Climb high, little Pixie


We met because of her nose.

My first glimpse was of her wiggling, tail-wagging behind, her nose wedged in a hedge in my mom’s front yard. Nose to ground, she took off, zigzagging the neighborhood, circling trees and lawn ornaments, darting across a busy street. I gave chase and finally caught her after a near-miss with an SUV. She was wearing a collar with no tags. No microchip. We posted fliers; Listed her with Beagle Rescue. We rapped knuckles on doors, asking if anyone recognized her, knew where she belonged. She trotted along happily, meeting new friends at every house.

I called my husband at work and told him I had found a dog — a friendly, tri-colored Beagle with floppy ears — an inquisitive imp that melted my heart with her big, brown eyes and happy-go-lucky personality.

“Do NOT bring that dog home,” my husband admonished.

It hadn’t been long since we’d added a tiny,  gray kitten to our menagerie after she climbed in my lap and purred away an afternoon interview I was doing for a story I was writing. The lady was looking for a home for the kitten she’d found behind a dumpster during a thunderstorm. We also already had a yellow lab/retriever mix named Jake, rescuing the over-sized mutt after his family was killed in a tragic auto accident on I-35.

“It’s only until we find her owners,” I assured my husband. “We won’t keep her.”

Famous last words. No one called from lost pet websites. The fliers came down.

Our 8-year-old daughter fell in love with the little dog who raced around the backyard and chased balls that would, inevitably, land over the neighbor’s fence. We named her Pixie, because of her blythe spirit; her friendly, sweet and energetic personality. Chasing squirrels, she took to climbing the tree in our backyard.  I was shocked the first time I looked out the kitchen window and saw the beagle balancing on a limb, high as the electric lines. The squirrels chattered and complained. Pixie bayed and barked and, finally, climbed down the way she came, tail wagging, pleased with herself.

Pixie was my husband’s walking companion and, together, they logged many evening treks. She was stubborn, and when on a scent, would not alter her course. It became a joke of who was walking whom. When tired, Pixie would plop down and refuse to go further, planted and panting. My husband picked her up, cradling her like a baby for the walk back home.

Pixie loved holidays and Halloween. With each ringing bell, Pixie trotted to the door, greeting each goblin or Princess, wagging welcome in her Hot Dog Costume. She made us laugh. She infuriated us. She charmed us. The dog that wasn’t supposed to be ours had wiggled her way into our hearts.

Our daughter grew up with Pixie, her childhood pal. Our daughter just turned 20. The vet thinks Pixie to be at least 12.

In recent years, she has slowed, her fondness for treats adding girth to her Beagle body — her once-trim waistline widening — like many of us who find ourselves mired in middle age. Not as lithe as she used to be, her waddling body betrays her feisty personality. She becomes cold-sensitive, shivering in her Beagle bed. We swaddle her in warm blankets and buy cozy sweaters in stripes and argyles. She struts in Scotch plaid.

Pixie’s eyesight starts to fail, a cloudy film covering her inquisitive eyes. Special drops help, but soon she is seeing little, if at all, according to the vet. She maneuvers and navigates with our help — her stubbornness and keen sense of smell helping her adjust. She still plops in the middle of her blue kiddie pool to cool off. Still asks for treats. Still has an appetite. Still barks whenever my husband leaves the room.

At night, he tiptoes out, clicking the door shut behind him, like we used to do when our daughter was a sleeping infant. We try not to wake the sleeping Beagle. If Pixie hears my husband in the next room, she stirs, barking until he comes back. Maybe it’s the dark she is afraid of now.  From the room, I hear my husband shushing her and talking in a soft voice, just like he used to do with our baby daughter. It is he who can calm her.  It is he who makes her feel safe.

Pixie no longer dashes from tree to tree. Arthritis slows her and more medications help ease the pain. She loves warm baths and being wrapped in soft towels. Out of the tub, she shakes and prances, regaining some of her youthful exuberance — The busy tail wagging her Beagle bottom.

In recent weeks. we see her slow, have more pain. Another vet trip. Another medicine. A little hope for a little more time.

Last night, we gave Pixie a warm bath and sat on the bathroom floor with her. In recent days, we could see her failing; steps slower, breathing harder. We toweled her off, gave her cool water to drink, hid her nighttime medicine inside a hot dog. She gobbled it up, sniffing for more.

“Should I get her another one,” my husband asked.

“Yes, yes, get her another one,” I said, sitting cross-legged on the floor beside a Beagle I once chased around the neighborhood, through hedges and rose bushes.

I held the little dog close, told her I loved her and how lucky we had been to have her as our pet.  I knelt close. hugged her, talked to her, saying the words I needed to say.

My husband brought in the second hot dog. Pixie gobbled it up, licking his hands, quieting at his touch. Together, we settled her on her bed, petting, soothing, as her raspy breathing eased, and Pixie settled for the night.

Sometime in the dark, our little dog left us.

We found her this morning, as if sleeping, peaceful in her little bed beside ours. We hope she had no pain. We hope she simply slipped away, easily and gently. We hope she is, somewhere, roaming green fields, chasing squirrels and climbing trees. We hope she has treats and warm sweaters and our love surrounds her on her journey.

“She had her issues, but I really loved that little dog,” my husband admits.

It is these words that comfort me.  Isn’t that, after all, what love is about?  Despite our issues, our failings, those who love us do so without hesitation, without condition. For those we love — the issues, the failures, the mistakes, the imperfections — do not matter. Love. After all else, love remains.

Yes, we all loved you, little Pixie. Thank you for being ours.
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Stalking Someone’s Daughter

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Cameras clicked as Japanese tourists posed in front of the dancing waters at the fountain in The Square. Old men in straw hats lounged, smoking cigars, watching old and young women toddle by with canes and high heels. Parents pushing strollers bearing sleepy toddlers, headed home as daylight began to fade — the last weak, golden rays peeping behind the tall buildings, washing the city in the hazy glow of early evening.

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Motors rumbled, horns honked as hurried drivers maneuvered crowded streets, heading to the suburbs after a workday behind cubicle desks. A bus billowed smoke as it pulled from the curb. A man in a rumpled suit chased after, yelling and waving. The bus turned the corner and chugged up the street, soon out of sight. Defeated, the man ambled back to the bus stop, slumped to a bench to sit and wait.

I sat too, waiting for night to come, enjoying the comings and goings of people and city life in this urban, downtown park. A few steps from The Riverwalk that helped make this city famous and draws thousands of visitors to its dark waters and dancing lights, this neighboring park has become a favorite. I come here when I am in town to sit and wile away the houIMG_7948rs, watch the milling and filling of The Square. Soon, the Riverwalk restaurants will clatter with chatter and china, forks scraping against plates, glasses clinking as the hum of an evening in Old San Antone lures locals and tourists alike.

As day dwindles, I am content at one of my favorite San Antonio spots — this small square in the shadow of the San Fernando Cathedral; a place where history and holiness stand strong against progress, urban sprawl and time.  I watch a young Dad scoop up his son, swinging him high, IMG_0642 (1)perching the tow-headed tyke on his shoulders.  College kids collecting selfies for social media pose in front of the Cathedral and ask a passerby to capture the moment. Laughing and merry, they amble away in search of dinner and drinks.

The Square is starting to empty. The tourists are leaving. Families buckle tired kids into car seats for the ride home or back to the hotel where they’ll order off the kid’s menu. The old men are gone now, too. Live oaks cast shadows across the park, and the wind whips at a piece of paper, sending it dancing in crazy circles. Dusk is coming, and the park is getting quiet.

At a neighboring table, I notice a small group of people huddled, talking in hushed voices. A fifth person is slumped over, napping, the face hidden in crossed arms and a pulled-tight, gray hoodie.    IMG_8224_2 (2)

In his late 20s, one of the table sitters holds a withered hand close to his body, stringy hair falling across his face. He has a gash under one eye, one side of his face bruised and mottled. He says nothing, his eyes vacant, distant. Beside him, a black man in green army fatigues and a backward ball cap argues quietly with a 20-something sporting a tight T-shirt with no sleeves. His well-muscled arms are lined with dark tattoos like a roadmap; his hair spiked in a blond-tipped Mohawk. A grizzled-looking, older guy with a ruddy complexion, dirty, reddish hair and a scraggly beard motions to the muscled one who gets up from the table and ambles around the park. He stops, bends over, and continues his purposeful lap around the dusky park, stooping to pick something up every few steps. The table sitters, wait, watching. The bruised man stares. The sleeping one dozes.

Mohawk Man returns, plops down, the chair leg clanging against the metal table. The sleeping one bobs into action, startled from slumber. The gray hoodie falls away. Long red hair tumbles down her back. The girl slams her hands down on the table, cursing.

She is, perhaps, 18, maybe 28. She is pretty with green eyes that have seen too much and that wild mane of red hair. She hurls herself back into the chair, continuing her verbal diatribe at the one who has awakened her.

Mohawk Man thrusts the stump of a cigarette at her and she takes a long, slow drag. He passes the other lit cigarette to his Ruddy Buddy, who hands it off to the man in the backward cap. He takes a slow toke, then places the glowing stub in the mouth of the bruised, beaten one. Bruised Man takes a short gulp before Baseball Man tosses the butt under the table, grinding it with the heel of his boot.

At another table, two men rise, heading to the trashcan to discard remains of a fast-food meal. The Bruised Man raises his hand, saying nothing, stretching his good arm and motioning at the crumpled, red-and-white sack.

“Man, it’s nothing. It’s only trash,” the guy says, stuffing the bag into the overflowing barrel.

Bruised Man raises his good hand again, and the second man passes off the remains of his meal. The two walk away, shaking their heads, heading toward the river where strains of mariachi music waft on the wind. The red-and-white cardboard basket sits in the center of the table, and four men and the red-headed girl pick over the remains like greedy seagulls.

When the basket is empty, Bruised Man picks up the wrapping, holds it to his face, licking the paper. Night is falling on the park. The table sitters remain, shadows flickering across their faces. The wind picks up and tousles the girl’s auburn locks.

Mohawk Man crumples the dinner sack, chucking it at the trashcan. It lands on the ground. Mohawk gets up, retrieves the sack, tosses it to the heaping mound.

I sit, still and quiet, at my nearby table, an unseen voyeur, a silent stalker, watching these people of the park in  IMG_9285 (1)macabre fascination. I marvel that they are hidden here in plain sight. People have come and gone all afternoon; taken pictures and taken in the history and beauty of this place as four men and a girl with red hair sat in the midst of it all — Invisible in Plain Sight. I wonder at this small band and their unknown connections;  A brotherhood of survivors perhaps — thrust together by chance, fate or safety in numbers. Four men and a girl. A girl with red hair and green eyes. A girl who is, perhaps, 18, maybe 28. A pretty girl with hard eyes who has already seen too much.

Near the table, I notice a battered, bulging green suitcase and a tattered, floral print comforter with tiny, yellow flowers. I wonder if this is the girl’s suitcase or some communal trunk where the park sitters pool meager belongings. The girl wads her wild mane into a ball and pulls the gray hoodie tight around her face. In one fateful glance, our eyes meet and lock. We watch each other from our respective tables.

I think of my own daughter, almost this same age, across town in her dorm room, readying for a college event that she and I will attend later this evening when I leave The Square and head to her cozy campus is a tony, San Antonio neighborhood. I think of my daughter’s reddish hair, her hazel eyes.  I want to weep for this girl with these four men in the park, in the soon-to-be dark, scrounging for cigarettes and leftover French fries, pilfering the remains of other people’s lives. She is someone’s child. She is Someone’s Daughter.

I hurriedly gather my purse and newspapers, rushing to a nearby food kiosk. The proprietors are closing for the night, taking down the awnings outside the small, trailer-like building. I fling crumpled bills at the pimply teenager behind the counter, balancing two baskets of fries and bottles of water. I leave them at a table near The Invisible Ones. I leave the park, hurrying across The Square to my own hotel as dark creeps around me. Like others before me, and those yet to come, I turned and walked away.

I don’t turn. I can’t look back. But, I am hopeful Ruddy Buddy will send Mohawk Man to claim my meager offering.  Long into this night, and on many nights to come, I am haunted by the faces of four men and a girl. A girl with red hair and green eyes. A girl who is, perhaps, 18, maybe 28. A pretty girl with hard eyes who has already seen too much.

She is someone’s child. She is Someone’s Daughter.

Posted in Homelessness in America, San Antonio, Teens who are homeless, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Whisper of wings

10351574_10153152135944523_5252188549018254584_nI keep looking at the clock and checking timeline stamps, figuring out that her last post was made around 1 a.m. I look back through the holiday photos of a beaming family on Christmas morning, unaware that, in less than 24 hours, one of their own will be gone.

I got a text with bracing news that a friend passed away Christmas night. Technically, I guess it was Dec. 26 — the day when many of us are busy collecting the discarded boxes, bags and bows, nibbling up the last of the Snowflake cookies, and putting away the good dishes that come out only for special occasions.

I am still processing this startling news I have gotten; using social media to feel a little closer to our friend who slipped quietly away while we were wrapped up in our own holiday revelry. I scan through my friend’s photos to see her smiling back. I look at the picture of us together and she is radiant, happy, looking directly at the camera. This picture of her and me and a bunch of moms crowded around a table on warm, October evening makes my soul happy. We are laughing and having fun as only women can do in the company of other women. It was our evening to reconnect and reminisce, away from the demands of jobs and families, laundry and lists.

I met my friend through this Pokeno group — a group of moms who get together once a month to play games, share food and news, laughter and fun. I have attended Pokeno nights with these ladies, on and off, for about a decade now. We have watched each other’s children grow up, our waistlines grow thicker, grey glitter our hair. We started the games when our children were in elementary school. For many of us, we have just welcomed our college kids home for the holidays — backpacks and laundry bags in tow.

I was fortunate to make it to game night in October, happy to reconnect with these ladies who let me forget my worries for a while. My friend and I sat next to each other, and I was grateful for the chance to catch up on her news, her life. On this perfect fall evening, we clinked glasses, told stories, laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks. At the end of the night, we hugged our hostess and carted away our casserole dishes.

My friend drove me home that night, and we chattered the whole way, giddy girls making plans for lunch and a theatre outing. In the next days, we traded e-mails and Facebook messages, missed calls and missed opportunities. Days melted into weeks, weeks into the next month, and plans got rescheduled in the haste and hurry of everyday life. Family illness kept plans in limbo. Holiday obligations soon crowded the calendar.

My friend and I were supposed to meet for lunch. We were supposed to meet for dinner. We were supposed to see a play together. We were supposed to make time for laughter and life. Instead, I am sitting here, looking at a picture of a beautiful, smiling soul that slipped away while I was sleeping. I reread her last post: A message to her family about love. My heart is heavy and weeping for the family she leaves behind — Her daughter a year younger than mine; Her family shocked and grieving with this sad and sudden day.

I am only a friend, and not a very good one;  I should have been a better one, should have been more, done more. I should have made the time when I had it, made more effort for that promised lunch, the dinner that never happened. Instead, I am dropping off a casserole at her home to feed her family. Soon, I will go see a play with an empty seat next to me. It is what I deserve. It is what happens when we look the other way and let time and people slip by.

My friend posted this on her social media page. I am haunted by its honesty.

“Sometimes there are stormy moments in your life when your friends do more than just walk with you, they become angels and carry you and protect you with their wings.” — Steve Maraboli

I wish I could be your angel, my friend. I wish I could carry you. I wish life wasn’t so damned fragile — like a Christmas ball that slips from the tree, falls to the floor and shatters into tiny, golden shards. You, my friend, have taught me this hard and humble lesson. I’m just so very sorry I didn’t pay attention sooner and embrace the moments while we had them. We live under the false assumption that we’ll always have another day, another chance, plenty of time. We forget that life is fragile and there are no guarantees we’ll wake to embrace another day.

“Sometimes there are stormy moments in your life when your friends do more than just walk with you, they become angels and carry you and protect you with their wings.” 

I’ll remember that October evening. I’ll remember the laughter. I’ll remember the bright smile of a sweet and special lady who held my hand and touched my heart at a crowded table on a warm, October night.

Godspeed, my friend. May angels carry you and protect you with their wings.

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The Box — a prelude


I passed it up my first time down the aisle.

Something made me stop, turn around, go back for a second look.

It was just a small glass box, perched delicately on a crowded metal shelf in our town’s thrift store. Hidden in plain sight amid the jumble of life’s discarded treasures, the tiny trinket box was wedged between a worn and weathered Christmas wreath and a broken egg timer. It winked at me as I waltzed by, on my mission to ferret out finds of the day. The Box merited a closer look.

Self confession: I am not exactly a hoarder. I consider myself a collector; a purveyor of the past. I hail from a long lineage of those who find pleasure in acquiring things. For me, I have an affection for remnants of history, pieces of people’s lives. In my hands and on my shelves, what’s old is new again. I appreciate the nicks and scuffs that mark time and provide a glimpse into where the items have been, the dusty roads they have traveled. I love their stories – or what I imagine them to be.

For my grandmother, collecting meant bolts of calico in all colors, stored in a cedar-lined chest, the colorful bundles lying pristine in plastic until plucked from their darkened lair when my grandmother freed them, unfurling fabric for her next project. She would lovingly unwrap the crisp cotton, carefully laying out patterns on her iron bed. After pinning the tissue-thin paper to the fabric, she’s snip the material into confusing, puzzle-pieced shapes. Under my grandmother’s wrinkled, but steady hands, the material would feed under the needle treadle. With a quick pedal pump, the old Singer would whir to life. My grandmother, was indeed, a material girl.

For my mom, who captured life on canvas before Alzheimer’s captured her creative spirit and held it captive inside muddled days and starless nights, collecting was, generally, centered around her art. Bookshelves were crammed with coffee cans of horsehair paint brushes and tiny tubes, bursting with burnt umber and raw sienna. Canvases crowded closets. Empty frames stood like steadfast soldiers waiting for the paintings-in-progress leaning on artist easels, basking in the light of her upstairs studio.

Later, when the demon disease stole more of my mother’s dignity, she collected paper and Styrofoam plates, empty fast food cups, stacking them, willy-nilly, on her kitchen counter like a scene from The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. After the 10 o’clock news, we’d sneak in like burglars. Armed with plastic trash bags, we’d whittle down the piles to a manageable bulk. In the morning, we hoped she didn’t notice and deny if she did.

My dad, too, had his small, but trusty stash of humble acquisitions. Dog-eared paperbacks by Western writers like Louis L’Amour littered his nightstand;  leaning stacks of unread books towered beside his recliner. Full-tilt in his chair, glasses perched mid-nose, my dad escaped into a world of words. My father was no professor. He was a hard-working, blue-collar electrician by trade, a cattle farmer by family, and a voracious reader by choice. He read cookbooks and gardening books, how to manuals and histories, war memoirs and travel journals. He dreamed of traveling to Switzerland. He spent hours thumbing through a table-sized book with glossy pictures of snow-peaked mountains and idyllic villages. In his final years, my father never traveled farther than the state line. Perhaps my daddy’s many books took him far from the tall East Texas pines, country streaked with red dirt, and the rumble of tractor motors.

Yes, I come from a family of collectors.

My husband, who used to work on-air in radio, has a fondness for antique radios. Massive radio boxes of past decades decorate the bookshelves that flank our fireplace. My cousin, the most sensible of the brood, collects thimbles. My daughter, a statuesque beauty with a wild raven mane who can pull off wearing a paper sack as couture fashion, has an affinity for shoes. Imelda would be proud. My oldest friend has recently acquired a slight obsession for designer undertogs. I’m not sure, but at last count, I think his quest has yielded unopened packages numbering in the hundreds.

Yes, I am a collector. My family members are collectors. Friends are collectors. I nurture my obsession with frequent trips to area thrift stores, scanning the aisles for the unusual, the unworthy, the unloved. I brave Texas temperatures to swelter in hot summertime garages for a chance meeting with yet another trinket destined for a ride in the back of my Saturn wagon. I scrawl my name on estate sale e-mail lists; I am Facebook friends with auction companies.

I have been known to arrive at my office, huffing and puffing from my hurried trek across campus. I am running late because I had to wrestle a trestle table — snatched from obscurity from behind a dirty dumpster — onto my luggage rack. My roadside assistance includes rescuing relics curbside and delivering them to my house for a second chance; a reprieve from the landfill. So, this fateful meeting with a small box was really not unexpected.

The box. That’s where we started this tale, right? The box.


The Box.

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A Million Tiny Moments


You really don’t need another candle.

Or a Miracle Chopper. Or a pair of Jeaneeze that promise to hug one’s ample assets in true Kardashian fashion. (All about that bass, that bass — but that’s a whole other post.)

No, you don’t need a No! No! Pro Hair Remover or Uncle Si Chia Pet or a Comfort Gel Toilet Seat. You don’t even need the Bacon Bowl.

In truth, you don’t need another designer handbag to flaunt at the Ladies Who Lunch fete. You don’t need a new pair of Kicks, another trinket or tchotchke, or something to cram the closet or burden the bookshelves. In truth, most of us don’t need much this holiday season. As Americans, most of us really are living The Dream in all its excess and gluttony. We are fortunate to dwell in this golden land of plenty where we have much, much more than roofs over our heads, food on our tables, and money in our pockets — or at least high credit limits on our charge cards.

Alas, this holiday season, I am not buying you another candle.

I am not rushing, store to store, scanning displays for something you might use, need or want. At Thanksgiving, I did not wait in line until the stores Open! Open! Open! I did not elbow shoppers out-of-the-way for the $9 Crockpot or to snatch the last Ove Glove. I am not watching Infomercials for inspiration or dog-earring catalog pages so I can order during limited-time free shipping. This year, I am just not buying it.

I’m sorry if you feel slighted, but I just can’t do it. This holiday — this Christmas — means much more than checking names off the list in a frenzied haze of hurried shopping.

Like Ebenezer, I think back on Christmases past; seasons when I rushed and ran and worried and wrapped and over thought and overspent. I had the misguided notion that I had to find the best, the brightest, the most unusual, the most lavish, the most something, the most anything. I drank the holiday Kool-Aid, and tried to not only keep up with the Joneses, but the Jerry Joneses. I had to find some gift worthy of You. I wanted my gifts to wow, inspire, make you giggle, make you happy. I wanted my gifts to mean something. Through my gifting, I wanted you to like me, to really like me!

In my misguided attempts to find gifts to make you notice, tolerate, love me, make me your new BFF, awesome co-worker,  terrific neighbor – I missed the whole point. I missed it all.

This year, I have learned — finally — that the true gifts, the real ones, the priceless presents, can not be bought with coupons or Groupons or on the Chinese Internet. They are not found in stores or stashed inside shiny boxes and bags. I have learned — finally — that the real treasures simply can not be bought — even with three easy payments of $19.95. (Does not include shipping and handling.)

This year, I will not buy you another candle that may sit on your coffee table until the clutter is cleared and it winds up in the Goodwill Donation Box.

This year has brought many changes to my life and has made me less concerned with the superficial and the fleeting. I just can’t get excited about HD Vision Glasses or The Pocket Hose. As I watch age and disease claim my mom, a day at a time, I think of her house, crammed with a lifetime of things — presents never used, gifts never taken out of the boxes. Yellowed tags dangle on items saved, but never enjoyed. Soon, we will start the dubious, heartbreaking task of carting away her life, lamp by lamp, dish by dish, picture frame by picture frame. My mom’s household — her many things — no longer matter. They are cold and sterile,  dusty and lifeless. What matters now is the gift of time with this woman who gave me breath.

These days, I sit across the table from my mom, sip coffee and watch the leaves fall outside the kitchen window. We keep an eye out for Charlie, our neighborhood squirrel that robs the bird feeder, making my mom laugh. I savor my mom’s childlike glee as she timidly nibbles a just-baked Brownie. I hold her hand and rub lotion on the wise and wrinkled skin, grateful to feel her strength as she squeezes back. I catch the love in her eyes when I tuck her in bed each night.

These days, I marvel at the smallest things; Take pleasure in a million tiny moments: A quiet dinner with my husband; Lunch with friends; Listening to my daughter chatter from the next room; My mom dozing peacefully in her chair, me drifting into the pillowy softness of a luxurious nap. Little things I used to take for granted are priceless now.

This year, I just can’t buy you another candle, my friend. It all seems a little silly and superficial to say with things what I need to say with my heart.

This year, I share with you a few of my favorite gifts — these million tiny moments that mean more to me than anything Amazon Prime might offer. Please accept my wishes that your holiday is full of the simplest pleasures of A Wonderful Life: A steamy mug of coffee on a sleepy morning; a perfect seashell; a box of memories; a golden sunrise; a child’s drawing on the refrigerator; the purr of a curled-up kitten; bubble baths and butterfly wings: a card; a kiss; a love letter; a hug; a belly laugh; a good cry; the magic of a rainbow; a phone date with an old friend; art; music; a performance so lovely it makes you weep; a hand to hold in a hospital waiting room; a new box of Crayons; homemade ice cream on a blistering day; a crackling fire and a good book; doggy kisses; someone to sit at your bedside and stroke your hair; the love of family and friends.

This year, I offer you, humbly, peace and love and simple joys. I hope you indulge in life’s true pleasures, find meaning in every-day blessings instead of being blinded by bling and designer logos and flash and cash. This year, I hope you and your families share Christmas and the magic of this season glitters your New Year with blessings and abundance.

As you are shopping and checking off your own gift list, please remember that sometimes a kind word, a smile, a phone call, a surprise visit, a hug, mean much more than that Cashmere sweater or the $100 bottle of wine. Sometimes, sipping tea with a friend or opening a handwritten letter from across the miles means the most. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This year, I wish for you all that makes you happy, all that brings you joy. I wish for you a million tiny moments to make your heart sing. I just can’t buy you another candle. Not this year. Not now.

If it will make you happy, maybe the Bacon Bowl… Maybe. Just maybe.

A million tiny moments in a Bacon Bowl.

My wish. My gift. My Christmas.



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Not bad, really, not bad at all


You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you find yourself crouching in a bathroom stall, wiping dog poop off of your shoe with cheap paper towels.

Yep, folks, it’s been quite the day. As the husband snores on the couch and the evening news promos start, I feel the need to chronicle this particular day for posterity. Indulge me with this brief recap.

These days, my mom has a litany of doctor’s appointments, and we have two on the calendar this week. Today was her three-month neurology checkup, so I took half a day off work to get mom to and fro. After getting her up, bathed, dressed, morning meds administered, and bribed with breakfast, I had mom ready to leave. I had allowed us 45 minutes to get mom into The Whale — our handicapped lift van the size of a small semi — and across town to the doctor’s office. I have learned — mostly the hard way — to leave enough time for the unexpected; This morning, I gravely miscalculated.

Mom’s caregiver was helping her brush her teeth while I went out to get the van ready and to lower the wheelchair lift. I knew immediately something was amiss. Our 12-year-old blind Beagle, Pixie, was MIA — nowhere to be found. She usually greets everyone at the door, her keen, hound sense of smell compensating for her waddling body and failing eyesight. I called and called, but no dog. I went back inside and asked the caregiver to please come and see if she could help find Pixie.

We wheeled mom outside and the three of us bellowed “Pixie” in three-part harmony. I soon heard faint barking from behind our house, beyond the neighbor’s yard, somewhere in the neighborhood that backs up to ours. I called again. Pixie answered in her unmistakable Beagle bay.

I asked the caregiver to stay with mom as I dashed out the door, hopped in the car parked in the front drive and drove to the cul-de-sac behind us. Like a good political block walker or a savvy cookie-pedaling Girl Scout, I went door to door, knocking and calling, hoping Pixie would answer and let me find her. Last time Pixie decided to take a little walk on the wild side, I found her ambling the neighborhood streets. These days, with her failing sight, finding her quickly seemed lifesaving.

I walked and called; Called and walked. Before long, the wind carried beagle barks my way, and I strained to figure out where they were coming from. A few doors down, a woman in a white bathrobe stood at the end of her driveway, smoking, talking on her cell phone. I rushed to her, explained about my missing mutt, asking if the neighbor whose yard backs up to ours was home. She told me no one was there, but to go ahead and look in their yard. I live in Texas, where gun owners and guns are commonplace, so was a little nervous about plunging into someone’s back yard unannounced. I watch the news. I know the drill. I wasn’t dressed to be on the noon-day update.

Instead, I peeped through the fence, and saw Pixie, strutting around the neighbor’s yard like she’d already moved in. I call to her, try the latch, open the gate, and Pixie trots right to me, wagging her tail. I slip on her leash, lead the adventurous hound back to the car, thank the neighbor, and hurry home, thinking that if I can just get Pixie into her crate, the mom in The Whale, we can be on our way and maybe — just maybe — make it to the appointment on time.

I pull into the drive, stash the dog, and wheel the mom to The Whale. The caregiver and I get my mom tethered in, buckled up. I am racing the clock, trying to figure out if I can turn a 30-minute drive into a 20-minute dash. I then make my second major miscalculation of the day.

Let’s just say that The Whale is a little tricky to maneuver, especially when adrenaline is spiking, nerves are frazzled,  a doctor’s appointment looms. I miscalculated when backing up, so somehow got The Whale stuck, wedged between the side of the house and our electronic gate. I had, literally, an inch to spare before I either ripped off The Whale’s side view mirrors, blasted a chunk out of the brick on the side of the house, or completely knocked the solar panel off of the gate. The caregiver tried to offer hand motions, guiding me in like an airplane marshaller, but the more she motioned, the worse it got. The van was wedged, we were late, and I was manic, in a panic.

Like Moses parting the Red Sea, I stumbled into our busy street, halting traffic — whose drivers mistake our neighborhood route for the European autobahn — and rushed across to our neighbor for help. My neighbor answered the door as his dog snarled and barked behind him. Windswept, disheveled, frantic and sputtering, I told the neighbor I needed help, pointing to the lodged van across the street, stashed sideways in the driveway.

“Uh, yes, I guess you do,” our Good Samaritan Neighbor says nonchalantly as he ushers his dog back inside and eases out to the front porch.

Together, Good Samaritan Neighbor and I dodge oncoming traffic. At The Whale, Good Samaritan Neighbor wedges himself into the driver’s seat. I take over marshalling duties, the caregiver looks on, my mom in her wheelchair in the back of the van, watching the show. Time is ticking, the van is rocking; but — inch by slow inch — Good Samaritan Neighbor undoes what I have done.

He climbs out of The Whale to get a better look at the minuscule space between the van and the solar panel and to make sure he can finally clear the fence. This is when Good Samaritan Neighbor makes his worst miscalculation of the day.

He takes a step back, realizing his mistake. Let me just say, that scooping poop is snoring hubby’s job, and perhaps he has been a little lax in his duties of late. Good Samaritan Neighbor is now doing a crazy dance step across the yard, looking like a bull before a full-on stampede. The stomp steps do little to free him from the tarry mess.

I come around the side of the van to help somehow, and wind up following in his footsteps — literally speaking. I, too, now find myself mired in mess. I feel like one of those ancient Woolly Mammoths caught up in the tar pits.

Good Samaritan Neighbor and I continue our macabre dance and manage to extricate ourselves — mostly — from our folly. Good Samaritan Neighbor hops back in the van, guns the engine and has The Whale pointed toward the street in minutes. He waves off my apologies, scrambles across the street, slams his front door shut behind him.

I climb back into the van, sneer at the mocking clock, and decide that we’ve already made it this far, we can’t turn back now. I grit my teeth like a character actor in a Clint Eastwood western, throw a serious look at the caregiver, adjust the rear-view mirror and catch a glimpse of my little mama. Perched in her chair, she smiles back at me, winks, and away we go.

I manage to miss the mailbox as I gun The Whale out of the drive. We manage to hit every traffic light just right on the across-town trip. We manage to roll up to the hospital entrance with exactly three minutes to spare. In record time, the caregiver and I get my mama out of The Whale and into the clinic.  I rush the elevator, hold the doors and push buttons, sending mama and the caregiver on to the fifth floor to check in. I head for the hall bathroom and grab handfuls of paper towels and foamy pink soap.

If I am lucky, Eau de Pixie will not waft through the doctor’s waiting room. I square my shoulders, hold my head high and stride in to join my mama. She and the caregiver are huddled in the corner, pilfering through stacks of aging, waiting room magazines.

Tonight, the whole day seems a little surreal, like a scratchy,  home movie gone awry. I wonder what kind of thank you gift you send to Good Samaritan Neighbor to make up for being his Crazy, Across-the-Street, There-goes-the-Neighborhood neighbor? I wonder if my mom, in her Alzheimer’s haze, remembers the days’ events at all as the 10 o’clock news flickers in her room?  I wonder if I we can find the hole where Pixie the Escape Beagle finds her freedom? I wonder if I can handle getting The Whale out of the driveway again without breaking out in a cold sweat?

Yep, today was, one of those, folks. And, honestly, I wouldn’t have missed it. Today reminds me that with all of the imperfections and all of our miscalculations, things usually end up going better than we expected — are never quite as bad as our vivid imaginations make them out to be. In all of its frenzied glory, today wasn’t really so bad, after all. Pixie is back home, snoozing in her dog bed. My mom got to her doctor’s appointment, safely, and on time. The Whale is docked in the drive. the fence still standing, and we’re all here to face another day.

Not, bad, really, not bad at all. In the words of the incomparable Scarlett, “Fiddle de dee, tomorrow is another day.” Another day, another chance to get it right.

Not bad, really, not bad at all.

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Little BIG things

photo (16)“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day, you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Like many, I am guilty of  squandering precious moments and have taken far too many things for granted in the haste and waste of immaturity and selfishness. In my casual youth, time frittered away as calendar pages turned. Like many, I must often learn lessons the hard way.  Thankfully, I am much more cognizant these days of the little moments that weave together our rich and varied lives.

This morning I took my mom back to her lung specialist to see if  an infection was improving with a regimen of antibiotics and steroids. I asked if it is OK for mom to be outside, and if being exposed to fall’s pollen and falling leaves could worsen her condition. My mom loves fall, the change of seasons, the cooler temps. An October baby, fall is my mom’s favorite season.

Mom’s doctor told me to take my mom where she wants to go, when she wants, as she feels like it — in other words: “Seize the Day” and make the most of this time we have with her. The doctor reminded me that it is “a quality of life issue” and if being outside brings my mom joy, we should embrace the joy and revel in the moments. Get outside and live a little before winter’s cold has us hibernating indoors, he advised.

We left the medical clinic, and I immediately drove to a favorite park. My mom’s caregiver and I spent the next hour pushing my mom around the walking paths. I watched my mom as she took in the falling leaves, beautiful weather, children’s squeals and giggles from the park playground.

My mom sat beside the lake and watched turtles sunning on flat rocks; an egret perched on a downed tree limb, take flight; ducks playing follow-the-leader along the lake’s edge. We huddled in the shade of a large oak tree and watched dedicated joggers made laps around the lake. My mom enjoyed a wonderful, unexpected outing, and I loved spending a quiet morning with her before heading to the office.

This evening, after getting home from work, my husband was in the kitchen, putting pastrami Reubens in the oven while I sat with my mom.

“Is he going to stay here tonight?,” my mom asked.

“Yes, mom, we are all going to stay here tonight — if that is okay with you,” I replied simply. I have learned through the muddle of Alzheimer’s that I travel where my mom’s mind has traveled. Where she has gone, I meet her on the path and we walk together.

“Are you going to keep that boy?,” my mom asked in earnest.

I laughed and answered: “Yes, mom I think we should keep him. He’s cooking our supper. He takes pretty good care of both of us, don’t you think?”

My mom nodded, grabbed for my hand.

“He has been a pretty good boy. I guess we should keep him,” she agreed. “And I think it’s okay if he stays here tonight.”

After dinner, as we were helping my mom get ready for bed, I asked her if a loose tooth was bothering her and driving her crazy.

“No Bear, I am already there — Crazy, that is,” she quipped.

We looked at each other in the bathroom mirror and laughed at our reflections laughing back. I hugged mom and told her we’d all be crazy together and take care of each other.

“Thank you. I love you, Bear.”

“I love you, too, Mama. I love you, too.”

These days, I have become very grateful for these small moments. I am grateful that my mom still enjoys these slivers of life, that she still has her wonderful sense of humor, that she still knows me and loves me. I am grateful for shared meals, shared laughs, shared prayers. I am grateful that she is still my mom, that together, we watch as fall blankets us with colored leaves and cooler days. I am grateful for the warmth of love and that our hands and hearts still touch.

I have a small plaque on my desk that reads: “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day, you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day, you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Little BIG things. I get it now. I really do. It took me awhile, but I get it. … I get it.

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