Raising ‘Em Right

On Christmas Eve day, I made a trip to the local animal shelter on my search for my next canine companion. I was attracted to a dog and after spending time with him, I asked the shelter to see how he’d interact with their resident cat.

While waiting for the outcome, I sat in the lobby and took in the hustle and bustle of families meeting and greeting their new family members and getting checked out at the counter. As I waited, I saw a young boy about 6 or 7 years old, cautiously approach the counter with a fistful of bills in his hand, as his Dad waited off to the side. He could barely see over the top of the counter and had to stand on his tip toes in order to hand over his cash to the clerk.

The clerk responded with a hearty “Thank you!” and then asked the young man if he’d alike a receipt for his donation. The boy looked a tad confused as he stood there silently and then slowly shook his head “no.” The clerk then reached over the counter to where a Lucite box was located in hopes that visitors would make a donation. I heard him say “let’s put your donation in here so maybe your big bills will inspire others to make a similar donation.” I have no idea how much he contributed, but from the reaction of the clerk, it was certainly more than a few dollar bills.

It was then that I heard an onlooker say “it’s his Christmas money.”

His Christmas money. I get all choked up every time I think about it. Instead of making a beeline to the store to buy the latest and greatest gadget that the media tell us we absolutely have to have to make our lives complete, this young man, with his Dad in tow, made a trip to the animal shelter on Christmas Eve to give his money to help feed and house the multitude of animals who are without a forever home.

What an inspiration that at such a young age, he has learned the value of giving and caring for others. While I left the shelter that day without a dog (he just wasn’t “the one”), I did leave with a full heart and a renewed belief in the goodness of mankind.

As we start off this New Year, I encourage all of us to walk in this young man’s footsteps every day of the year. To give, love and care for others, so that we too, can experience the joy of a life well lived.

“If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” Tenzin Gyatso

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Ask for What You Want

KelvinIt was morning. And this morning, like every morning, I awoke to my cat, Kelvin, staring at me intently. As soon as I opened an eye he meowed “feed me.”

“Yeah right. Not a chance,” I thought. It’s a Saturday and I have no reason to be getting up at 6:00 a.m. I immediately shut my eyes and telepathically told him to “go away, it’s too early to be getting up.”

Apparently Kelvin’s not psychically as tuned into me as I thought he was, because seconds later, he reached out ever-so-gently with his itty-bitty-kitty-cat-paw and touched my cheek (those of you who cohabitate with a cat know exactly what I’m talking about).

His gentle prompt caused me to open my eyes again and when I did, he repeated clearly and emphatically “feed me.” “NO!” I screamed in my head as I brushed away his paw.

This gentle touching of my face, followed by his clear appeal for breakfast continued two or three more times before I finally gave in, got up and fed the pushy feline.

However, as annoying and as “in your face” as his behavior was, I have to give the cat some credit. Kelvin was crystal clear about what he wanted (he’s very self-aware), and he spoke up and asked for it. Repeatedly.

This got me to thinking…

How many times do we hold back from speaking what is actually on our minds? And why the heck do we do this?

Are we afraid we won’t be accepted? Are we so worried about how others feel that we withhold our own thoughts and feelings? Do we lack confidence in our own point of view? Are we afraid of holding an opinion that’s different from our superior? Are we uncertain of how to articulate how we feel? Have we gotten so caught up in the expectations of others that we no longer know what we want or think, let alone know how to express it?

The reasons why we sometimes hold back and fail to speak our truth are varied and deeply personal. But in order to grow healthy, trusting and successful relationships, it’s imperative that we develop the ability to openly and honestly share our thoughts and feelings. So how does one go about developing these skills?

It starts with emotional self-awareness.

The first step in this process is to actually recognize the feelings that you’re having about a particular person or situation. The second step is to identify the feelings you’re experiencing and then lastly, explore why you are feeling those feelings.

So ask yourself “Are there certain relationships or situations in which I feel less comfortable expressing myself?” If so, what are the feelings that you’re having about this person or situation? Explore them, label them, write them down. Then ask yourself “Why am I feeling this way? What’s holding me back? What is it about the situation or the person that makes me reluctant to speak my truth?”

Once you’ve identified the factors influencing your willingness to speak up, strategies can be developed to help you increase your comfort and your ability in expressing your true self.

So take a lesson from my cat and learn how to speak up and ask for what you want.

Just don’t ask me for it at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Meeeeoooowwwww…

Quote for the day: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle

Can you relate to this article?

If so, what are some of the reasons you don’t speak up?

What are some of the strategies you’ve used to help you express yourself?

Please share your insights and strategies by commenting below.

Know someone else who might enjoy this article? Please forward it – share it – pin it – post it – you get the gist. Thank you!

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Rest Stop Wisdom

Pelican in OctoberIt was a beautiful day at the lake. The sun was out and there was a mild breeze. I started out the morning with my Mom and my brother having coffee on the deck. We shared stories about our kids and talked about the upcoming family reunion. There was a nagging feeling I couldn’t shake. I was anxious, tense and couldn’t get my mind off some things that had been said to me at work on Friday. They chewed away at me – waking me up in the middle of the night both nights of the weekend. I mulled over the comments, re-thinking, repeating and just feeling darn crappy.

The day grew warmer and we packed our things and headed out on the pontoon. We putted out to a quiet spot, dropped the anchor and cooled off in the lake water, floating leisurely and chatting. Nagging, troubling thoughts kept gnawing at my brain distracting me from the beauty of the blue sky, the puffy clouds and the quiet time with family.

We headed over to my sister’s place and  joined her and her family for a light lunch. After lunch, the rest of her family was heading back to the cities but she was going hang around a while longer because it was such a spectacular day. She invited me to join her so we could spend some more time on the water while everyone else packed up and headed back to the hustle and bustle of the city. But I, being preoccupied with what had occurred days earlier, declined. I just couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head and I was feeling anxious to get back. So I turned my back on the beauty of the day, loaded up my vehicle and headed back to the city.

After 2 hours on the road, I needed to stop for a nature break. I didn’t need gas so there was no need to stop in town so I planned to stop at the next rest stop. As I coasted onto the off ramp and rounded the corner to the rest stop, I recalled the last time I’d stopped there. I’d been with Ella. Dear sweet Ella. She was weak and needed help out of the back of my car. She was so beautiful and so skinny.

Ella had been adopted years before from the humane society. She was a gorgeous shepherd mix and had been an integral part of our lives for almost 12 years. She was there for our daughter when she was home alone after school, and she was there at the kitchen table trying to make things all better when my husband and I talked about our strained relationship and our move toward divorce.

After I helped her to the ground, I filled up her water dish so she could take a drink and quench her thirst.  An older gentleman came over to scratch her ears and tell me how beautiful she was. He shared his own story about his love for dogs and about one in particular, who was extremely bright and whom he loved deeply. Unfortunately this dog was no longer with him and he missed him dearly.

It was then that I told him Ella was dying. She had been living with kidney disease and for the last year I’d been doing everything I could to get her to eat. Home cooked meals, raw food in the blender, liver brownies, bacon, cubed beef steak, tripe (gross alert – it’s the stomach of grass feed animals that’s already partially digested making it easier for animals like Ella to digest) – I mean tried everything! As a vegetarian, I have never purchased and prepared so much meat in my life, but I was desperate for her to live. I wasn’t ready to let her go.

It wasn’t uncommon to find me sitting on the floor of my kitchen coaxing her to eat out of my hand. I’d talk all sweet to her and then offer her piece after piece of food out of my hand as I was so desperate for her to eat. Many times, I think she ate just to please me. Food didn’t appeal to her as her disease progressed, but she didn’t want to disappoint me so she would humor me with a nibble here and a nibble there.

To help her kidneys flush out her system, I learned how to give her sub Q fluids, sticking a needle into the scruff of her neck while fluids enter her body and created a big bubble on her back. She didn’t like it but she was patient with me and allowed me to do it. I didn’t want to let her go. I wanted her to stay a part of my life forever, but she slowly declined.

On this particular day at the rest stop, this kind stranger listened to my story as I sat on the grass with my faithful companion, and after I was done he said to me “you just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them.”


You just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them. I knew my time with Ella was coming to an end, but instead of stressing and focusing on what was to come, I took his advice and savored that moment with her. We lingered together at that rest stop with the warmth of the sun on our backs while I scratched her ears, told her what a good dog she was and how much I loved her.

It wasn’t long after that rest stop that I made the decision to end her suffering and to let her go. It had been almost a year that she’d been gone when I rounded the corner into that same rest stop. I gazed at where Ella and I had sat and I remembered fondly the words of that kind gentleman “you just have to remember to cherish every day you have with them.”

That’s when it struck me. Instead of savoring and cherishing the time with my family and marveling at the beauty and serenity that Minnesota lake country has to offer, I had spent the entire weekend in my head, stressing and perseverating about something that had happened days before.

What a waste. What a terrible, terrible waste. I had forgotten the wisdom of the rest stop.

If this speaks to you, please take a moment to comment and/or share with others. Many thanks!

“If we are not totally ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” Thich Nhat Hanh

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The Job I Held for One Day and What I Learned From It 35 Years Later

sunflower-grasshopper-683x1024Many, many years ago, like most high school students, I had a summer job so I could earn some cash for extracurricular activities. I’d found the job through our local Job Service Office by thumbing through a box of index cards on which various job opportunities were described. That’s right, I’m talking old school index cards, as this was long before the day of computers and the internet.

The job started early in the morning – you had to be at the pick-up site by 6:00 a.m. – but it was working outdoors which meant I could get a kick-start on my summer tan, and I’d be home early so I still had the rest of the day to relax and recreate.

On my first day of work, I dressed in layers starting with my swimsuit, followed by a sweatshirt and jeans which I planned to shed once the day warmed up. The morning was cool and there was still dew on the grass, but I knew that once the sun came out the tanning could begin! I packed my lunch and filled a thermos full with water and then set off across the park to board the school bus that had been commissioned to take us to a farmer’s field where we would spend the day rouging sunflowers.

Rouging consisted of going up and down the rows of sunflowers and removing the heads of any undesirable plants and disposing of them in a burlap sack worn slung across your shoulder. This was not complicated nor difficult work. But here’s the thing. Sunflower plants are tall and these puppies were way over my head pushing 12 feet in height. The plants had grown close together and their stalks were super rough and scratchy creating a “tunnel of terror,” so to speak, that made it feel like you were being rubbed all over with sand paper or licked by giant cat tongues. Needless to say, this made the trip down each row rather unpleasant. To add to the misery, there were gigantic grasshoppers that resided in the field that seemed to experience great joy jumping from one sunflower to another as I attempted to carry out my important work. They sailed into my face, got tangled in my hair and tortuously harassed me much like Tipi Hedren was attacked in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The Birds.”

I made it down one row and back another and then promptly crawled under the school bus that had brought us to this remote, dusty farmer’s field and called it a day. Me and a few other defectors spent the rest of the day under the bus out of the hot sun and grasshopper minefield, swapping stories and passing the time engaged in activities that let’s just say are now legal in the state of Colorado.

The crew leader eventually discovered us under the bus and to be honest, I don’t remember if she told us our days working in the field were over or if she crawled under the bus and joined us. Now that I think of it, it could have been both. But the point to be made is that I immediately knew that working in a sunflower field was not for me and I took action. I told myself, “Joanna, you may be working outside in the spectacular summer sunshine, getting an awesome tan while earning some spending money, but there’s no joy in what you’re doing, so it’s time to move on and do something you love.” I rode that hot, stuffy school bus back home and called it quits. That was the end of my career working as an itinerant farmer.

I can’t say my parents agreed with my decision at the time. It certainly wasn’t the practical or responsible thing to do, but I’m proud of myself for not doing what was expected of me. I didn’t finish what I had started and I didn’t buck up and power through it because I needed the money. What others saw as foolish, irresponsible behavior, I now see differently. I knew working in that field was wasn’t good for me, that it wasn’t what I wanted, so I stood my ground, held true to myself and took courageous action by never going back.

Fast forward 35 or so years and who did I become? Someone who did the practical and responsible thing. Someone who did what was expected of them and stayed in a career that provided the certainty of a decent paycheck and benefits, but didn’t fulfill me. I sacrificed my personal freedom for the sense of security I received from my conforming and conventional job. I stayed in that farmer’s field, trudging up and down those torturous rows of sunflowers while grasshoppers flung themselves at me like kamikaze pilots.

It’s taken me 35 years to re-claim the strength and courage I had on that hot summer day, but as they say, better late than never. In 2015 I took bold and courageous action and walked out of that farmer’s field and into the foothills of the Colorado Rockies to live a life filled with meaning, purpose and joy. To hear more about my story, please subscribe to my newsletter.

Have you ever stayed in a situation that felt stifling and unfulfilling? If so, what was it that kept you there? If you left, what motivated you to do so? Please share your comments below.

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