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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

DIY Pallet Book Nook - Part One

Pallet Wood Feature Wall and Window Seat
When I purchased my current country home, many of the features that most appealed to me were the quirky, whimsical touches that made it so unlike all of the other cookie-cutter properties.  After moving in, though, I discovered a few things that were just a little too different for my taste.  Still, in renovating those oddities, I wanted to remain true to what had drawn me to this house in the first place: the use of character wood (weathered wood that captures your imagination).

In today's post, I am sharing part one of a two-part series focused on creating a DIY pallet book nook from a previously unused space in my upstairs bedroom.  We will start with the woodworking elements of the project and then finish with handcrafted decorating touches (a homemade cushion, pillows, rug, and other decor to cozy up the space).

Because I have poured so much of myself into my master bedroom renovations, it has become my favorite room in the entire house.  One last improvement remained to make this space visually and functionally cohesive.  There was a funky "hallway" in the room that housed my exercise bike (because it didn't lend itself to much else).  The thing that really bugged me about that long, narrow space was a weird, uneven application of drywall.  I couldn't knock that wall down because it housed my closet and was most likely structural (helping support the roof).  And, hanging, mudding, texturizing, and painting new sheetrock just wasn't on my bucket list.  Been there, done that.  Not my idea of a good time.  So, what to do?

Funky Drywall Before Renovation
Recycled pallets are the answer to most of the truly pressing needs in my world.  Seriously.  Pallet wood can right most wrongs.  It just requires a little—well, okay, a lot—of elbow grease.  I'm good with that.  The finished product has always proven worth it.  We'll just skip over the less than scintillating details of finding, hauling, deconstructing (pulling a massive number of ornery nails), and refinishing (cutting, sizing, planing, and sanding) a tall pile of pallets.  On to step eight.

Tape Marks Studs Where Planks Will Be Nailed
With the feature wall pallet planks ready for installation, I prepped the wall by finding and marking the studs.

Leveling Wall Sections With Lath
Next, I applied thin strips of wood lath to level the two sections of drywall, which will provide a more solid backing when nailing in the pallet planks.  The wainscoting pictured above consists of three framed pieces of corrugated metal topped by a chair rail.  It provides a nice contrasting texture, as well as adding a reflective surface to lighten up the space.

Oh the Tales This Wall Could Tell
When I nailed in the rows of pallet wood, I decided to alternate different widths and colors.  I left all of the wood in its natural state, as the original saw blade marks, nail holes, knots, and checking is what adds personality.  As I started working on this step, I got the inspiration to separate rows of planks with horizontally placed strips of recycled lath removed from inside the plaster walls of an old ranch house.  The definition of the chiseled edges of lath created an effect similar to the chinking seen between bricks.  Really, though, it is the history of that lath, and the story it tells, that adds so much value and interest to the feature wall.

Rustic Pallet Window Seat 
No book nook would be complete without a window seat.  Again, I used rustic pallet parts, purposely choosing planks with nail streaks, and then trimming the bench with pallet skids.  Where there was fresh wood from making the cuts, I applied chalkboard spray paint, and then sanded off most of it to blend the color with that of the naturally weathered surfaces.

Books Feed and Seed the Mind
Above the window, I created a decorative king post truss trim that matches the actual support truss on the front of my house.  I like the way it ties everything together.  While working on this truss, I happened to find the metal  Feed & Seed sign at Tractor Supply Co.  It seemed like the perfect message for my new space, as books certainly do feed and seed our minds.  When I got home with the sign, I was amazed that it fit exactly in place between the truss and the window.  That never happens.  I knew then that it was meant to be.

My Nook is Ready for Accessorizing
With the construction work done, I am now in the process of accessorizing my new nook.  I have selected fabrics and will soon start sewing the window seat cushion and pillows.  Stay tuned for part two of this DIY series when I post the final reveal.  So, what do you think?  Could you see yourself curled up with a book in this sunny space?













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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Moose! The Reading Dog - Book Review

Moose! The Reading Dog
As Finn and I embarked on our journey to become a registered therapy dog team, we sought to learn as much as possible from local dog celebrity, Moose, and his Pet Partners handler, Dr. Laura Bruneau.  One of the first things I did was to read their recently published book entitled Moose! The Reading Dog.  The review that follows is written primarily through my teacher lens, though it is also shaped by my passions for reading and animal rescue.

I first came across Moose's book at the Alamosa Public Library where I was looking for reading material to use in future animal-assisted interactions with elementary-aged children.  As a teacher who loves to read with primary students, I was delighted to discover that Moose's story fit right in the sweet spot of that target group.

Photo of Moose Used With Permission
One of the things that sets this book apart is that Moose tells his own story.  That first-dog perspective is appealing to young readers.  Over the course of six chapterettes, Moose reveals what makes him the extraordinary dog that he is.  We learn how his life started out on a ranch (Chapter 1 - About Me), how he ended up in an animal shelter (Chapter 2 - The Shelter), what it was like to be adopted by a new family (Chapter 3 - My New Home), how he began to change his behavior (Chapter 4 - Learning the Rules), the process of finding a job for his unique gifts (Chapter 5 - Getting Ready to Work), and, finally, helping children enjoy reading (Chapter 6 - I am a Reading Dog).

It is so easy to fall in love with Moose.  My favorite illustrations in the book, as designed by Mic Ru, were those of this gentle giant (a 115-pound Saint Bernard mix).  There was a sweet, friendly, and very huggable quality that flowed through the depictions of Moose.  You could feel his great goodness.

As one who has always been very selective about the books I place in the hands of impressionable young children, Moose! The Reading Dog has earned my seal of approval for:
  • being a book with the kind of positive messages that empower young people;
  • presenting the kind of transformations that change lives for the good;
  • offering up encouragement to children, and all of us really, about being true to whatever it is that frees us up to be our best, and to make it possible for others to become the best version of themselves.
I plan to purchase multiple copies of this book to share with other teachers and to gift to the children in my life.  Finn and I give this book a rating of five paws up for inspiring us to move forward with our dream.  We believe Moose will also inspire you to be true to what makes you authentically you.  And the world needs that—you being beautifully you.

Reviewer's Note:  This review is the second in a series focused on therapy dog teams.  You can read my first installment by clicking the following link (Becoming a Pet Partners Therapy Dog Team).








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Friday, February 22, 2019

DIY Upcycled Drawer Pet Bed

Grizzly was quick to call dibs on this new drawer daybed.
One of the ways I express love for my animals is by making them things.  I'm always on the lookout for fun DIY projects for my kittens and pups.  While cruising Pinterest for inspiration, I came across something I could not wait to try: making a cozy pet bed by upcycling a drawer.  At the time I didn't have any old drawers, but then, like it was meant to be, I came upon a dresser that someone had abandoned.  Just like that I had four oak drawers that needed to be saved from a premature trip to wherever unloved drawers go.  I'd like to share with you how I took those vintage discarded drawers and gave them a new purpose in life. This is a simple weekend project that anyone can enjoy.


First, pick up a used drawer that will fit your pet.  You may find one at a garage sale or thrift store.  Since my pups are too big for a drawer, I'm making these beds for my kitties.   Given that they sleep most of the time—well, except for my wild child, Minnie—a custom bed is the gift they will use more than anything else.


Next, remove the hardware and sand the surfaces in preparation for your choice of finish.  At the moment, I'm in love with chalkboard paint, so I primed my drawer with it (Tip: Use the spray paint.  It goes on much smoother.).  Though a chalky soft black color may seem like an odd choice, I knew that I wanted to cover it with a white paint that would give it a stylish grunge look.  The nice thing about a dark primer is that it immediately enhanced the drawer's imperfections.


Now it's time to use your imagination to come up with a unique twist on decorating your pet bed.  When I came upon this cute mini trellis at Dollar Tree, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  It became the muse for a kitten daybed.  On the same shopping trip, I found these fluted glass candle holders.  They gave me the idea for an unusual set of legs for the daybed.  This is my MO as a maker: using things in unexpected ways.  Never one to be a copycat, I get my thrills from coming up with something really different.


Here's where sizing adjustments happen.  After determining the desired height of the daybed ends, I used my cordless Dremel with the cut-off wheel to shorten the trellis.  If you don't have a Dremel, you can use a hacksaw for this step.  I tried it both ways and the Dremel is definitely the easier and faster method.


Time to drill some holes to insert the trellis into the drawer's side panels.  I used a 1/8th inch bit to drill holes that are 3 1/2 inches deep.  This step required some care, as the wood panels are pretty narrow (about 1/4th inch wide).  I didn't want to accidentally drill through the side of the drawer.  By taking it slowly, I kept the holes where I wanted them to be.


So, let's get back to those glass candle holder/wannabe legs I mentioned earlier.  After spray painting them with chalkboard paint, I used white chalk to highlight the fluted edges, creating a kind of pinstriping.  An important last step is to spray the containers with a clear matte sealer to keep the chalk from smearing or wearing off.


At this point, I needed to screw lids for the jar legs onto the bottom of the drawer.  I replaced the candle holder insert with a regular mouth canning jar lid.  Because drawer bottoms are very thin, I bolstered the thickness by attaching strips of wood lath.  This ensured that the sharp points of the screws wouldn't poke through inside the drawer and pose a hazard to my kitten.  Once the lids were in place, it was just a matter of attaching the fluted legs.


The final steps included creating a name plaque for my kitten and placing luxurious bedding inside the drawer.  I chose a silky faux fur rug for the mattress.  It will be easy to clean by just tossing it in the washer.  As for the pillows, I simply rolled up a comfy fleece blanket.  Easy peasy.


I was anxious to get up this morning to see who might be snuggled up in the drawer daybed.  Though I created the bed for Minnie Pearl, the kitten I rescued last August, I didn't think I would find her snoozing.  I haven't actually ever seen her sleep.  She is way too busy with her kitten shenanigans.  I was very happy to find my senior cat, Grizzly Girl (aka Miz Grizz), curled up in Minnie's place.


All throughout the day, my girls have been vying for a spot in the new bed.  Mission accomplished.  My heart is full.  I decided I better get a head start on converting another drawer.  While I was working on it this afternoon, Sugar Bear was "helping" me.


This bed has a cathedral theme.  I found a gothic garden fence for the headboard, which reminds me of stained glass windows, and experimented with an antique crackle finish for the front of the drawer.  I'm actually using plant hangers for the legs.  Go figure!  I invite you to stop back by for updates and additional photos, as I still have two more drawers to go (and two more lovely felines to feature).  Crazy cat lady?  Nah.  I'm still one cat short of crazy.










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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Ruff Relief Organic Pet Paw, Nose, and Skin Balm - Review


My adventure dog, Finn, is finding winter conditions to be hard on his sensitive paws.  When I rescued him, the pads on Finn's feet were as silky smooth as baby skin.  That is because Finn had never been outdoors.  Recently, during a walk at the park, Finn stopped moving and started whimpering a bit.  After quickly checking his feet, I realized he was communicating discomfort related to an ice ball that had formed between the toes on a front foot.  Not long after that incident, Finn let me know that he could not tolerate any small amount of the chemical de-icer that was present on city sidewalks and roads.  What to do?

As I considered possible solutions, such as dog booties and paw wax, or hibernating until June, I came across a highly rated organic paw balm called Ruff Relief.  The key factor that sold me on this particular pet product had a lot to do with the fact that it is rated at a human grade food level (the first time I have seen that).  Given that dogs frequently lick their feet, it was really important to me that anything Finn put in his mouth was natural, non-toxic, and hypoallergenic (along with made in the USA).  The fact that Ruff Relief has earned a USDA certification sealed the deal for me.

You may be wondering about the ingredients.  That was the first thing I wanted to know.  Here they are:
  • Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Organic Coconut Oil
  • Organic Beeswax
  • Organic Carnauba Wax
  • Jojoba Wax
  • Non-GMO Vitamin E
These natural ingredients are safe to use on paws, noses, and other skin hot spots.  Though I think of winter as the toughest time to keep my animals' skin protected, summer presents its own challenges (think burning hot pavement and concrete).  Ruff Relief provides year-round protection from ice, snow, and heated surfaces.  If your pet ever suffers from cracking, chapped, or dry skin, you may wish to give Ruff Relief a try.  There's really no risk given that the company provides a 100% satisfaction guarantee.  You have 30 days to test drive this product.  If you aren't happy with the results, simply request a full refund.

Since I have just started using this balm on Finn's paws, I'll have to keep you posted about our longer term results.  I am fully expecting good outcomes given all of the positive online reviews.  Stay tuned for updates.

Before closing, I thought I would share some fun facts I discovered while searching for information about dog feet.

Fritos Feet
What is that corn chip smell??  Why do dogs have feet that smell like Fritos, Cheetos, or popcorn?  Actually, that is totally normal.  The smell comes from natural bacteria that grow on canine paws (mixed with a dog's unique paw sweat gland odor).

Did You Know?
Some dog breeds, think Greyhounds, Dobermans, and Akitas, have "cat feet" (smaller feet with high arches).  These features, along with the lightness of their feet, enhance their endurance.

Pop Quiz
Does your dog have webbed feet?  If so, you should ace this quiz.  In the comment section, please name a breed of dog with webbing between the toes/pads.

Finally, have you had to treat your pet's feet at certain times of year?  If so, what worked well for your four-legged friend?








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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Pet Partners Therapy Dog Team Review

Finn Looks Deeply Into Each Heart He Encounters
When you have a dog with special gifts, like I do (and many of you do), it would be selfish not to let him fully develop and use those wondrous strengths to bring cheer into the lives of those aching for connection and comfort.  Having adopted a joy dog, it just seems wrong to keep all of that great goodness to myself.  In the case of Finn, a dog that was previously kept locked away from the outside world for all of his life (until rescued), the best possible antidote to having been shut away and hoarded is to bring all of his beauty into the light of day. To share Finn, is to share love in its purest form.

In our determination to lift the spirits of others, Finn and I are on a new year's mission.  Though we have engaged in animal welfare and educational outreach work on a daily basis over the past year and a half (since Finn became a part of my forever family), we want to take this work to the next level by going through a rigorous screening process to become a registered therapy dog team.  Anything worth doing, is worth doing to the highest level of professionalism and integrity.  To that end, we have chosen to pursue approval through Pet Partners.

The Pet Partners Organization and Website

There are a number of organizations through which volunteers can seek an official status for their therapy team service.  We chose Pet Partners for several reasons:
  • Theirs is a very reputable organization with a well-established history;
  • They put animals first;
  • Their process provides unlimited opportunities for demonstrating team growth;
  • They provide quality resources that enhance both animal and handler skills;
  • Their community is one that connects teams of beautiful individuals; 
  • They provide insurance coverage for registered teams; and
  • Membership can bring a greater credibility to volunteer therapy teams.
Quality of Life is the Soul of the Mission
Once the decision was made to align ourselves with Pet Partners, Finn and I jumped right into our training.  First, I enrolled in the required handler's course.  Taking the course online was a good fit for my learning style and was also the best option given the distance I would have had to drive to attend an in-person class.  I found the course to be very informative and helpful in preparing me to set Finn and myself up for therapy dog team success.  Most importantly of all, it was a reminder that we are in the business of generating quality of life experiences... that we are to exude a reverence for life in all that we do.

Having passed my course, our next step is to visit Finn's veterinarian to get him signed off as healthy and fit for therapy dog consideration.  Because he has a disability, Finn's vet will need to indicate appropriate accommodations (like the use of Finn's K9 cart and/or dog stroller during therapy visits and the assessment process). Once Finn has passed this medical exam, we will be eligible to sign up for our team evaluation session.

Finn and I must prove ourselves both in terms of aptitude and skills.  Our evaluation process seeks first to confirm that both of us have the heart for this service.  I know, without a doubt, that therapy team outreach is a calling for me.  And, having watched Finn display his "people whispering" essence over the many months since his adoption, I feel sure that he is also well-suited for this mission.  Finn leans into this work, rather than merely tolerating it.  That is the key qualifier when it comes to passing our aptitude testing.

Finn is a Willing Student, Teacher, and Therapist
When it comes to skills, Finn and I must demonstrate that our encounters with strangers will be predictably safe.  Finn must be responsive to my guidance at all times. In addition, Finn must show a tender restraint in his dealings with a wide range of individuals.  Before even considering therapy service, I spent over a year socializing Finn to ensure that he developed the confidence necessary to meet with new people in a wide variety of settings.

Finn came to me with no prior training.  He knew no commands when we began our pursuit of this quest.  We currently set aside time every single day to push the boundaries of our learning.  Finn must show a mastery of a number of commands: come, sit, down, stay, and leave it, for starters.  He will be tested in a number of role playing situations common to what he is likely to encounter during visits to hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities.  Right now, as a part of his preparation, I am focused on immersing Finn into the most common types of experiences he is likely to have when he officially starts his therapy dog work.

You may be wondering what Finn gets out of all of this.  As a mix of two of the most intelligent breeds of dogs, I have found that Finn needs a great deal of stimulation.  He is a combination of working dog breeds.  In my rehabilitation work with rescue dogs, I have seen the importance of providing smart, energetic animals with a job and a purpose.  As a Border collie mix, Finn would normally be involved in herding, or agility, or some form of highly evolved activity engaging both body and mind.  He seems to really enjoy stretching his mental muscles during our training sessions.  Finn's emotional tank also appears to be filled up by all of the attention and affection that comes his way as a result of our interactions with others.

Finn is a whole new dog compared to what he was on the day of his emancipation from the life of a shut-in.  In many ways, I feel his people-whispering nature is what it is due to his having overcome such a barren existence during his early years.  Finn has a way of cracking people's hearts wide open and making them feel things deeply—things that are healthy, and lovely, and healing.  How do I know this?  Well, Dr. Finn began by practicing on me.  A dose of Finn every day has been the best prescription for living a life filled with what matters most.  My desire is to give as many people as possible a taste of this good medicine.

Author's Note: If you enjoy reading about the healing power of animals, you may be interested in my book review about Bella and Jean.  Joy Unleashed tells the story of how they have been transformed while touching lives in beautiful ways.  Another book, Moose! The Reading Dog, will appeal to the children in your life.






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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Joy Unleashed Book Review

Joy Unleashed Book Review
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I have always believed that dogs find us when we need them most.  In the case of Jean Baur, that dog was Bella, a young puppy rescued off of Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico.  As for me, I was found by Finn, who like Bella, through extraordinary circumstances, has become a bridge to what comes next in life.

The story of Bella and Jean goes far beyond your typical heart-warming adoption account.  Joy Unleashed is about finding true belonging and purpose, about reaching people who were previously unreachable, about providing primal comfort, and about bringing joy just by entering a room.  It is about the kind of human-animal bond that breaks through loneliness, fear, and the types of losses that leave us feeling shaken to our core.

Perhaps the best part of Bella's story is the element of unlikeliness.  Just as Bella was an unlikely candidate for what she became (a highly successful, much-loved therapy dog), nearly every one of us will also face times during our journey of becoming when others deem us unlikely—perhaps unlikely to become something special, or unlikely to make a difference.  The things that made Bella an unlikely therapy dog, her rough beginnings, her issues with other dogs and certain kinds of touch, as well as a general fearfulness, aren't really all that different from the types of things that keep many individuals from experiencing acceptance or success.

Both Bella and Jean needed something that only the other could provide.  As Jean wrestled with the loss of her job, with being uprooted from her home, and with starting over at the age of 65, she found that she and Bella complemented one another, and that they each enabled what would have been impossible to accomplish alone.

This is a book for anyone who has ever found herself unmoored and in need of a new direction, a new destination, a new love, or a new place of belonging.  This is a story that just may inspire you to be found by the animal who is waiting to become, in concert with you, joy unleashed.

I was drawn to this book because my rescue dog, Finn, and I are in the process of becoming a registered therapy dog team with Pet Partners (the organization through which Jean Baur and Bella have served).  It has been affirming of our new mission to celebrate all that Bella and Jean have accomplished even as we are joining together to bring comfort and cheer to those in need of a little extra tender loving care.

One of my favorite parts of this read was when the author realized that the heart of therapy teamwork is really about showing up and being present in ways that dogs, by nature, know how to do best.  It was at that moment that Jean Baur reflected on how she needed to become more doglike.  Isn't that the truth, that in learning how to offer up what dogs so innately, and beautifully, communicate—that we are not alone and that we are wonderful just the way we are—we become more human.




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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Swagman XC2 Hitch Mount Bike Rack Review


Bike riding has always been one of my greatest outdoor pleasures.  Cycling provides me with an exhilaration that I don't find with other forms of exercise.  It's like it gives me wings.  As I was thinking about my new year's resolutions, I realized that I want to ride more in 2019.  The only thing keeping me from doing so was the need to transport my bikes.  This is where the Swagman XC2 hitch mounted two-bike rack entered the picture.


I had already done all of my homework.  I knew the features I wanted and I'd read all the reviews.  A few years back, when I purchased a recumbent bicycle with a long wheel base, there were few bike carriers that could accommodate my Easy Racer.  That is when I was introduced to the Swagman line of racks.  They are popular for several good reasons: quality, features, affordability, and ease of use.

Most households have bicycles of different sizes and styles.  You need the type of bike rack that can adjust to fit that wide range.  My new Swagman XC2 is the rack that best fits not only my bikes, but also my lifestyle and budget.


Assembling my new bike rack took just a few minutes.


Here I have attached the Swagman rack to my hitch receiver.  


The tire trays keep wheels from spinning and help stabilize the bike during transport.


A well-cushioned ratchet arm tightly secures the bike frame to the rack.


It is very easy to load and unload bicycles from the rack.  Though I opted for the two-bike carrier, you can also purchase a Swagman rack that will carry more bicycles.  As you can see, there is still plenty of room for me to access my vehicle when the rack is in use.  The center post of the rack folds down to allow for the tailgate to be opened and closed.  Though I drive a cross-over SUV, this really is an ideal bicycle carrier for most vehicles.

Having transported my bikes a few times since gifting myself with the Swagman XC2, I can honestly say that I am very happy with this product and only wish I had bought it sooner.  This is a great investment that will help me achieve several of my health and travel goals for the new year.

Depending on where you live, you may not be able to do much outdoor biking this time of year, but it really is the best time to get a bargain on a new Swagman bike rack.  When I checked on Amazon this morning, I couldn't believe the price on the Swagman XC2.  It was $80 less than retail (44% off)—the best price I have ever seen for this item by far.  You will want to take advantage of this sale if you are in the market for a top-of-the-line bicycle carrier.  I also recommend that you purchase the Swagman cable hitch lock for this bike rack.  This is something I bought for protection against theft and I have very much appreciated the extra peace of mind it has provided.

I hope to see you out there along the bike trails.  May the road rise up gently and the wind be always at your back.  

Happy New Year!







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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Food Pets Die For - Book Review

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As one focused on saving animal lives on a daily basis, it is my responsibility to do as much as possible to help animals thrive.  Certainly, nutrition is a critical factor.  Many ailments and diseases, even deaths, can be linked directly to the food consumed by companion animals.  This is no surprise.  What did come as a surprise to me was how reading Food Pets Die For, by Ann Martin, would shake me to my core.  It is my hope that what I share here will make a difference in helping others avoid the heartache of losing a beloved pet, or of having a pet suffer needlessly.

Let's start with why I felt shaken and shocked as a result of reading this book.  Having learned quite a bit about commercial pet foods through my shelter work, I didn't expect to be horrified by the contents of Food Pets Die For.  What did I find horrifying?  Well, would it make you sick to know that the furry members of your family have eaten euthanized dogs and cats?  I'll never get over that ugly reality.  Are you up to hearing more about the "ingredients" in Fifi's so-called premium pet food?  I hope you haven't just eaten.

For starters, it is not unusual for pet food (and not just the cheapest brands) to be made up of:  fecal matter, decomposing garbage, road kill, poisons, known carcinogens (herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides), the ingested stomach contents of dead animals, drugs used to kill animals, diseased animals, chicken pen shavings, blood, toxins, feathers, additives not approved for dogs and cats, and unregulated levels of supplemental vitamins that can kill our animals.

You may be wondering how this is possible.  Largely, this is the result of a self-regulated, multi-billion dollar industry.  The author has meticulously researched the commercial pet food industry for nearly 30 years.  Though it seems too shocking to be true, and though many pet food manufacturers have attempted to block the release of damaging information, the evidence is compelling.  What pet-lover could ignore these facts?  To do so is to be an accomplice to crimes against animals.

And speaking of crimes, I found it beyond disheartening to learn of the animal experimentation supported by well-known pet food companies.  I would never have purchased food from these companies had I known about the extreme pain, and premature deaths, inflicted upon the subjects of their so-called nutritional research.  I will continue to be haunted by the barbaric experiments documented by undercover employees.

At this point, you may be wondering if you have the stomach to read this book.  If we care about animals, we can't afford not to.  How can we justify supporting practices that hurt innocent creatures who depend on us for their safety and well-being?

There is much to be learned from Food Pets Die For that can move us to making a positive difference (whether you currently have companion animals or not).  In addition to enlightenment about the lesser known inner workings of the pet food industry, you will also be introduced to options for feeding your pets homemade meals and treats.  Key considerations, including the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, are presented.

While reading this book, I found myself standing in the pet food aisle of my neighborhood big box store.  I have to admit that I could not bring myself to purchase a single can or bag of food from their pet food offerings.  I knew too much to be able to do that to the animals I treasure.  I am making the commitment to cook meals for my animal family.  It is impossible for me to fill the stomachs of my pups and kittens with lethal substances given what I now know.  I just hope I can forgive myself for not knowing sooner.  Ignorance is no excuse and with knowledge comes new responsibility.

What can you do starting today?  Please read and share this book widely.  You will likely save lives.  Also, please consider doing something for shelter animals.  Many of the animals arriving at shelters are already in a greatly depleted state (suffering from malnutrition and starvation).  Shelters are often dependent on donations of pet food.  One powerful thing you can do is to provide a gift of high quality pet food for the animals awaiting adoption.  There are few things more satisfying than filling the empty tank of a beautiful companion animal with what that creature needs, and deserves, most.









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Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Ragged Edge of Night - Book Review

The Ragged Edge of Night - Book Review
What Others Are Saying About This Book
Nazi Germany.  1942.  A priest in search of redemption.  A widow seeking provision for her fatherless children.  A people desperate for relief—relief from oppression, from evil, from hopelessness.  Olivia Hawker's new historical novel, The Ragged Edge of Night, is a revelation.  To immerse ourselves into Anton and Elisabeth's war-torn lives is to see glimmers of unimaginable beauty beneath the desolation of loss, shame, failure, and fear.

As the story begins, Anton is still reeling from the abrupt end of his mission as a Franciscan friar.  To be wrongly stripped of his life's calling has been painful, but even worse, he cannot forgive himself for being powerless to save the children who were in the church's care.  When the Nazis loaded up Anton's students, he was overcome by an overwhelming sense of having committed the unforgivable sin.  Though there was nothing Anton could have done to save the children's lives, the guilt is crushing.


While Anton wrestles with his demons, Elisabeth, a young mother of three who is still grieving over the unexpected death of her beloved husband, is in the midst of considering the hardest decision of her life: whether to remarry in order to provide for her family.  Elisabeth feels great shame as she struggles to reconcile the feeling of being unfaithful to her first husband.  If there was another option, she would gladly choose it.  Alas, the harsh realities of wartime force Elisabeth to publish the following personal ad:
Good churchgoing woman, widowed, mother of three.  In need of a humble, patient man, willing to be a father to my children.  Interest in legitimate marriage only.  I have no money, so those who think to profit need not reply.
 In coming across Elisabeth's plea for help, Anton is immediately struck with a new sense of purpose.  Though his first choice would be to eventually return to his Franciscan order, and while Anton remains true to his sacred vows, he feels that supporting Elisabeth and her children is the right thing to do.  This opportunity has the potential to fulfill Anton's deep need to be useful, to find forgiveness, and to protect those who need it most (addressing his need for redemption due to the loss of the children snatched up by the Nazis who shut down Anton's school and religious order).

The soul of this book is revealed in the simplest, and yet loveliest of ways, as two faithful individuals remain true to their vows, their principles, their hearts, and all that defines a life worth living, and for which they are willing to die.  When Anton's involvement in the resistance movement against Hitler brings danger into his new family's life, relationships will be tested, and the true nature of love will be revealed.

Based on the real life experience of one of the author's family members, The Ragged Edge of Night is a timely story that is sure to inspire every reader who is concerned about the extreme tensions that are being felt in today's world.  This is a moment in history when every single one of us can take heart as we consider the difference an ordinary person like Anton can make in the lives of those who are hurting.  I was deeply moved by this book and highly recommend it.








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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Ryka Devo Plus 2 Walking Shoes - Review

Ryka Devo Plus 2 Walking Shoes Review
As a lifelong athlete and former coach, I have learned there is one thing we should never skimp on: our footwear.  This is true for anyone with an active lifestyle.  If your feet aren't happy, it's almost impossible to enjoy such simple pleasures as a revitalizing walk in a beautiful park.  Recently, when I began preparing with my dog, Finn, for a charity walking event, I could tell it was time to replace my worn-out running shoes.  My knees and hips were sore after every three-mile workout.  Fortunately, I was able to quickly alleviate my joint pain and discomfort by switching to a new pair of Ryka Devo Plus 2 walking shoes.  I'd like to share with you why this is my fifth purchase of Ryka shoes.

If you haven't discovered the Ryka brand yet, you are in for a treat.  First and foremost, Ryka is a company specializing in footwear for women.  It makes all the difference in the world when such an important product is customized for the female anatomy.  Until I found Ryka, my super sensitive feet suffered when forced into shoes that were essentially men's footwear sized down for women.  For a long time, that was really the only option we had.

Imagine my delight, then, when I tried on my first pair of Ryka training shoes.  My feet were ecstatic.  For the first time in, well, forever, blisters, sore heels, and aching arches were a thing of the past.  Fast forward to today — nearly 15 years and thousands of miles since buying my first Ryka fitness shoes.  Having previously owned four pairs of their running and cross-training shoes, it was time to purchase a pair specifically geared towards walking.  In case you are wondering, yes, it does make a difference when you wear shoes made for a particular activity.

It was easy to choose the Ryka Devo (Devotion) Plus 2 walking shoes.  They are wildly popular and are a best-seller on Amazon.  As I skimmed through a sampling of hundreds of five-star rated reviews, it was apparent why so many women are totally devoted to this particular Ryka shoe.  As soon as my new shoes arrived, I joined the legion of fans.

Right out of the box I experienced something quite rare: no break-in period with the Devo Plus 2 shoes.  Amazingly, I was able to immediately walk for miles without my usual knee pain.  What a relief!  Here are a few additional things I love about my new Ryka walking shoes:

  1. Luxurious cushioning.
  2. So lightweight I barely know I am wearing shoes.
  3. Breathable mesh that keeps my feet perfectly cool.
  4. My feet feel refreshed even after a 12-hour day on the go.
And did I mention all the great color options?  I went with the navy/teal combo, which goes so well with my typical casual wardrobe.  I have a feeling you will be drawn to one of these pleasing color choices: black/purple, blue/pink, white/blue, grey/coral, plum/turquoise, grey/teal, black/pink, or navy/teal.  I like several of these combinations.

As you can probably tell,  I highly recommend the Ryka Women's Devo Plus 2 walking shoes.  I am completely satisfied with their value, excellent quality, and the great deal I got on Amazon (25% off retail and free two-day shipping).  When you check out additional buyer comments, by following any of the links in this review, you will learn that many women have made this shoe their preferred everyday work shoe (like nurses and other professionals who spend a lot of time on their feet every day).  Having worn these shoes daily now for about a month, I am not surprised.  Have you tried the Ryka brand?  If so, I hope you will share your experience.  Thanks for stopping by!





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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Fastest Things on Wings - Book Review

 Fastest Things on Wings Book Review
She huddles over the ice-cold, lifeless body wondering if any resuscitation effort can make a difference at this point.  It appears that Gabriel is gone, but Terry tries one last-ditch attempt to revive him.  While tenderly cupping the tiny hummingbird in her hands, Terry gently bathes Gabriel in the warmth of her breath, in the heat of her life-giving essence.  Against all odds, Gabriel responds with a twitch of the teeniest of feet.  And so the real work, magic, and mystery of rehabilitation begins.  Though the healing journey will be long and arduous, Gabriel is fortunate to have landed in the hands of Terry Masear, the miracle-worker you would want if you were an injured or desperate hummer fighting for your life.

To read Masear's Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood, is to enter the mesmerizing world of the astonishing hummingbird, along with gaining a deep sense of gratitude and reverence for the extremely rare individuals who choose to give all that they've got to save the lives of these magnificent creatures.  This book is far more than a fascinating chronicle of what it takes to rescue and rehab a day-old nestling the size of a bumblebee.  It is truly a love letter to be cherished by each of us who has ever known the romance of being in the presence of a hummingbird's majesty.  The rescue stories shared provide glimpses into both the human heart and the heretofore misunderstood, or unknown, nature of the world's mightiest warrior on wings.

Though seemingly fearless, Masear's patients reveal a tenderness and vulnerability few people ever get to witness.  Take Pepper and Gabriel, for instance — two birds that had previously experienced the kind of dazzling flight not even known by the highly vaunted Blue Angels.  Pepper and Gabriel could fly backwards, upside down, in a 360-degree spin or barrel roll, and dive at the speed of 385 body lengths per second.  As Masear notes, the grounded hummingbird, the one with serious back or wing injuries, is the one that often elicits the greatest heartache in the rehabber.

"Young hummingbirds like Pepper who have lost everything at such an early age hit me hard, even after all of the tragedies I have seen in rehab.  Their memory of flight and overpowering desire to float freely again drive every fiber of their being and make me want desperately to help."

As we accompany Masear on her daily rehab rounds tending to hummingbird victims, we meet birds that have somehow survived being driven down the Los Angeles freeway at speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour, while trapped under flapping windshield wipers, for over 90 minutes, plus victims of limousine windshield collisions, and birds trapped in sky-diving wind tunnels, along with victims of encounters with cats, dogs, tree-trimmers, soccer nets, and hummingbirds injured by both their own species and the human species.

You are sure to develop an affection for Brad, Iris, Pepper, Gabriel, and any number of other rehab patients.  These extraordinary hummingbirds teach us all vital lessons about nurturing others, about the nuances of healing both body and spirit, and about the powerful connections that defy previously held notions about the relationships that are possible between humans and hummingbirds.  You don't have to be involved in animal rescue or rehabilitation to appreciate the intricacy of Masear's ministrations to the baby hummers she affectionately calls the "naked babies" (newborns), the "bobbleheads," or the "dinofuzz."

But, if you happen to have previously engaged in saving the life of a precious animal, this book is likely to touch your heart in unforgettable ways.  It is now the height of hummingbird season where I live.  I found this to be the perfect time to immerse myself in Masear's mission to help all hummers not only survive, but thrive.  Though I have read volumes about hummingbirds in my quest to know as much as possible about these birds that I adore, I was delighted to gain so many new insights.  I highly recommend this book.  It is the type of tribute to beautiful creatures, and their loving champions, that will bathe your spirit with life-giving warmth.








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Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Language of Flowers - Book Review

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To read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, is to reflect on how the bouquet of each of our lives is crafted flower by flower.  As we enter Victoria's story, none of us would want the bouquet she sees as the definition of who she has become: thistle, peony, and basil (flowers that represent a deep mistrust of people, anger, and hate).  Well before the end of this book, I suspect, like me, that you will be urging Victoria, in your heart of hearts, to pick a few white violets and daffodils.

Who is Victoria, this self-described thistle?  She is a child who has spent her entire life in the foster care system.  Victoria's self-image has been shaped by the one constant she has known throughout her childhood: rejection.  After being bounced from 32 different placements, Victoria is finally aging out of the system.  Having turned 18, she is eligible for emancipation.  While that freedom is welcomed, it comes with a whole new set of challenges.  Victoria has no money, no family, and no place to call home.  What she has, though, is an extraordinary gift for changing lives.  It will be the discovery of this gift that offers up new hope for a girl who has always been too afraid to hope, or trust, or love.

We learn early on that Victoria had one significant relationship at the age of nine.  Her foster parent, Elizabeth, taught Victoria how the meanings of flowers were an important form of communication during the Victorian Era.  This language of flowers is something intuitive for Victoria.  Plants, flowers, and growing things become her solace, her sanctuary, and the very life of life.

As Victoria seeks to find her way in a world that frightens her, individuals from her past reappear.  One offers the chance for true love.  The other offers the chance for redemption.  Both can give Victoria something she has always wanted more than anything: a family and a sense of belonging.  Will Victoria be able to move past the shame and feelings of unworthiness that stand in the way of making her way home?  You will want to read The Language of Flowers to discover the answer to that question.

Before we go, were you curious, in the introduction to this review, about why we might want Victoria to pick some white violets and daffodils to replace the thistles, peonies, and basil in her bouquet?  Those white violets represent the sentiment "let's take a chance on happiness" and daffodils are symbolic of new beginnings.  When it comes right down to it, isn't that what we wish for everyone who has waited a lifetime to grow into something beautiful?







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Thursday, July 5, 2018

I'll Push You - Book Review

Every once in a while, if we are fortunate, we are given a glimpse into a relationship of such incredible beauty that we are instantly inspired to be more, to do more, and to love more than we ever have before.  To read I'll Push You, is to witness the ultimate expression of brotherly love and devotion.  It is the opportunity to enter into a pilgrimage of the heart.

There are volumes of travelogues written by those who have embarked on such ancient walks as the Camino de Santiago.  The thing that sets this story apart, along with Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray's extremely rare lifelong friendship, is the fact that this trek was supposed to be impossible for them to accomplish.  Few believed they could actually pull it off.  Of course, those naysayers did not comprehend the enormous overcoming power of Justin and Patrick's friendship, of their faith, and of their spirits.

Born just 36 hours apart, Skeez and Paddy, as they affectionately called one another, never really knew life apart from one another.  They were classmates throughout their schooling, were best man in each other's wedding, and only became closer when Justin was diagnosed with a debilitating neuromuscular condition similar to ALS.  When Justin lost his capacity to walk, and to use his arms and legs, Patrick did not hesitate to step in to help Justin's wife care for his every need.

Not one to wave a white flag and give up in defeat, though he would have been justified in feeling more than a little bit of hopelessness, Justin sought to find ways to continue to live life with gusto.  When he learned about the Camino in Spain (The Way), Skeez asked Paddy if they might attempt it. Without losing a beat, Patrick replied: I'll push you.  At the time, neither Justin nor Patrick knew just exactly what it was they had agreed to do.  All too soon, they would begin the most arduous journey of their lives.

How do you cross the Pyrenees, and other mountain ranges, make it through the Mesita desert, and ford through raging rivers in a wheelchair?  What do you do when the pathway becomes a steep, boulder-strewn bowling alley, or an impassable quagmire of deep mud?  These became the daily challenges that had stopped even the most robust pilgrims along the way.  With the help and kindness of strangers, Justin and Patrick are drawn into the pilgrimage within the pilgrimage.  What began as a travel adventure, becomes a deeply transformational journey of self-reflection.

Over the course of 500 miles, Skeez and Paddy explore what it means to love, to serve, to trust, and to grow in grace.  To take the journey with them is a blessing, a privilege, and the chance to ponder how we might be the love that turns the impossible into the possible.









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Thursday, June 21, 2018

DIY Mercury Glass



It's time for a DIY project for the true romantics out there.  Is there anything lovelier than fresh cut flowers in an antiqued mercury glass vase?  Perhaps the reason mercury glass is such a popular centerpiece at weddings is the nostalgic effect it has on us.  I absolutely love the understated beauty and elegance of silvered glass.  The look, and the effect, is way too wonderful to save only for special occasions.  

I invite you to follow along with me and transform your own gorgeous flower vessels.  It takes very little time and money to create the beautiful mercury glass effect presented here.  In less than an hour, you can be enjoying your own timeless centerpiece.  If you're like me, you'll get hooked and create any number of these mercury glass vases for yourself and for gifting to friends and family.  This is a gift you can be sure will be used and appreciated.


What You Will Need
* Glass vase
* White vinegar
* Water
* Misting pump bottle
* Paper towels

Optional
* Tarp or plastic drop cloth
* Wooden dowel rod
* Gloves

Steps 1-5
  1. Mix one cup of white vinegar with one cup of water.  Pour into misting bottle.
  2. Use a paper towel or soft cloth to wipe your glass clean.
  3. Protect work surfaces with a tarp, newspapers, or a drop cloth.  
  4. Test mister to ensure you will get a very fine spray.
  5. Shake up your spray paint for two minutes.

Step 6
Depending on the type of glass container you are painting, you may find it very helpful to use a dowel rod.  Supporting your vase with a dowel makes it easy to mist and spray all of the surfaces at the same time (without getting paint on your hands or fingerprints on your vase).  It also enables you to spray the bottom of the vase without waiting for the paint to dry on the sides of the container.

When I was painting the test tube vases, I used short dowel rods that I stood on end in an old piece of wood.  All I did was drill some holes in a two-by-four.  Then, I stacked each test tube on a dowel, leaving enough space in between to give me room to maneuver with the mister and spray paint.



Steps 7-8
Spray a very fine mist of the vinegar water on your vase.  The key to success is to start with a very light coating of the mist.  If you get large, running droplets, go ahead and wipe it down with a paper towel and start again.

Immediately spray over the mist with a light coat of the Looking Glass spray paint.  You will repeat these steps two to three times, so it is important not to try to get all of the silvering done all at once.  Light layering is essential to getting the desired vintage look of mercury glass.






Step 9
Very gently dab all over the misted and painted surface of the glass with a clean and dry paper towel. You want to blot up all spots of water and any larger droplets of paint.  This step creates the aged look of the silvered glass.











Step 10
Repeat the misting, painting, and blotting process until you are happy with the final effect.  I repeated the process three times on the vases pictured in this tutorial.


Step 11
Once the paint is dry, experiment with arranging your favorite flowers in your gorgeous mercury glass vases.  They look really nice in groupings of various sizes and shapes.

In this example, I placed three mercury glass test tubes in an antique bed spring.  The addition of a beveled mirror base created stability and an interesting reflective quality.  Peonies seemed just right for this type of vintage floral arrangement.















Mercury glass centerpieces don't have to be expensive to look like you spent big bucks at a floral shop.  Use the glass you already have at home.  It is so easy to upcycle any ordinary jar or cheap vase into something extraordinary.  There is something incredibly satisfying about giving a face-lift to a common, plain item.

We all hold the power of transformation in our hands.  Let's go create and share some beauty today.



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