and their humans have a safe and enjoyable time in the park.  Keeping the national parks dog-friendly takes some responsibility on the part of those of us who travel with our pets.

The BARK acronym makes it easy to remember the promises you are held to when becoming a bark ranger team.  First, you promise to bag your dog's waste and to dispose of it appropriately.  Next, you pledge to always leash your pet.  In parks such as Pecos NHP, a leash could save your dog's life.  Rattlesnake sightings are frequent.

Respecting wildlife is another part of the oath taken when you choose to be a bark ranger.  The very presence of a dog in any park changes the dynamic for wildlife.  In order for national parks to remain a refuge for wild creatures, it is critical to avoid any encounters between pets and the animals that call that park home.  

Finn's Access to Pecos NHP Included the Main Trail to the Pueblos
Pecos Mission and Pueblo
And finally, every visit to a national park should start with knowing which areas of the park are accessible to dogs.  At Pecos NHP, Finn was able to accompany me on the main trail to the mission and pueblos.  I chose to keep him leashed in his dog stroller rather than use his K9 Cart (wheelchair) due to the presence of rattlesnakes in the park.  I knew it would be the safer option.

In some parks, you can volunteer as a Bark Ranger Ambassador team.  This is something I want to pursue with Finn.  It is my aspiration for us to serve in this capacity at our closest national park (Great Sand Dunes).  First, I'd like to help get a Bark Rangers Program started locally.  I wasn't able to find any Colorado national parks with an existing program.  The only current bark rangers opportunity I found was at Eldorado Canyon State Park, which is a good distance from where we live.

Having previously worked in a national park (Padre Island National Seashore), I get excited just thinking about the powerful teaching moments that take place in park settings.  Even yesterday, shortly after becoming a Bark Ranger, Finn made an impact while engaging with visitors at Pecos NHP.  One couple in particular told me that Finn had made their day and had made them happy.  It takes a special Bark Ranger to do that and Finn has a gift for elevating the quality of a day. 

If you love to travel with your dog, and enjoy sharing the national parks with your pet, I encourage you to join the Bark Ranger Program (you can search online to find which parks already have the program).  I'm really glad Finn and I took that trek to Pecos NHP.  It is surely the beginning of many beautiful and fulfilling connections for us.  I can't wait to see where this leads.





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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Final Journeys Book Review

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As Finn and I take our therapy team training to the next level, our focus has been on preparing to bring comfort to those nearing the end of their lives.  Experiencing my mother's transition from this life while in hospice had a profound impact on me and inspired me to pursue this ministry of care.  In my current process of pursuing certification as an end-of-life doula, I am reading some deeply meaningful books that everyone could find beneficial.

We will all deal with dying and death.  Perhaps some of you reading this are caring for a loved one who is seriously ill, or maybe you have been given a terminal diagnosis.  The shock, heartbreak, and grief can be devastating, but amazingly, there are also elements of deep meaning, inspiration, and beauty in knowing how to live fully right up to our last hour on Earth.

In Final Journeys, Maggie Callanan, a compassionate hospice nurse who has guided families for over twenty-five years, provides us with the insights she has learned from those in her care.  The true teachers are those who are actually figuring out how to turn a dying experience into something peaceful and, in many cases, even celebratory.

Until recently, death hasn't been a topic of conversation that most people chose to address proactively.  I know that my own family was not very prepared to deal with the critical decisions needing to be made at the time that my mother and father were in end-of-life comas and unable to express their desires.  My siblings and I did what we had to do under the circumstances, but in many ways, the fabric of our family was torn irreparably in the process.  Things could have been handled so much better had we known then what Callanan shares in this practical guide.

As the author provides us with poignant personal stories, we gain wisdom about what to expect, how to best communicate, when to get specific types of support, and how to navigate the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of dying well (and helping others do the same).  Perhaps most importantly, in learning what we need to know about life's biggest transition, we are encouraged to reflect on what we most want in life and at our time of death.

I found Final Journeys to be much more than a useful guide to directing my future work in hospice service.  For me, it has been a highly reflective journey that has positively touched the parts of me still processing the losses in my own life.  It was an uplifting, and in many ways, healing read.

I only wish this book had existed when I first entered into nursing care as a young woman.  Perhaps, though, I was more ready to receive its teachings now that I have experienced significantly more love and loss over the years.  As a result of taking this journey with Maggie Callanan, I feel much better prepared to enter into new ways of bringing comfort to the living and the dying.  I also feel ready to orchestrate my own beautiful transition when the time comes.





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Thursday, September 5, 2019

GOOLOO Jump Starter Power Bank Review

GOOLOO Jump Starter Power Bank
If you've ever gotten into your vehicle, turned the key, and heard nothing but clicking, I'm sure we have shared the same sinking feeling.  It has happened to me twice this week.

As a woman who lives in a place where it isn't always possible to call out for assistance, and where help may take a few hours to arrive in a best case scenario, it is essential to be prepared for just this type of emergency.  Who doesn't want to be able to get up and running quickly when this happens?

After calling around and leaving some messages about needing a jump start, I waited, and waited, and waited.  During the day, that is merely frustrating.  At night, being stranded like that in an isolated place could be very dangerous.

Fortunately, I was able to walk to a neighbor's place to borrow a GOOLOO portable battery jump starter.  First of all, I was thankful the unit was compact and lightweight (the size of my hand), since I had to carry it while walking a good distance back to my vehicle.  Secondly, the fact that this power bank holds its charge over a significant period of time ensured that I wouldn't have to plug it in and wait for hours before being able to boost my battery.  It was ready to go.

Five Blue Lights Indicate Full Charge
Though I had never before handled a GOOLOO, I discovered it was a simple tool to use.  All I had to do was plug the part with the jumper cables into the power bank, clip the red and black clamps onto the same colored terminals on my SUV's battery, press the red booster button on the GOOLOO, and turn the key in my vehicle's ignition.  Within seconds, my engine sprang back to life.  What a relief!

Battery Cables Plugged Into Power Bank Unit
If that wasn't enough reason for me to purchase my very own GOOLOO power bank, I noted several additional bonus features that make it an even better buy.  For one, I can use this very same unit to charge my iPhone, laptop, iPad, or Kindle.  That is a big plus when I am using those devices on the road.  The GOOLOO also contains a multi-function LED flashlight in the quick charger itself, which is very handy.

Bright LED Flashlight
Single Beam, Strobe, SOS Functions
It's no surprise that this product is the number one seller in its Amazon category.  Having tested it out myself, I can see why it has received so many positive reviews from other users.  I know I will be acquiring this very same jump starter.  With winter on the way, and so many other weather-related emergencies taking place, one can never be too prepared.

Even if you live where help is nearby, there are times when you will be parked in a position where another vehicle cannot get close enough to reach your battery for a jump start.  With the GOOLOO, you are set no matter where your emergency happens.  It's a good feeling to know you can take care of yourself should the need occur.

This is the type of gift my dad would have given me if he were still around today.  It's a peace of mind gift to give others or yourself.  And, it's pretty hard to put a price tag on something that valuable.





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Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Next Right Thing - Book Review

Decision fatigue.  Who hasn't felt it?  Should I move or should I stay?  Is it the right time to start my own business?  Can I afford to take a leap of faith (or not to)?  Is it too risky to quit my job to write the book that is begging to be written?  Will I be able to come up with the money to achieve my dream?

Given that the typical adult is said to make about 35,000 decisions per day, we should be tired!  How can we know the right thing to do?  What if our decision options appear to be equally good?  Or, what if we have to decide between two equally bad choices?

In Emily P. Freeman's new book, The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, we are provided with the kind of prompts, reflections, and reassurances that take much of the stress out of our daily decision wrangling.  For those of us who have always sweated it out like there is that one best decision we must find before acting, Freeman's approach to breaking it down and doing the one next right thing is a huge relief.

This is a book that works well as part of an ongoing reflective practice.  Instead of a decision list of pros and cons, we learn to approach things more organically.  We are reminded that we are making a life and that we learn to make good decisions by actually practicing making decisions.  And, gasp, not every decision has to be perfect.  Why, we can even offer ourselves grace for having made a bad decision in the past.

Freeman shares stories about her own experiences making both major and minor decisions.  Each chapter provides an example, which then leads to a reflective exercise, and finally offers up a prayer.  Though written from a Christian perspective, there is a universal benefit to approaching life one next right thing at a time.

What kind of impact can reading a book like this have in a life?  Well, for one thing, instead of resenting all of the decisions pressing down on me today, I feel gratitude that I have so many choices.  I think of all of the individuals in the world who live in regimes where nearly all of the decisions are made for them.  It is a privilege, and blessing, to be able to choose—to have free will.

Another benefit of this read for me was the focus on having an uncluttered soul.  I am providing my soul with more space to breathe these days.  Without this space, it is almost impossible to experience the serenity of a life built one right thing at a time.  Right things need breathing room.  When we pause to oxygenate our souls, we can more easily fall into a peaceful rhythm where right things become a natural way of being.

We can live a life where unmade decisions hold all of the power, or we can choose to harness that power for good.  For too long I allowed difficult decisions to hold a certain tyrannical force over my days.  They drained the energy I could have been using in creative, more fulfilling ways.  For anyone facing important decisions, or wanting to breathe more easily when choosing among the competing priorities of the day, reading The Next Right Thing may just provide the needed soul space where peace can lead the way.









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Thursday, August 15, 2019

How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body - Book Review

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Every once in a while you come across a book that reawakens the intentional use of a power you had forgotten you possessed.  Anyone dealing with chronic illness, pain, a life-threatening disease, or another condition seriously impacting quality of life could benefit from reading How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body.  This is a book I would also recommend to those who support others who are experiencing critical health challenges.

Anyone interested in the mind-body connection is likely to find something of value in Dr. David Hamilton's examination of the enormous healing capacity we hold within.  My hope is that today's book review will encourage the one reading this who is searching for a way to positively deal with an issue that is making life difficult or less satisfying than it could be.

The mind: Do we even have the slightest inkling of what it is doing for us at this very moment?  I hadn't gotten very far into this book before I was completely captivated.  As I write this review, and as you read my words, we are changing the very structure of our brains.  Every thought we are having is reshaping the most marvelous instrument ever created.  We are becoming something new even as we share this experience.

Starting with a review of applicable medical research, Hamilton provides the fuel to launch us into a place of wonder.  The studies he shares took me well beyond my earlier Psychology 101 introduction to the Placebo Effect.  I was especially intrigued by those control group participants who knew they were taking a placebo (a substance that has no intended therapeutic effect) and yet did nearly as well physiologically as the group getting the real medication.  This was something entirely different from the psychological effect of believing in a new treatment.  This was the mind actually healing the body without the assistance of any external chemicals.

You won't be surprised when I say this is not a beach read.  I found that I needed a change of pace after wading through the introductory chapters.  There was much of interest, but it was a lot of information.  Right when I was about to skip ahead, the author shifted gears and moved on to what it looks like to heal the body with the mind.  The profiles of individuals who used the mind to help shrink cancer tumors, to gain strength and mobility after a stroke, and to activate the immune system are the types of stories I find interesting.

It's all about visualization.  The brain doesn't discriminate between what is real and what is imagined.  In other words, what becomes real to the brain is what we imagine, and what we think becomes the basis for regenerating cells within our mind and body.  The good news is that we can experience regeneration every day of our lives.  This isn't a process that shuts down when we reach a certain age.

As an athlete, I was taught the importance of visualization.  Most of us have watched Olympic athletes, during their competition warm-ups, go through a visualization exercise (imagining the race, or gymnastics routine, and every move they will make).  I never really knew exactly why that worked or how the benefit came about.  Reading this book provided me with a better grasp of the why.  It really was astonishing to learn how imagery can elevate performance and strengthen muscles before they are even used.

For those of us who have worried at times about the health inheritance from our parents, there is encouragement about how we can use the power of the mind to impact whether or not certain DNA switches turn on or off.  We don't have to accept that it is inevitable that we will suffer from the same poor disease outcomes.  Where once we felt doomed by our DNA, we can now experience a greater sense of hope, knowing that we are not powerless.

There are many mind-body connection books from which to choose.  I felt this was a worthwhile read.  It set the stage for taking my learning even farther.  Anything that keeps us on the path to healthier living is worth the investment of time and energy.  I'm glad I read How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body.  It reminded me that there is more I can do to be an active participant in my own healing.  It also caused me to celebrate the wonder of the mind and to feel a sense of gratitude for what I have been given.  What more can you ask from a book?









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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Paws and Pals Dog Ramp Review

Finn's New Dog Ramp
As I approach the second anniversary of bringing Finn, my special needs/strengths dog, home from the animal shelter, I find myself reflecting on his extraordinary capacity for achieving things he wasn't supposed to be able to do.  Finn has grown well beyond the initial confines of his physical disability, which compels me to provide him with more and more opportunities to do as much as possible through his own initiative and power.  Yesterday, I bought Finn a portable dog ramp that will provide him with more freedom to access his world.  This review shares our first impressions and experiences with the Paws and Pals ramp.

Finn, like all of us, has his own way of approaching new challenges.  I've gotten better at understanding his learning style and anticipating Finn's insecurities (before they kick in), which helps me to be a more effective trainer.  A good starting point today was to take Finn to his favorite park for the first lesson in using a ramp.  I wanted Finn to be relaxed, and for him to associate good things with the pet ramp.

Step One - Explore the Ramp Flat on the Grass
First, to allow Finn to discover the scent, texture, and sound of being on the ramp, I laid it flat on the grass.  This was a very nonthreatening way for him to check it out.  I brought a high-value treat to reward Finn's every success (cheese works magic).  By strategically placing three cubes of cheese on the ramp, it was very easy to entice Finn to take his first steps up onto and across the ramp.  From his second crossing on, I could tell by reading Finn's body language that he was already feeling confident, and even enthusiastic, about this new game.  After the third ramp crossing, I didn't even have to offer a treat.


Having mastered the low-risk, no fear element of ramp exploration, I decided Finn was ready to take it to the next level.  I found a broad tree stump with a height a few inches above ground level.  Because I thought the surface of the plastic ramp might be a little slippery when elevated, and because Finn is very sensitive about his footing, I covered the ramp with some inexpensive rubberized shelf liner.  The new ramps come with sheets of grip tape, but the gently used model I bought did not have that option.  My solution worked perfectly.  Finn climbed the gentle slope with no hesitation.

Nonslip Liner on Ramp
Since Finn appeared to be having fun with our lesson, was having complete success, and didn't appear mentally or physically fatigued, we forged on.  Had that not been the case, I would have spread these ramp lessons over several sessions on different days.

Next, I used a park bench to elevate one end of the ramp about 14 inches off the ground.  We were now approaching the level Finn would need to master to use the ramp for getting into a low vehicle, or for getting up on furniture.  One great thing about this dog ramp is that it can be used indoors or outdoors.

Park Bench Height Ramp Elevation
I lured Finn up the elevated ramp by leading him with a piece of cheese.  It was important to keep him on a short leash and to walk alongside him on this first climb up a steeper angle.  I didn't want Finn to be tempted to jump off the side of the ramp.  We took it slow and he had no problems making it up onto the bench.  At that point, I felt Finn had done enough for day one.  As always, Finn accomplished even more than I had planned for him, and he laid to rest any concerns I had about whether or not a dog with only partial use of his rear legs could balance on, and ascend, a fairly narrow elevated ramp (it's thirteen and a half inches wide between the rims).

Finn will mostly use his Paws and Pals ramp inside the house.  My vehicle is not really conducive to having Finn load himself, although I won't rule it out until I let him give it a try.  He's sure to surprise me.  A car, van, or hatchback vehicle would be more ideal for the use of this ramp (nothing requiring too steep an incline).  I mainly want Finn to be able to get up and down off the bed for starters.  From there, we'll work on graduating to ever greater challenges worthy of Finn's capabilities.

Light, Compact, Easy to Carry and Store
Given such fast success with the ramp, especially for a cautious dog, Finn and I are giving it a Four Paws Up rating.  I really like all of the main features:

  • Folds up compact for storage (15.5" wide x 10" long x 16.5" high).
  • Lightweight (just eight pounds).
  • Made of a durable, easy to clean plastic.
  • Easy to carry with the attached handle.
  • Simple to use (no assembly required).
  • Long enough for typical uses without being too bulky to handle (60" when fully extended).
  • Strength rated for up to a 110-lb. dog.
  • Multiple applications for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Good value and quality for the price (least expensive ramp I found).
Who could benefit from a pet ramp?  Senior dogs, puppies, injured dogs, disabled dogs, small dogs, convalescing pets, and any weak dog or cat.  It is also a major help to those who care for animals (especially those who are physically unable to carry or load a large, heavy dog).  Even totally healthy animals enjoy using ramps.  It's good, stimulating exercise for a pet to try new ways of balancing and climbing.  

We'll keep you posted and continue to add photos as Finn becomes the master of his domain.  I'm sure he will continue to push the boundaries and to constantly redefine what it means to be a special strengths dog who just happens to have been born with legs that work differently.  Finn acts as though he has no limitations.  I feel it is my responsibility to give him as much rein as possible and to not do for Finn the things he can do for himself.  We're learning together how to be the best versions of ourselves in ways that elevate one another.



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Thursday, July 4, 2019

Olloclip Phone Lens Kit Review

Ramshorn Snail Shell - Olloclip Macro Lens
Up until this year, I had not done any photography with my cell phone cameras.  When my laptop died a while back, I had to rely on an older iPhone to take the photos for my online blogs, reviews, and social media posts.  That necessitated the discovery and use of a few key photo apps and, just recently, the use of clip-on smartphone lenses.  In the ongoing process of learning as much as possible about iPhone photography, I came across several references to the Olloclip macro, wide angle, and fisheye lens kit.  Today, I am reviewing my initial impression of these lenses (which are available for many different brands and models of phones).

When I purchased my Olloclip lens kit, I was mainly interested in the two macro lenses (magnification times 10 and 15).  I wanted to take some really up close and personal photographs (think flowers, butterflies, bees, dew drops, etc.).  Macro is also great when I need photos of the jewelry I sell online.  The wide angle lens will be used primarily for landscape photography (can't wait to try it out at the Great Sand Dunes).  It is also perfect for group shots, selfies, and videos.  The fisheye lens will be fun for the animal photography—like those cute nose shots—I do to help shelter dogs get adopted.  It is also wonderful for lighthouse photography (spiral staircases especially).

Rescue Dog Finn - Olloclip Fisheye Lens
As I have been getting into macro photography, I have found it helpful to start indoors, since it takes some patient practice to learn how close to be to the subject, how to get the focus right, how to stage the object for an interesting photo, and, perhaps most importantly of all, how to handle the lighting.  I don't have to deal with the wind indoors, either.  That is a huge plus.

Flexible Tripod, Olloclip 10X Lens, iPhone
Yesterday, I was experimenting with some shells I had found on the beach.  I used natural lighting by a window.  With macro, a tripod is essential, as is a remote shutter release (or the use of your phone's shutter timer).  I set up some black foam boards and a tiny easel covered in a sheet of black felt for my backgrounds.  With the Olloclip 10X macro lens, I was able to get incredibly close to my subject (just a few millimeters away).  Not much will be sharply in focus with ultra macro photography (but the right kind of blur is the appeal), so the trickiest part is moving the mini tripod around until you find the special effect, and point of focus, that expresses your unique point of view.  It's all about the angle.

Ramshorn Snail Shell Without Macro Lens
You can see just how small the snail shell actually is in the photo above using a regular camera lens without macro (about half an inch).  

Ramshorn Snail Shell - 10X Magnification
This is the same shell photographed with the Olloclip 10X macro lens.  I used the free Snapseed photo app for cropping and minor adjustments.  

Sundial Shell Without Macro Lens

Next, I experimented with a Sundial shell I found on Padre Island.  Two photos are provided for comparison.  The photograph above was taken with my Nikon D200 with a zoom lens.  The photo below was taken with an iPhone 5s (ancient compared to the latest iPhones) and an Olloclip 10X macro lens.

Sundial Shell - Olloclip 10X Macro Lens
Today, it was time to get outdoors and test the wide angle lens.  I'm sure most of you can relate to the frustration of not being able to get all of your subject into the photo frame.  First, I snapped a regular shot of this historic truss bridge with my iPhone (the Lobato Bridge over the Rio Grande in southern Colorado).  As you can see below, the right side of the bridge was cut off.

The Lobato Bridge - Built in 1892
The photo below was taken with the Olloclip wide angle lens.  I was able to get all of the double-span bridge in the photograph even when standing much closer to the bridge than in the first shot.  There was plenty of extra margin for cropping.

Bridge Photographed Using Olloclip Wide Angle Lens
One thing I did notice is that this wide angle shot is a bit fuzzy near the edges of the photograph.  I'm told Olloclip has a free app for making image adjustments.  I will check that out and update you.

It's not what you look at that matters,
it's what you see.  ~Thoreau
I was lying on the forest floor while pointing the Olloclip fisheye lens directly skyward when I created this photo.  This image reminds me of an eye, with the trees forming the iris.  In a forest devastated by wildfire, I was looking at the emergent green undergrowth and seeing how to embody the Phoenix.

Phoenix Rising: Self-Portrait
All of these photos are first attempts.  Once I experiment, and perhaps invest in a newer smartphone with a more advanced camera, I'm sure my photographs will evolve.  You have to start somewhere and learn by trial and error.  In this case, I don't really care if the photos aren't perfect.  For me, photography is a reflective practice.  I photograph things that move me, and I practice photography to learn how to see more clearly, to learn how to pay deep attention, and to immerse myself in beauty and wonder.  

If you enjoy pushing your creative boundaries, you really can't go wrong with Olloclip products.  They offer good quality, affordable tools for the smartphone photography enthusiast.  There are more expensive options, but for just getting started, I suspect most of us like to keep costs reasonable.  This is a good budget choice.  I feel I got my money's worth.






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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge Review

Wetlands at Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Just recently, I have come to experience the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge in an entirely new way.  Instead of sampling the sanctuary like a temporary visitor, I have found my own rhythm of belonging.  In becoming a part of this vital place, I have been able to take in a much deeper level of sustenance.  Perhaps this is the real beauty of refuges.  More than just protecting and conserving natural resources for the benefit of wildlife, they can greatly nourish anyone who truly enters into them.  This is not so much a review of a tourist attraction, or place, as it is a review of learning how to let a place enter into you in a way that feeds your spirit.

As I turn off of busy Highway 160 in South Central Colorado this morning, I slow my vehicle's speed way down.  The two-mile approach to Alamosa NWR's Visitor Center is where I begin to align my pace with that of the natural world.  Opening all of my windows, I breathe deeply and feel the gentle breeze and soft rays of the early morning sunlight on my face.  Reaching into my camera backpack, a palpable sense of anticipation rises up to meet me.

I start counting telephone poles.  There he is, as always, on pole number seven.  My greeter.  Here's where I admit that I don't know what kind of hawk he is.  At some point, I will pull out a book and ID him, but I'm not obsessed with that right now—which is unusual for me.  In the past, I would have immediately wanted to know his name.  The new me has a different agenda for coming to know him.

Sign Marking Entrance to the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge
Off to my left, I pass ANWR's entrance sign.  My morning's soundtrack changes dramatically.  Gravel pops and pings as it ricochets off the bottom of my red Sport Trac.  In my left ear, a meadowlark's lilting aria floats in thin air.  Simultaneously, my right ear picks up the raucous rap of a Marsh wren.  Ahh... the concert has begun, and like a children's preschool program, the singers won't necessarily be bringing their voices in on time or in perfect harmony.  These voices, like their creatures, will do their own thing, and it will be chaotic at times, but gloriously so.

Star Actress in Today's Theater Production of "Fake Broken Wing" - Mama Killdear
Slowly, slowly I creep along the entrance road hoping for an iconic doing-the-splits photo of one of those boisterous wrens.  Suddenly, without warning, a theater production of Fake Broken Wing opens up in front of my vehicle.  The chorus erupts into: kill dear, kill dear, kill dear.  Whoa!

Good thing I am driving about half a mile an hour (my typical wildlife-photographer-on-the-hunt speed).  A pair of killdear parents have young chicks attempting to cross the road without first looking both ways.  I've never seen baby killdears until this very moment and they are perfect in every way.  Oh, the wonder!

Baby Killdear - Cuteness Overload
The teacher in me wants to play crossing guard and get those precious babies across the road.  Children... it's not safe.  Hurry!  My heart pounds when I think of how easily these young ones could be run over by a car.  Relief floods me when I silently count the chicks now on the opposite shoulder of the road.  Five.  Phew!  They all made it.

Now, as I'm attempting to photograph the family from my vehicle, they launch themselves, in true killdear form, into what the former athlete in me recognizes as Fartlek (I do not make this stuff up) training.  Imagine seven photographic subjects, all going in different directions, speed walking for several steps, and then briefly pausing before sprinting away in the opposite direction.  I try to anticipate when and where those slower intervals will take place and press the shutter button in an act of faith.  This is living in the moment.  Talk about exhilaration!

It's time to roll on down the road.  I never want to stress the wildlife by overstaying my welcome.  You learn to take the gift they give you, and with good grace, give them the breathing room they need.  If I drove out of the refuge right now, my day would be complete.

Young Mule Deer Buck With Antlers in the Velvet
What I am learning about this refuge is that there are layers you must peel back to get at the true essence.  You can't be in a hurry, and to get the most out of a sanctuary experience, you want to use all of your senses.  Long before you see something spectacular, you are most likely going to hear it, or feel its presence—that is, if you nurture your inherent sense of awe and wonder.  Anticipation and stillness.  That is the intersection where the marvelous can, and will, happen in this place.

The other thing is this: Don't just look for the big magnificence.  Often, the most delightful splendor comes in the tiniest of packages.  While there will be crowds at area refuges during the seasonal Sandhill crane migrations, or when elk herds are moving through, it is in the smaller, and yet equally mesmerizing annual voyages of say, butterflies, that one may become immersed in transcendent moments.

Walking is the More Intimate Way to Experience the Refuge
Right now, with the wildflowers in full bloom, so much teeming life is taking place in the ditches and meadows of the sanctuary.  This is the time to walk the two-mile nature trail (although I found it temporarily closed today due to the Rio Grande's flooding and the presence of the endangered Willow flycatcher).  There is so much beauty right underfoot.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Any time I enter the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, I know that an initial assessment of what's going on will vastly underestimate the real activity that is taking place.  I watch first-time visitors quickly drive the three-mile auto tour loop and leave.  I imagine them saying, "Nothing but blackbirds."  Sadly, they have missed out on everything.  I was once that visitor.

In my ongoing evolution from refuge visitor to a sort of artist-in-residence, I can easily spend all day immersed in nature's artistry.  There is an art to being both a witness to, and a player among, the many moving parts of a wildlife refuge.  I believe the natural world reveals most of its brilliance to those who honor the gift-giver.  And I think the honor is in how we pause and pay deep attention, with reverent awe, and a true sense of gratitude.  There is honor in not taking for granted any creature, no matter if there are thousands of them, and no matter if they are present year-round.

A Glow-in-the-Dark Male Yellow Warbler With a Mouth Full of Insects
Dr. Seuss Chicks - American Coot Babies - Wow, Just Wow!
Today, some of the generous gift-givers have been, in addition to the wondrous greeters I have already mentioned, the lovely Yellow-headed blackbird, the brightest colored warbler I have ever seen, three curious Mule deer, various larks, an amazing porcupine, the Dr. Seuss chicks of an American Coot, a sweet-voiced flycatcher, two American bitterns (listed as uncommon for the refuge), a garter snake (true confession: earlier in my life I would not have put snakes on the gift list), teal ducks, Mallard ducks, a Pied-billed grebe, numerous swallows, and way too many others to note in this limited space.  They know who they are and they know that I revel in their presence.

To miss a day at the refuge, is to miss out on the unfolding of thousands of tiny miracles.  I've found there is no slow season when it comes to the miracle of life.  Any time I find myself drinking in sustenance at the oasis we call the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, is the time of my life.

Water is the Lifeblood of the San Luis Valley's National Wildlife Refuges
I encourage you to find your own little oasis where you can soak up the refreshment to be found in spaces that rehydrate the spirit and soul.  Where we find our sustenance, we find everything we need to thrive and grow into the fullness of our own being.  When that happens, we become the refuge that attracts others into our nourishing space.  Being the place, or space, others want to inhabit—isn't that the high calling?







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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Deep Creek - Book Review

Deep Creek by Pam Houston
Terrifying splendor.  Wonder nested in grief.  Reconciling grief and hope.  Traveling the world over to discover the real adventure awaits you at home.  Creating a life in the midst of a thousand departures.  Savoring the one thousand arrivals that bring you to you—to your home of homes.  This is Deep Creek.

In Deep Creek, Finding Hope in the High Country, author, teacher, ranching greenhorn, and survivor, Pam Houston, takes us inside the paradox of becoming.  Though we may initially think the genesis of this homecoming odyssey is Houston's purchase of a dream ranch and homestead in the Colorado Rockies, the larger revelation, as unveiled through linked essays, is how her connections to nature, animals, trauma, and eventual healing come together in perfectly imperfect ways to build a life filled with gratitude and wonder.

This is a memoir that finds its essence in those spaces where two disparate elements are held together.  For instance, while the West Fork wildfire is threatening to destroy Houston's beloved ranch, she is able to stand amazed at the extreme beauty of the raging firestorm.  There is a breathtaking awe to be felt in the face of the fury that might destroy everything you own.  This capacity of the author to appreciate the splendor of potential devastation turns something bleak into something transformative.

Likewise, while Houston explores the grief associated with climate change, she simultaneously urges us to sing the song that is the language of wilderness and to feel a certain joy within the mourning.   In this manner, one may begin to reconcile grief and hope.

Besides these themes, there is more to appreciate while reading Deep Creek.  If you love animals, there are horses, mini donkeys, Icelandic sheep, Irish wolfhounds, and chickens.  And then there is the glory of Colorado's San Juan Mountains and the Upper Rio Grande Basin.  For those who dream of living on their very own piece of land, there is plenty to stoke that fantasy.

I was drawn to Deep Creek for many reasons.  As one who lives in Colorado's San Luis Valley, I have  been to the places shared by the author.  To experience them through another's perspective, makes those places come alive in a new way.  Houston's affection for her animals also resonates deeply with me.  To read of how the land has been so significant in her becoming who she is today, reinforces my own connections to this place that is growing me into the fullness of my own being.

If you need any more reasons to read this book, read it because the writing is compelling.  Read it because the author is an enigma.  Read it to contemplate how you become who you are in relationship to what matters to you.  Read it to celebrate the life that emerges when you dare to dance with paradox.














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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Quality of Life Reviewed

How Finn and I View Quality of Life
I have been thinking a lot lately about quality of life—in particular, how you help others live it a few moments at a time.  When you are training a therapy dog for this work, it's natural to reflect on what makes a life more joyous and pleasurable.

I care about both sides of the equation—what brings light into the lives of those whom we visit and what switches it on for the light-bearers.  I am deeply committed to keeping Finn's light shining brightly in ways that take into consideration his overall health, happiness, and well-being.

These days, I find myself spending differently.  It may seem to those who see Finn being carted around in a new dog stroller or trailer that he is being coddled.  In fact, strangers who cross our path often remark that my dog is spoiled.

Finn Teaches Me To Pay Attention To Everything
Isn't that a funny word—spoiled—especially when applied to an animal who previously had almost nothing and who experienced so few, if any, of a dog's normal pleasures?  Those who know Finn, and the way we are forging a life together where his disabilities do not define or limit him, would never use the word spoiled to describe him.  After all, this is a dog who willingly engages in a ministry of caring that requires so much of him.

The things I provide for Finn are not what they seem.  Outwardly, they are mobility devices: things that allow for transport from Point A to Point B.  Far beyond that, his stroller, K9 Cart (wheelchair), and bicycle trailer are really transformers.

When we seek to lift up the voiceless, whether it be a stroke victim, or a rescue animal, perhaps the best we can do is pay deep attention to the nuances, to the glimmers of how they show us what brings them even temporary pleasure.  Mary Oliver, in her typical eloquence, expressed that attention is the beginning of devotion.

As for Finn, he demonstrates to me on a daily basis that his quality of life is wrapped up in mine.  Wherever I am, that is where he wants to be.  I feel the same way.  I hate to be separated from Finn for even an hour of the day.  Without the devices that minimize his physical limitations, and that maximize his strengths, we would have to be apart far more than either of us desires.

Living Large Along the Rio Grande
Our togetherness—our connectedness—is greatly enhanced by the things that allow our energies to be focused on living fully.  As we rode together along the Rio Grande yesterday, Finn and I were totally immersed in living undivided (ala Parker Palmer).  We were being for ourselves what we intend to be for others.

When I first purchased Finn's bicycle trailer, I promised to share more after we had had the opportunity to take it for a spin.  Here is the link to that initial post: 2-in-1 Dog Trailer.  I realize this is not a typical follow-up review.  I'm not trying to convince anyone to buy anything.

As I started writing today's post, and let my heart lead the way, what moved me were the intangibles.  In essence, this trailer represents more than the sum of its parts (or any features I might choose to extol).  It is freedom, it is exhilaration, it is movement in the direction of our dreams.

How we choose to spend our time and money is deeply personal.  Perhaps the most important thing is how we use what we have to offer up a simple, pure devotion.  We don't have to buy anything to do that, but sometimes there is great pleasure to be known in acquiring that which has the capacity to transform the moments that make another's life worth living.

Quality of life is different for each of us.  We can't define what that is for someone else, but we can divine what that is through our deep presence and the cultivation of a listening heart and spirit.  For Finn and I, immersing ourselves in nature is the way we cultivate a spirit of healing.  The beauty is that that spirit can spill over from one life to another.

It is always about beginning and becoming.  As we roll together along new pathways, this therapy dog team is discovering what it means to live and love wholeheartedly.  And, for us, that is true quality of life.








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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Find A Way - Book Review

Read an Excerpt of Find A Way by Diana Nyad
Dreams are the great drivers in life.  They inspire, motivate, and take us to greater heights.  For some, though, lost dreams can be the source of their greatest regrets.  I have lost count of the number of times I have had others tell me they wish they had pursued a dream, or that now they are too old to make their most fervent dream come true.

Diana Nyad, in Find A Way, lives out for us her singular pursuit of the dream that gave her life true purpose and meaning—swimming the stretch of ocean that was deemed unswimmable.  She wasn't supposed to make it from Cuba to the Florida coastline.  Nobody ever had.

Because Nyad had failed to complete the swim in her twenties, when she was a record holding world-class distance swimmer, it seemed crazy that Nyad thought she could accomplish this in her sixties.  After all, Nyad had done no swimming for thirty years.  This would ultimately become a test of will, of mental strength, and of finding her peak long after most athletes are past their prime.  There would be the agony of many defeats before there was the thrill of victory at age 64.
"I failed and faltered many times, but I can look back without regret because I was never burdened with the paralysis of fear and inaction."
In the case of this epic quest, it wasn't just a question of physical prowess.  Nobody had ever conquered what was, and is, considered the Mount Everest of swimming due to factors outside of the control of the swimmer: the presence of deadly ocean predators (sharks and incredibly toxic jellyfish), violent storms, unforgiving currents and winds, and the debilitating effects of being submerged in salt water for a prolonged period of time (three days and nights).

The rigors of pulling off an expedition of this magnitude make for fascinating reading.  Nyad had to find and enlist the support of the foremost world experts in dealing with the extreme complexities of Gulf Stream navigation, fending off sharks (she swam without a shark cage), surviving the punishing and immensely painful stings of the deadly Box jellyfish, sustaining the body and mind while swimming for days without rest, and negotiating the divide between two countries that had long been estranged.  Without the bottomless commitment and devotion of lifelong friends, Nyad would literally have been dead in the water.

Find A Way is the book I would choose to give to everyone who has ever told me their dream has escaped them.  After reading it, my excuses for not chasing after my current dreams sound flimsy and embarrassing.  As a woman who wishes to live with far fewer regrets, I found in Nyad the kind of inspiration needed to launch myself toward my other shore.
"Whatever your other shore is, whatever you must do, whatever inspires you, you will find a way to get there."
To all of the dreamers out there, I say read this and jump back into the water.  Your distant shore beckons. 


















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Thursday, April 18, 2019

On Call in the Arctic - Book Review

On Call in the Arctic
I have been on a medical memoir jag lately, and On Call in the Arctic: A Doctor's Pursuit of Life, Love, and Miracles in the Alaskan Frontier, has certainly whetted my appetite for more.  Part Northern Exposure, part MacGyver, this is the perfect read for anyone who enjoys the kind of adventures that can only take place off the beaten path.  Though the story takes place in the Alaskan frontier of the 1970's, its themes of cultural divides, and racism, along with an undercurrent of hostility, make this a very timely book.

As Dr. Thomas Sims is about to enter his pediatric surgical residency, his status suddenly changes overnight when he is informed that he is about to be sent overseas to serve within a M.A.S.H. unit in Vietnam.  With a wife nine-months pregnant, and a two-year-old daughter, Sims is relieved to be given an alternative.  He can choose to accept a plum military placement as a U.S. Public Health Service physician in Anchorage, Alaska.  Not only does that mean that Dr. Sims can keep his family together, and be stateside for the impending birth of his son, but Sims is also offered the position of his dreams—Chief of Pediatric Surgery in a well-equipped urban hospital.

Perfect, right?  Well, not so fast.  Upon arriving with his family in Anchorage, Sims is shocked to receive new orders to report to Nome, Alaska, where he will be the only doctor in a very isolated setting.  Not only will Dr. Sims serve the remote outpost of Nome, but he will also be responsible for the medical needs of thirteen outlying Eskimo villages. 

This is where things get mighty interesting.  Imagine the shock, if you have been trained in state-of-the-art medicine, to enter a medical world without adequate facilities, with very few supplies, and almost no support.  Not only that, but a major scandal which occurred during the previous physician's tour of service has created the kind of mistrust and prejudice that will make relationship-building almost impossible.

The most fascinating element of this memoir involves the stories of frightening, and yet exhilarating, medical emergencies.  How do you save the life of a patient whose appendix is about to explode when you don't have an operating room, the right supplies, or a surgical team?  How do you deliver a huge baby in distress when a C-section isn't an option?  This is where Dr. Sims has to use a combination of intuition and MacGyver-like ingenuity to save the day.

I can't help but believe his time in the Alaskan bush made Thomas Sims a better doctor.  Medical training in perfect conditions is one thing.  Learning to improvise in the heat of a life-or-death emergency is another.  To be able to master both the art and science of medical service requires a rare gift.  The beauty of this story is in watching that gift emerge.

From harrowing medical procedures, to death-defying bush plane and snowmachine travel in wicked weather conditions, this book has it all.  Though the harsh conditions and interpersonal divides take their toll, On Call in the Arctic is a book that dwells in the miracles that can happen in the midst of hardship, misunderstandings, and the messiness of living outside your comfort zone.

I recommend this memoir to anyone who enjoys living, or living vicariously, the kind of life that takes one to the wilder side of existence.  There is something essential to be gained when we leave the safe confines of a predictable way of life.  Somewhere out there are brave new worlds to be found and explored.

Reading this book is one way to step into a world where the past may inform the future, especially given the common threads between our current societal struggles and those with which Dr. Sims wrestled.  Here's to finding our way to a brave new tomorrow. 





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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved Me From Myself - Book Review

Dog Medicine - How My Dog Saved Me From Myself - Book Review
Dog Medicine by Julie Barton
Most of us have so much going on in our own lives that we seriously question reading a book that will immerse us in someone else's unrelenting anguish.  Why would we want to do that?  We already know from reading the reviews that Dog Medicine is going to make us cry.  When reviews use words like raw and brutal honesty, we know we are in for a read that will demand something from us.

Perhaps that is the point.  Could it be that the demanding, heart-wrenching accounts most grow our humanity, our compassion, and our capacity to connect with others in the ways that are most authentic and useful?  In a genre overflowing with I-was-saved-by-my-dog books, what does it take to transcend it — the genre and what cynics would say is the same old, same old story?

Well, here's the thing: this story matters because Julie Barton and Bunker matter.  Without Bunker, the author's Golden retriever puppy, Julie would surely not have lived to write this book.  And this book needed to be written just as much as we all need to read it.

When initial therapies failed to lift Barton out of the deep, dark depression unleashed by long-term childhood trauma, it took the powerful medicine of Bunker—his unfailing solace—to bring Julie back from the brink.

It is in how the author captures the first glimmers of healing that this book soars.
Perhaps what began to save me was that I started creating this sacred, safe space where he and I met.  In this space, there was no ridicule.  There was no doubt or loneliness.  There was no sorrow or anger.  It was just pure, beautiful being.  It was looking at the world with wide-eyed, forever hopeful puppy wonder.
Could it be that we share in vicarious healing in reading about the transformation brought about by the kind of love that can only be known in relationship with a dog that has chosen his human?  Ultimately, I chose this book because I cherish my animal relationships and the healing they bring me.  I deeply related to the purpose Barton found in caring for a dog with special medical needs.  When Julie's broken psyche bound up Bunker's broken body, the result was a unified whole that the two of them could not have found by any other means.  We are all broken in ways that call for us to find our healing in offering up the gift of compassion... in being the sacred space needed by another.

Given my recent launch as a therapy dog team member, I found inspiration in knowing that, like Julie, the good medicine in my life, in the form of my dog Finn, will make itself manifest in the lives of those who enter the sacred space he and I share.  For what is the sacred, if it is not that which exists to bless others?

It is my hope that Julie and Bunker's story will bless you in whatever way you most need at this point in time.  I will close here with a reviewer's blurb that I found compelling when deciding whether or not to read Dog Medicine:
Read it for the voice, read it to savor the power of love, read it to enjoy an inspiring, hopeful story, read it to learn about healing, read it if you're depressed and want to get better, read it if you're happy and want to stay there.  Whatever else you do, read it.  ~Peter Gibb
Yes.  Read it and savor the power of love.




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Review This is Dedicated to the Memory of Our Beloved Friend and Fellow Contributor
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