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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

No Ordinary Dog - Book Review

Read an Excerpt
If I asked you what you were doing when you learned about the terror of the unfolding 9/11 disaster, I have no doubt that nearly 100% of you could provide, in great detail, your memory of that dark day.

Now, how about May 2, 2011—what can you tell me about that day?  Actually, I can't recall anything about it, but the author of No Ordinary Dog, Will Chesney, was there when the mastermind of September 11th, Osama Bin Laden, was finally brought to justice during one of the most incredible Navy SEAL operations of all time.

Due to the highly classified nature of the ultimate in top secret missions, only one operative's name was released at the time—Cairo—the extraordinary military dog present during the raid.  This is the story of Cairo and Will's journey to achieving their joint, and yet distinct, destinies.  Most of all, it is a poignant tribute to the life-changing power of the human-animal bond.

Chesney knew his destiny very early in life.  All he ever wanted to be was a Navy SEAL.  It was that, or nothing.  Likewise, Cairo, an exquisite Belgian Malinois, was bred, raised, and trained for an equally elite destiny.  Few animals ever make the cut when it comes to serving as a special ops war dog.  Cairo was among the rarest of the rare.

Though I had read books and seen movies about Navy SEALS, nothing ever really drove home the extreme sacrifices made by these rare individuals like No Ordinary Dog.  Reading Chesney's accounts of what he felt and experienced during his SEAL training made me wonder how anyone ever endured that rite of passage.  Likewise, despite reading dozens of books about the process of how service dogs are prepared for their work, this was a very different look into the becoming of a top-of-the-line military counterterrorism dog.  It was fascinating to learn about the motivations and methods that come together to create a weaponized canine capable of functioning at unbelievably complex levels.

Over the course of their tours of duty, there was plenty of action and many memorable moments in service to their country.  If you are like me, though, it will be their final mission that stands out.  When Will is seriously wounded by a grenade explosion, and suffers from the long-term impacts of PTSD and other equally debilitating injuries, it will take the unbreakable bond he shares with Cairo to get him through the greatest challenge of his life.

This is a book for anyone who loves dogs, enjoys military history, appreciates the sacrifices made by our human and canine military forces, or who finds inspiration in the incomparable connection between humans and their animals.  It is a book that will stay with you during this time when our nation is once again shaken to its very core just as it was on that September day so many years ago.

Note: I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for my honest review.  This book will be released on April 21, 2020.  Available for pre-order today.







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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl - Book Review

Available for Pre-order Now
Every extraordinary book has that moment when you fall irrevocably in love with it.  For me, that oh-I-just-love-this-so-much moment in Catherine Ryan Hyde's Brave Girl, Quiet Girl came from the mouth of a babe.  You can pretty much count on a two-year-old to get right to the heart of the matter and Etta doesn't disappoint.  When she whispers brave girl, quiet girl to her trembling rescuer, the story is made... the book's soul is revealed... and this reader was completely smitten.

Because you can follow links to the official book synopsis, I won't spend time rehashing what you can discover for yourself.  Let me just give you the broad strokes and then cut to the chase.  After all, that's what I want in a review—not so much facts, as the alchemy of what makes for an unforgettable reading experience.

I have already mentioned Etta.  If you ask me, this amazing toddler is the pivot upon which everything turns.  As the story begins, Etta is ripped away from her family in the course of a carjacking.  Her mother, Brooke, is desperate to find her baby, but the odds are stacked against a safe return.

And then there is Molly, a cast-off teen, living on the mean streets of L.A. after being discarded by her rigid, unaccepting parents.  It is so perfectly fitting that a child who has lost all sense of worthiness is the one who comes to find, and protect, Etta after the jackers abandon her in the dark of night.

Despite the bleak circumstances that embrace both Brooke and Molly (or, I'm now thinking it is because of that bleakness), the broken pieces of two psyches will discover a way to fit together in perfectly imperfect ways to form a new sense of acceptance, belonging, and family.

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl is ultimately the story of how the light gets in through the broken places to illuminate the beauty that was formerly hidden within the bleakness.  I've come to the recognition, after reading a majority of Catherine Ryan Hyde's books, that one of her many gifts as a writer is something I can only compare to the Japanese aesthetic known as wabi-sabi.

The thing I find so appealing about this aesthetic, especially as it applies to CRH's consistent approach to bringing together beautifully flawed people, is how the imperfection causes me to love them more.  Just as the Japanese do, the author highlights rather than hides the flaws.  In her skillful hands, the flaw becomes the work of art.

Just as wabi-sabi features that which is authentic, and acknowledges that nothing is finished, so too do we see that in this book's work-in-progress characters.  We experience them in their raw state of becoming.  It makes them entirely relatable and, in my case, made me feel great empathy for their plights.

Finally, I was deeply struck by how the homeless in this story viewed those who sought to help them.  It made me reflect on my current relationships with those who are without a home.  Why is help offered?  When is help not at all helpful?  What is the best way to reach out to those in need?  How do they define the need?

Those who appreciate the humanity at the center of Catherine Ryan Hyde's writing are sure to find much to love, just as I did, in Brave Girl, Quiet Girl.  I knew I could count on coming away from this read with a feeling of greater compassion—not only toward Brooke, and Molly, and Bodhi—but also for my own flawed self.

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl will be released on May 19, 2020.  I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley in return for my honest review.  I highly recommend this book and encourage you to pre-order your copy now.











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Thursday, January 30, 2020

An Invisible Thread - Book Review

"An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break."  ~ Ancient Chinese Proverb

Read an Excerpt
It began, for both the author and me, in much the same way.  We were two busy professional women, rushing past panhandlers, only to feel yanked back by an invisible thread.  Something we knew nothing about at the time, Laura Schroff in bustling Manhattan, and me in sleepy, rural Colorado, drew us to connect with individuals whose circles and lives were so far removed from our normal daily existence.

Was it destiny?  Perhaps.  All I know is that one instant of pausing to really see the person behind the sign became a moment of recognition.  For some reason, both Schroff and I were to have an awakening that came at the hands of destitution.

You never really see that coming—a whole new purpose born of paying attention, of listening, and of being drawn into the stories of those who have so little... those who are stereotyped as takers rather than givers.  This book review, of An Invisible Thread, is really the story within a story of how all of our lives are intertwined.

It seemed like any other ordinary day when Laura Scroff's life was profoundly, and forever, changed.  She had no intention of meeting up with a disadvantaged street child, but things that are meant to be tend to override executive sales agendas.

After initially passing up eleven-year-old Maurice, who asked Scroff for spare change because he was hungry, she found herself looking back over her shoulder at him, and then backpedaling to take Maurice to McDonald's for lunch.  This seemingly unassuming, one-time act of kindness then took on a life of its own.  Over Big Macs and fries, Laura and Maurice launched what would become a lifelong friendship.  Through months, and then years, of weekly meal dates and life-enriching experiences, these two became chosen family.

As one who had grown up with abuse, Schroff could empathize, and feel great compassion for this young boy who was attempting to survive the most extreme poverty—a poverty that extended well beyond that of hunger and lack of safe shelter.  Surrounded by drug-addled adults who were emotionally unavailable to nurture him, and living by his wits alone, Maurice's poverty went soul deep.

Though her friends and colleagues warned her off, thinking Schroff's outreach to Maurice was too risky, Laura's commitment to, and bond with him would not, and could not, be broken.  This would not turn out to be a one-way charity case.  It became a mutually beneficial friendship that transformed and healed both individuals.

He Shared His Story With Me Over a Subway Sandwich
Those who follow my Facebook postings know that I interact with homeless individuals on a daily basis.  It isn't something I would ever have thought would become a mission for me.  I just felt compelled one day to stop and listen to the personal story of the man behind one of those panhandling signs.

I Felt Compelled to Stop and Let Kindness Connect Us
I don't even like the word panhandler because of its negative connotation.  Doesn't it spark labels of beggar, or for some people, even something as ugly as loser?  I've seen and heard those drive-by insults when standing on a corner checking up on one of my homeless friends.  You know... the guy who rolls down his window and shouts, "Get a job, loser!"

Perhaps We Are All Living on a Prayer
What Laura and I found, when really getting to know the person holding that piece of cardboard in his hands, was a whole new way of living... a whole new way of perceiving those willing to bare their vulnerable souls to a public that isn't always very welcoming to them.  We both discovered, and opened up, the gifts of these beautiful souls.  We became the recipients of change that is not spare.

I highly recommend An Invisible Thread, not because it has been a New York Times bestseller, but because of its focus on kindness and goodness.  Do I believe there is an invisible thread?  Oh, yes... absolutely... and I am so thankful for those on the other end of my thread.







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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Noom Healthy Weight Loss App Review


Wouldn't it be great to kick off the new year with a five-pound weight loss?  I decided to get a head start on my resolutions and do exactly that.  Five days ago, I started my two-week Noom trial and have already exceeded my expectations for early success.  Here's a quick review of how the Noom healthy weight loss app has helped jumpstart a healthier 2020 for me.

Noom has been all over the news lately.  I kept seeing the promos and decided to check it out.  There was really nothing to lose in giving it a try (except maybe a little belly fat).

First, you need to know that I am not a fad dieter.  I was glad to learn that Noom is not a diet.  There's no special food to buy and you can pretty much eat what you want (within certain parameters).

It was super easy to get started.  I set up a trial account with Noom and downloaded their free app (available for both IOS and Android platforms).  All of that took less than two minutes.

Next, I was asked a few questions about my health goals.  Noom is a program based on tapping into your motivation and encouraging the behavior changes needed to support what you wish to achieve.  Whether you want to lose weight, feel healthier, be more fit, or eat right, Noom is there to gently nudge you in the right direction.

I want to do all of those things.  After plugging my answers into the app, I was provided with a two-week plan.  That plan includes eating more nutrient-dense foods, gradually increasing the number of steps I take each day (with an eventual target of walking 10,000 steps), doing a daily weigh-in, and logging my meals.

After calculating my weight-loss goal, my age, my current weight, and other pertinent factors (like any physical limitations, energy needs, etc.), I was given a target of consuming no more than 1,200 calories per day.  That may seem restrictive, but I have found it reasonable and doable.  I'm not starving or feeling deprived (because I am eating foods that are filling and satisfying).

Noom wants me to focus on caloric density when I choose my foods.  Eating foods with a low caloric density is one of the keys to successfully achieving my goals.  The app will teach you what you need to know, but essentially, fruits and vegetables typically have the best ratio when it comes to low calories and high nutritional value (think foods with fiber and a decent water content).

Foods are categorized into three color groups: Green, Yellow, and Red.  I am allowed to eat what I choose within those groups, as long as I don't exceed the calorie recommendations for each.  The Noom app provides me with an instant analysis of my food choices.


Noom is a research-based program that makes us more conscious of the triggers that guide our actions when it comes to eating and healthier living.  We are shown how triggers lead to thoughts, thoughts to actions, and actions to consequences.  I find myself being more mindful about my choices.

Who might be drawn to the Noom approach to healthier living?
  • People on the go with a busy lifestyle.  
  • Anyone who enjoys the convenience of interacting with an app rather than having to be in a certain place at a specific time.  
  • Those who enjoy a light-hearted interface that offers up quick, easy-to-understand tidbits of health-related information followed by fun quizzes.  
  • The individual who likes to be affirmed for making progress.  
Noom provides you with a personal coach who checks in with you at the start of the program (and at least weekly).  You can message your coach any time through the app.  Your coach will make suggestions after reviewing your goals and activities.  I just received these messages from my coach this morning:



To get the most out of Noom, I choose to engage in all of the opportunities on my daily action list.  When I log in each morning, I take a few minutes to check out these activities because I get a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment from doing so.  This was today's checklist:



In addition to the basics, there are a number of extras that can be added on.  Once your trial concludes, you have the option to continue for a monthly subscription fee.  I'm still in the first week of my trial, but can say it has been working well for me.  I would have been happy losing two pounds my first week.  To lose five pounds makes me ecstatic.

Having to weigh myself daily as a part of my Noom commitment is not my idea of a good time, but I must say that the accountability of doing so, and logging that weight, makes me try harder.  The same is true of logging my daily meals.  I'm not going to eat junk when I have to post it for someone else to see.  Accountability makes such a difference.

You know what else keeps me going?  Affirmations.  It is so nice to receive a high five when I do something right.  It's the little things like this that make me want to stay the course and keep on keeping on.



Earlier today, I asked one of my friends about her Noom experience.  This is what Jan had to say:
It was easy to lose weight, the daily information was fun to read, the program was/is sustainable.  I didn't participate often in the large group support activities and my personal coach was ok but not great.  I loved that I was able to recover from two knee replacement surgeries (low activity levels for several weeks) and still lose weight! 
Jan also mentioned that she had referred others to the program and was recently thanked for doing so.  One woman who lost 14 pounds as a result of that referral shared that it had changed her life.  It doesn't get much better than that!

I have no doubt I will reach my ultimate goals (and sooner rather than later).  Why don't you join me on Noom.  Give it a two-week go to see what you can accomplish in a short window of time.  If you use any link in this review, you will receive a free trial (I paid for mine) and a 20% discount on a Noom subscription.  Click here to try Noom for free.

Let's make 2020 our best year yet.  We hold the power to do so within us.  All we have to do is unleash it.







Note: The author may receive a commission from purchases made using links found in this article. “As an Amazon Associate I (we) earn from qualifying purchases.”


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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Christmas Jars - Movie Review

Watch Christmas Jars - Free Online Streaming
This time of year I am looking for inspirational movies in keeping with the true spirit of Christmas.  I love stories with heart, so when I came upon Christmas Jars, I knew I had found my kind of holiday movie.

Based on Jason F. Wright's New York Times bestselling novel, this film is for anyone who appreciates a focus on kindness, generosity, hope, forgiveness, compassion, and family.

As the movie begins, Hope Jensen, a 22-year-old aspiring writer is going through really hard times. Just when she is at her lowest, Hope discovers that someone has left a jar filled with coins on her doorstep.

The mystery of who committed this random act of kindness grips Hope.  She goes into full investigative journalist mode in her quest to uncover the perpetrator of this anonymous generosity.

Of course, there are twists and turns along the way, for that is the nature of life, and a good holiday movie.  Hope does find the beautiful individual who left her a gift much bigger than a sum of money.  Things become complicated, however, when she must choose between protecting the identity of her benefactor or achieving the long-awaited dream of publishing the feature that skyrockets her career.

This isn't a spoiler review, so I am being careful not to reveal too much.  Let's just say there will be elements of romance and finding what you have always needed.  In wrestling with her moral dilemma, and coming out on the other side, Hope experiences the power of compassion, forgiveness, and chosen family.

Though the movie is associated with a faith organization, there are no religious overtones.  It is simply a wholesome family film that can be enjoyed by all.  Originally released in November of 2019 as a special one-night theater event, Christmas Jars recently made its debut on television.  Both the original novel and the movie have spawned an ever-expanding kindness movement.  Millions of dollars in spare change has been collected and distributed to individuals in need.

In conjunction with seeing the movie (I've provided you with this link to watch it for free online), I encourage you to visit the Christmas Jars website to be moved by the personal stories of recipients of that kindness.  There is so much goodness that often goes unreported by the news networks.  I found that these true stories were a reminder that it is the small acts of love that change the world for the better—one person at a time.

As I was working on this review, and doing my own Hope-esque search for the backstory behind this movie, and the phenomenon of the Christmas Jars, I discovered something really wondrous.  The author of the book, Jason F. Wright, actually started the tradition of the Christmas jar with his wife and young children back in 2004.

When they were looking for a new family tradition that would make the holidays extra special, they decided to place all of their spare change in a jar throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Then, they would select someone—an individual or family—who needed some encouragement.  That first jar contained about $88.  On Christmas Eve, they crept up on the chosen family's porch, placed their jar of coins by the door, rang the doorbell, and then ran to hide behind some bushes.

Here's where it gets really good.  In 2005, when Wright's book was first released, and had not yet achieved NYT bestseller status, he found himself downsized at work and a bit financially strapped.  It was at that moment when someone anonymously left Wright and his family their very own Christmas jar.  The tradition had gone full circle.  How beautiful is that?

It may not seem like much, but as you will read from the testimonies, a Christmas jar can be miraculous to the one needing a miracle, or a reminder that they are seen and loved.  I am filling my own jar of coins even as we speak.  On Christmas Eve, I plan to leave someone a little bit of tender loving kindness.  For what are the holidays if not a time to be a messenger of hope and light?











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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor - Movie Review

Watch on Amazon Prime Video
I might as well lead with my truth: I love people who dare to be way out there—the kind of out there that is called for when convention just doesn't cut it.  And if ever there was someone who defined outthereness, it was Mister Rogers.

Who else could have led the revolution of neighborliness that transformed the lives of millions of children?  It seems the least likely among us are always the ones who rise up to do the right thing that should have been obvious all along.  I thought I knew this unlikely rebel, but it turns out the man in the cardigan was so much more than any parody.

Watching Won't You Be My Neighbor, the top-grossing biographical documentary ever made, was more than enlightening.  Just as this biopic was one of the genuine surprises of 2018, one of Time Magazine's Top Ten Movies of the Year, the man, Fred Rogers, turned out to be the biggest surprise of all.

Yes, Mister Rogers was a puppeteer.  He loved children and treated them with great respect.  His manner was gentle and kind.  Empathy was one of his greatest gifts.  Young children adored him.  We knew all of that, right?  What more do we need to know?

Every television personality is born of context.  It is the context I wanted to know.  What made Mister Rogers the man that he became?  Who was Mister Rogers the child?  How is it that Fred Rogers was able to remember what it was like to be a child?  How did that knowledge—that essence—inform his interactions with both young children and the child in each of us grown-ups?

Learning that Mister Rogers had a rich solitary life as a child was one key piece of that context.  Hearing that he was bullied, called Fat Freddy by his peers, told me something vitally important about Mister Rogers' inner child.  Knowing he had been a sickly youth who dealt with frequent bouts of asthma added to the picture.

Then there were the epiphanies that resulted from the discovery that Rogers was an ordained minister.  Things were really beginning to make even more sense now.  And those 200+ songs he wrote for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood?  Surely his degree in Music Composition, and the fact that he began playing the piano at the age of five, had something to do with that.  Music was in his soul.

There is so much more, but I will leave it to you to engage with Won't You Be My Neighbor and to have your own epiphanies.  After all, isn't that what makes a movie memorable?

I very mindfully chose to spend time immersed in this documentary in preparation for going to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  They are two very different takes on Mister Rogers and the impacts of his humanity on others.  Both films spoke to me, but in entirely distinctive ways.

One sure common element of the two explorations into the persona of Mister Rogers is this:  You will feel Mister Rogers reach out to you.  He will meet you where you are.  He will appreciate the beauty of you.

Oh, how I wish Mister Rogers was my neighbor.  I wonder how I might become the kind of neighbor he would be to me.

It occurs to me that what we need most in the world right now is more of Mister Rogers' brand of neighborliness.  He, too, was living through tumultuous times when he created Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  The themes of his trailblazing show are more current than ever: embracing differences; treating others with kindness; loving others for exactly who they are; and not being afraid to talk about the things that matter.

I highly recommend both of these films and will be publishing a separate review for each.  Stay tuned for my upcoming reflections on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  Coming soon to a blog near you.













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Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Movie Review

The Art of Racing in the Rain DVD
According to Enzo, lead philosopher in The Art of Racing in the Rain, some things are meant to be.  He just knew he was meant to be Denny's dog.  I now know I was meant to fall in love with this movie.  It is the best film I have seen in ages.

Just as there is a real art to racing in the rain (we'll get back to that in a moment), it takes a gifted touch to tell a story from a dog's point of view.  I have to admit I'd never before gotten into stories told by talking dogs.  It just wasn't my thing.

Why, then, was this movie different?  What made it so moving and beautiful?  Why was I crying from the opening scene on?

When it comes right down to it, I would have to say there was a true Zen quality to Enzo that spoke to my heart.  Though the film uses auto racing as a muse to supply life lessons, it is the dog who is in many ways, and at the same time, both the messenger and the message.  

As Denny and Enzo experience life's many joys and heartaches together, they are each what the other needs in the process of moving toward what they will become—who they will become.  In sharing their bond vicariously, I also found myself reflecting on where I am headed in my own life.

So, let's get back to the art of racing in the rain—the art of dealing with circumstances that others may find daunting.  Denny explains to Enzo that his secret to excelling in the racing conditions that cause others to crash is to anticipate and actually choose to force the skid that is necessary while traveling through dangerously wet curves.  By driving the skid, instead of letting it force his vehicle out of control, Denny is able to gain the edge he needs to achieve his dreams.

The movie is chock full of insights for living.  Somehow, when the wisdom is coming from a dog, it seems easier to receive.  Who could resist Enzo (and who would want to even if they could)?  You don't have to be a dog-lover to fall for this leading guy.  Though I cried plenty of tears for Enzo, I also felt an abundance of all of the good things dogs bring into our lives.  

Though movie critics seem to enjoy panning this film, it is clear that audiences love it.  I never go by what the critics think.  That is their job—to criticize.  

The actors, the messages, and especially the dogs... pure gold.  I highly recommend this film.  



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Thursday, November 7, 2019

DIY Pumpkin Succulent Centerpiece



It's pumpkin season!  Now is the perfect time to round up some pumpkins and create unique centerpieces as a festive touch for your holiday celebrations.  A DIY pumpkin succulent mini garden will be the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving decor.  Not only will it be a real attention-getter when you host guests for the holidays, but you will have the benefit of enjoying your new container garden long after you finish all those turkey left-overs.

Here's What You Need:
  1. One large flat pumpkin 
  2. A variety of succulents
  3. Clear gel glue
  4. Spray adhesive
  5. Moss
It's best to use a flat pumpkin with a slightly indented center .
While I prefer to use a pumpkin in its natural state, I chose to paint mine for this demo project.  I used a lovely Solstice Blue paint color (a subtle blue-gray) that will blend in with the woodland theme I am using for my holiday decorations.  It reminds me of the beautiful shadows you see on fresh snow.  A neutral colored pumpkin better accents the succulents.

Removing the Stem

Once the paint was dry, I used my Dremel with a cut-off wheel to remove the pumpkin stem. 

Spraying on Elmer's Craft Bond 
I then sprayed adhesive on the center top of the pumpkin where the moss will be placed. 

Press Moss Into the Adhesive
While the adhesive was still fairly wet and tacky, I pressed a nest of moss onto the sticky surface.  It seems I got a little moss happy.  Could have used a bit less moss, but it would have made a big mess to attempt to remove it.  I let the adhesive set for several minutes before moving to the next step.

Preparing the Roots for Planting

While the adhesive was setting up, I gently removed the soil from the cacti roots in preparation for planting them on the surface of the moss.  I also separated the succulent clusters so I would have more options for spreading out individual plants.

Vary Succulent Colors, Textures, and Heights
Start your succulent placement with your largest plant.  Visually, it is most pleasing to the eye to position the first cactus off-center and toward the edge of the pumpkin.  It is also a good idea to group your taller cacti near that first featured plant.  You will use clear gel glue to fasten your succulents to the moss.  Don't worry!  The glue won't hurt your succulents.

Time to Lightly Mist the Moss
Once your pumpkin succulent centerpiece is complete, carefully give the moss a light misting of water.  You will provide moisture to the moss about once a week.  It's important not to let water pool under your plantings.  It will lead to premature rot.  Simply tip your pumpkin slightly to the side to drain any excess water after each misting.  

To extend the life of your pumpkin, and to give your succulents what they need, carefully choose a location away from heaters.  Try to situate your succulent container garden such that your cacti get the sunlight they need without getting too much heat on the pumpkin.  Likewise, take care to protect your succulents from freezing if you will be displaying your centerpiece on a porch or outdoors.

One last tip:  Place your pumpkin on a piece of cork or thick cardboard to keep the bottom from early decay (especially if placed in a location where surface dampness occurs).  Take care to protect your indoor furniture with the use of a waterproof planter mat.

With proper care, your pumpkin succulent centerpiece should last several weeks.  Once the pumpkin has reached the end of its season of life, you can either cut off the top of the pumpkin and plant it on top of appropriate cacti soil, or transplant the newly rooted succulent cuttings to another container.  Of course, you may also choose to use a faux pumpkin to eliminate this step.

It's easy to see why these pumpkin centerpieces are so popular.  Besides being unusual and visually stunning, they let you take your creativity to a whole new place.  This DIY centerpiece is sure to be a fun conversation-starter at your next gathering.  Why not make one to share for a hostess gift?  Who wouldn't love such a thoughtful gesture? 

Enjoy this project and my best wishes to you for a blessed holiday season.





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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Chasing My Cure - Book Review

Read the Five-Star Reviews
When I first began to read Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum, the proverb that came to mind as an alternate title was Physician, Heal Thyself.  Though it may have been apt with regard to his early love life, and perhaps some of the medical establishment he encountered, I certainly have nothing but respect for the author, and compassion for what he and his family have lived through.

Fajgenbaum was still reeling from the death of his mother to an aggressive brain cancer when he began to experience mysterious flu-like symptoms.  At first, he ascribed the overwhelming fatigue to the stresses of medical school and tried to power through it to complete his rotations and exams.  When his condition rapidly deteriorated, landing him in a hospital's emergency department, the early indications and tests pointed to Lymphoma cancer.

While that diagnosis would have been a severe blow, the real blow was yet to come.  There would be no quick identification of Fajgenbaum's mystery illness.  With all of his major organs shutting down, death seemed imminent.

As a doctor in training, the author wasn't ready to give up hope.  He kept noticing details of his extreme illness that others did not recognize as significant.  One of Fajgenbaum's strengths was a laser-like focus born of what others deemed a disability (the hyperfocus variant of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder).  When he got hold of something that captured his attention, Fajgenbaum did not let go.  In this case, that would be his eventual salvation.

After several weeks of multiple near-death experiences and debilitating pain, and after insisting on a lymph node biopsy, Fajgenbaum finally received his diagnosis: Castleman Disease.  In nearly every respect, this medical sentence was much worse than the initial fears raised by a potential cancer diagnosis.  Knowing what he was fighting did not make this an easy or fair fight.

To read Chasing My Cure, is to obtain an intimate glimpse into the world of living tenuously day to day.  It will take you into the often perplexing universe of attempting to find a cure for a relentless, ruthless, incredibly complex disease.  You will meet people of heart and courage who invoke a brand of hope that is invincible—and just as relentless as the enemy.

Fajgenbaum has not only had to fight the ultimate foe within his body.  Equally daunting has been his mission to revolutionize the medical research field and to convince others that it takes a whole different approach when chasing down a cure for Castleman Disease.  Attempting to change the deeply seated ways in which institutions, corporations, physicians, and researchers operate has been essential to this enterprise.  To create this kind of change will be as critical as solving the mystery of the disease, for systems are often as much in need of cures as are the people they serve.

I encourage you to read this inspirational memoir of how hope, faith, and love accompany Fajgenbaum on his ultimate journey of discovery.  This recently published book is consistently receiving five-star ratings.  I believe that is so because this is much more than a story.  It is a call to each of us to act on the kind of invincible hope that makes a true difference for others.









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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 her partner expressed the following: It's time to get in line.  This was the indication that she was soon to depart on her final journey.  One thing was holding her back, though.  She needed to know that the husband who had depended so greatly on her was going to be alright after she was gone. 

The patient who always celebrated his July 4th anniversary with a sparkler cake confused his family in June by saying it's time to get the cake.  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.

Also Highly Recommended:  Final Gifts




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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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