Tuesday, February 28, 2006


As far as the canine kids are concerned, Sarah (our sweet, 19-year-old, girl child) is just another littermate.

Sarah dropped by for the day yesterday from college (yay!). She had job-related tests to take only forty-five minutes from our house, so after her tests she scooted home for the afternoon and evening, then drove back to school late last night.

She said she needed a break from campus life. But I know the real reason she came home:

She need her Lab fix; in particular, she needed a Baxter fix (see top photo).

The canine kids love her to death. She's just one of the gang. And she loves them--all three of them.

But she and Baxter are buds. Special buds. Maybe it's because she still lived at home when Baxter came to us as a 6.5-week-old. He's the only one of the dogs she "grew up" with (Ridge came to us as an adult; Elsie came to us as a 7-week-old, but Sarah lived away at school by then). And she and Baxter were inseparable then.

Then again, maybe it's because Baxter is Baxter. He seems to have a similar bond with Daniel (our 22-year-old son). But then again, too, Dan was here for Baxter's puppyhood.

In any case, the canine kids love the human kids and the human kids love the canine kids. And the fact that they do warms this mother's heart. :o)

It just makes me smile to see them romp and play and giggle and snuggle together. I love what our Labs bring out in our kids and what the kids bring out in our Labs: they seem to bring the best out of each other.

And both bring the best out of me.

Oh, that the world were filled with giggling children (of all ages) and wiggling Labs! What a wonderful world it would be.

'Til next time,
Joan Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006


Last night I went to our Zambia team meeting. (Have I mentioned on this blog that I'm going to Zambia in May with three other middle-aged women as part of a short-term missions trip to teach at a women's conference? If you're interested, I put a link to that blog in the sidebar on the left where you can read about it.) It was our third team meeting so far.

I came home scared.


It's not that I haven't been to Africa before; I taught in Kenya in 2001 as part of another short-term missions trip, that time at a conference for pastors and their wives.

It's not that I haven't traveled internationally; we lived in France for three months in 1996 because my husband was temporarily relocated there. We bopped around several European countries while we were there (did plenty of customs stuff). That experience plus our trip to Kenya should be enough to ease my mind.

It's not that I can't teach; I teach a two-hour class nearly every week from September to May (January 0ff). And I'm good at it (at least people tell me I am).

It's not that I don't know the people I'm going with; they're good friends, and to boot, one is my identical twin sister--we even get to room together. Yay!

It's not that I'll be gone that long; the trip is only two weeks start-to-finish, with direct flights and same airline both ways (easy travel).

It's not that I don't have my passport or current immunizations or travelers' insurance; all that's taken care of.

It's not that Don and the kids (canine and human) won't do just fine without me; they're more than self-sufficient.

So what's bugging me?

I think it's that I'm going without dear hubby. I've never traveled internationally without him. I've traveled some in the states (flown to Chicago or California or Florida) without him, but never overseas, and never where a passport and visa were required.

Harrumph. I don't like having this knot in my stomach; I feel like Ridge and Elsie both look in the picture above: neither is happy where she/he is because they're apart from each other.

I feel that way now, and we still have 76 days to go until we leave (but who's counting?).

That's probably it; I just don't want to go without my hubby and best friend. :o) We're so used to being partners in everything (except work) that doing this trip on my own feels threatening.

I think.

I'm not sure.

I just have this awful tightness in my throat and churning in my tummy.

Maybe I'm just nervous period, and last night's meeting (where we received confirmed flight info, teaching schedules, itineraries, etc.) made it all seem so real.

Now I understand a bit more about the canine kids' need for togetherness. It feels secure.

At least I'll be with my seeeeeester (and two other good friends). That will help.

Besides, if I took Don with me, the canine kids would have to be kennelled for a couple of weeks; something we don't want to do.

Oh well. I'm committed. It's Zambia in May or bust.

'Til next time,

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We're Back from the Kennel!

It's funny how the canine kids react to the kennel.

They seem to "know" they're going: they can't wait to get in the car; they wiggle with excitement; they pant with anticipation.

It's the same way when we pick them up to come home: wiggling and drooling with glee.

They they arrive back at the house and drop. :o)

They literally sleep for two days (with the necessary exceptions for eating and potty-ing, of course).

Elsie can't seem to stop yawning.

And all three want and need human contact more than normal, especially the Elsie squirt.

The kennel folks this time fell in love with Ridge. They liked Baxter (their comment: "he drooled a lot") and Elsie (their comment: "she was fine as long as she got enough attention"), but they loved Ridge. They said he was very calm and affectionate.

I suppose the difference in their behaviors comes from experience: Ridge is most familiar with kennels (he lived in one); Baxter and Elsie have only experienced them when we've gone away.

But for all three, it's an exhilarating, exhausting time. They come home, need to be touched, eat, then fall asleep.

It makes for greater productivity for me. :o) And a quieter house overall.

What's silly, though, is this: I miss their rambunctiousness! Go figure.

Not to worry. They'll be their old selves tomorrow. :o)

'Til next time,

P.S. After our visit earlier this week, Jon has decided to go to IUP (my alma mater). Yay!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oh Happy Day!



"Did someone say Kennel?"

"As in doggie hotel?"

Yup, my book manuscript is DONE! C'EST FINIS! COMPLETE! (oh happy day!) :o)

And just in time, because today we leave for a brief college visitation with our youngest son, Jon. He wants to check out IUP (Indiana University of PA) as a potential place to go to college (he's been accepted at IUP already), and it will take us five hours to get there, sooooo...it's off to kiddie camp for the kids (aka: the Kennel). :o)

It will be nice to get away even if only for a day. IUP is my alma mater, and Indiana, PA, is where hubby and I met and married over 25 years ago. We lived there for the first eight months of our life together while we were still kid-free and carefree. I'm looking forward to the journey--a relaxed trip, like going home (in the best senses of the word).

Since I'm now the little squirt (like Elsie) of the human family (everyone outgrew me), I'll ride in the Jetta's back seat (hello, Dramamine), put my legs up across the seat (goodbye fluid retention), and dink around on my AlphaSmart just for fun. I might even take a Soduko book or two along to puzzle over. Throw in my mp3 player and some headphones, and I'm ready to go.

Wow. Relaxation here I come.

So we're off to Indiana! I'll check in when we return. TTFN (said with every bit of Tigger bounce and enthusiasm)!

'Til next time,

Saturday, February 18, 2006


When Don doles out the kids' vitamins each morning he grabs and holds their attention. They must wait until Don, by name, tells each it's "okay" to receive the plump, yummy pills. Then they're allowed, one-by-one, to gently take the treat from his hand.

Nothing distracts them. Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge focus exclusively on the hand holding their treasures. They know the object of their focus is something good. So they wait, undeterred.

Their ease in focusing on the good in store illustrates the reason behind my recent distractability when writing. The outcome (a published book and payment for it) no longer holds the same value it once did (to my discredit). Writing is my job now; it's no longer a passion (at least the kind of writing I do for income). After twenty-five books, I'm not surprised.

The rewards of seeing my name on a book jacket and adding funds to my bank account aren't as enticing as they used to be. And I think that may be why I'm so distracted. Cost (in time and effort) is beginning to outweigh benefit. So I'm no longer as motivated; my focus wanes.

Professionals, however, do the job (and do it well) no matter how motivated (or unmotivated) they may be. It's a matter of integrity. And I'm a professional, like it or not.

So I'll finish the book and finish it well. I'll maintain focus, even if the only reward is the satisfaction of knowing I finished the job and honored my contract. If once-a-day vitamins are enough to keep the kids' focus, then soul-satisfaction should certainly be enough for me.

So now I'm back to it. I won't post again until the manuscript is done. ;o)

'Til next time (which I hope is soon),


Friday, February 17, 2006

Ridge's Way

For all his chest-thumping bravado, Ridge is really just a big baby. :o)

This is his typical posture when we pet him: on his back, legs splayed, usually kicking his hind feet with excitement and vocalizing his pleasure with moans, groans and sighing.

He even hangs out on the recliner this way, though he doesn't often sleep this way.

Note: I hadn't even pet Ridge yet when I took this picture; I'd just approached him with the camera. Sweet, silly boy.

Gee, I wonder if he's comfortable?

'Til next time,
Joan (who's finally in the home stretch on this book manuscript! Now, it's back to work for me.) Posted by Picasa

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I'd Rather Play

Baxter: "Come on, Mom, Can't we go out and play? See, see...I even got this bright yellow-green thingy we can find in the snow. Come on, Mom, please? Pretty please?"

Me: "No, Bud, sorry. I still have this book manuscript to get out. No playtime for me. At least not yet."

Baxter: "But, Elsie wants to play, too. Can't you toss the ring with us for just a little while."

Me (reluctantly): "I really can't, Boos. I need to work."

A few hours later...

Baxter: "Huh? What? You mean you still haven't finished that book yet?"

Me: "Nope" (big sigh, pat Boos on the head). "This one's painfully slow. I just can't seem to wrap my head around it."

Baxter: "Well (yawn, stretch), wake me up where you're done. In the meantime, I think I'll nap here a while."

Me (mumbling): "I wish I could join you, Bud. You don't know how much I wish I could."

Now it's back to work for me (and snoozing for the kids). Oh, to have the life of a dog!

'Til next time (big sigh),
Joan Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

My Helpers

Okay. I really am trying to get this book done. My editor graciously gave me a bit more time, and I'm working hard to finish.

But the "kids" keep offering to help.

When I work on my laptop in the family room (in the same room with them to give them attention while I work), all three nuzzle my keyboard and monitor. I finally gave up on the laptop (too easy for the kids to create problems on) and started using my AlphaSmart instead (the little green word processor I'm typing on in the pictures).

Baxter is the easiest, of course; I can actually write on top of him, and he doesn't mind.

But then Ridge gets jealous and climbs on top of Baxter to wedge himself between Baxter and me. He seems to think I need an attention break (how loving of him):

This is Ridge sitting on Baxter nuzzling me. :o)

Then Ridge settles down between us, making it too crowded to work (notice the Westminster Dog Show on the TV behind Baxter).

Elsie, on the other hand, thinks I need help keying. She paws the keyboard (the primary reason I switched to the AlphaSmart from my laptop--she can't damage that as easily). Or she rests her head on my arms (ever try to key on a keyboard with a Lab head on your forearms?)

So today I gave up hanging with the canine kids and I'm back in my office on my desktop while the kids hang out in the family room. I try to keep an ear out for them, and check on them regularly, but every now and then I miss something...like Don's stuffed polar bear from Valentine's Day.

Ridge wanted to protect us from big, bad, ferocious, four-legged arctic predators, especially those threatening plush kind. What a helper he is!

Wow. With this much help I should be able to get all kinds of things done!

'Til next time,


There's our Ridge, caught in the act. This is the dog who absolute hates anything stuffed. I should rephrase that: he doesn't hate stuffed things; he loves to shred stuffed things, almost compulsively.

But his compulsion targets only stuffed animals: never stuffed chairs or pillows or dog beds or cushions. He's our never-chew-on-anything-but-what's-in-the-toy-bin guy. We can trust him to behave. And he does.

Except when a stuffed animal is near. This one he scarfed off the kitchen table (a Valentine's gift for hubby). Oh well.

Chalk up another one to canine neuroses. :o)

'Til next time,
Joan Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 12, 2006


We have snow!!!!

Lots of snow. :o)

And Labs love snow. Especially our Blizzard Boy Baxter.

Baxter and Elsie romp...

while Ridge wrassles a "greenie" bone in the warmth and comfort of the family room.

Ridge can take or leave snow. He'd rather hang inside with us.

Elsie enjoys it (well, an adventure is an adventure, of course, and Elsie is always up for an adventure). But she comes in now and then to warm up and dry in front of the fire.

Baxter relishes snow. And he'd stay out in it all day if we let him.

That's my boy!

More to come...

'Til next time,

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Friend Time

Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge have friends. Real canine friends. Did you know that?

Take Gracie for example. Gracie is my twin sister's dog (yes, I have an identical twin). Gracie and her family live only fifteen minutes from our house (here, outside of Philadelphia, we measure distances in driving minutes --it's a traffic thing), and we see them often.

Gracie is a Golden Retriever, not a Lab, but she's still retriever. :o) And a beautiful one at that.

Take a look (photos compliments of my sister):

You can probably tell from these pictures that Gracie and Elsie have similar personalities: low-key, snuggly, and ever-playful. Gracie is more submissive, though--lower on the canine heirarchy than Elsie. She rolls often. :o) It's funny how dogs identify themselves that way.

Gracie lived with us for a couple of weeks while her Mom and Dad were in Africa on a short-term mission trip, and ever since she seems to know where she fits with our crew. And she loves us all. Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge love her, too.

Gracie and Elsie, in particular, are buds. They've had "play dates" since they were pups. They're about the same age (Gracie is older by a few months), they're both female, and they get along famously. They love being together.

So we arrange for them to play together regularly, either at my sister's house or mine. We both have fenced yards, so the "kids" can play and run and race and tease and wrassle at will.

Dogs need buds to romp with (that's why we've always had at least two dogs).

People do, too. I'm glad for my "buds." And just as I make time for our canine kids to play with their friends, I'm learning make time for my friends, too. "Friend time" has become a priority.

How easily we forget how much we need each other. Gracie and Elsie remind me of my need, and I'm learning to listen to their reminder.

That's a good thing--a lesson I wish I'd learned sooner.

But as George Elliot once said, "It's never too late to become who you might have been."

'Til next time,

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Elsie nuzzling Don. :o) Posted by Picasa

The Lap Dog Posted by Picasa

The Little Snuggler

Elsie is our snuggler. No question about it.

That's not to say that Baxter and Ridge don't like to snuggle; they do. But Elsie thrives on nestling and touching and nuzzling her little head into our shoulders and necks.

At 80 pounds, she's technically not a lap dog. But I won't tell her if you won't. ;o)

I love that she's so affectionate. No matter what we're doing, she seems to need to touch us (lean against us, paw us, plop her butt on our feet). But mostly, she likes to nap on our laps.

There's nothing quite like holding a sleeping dog. It's almost as soothing as rocking a sleeping baby (well, not quite, but close). Studies show that simply petting an animal lowers blood pressure. No wonder I feel so relaxed when Elsie snoozes in my arms!

Eight months ago my doctor told me I needed to reduce my stress. I guess that means I have a medical excuse to snuggle with the Elsie girl. Especially when I feel stressed.

As if I needed one!

Uh oh. Is that stress I sense creeping up on me? Yup. I can feel it. And I think Elsie just might need a snuggle fix (it's been a few hours).

I guess that means work can wait and that it's time to lower my blood pressure and help Elsie feel secure. :o)

'Til next time,

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bringing Out the Best

Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy! We get to go for a walk with Dad! Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy!

Yup. That's Ridge, Elsie, and Baxter (L to R) coming back from their usual Saturday morning jaunt along the dirt roads around our house.

Ridge is a dream on lead. Baxter is a dream off lead. Elsie is still too untrained to be trusted either way. :o)

But they do love their romps with Dad.

And yes, this photo is recent; just a week or two old. Fifty- and sixty-degree weather here made January feel more like April.

But the canine kids loved it, especially since Mom (aka, me) has been trapped behind the computer trying to meet a book deadline (makes for less playtime for them).

And for the first time in 24 books (this is number 25 for me), I just couldn't do it. Even forcing myself to sit in front of the computer didn't make a difference. I couldn't meet the deadline.

For whatever reason, my writing well has been dry. Maybe it's because I've written so much on this book's topic already, and I've run out of creative ways to approach it. Maybe it's the recently overcast skies and the energy slump they bring (I'd die in Seattle). Maybe it's just that I've written 24 books in the last seven years, and I'm burnt out. Or maybe it's that I've been fighting a sinus infection, had a lump-in-my-breast scare (all is fine), and faced extra work hours and pressures for my day job--all in the last three weeks.

I haven't exercised in a week either (that makes a difference, too). But I've been good on the food plain: eating all the right things and avoiding the wrong ones.

Still, I've been tired.

And my head just wouldn't engage this book's topic. I tried. I really did: I glued my butt to the chair and wrote anyway. But the words fell flat; they just weren't up to my normal writing standard.

So I called my Very-Gracious-Editor (VGE) yesterday and explained my dilemma. I had never bailed on a contract, but was a hair's breadth away from doing so. I was that discouraged.

And VGE, bless her heart, gave me more time. She even understood. She didn't scold or lecture or sigh or attempt to manipulate me into a corner. She met me in friendship and grace. And because I'd been faithful on so many other book projects with her, I'd "earned the right" to some flexibility on this one.

What a relief. I feel like I can write again. Her grace invigorated me; completing this book doesn't look so impossible after all.

What a difference a few kind words make! Especially to someone (like me) who felt like a screw-up and failure.

I should remember that lesson. Even with the canine kids. When they mess up, sure they need correction, but they also need our encouragement and affirmation. VGE's support and willingness to work with me--to offer grace-filled understanding--is allowing me to perform my best now.

Could it be that the same attitude would bring the best out of the others in our lives (canines included)? Even when they disappoint us?

I don't know. But it can't hurt to try.

I know I'm better for it anyway.

'Til next time,